South Island Circle Tour Part II

In my previous installment describing the South Island of New Zealand, I vigorously tried to defend my use of sweeping adjectives and grandiose superlatives. Once again I found myself facing the same dilemma of not sounding too impressed in relating the second half of my whirlwind tour, yet even if I were living in George Orwell’s 1984, I would have no choice but to give this place a rating of “double plus good.”

Queenstown to Fox Glacier

Your average roadside waterfall passing through Mt. Aspiring National Park
Your average roadside waterfall passing through Mt. Aspiring National Park

Leaving the adventure capital of Queenstown, our drive took us through scenic Mt. Aspiring National Park and its collection of raging waterfalls on the way through the Haast Pass to reach the rugged and untamed west coast. Sandwiched between the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea, once again the visitor is inundated with natural and soft adventure opportunities. My first stop was the tiny hamlet of Fox Glacier, nestled at the base of its namesake. After taking the nature trail and obligatory photographs from the shore of nearby Lake Matheson, I took in the small but unique experience of observing clusters of glow-worms—tiny larvae of indigenous gnats that emit a small pinprick of greenish light while suspended on sticky threads. Put together they form a miniature universe speckled against the darkened backdrop of the cave ceiling or earthen banks where they reside. I know it may sound, well, disgusting to some, but the uniform reaction that I noted reflected more wonder than revulsion.

Fox Glacier

Trekking the mighty Fox Glacier
Trekking the mighty Fox Glacier

The next morning my group and I reported bright and early for our organized glacier walk excursion, since unaccompanied trekking on the glacier is not permitted. We were outfitted with boots, ponchos, and crampons then herded onto a bus for the short ride to the glacier’s base, which was situated in a valley that had it not been occupied by a thousand-foot deep block of ice, would have been an attraction in and of itself. However, it’s all about the glacier here, and after a challenging yet beautiful half hour hike to an entry point, we were ready to strap on our crampons and get out on the ice.

Once again I have to insist that I am not exaggerating when I say that it was impossible not to feel insignificant when scampering across the undulating ridges of blue and white that stretched all the way to the mountaintops. Longer excursions require a helicopter trip to the glacier’s upper reaches and boast trails that take would-be trekkers through ever-changing caverns of incredibly blue ice. Alas, my itinerary required that we were back on the road after only half a day. Out of our group, I can truly say that only our calves weren’t disappointed.

Punakaiki National Park

The Pancake Rocks
The Pancake Rocks

A few hours north along the western coastline is tiny Punakaiki National Park, and its main attraction, the Pancake Rocks. As the name would suggest, the bizarre rock formations here appeared layered—like stacks of pancakes if you will—bitten and eroded by the constant surf and spray. This worthy destination isn’t visible from the road, so it is important to know about it ahead of time. Fortunately I did, and my photo album is all the richer because of it.

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park

Situated along the aquamarine coast of Tasman Bay on the northern tip of the South Island, is Abel Tasman National Park—a coastal sanctuary that draws kayak enthusiasts the world over. Paddling the azure tranquil waters was yet another way I got revel in this country’s overwhelming natural splendor. Yes, I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating again, but ask anyone who has been here and trust me, you’ll get the same response.

To Christchurch

Rounding the corner of the northern tip and passing through the quaint town of Blenheim, we caught the highway south along the eastern shoreline, passing hill after hill covered in grazing sheep all the way down to Kaikoura—a favorite port for whale and other marine mammal watchers. Lining the rocky coastline were packs of playful seals basking in the sun or splashing in the waves—all close enough to the road to consider this an authentic animal encounter. Once back on the road it was two hours to Christchurch and the end of our visit here.

While I endeavored to provide the trip’s highlights here, this is by no means an exhaustive recounting off all there is to see and do on the South Island of New Zealand. It would take a small novel to recount all that, and in the end it really isn’t necessary. Words can hardly do this land justice, and until it is experienced firsthand, no description can accurately portray the wonders that await. As for me, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this will be the measuring stick by which I will gauge all future destinations, and I won’t be at all surprised if I seem a bit jaded. This doesn’t bother me though. There’s always the North Island, and I still have plenty of adjectives left.

Welcome to the Trip Accomplice Blog!

Greetings and welcome to the first post of the Trip Accomplice blog! For me, much of my enjoyment from travel happens before my tickets are bought, hotels are booked, or a single suitcase is packed. I’ve found that it’s those initial steps toward researching a potential destination—an obscure reference in a guidebook, an article in a magazine, the first web site with all those pictures—that mark the true beginning of any of my trips. Yes, for me it’s not the kill but the thrill of the hunt that keeps me addicted, and it’s what motivated me to start Trip Accomplice, which is, to my knowledge, the only travel agency that specializes in destination research.

Don’t worry, this blog is not about touting the services I offer but rather a chance for me to share my insights on all things travel: From tips on choosing where to go, to my own, self-proclaimed, “travel philosophy”. Basically this blog is to inform, entertain, and to enhance the traveling experience of anyone willing to take the time to hear what I have to say. And if I manage to elicit the odd chuckle here and there, then so be it.

So in this first blog post I’ve decided that of all possible things to share, the first thing on my list is a basic philosophy that convinced me that I had a service that others would benefit from and moved me to start Trip Accomplice in the first place. I call it: The Pancake Rock Effect. Nestled on the wild, west coast of New Zealand is a tiny natural gem called Paparoa National Park. The main attractions here are the aforementioned Pancake Rocks—a coastal formation of limestone where erosion and seismic activity has sculpted the rocks into bizarre shapes that look sort of like stacks of pancakes (see image below). Arriving there at sunset, breathing in the salty air, listening to the muted thundering of the surf and looking out at the sun breaking through the clouds in hazy shafts of light, was one of the favorite moments of my entire 3 week trip. The reason I mention this is because had I not known 1) that it was there and 2) that it was worth seeing, it would have been so easy to drive right past the entrance and miss out on a truly delightful experience. That’s the value of traveling informed: Knowing the options and making sure to put oneself in the best position to get the most out of any trip. So keep that principle in mind as this blog continues, as it will be the undercurrent to any and all information posted here.

Pancake Rocks, Paparoa National Park, New Zealand

Of course, I invite you not only to keep checking back for new posts, but to feel free to comment, praise, criticize, suggest, imply, mock or complain at your leisure. And also don’t forget to check out my website www.tripaccomplice.com for more info on how I can personally become your own trip’s accomplice.

Thanks for reading,

Ben Pastore