New Zealand (Christchurch/Queenstown)
Updated: Oct 10, 2018
Disclaimer: These photos will never do it justice
I cannot overstate this enough; New Zealand is heaven on earth. We haven’t been to every corner of the earth yet, but I can say that undoubtedly this place is top three. That is while keeping in mind that we of course have a lot of Earth left to see. To this day whenever I recap our visit to NZ I get chills. In September of 2017 we took a cozy 13 hour flight from LAX to Christchurch. New Zealand is two islands with three major cities, Auckland in the north island, Christchurch and Queenstown in the south. Although you could argue Dunedin/Invercargill are just as big. We spent five days in each city and rented car to travel around. New Zealand is home to all climates spread across the country. We saw most of them, and this is the story of New Zealand. While we ate fine food, and enjoyed what the cities had to offer. The land is the star attraction it ISNT EVEN CLOSE. There is a reason RV rentals are a huge thing here. People rent little converted Chevy vans, and live in them while touring the island. We spent a good amount time for a vacation, and barely scratched the surface. We only saw a handful of cities on the southern island. We must go back.
Flying isn’t that bad, and I would argue that 13 hours should be illegal, but Air NZ made the flight almost like it didn’t happen. It sounds crazy but the flight went by faster than you would think. They also offer sky couches. Where in, you buy all three seats in the row and they fold out into a bed almost. We arrived in Christchurch and rented a car. This was the first time we have driven on the opposite side of the road, whoa baby it’s a total mind F. This is the closest you will ever feel to being that new driver once again. The amount of concentration you have to apply is exhausting. The traffic patterns you’re used to seeing are all backwards, and takes you back to when you had no idea how to drive.
We drove out to the Doubletree Chateau at the Park. This place was as nice as the name implied, and Doubletree hotels give you free cookies. The front desk was sweet on me so he gave me cookies multiple times a day. As a guy who loves anything with flour and sugar, SCORE! We strolled along Hagley park right next door, and then we walked through the botanical gardens a few times. This was also a direct route to downtown and was a nice breezy stroll.
The 2011 earthquake had a devastating and lasting impact to Christchurch. The 6.3 magnitude centered a mere six miles away from the city, and they felt its power. That fateful day 185 people died, and a large portion were from two building collapses. The quake also destroyed 70% of their heritage buildings. They also quite creatively reused a lot of the containers they used during the recovery effort to build a container shopping center. It was full of restaurants, and little shops in the downtown area. We walked a lot of the downtown area, and everyone knows NZ is famous for their sheep. They love these guys so much their official traffic cones are sheep.
We took a San Francisco style trolley around to learn a little bit about the city. We ate well, but we were new to the Vegan cookbook at this point, we were only about a month in but found Christchurch had a good selection of choices. Elizabeth also drank a lot of coffee on this trip, as it was “spring” but early into the new season it was a bit chilly most days. From Christchurch we drove out to Akaroa, and Hamner Springs. Akaroa is a quaint little town on the east side of the island and this drive was our first real taste of what was to come. Hamner Springs is a wonderful little town with hot springs, and Elizabeth and I partook in the healing properties of the springs. A long the way, the mountains, trees, and views spoke to us and they were Awesome. The original meaning of awesome, not like “awesome hot-dogs” the take your breath away Awesome. As I am typing this I realize that I cannot describe it. I feel like Robert Frost would struggle to put into words the epic beauty. Alas we must shed our comfortable abode in the Chateau by the Park, and drive 8 hours south to Queenstown. This would be the most amazing drive we have ever taken.
As we meandered southward we stopped at a lot of places to admire the magnificence before our eyes. We stopped in Tekapo to see the Church of the Good Sheppard. The church sat on the shores of Lake Tekapo whose winds were howling. We made a quick stop though because it was literally just a beautiful church in Gail force winds, without bathrooms. We continued along the way, stopping in Wanaka, crossing “The Red Bridge” along the way. Eventually we arrived to a rainy Hilton Queenstown.
The Hilton Queenstown is situated on Lake Wakatipu which is a glacier fed lake. We were surprisingly upgraded to the presidential suite when we arrived. SCORE! It was a two bedroom two bath suite on the top floor overlooking the lake. It had a fire place and was just perfect. We got in kind of late so we ate dinner and went to bed. We awoke to one spectacular sight. Overnight as we slept, the rain had turned into snow and covered the area in a life altering spectacle. We were in awe of the sights around us. Again I would challenge the world’s brightest minds to put these things to words. It cannot be done.
Lake Wakatipu has a water taxi that takes you into Queenstown city and across the lake to where we were staying. We walked out to the dock where they board and again was blown away that water that is in excess of 20 feet deep could be so clear. The Milford Sound was one big reason we wanted to go south.
Because the night we arrived it snowed, and along the pathway to Milford sound it snowed three feet, we were unable to make it to this amazing place. Because everything else was so amazing it probably was a good thing we didn’t go, we might have just dropped dead on site. How can one take in so many splendors and continue to live?
While in Queenstown we researched glow worm caves. Now, glow worms caves are more of a northern island thing, but there are a few in the south and we took a couple hour car ride out to Te Anau. We boarded a small boat and cruised across the lake where we would spelunk several hundred feet into a cave where it got louder from the rushing water, colder, and darker. These caves are pitch black. Inside a guide pulls a boat a long a guided rope, deeper into the caves where it is as black as black will ever be. Above your head are bio-luminescent worms that drip saliva down to catch bugs. They also light up like a lightening bug would to attract the bugs to their traps. AMAZING! I did take some video in 4k, here is a link of the boat out to the caves. Turn off your speakers. I was on top of the boat filming and the wind was blasting.
Lastly, speaking of darkness, while driving to Te Anau, about 93 miles from Queenstown, there is a reserve in the middle of no-where. While driving to the glow worms, we passed through this reserve. It was early and the sights here were very pretty as is everything in NZ. BUT on the way back it was night time, and this particular stretch of road is very remote, and devoid of light pollution. What this affords you is an opportunity to see one of the most amazing things I have ever seen with my eyes. I would imagine the only thing similar would be The Northern Lights, but we haven’t had a chance to see them yet. But I mean you can see our entire galaxy so I don't think they could compare. So I will place the #1 ribbon upon this sight for now. I am getting chills remembering how clearly you could plainly see The Milky Way. Ladies and Gents, please Bing or Google image search, the Milky Way that purple band of stars that make up our galaxy were visible in the night sky. Elizabeth and I stared up at the night sky, mouths wide open, in absolute awe. AMAZING. This image is with the shutter open on my camera for 30 sec and a lot of editing to even remotely get close to what we saw. My camera sensor could not capture what our eyes could see so clearly.