…….The World Without Boundaries

New Zealand : From Te Anau to Christchurch on the East Coast of South Island

Written By: jipp - Jun• 30•17

It was good to have finally ticked something off the bucketlist. Milford Track was great but there’s much more to New Zealand than the beautiful track across the Fiordland National Park which is considered the finest trail in the world. After soaking in the much-missed sunshine on the lakeside of Te Anau, it was time to move on.

Te Anau Lake

I was in a deep dilemma actually, whether to return to Queenstown and take my chances to do the sky-diving since I missed it due to bad weather just a week ago, or just forget about it and take a different route back to Christchurch from where we’d be flying back to Auckland. Then I thought, returning to Queenstown would not guarantee me a sky-dive because the weather in that part of the country is so fucking unpredictable. And – once we returned to Queenstown we may have to take the same route that we took last time and if that was the case we’d miss the alternative road on the East Coast entirely.

I decided to forget about the skydiving. I may not return to New Zealand just for the sake of doing the sky-diving but then there are so many other places in the world where I could actually do it. Wheeling off towards the east coast of South Island, I began to feel glad that we decided to skip it because seriously, we would have missed a lot of New Zealand’s other and largely unexplored attractions (at least among tourists and travelers I guess) if we had decided to go for it.

There was one beautiful little town called Gore for instance that we happened to drive across. Neither of us had ever heard of this town before but I had come to find out later that it was actually New Zealand’s capital of country music. I mean, most of New Zealand’s 103,483 square mile area consists of countryside which is very much associated with country music so it is only right to have a capital town dedicated especially for it. We stopped there for a while and I took time to enter its public library which really impressed me its huge collection of books and most especially for its neatness.

Then we continued on East-bound, stopping a few times including once when we came upon a Chinese food restaurant (amazing how Chinese food restaurants in New Zealand are mostly operated by one single person) from where we bought our lunch to be had at one of the roadside stops with a beautiful view of the expansive farmland. Our diet had always been dominated by Western food ever since we first set foot in New Zealand not only because of their availability but also for their prices which are usually a few dollars cheaper than Asian dishes.

After driving across so many little towns and countless number of villages we finally found ourselves back on the east coast of South Island. We were in Dunedin, which I later learned is the second largest city in the South Island – after Christchurch of course – and it amused by the fact that I had never heard of this beautiful city before. But that is the beauty of traveling. You’ll tend to bump into things that you least expect to.

I liked Dunedin almost instantly when we got there. It was the kind of cities that I could probably settle in if I had to. It has just the right size and the traffic is not that bad compared to those in Christchurch and probably Auckland. After parking the car on a roadside parking lot, we took a little walk around town. My attention was instantly on a tall sphere-shaped building that jotted out over other buildings in Dunedin. I later found out that it was The First Church of Otago which was built in 1848 by early settlers from Scotland.

The First Church of Otago

It was undergoing some major restoration works so the indoors were heavy with scaffolding and all. I went to the shop at the back of the building and had a long chat with the shop keeper. He told me a little bit of the history of the church and how the Scottish settlers had first come to Dunedin about 170 years ago. He seemed to be too carried away that he would not stop talking, probably because he did not have anyone else in the shop so he had to depend on visitors to have a conversation with. I was so glad when an elderly couple came in and I just seized the opportunity to ask to be excused the moment his attention moved over to them.

I wish we could stay in Dunedin for a little bit longer but we had to get as close to Christchurch as possible because we only had one night left before flying back to Auckland – excluding the last night that we were going to spend at a guesthouse near to the airport. I googled for a place among the rolling hills from where we could get a good look at the whole city and it came back with Signal Hill so off to Signal Hill we went. The beauty of Dunedin impressed me even more when I looked at it from the top of Signal Hill. The city is located at the end of a beautiful bay which is flanked by rolling hills which are blanketed by green farmlands. The view was just so break-taking.

Dunedin from the Trig Hill

From Dunedin we wheeled off along the coast towards the North, stopping here and there along the way if we found anything worthy to stop for. We were glad that we put in the GPS as part of the car package that we took. There was a little bit of argument in my head whether we should take it because we could actually use a cell phone to show us the way around so long as we had the internet connection. But it turned out that the GPS was not all about the directions alone but it would tell if there was any interesting place within the vicinity. It would also tell about each town that we passed through so the information that we got from that little device was enormous.

There was one place called Shag Point for instance that we wouldn’t have known the existence of if not for the GPS. Based on the information it gave, Shag Point is a place that we could find penguins at if we were lucky. Unfortunately we were not (lucky) but still we managed to catch up with a group of seals. And they gotta be some of the cutest animals that I had ever come upon.

They seemed to enjoy the sun very very much and they’d roll around on the grass totally in oblivion to the surrounding. They only looked at us when we were close enough to see into their sparkling and watery eyes. I was filming when one of them suddenly came charging at me and in a panic state I stumbled but managed to get back on my feet and run before the animal caught up with me (although I have no idea if she was coming to hurt me or just being playful).

Then another place that we heard about on the GPS is the Moeraki Boulders. Our curiosity had led us to a beach where boulders of near-perfect round shape were scattered all over. The existence of the boulders remains a mystery and of course when there is something mysterious there’ll be a lot of theories. I refused to fall for any of them. LOL.

Moeraki Boulders

Our final destination of the day was Oamaru. Based on the information facilitated to us by the GPS, this beautiful seaside town is said to be the town with the highest concentration of historical buildings in New Zealand. Being in Oamaru is like being thrown back to the colonial time – except that the colonists never left unlike in most other countries where the colonists left after the country that they had colonized gained independence. The buildings were beautiful. There was a beautiful church and for a moment I wished we had arrived there earlier so that we had the time to explore more.

We did not book for our accommodation in Oamaru, or anywhere else for that particular day and it had proved to be quite of a mistake. We went all over looking for a room but all the hotels that we went to were full. It was getting dark and chilly to stay outside so we were quite desperate to look for a room. We finally managed to get one but it had cost us way beyond our average budget for nightly accommodation. The double-story building was more like a motel but the rooms were spacious. It was such a long day for us so we had some of the beer that we had bought back in Queenstown. I never fancied drinking in a hotel room so I stopped after the second bottle. It would be another long day back to Christchurch the next day.

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Milford Track : Done and Dusted

Written By: jipp - May• 13•17

So we did our first and second day at Milford Track without any problem. The most challenging part only came on the 3rd day. From Mintano Hut, we had to climb for about 600m to the highest point of the whole trail without a single drop. The weather was OK in the beginning and I was enjoying taking in the view and snapping a lot of pictures until it took an ugly turn just before I reached the world-famous Mackinnon Pass.

It was still raining when I reached the memorial plaque dedicated to Quintin Mackinnon – a Scottish New Zealander explorer who was the first person (together with his team of course) to find a passage that cuts across the Milford Sound known today as the Milford Track. Unfortunately, he went missing while sailing across the Lake Te Anau during one of his following trips to Milford Sound and although his wrecked ship and belongings were later discovered, his body was never found.

By then the wind was howling like crazy and the temperature dropped to a sub-zero. Even the Columbia thermal jacket that I had on was soaked and my gloves were fully drenched so my hands were half-frozen. I took a little escape from the cold at the Mackinnon Pass Shelter and ate a chocolate bar for lunch before continuing my journey down to our last overnight stop called Dumpling Hut.

The view at the Mackinnon Pass would have been one of the highlights of the whole journey but the bad weather and the thick fog had obliterated what would have been an amazing view. Even the toilet which is considered the most beautiful toilet in the world due to the breath-taking view that we could see from it was totally obscured by white clouds that hung adamantly all across the valley.

But then you know there is a saying that God is always fair – and it is especially true when I was right there descending from the Mackinnon Pass to the Dumpling Hut. Just when I thought the rain was a total disappointment, I could not believe my eyes when I saw dozens (probably hundreds!) of waterfalls thundering their ways from the mountain tops right to the deep valley and it all happened right before my eyes! For a moment I stood right there frozen with my mouth gaping open in a total disbelief that everything that I was seeing was real. It was so OMFG!

But then, I had to keep reminding myself to keep moving. I gotta say the descending part from Mackinnon Pass to Dumping Hut was the most challenging part of my trek at Milford Track may be because I had never been good in descending. My knees were groaning and it was one of those times that I really regretted I did not bring a trekking pole with me. It would have been very much useful.

When I finally arrived at Dumpling Hut, I was totally exhausted. I had the stamina but the constant descent had given my legs quite much of a problem. The Dumpling Hut is located in a deep narrow valley where you could see the beautiful mountain tops with a waterfall gushing down from one of its crevasses. In fact you can hear the thundering sound of the waterfall as it hits the bottom rock and the splashes are sometimes blown by the wind and reach the hut. It was just so unreal.

Dumpling Hut

We spent most of the evening at the kitchen – and so was everybody else. It was our last day at Mildford Track so we’d eat whatever there was to eat. Some of the other trekkers would come to us to offer food and although most of the food was awful (at least to our Asian tongue), we’d still have a taste just so that we’d know what these guys been eating for the past few days.

Despite the exhaustion, it took me quite a while before I could finally force myself to sleep. In fact, I was still half-awake when somebody nudged at my back. I was having my earphones on so the nudging made me jolt in surprise. Through a blurred vision I saw an angry face right by my bed so I took off my earphones and asked in confusion what it was that she wanted.

“You snore. I can’t sleep”

And almost compulsively I asked, probably more loudly that I had intended “are you sure it was me?” and I heard her murmur something but I could not quite get what she was saying. I wanted to get off the bed and confront her – asking her as to what she was expecting of a room shared by dozens of people, and that earplugs were not created for nothing but I was too lazy to get off the bed in the dark. I remember thinking that I might injure myself because I was on the upper deck and it was dark.

Then I was woken up about an hour or so later – by a cacophony of sounds that came from every direction. I guess the trick was not go to bed too early. LOL!

Inside the Dumpling Hut

It was only the next morning at breakfast when some of the trekkers with whom we share the room came to me and ask “Was it you that got shouted at last night?” to which I replied “I guess it was”. Then a male trekker from the US said “Oh gosh. She and her friends talk a lot, very loudly, and yet she can’t even tolerate people snoring?”.

Then a lady joined in and said “I was still awake when she came to you. In fact most were still awake because it was still pretty early. We heard her jump from the upper deck right to the floor. The thumping sound of her feet landing on the floor was quite loud”.

You were so patient. We were actually expecting you to retaliate” “Don’t worry. We in the US are nice people. She does not represent us as a whole” she said referring to the girl’s country of origin which as USA.

To tell the truth, I really think they exaggerated it (and I was not surprised. There were Americans after all). It’s not like she actually shouted at me. It was just a little bit of nudging at my back and an angry face that I saw in the dark. LOL.

It was another long walk on our last day at Milford Track. The trail was mostly flat but it really felt like there was no end to it. It was raining most of the time so I couldn’t really take pictures. Of course there were more waterfalls and I actually walked right under them at times so I’d look up and watch in amazement at the roaring plunge and splattering of water as they parted ways and created smaller waterfalls down to the bottom of the valley.

The Giant Gate

There were blockages due to fallen trees so I had to maneuver my way a bit every time.  After what felt like such a never ending walk, we finally arrived at the end point of Milford Track. Called the Sandfly Point, the view from there was majestic, almost unreal. The snow-capped mountains rise dramatically above the lake (which I later found out was part of a bay that stretches out to Cook Seachannel). I just stood there in sheer amazement before I suddenly felt a wave of itchy dots on my face, my neck and almost every other part of my body.

The itching was so sharp and sudden it felt like a wave of electric shock or something. Then I realized that I had been swarmed by sandflies, the protectors of Milford Track. I ran to the hut which was fully sealed and waited for another half hour before a boat came fetching us, taking us across the bay towards the little town of Milford Sound.

I would never forget the scenery that I had the privilege of seeing that day as we crossed the bay amongst the beautiful mountains. Even until now I still feel like it was more like a dream and not real. I remember looking at a beautiful waterfall that gushes out from the mountain edge and plunges right into the blue lake below and we were not far from there and looking at it in amazement. I had never seen anything like that in my whole life.

It was raining when we were docked at Milford Sound, so we had to run into the ferry terminal so that we would not be drenched and spared ourselves from the consequences later. It was so cold so it was always a good idea to stay dry. There was nothing much to do at Milford Sound and it was especially so when it was raining and we were trapped inside the building.

Milford Sound bus terminal

The bus was already there when we arrived but it would not leave until the scheduled departure time. Somehow it was such a relief when the bus finally left, taking us back nearer and nearer to civilization. Milford Track was beautiful but it was also very wet and cold and I could not wait to return to the warm embrace of the sun.

That bus actually took us along the Milford Sound Highway which is considered the most beautiful highway in the world. But it was raining and most of the time the window panes of the bus – although wide to provide passengers with good view of the scenery along the way – were heavily moistened with droplets of rain it was almost impossible to see through. The bus also took us through the world-famous Milford tunnel and I was surprised to see how ‘traditional’ the operating system was. We had to wait up for about 10 minutes, probably to give way to the vehicles that come in from the other direction, before we were allowed to pass through.

I had some of the best times in New Zealand when I was up there in the mountains of Milford but I felt so much relieved when we were finally back at the much sunnier Te Anau. We stayed at the lakeside Te Anau Backpackers which had a large veranda that faces down to the lake and towards the evening sun – which was fortunately still intense at 4pm because it was summer. It felt so good to be sitting there and soaking in the sun that I had been longing for when I was up there in the rainy mountains.

After taking a quick shower, we went down to the town to look for a good restaurant where we indulged ourselves deeply in a large spread of meal to celebrate the wrapping up of yet another adventurous part of our trip in New Zealand.

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