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After a three day crossing from Melbourne on the Bahia Negro, I landed on Feb 23 in the pretty harbor town of Port Chalmers, which is right next to Dunedin, the “Austin of New Zealand” as I was told by a friendly barista at a local coffee shop. (There are dozens of them, and they’re all pretty good. Dunedinistas like their caffeine.) Darren Atkinson, an affable Brit doing his PhD on post-conflict reconstruction political party development in post-communist Afghanistan at the University of Otago here, was kind enough to take me in via Couchsurfing. And it was a bromance made in heaven. His own experiences in Lebanon, Jordan, Afghanistan and Pakistan made he and I a great duo for the week that I spent with him. Also crashing with Darren were Louise G., her brother Paul and his girlfriend Chelsea.
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339 Kms from Port Chalmers
Christchurch - the largest city in South Island was my final destination. An earthquake of magnitude 6.3 struck Christchurch in 2011, causing severe damage to the entire city. Thus, most parts of this city are now under restoration and there is not much to explore here as of now. I spent the evening with my Stray friends, discussing the highlights of the trip and bidding final adieus over dinner and drinks.In a nutshell...With 150kms of walking and hiking over 2 weeks, temperatures ranging from -2 to +21 degrees Celsius, mesmerising landscapes draped in autumn colours, bungy jumping, sky-diving and hitchhiking for the very first time and loads of strangers who turned friends - solo backpacking in the land of fern-trees, mountains, kiwis and sheep was one hell of an adventure. I must admit that I am totally in love with this country and is truly the best country, of the 18 countries I have visited so far.
207 Kms from Port Chalmers
Wanaka is the quaint sister of Queenstown. It is about a 2-hour drive from Queenstown to Wanaka. I decided to do a tandem skydive at Wanaka in the morning slot and set off early in the morning from Queenstown. The weather was great with clear skies and as I jumped off the plane at 12,000 feet I felt a strange tingling sensation in my stomach during the first 45 seconds of free-fall. Sky-diving is a high-risk activity with at least one fatality occurring every 1000 dives. But once the parachute was open, my heart calmed down and the view from above was beyond description. The mountains, trees and lakes looked mesmerisingly beautiful. At that point, I could not thank God enough for this wonderful world and for this experience. I sailed down slowly with a beaming smile on my face and tears in my eyes.For the next two hours, I sat by Lake Wanaka to completely embrace the sky-diving experience with visuals playing back in my head over and over again.
202 Kms from Port Chalmers
Today take the drive to what can only be described as a spectacular look-out point. At 1000m above sea level one really does have a feeling of being at the top of the world here. Also en route will be a stop at the historic Church of the Good Shepherd, featured on all New Zealand postcards. You will arrive in Christchurch sometime in the late afternoon where you can take a city tour. Spots that will be marked on your map include: Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Port Hills, Christchurch Gondola, Re-Start Mall and New Regent Street. We will also recommend some great dining in the central city. Overnight Christchurch.
271 Kms from Port Chalmers
Fox Glacier is a 13km long ice river, fed by the four alpine glaciers. Flowing through the temperate forest landscape, this river is an amazing natural wonder that you just can't miss. The valley around the glacier, and the easy access to it gives an explorer the perfect opportunity to wander around this amazing spectacle. The scenic walks around the valley provide amazing views of the glacier from different angles. You can either chose to hike up to the glaciers that feed the river or take a helicopter ride to the top. After you reach the top, it's time for some fun! With snow boots and an ice pick in your hand, traverse through the blue ice crevasses and icy caves.Activities for the day: Walking on a glacier and discovering the ice river of New Zealand.Cost: A guided tour of the Fox Glacier starts at 59NZD or Rs. 3,000 and can go up to 900 NZD or Rs. 40,000 depending on what activities you do.After Fox Glacier, it's onward to a dramatic change of scenery. Day 6 and 7: Abel Tasman National Park
327 Kms from Port Chalmers
Milford Sound is a fjord in South Island. It's known for towering Mitre Peak, rainforests and one of the highest waterfalls in New Zealand - the Bowen falls, which plummet down its sheer sides. The fjord is home to penguins, fur seal colonies and dolphins. We were lucky to spot some seals while cruising.On completing the Milford Sound cruise we spent the night at Gunn's camp, a historic camp nestled in the Hollyford Valley.