I really like the Lord of the Rings, a lot. I saw the first movie when I was 13, then proceeded to read the rest of the trilogy before the release of the next movie. Also, I've reread those books and other Middle-Earth centric books since then…
After watching the fantastic movies and the dozens of hours of behind the scenes special features, I came to a conclusion:
New Zealand is a place I should visit.
Over the years, my Lord of the Rings fandom would become only one of the reasons that would eventually bring me to this pair of islands.
All of this kept my expectations rising sky high.
You're hot then you're cold...
We left Cairns (Cans), Australia on March 20, to spend our last week of Visa in Sydney before flying to Christchurch. It was a bit of a temperature shock flying into Sydney, in a good way.
We said good bye to constant sweat and overnight lows of 28 degrees, and hello to “chilly” Sydney beach water temperatures of 21 degrees. It was nice use the warm water knob again in the shower.
Then to Christchurch, I think it was like 13-15 degrees and drizzly (a precipitation term I hadn't used for a long time) when we arrived. A bitter sweet reminder of what home feels like.
Christchurch was hit with a big earthquake in 2010, and another devastating one the next year; the city still hasn't recovered. There are parking lots everywhere downtown where buildings once stood, and condemned or partially destroyed buildings all over.
We still enjoyed the place. We did a lot of walking, and took the opportunity to plan out some details for the coming weeks. Also, we both immediately got head colds.
The only hiccough being a 30 minute sheep traffic jam on the road to the place, but it was impressive watching those sheep dogs in action.
We received some great tips and planning advice from Kiwi’s and friends who had lived or currently live in NZ. With all of this info, We quickly learned that although 6 weeks is a great time in NZ, there would still be some big items we wouldn’t be able to do. First sacrifice on the list, Mount Cook. The tallest mountain in NZ, would have to be admired from a distance.
Nearby in Twizel (Twigh-zel), we’d continue to feed my LOTR hunger with a behind-the-scenes movie tour of another filming location, one of the biggest filming sites in history.
..Is the first name in NZ tourism. The place had almost 900,000 people arrive at their airport last year, the town has a population of like 5,000. Real estate pricing is off the charts here and it’s also an adventure activity mecca.
We were told many different things, by many different people about this place. Queenstown is the best, most overrated and overpriced, most beautiful and fun, tourist overrun place in NZ.
Hey you know what!? All of those things are true.
We had a bunch of fun in Queenstown, but also spent the most money. Although one of the most fun activities we did was basically free, we bought some beers and played 18 holes of Frisbee golf with Corey, an Aussie we met in Borneo 4 months earlier.
We did the Nevis bungy, where both of us (truly, seriously) were pushed the absolute limit in order to throw ourselves off the highest bungy in the pacific. We had a great dinner with some family friends (Napiers!) who happened to be in the area, I had the crap scared out of me in a haunted house, went luging, etc… lots of stuff to do, lots of fun, lots of tourists, lots of ways to spend money. Queenstown!
UNLESS, you’re doing the great walk of Milford Track (which we didn’t look into early enough to book). Since we didn't do the famous hike, we did the boat tour.
You basically hop on a boat which does a lap of the place. Although it is one of the most spectacular bits of scenery you’ll witness, the boat tour was a bit hands off for our tastes. Thankfully, Zenon the Haligonian Kiwi, recommended an awesome hike which finishes with a direct view down the fjord. Great stuff.
The land of great walks
If you like hiking, a trip to NZ is comparable as a beer fanatic getting to Oktoberfest, Anime fans getting to Akihabara, or you know, pilgrimages.
The trails are as diverse as they are plenty. The tracks are well used and well respected. A hike will be as easy to locate and begin as it is challenging to complete. If you’re coming to NZ, don’t bother planning ahead for different hikes to do (exception: Great Walks), because they’re everywhere, just google what’s close to where you already are.
Since we didn’t book in time for one of the great walks, we had a recommendation for an overnighter on the Copland track, near the Fox glacier on the west coast. 18km in, 18 km out. It was a beautiful hike along a river, over many streams and suspension bridges, resulting in a stay at the Welcome Flat hut which sits at the bottom of a beautifully secluded mountain river valley.
Because there are so many sections of the hike prone to landslides and flooding, they close it during heavy rain.
Well, I didn’t have cell service, but about 30 minutes after we started the hike the DOC (Department of Conservation) called my phone to tell me they were closing the track due to HEAVY RAIN. We made it safely though, after jogging warily through rockslide areas and wading through a bit of mud and water.
BUT, because of the heavy rain, we were treated to rare sights of dozens of waterfalls that only spring up during rain. Unfortunately we don't have many photos of the sight, you know, due to the rain. On the downside, everything we had was soaked and muddy until we could get laundry done, so our van had a bit of a tinge to it for the following week or so… oh well.
Nontheless, our Airbnb hosts gave an awesome tip; go to the Freehouse pub (a pub built into a former church), order indian food from across the street, and eat/drink in the Freehouse courtyard. I think places all over should adopt this eat ‘whatever-food-you-like’ approach to hospitality.
So that’s a heavily abridged South Island, NZ. Three weeks blew by faster than you could say “Fergburger”.
Three more weeks in the North Island then BOOM we’re back in the northern hemisphere…