South Island: December 27, 2016 – January 3, 2017
The 3-hour ferry ride from North Island to South Island was easy and comfortable, though we did end up behind schedule. We had hoped to spend some time exploring the wineries in Blenheim that afternoon, but barely made it to two before they everything shut down for the evening. The first, St. Clair Winery, was in disarray. Staff was clearly unprepared for the post-holiday tourists. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a quick tasting and some cheese before venturing to the Villa Maria Winery, where we experienced another tasting and the company of a very friendly Kiwi named Michelle. She made our day, and even snapped another family portrait for us, unsolicited! It was a positive way to end our “transit” day before settling into our next AirBnB cottage.
The next day’s activity was one of my favorites: hiking Abel Tasman National Park. It was quickly apparent that this was an outdoor adventurer’s paradise, and I actually felt a tad unprepared. I had no idea the beaches would be so beautiful! They reminded me of the beaches Chuck and I saw in Thailand. Just lovely.
We took a water taxi to Anchorage Bay and hiked the 12.8 kilometers back to where we started. I was nervous about how we would do with the hike, since we vary in age and physical fitness, but everyone did great. It helps that the terrain was not extreme and there was plentiful shade to keep us from getting overheated. I’ve never been on a hike with such varied and diverse landscapes. We experienced beach, jungle, waterfalls, and rather arid Mediterranean views. Every corner offered another beautiful picture of Nature.
The next day was another transit day (mostly), heading south towards Queenstown. We stopped to see the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki and the Franz Josef Glacier, which is rapidly receding due to climate change. I’m glad we got to see it before it potentially disappears forever.
Seriously though… how crazy is it that one day we’re at a practically tropical beach, and the next we are shivering by a glacier?! There is incredible geo-diversity in New Zealand (did I just make up a word?)
My favorite day of the whole trip was December 30, where we spent our morning in Wanaka and our afternoon in Queenstown. Wanaka is a sweet little lake town, with a plethora of shops and eateries. I purchased a cozy, overpriced sweatshirt imported from France (of course), and a much cheaper – but equally delightful – bag of succulent fresh peaches from a local vendor. Peaches are my favorite fruit. In case you didn’t know 🙂
But the best thing about Wanaka was the lavender farm. Anyone who knows me is aware of my fondness for lavender – which Chuck clearly knows, because it was his idea to take us there (he’s a sweetheart). Wanaka Lavender Farm was just so picturesque. It also had llamas, sheep, and chickens, so it appealed to the animal lover in me, as well. The sun was shining, and I had the best time wandering the farm. I purchased the most delicious lavender tea, lavender perfume, a lavender truffle, and took plentiful photos on the purple tractor! It was a delightful day.
The beauty of the day continued when we arrived in Queenstown, where we quickly decided to stay for three nights instead of two. Queenstown is New Zealand’s coolest city, by far. Our AirBnb didn’t disappoint either, featuring exquisite panoramic views of the lake. We settled in and freshened up for our third and final “fancy” dinner of the trip at Botswana Butchery, which also served to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday.
A quick note about the food in New Zealand. This is one of the few trips we’ve taken where the food didn’t absolutely blow us away. It was all very good and reasonably fresh, don’t get me wrong, but it was not particularly memorable or always well-executed, especially given the price (note the absence of food porn on this post!) However, I did greatly appreciate a”Western” society where there were plentiful options for my pescetarian preferences and Chuck’s gluten allergy. We have that to look forward to when we leave Okinawa… which is rather behind on such things!
Anyways… let’s talk about New Years Eve! My brother in law booked us a trip to Milford Sound, which was quite a ways outside of Queenstown. It was a very long day, but a beautiful excursion – despite the chilly mist. The weather actually made for a unique and mystical experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Chuck and his brother brave the waterfalls when we passed beneath them. It also provided us with another opportunity check out some seals!
Our final day in Queenstown consisted of me recovering from consuming a bottle of wine by myself (Happy New Year, y’all), and a Haka show! I actually knew nothing about Haka or Maori culture before the trip, and I was fascinated by the performance at the Skyline Queenstown, which welcomed participation from the audience (yep, I got up there and learned a few moves.) I was decidedly less impressed by the gondola ride, however – which was the only way to get up to the Skyline building. Heights and wobbly structures are not my friend!
The next day, it was time to head across South Island towards Christchurch, where Chuck and I would fly back to Oki. At this point, my would-be New Year’s hangover had morphed into a nasty cold, which upset me mostly because of the close proximity to my family in the Jucy van. I felt horrible at the idea of getting anyone sick!
We made our way to Christchurch in no time, but not without some beautiful stops at Lake Tekapo and Aoraki/Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. It was chilly and of course I was getting sicker by the moment, but we hiked a short way towards the mountains and took in the spectacular sight of its snowcapped peak peering at us over the clouds.
Christchurch was primarily for winding down – at least for Chuck and me. The fam was set to stay a few extra days, so we mulled over what we wanted to see before we left and decided on the Canterbury Museum. I can typically only handle one museum on any given journey, and this was a good one. Canterbury Museum featured a large range of exhibits, and I particularly enjoyed the one on Maori culture and the history of New Zealand – which I admittedly know little about about.
I find it amazing that just about anywhere in the world, the cycle of human experience, exploration, oppression, exploitation, and survival is the same. We never learn from our mistakes, and yet we continue to triumph. Humans are funny (and depressing) creatures, indeed…
Before we said our goodbyes, we nonchalantly wandered the Botanical Gardens, which featured some adorable ducklings and glorious, colorful displays of roses and dahlias. They made my sick and stuffy head happy!
New Zealand is a spellbinding and beautiful country, perfect for the nature and adventure lover. I have never road tripped before, but considering there were 6 of us – all different ages and interests – we did quite well for ourselves. It was a wonderful way to wrap up 2016 and bid farewell to our time in the Eastern Hemisphere…
More to come, Kittens. And thanks for reading this far 🙂