New Zealand, South Island

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Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Maybe it’s because the islands are so far removed from the majority of the rest of the world, or maybe the outlandish beauty of the islands give its inhabitants little reason to be unhappy, but there is something special about New Zealand and its people. Its remote location on the map, by no choice of its own, lends itself to a certain protection of culture, positive attitude and goodwill towards outsiders. Throughout my entire journey in New Zealand, entering through Milford Sound in the southwest and navigating along the coast until finally reaching Auckland in the north, I felt genuinely welcomed and utterly stunned by the beauty that surrounded me.

 

Milford Sound fjords

Milford Sound fjords

Milford Sound fjords

Milford Sound fjords

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

My parents and I started our journey in Australia before finally reaching New Zealand by way of Milford Sound. What a beautiful first impression of the country. We arrived there on Day 7 of our cruise after a harrowing journey across the Tasman Sea. Let’s just say I didn’t sleep for a couple days due to the perpendicular nature of my bed to the floor. It was glorious to see land again. The fjords broke through the water and stood high up into the sky, thin streams of water falling from its tops and meeting the ocean down below. It was at this point that I hopped off the boat and took a tender into a smaller dock within the Fiorland National Park. This part was one of my favorites of the trip, mostly because we were able to get off the coastline for a bit and travel into the inner soul of the country. We drove for a total of about 3 hours to get to the city of Queenstown in Otago, stopping at a few lookout points and small towns along the way. If you look on a map, you can see that Queenstown is actually quite close to the inlet of Milford Sound; however, there is only one way up and over the mountain range leading you into Queenstown and out of the National Park. While we made our way to Queenstown, taking in the scenic expanse from the bus, we stopped here:

 

Trek through the Chasm - a waterfall in the rainforest

Trek through the Chasm – a waterfall in the rainforest

Waterfall views from the Chasm trek

Waterfall views from the Chasm trek

The Chasm: This was a really nice first experience of NZ on the ground. The Chasm is a short and easy trek which gives you a good glimpse at the NZ rainforest, with the fjords as a backdrop.

 

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lakes: A short walk from the main road is where you’ll find the Mirror Lakes. Unfortunately, it was still early and quite foggy, so the “mirror” effect didn’t strongly shine through. Most days at Milford Sound are foggy; it is actually quite rare to experience a sunny day amid the fjords.

 

Homer Tunnel

Homer Tunnel

Homer Tunnel: Less than 1 mile long, the Homer Tunnel opened in 1954 to link Milford Sound to the towns of Te Anau and Queenstown. The tunnel currently allows for only one car to pass at a time, so there can be a few minutes wait on either end. However, the road carries so little traffic that it is hardly a problem.
Te Anau: Te Anau was our pit stop for lunch. We did not spend too much time here, but enough to take in the beautiful site of the Te Anau Lake.

 

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Our first site of Queenstown was memorable. As we passed The Remarkables (a stunning and impressive mountain range and popular skiing destination near Queenstown) and turned around a bend, we were presented with a beautiful site of Lake Wakatipu, the picturesque backdrop to Queenstown. The sun was hidden behind a sky filled with clouds when we first arrived into the town, but an hour later, the clouds broke and various shades of blue could be seen across the large lake. It was a beautiful sight.

 

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

At this point, we had a bit of time to check-in to our hotel room (yay for a stable bed!) and roam around the town before we were due to meet a vintage steamship taking us across Lake Wakatipu and over to the Walter Peak High Country Farm for dinner and sheep shearing. The farm was situated right on the lake and boasted a beautiful view of the sun setting against the town of Queenstown. It also maintained a sprawling garden and provided a delicious, extensive meal of barbecued meats and fresh seafood. I was in heaven.

 

Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu

Walter Peak High Country farm - view from Lake Wakatipu

Walter Peak High Country farm – view from Lake Wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu - the colors!

Lake Wakatipu – the colors!

Sunset view from Walter Peak High Country Farm over Lake Wakatipu

Sunset view from Walter Peak High Country Farm over Lake Wakatipu

After dinner, we navigated around the farm into the sheep shearing room for a demonstration. It was actually really interesting to see how a sheep’s wool is sheared off, albeit slightly unnerving watching the sheep squirm a bit. The shearer assured us, however, that the sheep are not in the least bit harmed or mentally distraught during this process – it is just like getting a haircut! It takes about six weeks for sheep to regrow their wool to sufficiently provide effective insulation from the elements. The professional shearer manually sheared off an entire coat of wool in one piece. Very impressive.

 

Sheep shearing

Sheep shearing

Shearing the sheep!

Shearing the sheep!

Entire coat of wool, off in one piece!

Entire coat of wool, off in one piece!

While I was touring around the city, I noticed many good looking restaurants, shops and bars, especially along the waterfront. While I didn’t have time to stop in all of them, here are a couple notable ones:
Fergburger on Shotover Streetfirst piqued my interest because it was thoroughly packed with people inside and garnered a streaming line outside. And it was 4pm in the afternoon. I mentioned this later to someone more versed in the NZ food scene, and they confirmed that it is a holy site. I only wish I could have tasted one while I was there. After we arrived back from our trip, CNN came out with this article, just to rub it in my face.
An eccentric shop in an old home, Vesta is a good stop for NZ specific gifts. I purchased two dishes in the shape of north and south island that are now overflowing with peanut butter M&Ms in my apartment.

 

Streets of Queenstown

Streets of Queenstown

Queenstown harbor and city

Queenstown harbor and city

The next morning, Day 8, we hopped back on the bus and took a tour around a few popular destinations in Queenstown, including the first ever commercial bungy jump and Gibbston Valley Winery:

 

Bungy jump!

Bungy jump!

AJ Hackett Bungy: This may be as close as I will ever get to bungy jumping. I was riding the first-time-here-may-never-be-back vacation ride when we arrived at the world’s first ever commercial bungy jump, situated off Kawarau Bridge. I was almost convinced to jump, but I ultimately declined. I assured myself it was because there was no one who knew me there to witness such a feat. Yes there may or may not have been numerous videos and professional photos from every angle imaginable that come as part of the jumping package, but the fact that no one would be there, in the flesh, was enough for me to walk the other way. That and the fear of death. Or eternal blindness.

 

Gibbston Valley Winery

Gibbston Valley Winery

Views from Gibbston Valley Winery

Views of the mountains over a lavender field at Gibbston Valley Winery

Gibbston Valley Winery: Good solid wine and an amazing cheese shop – this was the perfect pit stop after a too close encounter with the bungy jump. We took a small tour around the vineyards and then tasted a few different varietals in the wine cellar. My favorite was the 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir. I even purchased a bottle before I left, however, it was among the devastating casualties at the end of the trip. More on that later.
After these short stops and close encounter with death, we were back on the road, making our way to Dunedin on the east side of the island to meet back up with the ship. Along the way, we witnessed some impressive landscape, most impressive being the fact that it changes so drastically in such a short period of time. We went from lush green plains to rock mountain cliffs, to black and red rock and everywhere in between. We experienced the whole gammit of terrain all wrapped up in one short 3 hour car ride. Of particular note were the Clutha River and Lake Dundstan. The drive:

 

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin - rolling hills

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin – rolling hills

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin - rocky landscape

Along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin – rocky landscape

Lake Dunstan along the dirve from Queenstown to Dunedin

Lake Dunstan along the drive from Queenstown to Dunedin

Cromwell

Cromwell

Lake Dunstan, Cromwell

Lake Dunstan, Cromwell

We stopped for lunch in Cromwell in Central Otago, which is a quaint little mining town along the Clutha River. The town was formed during the New Zealand gold rush. Now it is home to many artists who have opened shops along the river. There was one particular art gallery that caught my eye, Hullabaloo Art Space. The owner showcased many different, talented artists from around the area. I purchased a beautiful painting of the Cromwell landscape, with bright flecks of yellow paint symbolizing the gold rush. It was painted by a local Kiwi on to an old tin oil barrel cover. It was one of my favorite purchases of the trip, also part of the list of casualties at the end of the trip…

 

Arrowtown

Arrowtown

The bus made a short pit stop in Arrowtown, but that was all that was needed for this sleepy little town. Most of the town is centered along one main street, but it exudes a nice charm. Worth the stop for coffee if passing through.

 

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station

We unfortunately did not spend too much time in Dunedin, but to be honest, I was ok with that considering I had a wonderful excursion in Queenstown and Dunedin seemed like a large city like many I had seen before. I am sure it was lovely, as I had come to find with many cities throughout New Zealand, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the drive through the countryside and stop in Queenstown. If you do happen to find yourself there, stop in at the old railway station. It is regarded as the most photographed building in the whole country. And for good reason.

 

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station

Port of call, Dunedin

Port of call, Dunedin

 

Akaroa

Akaroa

Akaroa

Akaroa

Day 9 began at the port city of Akaroa, a slight revision to the originally intended itinerary for this cruise. Christchurch, the largest city on South Island, was the original port of call before the earthquakes of 2011 rendered it inaccessible for cruise ships. Although it was pretty apparent that Christchurch has suffered mass destruction during these earthquakes and was not in the same form and function that had popularized it in the past, I still wanted to visit this special city. The ride was only a short 90 minutes from Akaroa, up and over the mountain range.

 

Christchurch Cathedral, still in the rebuilding process

Christchurch Cathedral, still in the rebuilding process

Christchurch, rebuilding

Christchurch, rebuilding

 

Christchurch Victoria Clock Tower

Christchurch Victoria Clock Tower, frozen at 12:51, the exact moment the devastating earthquake struck and forever changed the city 3 years ago.

Once we arrived in Christchurch and were left to wander, we made our way towards the city’s information center by the Botanic Gardens. We only had a few hours before we had to depart back to the ship, so we got straight to it. We started with a walk around the Botanic Gardens and the Avon River. It was extremely charming and serene to watch the boats punting along the river, flanked by a number of people reading and enjoying the summer sun on its edge.

 

Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Christchurch Avon River

Christchurch Avon River

Punting along the river, Christchurch

Punting along the river, Christchurch

At this point, my parents headed up the mountain to take the gondola for some city views. We didn’t have time for much else with our designated time there, so I opted to just wander around the city and get a feel for the area. I’m so glad I did. Christchurch was the friendliest of all cities I encountered in New Zealand. It stood a part from the rest. I was continually warmed by the interest and effort that each person I encountered put into my experience with their city. It doesn’t happen with every city, but when it does it is a true testament to the personality and good naturedness of the inhabitants of that particular city. So many great tips were gathered easily through pleasant conversations with the locals. One of particular note was with the owner of a shop along the newly rebuilt New Regent Street. I wandered into Rekindle, which is a creative social enterprise that turns wood waste into usable products, out of interest. I was amazed and blown away to see the accomplishments this city had made to get itself back on solid ground. This was just one of them.

 

Christchurch New Regent Street, rebuilt pedestrian mall

Christchurch New Regent Street, rebuilt pedestrian mall

While I was in there, a gentleman stopped in to bring the owner coffee and joined the conversation. He recommended one of the.best.restaurants. I encountered in New Zealand. Not to mention in life. The name, Harlequin Public House. The gift, a cauliflower salad three ways with all the right textures included, monkfish with cheese stuffed zucchini flowers and a delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Pegasus Bay to accompany it all. It was so enjoyable, I never wanted to leave. They treated me so well while I was there, even bringing a “doggy bag” filled with sweet treats to take along with me for the rest of my journey. I was delighted. Just look how beautiful these dishes were…

 

Harlequin Public House cauliflower salad

Harlequin Public House cauliflower salad

Harlequin Public House monkfish entree

Harlequin Public House monkfish entree

I arrived in Christchurch with little prior research or any plan as to what I was going to do and what I wanted to see. Sometimes I prefer to approach a new city this way and just see where it can take me. It lends itself to some creativity and surprising satisfaction. An adventure. When you have no expectations, it is hard to be disappointed. I saw the inner beauty of Christchurch in 3 hours – something that would take far longer to witness and understand in many other cities around the world. It was a pleasant journey, made possible by those I met along the way.
Christchurch still has a long way to go to rebuild itself into the city it once was, but the attitude and resilience of its people is something to note. The creativity and stamina are second to none. Here are a few examples:

 

Pallet pavilion - a community space built by volunteers for live music, performance and other events

Pallet pavilion – a community space built by volunteers for live music, performance and other events

Pallet pavilion - pallet donators

Pallet pavilion – pallet donators. Originally scheduled to come down in May 2012, the pallet pavilion, in 30 days with the help of 881 donors, raised over $81k to keep the pavilion open for one more summer.

I got back on the boat feeling rejuvenated and with a full heart. I was ready to shuffle through North Island!

 

shuffling

shuffling

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