Sep 202012
 

Author: Anna Palmer

Almost three weeks ago, I hopped into a mini van with seven friends for a week-long journey of adventure and exploration around the south island of New Zealand.  Packing up the van with all of our packs and food was a struggle in itself but

The gang with "Big Al" at Fox Glacier

The gang with “Big Al” at Fox Glacier

we somehow managed to cram all eight of us into that green mini van, later dubbed “Big Al”.  A mere three hours later we set off on our journey, more ready than ever to take on whatever challenges were headed our way.  Our first stop: Te Anau.  We arrived at our campsite around 11 p.m. and what an unbelievably beautiful, warm night it was.  We managed to set up the tents (the 6 of us girls sharing the 4 person tent and the 2 boys sharing a cozy 2 person tent) without any problems and happily headed straight to bed.

Lake Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

The following morning we took a short walk to the picturesque Lake Te Anau near our campground. The view of the lake outlined by the snow-capped mountains was breathtaking.  It was at this moment that I started to realize what a beautiful journey lay ahead of us, and the open road that would take us into more adventure than I had ever imagined.

We packed up the van and hit the road for Milford Sound.  About an hour into the drive, we heard the sound of the ever-familiar pitter patter on the roof of the van.  Passing by a gorgeous field with towering mountains in the background, we were compelled to make a stop, mid-rain, and proceeded to frolic and play a game of touch football accompanied by plenty of laughter.  The rain continued to pick up steam and we were forced to retreat back into the van.  Looking ahead we saw a gloomy picture of fog and clouds covering the sky, forcing us to reassess our plans.  We unanimously decided that it would not be worth the drive all the way there to end up disappointed in the lack of scenery we would be able to see.  Without skipping a beat, we flipped around and headed in the direction we had just came.

So began the grueling 7-hour drive to the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers.  We had to make a pit stop in Queenstown for a bite at the famous Fergberger, a very popular burger joint renowned for its tasty and mighty in size burgers, accompanied by chips (fries) and aioli sauce of course.  As if we weren’t full enough, we decided to top off the meal with some delicious gelato.

As the rain came pouring down, I felt my nerves bubbling up and realized it was my turn to drive.  Mustering my confidence, I hopped in the driver side and headed up the curviest, steepest road we had seen thus far.  I managed to safely maneuver my way around the curves and loosened up a bit once the road started to straighten out.  Looking back on this moment, I realize that this marked another milestone in overcoming one of my fears, the fear of driving an SUV (something I’m not used to) packed full of people, on the opposite side of the road, in the dark and rain.  Needless to say, by the end of the trip I was feeling pretty confident in my driving abilities and even found myself eagerly volunteering to take the wheel on many occasions the rest of the trip.

About three hours away from our campsite, we realized the gas tank was running low and it would probably be wise to fill up.  We stopped at a station only to find the gas pump was closed and we would have to pay $20 for them to turn it on.  Discovering that this was the last gas station until our destination, we were forced to pay the fee, only to find that a simple switch had to be flipped to turn on the pump.  A bit disgruntled, we continued on our journey in the pouring rain.  Thankfully, just as we arrived at our campsite, the rain stopped and we were able to set up camp.

Waking up the next morning, we set out to cook our first real meal: porridge.  We decided to spice things up a bit with canned peaches.  Being the determined person I am, I began to wrestle with the can using a can opener that no one knew how to use.  The inevitable happened: I managed to slice my finger, instigating the domino effect of injuries that ensued (more on this later).  After about thirty long minutes, the bleeding finally let up, and we finished up our generous meal, packed up the van and headed off to the glaciers.

Since we didn’t pay for a guided tour on the glaciers, we were limited as to how near the glaciers we could go, which ended up being a pretty disappointing distance away.  Thankfully, both glaciers were surrounded by absolutely stunning mountains that made the short hike totally worth it.  At Franz Josef, we saw beautiful waterfalls and a spectacular ice cave that we were able to venture near.

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki

Pancake rocks at Punakaiki

We then made our way to Greymouth, where we stayed with Sam’s cousin, a fellow American who had studied abroad ten or so years ago, fell in love with a Kiwi and the rest is history.  Not to mention, Sam had never met her prior to this trip.  We enjoyed a wonderful homemade dinner of lamb, potatoes, salad and ice-cream.  Sam’s cousin even let us stay in their camper van for the night, giving us a nice break from sleeping on the ground.  The next morning, we hit the road to head off to our next adventure destination: Punakaiki pancake rocks and blackwater rafting, which was essentially tubing down a river in a cave under looking a ceiling covered with glow worms.  I was a little worried about the inevitable darkness that comes with being in a cave, but instead I found myself in awe of the darkness that was illuminated by the glow of thousands of glowworms above me as I slowly floated down the river.

The gang inside the cave looking excited for blackwater rafting

The gang inside the cave looking excited for blackwater rafting

After getting out of the caves we drove to a seal colony nearby, arriving just in time for sunset.  We then made our way to our campsite for the night.  The next morning we woke up to find that Sam was in quite a lot of pain from a mysterious tailbone injury (more on this later) and we began to reassess our plans which had been to go to Abel Tasman National Park and tramp (hike) for 3 days.  Not wanting to hold us behind, Sam decided to wait until we got there and see how she felt then.

As we edged closer to Abel Tasman, I began to realize I had my own set of problems.  I had noticed some red painful bumps that I initially thought were sandfly bites, but I soon realized that they were not.  We swung by the nearest medical center and soon enough the doctor had diagnosed me with shingles, the adult form of chicken pox.  How in the world did this happen? I still have no idea.  But from what I was told they can appear simply from a run-down immune system and having not gotten much sleep and the fact that I had been sick a couple weeks prior to the trip, it seemed somewhat logical.  Still, shingles, something I never imagined I would have unless I was nearing my 60s.  Even having the prescribed medication did not ease my worries, but I was determined to not let this bring me down.

Look for the continuation and completion of this story next Thursday

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