We’d been going back and forth about when we would leave (or could afford to leave) Te Anau for a while (shortly after we arrived, in fact). To sum up our experience in Te Anau, I’ll just say that it wasn’t what we expected. Cody and I both have years of experience in restaurant work and we’ve never seen anything like the operation they’ve got (barely) running at the steak house and café. The words sloppy, disorganized, unsanitary, and total clusterf*ck (sorry, Mom) come to mind.
Needless to say, we are glad to be finished with our jobs and are looking forward to the next chapter of our journey. On a positive note, after weeks of struggling with the language barrier, we did end up befriending a few of our German coworkers. In fact, shortly before departing, we introduced a few of them to the all-American pastime of beer pong. Also, a couple from Wales, Becca and Tom, began working with us just a week before we left (replacing us as the token English speakers). We got along really well with them and hope to meet up with them again while we’re all still in NZ.
On the morning of the 24th, we left Te Anau and never looked back. Just 3 ½ hours later, we arrived in Wanaka, where we would be spending Christmas. Wanaka is a small town situated next to another of New Zealand’s beautiful glacial lakes. We spent the afternoon checking out the town and walking around the lake’s shore. That evening (Christmas eve) we went to see Sherlock Holmes in one of the coolest movie theaters we’ve ever seen. Instead of seats, they have comfy couches, recliners and even an old Volkswagen Bug in the middle of the theater. Even cooler, moviegoers can order wine, beer, pizza, ice cream and homemade cookies at the snack bar.
A few weeks back we purchased Christmas stockings and wrapping paper so Christmas morning would feel as normal as possible. That morning we woke up in a hostel in the middle of a foreign country but as we opened presents, prepared a big Christmas breakfast and spoke on the phone with our families, we felt a little closer to home. That afternoon, however, instead of building snowmen or going sledding, we went for a hike in the sunshine. An hour and a half uphill provided an incredible view of Lake Wanaka. We returned to the hostel late that afternoon to snack on Christmas cookies (Thanks Mom, Aunt Cheri and Anna!) and prepare our Christmas dinner.
We left Wanaka the next day and headed north along the west coast. We passed several beaches and drove through a rainforest before reaching our next stop. We spent two nights in a small town called Franz Josef, which is famous for its enormous glacier. While checking into our hostel we signed up for a full day’s hike with the Franz Josef Glacier Guides. The next morning we were outfitted with rain coats, boots and “clampons” (spikes to attach to the boots to aid in walking on the ice) and were off to conquer a glacier.
Without recalling all of the details we were given that day, a brief explanation of how the Franz Josef glacier survives in the middle of a rainforest: The largest portion of the immensely thick glacier rests at the top of the surrounding mountains where it accumulates snow year-round. The snow packs down into ice and this buildup is what feeds the glacier and keeps it alive, so to speak. At the base of the glacier, where we began our ascent, there is a stream of water (melted ice) flowing to the sea. Water and ice are constantly moving throughout the glacier and our guides assured us that it doesn’t look the same from one day to the next.
In order to maneuver about the glacier, our ice-pick-wielding guide carved out steps for us. It was unreal. For 6 hours, we hiked up and down, across and over, and through tiny crevices. We sat and ate lunch - on a glacier!! It was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done.
The next day we continued our journey north. The highway along the west coast is absolutely gorgeous. I mean palm-tree-covered-cliffs-deep-blue-water-white-sandy-beaches-gorgeous.
After a few hours we made a stop at the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. The Pancake Rocks are huge cliffs jetting off from the shore. They get their name from the fine lines dividing the layers of rock they are made of. Thin layer upon thin layer makes them look, miraculously, like they are made of pancakes. It’s quite a sight.
Our final stops were in Nelson and Picton. Both towns lie at the top of the south island and we spent our time exploring each to see which one we’d like to spend the next few months. (Spoiler alert: We chose Picton.)
But our trip didn’t stop there. We took a ferry from Picton to the southernmost city on the north island, Wellington. We arrived in New Zealand’s capitol city on the 31st. In Wellington, we met up with my cousin, Kevin, and his wife, Morgan (who happened to be vacationing in NZ) and a few of their friends for New Year’s. It was so great to bring in the New Year with some familiar faces! We went to dinner and made the most of Wellington’s nightlife. We all had a great time.
By the next day, Kevin and Morgan were continuing their travels to Thailand and Cody and I were heading back to Picton. Getting settled in Picton hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as it did in Timaru or Te Anau but I’ll leave that for another entry.