The South Island of New Zealand (Photos at bottom as always- lots of em this time)
The South Island of New Zealand started with an absolutely beautiful day. As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit somber after writing my post about my Grandmother, but once I started driving in the sunshine my mood improved dramatically. I had also turned on a playlist a good friend had made after his mom got sick. It is a beautiful collection of inspirational music, and just seemed right to listen to. One thing I knew was that Grammy wouldn’t want me to be sad so I got back to a happier place, a place I know she’d want me to be….
Ok. Let’s chat the South. First thing I noticed was the vast difference in terrain. The North was more rugged, more raw. The South was lush and beautiful. I hesitate to use the word ‘welcoming’ because that would imply that the North wasn’t, but you catch my drift. I drove past winery after winery… I have to admit I’ve never really tried the wine from down here before, but now that I knew what a big deal it was, I couldn’t wait!
I had planned to meet up with Ashley (Remember her? The girl from Chicago who was also traveling in NZ that my friend Steph had introduced me to…) in Christchurch the following day- St Patrick’s Day! But… as the Eastern highway was still closed after the Earthquake, I was going to have to to take a pretty roundabout way to get there. No worries. I was used to just driving, listening to music, taking in the scenery, and generally just enjoying this time with myself. As I was cutting back across the mountains, I noticed on Google Maps that I was approaching a small lake, so I decided to stop. This was my first introduction to what I really think about when I think back on my time in New Zealand. This remote, beautiful, mountain lake. It was exactly what I needed. I took a walk through the woods and thought about Grammy. It was so peaceful, just being in nature. The only sounds were of the birds chirping, a bug zipping by, or the occasional rustle of the trees in the breeze. After my walk, I sat alongside the lake and meditated, finding some more peace. Although quite simple in comparison to the rest of my time in New Zealand, it is by far one of my favorite memories… I drove a bit further and found a campground to stay at for the night. tomorrow was going to be the start of a new chapter of this adventure.
I pull into Christchurch just before lunch. After a quick stop to buy a green shirt, I went to the hotel where we were set to meet (don’t worry Mom, the room had two beds…)- and away we went! We clicked immediately! One of those people you just know you’re still going to be sharing stories with 20 years from now. Just a genuinely cool, down to earth, awesome person… After we absolutely crushed St Patrick’s Day (and night), we set off on an adventure together. Although I had really enjoyed my alone time, it was nice to have someone to travel with. Plus, she’d already been all over NZ and knew the best things to do (we doubled up on some things she did and also hit some of the things she didn’t). We were perfect travel companions- similar backgrounds, similar travel style (super laid back), similar humor, taste in music, flavors of bagged tuna fish… you name it. Over the span of 10 days we hiked a ton, saw some dolphins and whales, went to a dark-sky observatory and saw every star/galaxy ever, visited (one or five) wineries, talked a lot about life/family/travel/dreams/fears, meditated together, and generally just became the best of friends. Literally we did so much I could write 10 paragraphs, but I’m going to let the photos do the talking (you don’t want to read that much anyways I’m sure…). I don’t think it was an accident that our paths crossed exactly when they did- the universe is pretty cool sometimes.
When we finally got to Queenstown it was time to return the Mystery Machine. It had also been an awesome travel partner. I have to admit I was sad to see it go as we had shared a lot… After camping for the past week, we decided we’d treat ourselves to a proper hotel, it was such a nice treat to finally have beds, hot showers, a gym, an amazing massage and all the other creature comforts you don’t mind missing when you truly enjoy being in nature, but you’re not gonna turn away when they show up! As I was leaving the next day for the Milford Trek, I combined exploring with running around a bit getting last minute items- what a cool town! In addition to the hotel, we decided we’d step up our food game as well and treat ourselves to a nice dinner (with more wine of course). Though the lunch meat, cheese, tuna, and fruit we had lived on totally did the job, I was ready for some real food! We chose the restaurant Madam Woo (an homage to Stephanie Woo- our friend who introduced us). Wow, so good! If any of you ever end up down there I highly recommend it! After dinner we closed the night down at an Irish Pub enjoying some really amazing music- life is indeed good!
… (Insert Milford Trail blog) This will have its own separate post to come soon. It was an amazing experience! And then…
South Island pt 2
After I finished the Milford Trail it was back to Queenstown! Wow, what an amazing trek. I was a bit sore, but it was so totally worth it. First things first, obviously a massage… Ash had decided she was gonna head up to Auckland to attend some classes at a dance studio so we’d hang out for one last day and then I’d be Han Solo again for the remainder of the trip! Before we split, she helped me plan out some things that she had done- it truly was amazing having her as a resource (and as a travel friend obv)! After a final goodbye lunch and really nice hug, I was off once again into the wild blue NZ yonder alone. (And once again I was in a Mystery Machine van… was just too fun the first time around not to re-book for this as well!).
I was now driving up the West Coast to hit some glaciers (and of course do some more hiking!). Franz Josef offered a ‘heli-hiking’ experience, which as the name implies involves taking a chopper up to the glacier, tossing on some crampons, and hiking directly on it! Yep, that sounded like something I wanted to do! Though, it’s a fickle weather system up there and if there are any real clouds or wind, the choppers won’t take off- so I was told it was kind of a ‘fingers crossed’ situation. This ended up being like my time up North in Rotorua… The weather just wouldn’t cooperate… I stayed in Franz Josef for 3 nights, each day hoping for a break in the clouds, but every time I booked and rebooked and rebooked, it kept getting cloudy and cancelled again. Oh well. No heli-hike for me. Did plenty of actual hiking though as there were some really nice trails in the area and I did make it up to a cool lookout where you could see the glacier- so at least there was that. Plus the town was nice and had an awesome coffee place where I was able to sort out my Singapore, Australia, and Nepal trips. Of course I found my way to yet another massage at these cool Geothermal pools… I even ran into some of my new friends from the Milford Trek!
As I had spent so much time in Franz Josef, I decided not to go up any further and instead start slowly making my way back down towards Queenstown. Next stop was the Fox Glacier (located not too far south of Franz Josef). This had a pretty easy hike right up to the glacial mouth which offered some pretty cool and up close views. As I walked back down, I even rock-hopped down a bit to the river where there were massive chunks of glacial ice all alongside the banks. I had brought a little zip-lock bag and snagged a chunk to bring with me (I hoped it would stay frozen in the cooler until I reached Wanaka, but as it had been around for 10,000 years or so I was sure I’d be ok).
This amazing place was next on my list. Situated on beautiful Lake Wanaka, this little town was Awesome! Sorry Queenstown, but Wanaka was probably my favorite city in all of New Zealand! It had a cute little downtown with lots of shopping, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, etc. and the natural scenery was unreal. After checking into my campground I caught a cab back into town- to the Irish Pub I had spotted on the way in. Ashley had given me another idea I really wanted to do… So, I found and ordered my favorite scotch- neat- and then (after washing it off and making it a little smaller to fit in the glass) added my piece of Fox Glacier Ice! A proper ‘Scotch on the Fox’. #Heaven… Hung in town for a bit, but headed back to the campground early as I had another glacier to check out the next day!
Rob Roy Glacier was highly recommended by many locals I had asked and it lived up to the hype! What a cool hike to a beautifully serene panoramic vista of the Rob Roy Glacier (plus several other smaller ones) and a bunch of cool mountain waterfalls! I should mention that this was one of the funnier drives in as the narrow road is pretty much dirt/gravel road for 15 miles or so with numerous random cow and sheep crossings! Often times you’d have to wait a few minutes for all the animals to make their way across the road, they were in no hurry- but I suppose neither was I… What a cool hike! I sat at the top and meditated and had lunch, just enjoying the scenery. After hiking back down I headed back to Wanaka and just sat outside at various cafes along the lake- journaling and booking travel, along with drinking wine and listening to beautiful live music as the sun went down over the lake/mountains. It was one of those perfect days that leaves you with a content heart and a simple smile on your face as you drift off to sleep that night…
The trip was winding down, only a few days left, so I headed back to Queenstown- which again is such a beautiful city itself. Forgot to mention but the night Ash and I had gone out, we met another girl from Chicago named Carly. Carly was living in Queenstown currently and in the middle of her own adventure living abroad. She had mentioned wanting to hike this other trail called Mt Cook (which I had also heard was super cool) so when I got back to Queenstown, her and I met up and did this hike. Once again, New Zealand delivered. Summer was now turning to Autumn and some of the mountains which were dry earlier in my travels now had dustings of snow on them! Crazy how time had flown by since I had arrived! My excellent adventure, much like New Zealand, was undergoing yet another metamorphosis.
After some amazing hiking, some really good life chats, and of course more wine and chocolate- we headed back to Queenstown for my final night. Her friend, Harry joined us for a dinner (Madam Woo’s of course) and as luck would have it, the same amazing Irish Band (Calico) was back at the pub Ashley and I had checked out the first time around. It was a perfect end to the trip. Sharing drinks, singing, and enjoying life. The band even played a lot of the Irish songs that me and my mom sang together on our November trip which brought back such good memories and made my heart smile even bigger than it already was… I had to take some videos and sent them to her, which she of course loved.
The following morning I grabbed a coffee at my favorite shop in town and sat alongside the water, reflecting on my time in New Zealand. Exactly one month had passed since I’d arrived. It seemed like it had lasted forever, yet only for a moment at the same time. One thing was for sure. I was a different man. I learned so much about myself on this trip. Spending time alone in nature listening to the sounds of the Earth really grounds one’s soul, gives it a little bit of silence and space, provides it with a moment to examine who you are away from the city, from friends and family, and away from what you generally think are the ‘comforts’ of life. Until you realize that simply being outside, on a trail, up a mountain, near a lake, next to a waterfall, or even sleeping in a van down by the river, is where you find yourself most comfortable.
Much love and bliss…
“Any question you ever have, the answer you will find in Nature – if you know where to look, and how to ask.” – The Power of One…
First pictures on the South Island- So many wineries along the way to Christchurch!
My little mountain lake (Lake Rotoroa) where I found peace.
Found a nice spot along the road for Sunrise Meditatoin
Meeting Ashley! Happy St Patrick’s Day!
Pegasus Bay, WIneryCheers!
Sunrise in KaikuraExploring the coast before dolphin watching.Catchin’ some rays…Making new paths…Our first meditation spot…Showoffs… What a beautiful day!
A day trip to Akaroa for some hikingSecond meditation!Akaroa Valley (an old volcanic caldera)More Mystery Solvers!
Evenings in the Mystery MachineA typical dinner
Rock Hopping up a secret trail (near Arthur’s Pass)
…to find a waterfall!
A morning hike- Bealey Spur trail.Meditation again!
Pulled over on the way to Queenstown to climb some rocks. One of these kids is not like the other…Livin’ on the edge…and looking to the future
Arriving in Queenstown!A tribute photo that turned into an Amazing dinner!
Once again, I’m on my own. Just driving around and seeing what comes my way.
First glimpse of Lake Wanaka, I’d be back to check it out in a few days…
Enjoying just pulling over and taking photos! (obv)
Clouds may have kept the helicopters grounded (Franz Josef Glacier)…But didn’t stop me from getting as close as possible!And after the hike it was time to soak the sore muscles! Oh, cool street name too 😉
Standard ‘Dinner and a Movie’ while camping 🙂
Glacier Stop #2, Fox GlacierMy glacial ice that would soon be a part of the best drink ever…And here she is! A ‘Scotch on the Fox’
Lake Wanaka, just stunning.Glacier #3, Hiking to Rob RoyNot a bad view from the top…. (the photo doesn’t even come close to doing it justice)Just your average river cows…
Visited a little town called Glenorchy, I liked this photo so I thought I’d include…
A fitting scene for my last night in Queenstown…Queenstown from up above…The sun setting on this excellent adventure…But not before one last night out 🙂A little blurry, but so was the eve! Amazing music provided by Calico, such nice awesome people!
One last morning coffee by the lake, and it was on to the next chapter…
Just a guy on a hero's journey...