According to WordPress, I last posted on November 15 – more than six months ago. A lot has changed in the past six months, and most of the people who read this blog know that I returned to the US about three months ago. A series of recent events have made me realize that I need to work on finishing what I start, so I feel compelled to write about some of the experiences I had in New Zealand after letting the ball drop on writing for this blog.
So many things happened between November 15 and January 26 (the day I left New Zealand). In fact, I don’t feel like my life in NZ really began until late November. It wasn’t until the second half of my trip that I made good friends, got into a real-life routine, and felt comfortable saying things like “long black” and “flatmate”. It wasn’t until the second half of my trip that I finally stopped complaining about the bizarre spellings of words like fetal (“foetal”) and maneuver (“manoeuvre”). When I first arrived in New Zealand, the other Americans in my office told me that I probably wouldn’t feel fully assimilated until at least four months into my adventure – and they were right.
So, where to begin? I think it only makes sense for me to finish the post I started on November 15, the two-part post that catalogued my travels around the South Island with Nick. My memory isn’t as vivid as it was when I wrote Part 1 (it has, after all, been nearly seven months since this roadtrip), so this post might be a little scant on details.
Day 4: Queenstown
After we left Lake Wanaka, we headed toward Queenstown, which is located on the west coast of the South Island. It’s one of the most well-known cities in New Zealand, obviously, so it was a must-visit.
But seriously, you guys: The drive from Lake Wanaka to Queenstown was incredible. The New Zealand countryside has this strange way of looking like a purposefully designed movie set for some kind of film about pastoral life. You sort of assume that everyone who lives there has three perfect children who help attend to daily chores like shepherding and animal husbandry.
And THE LAMBS. THE LAMBS!!!
(Clearly not my gif – here’s a link to a Buzzfeed post with a bunch of cute sheep gifs if you’re interested.)
Side note about the lambs: I tend to be a little wishy-washy on my ethical diet choices – sometimes I’m vegetarian, sometimes I’m low-carb, sometimes I only eat organic, etc. – but I will never, ever, ever eat lamb. It’s not just because they’re unbearably cute and enjoy playfully frolicking around the countryside, it’s because they are never given a chance to reproduce. They can never spread their genes along to the next generation, and are essentially raised for slaughter only. My Kiwi friends didn’t really understand my aversion. Eating lamb is a way of life down there! It’s great that this meat is such a cultural mainstay, but it’s just something I can’t personally get behind. The gif above isn’t an exaggeration – they frolic around like that all day long (by the hundreds of thousands, I might add), distracting American drivers like me who risk veering off the road to stare at their mindblowing cuteness.
But I digress. Like I said, rural New Zealand is incredibly bucolic and pastoral in its beauty. On our way to Queenstown, we drove up and down numerous mountains and witnessed plenty of breathtaking scenery, but nothing was quite as stunning as the view we enjoyed when we came around a particularly steep mountain to see this right in front of us:
This picture really doesn’t do the valley justice. It was so incredibly pretty: a quaint rural valley dotted with pastures, neighborhoods and trees, all basking in the grandeur of the snow-capped Southern Alps.
Of course, we had to venture into the valley itself to see if it was as charming as it seemed from above. We descended into the area and discovered Arrowtown, a (clearly tourism-oriented) community with lots of cute little shops and restaurants.
We only stopped in Arrowtown to have a quick look around, but I’m sure it’s a pretty popular tourist destination. We were easily able to spot some fellow Americans thanks to their bedazzled jeans and Affliction tees.
Eventually we arrived in Queenstown, which is a pretty fantastic place. If we’d had more time, I would’ve really liked to try some of the extreme sports Queenstown has to offer. Thrill-seekers flock to this city for its skydiving, paragliding, camping and hiking opportunities, but unfortunately we only had one night to see the town (and Nick wasn’t exactly psyched at my suggestion of skydiving).
We did stay at a pretty cool campervan park, though.
It was very quirkily decorated – it reminded me of Minnie Mouse’s house at Disney World (which is definitely not a complaint). We parked our van, ventured into town to get dinner and drinks, and then spent a good deal of our evening playing cards and drinking wine.
I wish I had more photos of Queenstown itself! It’s a pretty small town, but it’s surrounded by some gorgeous mountains and lots of fun things to do. We did, however, capture evidence of Kiwis’ fascination with fried chicken.
Day 5: Milford Sound
After leaving Queenstown, we headed for the Milford Sound. The sound is located close to the Routeburn Track, a pretty famous stretch of land that’s known as one of the best hiking destinations in the world. When I flew to NZ via Air New Zealand, this safety video gave me both a crush on Bear Grylls and a lust for hiking the area.
Unfortunately, though, we didn’t have time to do any hiking. We had to settle for driving into the region and checking out the sound. I’d love to go back someday and hike the Routeburn Track – it’s on my to-do list!
As we drove into the heart of the Southern Alps’ most popular hiking region, we realized why Bear (we’re on first-name terms now) called it “one of the most beautiful places on earth”:
I really wish these pictures did the scenery more justice – the sound and the entire area surrounding it are really beautiful. We were very lucky to be able to see the sound on such a bright, sunny day, as it tends to be a very wet and rainy area.
A quick note: Thanks again to everyone who read this blog while I was abroad! I really appreciate your interest in my travels, my life and my passions. I still need to cover the highlights of the latter half of my trip (a post about my travels in Fiji is forthcoming), and I hope to continue posting even after my New Zealand exursion is all covered. There are plenty of adventures to be had here in Chicago (and beyond!) after all.