84 – The South

Feb 21

I finally make it to Invercargill, as the wind strength gets to a normal level. Normal for New Zealand, so the flight is still pretty bumpy. My host Trev is the nicest, most genuine guy I’ve yet met. We have another Kiwi style dinner, eating fish and chips in the car as he drives me around the town and beach for “sightseeing”. Otherwise I sort out some food shopping and just relax before the three days trek. As I mentioned earlier, after so much time in south-east Asia, I gave up on any planning. However, coming up with the idea of “I’d like to do a trek in the South Island next week, but I don’t know which one yet” may be slightly difficult to get away with. It’s the peak season, but I eventually manage to book the last available space for two nights in the huts on the Raikura trail and organize the rest around those dates.

Raikura trail

Feb 22 – 24

Raikura trail is the southernmost and the least crowded of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It’s a 3 days – 2 nights loop, you can either stay in huts or camp, and you must carry all your food with you (the water in the huts is OK to drink). The trek is a 39 km loop (the actual trail is 32 km from Lee Bay to Fern Gully, but you have to count additional 5 km to get from Oban to the beginning of the trail and then 2 km to get back to Oban on the third day). We are talking around 6 hours a day of walking at leisurely pace, with plenty of breaks for taking photographs. For properly hardcore trekkers, there are over 200 km of other trails on the island, the loop takes about 9 days, but there was no chance I’d carry food for that long. As I am trekking solo, I have no desire to carry food for three days AND a tent all on my back. For that same reason, I decide against getting a camping cooker and gas, and conclude I can survive for 2.5 days on flat bread, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, dry fruits and nuts. And Whittakers Peanuts Slab for a treat. My ex used to bring them from New Zealand, and I have to give him that, it’s the best junk chocolate bar on Earth. Which I did. It would have been nice to have a coffee in the morning, but I can survive without that, too.

Day 1: Oban – Lee Bay – Port William Hut

I take the 9 am ferry over Fervoix strait from Bluff to Oban. Bluff is about 30 km from Invercargill, buses leave from the visitor’s center about an hour before the departure of the ferry, the crossing takes about an hour. The sea is still rough, 10m waves, so most people are a bit greenish when we get to Oban. I agree to leave all the stuff that I don’t need in the nice hotel (also home to the island’s only pub) that I booked for the last night. I also manage to leave my phone in the local dairy, but some nice people lend me their phone to call my number and agree with the finder to keep it for me for three days. There is no signal on the trail anyway, so it does not matter much. I start walking around midday, first about an hour on tarmac along the coast to Lee Bay, where the actual gravel path starts, from there it’s about 3 hours of beautiful coastal walk to Port William Hut, where I jump into the cold sea, just to be able to say I’ve done it. I can hear kiwi cries all night. Some people say they had seen a kiwi along the trail during the day (just off Maori beach), so just that you know, there is a kiwi with a sleeping disorder, if you are lucky, you may see it in plain daylight.

Day 2: Port William Hut to North Arm Hut

The trail goes inland through deep forest. There are some sawmill relics along the way. I leave after everyone else (I see no point in rushing off at 8, if it only means arriving to the next hut at 2 pm and then what), there is absolutely no one in the woods, except for a young deer that keeps appearing every now and then. North arm hut is on the beach too, but it doesn’t look very inviting, so I skip the evening swim.

Day 3: North Arm Hut to Fern Gully car park and back to Oban

I walk with a group of english and irish expats living in New Zealand, it’s good fun and it makes the walk seem a bit shorter. The backpack really is a pain in the arse, so we take each other’s mind off the load. We arrive to Oban craving fish and chips, but the shop is scandalously closed, so we have a drink and they invite me for dinner to the place they are renting. We have good fun playing games and drinking too much, which makes my walk home in pitch black darkness a mystical experience.

Feb 25 – Feb 28: Christchurch

8 am ferry on the rough sea with a massive hangover is another mystical experience. I spend the ride on the outside deck nursing a black coffee, the steward checking on me in regular intervals. I’m like: trust me, mate, everyone is better off if I stay out here. Trev offered to pick me up at Bluff and drive me to the airport. We have another fish and chips (they really are good in New Zealand) on the beach in the meanwhile, which makes my stomach OK enough to face the flight to Christchurch.

View over Akaroa Harbour

Christchurch is weird. It was heavily hit by a huge earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, city centre and many suburban area were severely damaged, and 7 years later it still shows. Buildings are still being repaired, road works are still going on, the city centre is pretty much empty after a certain hour (well, that’s normal all over NZ, but it seems more apparent here). However, there is an atmosphere to the city, like people are finally getting bored with living in a ruined town and starting to do something about it. I meet several nice locals who show me around the good bars and eateries. I know I cannot compare any other place to London, but more I travel, more I wonder what happens to people in certain cities, why is it such a big deal to say a few words to the person next to you in a bar. Why is it a standard to expect everyone wants to be left alone with their phone.

I just chill for a day and book myself on a day trip to Akaroa harbour, which is crater of a volcano that exploded many millions of years ago and is now flooded by the ocean. It is home to world’s smallest and rarest dolphins, the Hector’s dolphins, white-flippered penguins and seals. I did not manage to secure a spot on a dolphin swimming tour (again, poor planning on my side), but go on a wildlife tour instead and don’t regret it. The sea does not look very inviting, and we see a lot of dolphins anyway, mainly thanks to Buster the Schnautzer, who can hear the dolphins’ frequency and gets very excited when the sea mammals are near (actually, Buster gets so excited he has to wear a life vest, because he is likely to jump into the ocean). Also, best fish and chips as yet in the country (I really wonder how do I manage to keep losing weight given my diet of alcohol and fried food).

Then it’s unfortunately back to Auckland on the 28th, and on to Tahiti on the next day. I mean, it’s of course not unfortunate to fly to Tahiti (yeah, I know, sounds terrible, poor me), but there are so many beautiful places left to see in New Zealand that I would stay longer. Oh well, I will just have to come back.

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