Standing Still, South Island

Day 11 in New Zealand, South Island. I drove from Queenstown to Dunedin through perfect foothill terrain, laden in fog and frost. The road was like ribbon, draped effortlessly atop miles and miles of rolling green hills. It was the sort of morning that begs a moment; to just stop and stare; take in sunshine and crisp country air. I wanted to stay, but I was determined to make it to Dunedin and return inland to Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo. Putting distance between myself and any mountain is no small feat. The mountains are always calling.

I tucked into a corner café sometime around four, after a few hours of wandering George Street and downtown Dunedin. I eventually booked a YHA hostel, and carried my 20kg backpack up the stairs to my six-bed dormitory on the third floor. The hostel was fantastic, with a rooftop loft and cabin lodge kitchen. A beer was in hand before I had even set down my pack, thanks to a girl from Wellington who pulled me next door to a room packed with pre-partying twenty-somethings and red plastic cups.

I snuck away to shower only after swearing to join in on shots, pub-crawling and such. A genuine bunch, but I was really just craving wine, loads of leafy greens and a low-key evening. I choose the latter and made plans to hike Tunnel Beach Road the next morning with Karlijn. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard with someone I barely know. We spent the day photo snapping like bona-fide tourists, climbing Baldwin Street and roaming the botanical gardens; then recruited a party of four to break into Dunedin Lanarch castle and chase the Northern lights.

The following day was a collective farewell over bowls of frosted flakes before departing for Lake Tekapo, a four-hour drive with a byline stop at Moeraki Boulders where I met some Auckland guys who looked like they had just stepped off a record cover. I made it to Lake Tekapo just as the sun was setting, and managed some mitten shopping and a few time-lapse shots of the Church of the Good Shepherd.

The next morning, I woke up to a winter wonderland. Packed with snacks, I made the drive to Mount Cook to hike Kea Point and Hooker Lake. I crossed rope bridges over rivers of glacier water and scrambled in my low-top converse chucks over snow-capped boulders. An hour down the trail, I was completely alone. I wouldn’t see another person for the next two hours.

By the time I had reached this still pond at the base of Mt. Cook, I was freezing. I took a few hand held shots before returning to the trail and then later to the tiny town of Lake Tekapo. I checked into a lakeside hostel and wound up with another beer in hand – compliments of two hitch-hiking Manchester men. Instant friends. It was the height of July, and I was falling wildly in love with South Island.