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.

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