Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Zealand's South Island: 17 days on the road

New Zealand's South Island goes a little something like this: mountains, water, sea life, beauty, hiking, happiness.

The End.

If you're curious beyond that though, feel free to keep reading.

To sum up my incredible holiday via one (long) blog post feels a little like I'm doing the trip a bit of an injustice. After all, I'm beginning to realize that I'm much better at simply over-feeling the experience than I am at putting those feelings into words.

But here is my best attempt.

We flew in and out of Christchurch to begin a 2 1/2 week road trip via our little white rental car named "Pearl". She was a beauty, and frankly, it's a miracle she's still alive after all we put her through. And with surprisingly good gas mileage (which is essential when gas is 8 plus dollars a gallon), we couldn't have chosen a better way to get around. We moved quickly, but tried (and semi succeeded at) not over-exhausting ourselves. 

Here are my 17 highlights from our 17 days on the road: 

1. Whale watching in Kaikoura.

After landing in Christchurch, we immediately drove north to the small, yet picturesque town of Kaikoura.

We had beautiful weather and hopped aboard the first boat we could find for some ever-so-anticipated whale watching. Luckily, we had great weather and saw heaps of seals and dolphins, as well as 3 (!!!!) whales, which we were way, way, WAY too emotional/excited about.

me. currently dying of happiness. 

2. Abel Tasman- sea kayaking, hiking, and a cruise 

This is one place that I've been told about over and over and over again. It is your basic beautiful national park, except that it borders the sea, making every single stop an enjoyable one. We spent 2 days here and managed to do 4 hours of sea kayaking around the beautiful Kaiteriteri beach, and a full day cruise and 11.5 km hike combo on day 2. We were sunburnt, exhausted, and so incredibly happy.

3. Punakaiki

Most commonly known for the pancake rocks. Compared to the rest of the natural beauty of New Zealand, this definitely wasn't the most exciting part of the trip. However, it is worth a quick look if it's on the way to your next destination.

4. Hokitika

Famous for its sign on the beach made of sticks and the beautiful Hokitika Gorge. We couldn't pass this place without a stop, even if the town was completely shut down for Christmas.

5. Franz and Fox Glacier 

We hiked to two of New Zealand's most famous glacier's on Christmas day, which was sort of fitting for the occasion, given that we're two Americans used to snow, cold, and ice during this time of year. Both were relatively easy walks, and were worth seeing given that they likely won't be here much longer. We would've loved to do a heli hike (helicopter/hike combo), but the weather wasn't cooperating unfortunately. The good news though, is that I still have $400.

Christmas spirit y'all!

6. Staying in Fox Glacier

We had an amazing time here staying with our friend Jenny. We were in great company for 2 nights, and were able to spend Christmas the greatest way we could have, in a sort of non-traditional sense, that is. We spent the night at a BBQ with all of the Fox locals. We participated in drinking beer and wine (galore), sitting around the bonfire, playing with sparklers, watching fireworks, and gazing at the millions of beautiful stars in the perfectly clear sky. It felt so much like home in Wisconsin, during a completely different time of year, of course. 

7. Glowworm hike 

We did a night walk in Fox in which hundreds (if not thousands) of glowworms could be seen. It was the icing on the cake for our last night in town. Unfortunately, they disappear at the first sign of light, which also means, no pictures. Sorry! Looks like you'll just have to visit :). 

8. Wanaka

We spent our first day here just walking around town and doing a short hike known as the Rocky Mountain walk. We had gorgeous views over Lake Wanaka, which would set the precedent for many more amazing views to come.

9. Mount Aspiring National Park

The ride out here was far from glorious, and we were really concerned that we were going to have wasted nearly a full day driving and hiking out here for a less than stellar return in beauty. Boy, were we wrong. We took the Rob Roy track, which was about 4 hours return, and mostly uphill. It was exhausting, but well worth the rolled ankle and pain for 2 days after. With waterfalls, mountain and glacier views all in one, this view was hands down one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in New Zealand. 

10. Queenstown

Queenstown constantly gets a bad rap for being touristy and overcrowded, but the truth is, it's simply because it is such a cool and exciting place. Also known as "The adventure capital of the world", Queenstown has a little something for everyone. Literally everyone. This year, I went luging (simply because it's one of my favorite things EVER), and paragliding (totally on a whim once I saw the incredible views). I also did a lot of eating, drinking, and a whole lot of nothing, incase you were wondering :).

see what I mean? this place is unreal. 

11. NYE

Having a birthday in New Zealand sounds pretty fab in theory, but turning 27 in the little town of Wanaka was superrrrr underwhelming. There was no countdown, or champagne, or anyone under the age of 55 in the only bar we could get into. So we watched the clock turn to midnight via the super exciting iphone, slammed a few drinks, went back to our sketchy dorm room, and hoped for a better tomorrow. It wasn't exactly the celebration I was hoping for, but was a good lesson in that travel isn't always as perfect and as glamorous as it appears. All in all though, I am always grateful for another year of life, and I was thankful to be in good company with my friend Liz and my forever pals, rum and coke. 

12. Hitchhikers

On January 1st, we couldn't wait to get out of Wanaka and on to the next leg of the trip. We were happily moving on when we spotted two hitchhikers on the side of the road. We initially drove past, not sure whether we had enough room, but with one look over at Liz, I slammed on the brakes and waved them over. We threw everything we had in the trunk, and freed up as much space as we could. We drove with them for nearly 3 hours, having such easy and fulfilling conversations about life and travel. After our paths split, I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of happiness. Those two people unknowingly made my entire birthday that much more special.

Especially since I wrote this post 18 months ago, and have been waiting for the right time to redeem myself ever since.

Safe travels my friends, and thank you for making my birthday especially memorable.

13. Mount Cook

We spent the night at the bottom of Mount Cook in our small, yet surprisingly perfect, little car. It was the first time I thought to myself, I'm so lucky to be traveling with someone who shares the same spontaneous and free-spirited approach to travel. She was so ok with rolling with the punches, sleeping in our car, not showering nearly as often as we should've, and roughing it a little. I couldn't have been more grateful for her.

We headed off early in the morning on the Hooker Valley track, which brought us to more and more and more views...

14. Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo

Some of the bluest and rarest colored water I have ever, EVER seen, and another simple, yet gorgeous surprise.

15. Swimming with dolphins

Akaroa was a hidden gem and was a place we never would've left had we not had jobs to go back to. Swimming with the smallest and rarest wild dolphins in the world was truly once in lifetime experience. I captured some of this on video, and will be sure to include it on an upcoming video montage!

16. Food

Fergburger and Patagonia ice cream (Queenstown), Steak and cheese pies (Arrowtown bakery and cafe), Fish and Chips (Akaroa), and the various muesli bars, and ham sandwiches, when we felt like being cheap little shits.

17. Spending a night in jail

Okay, it wasn't really a jail, at least not since 1999. But it was before then, and has since been converted into a quirky, fun, and sometimes creepy little hostel. All in all though, it was one of the best I have ever stayed in.

Truly though, the list could go on and on and on. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't one of the best holidays of my entire life.

A special thank you to all of the friends I met along the way, the hundreds of Merry Christmas and Birthday wishes from my loved ones around the world, and to my dear friend Liz for helping to create an awesome travel duo and keeping me company for the last 2 1/2 weeks.

Bring it on 2015, I'm ready for you.