On the weekend I found my travel journal from my trip to New Zealand on the book shelf and sat down to have a quick read.
It was about 7 years ago that I first travelled to New Zealand. But I remember it like it was yesterday. We spent 2 weeks there, barely enough to scratch the surface but long enough to get a good feel of what this country has to offer.
We began our trip in Christchurch.
As we descended down out of the thick white clouds into Christchurch we cruised over the Canterbury Plains, a glorious panorama, until the window quickly frosted over and we were left staring at a dirty mottled window with no view.
We were lucky enough to have visited Christchurch before the devastating earthquakes shook the country in 2011 destroying so many beautiful buildings. We ventured out early one morning (crazy because it was 8am 4 degrees and dark!!) and it was eerily quiet, Cathedral Square was desolate and it looked beautiful. Before too long it was bustling with people playing soccer, giant chess and people on team building escapades, all in the shadow of the old stone church towering over it all.
I had this romantic idea that punting up the Avon River would be a magical experience. The wind was howling along the muddy riverbanks as we climbed down into our boat with our steaming hot tea. We snuggled close together with a blanket on our lap as we slowly glided along under bridges, gangly bare tree branches leaning menacingly over the water. I imagine that this would be beautiful in Spring time but right now we want our struggling punter to get us back to the dock and as soon as he does we race back to our lodge, the wind pushing hard at our backs and we barely escape the rain howling down from the snow topped mountains.
We spent a few days in Christchurch taking it all in before flying South. We had booked a flight from Christchurch to Queenstown and were pleased to have found a $5 shuttle to the airport from Cathedral Square (beats a $50 taxi when you are on a budget!) which left every 20 minutes. As we sat at the airport cold and uncomfortable, in the way that only airports seem to manage. We watched ice swirl around outside and plaster itself to the windows. It isn’t as romantic as I had imagined, but I am excited to see, for the first time, that it is beginning to snow. My excitement turns to nervousness as we listen to the announcements cancelling flight after flight, people’s faces dropping in resignation as eventually we are told to collect our bags, we would not be flying.
As hard as I try I cannot block the experience of our transfer to Queenstown. We spent hours on the cold floor of the airport squished together with hundreds of other passengers watching night descend on us with no updates from staff. Eventually we were herded outside to stand in the sleety rain for half an hour as they shoved our wet luggage under a bus before letting us board. Our spirits weren’t dampened, they were well and truly drenched.
Shivering in our seats we took off on an endless bus trip in the dark of night, the roads impassable, our bus broke down, we doubled back, we trudged onwards. 9 hours later we clambered off the bus at 3am and stumbled into people barely dressed for the freezing temperatures, clubbing the night away. We were anything but jovial. Our gracious B&B host came to collect us and had heated towels waiting for us by the fireside and the biggest comfiest bed I have ever seen in my life. He was our knight in shining armour.
As you do in Queenstown we tried our hand skiing at Coronet Peak with the Remarkables in the background. We were on the beginners slope and despite the fact that I was trying my best I still had some tiny kid help me up off my bum at one stage, which was just a bit embarrassing.
Lake Wakatipu is just magnificent with the Remarkables and Eyre Mountains crowding the skyline. After gazing at this view for a while we head up the Gondola where the view is just as breathtaking. Speaking of breath taking, don’t pass by the chance to have a go at the luge, so much fun!
Not only is this our first time seeing snow but it’s also our first time driving on icy roads. We hired a car for our travels and loved taking our time across the beautiful countryside. Each day we would set out in the icy mist and watch the sky brighten and throw into the light the beautiful scene before us. The side of the road would be piled high with snow, the sheep buried up to their tails (lucky they are made of ugg boots!) and the roads slick with ice.
Cruising through the Milford Sound fiord with snowy mountains towering around us, waterfalls cascading down into the depths of the water, the crystal clear blue sky complementing the rich green sea and ‘white as snow’ mountains makes you feel like you are in one of those impossible jigsaw puzzles.
Steeling ourselves with coffee we brave the drive to Wanaka through clouds that limit your vision to 5m, corners that you drift around, hills that you zig zag up just to go back down again. After the coldest night ever we continued on to Franz Josef so we could helihike New Zealand’s fourth largest glacier. Somehow we managed to score ourselves a private tour (instead of the scheduled group of 12) and hiked across sections of the glacier that hadn’t been explored (for at least a couple of weeks anyway). It gave us the feeling of being frontier explorers in unchartered lands. No one elses muddy footprints marred the sugary soft powder. We cautiously navigated our way past 300m crevaces hidden beneath the snow and soon were jumping down holes, sliding through ice tunnels and climbing through frozen waves of blue ice. We could hear the crack of thin ice and watched tonnes of ice avalanche down a hill in the distance. Before leaving on our gut-dropping flight back down we manage to build a small snowman and have a snowball fight – bucket list ticked!
We catch a small, no tiny, plane from Hokitika’s airport (whose décor is stuck in the 1950’s) and float over the Southern Alps making a quick connection (by racing across the tarmac with our bags) to our onward flight to Rotorua. In Rotorua we suffer the disgusting sulphur smell to visit a few thermal reserves and take in some cultural exhibitions. Not one to hang around somewhere that steams and bubbles like something from a nightmare we head onwards to Waitomo.
It is here that we experience a “legendary” adventure called Black Water Rafting or Spelunking, where we abseil down a black hole into the abyss below. Underground, we zip across the pitch black on a flying fox with glowing orbs (gnat faeces and boogers to be exact) the only light in the darkness. It is like floating in the night sky, at great speeds. We then throw ourselves over a cliff with a rubber tube and land splash into the water below. The wetsuit layers do nothing to protect me from the icy cold shock. We float in complete darkness through the underground world, pulling ourselves along the rocky edge and singing into the dark (which would be great if you could sing). We ditch the tubes and climb through the maze of tunnels, sliding down waterfalls, squeezing through small cracks, trying to follow directions so we don’t get lost. I am first to climb up a set of gushing waterfalls and with a lot of heaving and grunting I emerge into an underground pool cave and sit alone, in awe. Once everyone is together again we climb again, crawling up through the waterfalls into daylight again. We are in the middle of a rainforest. It is still raining and the water levels are getting higher, they will have to cancel tomorrows group and while we are drenched, cold and exhausted we are so pleased that we didn’t miss out. Hot showers, soup and toasted bagels soon warm us up.
Tomorrow, I am going to share what I want to see and do when I return to New Zealand.
If I have inspired you you may want to read my post on how to save for travel.
Do you keep a travel journal?
What is your most vivid memory of New Zealand travels?
Have you seen snow?