Whelp, we’ve made it to the South Island after enjoying some wonderfully generous hospitality in Rotorua, thanks to Naveen (a friend from Fort McMurray and one that I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years!), we wined and dined on burgers, enjoyed some hot showers, and a warm comfy bed.
The next morning we were up and ready to play in the rain (a reoccurring theme since arriving in New Zealand), and made our way to Skyline Rotorua, which I guess is along the lines of an adventure park, complete with go cart luge, zipline, and gondola, among other things. James and I decided to go for the combo pack, which included four go cart luge runs, one zipline, and the gondola up and back down. WELL WORTH THE MONEY! We zipped all around that place for hours! James may have beaten me in all four of the luge runs, but I beat him on the zipline … not that we’re keeping score or anything …
While doing all of that was fun in the rain, camping in the rain … not really so much. We made it to a free camp spot somewhere between Rotorua and Wellington and since it was literally PISSING RAIN, we weren’t all that disappointed in the fact that there wasn’t a lot to do in the area and we settled in for a night of listening to the rain pound our tent while we watched the rest of “Victoria”. Aaah life on the road.
Now, over the course of the night we had collected a few bits of garbage near our tent that we had put in a small bag just outside the door (under the fly and what I assumed to be safe from any garbage dwellers). Throughout the night I really couldn’t sleep, the rain was so loud on the tent it was as if we were going through a car wash, and I thought that I could hear some sniffling and huffing about outside of our tent. Filled with fear, and assuming that we were about to be killed, I lay there staring at the ceiling of the tent, heart pounding, and saying my final goodbyes. I momentarily closed my eyes when I was startled by loud ruffling right next to my ear. Shaking, I reach in the tent pocket for the flashlight. James is woken up by the light (he’s actually a really good sleeper, it’s probably one of his top 3 skills), “what’s up?” he says. I turn off the light and with a quiver in my voice whisper, “there is something out there”. He sort of shrugs it off and assumes that I’m being overly dramatic. With some hesitation I turn the light on again, unzip the tent door so that only the mesh is between myself and whatever I assume will kill me dead…to find a hedgehog nibbling its way through the remnants of our soup bag. Okay, so maybe I was being a *tad* over dramatic. Regardless, I slapped the tent and that seemed to frighten it off. I grabbed an old ziplock bag and placed the garbage inside, safe from those dangerous garbage eating hedgehogs.
We awoke to more rain. Sleepless and annoyed at life, we were really interested in grabbing a hotel for the weekend in Wellington. This way, our tent, shoes, and bones would be able to dry out, and allow us to properly prepare for the South Island. As we made our way into Wellington, the clouds began to turn a lighter shade of grey and some blue skies even made an appearance. What a welcome sight. But, we were still feeling unsure of what the weekend weather would deal us, and just to be safe, we enjoyed the comforts of a semi decent hotel room, worth it.
While in the city, we did the typical touristy things; the cable car, the botanical gardens, and the Museum of New Zealand. With the sun shining (and the wind blowing HARD), it was overall a great weekend. PLUS - everything that we owned was now dry and ready for new adventures. Win.
*click on the pictures below to enlarge
On Monday we were up early, making sure that we were at the ferry with plenty of time to get on the 9AM sailing to Picton. After taking the very expensive 3.5-4 hour ferry ride, we were excited to arrive on the South Island - sunshine and blue skies greeted us with open arms. What a glorious day to be alive. From there, we made our way to the Nelson/Abel Tasman area, where we would be spending the next three nights camping at a farm, or what the owners call, “Marble Hills Resort”, complete with grazing sheep. The first afternoon and evening was everything that we were hoping it would be, playful lambs staring at us with curiosity, a quiet stream rolling through the hills, flowers blooming, birds dancing in the sunshine. With a cup of cider in hand, we’ll cheers to that.
The following morning was something out of a Disney princess movie, birds hopping through the grass outside of our tent, sheep huddled under the nearby tree, and morning beads of dew evaporating in the crisp morning sunshine. With a cup of coffee in hand, we’ll cheers to that. As we prepared ourselves for a hike, we noticed some clouds were making their appearance, but nothing to shake a stick at, so we made our way to Abel Tasman National Park and were on our way. The hike of the day: aiming for one of the many beaches within the park, nothing too taxing, perhaps 10 km round trip. Yeah, that should do.
As we made our way through the forest and along the cliff edges staring down to the beaches below, we were feeling optimistic about the day and our time as we had made it to Stillwell Beach (our original goal, approximately 5km in) with plenty of time left in the day. Once arriving, there was a sign saying something along the lines of, “Anchorage Beach: ~7km 2.5 hours”. Given that we had plenty of snacks (always) and were feeling good, we decided to keep on keepin’ on. As we approached Anchorage, the weather had turned slightly, clouds were moving in and the wind was picking up. Along with that, my gut was putting me in some serious distress, with a nearly 12km trek back, I was miserable. We spent a sorry 20 minutes at the beach, and then tramped our way back through the forest as a few rain drops began to fall, my insides twisted up in knots, and our feet and knees swelling and cramping - what have we even done. With about 5km left, I gave it my all and left James in the dust. It seemed that the faster I walked, the less pain I felt, stopping momentarily here and there to bend over in pain and distress, gulp some water, make sure James was still alive, and continue onward.
As we made it back to the parking lot, the first and last licensed cafe in Abel Tasman shone brightly, letting us know that it was there to heal our wounds - beer and cider for all. Collapsing on the bar, we were both exhausted.
Having our thirst quenched and wounds bandaged with beverages, we made our way back to the campground and into nice warm showers, so appreciative that something so wonderful exists in our lives. It’s the little things. As we made our way back to the tent to cook up some dinner, the wind began to howl and the rain began to fall. Little did we know, this would be the least of our worries.
After falling asleep around 9:30 for a few hours, we were awoken by sheets of rain hitting our tent, wind whipping the fly around as if it were a leaf on a blustery fall day, and tent poles caving in on all sides. This was it, this was how we were going to die. We were about to perform what I like to call, “tent yoga” for the next four hours. It goes something like this, lay down and close your eyes, when the wind blows, use your core to sit up and stretch your arms across the length of the tent to maintain poles upright and locked position. Once the wind has died down, take a deep breath and relax for a moment as you lay back down. Complete this cycle for the next four hours until death or the storm has ended, whichever comes first. By about 4am, things had died down and we were able to drift off to sleep, only being woken every so often by a gust of wind or a lamb in search of its mum.
The next morning was calm, the sun peeking out over the hills in the distance, birds in search of food, and little lambs prancing through the field. What a welcome change from the storm that ravaged our tent. Given that we had only a few solid hours of sleep, we were feeling a bit lazy and definitely sore from our hike the day before, we took the day to enjoy some of the smaller sights in and around the area; Hawkes lookout, which looks over Kahurangi National Park, etc. Riwaka Resurgence, which is supposed to be crystal clear, but due to the storm was very murky, snapped some shots of a shipwreck just off of the beach, and ran some other errands in town. We finished the day with cider in our mugs and excitement in our hearts as the next day - WE WERE SKYDIVING!
I’ll preface this next part by saying, I’ve never been very big on skydiving, and not because I was afraid, it was just never something that I considered a “must do”. However, James really wanted to do it, and I certainly wasn’t going to be waiting for him on the ground and have him come down and say “WOW THAT WAS THE TIME OF MY LIFE!” and there I am sitting like a lemon. During our research, we found Abel Tasman, one of the only places to skydive in New Zealand where you can see both the North and the South Island (on a clear day) during your jump. And while most companies only go to 15,000ft, Skydive Abel Tasman goes to 16,500ft (not the highest in NZ, which is 19,000ft, but close enough). We arrived about 30 minutes before our planned jump time (9am), they sat us down and we watched a quick video that they’ve put together “to get your blood pumping” (really? we’re about to jump out of a plane, but ok). So anyways, we watched the video, signed our lives away, and got suited up. I imagine it probably looked like a scene from Independence Day, our suits on, caps at the ready, walking in slow motion towards the plane and one slow motion look back at the faces on the ground cheering us on before our jump. Eight people crammed in to a tiny plane, each of us sitting in between the legs of another and everyone can feel the energy. LET’S DO THIS!
A scenic 20 minute flight up to 16,500ft taking in the views of Abel Tasman National Park, the ocean stretching for miles, pristine beaches, mountains in the distance, and plenty of homes down below. They pop the oxygen mask over your face and remind you to breathe normally for a few quick minutes before the door opens (this step only comes into play for those jumping above 15,000ft). The first girl and her tandem jump out (along with her camera man - James and I chose to forgo this added extra for a few reasons: 1. it was an extra $200+ 2. we felt that jumping out of a plane was already a pretty memorable experience, and maybe pictures weren’t 100% necessary. and 3. we both felt that if there was a camera in our face, the focus might be on that rather than taking in the actual experience). I’m next. My tandem partner scoots us forward, we’re sitting on the ledge, head back on his shoulder, arms on my straps, feet tucked under (banana pose, they call it), I let out a few quick hoots and hollers and boom, he rolls us out of the plane and we’re in free fall for 70 seconds. THAT'S A MINUTE AND TEN SECONDS OF FREE FALLING TO THE EARTH! It goes by so quickly and before you know it, the parachute is open and you’re able to actually take in all that just happened. Skydiving is the definition of sensory overload and it was incredible. As my tandem said before we jumped, "you never meet an angry skydiver, lets do this".
After a quick dive to the earth, we were heading towards glacier country to spend a couple of days among the giants - Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. The faces of both are decently easy hikes from town and made for enjoyable days in the sun! However, seeing how far these glaciers have receded, particularly over the last 40-50 years is shocking, and makes it difficult to be excited about seeing something that is nearing its end.
On to our next stop for a couple of nights, an incredible drive through mountains, rivers, and blooming flowers brought us to Lake Hawea. Our campsite was not only along the lake, but provided us with hours of entertainment, as a couple of beach cows would walk along the beach and up the hillside to munch on some grass, then make their way back to the fresh water for a drink between meals. We spent two peaceful nights there, relaxing and enjoying the views.
*click on the pictures below to enlarge.
On Monday we were headed to Wanaka, somewhere I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a while now; Mountains, lakes, and of course, #thatwanakatree. Hawea and Wanaka are only about 40 minutes apart, so we arrived early in the morning and were immediately blown away by the scenery - better than we could have imagined. We spent the morning walking around and enjoying the bustling town. BAKERIES WITH MOUNTAIN VIEWS?! COUNT ME IN! After stuffing our faces with pastries, we headed a little deeper into the surrounding area to enjoy the mountains and sunshine.
The next morning we walked from our campsite in Albert Town (not far outside of Wanaka) to Puzzling World, home to all sorts of optical illusions, puzzles, and mazes. We spent a good chunk of the morning having our brains scrambled and relaxed by the river in the afternoon. Cider in hand and sunshine in the sky - say no more.
We were up early the next morning and headed to the lake to get some pictures of that Wanaka tree, a tree that was once part of a fence post marking the boundary of a property line, but has since made its home in the water, becoming a bit of a tourist attraction because of it. To avoid the droves of people trying to get photos, the early morning seemed like the most logical time to visit. Luckily for us it was a beautiful morning, crystal clear skies, warm golden light, and calm silky lake water made for the perfect conditions. Wanting to savour the last few minutes of calm, we made some coffee and watched the sun make its way over the town of Wanaka.
As we headed to Queenstown, we noticed that the brakes on the car were acting up. Which, isn’t really something that anybody wants when they’re about to drive through mountains, amiright?! Luckily for us, we were able to swap out Silver Bullet Betty just before Queenstown (in Frankton) for a newer, classier, White Bullet Betty. Mountains - here we come!
After the last few days of fairly calm surroundings, making our way into Queenstown was a bit of a shock. People everywhere, cars everywhere, things just … everywhere. We decided to find a parking spot and make our way through the crowds to enjoy whatever we could. We had originally wanted to complete the Ben Lomond Track, but it was something like 8 hours long and frankly, we just couldn’t be bothered. After taking in the sights and sounds of downtown Queenstown, we headed out to Moke Lake to camp for the night, a quiet campsite outside of the city and about 8km down a gravel road. So peaceful and quiet, out of the hustle and bustle, set inside the valley of the mountains, complete with a 2 hour hike around the lake - now that, is more my style. We spent the evening feeding a mallard (or Charles, as he is now known) that obviously enjoyed our company (and our crackers).
We woke to the sound of birds flitting about, and Charles’ friends asking us for breakfast (I’m sure). Taking our time to savour the quiet (cold) moments, a hot cup of coffee, and fog on the lake, life was good. Until we saw our tire. A flat. We had a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. We’re going to die. This is it. (I say in my head). Lucky for me though, I have James, a level headed car guy who knows how to change a tire. Phewf. We might just make it out alive. He changed the tire, I packed up the tent, and we headed back to town, got the tire fixed, and still managed to be early for our helicopter ride over Queenstown at noon. All in a days work.
Next, we were off to Mossburn. It’s not really a place that many people visit unless they’re cycling the mountains, but it happens to be a pretty decent stop over on the way to Fiordland. We found a “holiday park” with loads of space for us to spread out, take hot showers, enjoy some wifi, and relax in a nice little lounge. BUT WAIT, IT GETS BETTER! They also have TONS of animals that you can feed! Goats, sheep, ALPACAS!!!!, chickens, oh my gosh - I was almost in tears from excitement. I even made James park us right next to where the alpacas graze so that I could watch them while drinking my coffee in the morning.
With tears in my eyes (kidding) and clouds in the sky, we left the next morning and made our way to Fiordland. While it may have been raining in Mossburn, the clouds had parted for our arrival over the mountains and what a treat that was! We hunkered down at a campground in the heart of the mountains, a beautiful river running through it, oh, and THOUSANDS OF RELENTLESS SANDFLIES! Neither of us were much in the mood to fend for our lives outside, so we spent the afternoon doing a puzzle in the lounge. Cool right?
The following morning was our cruise through the incredible Milford Sound, so we were up with the sun and ready to make our way towards the coast. For a couple of hours we sailed through cliffs of grey and green, waters of aqua and emerald, sparkling waterfalls, and bathing penguins and seals. All of the above had me wondering if it was even real life.
That night we decided to forgo spending another night with the sandflies, and headed back to Mossburn to live among the alpacas once again. The following day we were looking to fill our day with something, we just didn’t know what. As we drank our morning cup of joe, we looked at each other and said “today feels like a good day to see the South”. So we buckled up and headed to Bluff/Land’s End, and while not the MOST Southern point of the country (Slope Point), Bluff will do. And as the saying goes: “from Cape Reinga to The Bluff”. Done.
As we arrived in Queenstown for the night we were eager to check into our hotel, two and half months of camping have really taken their toll on our bodies, not only because well…you’re sleeping in a tent, on the ground, and some nights you’re freezing your ass off, and other nights you’re sticking to your sleeping bag, but also because your diet leaves a little to be desired. So we slept in decent beds and treated ourselves to a lovely dinner (because 2 minute noodles can only be tolerated for so long).
The next day we spent the morning ripping around Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown (New Zealand’s longest lake at 80kms, and their 3rd largest) in a jet boat with 820 horsepower, uhh YES PLEASE. Definitely investing in one of those in like … 100 years, once I’ve got the money and all. The afternoon was spent enjoying our FREE campsite (only one of two that we’ve managed to stay in while traveling NZ), that was in full bloom with thousands of lupine flowers, as far as the eye could see. As the sun set, we walked along the river taking in the uninterrupted quiet beauty that surrounded us.
The following day we were up before the sun to prepare for our hike up the Hooker Valley Track, a beautiful hike up towards Hooker Glacier and allows for stunning mountain views, only to be completely fogged in…humph. We prepared ourselves anyways and headed towards Mount Cook hoping that it would burn off before we embarked on our hike. Unlucky. We strapped on our rain gear and hiked hiked hiked, as we approached the lake and glacier we were prepared for minimal views, a moody vibe, and little else. We spent about ten minutes taking it all in and began our hike back down. But just as we hit the trail, the clouds began to part and the top of Mount Cook peered through as if to say “I’ll be ready in a sec”. We stopped on some nearby rocks and sat on pins and needles for 20 minutes while the clouds cleared and Mount Cook came out to play. Truly one of the most incredible things that I have ever seen and one I will likely never forget.
We have now spent the last two days in Christchurch reminiscing about all of the amazing days that we have had here in New Zealand, and we can’t help but feel so lucky to have experienced this country from top to bottom, left to right. From mountains to rivers, from 16,500ft up, to hikes that took our breath away.
While New Zealand comes to a close, I have to say, personally, that none of these experiences have gone by without me taking a moment to remind myself that “I am thankful for this opportunity, this moment, this planet, its beauty, and its gifts”. As we close this chapter, we are looking forward to starting a new one in Asia, and will continue to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be on this adventure.
K, I’m being all sappy, I had a glass of wine earlier.
Thank you for taking the time to read this reaaaal long post, I hope the pictures made it bearable. Love and all that stuff <3