Mountains and Valleys

For the sake of brevity, the following is a summary of our time in the New Zealand’s south island in short(er) form.

Wellington

  • The Wellington Museum. Two highlights of Te Papa included the only colossal squid on display in the world, as well as the actual skeleton of Phar Lap the famous racehorse – though perhaps only my sisters would have found the latter as exciting as I did.
  • The Weta Cave. Though we opted out of the studio tour due to high cost, it was still fun to pop in and have a look at the LOTR collectibles and fanfare. Heck, I even got to kiss a cave troll!

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  • The Interislander Ferry. We were a little worried that we would not be able to see much because of the weather, but thankfully as we traversed the waters and came through the Cook Strait, the skies cleared and we had a nice twilight view of the fjord before the ferry docked in Picton on the south island.

Abel Tasman National Park

  • As our schedule only allowed for a single afternoon to experience this much-talked-about national park, we took a chance and did a short four-hour trek in rather grey weather. It turned out to be a pretty walk, with a few quaint bays and inlets to charm us along the way. However, based on all the hype surrounding the spot, our experience left us feeling a little underwhelmed in comparison to what we’d come to expect. Luckily the rain cleared and we did see some blue skies, so all in all, it was a nice stroll.

Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks

  • Driving from Nelson through to Greymouth, we stopped to see these unique limestone rock formations. Apparently, there are blowholes within the multilayered rocks as well.

Hokitika Gorge

  • This little gem of a spot was also near Greymouth, boasting a river whose waters were so brilliantly blue as to be cyan in colour. Though a little crowded, it was definitely still worth a look.

Arthur’s Pass

  • Deciding to venture off the planned route a little, we picked up a pair of hitchhikers and drove halfway through the much-renowned Arthur’s Pass. Whereas the hitchhikers were embarking on a 10-day hike, Tyson and I opted for the two-hour Temple Basin hike instead. The rocky path zig-zagged steeply upward until we could admire the surrounding peaks from a windswept bluff, at which point we decided to head back down the mountain and hit the road once more.

Franz Josef Glacier

  • Again, with just one day to see this glacier, we braved a relentless downpour of rain to do the Glacier Walk. Despite the terrible weather, we made the most of our experience. Because of the rain, there were waterfalls running down every cliff and crevice, with a moody mist lingering about the mountainsides. Since we were already soaked to the bone, we ended up jogging most of the moss-covered valley, figuring that at the very least it would keep us warm. The low-hanging clouds obstructed a good portion of our view of the glacier once we reached the terminal face, but nothing seemed to dampen our spirits that day and we had a very memorable time.

Queenstown

  • The Crown Range. Driving into Queenstown from the southern alps on NZ’s highest main road provided an absolutely stunning view of the town nestled against Lake Wakatipu. My favourite part of the incredibly scenic route were the multitude of lupins; thousands of these flowers carpeted the gullies along the highway. It was also neat to watch an airplane come in overhead, flying so low through the valley as to appear larger than life.

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  • Our AirBnB during our 5-day stay was a small, modern apartment just outside of town in a hillside suburb off Frankton Road which boasted a stunning view of the lake. Our lovely host was a higher-up for Cookie Time (a staple New Zealand treat) with a busy schedule, so we often enjoyed the entire apartment to ourselves. Though a bit of a splurge, the place was a much-needed change of scenery after having stayed in hostels with 8- to 16-bed dormitories along the West coast the week before.
  • Queenstown Hill. This brisk hike in the center of town took us up to a beautiful lookout with a 360-degree view of Queenstown and its surrounding mountain ranges. After the terrible weather we’d experienced on the West coast, the sunny blue sky was a refreshing change – though turbulent winds did try to blow us over at the top!
  • As fate would have it, we got in touch with a fellow Grande Prairiean friend who was also traveling New Zealand. For the next four days, Ben teamed up with us on many of the following adventures, and our time in the area was even more enjoyable for it!
  • I must mention the ridiculously elaborate milkshake we ordered one evening from a store called Balls and Bangles. The photo is rather self-explanatory, so I’ll leave it at that!

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  • Is it a sin to admit that we totally skipped Fergburger? Ah, no matter – we managed to find ourselves a delicious pulled pork burrito and beer for an irresistible $7 at the Loco Cantina, instead. Perhaps our next visit will find us braving the never-ending lineups of Fergburgerland…
  • In search of even greater viewpoints, on two different occasions we decided to hike the nearby ski hills. At the Remarkables, we battled spiky grass and torrential winds upon the steep mountainside to catch the sights at dusk. At the Coronet Peaks, we trekked up the ski trails for a mid-morning view of town from the other side of the lake. Once we reached the top, our efforts also yielded a stunning mountainscape as far as the eye could see in the opposing direction.
  • Glenorchy. On a bright morning, our traveling trio set out on a road trip to Paradise. No, literally. There’s a road sign and everything! Better than Paradise, however, was our leisurely walk on the Diamond Creek Track in the Glenorchy area. Following the clear stream through tall grasses, we breathed in the refreshing surroundings and practiced all the necessary skills to become Olympian swamp jumpers before reaching Lake Reid. A very fine day, indeed!

Milford Sound

  •  Parting ways with Ben, Tyson and I drove to the village of Te Anau in order to cruise the renowned Milford Sound. Of course, the weather refused to cooperate – and once again we set out in the grey mist and pouring rain. The bus drive to the Sound itself was rewarding, as we made several scenic stops along the way and even managed to get up close and personal with the world’s only alpine parrots, called Kea, in their native habitat. Though it remained too foggy to see much of the skyline, the boat ride through the Sound showcased countless waterfalls in full form during our moody sail through Milford.

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Mount Cook National Park 

  • Thankfully, the weather was clear as we journeyed from Te Anau to Mount Cook. As such, we were treated to wonderful panoramas of this iconic peak along the highway, especially when viewed from the strikingly aquamarine waters of Lake Pukaki.
  • The Hooker Valley Track. Our hostel in the Park was situated directly under the impressive glacier of Mount Sefton, which meant that upon our arrival, Tyson and I could take advantage of the remaining clear weather and complete a trek through the Valley in the late afternoon. This was by far my absolute favourite hike. It’s everything you could dream of wanting from a New Zealand day hike. From the curving boardwalk through grassy knolls, to the suspension bridges crossing a white-capped river; from the towering ridges of icy peaks surrounding you in the gully, to the breathtaking first glance as you round a corner to look upon Mount Cook itself – I thought it was perfect.

Workaway in Waipara

  •  In the region just north of Christchurch, Tyson and I spent ten days working on a vineyard for a couple named Maura and Peter. During our stay, we were well-fed (dessert every night, without fail) and well-worked, wherein vine training was our main focus. Going through row upon row, we wound stray branches through the support wires and clipped these in place, snipping away any shoots that didn’t belong. Twice, Tyson got to operate the large trimming tractor, but for the most part this job was done by hand.
  • The location was a pleasant area, which we explored by bike on several occasions – one of which resulted in scrapes and bruises for Tyson when he took an epic tumble on some loose gravel. We also did a short hike in the region with Maura and Peter’s visiting nieces. After our West Coast escapades had been so overwhelmingly cold and wet, we were glad to enjoy some consistently good weather here.

Christchurch

  •  The World Busker’s Festival. By chance, we ended up in Christchurch during this multi-day street performance event. Thus we found ourselves meandering to different areas of the city to watch several acts. The cheesy acrobatic firemen had me in stitches over their lame jokes – what can I say, I’m easy to entertain.
  • Christchurch Botanic Gardens. I freely admit that I’m a sucker for any and every botanic garden, and here’s why… Better yet, I’ll let the following photographs say the rest.
  • The Port Hills. Our luck with AirBnB continued with a host who was not only eager to take us surfing, but who also arranged for us to have an epic cycling experience down the Port Hills together. After the earthquakes, the damaged motorways along the slopes were converted into a bike path. Having conquered the exasperating uphill bits, we proceeded to whizz down these hills at breakneck speeds – speeds that truly had me questioning how much I actually trusted the rickety man-made contraption beneath me. Overall, we had great fun and saw some excellent vistas along the way. With our time in this magnificent country drawing to a close, I couldn’t have wished for a better sendoff.

Until next time, New Zealand!

From my wandering heart to yours,

Susie

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