My first stop in New Zealand was Queenstown, one of the most popular tourist spots on the South Island and when I arrived the weather was absolutely perfect, and in stark contrast to Hong Kong the air was pollution free and the roads clear of traffic; cyclists and hikers easily outnumbering motorised vehicles. I had a great time in Hong Kong, but I will always remember that feeling of contentment when I disembarked the plane and took a breath of the freshest air imaginable.
Looking back at my 6 month trip, Queenstown will always remain one of my favourite places, situated by Lake Wakatipu and set to the backdrop of “The Remarkables” mountain range, the views are stunning and watching the sun set over the lake, listening to the local buskers and sipping an ice cold beer was heaven, this memory will last a lifetime.
Queenstown is also renowned for being a mecca for thrill-seekers and is in fact the birth place of the modern bungee jump. There’s no end of places to sign up for a sky-dive, or raft down some white water, unfortunately though I never got round to sampling any of the extreme sports and I probably regret not at least trying one of them, but this gives me a good reason to visit again someday.
From Queenstown I hired a car and drove via Lake Wanaka up to Franz Josef, the natural glacier made for some great pictures and there are no end of superlatives to use to describe the beauty of the West coast of New Zealand. I booked myself on a helicopter tour to the top of the glacier, but was unfortunate with the weather and as a result of low lying cloud and intermittent rain, the trip was cancelled, this was a shame but I still managed to hike to the foot of the mountain which wasn’t a bad alternative. The combination of low lying cloud and misty rain gave the area an ethereal feel, like a scene taken straight from The Lord Of The Rings.
After a 300 mile journey from Franz Josef, my next stop was Nelson, which apparently has the best weather across both islands and during my stay it didn’t disappoint. Nelson is a small city and the biggest draws are probably the nearby national park of Abel Tasman or the Nelson lakes. I booked a kayaking trip around Abel Tasman and was treated to some local folklore by our Maori guide, the story which stood out the most was the story of how the Kiwi lost its wings and why the flightless little bird has become the national symbol of New Zealand. We were also fortunate enough to see a full seal colony, have a giant Mantaray pass under the kayak (which disconcertingly scared the life out of our guide) and were then followed by a group of playful dolphins back to shore.
Christchurch was my last stop in New Zealand and with the hire car I was able to see much of the city centre which incredibly is still under construction or left as rubble from the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes in 2005. I only had one night in Christchurch but was left with a feeling of sympathy for the locals, trying to appreciate how much of an impact the earthquakes have had on their lives and still 7 years on the evidence remains. From what I could see Christchurch was once a vibrant city, but it is yet to be restored to its former glory.
One of only a few regrets I had on the planning of my trip is that I didn’t give myself more time in New Zealand. I only spent 11 days on the South island and was absolutely blown away by the diversity and natural beauty of the incredible landscape, by all accounts I picked the better island according to locals and fellow travellers, but still I have unfinished business with this incredible country and will definitely plan a trip there again someday.
My Highlights of New Zealand
Biking Lake Wakatipu – It probably would of taken a week to bike around the entire lake, but the part we did cycle was stunning and apart from getting some extreme sunburn and my French buddy crashing his bike and getting a puncture, it was still a brilliant day out.
Driving the West Coast – The west coast of the south island is beyond-words-beautiful, back in England I’ve never really been a huge fan of driving for hours and hours across the country, but I could never get bored of these roads. I lost count of the times when I uttered the words “Oh my god!” or “Sh*t that’s incredible” out loud to myself and promptly pulled the car over to take pictures, which didn’t even begin to do it justice.
Hiking around Nelson Lakes – This was a great day out, not only for the hike which was great, but for testing out my skills as a traveller by walking up to a group of strangers in the hostel and asking if anyone would like to join me for an adventure, minutes later I had assembled a group of 4 people and we were on our way.
Kayaking in Abel Tasman – Seal colonies, Mantarays, dolphins, Maori folklore, and some fantastic weather, what more could you ask for?
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