20 photos from 12 days touring New Zealand

20 photos from 12 days touring New Zealand

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.

Christchurch

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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.

Lake Tekapo

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The Church of the Good Shepherd

Photo Source

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.

Lake Pukaki

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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.

Waitiri Creek Wines, Central Otago

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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!

Queenstown

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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.

Milford Sound

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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?

Te Anau

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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.

Shotover Canyon

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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.

Wanaka

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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

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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.

Fox Glacier

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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.

Franz Josef

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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.

Hokitika Gorge

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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

Punakaiki Valley

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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!

Pancake Rocks

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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?

Cape Foulwind

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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

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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.

Marahau

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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

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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

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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.

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The Quest for Rohan

The Quest for Rohan

Okay lovely readers, if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan like me, then it’s quite possible that you won’t fully appreciate the magnitude of this post.

But for me, this place… this is why I went to New Zealand.

My favourite film in the LOTR trilogy is The Two Towers which heavily features a fort city called Edoras in the kingdom of Rohan, which is known for being a culture of horsemen. I was spellbound every time the story came back to this magical location and knew that someday I had to see it for myself.

When I started planning my trip, I knew that I was going to try and visit my cousin Dale who happens to live in a small town in Canterbury on the South Island. When I started researching the area I soon realized that Edoras (or Mount Sunday in real life) was located only an hour’s drive away. I didn’t want to put all my hope in actually getting to make it there in person, but to be so close and miss it would have broken my heart.

Fast forward to the day I arrived at the Christchurch Airport… and queue the dreariest, rainiest day you can imagine. I only had a short window (two days) to make the trip to Edoras and I knew that the weather could be a major factor in its success. We waited all day for the rain to subside and it didn’t. I woke up the next morning hoping to see a glimmer of sun, and… nope, still raining. We decided to go for it anyway and wish for the best.

The rain continued for the first half of the drive until we veered off the main highway onto a long, gravel road. To my absolute glee, the clouds started to lift. The drive became a stunning journey into the middle of nowhere (or Middle Earth!). Seriously, we passed some campgrounds and sheep stations and that was about it. I couldn’t even see any power lines.

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And then out of the clouds… I spotted it. EDORAS!!!!

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Is this real life?

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We drove up to the convenient car park and crossed over a series of streams and rivers to reach the base of the mountain. It was an easy 30 minute hike to the top and as soon as we saw the views we wished we had packed a picnic lunch so that we could’ve stayed up there all afternoon. Simply stunning!

IMG_7931IMG_3507IMG_3515IMG_3522At this point in my trip, a mere four days in, I was content. This is what I came to see and everything else would just be icing on the cake. And trust me, there was a lot of icing!

Have you ever travelled to visit a film location?

Are you an LOTR nerd like me?

A Real Life Fairytale in Hobbiton

A Real Life Fairytale in Hobbiton

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

 

Dreams really do come true!

For 15 years I’ve been telling everyone who would listen to me about my desire to visit the real life Middle EarthNew Zealand. As a lifelong Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fan, there was only one top spot on my bucket list and it was firmly reserved for the home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

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Bag End – The door where it began

Almost immediately after landing in Auckland International Airport, I was on my way to the rolling green pastures of Matamata where the Alexander family sheep farm has been transformed into Hobbiton. Cue major fangirling!

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From re-watching the films and countless hours of behind the scenes footage, I knew that the director of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, Peter Jackson, paid very close attention to Tolkien’s source material in re-creating the world of Middle Earth and specifically the beloved Shire. But, it still blew me away to see real vegetables growing in the gardens and hobbit holes staged as if their tiny owner’s could arrive at any moment. You don’t even need to use your imagination to picture what life in Hobbiton would be like.

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It was evident from the very start of my set tour that love and passion was poured into each intricate detail of the 12 acre movie set. Our guide pointed out the locations of famous scenes, described the filming process, and allowed us heaps of time to take photographs.

The last stop on the tour was the world-famous Green Dragon Inn where we were all invited to sample a specially brewed beverage. Of course I chose beer and eagerly found a spot by the fire to soak in the culmination of such a long awaited dream.

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Before I knew it, we were being ushered out to make room for the next wave of eager tourists but this was really just the start of my Lord of the Rings adventures. I had more locations on my wish list but for that I had to head South… to Edoras.

Departure Lounge: New Zealand

Departure Lounge: New Zealand

I’m over-the-top excited about my next big travel adventure.

In just 6 weeks I finally get to visit my #1 Dream Destination – N E W  Z E A L A N D !

I am a huge Lord of the Rings nerd and have been obsessed with New Zealand ever since I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring back in 2002. Since then, I’ve learned more about the country through friends, family, and strangers on the Internet and my fascination has only grown. I’ve been told that it is very similar to my beloved BC, which is fantastic because I think I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

With all the traveling that I’ve done over the past 15 years, it’s hard to believe that I haven’t been to New Zealand before. It seems that the two-month window that I’ve been waiting to find in my calendar has yet to appear. So, I’m making the most of the 2.5 weeks available to see as much as possible. I just can’t wait any longer!

I have a jam packed itinerary, which includes visiting friends and family and taking in a tour of the South Island with travel blogger extraordinaire and NZ resident, Liz Carlson, of Young Adventuress. I’m so excited to experience this country with locals and to maybe even pick up some photography tricks from Liz.

I know I won’t be able to check everything off my bucket list this time, so hopefully this is just the beginning.

Itinerary

March 19: Auckland

March 20: Matamata & Rotorua

March 21-22: Orari

March 23: Christchurch & Lake Tekapo

March 24-25: Queenstown

March 26-27: Wanaka

March 28-29: Franz Josef

March 30-31: Punakaiki

April 1-2: Abel Tasman National Park

April 3-4: Wellington

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These are the activities I am most looking forward to:

  • Channeling my inner Baggins in Hobbiton.
  • Zorbing in Rotorua
  • Glacier Hiking at Franz Josef
  • Cruising the awe-inspiring Milford Sound
  • Visiting the WETA studios in Wellington where LOTR came to life!

 

Have you ever been to New Zealand? Any recommendations or travel tips?