Nick and Maggie take the South Island: Part 1

Hello again, friends and family. It’s been a while. A really long while.

In fairness, I did warn everyone that my attempt to post regularly would probably be a failure. It’s not that I don’t love sharing my experiences with you, it’s just that little things always seem to derail my blogging plans. Like 10-mile treks between wineries. And picnicking at twilight in beautiful parks with panoramic views of the Auckland skyline. And planning my upcoming trip to Fiji. That kind of stuff.

The last time I posted, I’d just returned from Sydney. Incredibly, that was two months ago – roughly the same amount of time I currently have left on my adventure in New Zealand. (Yep, I’ve decided to come back to the states at the six-month mark! But more on that later.)

About a week after that Sydney trip, Nick braved the 14-hour flight across the Pacific to come visit me. He arrived on Sunday, September 21, and stayed through Saturday, October 4. We spent the first week of his visit touring the South Island in a campervan (RV) and the second week relaxing back at home in Auckland. In retrospect, I really wish I’d written this post sooner. I’ve already forgotten many of the trip’s tiny details. Even so, there’s a lot of fun stuff to include, so I’ve decided to split the story of our road trip into two separate posts.

Day 1: Christchurch

After meeting at the Auckland airport, we flew directly to Christchurch, arriving right around lunch time. We picked up our campervan from the airport and headed toward our hotel (since we knew we were going to be sleeping in a car for the following five nights, we decided to get a hotel room for the first night of our trip). After we’d picked up our vehicle, I got to do something I’d been looking forward to doing for a long, long time: Drive on the left side of the road.

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I know what some of you (especially my siblings) are thinking: “Maggie can barely drive on the right side of the road!” I’ll have you know I drove pretty much nonstop (Nick didn’t feel comfortable breaching the ‘only one driver’ clause of our rental policy) for six days and there was only one were absolutely no close calls.

By the time we got checked in at the hotel, poor Nick had been awake for about 20 hours, but he toughed it out all the way through dinner. We walked around Christchurch for a while, ate at a pretty decent Cajun-style restaurant, picked up some wine from a shop downtown, and relaxed in our room for the rest of the evening.

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Day 2: Lake Tekapo

The next morning (which dawned pretty early for Nick, thanks to his jet lag) we breakfasted in Christchurch before hitting the road to Lake Tekapo. The drive was scenic, but moreso the farther inland we went. I had really wanted to visit Lake Tekapo because it’s the site of a dark sky reserve – an area with minimal light pollution that’s recognized for its incredibly starry night sky.

We arrived at the holiday park and discovered just how difficult it is to truly go off the grid. The park had Wi-Fi available, which meant I had no excuse to slack off and not catch up on work – unfortunately, I did have to do quite a bit of work throughout the trip. A friend of mine who also did a South Island road trip said that if you go farther into the mountains there are much more remote campsites that don’t have Wi-Fi, showers and other features. We never made it into the far reaches, though. We simply didn’t have time.

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Although it didn’t provide a super rustic experience, the campsite was great. We spent some time walking around the lake, made dinner out of the back of our van (this was the only night we actually got our burner to work), and eventually meandered back to the lake after the stars came out. I really wish we’d been able to see the stars in the dead of night. We took a look around 10 p.m., but I bet the sky would’ve been a lot darker (and the contrast with the stars much starker) at a later hour.

The next morning, we fended off some ducks while trying to make our breakfast. Then we hit the road for another day of adventuring.

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Day 3: Lake Wanaka

Our visit to Lake Tekapo was the only part of our trip we’d really planned out – the rest mostly involved looking at our atlas, deciding someplace looked interesting, and heading in that direction while hoping there was a holiday park somewhere in the vicinity. By the time we got to Lake Wanaka, the scenery around us was really getting impressive. Lake Wanaka itself is situated between the peaks of some truly grand mountains, and the town that surrounds the lake is well-maintained and charming.

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(Full disclosure: The above photos are not of Lake Wanaka. These were taken on the drive to Lake Wanaka.)

After finding a holiday park, we walked from our campsite into town. And so began the windiest experience of my life.

I’m from Chicago – they call it the “Windy City” for reasons completely unrelated to wind, but the town does tend to be pretty blustery. Nothing I’ve ever experienced in Chicago, or really anywhere else, compares to the windiness of New Zealand. On an average day, I’ll be walking around Auckland, usually with Belle & Sebastian blasting from my headphones, only to become super frustrated when my ear buds literally blow out of my ears. This happens all the time.

Even so, the walk across the bridge over Lake Wanaka was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. Nick and I aren’t very big people, either, and this was a narrow bridge. I was honestly concerned one of us might blow over the edge. The walk would’ve probably taken about five minutes in normal weather conditions, but it took us about twice as long. Fighting against that wind was no easy feat.

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Luckily, we emerged on the other side unscathed, and decided to spend some time in town. We grabbed a beer at a bar that was playing the world’s most eclectic mix of music videos. We picked up some playing cards. We took a walk down a trail called Gladstone Path. And eventually we braved the bridge again for our return trip.

That evening, after trying unsuccessfully to cook on the burner attached to the back of our van (the wind kept blowing out our flame), we found a firepit and made a roaring fire. We roasted hot dogs and drank wine (and I may have done some yoga on a picnic table) while the sun set.

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We ended up staying by the fire until the stars came out, talking about our careers, our families and life in general. Both of us agreed later that it was one of our favorite nights of the trip.

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Stay tuned for part two!

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  • Good to hear you are safe and sound and really keeping busy. We all missed you at Katie’s wedding, but were so happy that Nick drove down. We’ve enjoyed our time in Fl. but head home next Sat. for the holidays. We’ll be at Tom and Mary’s for Thanksgiving. Our Christmas party is Dec. 20th at the club. Nick has it on his calendar. Know you won’t be home in time but next year, for sure. Miss you and send our love. Grammie