Side note: I've spent a lot of time bussing back and forth across the country and imagined it would be sort of a necessary annoyance. Surprisingly, I've actually enjoyed every bit of it. Public transit is incredibly well-run and pleasant here, and instead of reading and sleeping as I imagined I would, I've spent hours with my face glued to the window taking in the scenery, which is beautiful and varied. Five minutes out of the city center, and you have hundreds of sheep, cow, and alpaca farms, then forests that rival the redwoods, then almost desert, then mountains and jungle. It's pretty incredible; the bus drivers have the best job in the country.
Since Wednesday was sunny and my bus didn't leave until 1pm, I decided to get up at 6 and get some good hiking in. I just did a few short jaunts on tracks near the lodge, but it was well worth it. In five hours, I managed to take in a couple rivers, several serious waterfalls, and both Mt. Ruapehu (with its snowy peaks--the picture doesn't nearly do it justice) and Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom to Lord of the Rings fans). The Kiwis love to make tourists try to pronounce those mountain names!
I only had one night in Wellington, sadly--it was clearly a super sweet city--so, feeling a bit lonely and homesick, I decided to go out on the town before catching the ferry in the morning. Never have I had a worse idea. You will never feel like a sadder sap than if you head to a bar to drink alone while listening to live folky ballads. Take it from one who knows.
Then it was on to the South Island, where I spent the first night in Nelson salsa dancing with some hilarious Welsh girls. Nelson is wonderful and I'll be spending a few more days there to recoup.