Last-second mash-up: Queenstown and Milford Sound, Castle Hill, Cute Cafe, random caves

Classes ended, and study week began, and an excuse to explore Christchurch and its cute cafes.
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My friend Eliana and I posted up in Lemon Tree Cafe, a spot filled with antique-tchotchkes and delicious mochas. We caffeinated and studied and my study guides came together in kindergarden-style with colored pencils and pictures.

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We took a study break to walk around the still transitioning city from the earthquake 4 years ago. Magnificent buildings give an apocalyptic tone as shipping crates hold up their façades.

A few days later, I was eager to go hiking locally, and read about these caves in the nearby port hills accessible via bus. I went exploring…

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The caves could be reached only via the closed-due-to-rockfall hiking path that I went on anyway (hey, I’m a geologist in training!). The hike was a treat with views of the ocean and New Brighton’s sandbar, and some sheep friends on the track. There was ample rockfall to scramble over and the trail was certainly non-existent in some spots, but worth the effort to see some caves.

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Later that week, Eliana and I took a day trip to Castle Hill to see some Narnia rocks– fantastic limestones exposed close to the Castle Hill mapping area of field camp ages ago. We played, did handstands and backbends and climbed about these outrageous structures.

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The winter weather meant that our surrounding mountains were snow-capped and massive. We hitchhiked back to Christchurch at the end of the day with a man driving a black jaguar and wearing cow-print fuzzy pants with a purple goatee!

The next day, I made my way down south to Queenstown and towards Fiordland National Park. The Remarkables were true to their name, and were stark and glorious outside our accommodation for the 4 days my friends and I were there. Four of us shared a two-queen bedroom at a reduced winter-rate at the Rydges, which was more economical for us, but also much more upscale than the hostels we have become familiar with.

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After a day of downhill skiing, and falling over in the snow, Kristie and I took a bus trip to see Milford Sounds, one of the most iconic sights on the South Island.

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We stopped at many beautiful sights along the way too enjoy the atypically wonderful weather and soak in jagged peaks and isolated river-bends.

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After 4-5 hours of driving and stopping for views, and after a trip though a long tunnel carved out of granite, we came to Milford Sounds, and drooled at the post-glacial landscape.

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The journey to the sound came with a 2 hour cruise about, and just our luck we began the boat ride only to be greeted by dolphins. Our captain told informed us that it had been a month since they had seen them in the Sound! 

Kristie and I bared the freezing wind to stare at the landscape and the clarity of the water. We encountered fur seals swimming and sunning, and waterfalls that misted up rainbows, and mountains jutting out of the water.

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We ended the day with a rest-stop at the Alpine center in Te Anau and hung out with some alpacas. Stars popped up in the sky as we returned to Queenstown, and enjoyed our last night in the chilly winter air, not-quite-so ready to return to Christchurch the next day to face finals and the ticking clock.

Abel Tasman and Nelson

This past weekend was an extended holiday weekend– we had Monday classes off for the Queen’s birthday! Any excuse to travel is a good one, so my friend Emma, some kayak friends (her flatmates too!) and I took off to Nelson on Friday morning.

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Doing the Abel Tasman coast track has been high on my New Zealand list. It is a great walk, through two of my favorite biomes: rainforest (although this one is temperate) AND beaches! We arrived in Nelson, the coolest town within proximity. And we took a walk to the center of (the North and South Islands of) New Zealand.

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We stayed in the Shortbread Cottage, a very cute hostel that provides a free shortbread cookie when you arrive, and the proceeds from purchasing more cookies go to projects in Nepal (learn more here). A Maori ex-mobster gang leader was also in our bunk-room;  he had since changed his ways and sold us his book/memoir!

The next day, we took a bus to the start of the trail in Marahau from Nelson. Emma and I took a water taxi up the coast so we could cover more of the trail in the short two days we had to hike.

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Our driver treated us and the other 10 passengers to views of awesome granite boulders, fractured on-site, some cute little seals, and BOTTLE NOSE DOLPHINS!

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The taxi found a pod of dolphins, and we zipped around, and the dolphins played in our wake. They swarmed beneath the boat; their jumping and surfing was such a treat to see!

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We began at Bark Bay, and with extensive cove-hopping along the way (the walk was probably a few km longer because of this) we meandered to Anchorage to stay in the DoC hut for the night. We ate wraps of humus and cucumber and cheese for 4 consecutive meals. Yum!

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Note the rainforest, and the swing bridge! Such a fun walk…

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Low-tide crossings were a fun game. Luckily, low-tide was around noon both days of our walk!

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The above photo is of Cleopatra’s Pool, another side track on the way to Anchorage.

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Sunrise the next morning was beautiful, and we watched the sun peak up from the Anchorage cove we stayed in.

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So many beautiful views of the ocean with a great group of friends was too much good in one hike. In winter, as it is here, these coves have brilliant blue and clear water.IMG_2569 IMG_2570 IMG_2590

We ended the coast track with a low-tide crossing and took our shuttle bus back to Nelson. The next morning, we had the 7-hour bus ride back to Christchurch, and are now facing the reality of the dwindling of our time here…