Our first night was spent in Picton at a beautiful holiday park near the Marina. I woke up feeling the van bouncing up and down, similar to the windstorm. I asked James if he’d felt it too but he rolled over, under the impression I was trying to wake him up. It turned out to be a sizeable 5.7 quake in Seddon at 9:06am, about 51km from Picton. Guess that tells you the schedule that we’re on! From there we drove around the dramatic Queen Charlotte Sounds, then backtracked to Marlborough wine country. After serving a million bottles of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc back at Louis Vuitton, I had to visit their beautiful winery and taste all the goodies they don’t bother to export. I will not get over the spoils of world’s most delicious Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz for $7-12 per bottle. From Malborough, we were off to explore the wild west coast.
The drive takes you through beautiful mountainous forestland and after you pass the white-capped mountains, it’s rugged shoreline. Starting in Westport, we drove down the coast through Reefton, Punakaiki (amazing rock formations!), Greymouth, Hokitika, Ross, all the way to Franz Yosef Glacier and Haast. The coastline is amazing landscape and you are allowed to “freedom camp” wherever you like if your camper is self-contained (i.e. toilet). The highlight for us was a heli ride to the middle of the Franz Josef Glacier, followed by a 2 hr hike. Sadly our guide said that at the rate the glacier is retreating (last year a record 70cm!), it could be gone in 30 years. We drove up to the less touristy Fox Glacier but the clouds kept us from seeing much of the terminal face. We were still able to enjoy the milky blue glacier water running off the huge mountains (apparently at record pace).
That evening we booked it to Wanaka, a beautiful resort town on the namesake lake surrounded by the Mount Aspiring national park. We drove there at night and woke up in snowy Alp paradise! Driving through the valleys and past more glaciers on our way to Christchurch was like a final glimpse of heaven.
In 2010 the Canterbury earthquake (7.1 magnitude) severely damaged the historic city of Christchurch. I was prepared for much of the city to still be in a state of repair but it was still sad to see the city center with so many buildings demolished or vacated. The massive reconstruction required has been slow due to the extreme price tag; damage is estimated at 2.75 – 3.5 billion (NZD)!! That’s a whole lot of money for a city with only 360,000 residents. While in Christchurch I got some very sad news from back home. That night the sunset was a deep orange across the sky. The next morning when we left the sun was rising and again the sky was deep shades of red, orange and pink. I couldn’t help but feel like the earth was mourning with me.
It was bitter sweet to leave New Zealand, it felt like there was still so much to explore but alas warmer climates were calling!