Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park
The lake at Tasman Glacier, Mount Cook National Park
The breakfast room at the Hermitage, Mount Cook National Park
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.
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.