Noth­ing to fear, nat­u­rally

Solo back­pack­ing jaunt around New Zealand’s South Is­land con­tin­ues

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - TRAVEL with Heather Good­win The writer trav­elled at her own (mod­est) ex­pense.

AFTER all my hang-glid­ing and bungee jump­ing an­tics in Queen­stown, my bank bal­ance told me I’d best move on from wild rides to wildlife – it was time to hop back on the Stray tour bus and head fur­ther south to check out some of na­ture’s (free) gifts.

Per­haps I was still on a bit of a high from all the adren­a­line but the South Is­land land­scape ap­peared stun­ning what­ever the weather, so I wasn’t too wor­ried about the murky skies over Mil­ford Sound as I em­barked on a cruise through this pris­tine cor­ner of Fiord­land.

In fact, the cloud hugging the moun­tains in the glacier-carved val­ley cre­ated an un­earthly ef­fect. From the mist above my head emerged long nar­row wa­ter­falls that streaked down lush green walls of rain­for­est and sent spray over my face.

I’ll have to ad­mit to never hav­ing watched the Lord of the Rings movies, but I’d say the lo­ca­tion scouts had an easy time of it with this kind of scenery on of­fer.

After­wards, all the pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark­ing the var­i­ous cruise boats en­gaged in ex­cited ban­ter over whose pho­tos had earned brag­ging rights.

I see your dol­phins … and I raise you south­ern fur seals!

Next on the itin­er­ary was a des­ti­na­tion even fur­ther south – New Zealand’s south­ern­most is­land, where you can well and truly feel the icy breath of Antarc­tica.

If you’re a fan of roller­coast­ers you’ll love the ferry ride across to Ste­wart Is­land (and I’d thought I was done with wild rides).

Still in wildlife mode I headed to the wharf to see if I could spot any lit­tle blue pen­guins com­ing in to nest for the night.

I felt a lit­tle guilty that I saw them within 10 min­utes of rock­ing up when some poor folk had been wait­ing in the cold for an hour.

Tip: It seems th­ese slip­pery lit­tle fel­las make the most of ev­ery bit of sun­light be­fore re­tir­ing to bed.

As night fell, a group of my back­packer bud­dies an­nounced they were ven­tur­ing off into the dark­ness to try to spot the elu­sive kiwi.

Rating their chances of spot­ting this in­cred­i­bly rare bird at zero, I left them to it. Plus, I couldn’t re­sist the op­por­tu­nity to set­tle down early for a good night’s sleep in a non-squeaky non-bunk bed for the first time in days.

Sure enough the ad­ven­tur­ers re­turned tri­umphant.

I see your kiwi and I raise you lit­tle blue peng–

Oh, bug­ger, I’m out.

Ste­wart Is­land is one spot where it is def­i­nitely worth hop­ping off the Stray tour for a few more days of ex­plo­ration. The bush, beaches and birdlife will have na­ture lovers in heaven.

And you might just see that kiwi.

The fi­nal stop on Stray’s deep south tour is Christchurch Air­port and with a few hours to kill be­fore my flight home I bused it into the city.

I’m ashamed to say I had no idea of the level of de­struc­tion the 2011 earth­quakes had caused. Scaf­fold­ing and de­mol­ished blocks were ev­ery­where I looked. Be­gin­ning to feel equally de­jected, I turned a cor­ner to dis­cover the city’s heart was still well and truly pump­ing.

The Re: Start Mall is a tem­po­rary CBD built from ship­ping con­tain­ers. This funky lit­tle col­lec­tion of shops and eater­ies, with its buskers, sculp­tures and buzzing crowd, was a great re­minder of the strength of hu­man spirit.

It was also the per­fect end to my whirl­wind tour, which had proved that even if you set off solo, you won’t be alone for long.

PHOTO: HEATHER GOOD­WIN

One of the many hideaway coves dot­ted around Ste­wart Is­land.

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