How do I begin to write about a trip that was a non-stop highlight reel? I can’t pick a favourite. I can’t sum it up in a quick, casual, water cooler conversation. This past March I spent 12 days touring New Zealand’s South Island with Haka Tours and the Young Adventuress, Liz Carlson. It was both everything and nothing like I thought it would be. While on one hand, it reminded me so much of my beloved British Columbia, it still felt new and exciting and unknown.
It’s taken me months to get around to writing this post because I want to do it justice. I want my words to somehow translate how epic and amazing and beautiful New Zealand is… but I can’t. The words don’t fit the picture.
So here is my attempt to caption my way through the archives of my photo library.
Our tour started in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. This photo showcases an art installation memorializing the tragic earthquake of 2011 that took 185 lives. Six years later the city is still rebuilding. Even though actual ruins still take up portions of downtown, the people continue to preserver. They are resilient and creative – hope is alive and well.
I don’t have the skills to take a photo like the one above, but I needed you to see what the stars looked like that night in Lake Tekapo. Seeing the milky way for the first time is a moment that I will never forget. This is what zero light pollution looks like and I want so much more of that in my life.
Another lovely lake where our group took a few moments to marvel and throw stones. It also just so happens to be the filming location for Laketown of the Hobbit trilogy. No big deal… Middle Earth is just everywhere. Casual.
I knew this trip was going to be a raging success when we made an impromptu stop at a winery for an afternoon tasting on our way into Queenstown. That’s what’s so great about Haka Tours – we had the ability to tailor our day by the weather and the interests of the group. Wine is definitely one of my number one interests. This is me in my happy place!
We rocked into Queenstown in the late afternoon with just enough late summer daylight to take a quick trip up the gondola to see the view. This ski town / adventure capital reminded me a lot of Whistler and that is a very good thing. Whistler has always been one of my favourite local spots and Queenstown did not disappoint.
It rains over 300 days a year in Milford Sound, a fiord on the South Island’s wild, west coast. So colour me surprised when we ended up with a stunning blue bird day for our afternoon boat cruise. The weather worked overtime to cooperate with our late summer travel itinerary – how lucky am I?
We made a brief stop in Te Anau on our way back from Fiordland National Park and I was delighted to find these adorable shiraffes (err… llamas) hanging out right beside our bus. I could have watched them all day.
It’s no secret that I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I’ve already checked the big ticket items off my bucket list – bungee jumping, paragliding, skydiving. So when I got to Queenstown – The Adventure Capital of the World – I was looking for something new to try. Enter the Canyon Swing, a 200m swing with a 60m vertical freefall. Sure, why not launch myself off a cliff? I opted to use the slide and these crazy guys in the photo did their very best to psych me out. It was exhilarating and I even considered jumping again right away.
A quick search of #thatwanakatree on social media will reveal thousands upon thousands of photos of a very famous willow tree. New Zealand’s most photographed tree rose in popularity over the past few years thanks to instagram, of course. It’s become a bit of a cliche over the years but you have to admit, it looks pretty cool.
Tauparikaka Marine Reserve
Our first glimpse of the ocean after a week in the mountains felt like coming home. Back in Vancouver, I live by the sea and don’t go a single day without it. Call me spoiled, but now that I know salty air and crashing waves, I can’t be away from it for long.
Driving into the village of Fox Glacier reminded me so much of my hometown in the Fraser Valley. Green farmland surrounded by snowy mountains – that’s where I grew up. Again the weather couldn’t have possibly been better – we knew we were lucky when our guides were freaking out at the views.
The coolest thing I did in New Zealand was heli hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier. Just six kilometres from the village centre, this glacier descends from the top of the Southern Alps into the rainforest close to sea level. It was a completely surreal experience to be enjoying hot, subtropical temperatures one moment and walking on a glacier just a short helicopter ride later.
My favourite “rest stop” of the trip was at the Hokitika Gorge. My jaw dropped when I saw the turquoise waters. Special thanks to my photographer, Shannon Sproul, and the rest of my haka crew for patiently waiting for me to get this solo shot on the rock. I think I maybe yelled at a few of you… #sorrynotsorry
I was mildly obsessed with horses for a solid three years in elementary school so when I had the chance to do some riding in Punakaiki, I didn’t let a little rain slow me down. My horse Appy always had to be in front of the pack, which suited me just fine. I loved that we got to ride through the river and along the beach – basically fulfilling all my girlhood fantasies!
For a town of 100 people, Punakaiki has a surprising amount to offer. The major attraction is this limestone landscape of pancake-shaped rock formations, blowholes and surge pools. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and would probably have never made it here if it wasn’t for Haka Tours. Have I mentioned how much I loved this tour?
An awful name for a place with such incredible scenery. During our hourlong walk along the Tasman Sea, we marvelled at the epic waves crashing on the rocks and the adorable seal colony playing in the surf. Not a bad spot to stretch our legs.
Abel Tasman National Park
New Zealand has nine Great Walks and I got to do one of them – the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Great Walks are premier tracks that pass through diverse and spectacular scenery – and bonus, they are well formed and easy to follow. I opted to travel by boat to Anchorage and walk the 12.4 km back to our campsite in Marahau. Along the way I experienced crescent-shaped coves of golden sand and turquoise waters of the Tasman Bay.
We had a mostly overcast day of tramping in Abel Tasman but the sky finally started to clear back in Marahau, which provided some lovely views at low tide. The sunset that appeared shortly after this photo was taken was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and I didn’t have my camera. Rookie move! You’ll have to take my word for it.
Nelson is an odd little city on the tip top of the South Island, but I really liked this part with cobblestone streets and palm trees because it reminded me of Spain. This was my view as we drank aperol spritz at 11:00am… don’t judge me, I take vacations very seriously.
Cloudy Bay Vineyards, Blenheim
And because day drinking is like a part-time job for me, we visited yet another winery, this time in the Marlborough region. We enjoyed a tasting and a leisurely afternoon lazing around on the gorgeous grounds. They absolutely had to force me back on the bus after this one.
There are so many more stories and photos that I’d love to share from my time in NZ but I’ll restrain myself so that this post can actually go live this decade.