Although not quite of the style we were used to in Fiji, hopping between the islands in New Zealand is very easy. There are regular Interislander ferries throughout the day, which take a very slow (three-hour) meander through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds from Wellington to Picton. Our morning crossing was a bit bumpy but was soon forgotten after an afternoon tasting the world-famous Sauvignon Blanc (and others) in wineries around the Marlborough region.
Abel Tasman was beautiful and luckily the weather had picked up there so I was able to go on a six-hour hike through the temperate rainforest along the coast, discovering secluded little coves and drinking in the golden sand beaches, turquoise seas, stunning views and all the sights and sounds of the rainforest.
We left Abel Tasman to go back up into the mountains and hit the rain again through the Buller Gorge. Eventually we got to the ‘Wild’ West coast where the weather really suited the name!! The rough weather had created some amazing rock formations, with striking caves and cliffs, and the strange-looking Pancake Rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki.
We stopped at several gold-mining towns along the way as well as a jade factory where we watched the workers carving bone and jade ornaments and jewellery and where I picked up a traditional jade fish-hook necklace.
Our next stop was the famous Franz Josef glacier where we went on a day’s hike up the glacier itself, complete with ice boots and pick axes! We had to carve our own steps in the ice and slid through holes and caves in the ice, avoiding the huge gaping crevices, and climbing over icefalls and ice waves – it was really amazing, Franz Josef is one of only four places in the world where a rainforest and glacier exist together (and another of the locations for the filming of The Lord of The Rings).
We travelled on through the Haast Pass stopping to admire more waterfalls at Fantail Falls and the biggest u-shaped valley in the world, as well as to scramble across Indiana Jones-style rope bridges to the Blue Pools and other glacial lakes.
We stopped to rest again in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. It snowed while we were there but that didn’t stop some new friends from bungee jumping in the city where A J Hackett Bungy first pioneered the sport (not for me, I may skydive, but you’d never get me attached to a bungee!!)
We went to the Kiwi Birdlife Park to finally get a glimpse of the shy kiwi (a very odd-looking bird – like a fluffy football with a stumpy tail, a long straw-like beak and no wings to be seen!). We also visited Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World in Wanaka, a strange oversized puzzle/maze place which made for a change of scene and some mental stimulation, before returning back to the town for less mental stimulation in the shops and bars.
The day that followed saw us at Milford Sound, a spectacular fjord which was voted the world’s top travel destination by TripAdvisor in 2008 and which Rudyard Kipling named the eighth wonder of the world. We took a cruise around, in awe of the majestic rainforest and snow-capped mountains plunging straight into the still glassy water, watching the seals rolling around on the rocks. It is the wettest place in New Zealand (and that’s saying something!) with 182 days of rain per year, it was so misty when we were there, but it just made the whole trip really atmospheric and haunting, and we could really appreciate why more filming had been done there.
We stopped in at the city of Dunedin briefly to check out Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. By this point we had almost reached the southern-most city, Invercargill. One of the highlights was to go to Southland Museum Tuatarium to see the tuatara, creatures that flourished 200 million years ago, although pushed to the brink of extinction today, and similar to dinosaurs, lizards, reptiles, crocodiles and fish!
From Invercargill and Bluff, we drove around The Caitlins, stopping for a picture at the southern-most point of the country, and got up close and personal with the Hooker’s sealions lying all over the beaches. We went to Curio Bay to see the bizarre sight of a petrified forest which is 180 million years old, unfortunately the yellow-eyed penguin colony was nowhere to be seen that day though.
We were blessed with lots of sunshine but as we were not all that far from the Antarctic it was a little on the chilly side! Sealions were not the only wildlife, we also got close to large Kea parrots, the world’s only alpine parrots, known for their logic and curiosity, which bizarrely chose to walk alongside us – and of course, lots of sheep!
From here we continued through forests and past waterfalls, stopping only to check out the Moeraki Boulders (huge, naturally formed, perfectly spherical boulders lying on the open beach), before reaching our final destination of Christchurch, the second largest city in New Zealand.
The city had a very English feel and was very pretty, living up to its name of The Garden City, it even had punting on the River Avon! We chose to relax after all our adventures, only going so far as to play frisbee in the park and taking liquid refreshment! It was perfect timing that on our last day in New Zealand, The Return of the King was released at cinemas so we got to watch it the night before we left and try to spot all the places we had just visited.
New Zealand was one of the most active trips I have ever done, and it remains one of my favourite places on Earth for the variety it offers, in terms of both scenery and activities. Hopefully I’ll be back there one day and can check out the two places I missed due to my time commitments – Bay of Islands and Kaikoura – but for now I feel very lucky to have such amazing memories.