Final Entry!

Trip Start Dec 30, 2008
Trip End May 15, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hello All!  This is my final entry for my travel time in New Zealand.  (It's a bit long, but hang in there!) I have returned to the United States, the land of REAL ketchup, good chocolate chips cookies, Burts Bees chapstick, and driving on the right side of the road.  It is great to be back, but a little unreal as well.
I guess I'll fill you in on the last few legs of my journey.  After the Milford backpack trip Naima and I took a road trip of the West Coast.  Even though we were retracing part of our route on the South Island school tour, we were hoping to see more with better weather.  We did see more, but didn't get much better weather.  We spent our first day driving through Mount Aspiring National Park, stopping to gaze at the mountains, exclaim at what we had missed when we came through before, and get thoroughly munched on by sandflies.  We camped that night at Lake Paringa and spent the evening eating fresh caught crayfish from our camping neighbors.  They were a group of 15 classic West Coast Kiwi blokes, and they invited us for a beer around their campfire.  They were a hoot.  We decided to do a guided walk on Fox Glacier the next day, but the morning dawned in an utter downpour and stiff winds.  But we were excited nonetheless and we braved the "angry river" as the guides called it, to get out to the glacier.  Unfortunately the trek was canceled before we could get on the ice, but the adventure didn't stop there.  We turned around to find the small stream we had crossed 15 minutes previously was now a raging river of mud.  Our guides calmly explained that we would simply have to wait out the surge in order to cross.  An hour and a half later the surge was still surging, so the guides sought out an alternate route that involved wading through waist-deep chilly water.  We were escorted out two at a time with a guide on each side.  By that time Naima and I had decided it was time to escape the rain, so we hightailed it north to Karamea.  We stayed in the Rongo backpackers, which was the ultimate hippie haven, complete with rainbow-painted exterior, organic veggie garden, and peace sings galore.  Karamea was a very laid back small town, and I would have liked to spend more time there, but only had time to do a short hike to explore some caves in Kahurangi National Park.  From there Naima met up with other friends to do the Heaphy Track, and I headed to Wellington to meet Becca.
Becca and I left from Wellington on our road trip of the North Island.  We put in the most driving the first day, but still had time to visit a lavender farm and have a picnic lunch.  We ended up in the Taupo region where we sought out an obscure Department of Conservation campsite.  No one else was there, so we turned on the headlights and cranked the music from the car to set up camp.  We'd planned to do the Tongariro Crossing the next day but the weather was iffy, so we settled for a hike to Tama Lakes, which was quite lovely.  We saw Taranaki Falls, Mt Tongariro, and Mt Ruapehu, both of which are volcanoes.  On our way north we stopped to soak in the thermally heated Kerosene Creek and spent the night in Thames of the Coromandel Peninsula.  The next day we explored Coromandel Forest Park by doing short hikes and driving up the West Coast to Colville.  The peninsula is absolutely gorgeous!  We had sapphire blue ocean and a dark igneous rock beach on our left, and verdant green hills with sheep on our right.  The sunset that evening was incredible and called for an evening dip in the ocean.  We went as far north as the road would go and spent our time enjoying the sunshine and taking a coastal hike at Fletcher Bay.  Once we headed south we made a stop to climb Castle Rock peak and gape at the enormous kauri trees.  These trees are relics of a once prevalent forest, but they are now endangered because they were logged almost to extinction and are now threatened by a soil disease.  The ones we saw though were majestic and massive.  They are the redwoods of New Zealand.  Our final stop was at Cathedral Cove, which is a huge cavernous limestone cave.  It is also a major tourist attraction, but we showed up just after all the tourists buses left, so we had the place to ourselves in the evening light. 
Becca and I parted ways the next day in Auckland.  She flew directly home but I made a stopover in Fiji with Asa, Zach, and Christina.  We spent a week there and did exactly what you would expect us to: laid on the beach, swam, snorkeled, read books, relaxed, drank pina coladas, and played in the sand.  We were so lazy in fact that we were certain that there were either drugs in the food, or we'd all left our brains in New Zealand.  Probably both. 
Well, that wraps up my 4 months of travel.  By the time I was headed home I was good and ready to be back.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time abroad, but there comes a point where you get travel weary from making plans, living out of a backpack, and looking after your valuables.  But part of me realized that I was looking forward to coming back because that was what was coming next.  If I'd had more time in New Zealand, I know I would have happily filled it with more experiences.  (Indeed I have a rather long list of things to do when I go back.)  So it was comforting to know that I could go on traveling, or I could go home and I'd be happy either way.  And in the long term my semester has only inspired me all the more to go see the rest of the big wide world.  I would recommend New Zealand to anyone as a great place to travel.  The people are friendly, and the land is not only gorgeous, but diverse.  It has mountains, beaches, tropical forest, plains, volcanic zones, and millions of sheep, all in one little country.    
Thank you for taking an interest in my travels, reading my ramblings, and putting up with the junk email notifications.  I have enjoyed sharing my blogs with you all, and hope you have enjoyed them as well.  Telling my stories to you has helped me commit all the details to memory and document the trip.  Take care, and keep in touch! I'd love to hear what's happening in your corner of the world. 

Peace, Danielle
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