Holiday time! After handing over the NZPS House Manager reins to Christine it was time to go. I’d delayed the packing of my bag until the very last minute, I finally squished it, remoulded, rolled, folded and threw stuff away until I could zip it up, even then I still had an extra bag of stuff to put in Hendrik’s pack (boys don’t take much stuff on holiday I thought). That dark rainy night I said my farewells and good lucks to Christine and was picked up by Hendrik to stay at the pub one very last time.
We’d planned a South Island trip together as a final ‘blow out’ before I left New Zealand. Although I’d seen my fair share of incredible sights down there I was more than keen to share them with somebody a second time around and create more awesome memories.
We flew from Palmerston North or Palmerston ‘Shithouse’ as it is sometimes referred, to Christchurch early the next morning, to sort out our camper we’d hired. It was to be one of those sorting things out kind of days, and as we were both tired we took a sleepy trip down to Geraldine in a dense cloud of rain, giving us none of the views we’d daydreamed about…so far.
Our mutual friend River from Hobbiton was now working and residing in Geraldine, which became our stopover as we began to head in a south westerly direction. After beersies and a lovely catch up we headed back to ‘our’ van keen to make it a home and a nice cosy nest, particularly due to the dampness and unappealing nature of the outdoors. A decent night’s sleep and the motivation to kick start the holiday we decided to head south and risk not being able to see the beautiful mountains on the horizon. I was struggling to remain optimistic as the rain hit the windscreen for much of the journey. We arrived in Fairlie, a cute little town in the beautiful Mackenzie region. This mostly reminded me of lovely British Hobbiton workers Hannah and Luke who I’d met last year who had worked in Fairlie on the Mount Dobson Ski Field.
Burke’s Pass is a mountain pass and at its base, a small town on State Highway 8 at the entrance to the Mackenzie Country in South Canterbury, New Zealand. Like an old American gas station, Burke’s pass holds a museum like collection of Americana memorabilia, housed in old wooden sheds alongside old motors, wagon wheels and other machine curiosities. The sun began to show it’s face as we took a look around and got our first glimpses of the interesting differences between the North and South Island. I knew the road from now on was so beautiful and the snowy mountains that surround you almost 360 leave you awestruck on the approach to Lake Tekapo. I can’t emphasize enough how gorgeous a moment it was when we shared that beauty together sitting atop Mount John’s observatory, it was absolutely breath-taking. The observatory is housed there due to Lake Tekapo receiving ‘dark sky reserve status’ simply meaning it is one of the least polluted, clearest places in the world to stargaze. We took our iconic pictures of the Church of the Good Shepherd and after a relaxing beer in the sun we continued on towards Twizel heading towards Mount Cook, for the Hooker Valley walk we had planned for the next day.
I had created a vague itinerary for our trip – able to change from day to day if the weather wasn’t playing along or that we decided to spend more or less time in a place. We had the added freedom of a camper and this made it very easy to make last minute spontaneous plans.
Freedom camp sites are widely available in New Zealand, found by searching the useful Campermate app we were able to park up for the night. We found a wonderfully peaceful spot by a lake, enabling us to make an early start for the walk the next day. The simplicity of parking up and being a self contained van felt very liberating and so freedom camping became something we’d try to do every other night, to get off the beaten track and well, save some pennies.
Mount Cook road is one way in and one way out, and it gets progressively more stunning as you drive closer and closer to the mountains. The scale is what grabs you, being dwarfed by these snowy giants. The Hooker Valley walk was one of my highlights from my own personal South Island trip the previous year so our route became reasonably the same as the one I had travelled. I was so excited for Hendrik. He explained how the dry alpine environment reminded him of the African landscape he loved and knew well. We share the same values at heart, independent, passionate and stubborn we soaked up the surroundings in our own personal reflective ways yet had the bonus of sharing this special time to become an experience we can talk about endlessly..
Wanaka was next on the trip, and again like before we didn’t see a great deal here, our paid campsite choice wasn’t quite as hoped, so after photographing many charismatic trees across the serene lake we headed for the pub!
Situated on the spectacular Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka, the Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels. It would have been rude not to have had some tasty grub with a drink and of course a good look around. Hendrik had the image on the wall in his pub and had longed to have a nosey, I must say, I couldn’t complain when we needed to ‘research’ these kind of places for inspiration 😉 it was wonderfully restored and much larger than the frontage suggests, it was well worth the stop.
The road then takes a lovely scenic route through the Crown Range, offering amazing views of your descent into Queenstown with views of the Remarkables mountain range. The last time I had driven this road it was very hairy due to the large dumping of snow that had occurred, so far our trip was much warmer than the time before and it was a joy to be driving ‘our’ nippy little van around. It worked out we’d alternate on driving days, both confident and happy to drive it worked out well and spread the tiredness more evenly! We’d stocked up on a few basic foodie items but we knew due to our love of good food and drink that we’d be more than tempted to try the local delights – which we did.
Arrowtown, on the way to Queenstown is charming and quirky – a delightful gold rush village nestled below the beautiful peaks that surround the sparkling Arrow River. Scenes from The Lord of the Rings were filmed on the river and the tree lined streets, restored cottages and gold mining sites make it well worth a look. Did I mention there is a pretty mean sweet shop there also? 🙂 I managed to find some Feijoa flavoured sweets (or lollies as they call them in NZ) so my UK chums can kind of sample the delightful flavour of these beautiful little fruits – in sugary form.
In a carpark in Arrowtown we began to make a plan for the next few days, making sure we had enough time to do everything we wanted. It was important to us that we tried new things and each day was varied and fun (they always were, all the time). We’d agreed before the trip that we would have to do an adrenaline activity in Queenstown – it seemed only right being the adrenalin fuelled capital of the world!. We had something along the lines of a sky dive in mind. With Hendrik’s reluctance of swing bridges and mine of launching myself head first from a ridiculous height, we made the compromise of booking the highest swing in the world – the Ben Nevis.
We’d lucked out with an awesome Queenstown campsite full of quirky art on site as well as BBQ area, perfect for a delicious seafood meal cooked for me (lucky gal). Excitement filled our bones with our impending frightening activity, almost missing the thing completely with our rushed morning and things for Hendrik to sort out over the phone with the pub, the mood was…tense.
First ones up, casually strapped in from a somewhat ridiculous height:
‘You guys want a countdown?…or a surprise? – Bungy dude playing God
‘ A surp…. AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!’ – Hendrik
With an incredible and unexpected freefall it almost felt as though we’d done a bungy! less gentle than imagined but an incredible high, the beauty of doing the tandem was experiencing it together. A famous Fergburger felt well deserved afterwards and we sat on deck of a sunny seaside boat sipping a drink, stuffing our faces soaking up that Queenstown buzz. It also came to be that it was National Hobbit Day – the Birthday of the Hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, so we celebrated in style and even managed to track down some of the rare 1% Sobering Thought beer served to the actors whilst filming.
Later that evening we had almost the whole Queenstown ice rink to ourselves as we skated around playfully, falling over no more than 2431 times.
We drove later that evening to Te Anau, where trips to Milford Sound begin. Milford Sound is close to my heart, much like Mount Cook, there is that dominance and scale of surrounding landscape that seems to put everything into perspective, and it’s hypnotising. We booked a tour that included the scenic drive to and from Milford, giving us both a rest from driving and to enjoy the many stops, and the not so many stops through the avalanche area and impressively hand dug homer tunnel.
We lucked out yet again, Hendrik’s face lighting up as we discovered the nice selection the buffet lunch offered on the cruise! We spent the boat cruise on top deck, relishing those characteristically rainy and atmospheric elements so associated with Fjordland. The Willow theme tune humming through my mind we were treated to more waterfalls than we could count, it was yet another one of those moments where you realise you’re in the most amazing place with the most amazing person. So lucky.
Keen to fit another horse ride in our time together we booked one back in Cardrona, amongst the landscape we loved. This time it was back country saddle riding on western saddles on gorgeous American Appaloosa horses. A bit rough on the old bum, but very enjoyable none the less! a short visit to the Cardrona distillery afterwards made it hurt a bit less).
As we’d begun to head back up north we made the trip across to the rainy west coast to the most dull/strange/uncomfortable town of Haast. Arriving late we had little choice of where to stay and wound up in the same campsite I had stayed in the previous year and promised to myself I would not do again! It was just a weird grey ‘non-place’, the silver lining was an amazing thunderstorm that night and in the camper it was cosier than ever in our nest. A different landscape yet again, the west sees constant rain, lush rainforest and copious waterfalls on the roadsides. We were making our way to Fox Glacier to do a possible heli-hike with my British friend Alex who I’d previously guided at Glowing Adventures. Due to the weather in Haast we’d not got over optimistic about the helicopter ride, knowing deep down it wasn’t heli-like conditions. Hendrik was also feeling a little less than 100% through the last couple of days and I could see the exhaustion in his face. We instead took a stormy guided walking trip to the bottom of the glacier, the road was closed to public as the conditions were rough! It was a fun rugged walk but I knew we needed some downtime soon and to focus on getting back to 100%. we briefly caught up with Alex but knew we needed to keep moving so took an easy drive to Hokitika for the night, the weather was changing, our moods lifting as we shared fish and chips on a boat watching the sunset. The pace was slower as we enjoyed eachothers company.
Time for some beautiful limestone rock formations in Punakaiki. The Pancake Rocks are where columns of water shoot skyward from rocks resembling giant stacks of hotcakes. They are addictive to watch as the water captured at a perfect moment pushes it’s way through a blowhole, a chimney like affect. As you watch and wait patiently you hope the next one you will see will be bigger and better with cameras poised. We were not able to do quite as much caving as we had hoped, although the area was rich with caves, many entrances were deemed dangerous due to numerous landslips, rock falls and high level water. We headed to the pub and realised we actually had one more day of the holiday than previously thought (!) bonus! So heading north to Nelson and beyond was becoming a do-able plan.
As we headed towards Motueka, an area I knew very well due to much time spent in Nelson with Renee and at the lovely free range egg farm with Sharon and family.
We now had time to sample some of the Abel Tasman park area and I wanted Hendrik to experience the overwhelming sensations staring down into the ominous Harwoods Hole. It was beautiful to be there with him, all of these different emotions we were stirring up with each day. It was like a summers day, we had a look around the cool arty area of Golden Bay and did the relatively secret Grove walk, with some of the most interesting limestone karsts and gardens we’d seen.
Fishing was something Hendrik had a passion for and we’d decided to try and fit it in on this holiday, time however was wearing thin. Charter boats and such were getting booked up and funds were becoming a bit on the low side. A happy medium – which turned out to be a fantastic experience was at a nearby salmon fishing farm. I’d never been fishing before and always wanted to catch and eat my own fish (just like I’d done for all those years on the Zelda games). Salmon is also one of my favourite fish to eat, Hendrik very patiently showed me the technique and shazam! within about 15 minutes we had caught 3 good sized salmon! What a buzz, and to see him full of energy and excitement it was brilliant! If that wasn’t enough they then hot smoke your fish however you like and can also serve it as sashimi. We had a mixed bag, I should say mixed box – far too much for both of us, but it was the most beautiful fish we’d ever tasted. Simple pleasures.
Annie, a dear friend who I’d met whilst at the chook farm was now working at the Wangapeka Cheese shop, so we couldn’t resist a visit! It was so nice to catch up again, we had cheese and preserves and Annie received some of our salmon and my artwork – Kaitoke. We had time to wander around Nelson before starting a slow and rather long trip towards Christchurch ready for the impending departures. I felt sweet memories flooding back particularly with Renee and our fun evenings over a gin or two.
We stopped to have fresh oysters, something I hadn’t tried before and yummy chardonnay, what a treat, a proper holiday. One last port of call was artist Mike Ward’s studio on the high-street where after a friendly chat he decided to make me a piece of jewellery, a beautiful ring as a gift – such a kind hearted soul, kindness is magic after all.
So we’d booked an Italian themed apartment for our last night together. A comfortable spacious piece of luxury for us to unwind, sort through our things, return the van and collect our thoughts. Flying up to Auckland the following morning was tinged with a silent sadness. Holding hands and becoming less able to converse, becoming immersed in our own thoughts. Hendrik’s sister Jarinda picked us up from the airport and in the remaining hours before I flew back to the UK, Hendrik cooked up one last Braai.
Time to depart. We sat still as the motion of busy travellers became a blur around us. So deeply intense I could barely bring myself to look at him, and with a heavy heart we went our separate ways.
It’s ok, I’ve got this.
We’re strong and optimistic and will ride this one out, we feel good. So I’m home, have many ideas in place, job opportunities available to me and a move to a UK location close to my heart. So I will not be still for long. Despite the sadness of leaving, I’m now creating a new chapter from everything. I am constantly learning and I am excited. I think that I may have found a sanctuary to immerse myself in as a starting point,and as for this Blog > it will continue, just like my adventures.
Soundtrack: Moby – Homeward Angel