Hi, I am Jiri and I am a tourist. At the moment I am touristing New Zealand but when I grow up I would like to be a traveler. This is a story of a traveling tourist, and a touristing traveler.
If you are confused, let me explain. There is a slight difference between those two terms since I once heard this saying: a traveler sees what he sees, a tourist sees what he has come to see. I always wanted to be the first one as I always had the best memories from places not well-known, from places not included in guides. However, it is getting harder and harder to find these places (in case we want to look for them). I’m not sure if my Facebook newsfeed algorithm is that sophisticated or traveling has simply become the number one phenomenon in these days. I’ve heard a lot about it. I’ve heard traveling cures illnesses, helps to find ourselves or even provides a meaning to life. Bullshit. Flight tickets just got cheaper and the Facebook wall flooded with travel pictures is incredibly cool, generally speaking.
On the other hand I have to say that it does open your eyes, mind and sometimes even heart little bit more, no doubt. But only if you allow it. I’ve been traveling the South Island of New Zealand now for a week and visited some of the most popular places like Queenstown or Milford Sound. And I have a feeling that too many people (read tourists) are still blind. They are too busy looking at the world through the smartphone screens, too busy to follow the schedule like they would do back home. I see many of them only having a good time and spending money, like they would do back home anyway. No open eyes or hearts. The most important thing are pictures so we prove we have actually been somewhere, physically.
There are many backpackers as well, me included. But we have all become a part of the tourist system when we have to follow all the rules because New Zealand got so dramatically popular that people started destroying it. No wonder. I don’t mind following the rules, quite an opposite. My point is that traveling here loses its holy spontaneity. Sleeping is allowed only in defined areas (understandable so people don’t shit everywhere), about 99% of any possible touristic attractions from a lonely church by the lake, painted toilets or random small statue is mentioned in guides and they have whole buses of people to stop at these places for a picture. Not talking about the zero engagement with locals. Everything is so predictable that I’m happy for frequent but unpredictable weather changes. That is why touristing, not traveling.
Lesson #1: If you really wanna come to New Zealand, do it in the winter time for two reasons: busy are only ski resorts and the summer weather kinda sucks anyway.
Now when I got all the negative out of me, I want to tell you some maybe a bit more positive story from my first week of touristing New Zealand. Because, once for all, IT IS an amazing place and all what matters is what YOU are going to get out of it.
I left Camp Cherry in Cromwell on Saturday 4th February. I wanted to go south. I went north. I changed my mind after a constant talk to Constanza, a nice girl from Chile, on our last camp night of the cherry season. ‘Creo que estamos perdidos!’ she wrote on my hand and we set out to hike to Liverpool Hut in Mt Aspiring National Park. And I need to say this game change was definitely worth it, rewarded with great views on Matukituki valley and river, mighty glaciers and at the end on Liverpool Hut itself. Let hiking and walking be the best possible way how to get to know with strangers. What I mean is that when you are talking with somone sooner or later you run out of topics, but when you are walking with someone for six hours you just have to make new and new and it’s worthwhile. We shared with Coni a lot of stories, memories and life lessons. I got to practised some Spanish, too. Along with walking back for another six hours the next morning I still couldn’t say we fully knew each other, but we really enjoyed the process so we figured to spend more days together.
Lesson #2: When they say ‘first come, first serve’ and you arrive to the hut after 7pm you sleep under the kitchen desk, quite happy.
On Monday 6th my 15 months long Working Holiday in New Zealand finished and I officially became a tourist with a tourist visa. We touristed to Queenstown and Milford Sound. On the way to Milford Sound we stopped in cute Te Anau by the same-named (ha that’s not even a word) lake and shared a beer with the sunset. The highlight on the S94 highway was also a short walk to Key Summit and amazing views on Fiorland’s peaks and Lake Marian. Then the Day D came, Milford Sound, and we almost missed it. Late leaving of Gunn’s Camp, shitty road, smell coming out of the car how it was tired of hills, 20 minutes required time for collecting tickets before the cruise departure and kinda long run from a carpark, all of that made my morning miserable. But when we finally got to the harbor at 9:02am, the boat was still there so we got there as the last passengers. Quite a luck this time.
I wish to use some great adjectives like grandiose or spectacular to describe Milford Sound, one of the most visited places in New Zealand, the top attraction in every single guide. I say it was nice 56$ cruise for two hours, breakfast included (and much needed). That only means it’s much more worth it than two-hour Hobbiton tour for 79$ during the packed peak season. Those who have been there know what I’m talking about… But sorry this sound is overrated. At least we have pictures right?
Lesson #3: When you google places you want to visit, believe and reconcile that those photosphoped pictures are the best possible. Expect less, not more.
We came back all the way to Queenstown that day where I was supposed to meet my Argentinian brother Matias after six months. So I did and we had an awesome time celebrating his friend’s birthday party where I sneaked into. I have to admit that Queenstown, despite the hordes of tourists (for those who can imagine it’s like the whole city of Brno moves to my hometown Breclav for the summer) has something special within. Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables scenery and city parks with free wifi make this town reasonably the most popular place.
However, I’ve had enough of the crowds so I decided to go south as I initially intended. I found a peace on the way to Invercargill, the southernmost city in the country. The road there was flat and monotonous, no need for hills and curves. At that point it reflected the way of how life goes. Curves represent some unpredictable events like meeting a Chilean girl, hills then ups and downs how we talk and have to say goodbye, speed limits remind the rules and drivers the fools. In Queenstown I dropped Coni off for her bus up north. She had plans so I continue south on my own. Ya no estamos perdidos. Sometimes it’s good to keep things straight and flat. And stick with the plans, even if that means missing something out.
Invercargill is nice! The city has literally no tourists staying in for more than one night. That is also why I’m here three days already. And who says that there is nothing to see hasn’t been in Queens Park. After a long time people ask me where I am from and what I am doing here. On the street I feel people’s eyes on me because I really look like I don’t belong here. I’m staying because I want to get my car serviced and also to have time to write this post. Fortunately I’m at the end of it. Sorry, I still didn’t tell you why I went to Invercargill. Well, because it is in spitting distance from Bluff where I can catch the ferry to Stewart Island, one of the most remoted places in New Zealand. That’s my idea of an escape from the tourist reality. I’m going to walk 125 km long North West track for a week or more. So see you later.