After taking the three hour ferry from the North Island to the South Island, our first stop was the town of Kaikoura. Kaikoura is known for its marine life – most notably whales and seals. Because paying $150 per person for the chance to view the tail of a whale was beyond our budget, we had to settle for viewing the seal colony. Even the consolation prize of seals was pretty neat to watch as they swam around and tried to hop onto the rocks with their big bodies and small flippers.
The trend of wildlife continued was we moved south along the eastern coast with a brief stay in Oamaru, known for their penguins. Apparently, the penguins are quite mobile out of the water and even make their way across roads often enough to warrant “penguin crossing” signs posted frequently along the coastal roads. There is a popular overlook where you can view the penguins making their way from the water to the sandy shores for the night, and we were lucky enough to see four little guys waddle to their homes.
Hamner Springs is known for their thermal pools full of minerals. These basically hot tub type pools each have different mineral contents, the most noteworthy pool is chock full of sulfur. That particular pool’s stench emanates and envelops any who dares to enter the area, which we of course did. Our skin reeked of rotten eggs for several hours after, not surprisingly we didn’t make any friends that night.
Our next destination was the college town of Dunedin; there isn’t really anything too exciting to do though. The civil engineers might find this interesting (for the rest of you, it is sort of a ‘world’s biggest ball of twine’ attraction), the world’s steepest street is proudly located just outside the town center. The average slope of the street is 1:3.41 with the steepest section registering at 1:2.86. The street has its own souvenir shop, complete with certificates for climbing the 1/10 of a mile long street.
When I went sky-diving a couple of years ago I promised my mom that it was a once-in-a-lifetime, so true to my word, I skipped the adrenaline-laced activities of Queenstown (that and my bare bones health insurance doesn’t cover extreme “sports” such as voluntarily jumping out of planes). I instead substituted learning to drive a manual. It wasn’t as hard as I had thought to stay focused on staying on the wrong side of the road. The only complication involved getting used centering myself in the lane with a right-hand drive car – I may have slightlyveered left, which is far better than steering into oncoming traffic in my opinion.
Christchurch is used as a major jumping off point for Antarctica, and as such of course banks in the tourism dollars at the International Antarctic Centre. Matt and I were seemingly sick of the perfect mid-70’s and sunny skies weather, and needed something a little closer to the Michigan winter we were ‘missing’ out on. In the Antarctic Centre they had a snow and ice experience, where temperatures reached about 20 degrees F, and wind chill was about 0 – not much different than a Michigan winter, though for some reason we were drawn inside the setup for the ‘storm’. A group of several guys didn’t even bother putting on the parkas provided, and when asked why, their only response was “we’re from Canada”.
In Christchurch, a historical jail was converted to a hostel. Few changes were even necessary to complete the renovation, as the doors to the rooms were left alone, creating cells for patrons. The irony of the hostel was that it was the best nights sleep I had gotten in awhile because the walls were made of concrete two feet thick.
Making our way back across to the North Island to catch our flight out of Auckland, we stopped at the Tongariro National Park. Our first attempt to do the acclaimed Tongariro Crossing trek got rained out, but luckily our second attempt the weather cooperated and we completed the day hike. During the hike you get to see a very diverse landscape – a volcano, the crater, the “emerald lakes” (which are by far the greenest body of natural water I have ever witnessed), then down through forest – not a bad variation for a 6 hour hike.
Our final stop before heading to Auckland to turn in the car and catch our flight to Australia was at the Waitmo Caves. These caves have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and contain the highest concentration of glowworms of any of the numerous caves in New Zealand that house them. It was kind of cool to see them, but in the end I feel like I paid $28 to see lite-brite pegs glued to the ceiling of a cave.