….And so we caught a plane out of Wellington Airport to the South Island…
Let me first say that if you are a Lord of the Rings or Hobbit fan, you might run a very real risk of being late for your flight if you fly out of Wellington Airport. The airport is adorned with larger than life art installations throughout the terminal building. You WILL want to pose (with or without children) with Gandalf and the great Eagles, or with Gollum or Smaug and take some photos!
Right, back to leaving Wellington then. We boarded a flight with Air New Zealand (a really decent airline I might add) and set off for the more exciting part of our trip. We were headed for Queenstown, famous for attracting adrenaline junkies for its bungee jumping, skiing, snowboarding and more! A short while later we started our descent into what would be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever laid eyes on! Looking out of the plane window, we peered onto endless mountain ranges blanketed in stark white snow. It really was a sight to behold! (Keep in mind that at this point I’d never seen snow in my life before. This was the biggest treat for me).
After we landed we once again picked up our rental car and navigated our way to our accommodation. Another incredibly friendly Kiwi lady welcomed us to our warm and beautifully decorated room at “Shades of Arrowtown”. This small, cosy lodge located in the heart of Arrowtown, Queenstown was to be our anchor for the next 2 nights… except, once we arrived in Queenstown we immediately extended our stay for 1 more night!!
We woke early the next very frosty morning to catch the bus to the Cardrona ski field. The bus driver (and ski instructor) was a young twenty-something with long hair. His very worn out ski boots were an obvious sign he was a seasoned skier and/or snowboarder and was clearly living his absolute dream life in this amazing little town. The second sign that he was a seasoned ski instructor was his incredible skill in navigating the icy road up to the ski slopes! While I kept my eyes tightly shut for most of the drive, convinced that I was going to die a painful death falling swiftly off the side of a cliff, he made casual conversation with my husband about rugby. Rugby and more rugby. My pounding heart finally came to rest as we reached the top of the ski field an hour later…
Before starting our very first ski lesson, we joined the masses of tourists in the gear up area where you register, collect your skis, get fitted for ski boots and try not to get stomped on by the awkward equipment being carried by other amateurs.
Now, if you want me to tell you all about skiing, you’ll be better off searching for a different blog. Sadly, I do not have a good relationship with skiing. It was a very short-lived one, lasting about 1 whole hour. I hated every second of it. I’m still convinced those ski boots are made for stick people with legs of steel. I can still feel the pain in my calves and shins from those demon boots! Needless to say, I just couldn’t stand in them and my lesson ended only an hour in. I left my husband and best friend to persevere and went off to play like a child in the snow instead! I was happy at last. Being somewhat of an amateur photographer, I spent the rest of the day photographing the views, drinking hot chocolate with strangers and attempting to build an excuse for a snowman – it’s much more difficult than you think!
The rest of our short stay in Queenstown involved walking the town streets, trying out a burger from the famous FERGBURGER & buying milk and hot baked cookies from the Cookie Time store. My own personal highlight of our Queenstown trip was when we stumbled across a piano busker – how many of those do you see? This guy transports his rescued, restored and now fully functioning piano around New Zealand and graces audiences with his incredible talent. This man’s music gave me chills and if you do not go and take a listen to him, you will be missing out! (I’ll include a link to his Facebook page and videos in a separate post).
Driving around the suburbs of Queenstown will make you think you are in some kind of wonderland, a paradise you never dreamed existed. I felt like I was living in a miniature land, where life is perfect, where trees are always green and Christmas tree shaped, where everything looks like it was intricately manufactured and manicured by some magnificent artist. Sigh… how I long to go back!
Sadly, I’ve heard that property is really expensive and that jobs are few and far between unless perhaps you’re in hospitality or tourism. If however you have the freedom and cash to backpack around Queenstown, do it! Do it for as long as your legs and bank account will carry you!
As we drove away from Queenstown I felt a lump in my throat, not knowing when I’d ever set foot in such a beautiful place again. The shutter on my camera grew tired as it snapped away every last glimpse from my passenger car window…
Using our now slightly worn and slightly torn roadmaps, we continued our journey, with the next stop being Mt Cook. Now granted, there was no “Look, see, decide” factor to making this stop. Mt Cook is in a national reserve and in the middle of the middle of nowhere, but, I was told that this is one place we did not want to miss. As it is in my nature to go big or go home, I decided that it most certainly wasn’t time to go home and so we added 2 nights in Mt Cook to our itinerary.
Now you might remember from my previous post (Part 1) that I said I would swallow my words… well, here it comes. Just when I thought the world could not be any more beautiful than Queenstown, just when I thought life had peaked for me and that I could die happy, we enter the exquisite Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Part of me wants to tell you that there are no words to describe this – and that you must, absolutely, without hesitation make this your next holiday destination – so that you may see with your own eyes the beauty that this place holds secret from the rest of the world.
Of course, I took photos, but they do not do it justice. I become severely inarticulate if I should even try to paint the perfect picture of what the Mt Cook / Aoraki region looks like to the naked eye.
We stayed at the Aoraki Court Motel – a newly established, gorgeous accommodation with breathtaking views of the glorious and intimidating Mt Cook itself.
The Aoraki National Park is also a Dark Sky Reserve – meaning that it has one of the darkest skies in the world. Lighting in the reserve is highly regulated and restricted. This allows for a truly memorable experience of late night star gazing which is offered by the reserve. Wearing massive down jackets we drive by bus into the “real” middle of nowhere, where a 20ft container is sitting in a lonely airfield. The guides unpack some of the world’s finest telescopic equipment and you are treated to view the milky way in a way you’ve never seen it before!
On our way out of Mt Cook, we bought some fresh salmon at the Mt Cook salmon farm shop and stopped to eat it alongside Lake Pukaki.
No. I simply have no better words for this experience…Please, look at my photos, but please, add this to your bucket list.
Leaving Mt Cook meant that we had just 1 night left in New Zealand and not much time to see more of anything. We drove the 4.5-hour drive from Mt Cook through to Christchurch. This is from where we’d fly back home to Johannesburg, S.A. The drive was more of the beautiful sights we’d seen before but quieter, a lot more rural and a lot of lush green grass… Of course, we had to make an urgent stop to see some lambs up close – which we did – but then quickly back on track.
Arriving at Christchurch quite late in the afternoon, we, unfortunately, didn’t have time to see it. We checked into our airport motel and left at 4am the next morning for S.A. with heavy hearts….and a fierce determination to make New Zealand our forever home.