So it’s been a while since our last update. Mostly because we just haven’t been able to sit still (aside from sleeping) for much longer than an hour at a time.
Since leaving dreary, rainy Wellington, our injuries have mostly healed. Ariel is back to normal and I’m getting over a nasty cold/runny nose that cropped up early on Saturday morning. Apparently running yourself ragged on the slopes of Mount Doom and then going on 2-3 hour hikes immediately afterwards is not the wisest decision in the world.
Over the past few days we’ve been driving in the South Island of New Zealand. And
While the North Island had a lot of cool sites to visit, the South Island really is like being in a fantasy world. It is all it’s cracked up to be.
We also got an upgraded car thanks to Ariel haranguing Budget for all the issues we had with the GPS and the crappy car in general. It’s been a major difference since we’re able to spread out. This is a key thing to keep in mind, the size of the car may hurt you a bit on gas mileage but when you’re spending 5+ hours of your life in it everyday, the most important decision you’ll make on one of these trips is how you are getting around.
Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to over the past few days.
On Saturday after dumping the rental car, we traversed the Cook Strait via ferry. Unfortunately it was pretty grey and dreary but it’s still a great experience. If you are doing the rental car thing MAKE SURE you take the Interislander ferry, not the Blue Bridge like we did. More details on this in our upcoming detailed review of renting a car in New Zealand. From the ferry port of Picton we then took a quick drive around the Marlborough Sounds region and then drove across the longest winding mountain road I’ve ever seen. Some of it in the rain. Fun.
After what seemed like hours (because it was) we finally emerged onto the West Coast highway of the South Island. Wow. Imagine the Pacific Coast highway in California…but maybe better.
We went on to see the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki. At this point, the sun was teasing us coming in and out of the clouds – this time with a rainbow. The whole place was awesome but we were exhausted (especially me – at this point I was really not feeling well and driving was getting to be a real chore).
Finally we arrived at the west coast town of Greymouth just in time to crash in our motel bed.
The next morning, we continued on to the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers. I wasn’t feeling too hot so our hikes were really limited. Also limited was the visibility. Apparently they get five meters of rain there a year. That’s a lot. It was rainy and foggy and we were only able to see Franz Joseph. Pretty disappointing but it was still cool.
After the glaciers, we barreled across the Southern Alps (AKA the Misty Mountains). Once we got across into the valley, the sun came out again – this time for good. We took a short forest hike down to the Blue Pools before continuing on to our final destination of the day – Lake Wanaka. It had been a few days since we stayed somewhere with air conditioning…apparently from Wellington on south, it’s not really common to have AC. This was the first night we badly needed it.
On Monday we went from Lake Wanaka to Twizel, where the famous battle of Pelennor Fields took place in Return of the King. After a pretty sad attempt at a drone flight over the area we continued to a Mount Cook overlook (AKA the Lonely Mountain only in real life it’s not so lonely). This place was really breathtaking. Unfortunately, it would become the site of a minor disaster the following day.
From there we went all the way up to Mount Sunday across a 20 mile stretch of not-so-smooth gravel road. This was where they filmed the outdoor Edoras scenes in the Two Towers. The hike up looked like it would be tough, but we powered through and aside from a couple of mishaps crossing a stream, we got to the top with no incidents.
Full review of the area coming in a separate post.
From there we drove back down the way we came until we arrived in Lake Tekapo where we stayed the night. But not before taking a trip up to the Mount John Observatory after dark for a stargazing tour.
Absolutely incredible. And also worthy of its own post.
Finally at about 1:30 am the longest day of the trip (and one of the best) came to an end.
YESTERDAY we had a bit of an incident. From Lake Tekapo we returned to the Mount Cook area – this time to a different overlook. Here I got it into my brilliant brain to try and take the drone out for a spin again. It…didn’t go well…
Immediately after takeoff the wind just took it away from me. Immediately I had to go running after it just to try and get it to respond to my commands. Eventually I managed to bring it down on the wrong side of the street. After sliding down the side of the cliff I was relieved to see it stayed together in one piece. All I needed to do was reach for it…and… I stepped, through what I thought was grass right into a knee-deep swamp. Disaster. And what made it worse was that I still couldn’t even reach it so now I had to put my other foot into the swamp in order to get it.
Now my shoes, socks and shorts were soaking wet, covered in mud and slime and Lord knows what else… and we had about five hours of driving before we got to our next stop.
So that sucked. Luckily I was driving around with practically an entire wardrobe, so aside from the fact that I had to drive in flip flops for the whole day it wasn’t too bad. At least there weren’t any leeches.
But in that moment… man…
The rest of the day wasn’t too eventful, we made some cool stops along the Waitiki Valley and on the east coast but I was just relieved to arrive at our home for the evening – the Millfield Cottage in Omakau. This place was great, but again no air conditioning and no screens on the windows.
Yesterday morning we had our tour of Rohan and spent some time in Queenstown, but that’s going to be the subject of its own standalone post soon.
That’s all for this update, stay tuned for more, including the resolution of one of our primary missions for this trip. Would we be able to find the location of this famous scene?