Goodbye New Zealand

Photo above taken on our last day in Auckland, New Zealand.  The sun was shining warmly and spring was in the air.  November 2002.

Never in my life had I not wanted to leave a place and return home than during my two weeks in New Zealand.  The pure beauty and laid-back, carefree life of New Zealand was effecting me in an utterly positive way.  Going back was not only depressing but a dreadful thought.  For it was the start of a long, cold Minnesota winter and worse yet, I was heading back to perhaps the worst job I’ve ever had in my life.  Even more depressing of a thought!

Have you ever had a job that was so miserable that you could barely crawl out of bed each morning?  A job that left you in tears as you walked out the door?  That was the job I had back at home and the last job I have on my resume before becoming a full-time mom. It was one of those awful situations in which I was tainted forever about working for small companies.  I am thankful every day that I don’t have to go there and try to erase the entire experience out of my memory.

Anyway, if I could go back to New Zealand I would be sure to visit a few key areas that I never had a chance to see:  Cook Mountain, Abel Tasman National Park and of course I’d do the Tongariro Crossing.  Since the world is such a big place and there remains so many other interesting countries to visit, I don’t know when I’ll be back.  But someday I will!

Stay tuned…countdown to Guatemala is now five days.  I will be flying to Guatemala City and taking a bus (I am hoping now a “Chicken Bus”!) to Xela in the highlands.  I am doing a home stay, taking Spanish classes in the morning and volunteering “up the mountain” in the afternoons at an indigenous school.  I am also really looking forward to meeting fellow WordPress blogger Lucy Brown of LocaMotion!  See what happens when you blog!  Friends around the world and if you are lucky, you can even meet them in person!

If you don’t hear much here on this blog, I may be using thirdeyeworld instead to do some “postcards” while I’m away.  We’ll see! 🙂


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Day trip to Akaroa

With one day left on the South Island and yet another spectacular blue sky, Paul and I decided to hit the road and take a day trip to the nearby village of Akaroa, located about 54 miles/87 kilometers from Christchurch.  Akaroa is the oldest town in Canterbury, founded by French settlers in 1840, and is a wonderfully quaint, beautiful village nestled in the heart of the Banks Peninsula.  We had also heard that the area offered many opportunities for excellent “tramps” (or hikes as we call it) as well as ocean cruises to see New Zealand’s unique marine wildlife.

We headed out early in the morning choosing to take the “scenic route” in our rental car.  Apparently there are two ways to Aakora:  One easy and relatively straightforward, and the other more spectacular, yet rugged.  We took the latter.  It wound up being a harrowing hour and a half drive from Christchurch but well worth the incredible views.

Here is the description of the route we followed per the New Zealand Tourism Guide:

There are two routes to Akaroa. State Highway 75 takes you via Lake Ellesmere and Lake Forsyth before it climbs over the hills to Akaroa Harbour. The other route is very scenic, but longer and more difficult to drive. It takes you through the Lyttelton tunnel and around Lyttelton Harbour before making the rugged, cross country journey to Akaroa.

Photo taken during our “tramp” in the Banks Peninsula with the sheep looking on. 

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Back to Christchurch

Ok, I know I was going to jump into the North Island of New Zealand but I found a few more pictures and stories that I forgot to include on the South Island.  I guess that’s what happens when you are writing about a trip that was ten years ago!  So let me back up here and return to where I left off in the Milford Sound.  To read the last post on exploring the Milford Sound click here.

We rose early to the morning sun coming over the serene Milford Sound.  It was yet another glorious day and not a soul was in sight.  Paul and I enjoyed our last hour of solitude while we sailed back to shore where we would be boarding the oddly shaped Real Journeys bus back to Christchurch.

Everyone was tired and quiet on our long ride back to Queenstown.  I for one looked awful, like I’d been punched in the eye.  Actually I had an unfortunate encounter with a sand fly (that nasty thing bit me hard!) the day before while I was kayaking in the Sound and my left eyelid had swollen up like a balloon!  That was a fun one to explain to a bunch of strangers!

We arrived in Queenstown by late afternoon and headed straightaway to the tourist office.   We had one more thing to accomplish in Queenstown:  Our very last adrenaline-pumping activity, Jet-boating.  Luckily there was one last ride of the day.  If we hustled, we would be able to catch the 5:30 pm jet-boat on the Shotover River just outside town.  I should have been scared when I met our driver, a twentysomething Kiwi with a dangerous grin on his boyish face.  But “no worries” as they love to say in New Zealand.

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Sailing sound in the Milford Sound

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world.   The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it.   Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness.   In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both.   This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

Around five o’clock we boarded our ship for the night, the lovely Milford Manner and sailed off into the sparkling blue depths of the world famous Milford Sound.  We felt quite lucky to have such amazing weather and no rain in sight in a place that normally receives rain an average 330 days per year.

View from our ship, the Milford Manor, of the Milford Sound in all her splendor.  

Another small ship paved the way ahead but besides this other ship, we were the only ones around.  

The Milford Sound travels for ten miles/sixteen kilometers before the fiord meets the Tasman Sea.  It is one of the most remote areas of New Zealand in which most of it is impenetrable except the fiord itself and the 34 mile/55 km track which is considered one of the top treks in the world.  

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South bound to Milford Sound

After traveling to the world-famous fiords of Norway and being blown away by their sensational beauty, I knew that Paul and I would have to make time for a trip down south to New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.

Fiordland National Park is located on the Southwestern part of New Zealand’s South Island and is the country’s largest park with over 21,000 square km/8,100 square miles of pristine forests, mountains and lakes.  The region is composed of over 14 fiords and five major lakes that are flanked by steep, jagged mountains coated in rainforest making this part of the world virtually impenetrable except along the 310 miles of tracks (hiking trails) or by boat.  I had heard that Fiordland offered some of the best scenery in all of New Zealand and after the sheer, pure beauty we had seen so far, I couldn’t imagine that we would see anything finer.

A sneak preview of what’s to come….

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Hiking into Middle Earth: A tramp along the Routeburn Track

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.   So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.    Explore.   Dream. Discover.”   – Mark Twain

The New Zealand Silver Fern, the symbol of purity and beauty.

The Routeburn Track in the South Island of New Zealand is perhaps one of the finest hikes in the world.  It rates up there with neighboring Milford Track as well as the world-famous Annapurna Trek in Nepal.

The 24 mile/29 kilometer Routeburn Track generally takes three days and climbs up to some of the most spectacular, pristine temperate rain forest and alpine scenery in the world.  Unfortunately my husband and I only had one day allocated to a tramp (what the Kiwi’s call hiking) along the Routeburn Track, and we were going to make the most of it.  Given what we had already seen of Queenstown and the surrounding area, we knew that our visit to Routeburn would be one of the best parts of the trip and we weren’t at all disappointed.

Below is a panoramic shot of the view at the top of the Routeburn Track….a view that we didn’t get to see.  This means we’ll have to someday go back and do the whole thing! (Photo credit Wikipedia Commons). 

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Queenstown: New Zealand’s Adventure Playground

Photo above taken just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand.

The drive from Christchurch southbound to Queenstown was perhaps the most spectacular, awe-inspiring drive of my life.  It rated up there with the scenic, mountainous drives on the tops of the Austrian and Swiss Alps, two drives I have done back in my Euro-craze days (I was obsessed with Europe in my twenties and have been there over a dozen times, constantly exploring as many places as I could cram in).

After a few hours of intense motion sickness, I accepted my fate and cursed myself for over-indulging the day before on the Waipara Valley Wine Tour.  Oh well.  The handful of mouth-watering, lip-puckering NZ Sav Blanc’s certainly tasted delightful at the time!

Around three o’clock, exhausted of driving along the serpentine, rolling roads of Southern New Zealand, we saw signs that we were nearing Queenstown, the adventure tourism capital of New Zealand.  The verdant fields of white fluffy sheep slowly disipated while signs of life and civilization appeared.  About a half hour or so out of town we saw our first sign of New Zealand’s Adventure Playground for adults:  The first ever real, live bungee jump!

Bungee jumping hit the world stage in 1986 by New Zealand’s very own A J Hackett, who fearlessly dived from the top of the Eiffel Tower with nothing but a rubber cord attached to his ankles.  The craze caught on and there was no better place to offer this kind of adrenaline-pumping extreme “sport” than in the adventure paradise and capital, Queenstown.

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Heading South on Highway 1

New Zealand is one of the most isolated countries in the world.  Made up of two, vastly unique large islands known as the North and the South Islands and a number of smaller ones, New Zealand lies about 990 miles/1,600 km east of Australia in the South Pacific Ocean.  Comparable in size to Japan or the British Isles but without an enormous population (only 4.4 million people total), New Zealand is one of the best kept secret treasures for adventurous travelers.  Its pure beauty, ease of travel and endless things to do make it one of the best tourist destinations in the world, and a place I could only someday dream of living in.

What makes New Zealand so incredibly fascinating is its diverse landscape.  While the North Island is filled with volcanoes, rugged mountains, and thermal areas, the South Island is completely different and accounts for only 25 percent of New Zealand’s entire population (as of 2011 there are roughly 1 million inhabitants in the entire South Island as compared to over 3 million in the North Island).  The South Island is dominated by the Southern Alps mountain chain which runs along almost the entire length of the island and is blessed with over 223 named peaks.  The eastern side of the alps is dry and largely non-forested, while the west side has much more rainfall lending to magnificent rainforests, lakes, mountains and glaciers.  The lack of inhabitants combined with the utterly spectacular landscape in the South Island make it a traveler’s paradise and I couldn’t think of a better way to see it than by taking a 6 hour car ride down south.

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Two rainy days in Christchurch, New Zealand

We landed in Christchurch a little before noon and I found it peculiar to be setting my watch ahead twenty-one hours.  For me, flying long distance is one of the most surreal experiences ever.  To pass through so many time zones and to see the sun’s confusion of setting and rising is startling.  I always am amazed and bewildered when I finally step foot off the airplane that transported me miles away from home, across continents and oceans and into a new, unexplored place.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was feeling like a deflated balloon when we finally stepped foot into the Christchurch airport. The gray skies and pelts of rain were effecting my mood.  Thankfully our luggage had made it through three different flights and two airlines (that is always a bonus!).  Yet we had a little mishap with the car rental agency that took an hour to square away.  It was my first encounter with a native Kiwi, and I instantly realized that New Zealanders are perhaps the most laid-back, fun-loving people on earth.

We were finally on our way, heading in our rental car towards Christchurch while driving on the “other” side of the road and trying not to get killed by forgetting to turn into the “other” lane at the roundabouts.  This proved to be a daunting challenge that would remain with us for the full two weeks of the trip.   For some reason driving on the left side of the road seemed against reason.  It also always proved a challenge to remember to not hit the windshield wipers as opposed to the turn signal when we were desperately trying to pass.  Countless times, in the heat of the moment, my husband inadvertently hit the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal while we were frantically trying to pass some unexpected soul along the curving New Zealand roads.  This should have made us panic but instead we burst out into laughing attacks which only made it worse.

Christchurch is the provincial capital of Canterbury and the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island.  Often viewed as a gateway into the South Island’s magical wonders, Christchurch is a fabulous launching off point and definitely requires a few days to visit this lovely, charming town with outrageously delicious food.

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New Zealand rain and the deflated balloon

We landed on the emerald-green South Island of New Zealand into sheets of rain.  After three flights and twenty plus hours of flying, we had finally made to Christchurch, New Zealand.  Middle Earth as it is known in the fictitious, yet sensational Lord of the Rings.

The initial relief and excitement of finally arriving in New Zealand after months and months of planning and anticipation, was instantly flattened like a popped balloon as the all too familiar disappointment and letdown set in.  I honestly have no idea why I experience this kind of traveler’s schizophrenia.  But it always happens and always on the first day of arrival.  Perhaps it is the fact that I typically spend months planning a trip, dreaming about it and getting my emotions all worked up.  Then when I finally get to that place I’d been dreaming about forever (in this case, over a year of planning was involved), my emotions collapse.  Or else it could be the complete exhaustion and jet lag of traveling across 19 time zones.  Seeing the sun set, and set, and rise once more.

It didn’t help that the weather was dreadful.  Here we were in the midst of springtime in New Zealand and the weather was equally as bad if not worse than the gray, cold November days we were trying desperately to escape in Minnesota.  It was a meager forty degrees farenheit and the rain was unending, bitter and cold.  I felt my spirits dwindling down like the pouring rain.   But I knew only too well that I couldn’t let poor weather spoil my fun.  My husband and I had waited over a year for this trip and we intended to have an unforgettable time.

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