Leaving New Zealand

Hello readers!  Happy belated holiday season and new year to you!  I have been taking a vacation from my vacation and, sadly, let myself get very behind in blogging.  In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, I’ve put together this final post about New Zealand.

On February 22, 2011, a devastating earthquake struck Christchurch.  Today, much of the central business district still needs to be torn down and rebuilt, and aftershocks above magnitude 5.0 still hit the Christchurch area.  Below are some pictures from the CBD.

It is an unnerving experience to walk the fences around the CBD and see the abandoned office buildings and empty stores.  Where there is no obvious external damage, it seems like an alien abduction has taken away all the workers.  The reality is that all of these buildings, whether wrecked or gleaming, are unsafe and must be demolished.

And yet, it is possible to find pockets of light and activity in the city.  The Container Mall, a pop-up shopping center made of brightly colored shipping containers, has created a space for residents to stroll around and shop.  The botanic gardens and Canterbury Museum both offer a refreshing escape within the city.

Leaving Christchurch, I also left New Zealand.  And like so many who continue to send sewn hearts to a struggling city, I cannot imagine leaving it behind.  I hope for renewal and peace for Christchurch in this new year.

Mt. Cook is a Beauty

This is a post about shockingly blue water next to snow-capped mountains.

Let me summarize Mt. Cook: great day hikes and stunning morning views.  The nearby Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo facilitate lovely mountain photo shoots.  And if you have extra time or an empty stomach, you can pull over at Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon for the best sashimi ever.

Deep South

When I first saw the phrase “Deep South” on signs and stores, I thought the Kiwis were just making a joke about America.  It turns out that the southernmost part of New Zealand is also the Deep South, minus the accents and plus a lot of birds.

I took the ferry from Invercargill to Stewart Island.  Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island and has a bustling population of 400 people.  Visit the island for great rain forest walks and interesting bird life.  I didn’t stay long enough to do the three day hike, but I did shop in the grocery store that lists upcoming birthdays in the community.

Coming back up from Stewart Island, I stopped at Milford Sound.  A cruise on Milford Sound is a requirement for every tourist for a good reason – it’s really beautiful.  I floated along the fjord (it’s not really a sound) and stared at waterfalls, mountains, and seals.  The cruise takes you out to the ocean before turning back for more photo opportunities.

Other highlights of Milford Sound include the stunning drive through the park and the plentiful ground parrots.

The Adventure Capital

Queenstown!  Home to mountains called, I kid you not, The Remarkables.  Land of delicious pinot noir, giant burgers, and top-notch ice cream.  The adventure capital of New Zealand.

Queenstown is a resort town nestled next to a gorgeous lake and mountain ranges.  After traveling down the west coast, I was shocked to encounter so many restaurants and bars.  Civilization!  But also the most foreign accents I had heard in New Zealand and the most constant parties.  A lot of backpackers stop here to work during the busy season.

It’s hard to decide what to do in Queenstown because there are a lot of exciting options.  I started with a wine tour.  The central Otago region is known for pinot noir and there are a bunch of good wineries close to town. Driving yourself is a better budget option, but the tours do take you to good places and drive you home.

As for the adventure – well, you can really do anything.  Rafting and skydiving are solid options, but Queenstown is the home of bungy jumping. The first commercial bungy site EVER is just a short drive out of town.  Allow me to demonstrate the newer, taller bungy site:

So fun!  Soooo fun!  With that rush, I’ll have fond memories of Queenstown for a little bit longer than 8.5 seconds.

The Wild West Coast

After a refreshing three days at Abel Tasman, it was time to head down the West Coast.  The West Coast has very few people and very wild weather.  This leads many to conclude that the people who live here are a little bit nuts.  I won’t argue for one side or the other, but I will strongly suggest you visit the Bushman’s Centre.  You can’t watch a 20 minute video of men jumping out of helicopters to catch deer anywhere else.

Of course, the West Coast is also beautiful.  On the 3.5 days a year that it doesn’t rain, the coastal roads offer great views.  I enjoyed the short walk at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks (the middle picture above).  You can see a few blowholes and a lot of rocks that look like stacks of pancakes.

The craziest feature of the West Coast might be the glaciers.  It’s still difficult for me to understand what the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers are doing on the south island, but they’re definitely real!  Here are some pictures from my full day hike on Franz Joseph:

This hike definitely makes my highlight reel.  It was super fun to put on crampons, walk on the ice, and check out features like caves and crevasses.

Glamping in Abel Tasman

If you read my posts about the north island, you might have realized that I am minorly obsessed with New Zealand.  Warning: I will only get more enthusiastic from this point onward.  Dear readers, welcome to Abel Tasman National Park!

I am majorly obsesed with Abel Tasman.  It’s difficult to imagine anything more relaxing than glamping on the edge of a park featuring shocking blue water and pristine beaches.  I would not have left my luxury tent at The Barn (real beds! cheaper than a dorm!), but after four nights I remembered that I had booked a flight to Australia.  For shame.

Hiking is a great way to see the park – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks winds along the coast.  I’d also strongly recommend getting out on the water. From a catamaran, I got a completely different and equally lovely view of the park.  You can also kayak or take a water taxi.  And, as you can see from the collage above, you can ride a horse on the beach!  Hooray!

Just outside the entrance to the park, there’s a funky art gallery to explore and a few food options.  My fellow backpackers and I strongly recommend The Fat Tui, a truck that serves delicious burgers.  One of their burgers is the perfect reward after a long hike.  Let’s be real, though – it’s also the perfect reward after spending a strenous day tanning on the beach.

Welly

Wellington was a great last stop on the north island.  I hopped off the bus for a few days to check out the views from Mt. Victoria, explore Te Papa (the excellent national museum), and stroll through the botanical gardens.  It’s easy to be a tourist in Welly because the center is so compact.  The cable car was the only public transportation I took, and that was just for fun.

I also set aside some time for a Lord of the Rings tour.  Yes, I am a nerd.  Hobbiton was closed for filming, so I had to delay my geeking out until Wellington.  The tour with REAL MOVIE LOCATIONS was a little bit lame (you may recognize the trees below from approximately one second of film), but Weta Cave was cool.  I enjoyed posing with gollum and touching expensive merchandise like hobbit ears.  Here’s the real deal about LOTR tourism: just look out the window when you’re driving.  Almost every beautiful thing you see is somewhere in the movies.

In the next post, I’ll be moving on to the south island.  Shout out if you’d like to see more mountains, beaches, or wildlife – I have too many pictures of all of these things.