Whenever I tell a Kiwi (nickname for a person from New Zealand) that I spent a semester abroad at the University of Otago they always give me a smirk because of the reputation that it has for being a reckless place.

Otago University is situated in Dunedin, in the very south of the South Island of New Zealand. For the past three months I lived on Castle Street in Dunedin. If you do a Google search of “Castle Street, Otago” go to images, and you’ll understand what I mean by reckless. I am a 3rd year Mathematical-Economics major at Colorado College on a semester abroad. I wasn’t too worried about my studies during my short time in New Zealand. I wanted to have amazing new experiences exploring.

I spent much of my time traveling around the beautiful country, seeing all that I could. It was quite an adventure. After my semester at Otago, I said my goodbyes. It was time to start a new adventure up to the northern tip of the South Island.

The South Island of New Zealand

I had a week off before I had to be at a small dairy farm where I would be working for the next month. The farm was just outside of a place called Collingwood. A friend of mine, Mack, who was also attending the same semester abroad program at Otago, decided to come along with me on a six-day road trip adventure to see parts of New Zealand’s South Island, that we had planned on seeing, but never had the chance.

Mack was also headed north to work on another farm on the North Island. We left early on a rainy Tuesday morning with a loose plan of fishing and hiking along the way up North for the next short-week.

Marewhenua River after heavy rain.

“Fishing and hiking our way across the South Island of New Zealand, the first two days were fishing, and then four days hiking.”

The Marewhenua River

Our first fishing stop was the Marewhenua River just two hours north of Dunedin in Dansey’s Pass. Another friend, Martin joined us for the day, and we’re off to see if we could snag any fish. I had fished in the Marewhenua before and had plenty of luck, however, this time the South Island was hit with a week full of rain making the water levels triple and the fishing tough.

We decided to try another river Martin had heard about that might not have been as affected by the rain. Instead of taking the main road, we took a smaller dirt road through Hakataramea Pass where we came across a wallaby lying next to the road. Wallaby’s are a macropod from the kangaroo family, and are technically considered pests here in New Zealand, however it was very surprising to see a wallaby, as I had no idea they were in the country.

The Hakataramea Pass, muddy roads-less traveled.

Our last stop for the day was a small spring-fed stream, with Mt. Cook hiding in the clouds behind it. Mt. Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain, and a training ground for people who plan to climb Mt. Everest. We didn’t catch any fish here, but it was our most productive spot of the day. We were able to cast at a few sighted Brown Trout.

Above Lake Pukaki.
Sealy Tarns, on the way to Mueller.

Our next series of adventures began the next morning. I had planned to hike to the Mueller Hut located right next to Mt. Cook. Several friends recommended this tramp to me, and this would be my last chance to attempt it. Mack already hiked to Mueller the week before so he chose another hike for the day. The weather can get very severe near the Meuller Hut – high winds, snow, sleet, and avalanche danger. I parked at the base of the track and discussed the conditions with a ranger. Although it was pouring, the rain was supposed to lighten up and the winds weren’t suppose to get too bad until late afternoon, so I decided to start hiking and came to this amazing view about half way point.

Mueller Hut with Mingma

I started the hike alone but came across an Australian fellow named Mingma. Mingma was in the area taking a mountaineering course and had gone out for a morning stroll. He asked me, which way I was hiking. He was wearing only a t-shirt and a rain jacket. He decided to join me on the hike up to the hut. The weather got a little worse than I was expecting. The avalanche danger seemed minimal, but the winds and sleet at the ridge were brutal. I made the mistake of hiking with Gum Boots with the thought that if I stuck to the trail the snow would stay out of my boots. Once I reached the snow line I realized very quickly that this was not the case. My boots acted as shovels, scooping the snow into my shoes and packing around my legs and feet. Afraid of frostbite, I repeatedly had to take them off and empty them out so my feet would not freeze. We finally made it to the Mueller Hut to warm up before our trek back down. Mingma and I decided to descend by sledding our way down in the snow on our asses.

Later in the day Mack and I made a pit stop lakeside at Lake Tekapo to dry out some clothing and have some lunch.

Lake Tekapo lunch spot with Mack-daddy Glav.

Mack and I continued on our journey north and drove all the way to Arthur’s Pass that same day (about 5-6 hours). These one-lane bridges are scattered all over the country and can sometimes make for sticky situations. We arrived late and had one of our classic rice and chili bean dinners with a dash (maybe a bit more than just a dash) of chicken salt for some flavor.

Dinner in Arthurs Pass.

The 4th day due to rough weather conditions, we could not follow through with our plan to hike Avalanche Peak. Instead, a friendly ranger suggested that we hike the Temple Basin Ski Area. On our drive there we came across this spectacular waterfall named “Devil’s Punchbowl.”

Devil's Punchbowl waterfall

When we arrived at the top of the hike/the base of the ski area, we were grateful that the weather forced us to change plans. With towering snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, caused by snow melt, cascading down the hillside, and a deep valley below filled with a thick cloud, we were in awe. After a quick encounter with a cheery man on his way down, Mack and I got to explore around this backcountry ski access area alone.

Temple Basin ski area.

After Arthur’s Pass we drove about an hour northwest and arrived at Paparoa National Park. I had never heard about this national park during my semester studying at Otago but after doing a bit of research, I made it a priority pit stop on the road trip. We got in around 7 at night and saw that there were “real kiwis” in this area so we decided to start the 3-4 hour hike that night in hopes of catching a glimpse of this elusive creature. We were unsuccessful in our search but did hear multiple kiwi calls and saw several wild mountain goats. The next morning on our 5th day of road tripping we hiked up another hour from the hut to the ridgeline and got a sight of the ocean on the west coast (technically the Tasman Sea).

Ridge line view of the ocean.

Our final stop before Mack and I headed our separate ways was Nelson Lakes. We hiked up on the Pinchgut Track and as we got higher the view became more and more magnificent. With beautiful mountains in the distance and golden grass surrounding us, this was a perfect place to end our journey together.

Lake Rotoiti (Pinchgut Track to Bushline Hut.)
Top of Pinchgut track

I dropped Mack off in Picton so he could catch the ferry to Wellington on the North Island and make his way to the farm he would be WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) for a couple of weeks. I continued west and north to Collingwood. Here, I would spend four weeks helping out on a small dairy farm.

After my semester in Otago, a one-week road trip, I’m now finishing my month long internship on the dairy farm!  My days consisted of waking up at 5:45am every morning and head out to the cow shed with the farmer’s daughter Amy to milk the cows. I met the farm family through a girl I went to Otago with. That was my introduction to the diary farm. By 5:45 Amy’s father will have already rounded up the cows from their paddock and have them waiting in the shed for us to milk. We milked the cows twice a day, once at 6am and again around 3 pm. In between milking I was doing property maintenance. It was hard work. I enjoyed my time there very much.

The cows are waiting for us to milk!

New Zealand, in my opinion, is the best place I have ever travelled. It’s beautiful and filled with so many things to see and do. It’s extremely diverse in its environment, glaciers, mountains, plains, beaches, jungle-like forests, high alpine. I will definitely be returning to NZ. I’d like to come back when I have more experience fly fishing and focus on fishing, and pay for my adventures by working some manual labor jobs which may include farming, roofing, painting, or anything that is available. My next destination will hopefully be Patagonia. I have the feeling it has a similar feel to NZ with limited people, and plenty of opportunity to get into the backcountry where few have gone before.