15 days

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park

The lake at Tasman Glacier, Mount Cook National Park

Tasman Glacier

The breakfast room at the Hermitage, Mount Cook National Park

Tasman Valley

Lake Hawea

Driving through Mount Aspiring National Park

Landsborough River, Mount Aspiring National Park

Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast

Eglinton Valley, Fiordland National Park

Knightspoint, West Coast

Stateway Highway 6 through the Otago region, from Queenstown


Dipping my paddle into the cool, sinuous waters of Milford Sound, low, grey clouds evaporating into mist crowning the Southern Alps, silvery waterfalls lacing through mountains that never seem to end, a dusting of snow to surprise us early in the summer morning, that thrill when our chopper dipped and veered to one side to reveal snow-capped peaks cut by rivers below our feet, the welcoming spirit of the Kiwis we met.

The vastness of the landscape never overwhelmed – I felt like it gave me space to think, the room to escape from the claustrophobia of urban life. On those long hours between towns and villages, I could have looked out of the window forever, lulled by the landscape of shadowy mountains stretching far into the distance, the rich greens, golds, browns that covered the land, punctuated by dashes of blue and silver water, or blurred into a lush watercolour by the rain.

I have so much more to say about some of the places, which all deserve individual posts, but that's for another day.

A few things:
  • Kayaking at Milford was definitely a more exciting option than anyone of the Milford Sound cruises, but be prepared to paddle! We went with Rosco's and had a terrific guide with good humour and lots of enthusiasm for Milford and had a great time overall.
  • Waiorau Homestead in Cardrona, a bed and breakfast where my friend’s wedding was held, was a beautifully appointed B&B that made me feel like I was staying in the home of a good friend, with all the perks of hotel service. The lovely managers were around to ask you what you wanted to eat for breakfast, fluff your pillows, and show you pictures of their grandchildren, not to mention making sure the wedding ran without a hitch
  • I didn’t love Queenstown for the sheer number of frat party types wandering around during the New Year's. But the beauty of the town (or is it a city?) can’t be denied, as I found out from hang gliding over it.
  • Hang-gliding (tandem of course) turned out to be more amazing than I had expected – the sheer physicality of riding air reminded me of windsurfing.
  • If you visit a glacier, splurge on a trek that includes a helicopter ride. Walking on the ice at Franz Josef Glacier was great, but swooping over it gives you an even better feel of the geography in a more dramatic fashion.
  • The Tasman Glacier tour at Mount Cook is a bit overrated but the walks and treks around Mount Cook National Park, not to mention Mount Cook itself, are not. Granted, the guide was informative and quite fun to talk to and I now know more about glaciers than I ever did in my life but the trip to the glacier lake and the walk itself could be done by yourself if you have a car and can follow signs.
  • Don’t fight the urge to make LOTR references when you come across a stunning and familiar looking vista. Just go with it. NZ landscape is cinematic.
  • I’ve never been anywhere easier to get free range and organic produce.
  • Go see a Kiwi bird in any one of the sanctuaries found throughout South Island. Just do. 
  • I’ve never had so many plans disrupted by weather in one trip (too windy, too cloudy, too wet, bridge swept away by flood). So keep an open mind, buy travel insurance and be resourceful about Plan Bs.
  • Food in NZ was not exciting, but if you like mussels, oysters and lamb, it’s almost always a good bet on any menu.
  • Mount Aspiring National Park and the drive through the Haast Pass to the West Coast was amazing. I’ll definitely to the Routeburn Track for a full-on hike. 
* Photos are from my Canon DSLR and my iPhone. I don't add effects to my pictures, and only edit to compensate for bad exposure.

EDIT: I must have been delirious to not mention the one thing these pictures don't show: New Zealand's notorious sandflies. They are especially horrible on the West Coast (even at the Franz Josef township) and they swarm you at Milford Sound. That said, these buggers have nothing on their Southeast Asian brethen, which irritate my skin much more and have led to bad infections. Repellent and covering up keep them at bay pretty good.


Amanda said…
Oh my goodness! New Zealand is definitely on my bucket list - it's just too expensive for us now but your photos are making me feel like I need to visit, stat, especially before the Tasman Glacier disappears. It's so beautiful! Thank you for sharing.
Camille said…
What a fantastic scenery! The view from the 3rd photo is particularly impressive, especially with that contrast between the indoors/outdoors.
you travel to some of the most breathtaking places. the landscapes of the green hills remind of the opening scene of the Dark Knight Rises.
Joy said…
land of the hobbits!!! so glad you're back on the blog. i didn't know you got a DSLR and i love love love the photos! really i have to had NZ on my list as places to go.
ming said…
These photos are fantastic! And already make me pine for a getaway from the urban jungle that is Philadelphia.
Krys said…
The clouds look amazing (and here I am reminded of my roommate saying, "Did you know..." about different clouds.) New Zealand is some place I've always wanted to go to and I was gutted I didn't get a chance to go while I was living in Australia. These photos are great and thank you for sharing so much about some of the things you did there ahhhh it all sounds lovely (:
Sue said…
I have to say the pictures are stunning - my favourite is the second one with the swirling clouds. It sounds like a wonderful trip you had - the hotel sounds so inviting - a friends home but with perks. I have to admit after your last statement about the DSLR and the iPhone, I've been trying to work out which were pictures were taken with which. Nice to have you back.
Kali said…
Wow, I had no idea there was such beauty in new zealand. I should have guessed, knowing there LOTR was filmed there. Still stunning to see actual photos!
Nomadic D. said…
Amazing photos! I cannot even begin to imagine the profound effect that being in these places for 2 weeks would have on you. Even just looking at the photos makes me feel calmer and more at peace.

lin said…
Amanda: It is an expensive place to travel in, starting with the flight there! Accommodation is on par with what you would pay for in the more expensive cities in Europe. If you do a road trip like we did, petrol costs are considerable (about NZ$2/litre). Meals average NZ$7 for a sandwich to NZ$25 for an average main at a restaurant. And any guided activity will cost NZ$150 and up. The upside is there is no shopping to be done, so you won't bust any credit cards there.

But it is utterly, utterly worth the money. Don't worry, the other glaciers are still apparently growing :)

Maybe a similar destination would be Patagonia, in Chile? It's on the same latitude or close and what I've seen in pictures remind me of NZ! Is it a closer destination for you?

Camille: I was very distracted eating breakfast for sure. I think people were upset that it was so cloudy so you can't quite see Mt Cook but I find the moody feel so much more dramatic.

Pret a Porter P: I've not seen the movie! But everything in NZ looks like it should be in a movie.

Joy: Thanks! I do, it's a very basic model and with the kit lens it does landscapes no justice. Also, I think my mirror or lens is dirty and you can see weird dark smudges at the top left corner of my picts! Haha.

ming: It was so weird coming home to Singapore. Everything felt so...noisy and bland at the same time.

Krys: The clouds in NZ were AMAZING. It's like a geography lesson on weather come alive, very fun if you are into these things.

Sue: Thanks! I think my DSLR would be depressed by your statement but hey, power to the iPhone.

Kali: My photos are nothing like being there! I felt disappointed when I reviewed my photos at home because I think I fell short in capturing how awesome everything was.

Nomadic D: I wanted to move there, haha. I think I'm still a city girl and there are too many things I want to do where I live now but I found myself thinking if I had kids , I would want to raise them somewhere like that - wide, open spaces where you appreciate the outdoors and don't get too caught up with the materialism of urban life.
Nomadic D. said…
Yeah, I think about that often myself. We're in the middle of bustling Madrid, and contemplating a move to nyc soon, so we're obviously city people (though my husband probably more so than myself) but I do think that at some point in the future I want to set some roots down somewhere with a horizon, somewhere with vast expanses and abundant air and huge skies...
Ammu said…
One of my favourite countries in the world. Such gorgeous pictures - I will never forget that huge sky, it makes one feel really small and utterly free of anxiety at the same time.
lin said…
Nomadic D: Maybe the solution is to pick a city in close proximity to some amazing open spaces.

Ammu: I agree. I now seriously envy my friends who live there.
Nomadic D. said…
Yeah, that could be the answer. I know that was one thing I loved about being in San Francisco/Bay Area, in half an hour you were out of the city with gorgeous coastlines and redwood forests.
Oops. I remembered in December and then realized that you'd already left. I meant to warm you about the sandflies in Milford Sound (and the surrounding Fiordland). They're vicious. Seeing these photos brings back fond memories. I used to explore every nook and corner of the South Island.
Regarding your gourmet experience, unfortunately, Christchurch is still recovering from the devastating earthquakes. There are plenty of amazing vineyards and quirky little bistro like eateries outside of Christchurch but you'll need a car to get there. As for Auckland and Wellington, the possibilities are endless.
Mandarine said…
You are so lucky to have traveled to New Zealand. This country is the most unrealistic dream on my travel agenda but it's still on the list. I like the fact what you told things what one won't find in a travel guide.
lin said…
Marlene: No worries, I was well prepared for the sandflies, because I react pretty badly to them and I'm pretty obsessive about sandfly research, haha. So I didn't find them to be any worse than what I expected. The few bites I got aren't too bad - they're nothing like the ones I've gotten in Malaysia and the Philippines.

About the food, you're probably right about the quake and its impact on the dining scene, and it wasn't like I didn't have any good meals in NZ haha (Saffron in Arrowtown and the Wairau River winery were especially good). I did make it to Strawberry Fare! The mains were not bad but they really killed it with the desserts...still miss those Berry Pillows.

Mandarine: Thanks! It's the impossible destinations that keep my dreaming.
Katherine said…
These photos are amazing, I would love to visit one day. Had no idea about the sandflies!
I'm glad you made it to Strawberry Fare. I didn't realize they'd moved until I looked up their website. A girlfriend and I used to head out after dinner and check into Strawberry Fare for dessert. They open till late so we used to chat all night with a couple of plates of dessert to share and plenty of coffee. I miss the good ol' days. *sniff*
Aïssa said…
As always your pics are so wonderful and breathtaking! And the notes render your journey so close and familiar!
Thanks for sharing a bit of your adventure in middle earth!
Amanda said…
I just wanted to let you know that I forwarded your photos/post to my in-laws who are visiting NZ this year and they were blown away. It's made them extra excited to spend 15ish days driving from Auckland to Christchurch. You lucky people :-)

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