Wow, one of the most memorable adventures I have had the privilege to take part in. From the first minute my heart was racing and we knew this would be one hell of a trip.
It started when we picked up the rental car in downtown Christchurch. All they had left at the time were manuals and so we had no choice but to accept the challenge. Turns out I was the best of the group and it was my job to drive it back – I soon learned that it would be my job to drive 95% of the trip. While initially getting out of the parking lot was not easy to say the least, the rest of the 25-minute drive went surprisingly well considering the circumstances. There was one succession of stalls, but nothing too major. The car, a Daihatsu Sirion (nicknamed the Sirloin), was tiny; we had to repack and compress our stuff to make it all fit – but it made it.
We left campus at about 6pm and made it to Hokitika on the west coast of the south island in about 3.5 hours. The windy mountain roads forced me to learn stick real fast, but again, it all went surprisingly well. We pitched our tents at a lake campsite that evening and then left in the morning for Fox Glacier as we had a guided tour booked that afternoon. New Zealand is pretty much only mountain roads and the “Sirloin” almost didn’t make it up a few of the bigger hills…
The glacier was incredible. We hiked up to it and then spent at least another hour on the ice itself. What I found most interesting was how much it grows and recedes each year. There was a wooden staircase on the side of the valley where the glacier once sit, a substantial distance from where it lies today. After the glacier we continued down the coast as far as we could get to set ourselves up for a quicker drive to Queenstown the next day. We stopped at another lake campsite, which again was beautiful, but this time plagued with sand flies – basically the New Zealand version of mosquitoes, which I came to learn also love to bite me.