It has been a month since we finished our trip to one of the calmest and most peaceful places that I have visited till date – New Zealand. Well, I hope I can do justice to the place with this blog of mine. New Zealand has just sooo much variety in small landscape and that definitely captured us a lot. Now let me take you through my day by day experience through the country and hope I can try and capture the essence through the journey..
Day 0: I know it is surprising to see a Day 0 in my blog. But yes, this one deserves a special mention. Day 0 was the day of our flight from US-FIJI-NZ. And the reason, this day is jotted down is coz we were lucky to have made the flight that day. Due to a big cyclone in Fiji, all the flights through that country were cancelled. And considering that it was the peak season for travel, well, a lot of passengers were stranded and delayed by 3 days. When we were waiting in the line at the airport to get our international boarding passes, the first thing we were told is: “sorry, you will have to travel tomorrow since your flight is cancelled”. OOPS!! That was shocking since that would mean, we might miss a day or two of our plans since we had quite a lot of connecting flights and our schedule was pretty hectic..And at tht moment, luckily, another agent at the counter said that they had 2 tickets on another flight that had the same itinerary. Considering that people before and after us in the queue were sent back that day, well, we really have to thank the stars for sending that agent as an angel And then the flight had hours of delay, but all that didn’t matter since we finally did make it on the same itinerary as planned.
Day1: Now to the actual trip. Well, we hadn’t planned much for the day we landed at Aukland (North Island) since we were assuming that we would be jet lagged by the long flight. And well, it turned out to our advantage. Not that we were jet lagged or anything. But it just took care of the flight delay and didn’t spoil our plans. We took a cab to our hotel and took the time to get used to the change in the side of driving and started observing their road rules. Our first impression on seeing Aukland, hmmm..not too different from some parts of the US. Sadly, the place failed to impress us. Deep inside, I was hoping the other places in the trip would be different.
Day2: We took a flight in the morning to Christchurch (South Island). And we rented a car and did a little bit of shopping for our road journey that was about to begin. Here’s something about New Zealand: there is so much to see in the country. But to cover all that, you will need to travel around. We had to drive an average of about 3 hours in a day given that we were trying to cover as much as we can in our short holiday. Christchurch, again, looked like any normal city. We began the drive from Christchurch to Paparoa National Park. We took the recommended Arthur’s pass National park drive. There were a lot of things to get used to when we began the drive. We were driving in a strange land and on the opposite side. It took half an hour of conscious driving to get used to it and with me reminding my husband everytime what side of the road he was supposed to turn into. But the good part was, once we left the boundaries of the city, the roads became pretty empty – empty to the point where we were seeing only like another car for every hour. And that gave us the time to get adjusted. And then as the drive continued and as we entered Arthur’s pass national park– there was only a few words that were repeated from me and my husband – “WOW. Beautiful”. Well, it was a complete different scenery from what little we had seen of New Zealand so far. I am sure any amount of description will not explain the actual beauty we saw. And even after the end of the trip, that day2, the drive through this place is my favorite part of the entire trip Well, let me cut down on my expressions and try to actually get to the description. Like I said the scenery kept changing. There were layers and layers of mountains. As we were driving through one mountain, we saw 5 other layers behind it. And when we drove , one will assume that it will end, but no, more and more layers kept coming up. And the best part, the vegetation didn’t kept changing as well. As we drove, I could see a nice green forest on a mountain, then a barren mountain showed up, and then we saw some random nice shaped rocks on top of one of the mountains, then a rain forest and then a snow clad peaked one in the distance. We stopped by in the rainforest for a short hike at the Punchbowl falls. It was raining pretty hard when we reached. And we probably were the only ones on that trail. We saw a couple of other cars in the car park, but guess, they were taking other walks. To describe the Punchbowl falls hike, well, the kiwis call it a walk – it was a very well laid path – that was something about most of the short hikes in their country..the paths are very well laid..We climbed many steps and then we reached the waterfalls. Well, to be exact, just as a falls, standalone, just referring to the water – there was nothing great about it, considering that we have seen other greater falls like the Niagara for instance. But, what made it beautiful, was the location – in the middle of the thick rainforest, and with it actually raining, and no one else on the track – when you reach the falls and stand close to it where the water drops hit your face, and you turn around and see no one else around and see the lovely landscape, and know that its just you and your loved one, well, you get the feeling that the world belongs to you at that point. That is the beauty that is hard to find in most of the other falls. The beauty fills you in. The heart just gets content at that moment. And then, we went back and had a wonderful coffee in the rain (Hot coffee after dripping wet due to rainfall is always appreciated). Then we continued our drive to our next destination. We thought the beauty of the place would end there. But then lo and behold, we see a beautiful waterfall that feeds into a river that ran along the road. We hadddd to stop by for a few clicks. And as we drive further, more and more waterfalls show up.(Sorry Arjun, but I was glad that I was not driving at that point) And then, as we continued, you know what we see..a place where we counted atleast 5-7 waterfalls all pouring into a river (and the river was parallel to the road). OMGGGGGG..That was the TRUE definition of beauty..That is the single moment from the whole trip that is like a beautiful snapshot in my memory..My most fav moment..My husband was awe inspired by it as well. We tried to get a picture of it. But it didn’t come out well since there was a lot of fog due to the rainfall. And then we drove on and reached the hotel. That place was also very beautiful ( I think I must warn that this blog is gonna contain a lot of words like beautiful, calm, peaceful, etc) It was more like a standalone small vacation house. Cute. Looked like a Barbie doll’s house to me. Considering where it was located – The wooden finish, the nice greenery, the light drizzle, the weather not cold – it all just added to the beauty. The house, for some reason, felt like a dream come true. I felt I want my place to look like that - simple yet beautiful. The place felt calm and as I was staring out the window, I thought that, if someone wanted to ever write a book, this was the place to be. The place would fill your mind with so much peace, that clear thoughts would flow from your heart and mind.
Day 3: The next day, we headed to the Paparoa national park. We went and visited the pancake rock and the blowholes. It was good. Well, I am sure, geologists would appreciate it more. It was a 20 minute walk. Then we headed on a hike through the Porarari river track. It was supposed to be a 3 hour round trip. Hmm.. The first part of the walk was good. But I would not really call it a river. It was more like a stream (atleast during the time we visited it). And the second part was a uphill walk. And the worst part - there was no river along the track. We felt like we walked without a purpose uphill through the forest and in the end there was a river view and a suspension bridge across it. I should say that this one was not for me or my husband. The only good that came out of this hike was that I overcame my fear of walking over suspension bridges Then after an okay day (I mean just comparing our previous day to this so far – made it okay I guess), we headed to the Truman track which was supposed to lead to the beach. This was like a very short walk and the beach just made up for all the disappointments of the day It was so pretty. It was an isolated beach (but there were quite a handful of people trickling in and out of the beach). And there was a waterfall falling into the beach. It’s my first beach where waterfall pours into the beach. There were huge rocks and black sand. The beach felt unique on its own. The sand was warm and nice considering we had left from a colder place a few days ago. It was a nice place to relax. My husband ended up lying down and relaxing, something I have never seen him do anywhere else. That must have felt great for him Then we headed to Franz Joseph Glacier and stayed there.
Day 4: Franz Joseph Glacier is a small town and a pretty popular tourist destination in the south Island. People who do a very short trip of the south Island do visit this place. After the first two days of the trip, and seeing people rarely, it was surprising to see quite a number of people here. I guess it is also attributed to the fact that there are only 3-4 streets in this town. You could just walk around to all the places. Getting to the actual activity of the day, we drove to Okarito Lagoon (A place that is about a 40 minute drive from Franz Joseph, a place with just a population of 35 permanent residents, and a place that google maps and our GPS failed to find). Coming from a crowded city, thinking of a place like this, really intrigued me. Okarito lagoon is the largest unmodified wetland in the country. I was just more excited to know what it would be like to be at a place with such a small population. It was pretty. And to our surprise, there were quite a few others who had come for tours like us to this place. We went on a kayaking trip for 4 hours at the lagoon. It was a quiet and a nice kayaking experience. That day, the water was too shallow at one point in the lagoon that we ended up actually lifting and dragging the kayak. The kayak is actually heavy to drag. After the nice kayaking trip, we had a nice cup of coffee and went to the beach nearby. That place was just beautiful. I was standing at one point where the lagoon intersects the beach. And we could the snow clad peaks of Mt. Cook and Mt.Tasman from where we were standing. Just beautiful. I knew photos would never do justice there and ended up taking a video of the place. We took a nice stroll in the place and then headed back to Franz Joseph. In the noon, we went on ATV ride there. I opted to sit behind my husband and enjoted the fun without the trouble of having to drive. Having come to NZ, I was eager to see the Kiwis. Okarito has the rarest of the kiwi species and there are night tours for kiwi viewing as well. We did not take the tour. Instead, we decided to see the kiwi at a wildlife conservatory in Franz Joseph. Well, since the kiwi is nocturnal, the place was made to simulate night time. But yeah, we got to see the bird We read that the sunset in the Lagoon must not be missed, so we drove back to the place around the sunset, but guess, we didn’t know exactly where to check out the sunset so we came back.
Day 5: In the morning, we went for a heli hike at Franz Joseph Glacier. This is the one of the most popular activities at Franz joseph. For us, it was extra special, since it was our first helicopter ride. Yaay. The experience of flying in a helicopter is unparalleled. But yeah, when the helicopter makes circles, we could actually feel our head spinning. But inspite of that , I was super thrilled to be on the ride. The helicopter landed at the glacier and we hiked on the glacier. The magnificent blue of the glacier is something that has to be seen to be appreciated. It took some time to get used to the crampons to walk on the glacier. It was nice to see those beautiful little ice caves; the water trapped underneath; the nice waterfall (which surprised me since I would have expected that to turn into ice as well). It was a very different experience. We were told that it rains around 300 days in a year roughly in Franz Josph and sometimes they cancel heli hikes due to the weather. But thankfully, it was sunny and warm on the day we were there that we ended up actually having to remove our jackets. After the heli hike, we drove to Lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is supposed a Photographers abode. It is extremely famous for its clear reflection of Mt.Cook and Mount Tasman in the water. We had a nice walk around the lake. Beyond the first vista point, most of the tourists stopped. We continued to complete the entire walk around the lake. And that brought back the peaceful feeling that I had started associating New Zealand with. I could actually hear birds singing. Just staring out at the lake, hearing the birds sings was a beautiful experience. How I wished there was some massage service being offered there There was a slight wind causing ripples in the water. So we could not see the clear reflection that the lake was famous for. But we could make out the pattern atleast. But nevertheless, the drive to the lake and the walk around it was totally worth it. Then we drove to Wanaka and spent the night there.
Day 6: Next day morning, we headed to Mt. Cook. Being Christmas, we knew that most of the places would be closed, so we had to choose a national park. As for the drive from Wanaka to Mt.Cook, I didn’t expect it to be soo beautiful. We could see perfectly turquoise blue body of water with Mt.Cook in the back ground. And the color, I have never seen anything so blue and so pretty. Infact, the color became even bluer on our drive back. And I had assumed the roads were going to be deserted again, considering that it was a big holiday. And I was completely wrong. Looks like a lot of families had come to camp / spend their time at Mt. Cook like we were. We hiked at the Hooker Valley track and the key point track. Both the tracks were beautiful in their own way. And then we went back to Wanaka in the evening and spent time by the Lake Wanaka there. It being Christmas, a lot of people had come there so do some water activities and spend time around the lake. Apparently, that is the way New Zealand celebrates Christmas. They like taking their boats out and enjoying time in the water. We did not see many Christmas lights in the stores like we see in the US. And I have read that sometimes, Santa is spotted in the beach. We did not get to see Santa that day. But nevertheless, for some reason, I liked their style of celebration and found it interesting.
Day 7: This was the day in the entire trip I dreaded - the day of our Bungee jump. We headed to Queenstown to bungee jump at the Kawarau Bridge. Being scared of heights, I have no idea as to why I agreed to this in the first place. Either ways, we went there. Initially, I was scared, but calm. My husband and I were doing a tandem jump. And when I was asked to stand up after the rope was tied to my leg, all my fear shot up and like an uncontrollable jet, tears started pouring down my eyes, I felt helpless, I cried and begged like a kid to be removed from the rope. The crowd that usually stands in the side watching the bungee jumpers started cheering. My husband’s fear sort of melted away seeing the scene I created. It was good for him that I was there I guess. The worst part of the whole thing was, it doesn’t get over. You need to move to the edge of the bridge and jump (“move one more inch, a little bit more” – hearing the guides say that - moving to the edge knowing you are going to fall down – woah..not something any amount of mental preparation can make you ready for). And when I am usually nervous, I need to hold onto something really tight and there was nothing here. My husband’s jacket was very slippery, giving me no grip and that increased my fear. My usual stress reliever was missing. And then finally, I found the pocket in his jacket and caught hold of the zip (only thing I could grip on to). I knew I was gonna tear it down and I didn’t care at that moment. And then I closed my eyes and clinged on to him..and then..woooosh, we jumped – I can’t recollect if I jumped or if he jumped dragging me down or if they pushed me, I knew I closed my eyes and I was off the bridge, then after a sec, I was hanging by the thread, still clinging onto my husband, but opened my eyes. It actually looked pretty - the greenish shade of water underneath. But I could feel us going round and round around. Then the raft folks extended the pole. I made no attempt to catch it too. My husband did all the work. And I was hauled into the raft and the ropes were removed from our legs..YAAAYYY. I DID IT!!!!! I faced a biiiiig fear and overcame it..And I survived!! Though thinking about it, I knew I wouldn’t die, but I am not sure of what I was scared of Well, I became famous in the place for half-an-hour because of the tantrum I threw and everyone recognized me..And the video became a thing for my family and friends to tease me about..anyways, I am glad we did it. And that, was my husband’s favorite moment of the whole trip. After the first time, my husband decided to go again, since he obviously loved it and wanted to get dipped in the water. But this time, though I knew that he wanted to do it, he was a little scared and hesitant. I was surprised at him being scared after having done it once..but heck.. I can talk anything as long as I don’t have to jump again. But with a little bit of nudging, he went back again. And jumped. It was nice. But unfortunately, he could not touch the water. Loos like you have to jump perfectly to touch it. But it was a good day. After the adrenaline rush, we went to Queenstown. We found a lake and were walking by it and saw a swing. It was nice to swing on it on a nice balmy noon, after the scary morning, when the mind was calm and excited with the feeling that you had survived something, and facing the lake and seeing mountains in the distance. Then, we headed to the Lord of the rings tours. It was a neat little tour of Glenorchy where a lot of scenes of the movie were filmed; and a few other places on the way. Since my husband is a big fan of the movie, it was worth it.
Day 8: We headed to Fiodland National Park in the morning. On the way, we stopped at the famous Routeburn track. This is supposed to be a very beautiful hike (4 – 5 days for the whole hike). But we did only a small part of the hike – the key summit track. The key summit track was a nice hike. At the end of the forest, you get to see a nice view of the valley. And when you take the board walk, you get to learn about the alpine vegetation. Then we drove to Milford sound. The drive was pretty. On the way, it had many small waterfalls all fed by rainfall.
Day 9: We headed to Milford sound for early morning kayaking - a beautiful place, a very nice experience, called by the natives as “Paradise”. The place is just so beautiful and calm, and I have no way of describing its beauty. This is another very popular tourist destination in the South Island. You need to see it to appreciate it. But beware of the sandflies. We were there one of the worst sandfly days and I would recommend having some kind of repellent to escape being bitten by them. After the long day of kayaking, we headed back from Milford sound. On the way, we stopped at mirror lake (5 min walk) and a chasm fall/creek (very nice waterfall that you can see with a 10-15 minute walk). Then we headed back to Queenstown.
Day 10: We left south island and then went to North Island. We went to visit Waiheke island that is near Aukland. Going from South Island to the North Island kind of put me in a shock. Atleast the place, the ferry to Waiheke made me feel that way. Suddenly there were people everywhere. And it felt like the peace suddenly disappeared and it felt like I didn’t say a proper goodbye to what I had started associating New Zealand with - the calm and peace. It all seemed to have been suddenly taken away from me. But yeah, I should have seen it coming. Because the closeness to the nature was the mere reason we had chosen to spend a lot more days in the south island than in the North. Anyways, I hadn’t done much research about Waiheke island before going there except that someone told me it is beautiful. But my husband and I got the feeling that, though it was a nice place with nice beaches, it was more of a place for the localites. We got to see a lot of local kids play cricket and have fun at the beach. We visited a couple of beaches in the island and then drove to Hamilton and stayed there.
Day 11: We left in the morning to Waitamo caves. The drive felt good. At least, it was far from the crowds again. But North Island looked very different. It was green grass everywhere. The greenery was soothing to the eyes and it explained why the Hobbit Town Shire was chosen to be set up in the Northern Island. We took the famous glow worm cave tours in Waitamo. We first visited a cave and saw beautiful cave formations and learnt quite a lot about caves. Then we went on the raft to see the glow worms in another cave. Wowww..It was like a million bright stars, except that they were not stars, but were the worms emitting the light - wonderful sight. Then we drove to Rotorua where we went for a traditional Maori dinner. Well, I think seeing something related to the Natives need to be a part of any trip. The Maori experience was pretty good. It was wonderful when the Maori folks made my husband and a bunch of others to do the haka dance An experience not to be forgotten. I have always been fascinated as a kid to see the New Zealand rugby team do the Haka dance. And when I saw my husband do the same, it just felt wonderful. And they had good shows and performances to help us understand the Maori culture.
Day 12: We left in the morning to see the Wai-o-Tapu thermal geyser and the various hot pools. Again, it was our first hot pool visit and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Then in the noon, we went to try the “luge”. It was a nice experience. My husband liked it more than me and went for a couple of rounds. I am a much slower rider when it comes to things like that. Seeing my husband, at that moment, I wished he had other friends around to do it with him so that he would have enjoyed it more. After that, we went to Waikite valley and soaked ourselves in a hot thermal pool. And that, according to us, was a wonderful way to finish the trip. Then we drove back to Aukland. Saw New Years’ fireworks from our hotel room and slept. Next morning, we headed back home.
There ends another wonderful journey: to a land of calm and peace, a land of silence, a land of numerous rivers (at every drive) and varied scenery, a land not to be forgotten – the place New Zealand