On a ferry ride from Wellington to Picton, we found ourselves crossing the Cook Strait and approaching the Marlborough Sounds in the South Island. We were now 13 people and our final tour guide Simo.
Once on land, we hit up 2 vineyards (Saint Clair and Allan Scott), a cheese tasting at Pataka and a chocolate tasting at Makana. I had a good enough buzz to last me through our drive to Old MacDonalds Farm in Abel Tasman National Park. That’s right. Old MacDonald. He, indeed, did have a farm.
(E. I. E. I. O.)
Abel Tasman National Park / Cape Foulwind
Throughout the trip, we had a breakfast ice box, or a chilly bin, which we brought with us everywhere on the van. Cereal, toast, muesli, various spreads including Vegemite (which I actually like), milk, juice, tea and various fruits. This morning, we got upgraded to bacon, baked beans, eggs and mushrooms. A hearty meal for a hike around Abel Tasman. Just like Norway, New Zealand is also beautiful in cloudiness. The sun seemed to fight through at times but then the rain was all like “Nah, chillz yo.”
A few of us tagged along to cheer Gen on for her skydive and, on our way back, we stopped at the Hop Federation Brewery. After everyone else did their tastings, each person put their glasses back down looking clearly unimpressed. “It’s way too hoppy.” At the sound of that, my inner hop snob began to emerge, rumbling, and I had to take a few deep breaths to calm it back down. I, instead, walked to the fridge, grabbed a 4-pack for purchase and nursed my inner snob back to happiness with some Red IPA.
We made chicken fajitas for dinner and then created a bonfire to attempt s’mores with something that pretended to be marshmallows and crackers that pretended to be of the graham variety. Thus, began the argument over the pronunciation of “graham.”
Gen: “Why isn’t it pronounced like gra-ham in 2 syllables like the way it looks?”
Americans: “It’s GRAM, okay?”
We also had an argument over the pronunciation of “opossum.”
Gen: “So, here in New Zealand and Australia, we have possums. You guys in America have the oh-possums.”
Americans: “It’s just pronounced uh-possum or we just ignore the ‘o’ altogether and say possums.”
Gen: “But no, there’s an ‘o’!”
Me: “Well, we don’t pronounce ‘opportunity’ like oh-pportunity or ‘option’ like ope-tion. The “o” doesn’t have to sound like “oh.” You make it sound like they’re some low-rated possum, as if there are A-possums and B-possums.”
The argument was never settled. You say toe-may-toe, and I say toe-mah-toe. And, you say tomato sauce, and I say ketchup.
I now present you with a real life “Where’s Waldo/Wally?” except that, instead of looking for a red-striped shirt wearing man whose eyes take up the entire lens in his glasses, you are now trying to spot the seals amongst the rocks in the literally named Cape Foulwind. All 13 of us watched on as the baby seals squirmed their way to their moms for feeding. There was one mom with 2 baby seals, one who was a runt and the other whom we lovingly labeled “fat bastard.” The runt would patiently wait for his turn while fat bastard was sucking away, all gluttonous and greedy. Once the fat bastard would take a break, he would always decide that he wasn’t quite yet full. When the runt tried to nudge his way closer, fat bastard would shove him away in fifth grader bully fashion. At this point, all of us had already begun cheering on the runt to get all WWF on the fat bastard. Our time had run out though, and we needed to continue on towards Punakaiki. We will never know if the runt gained his courage.
Paparoa National Park / Punakaiki
We made our last stops at the Irimahuwhero viewpoint and the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes. Our final group of 13 – Liv, Will, Cat, Meredith, Stephen, Robyn, Lauren, Catherine, Kira, Julius, me, Caroline and Gen.
By the time we made it to the Te Nikau Lodge (named after a native palm) in Punakaiki, the rain had begun to pour down and a lot of us opted out of a beach walk to relax with beer, Haribo Star Mix, crossword puzzles and journaling. We were split into 2 lodges that were dispersed in what looked like a mini rainforest. In the main lodge, Simo and Lauren cooked up a huge batch of pasta bolognese and steamed mussels for dinner. I found a mini crab lodged inside one of the mussels and, for a few minutes, thought it was the coolest thing ever.
We all fell into several rounds of Cards Against Humanity afterwards. Hearing Julius say dirty things in his German accent, especially when he didn’t know what many of the words meant, was both hilarious and…extremely strange.
We woke up to rain pattering on the roof the next morning. The rivers were dangerous for kayaking and the rain a bit torrential for hiking. So, some went to go jade carving while the rest of us chilled in the lodge, playing old Maori records in a record player situated next to a broken furnace with a photo of a working fireplace taped on its door.
Simo: “We could go to the cafe in town, grab some pancakes and make it a better morning?”
Will: “Take a rainbow?”
On the topic of rainbows, however, NZ has rainbows so bright, thick and almost tangible, I could practically taste the fruity flavors. So amazing.
We did manage to convince Simo to take us to the Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth. I mean, what better way to spend a rainy day? All of us became obsessed with their Crushed Apple Cider. That and Old Mout Cider. Heck, I was even obsessed with New Zealand apples themselves.
Franz Josef Glacier
Rain was torrential when we arrived in Franz Josef and our heli-hike was canceled. Huge disappointment. Instead, we ended up paying way too much money to visit the local kiwi center, and raced wind-up mechanical kiwis that were sold at the gift shop. In retrospect, though, I’m happy that I got to see the kiwis there. They ended up not surfacing when I was at the Auckland Zoo later on. Gen and Caroline then went jade carving while the rest of us just chilled out. They came back with a nice jade leaf.
Caroline: “It was a nice leaf, OKEY.”
The way she said “okey” in her Swiss German accent was so cute, we kept repeating it (and making her repeat it) throughout the trip.
Our day, however, was salvaged when the rain finally stopped and quad-biking was a go. If I were to imagine Mario Kart becoming a reality, this was definitely it. For whatever reason, Will kept lagging so far behind that every time we stopped to have him catch up, he wouldn’t show up until a while later. Our guide was clearly annoyed. My absolute favorite part was when we were driving along swerving paths in the woods, occasionally hitting massive puddles, and speeding up and down small mounds. The scariest part was driving through mud ditches where a lot of us thought our quad bikes would topple over.
You can see the Franz Josef Glacier in the midst of the mountains, in the middle of the photo. Gorgeous.
Simo, trying to alleviate the previous day’s weather disappointment, suggested that we try a regular helicopter ride over the Fox Glacier in the early morning. The weather forecast was looking hopeful. This time, we were NOT disappointed.
A view, albeit slanted, of the glacier from the heli. Glacier, you so fly! We were able to fly over both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.
The helicopter landed above the Fox Glacier and we were allowed to roam around a bit on foot. So incredibly beautiful.
Will has a fear of heights but still had a remote interest in skydiving over the glacier. We had a feeling he might chicken out so, we did what any group of new friends should do. Peer pressure him. I think it helped that Stephen, a fellow bro, was doing it also. Will became pale and silent as we dropped all of them off and drove off towards Lake Matheson. When we picked them up later on, he admitted that it was worth it but that he’d never do it again. Haha.
According to a sign, Mount Cook is on the right and Mount Tasman is on the left. I guess I trust the sign. This photo may also be cutting off part of the mountains.
I think at this point, I should just let this be a picture book entry, and label it “Amazing, Beautiful, Gorgeous” since those are the only words I seem to use to describe nature. I just pulled up a thesaurus and some synonyms include alluring, dazzling, exquisite and splendid. I think I’d rather sound redundant with my words than pretentious.
As we looked out into this amazing scenery, there was a couple taking numerous photos with numerous poses. I joked that we should all throw rocks into the lake to create a continuous ripple effect and, thus, ruin all their photos.
En route to Queenstown, we made several stops. First stop – the Dune Lake Walk at Te Wahipounamu, a World Heritage Site in the south west corner of the island.
Mt. Aspiring National Park / Wanaka
Second stop – Thunder Creek Falls
Third stop – Lake Hawea
And, finally towards…
As we approached Queenstown, Simo listed out all the activities that were available in town so that we could make our decisions and bookings by the time we arrived.
Simo: “Raise your hands if you’re interested in the bungy.”
Robyn, Julius, me.
Simo: “Which bungy did you want to do?”
Me: “There’s more than one? Um, I don’t know. The best one?”
Simo: “You want to do the Nevis then?”
Me: “I guess so?”
Simo: “Go big or go home, right?”
Me: (nervous laughter) “Yea…?”
I had already done a skydive back in New York but, swore off bungy jumping. Stories of horrible whiplashes and cords wrapping around people’s necks on the rebound have scared me off. Then, my (now) boyfriend Hayden asked me a very simple question which sent my ego aflame. “So, are you not going to bungy?” That was all. With that one question, I suddenly became defensive in my head. But, not even defensive against him. It was all against myself. “You don’t know the risks! People could DIE. If not for that, I would TOTALLY do it!” I juggled a few excuses but, the cowardice feeling slowly magnified and it bothered the shit out of me. COWARD? I AM NO COWARD. TREE? I AM NO TREE! I didn’t even need to be asleep for inception to happen.
And, so, it was decided that we’d be doing the Nevis Bungy in 2 days. I then shoved my fears to the side and didn’t think about the bungy until the morning of.
The next day, the group split into an LOTR horse riding tour, jetboating, paragliding, luging and skiing/snowboarding at Cardrona. I was already planning on coming back to Queenstown with my friend 2 weeks later to snowboard but, felt the need to do a practice run. The Cardrona group ended up being 5 of us – 4 skiiers and me, the sole snowboarder and lone cheese. After a few runs, Catherine asked a guy to take a group photo of us – Julius, Liv, Will, Catherine and me, standing in this order. Now, I don’t know if it’s because I was the only snowboarder or if I was the only Asian or, maybe it was the combo of the two. But, we got the phone back. I was completely left out of the photo.
At breakfast the next morning, I was in a mix of weird calmness and pants-shitting anxiety for the bungy. I had no idea what the Nevis Bungy even was and thought it’d be a good idea to finally Google it an hour or so before. Then the images came up. My heart dropped into my pelvic cavity. “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.”
So, yea, you jump from a platform that’s suspended over a valley on cables. And, yea, you have to take a cable car ride to this platform.
From the Queenstown city center, a bus took a bunch of us jumpers to 2 of the bungy spots – the Kawarau Bridge and Nevis. As we approached the Kawarau Bridge, Robyn and I were kicking ourselves for not choosing this one. It was only a 43m drop. Nevis was 134m. Heart palpitations and soiling of pants on cue.
But, either because I had no more shit left to shit or I stopped caring about dying, my anxiety sizzled out and I felt an overwhelming calmness wash over me. I just knew that I’d be okay. And, this feeling stayed even as I was the second to last to jump in a group of 10. Maybe it was the fact that they issued absolutely no refunds or, that they challenged me with, “Show us what New York can do!” Stinginess and pride. That oughta do it.
When I edged myself onto the tip of the platform, the wide expanse and depth of the valley became a bit too tangible. And, before I allowed any other thought to enter my head, I counted down from 3 and jumped. I remembered thinking, “Holy shit! I’m really doing thi…AHHHHH!” The first 2-3 seconds were the worst moments of free fall and I kept my eyes shut. Then, after 3 seconds, I internally shouted, “Open your damn eyes!” It was golden from there. I came here thinking that this would be my first and last time. I left wondering when I could do it again. How does any of this make sense?
Next up: Shotover Canyon Swing. I got suckered into buying a 2 swing package deal. One swing was $219 and a second one was a bargain price of $45.
Lauren decided to try the canyon swing that involved being tied into a plastic lawn chair and tipped over backwards into the valley below. The guy pushing her over, however, faked her out several times and caught her off guard when he finally tipped her over for real. Upon seeing this, Will (remember he had a fear of heights?) practically shat his pants. He also had paid for 2 swings and decided at the last minute to only do one. He had to do that one in tandem with Simo.
Worker (who sensed Will’s fear): “How are you doing today?”
Will: “I’ll fuck you up if you do that.”
He was clearly referring to how the guy faked Lauren out multiple times. Please note that while Will’s reaction sounds harsh, if you knew him, you would realize that it wasn’t threatening at all. We all bust out laughing because 1) his reactions from fear were quite amusing; and 2) he signed up for this and we had no idea why. He was securely tied into the harness with Simo and before he could say “Wait!” they were both nudged until they walked off the ledge without realizing. Insert Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year, 2015.
I decided to do one tandem with Cat and one on my own that involved a slide. By this time, it had begun flurrying and the snowflakes were piercing my eyes. Canyon swinging in the snow? COOL. What could make this day even cooler? A Fergburger.
Fiordland National Park / Doubtful Sound
We took a ferry ride across Lake Manapouri and then a bus to this viewpoint. Doubtful Sound surrounded by a winter wonderland. I had to remind myself that it was August and not Christmastime.
Gen, being an Aussie who’s rarely seen snow, let out her inner deprived child and began making a snowman. This turned into a full-on group project. Someone was able to spare a carrot and a hat.
As seen from the snowy photo above, it was very much wintertime and we were given clean thermals to wear to go kayaking. It turns out that Doubtful Sound isn’t really a sound but a fiord. And, “fiord” is spelled with an “i” here instead of a “j.” It was also originally named “Doubtful Harbor” as Captain James Cook doubted that he could navigate into it back in the 1700s. Way to take things literally. #likeliterally
We kayaked for about 3 hours and spotted a fur seal just chillin’ on a rock and, further out, a Fiordland yellow-crested penguin in the midst of some bushes. Wildlife spotting = SUCCESS. At the 3 hour mark, however, I could tell Caroline and Gen were over kayaking and had looks of obvious distaste. Caroline did get a surge of motivation when we were reaching the end and began commanding, “PADDLE! PADDLE!” …which, for some reason, reminds me of a time when she took offense at something I said that wasn’t meant to be offensive and replied back snidely, “OoOOoO well, I’m from New York. OoOoo damn sauce, awesome sauce, ketchup!” All NYC and/or American terms, I suppose. I didn’t notice how much I said “damn sauce” until the other girls (British & Aussie) tried to imitate my NYC twang (dayummm sah-osse) but instead came out with the very proper teatime pinky up “DOM SOCE.”
We stayed at Deep Cove Hostel for the night and one of the ground rules was to make sure that all doors were shut behind you. There were even signs on the doors to remind us to beware. The kea birds (native parrots) are known to fly in and viciously steal your food. There were already a few just hanging out on the porch, looking in through the windows and trying to scope out the food sitch. One time, a guy, in an attempt to take a better close-up photo, propped up his GoPro on a selfie stick and pushed it forward into the kea’s vicinity. The kea wasn’t having any, grabbed his GoPro and flew off into the woods. Nobody messes with the kea. Or, Chuck Norris.
After dinner, we played several rounds of Werewolf (think Mafia) and while a few went to bed afterwards, a bunch of us went outside for a night bush walk in near pitch blackness. I could barely make out my hands in front of my eyes. Without any light pollution, the starry sky was unbelievable and we instantly spotted the Southern Cross and the Milky Way. Further down, the blackness then became speckled with dots of white light. Glowworms! The starry sky above gave way to the starry trees below. I was in awe. Suddenly, we heard shrill calls coming out of the woods. Our kayak guide, Robbie, silently exclaimed, “Kiwi!” He turned on his flashlight and went into the bushes. The shrill calls stopped and we knew he scared it away.
Back inside, I tried to stay up for the Wallabies vs. All Blacks Rugby Championship game but, I barely made it past the haka before my eyelids forced themselves shut.
We did a morning bush walk around Deep Cove and passed Helena Falls and an LOTR filming spot (woohoo!) before taking the bus back to the ferry. When we boarded the bus, Simo sat in the way back so that he could spread out. As he stretched his arms out, his right hand grazed something dark and furry on the window seat and he flipped a shit. All of us jumped up, startled, as he shouted “HOOOOOOLLLYYYY SHITTTTT!” Next thing we knew, a medium-sized round thing scurried underneath our seats, past our legs and out the door. It was a possum.
Bus driver: “That thing must’ve been here for days! I parked this bus and haven’t opened the door until today… Hm, it’s not good that he escaped into the woods, though. It will decimate the kiwi population.”
Ruh oh. Possums ruin trees by stripping them and eating up new shoots, preventing new trees from growing. They also prey on native birds’ eggs and birds themselves, particularly flightless ones like the kiwi. They have become such pests that it’s become a local sport to hit as many as you can with your car. Places have even started selling foods with possum meat, warm clothing with possum fur and even novelty items like a possum fur G-string. What a way to make something unpleasant even more so…unpleasant.