For the past ten days, we’ve been on the South Island, winding our way around the landscape while hitting major cities and more than a few tourist hot spots. It has been a whirlwind tour, but I think we saw just about everything the island has to offer. Kidding.
My first observation from the drive is how quickly everything changes. From sheer cliffs to sheep-dotted fields to rough hewn coasts to the attitudes of parents and young adults alike when exploring in a place that is so genuinely warm and welcoming. For every potentially tense travel moment there has also been a turn in the highway revealing a sea the color of beach glass, an innkeeper calling you “love” and offering a hot cuppa, or a herd of alpacas in every hue that you could possibly be an alpaca in.
After a day adjusting in Wellington, my new home city, we hopped on Air New Zealand for a short flight down to Christchurch. Great city. The rebuild from the 2011 earthquake is creating a carefully planned and walkable city with our new favorite thing: the family park. Whole families headed down wide slides together. A real sense of community. We played until just before the 9:30 sunset, and it was hard to get the girls away. They are in their twenties.
Heading out of Christchurch, with Joe behind the wheel adjusting to the opposite side of the road and making ample use of the windshield wipers to signal turns, we made our way to Lake Tekapo and an Airbnb set among flowers and sheep fields. We soaked in the lake water in hot pools and watched the sun set orange over deepening purple mountains. Moments like this, with our rental car skidding to a halt on the gravely side of the road so I can get the shot, are why I didn’t want to see pictures of New Zealand before I arrived here. If you are planning a trip, you might want to close your eyes so you don’t spoil it, and move to the next paragraph.
From the lake, we took to the highway south to Dunedin. Although it’s a lovely city, we went to Dunedin for penguins, specifically the yellow-eyed and blue types. Our penguin tour was successful because it supported the penguin hospital at Penguin Place, and we spotted two yellow-eyed waddling up the beach after returning from their daily trip to sea. These two waddling dots were nearly as much fun as the seal giving himself a sand bath right in front of us. He’s not endangered, but he was good fun to watch. This penguin related post is for all you penguin lovers at CCLCS. You know who you are. On the road again. I started sensing a landscape theme here. Off to Queenstown …
but not before Joe found the family crest beside Cromwell Gorge on the way.
Our arrival in Queenstown was later than expected, due to several twists and turns in the road necessary to drive around mountains. The NZ GPS is terribly inaccurate, though it might have been smoother if I hadn’t been in the passenger seat constantly reminding Joe that we were close to the edge, which is basically where you drive around here. I have no pictures to share. For obvious reasons.
Queenstown is the adrenaline capital, so we took a gondola up to the big hill to catch sight of the entire city and luged down. That was all the girls could talk me into.
So, from Queenstown, we traveled north through glacier country, finally ending up in Greymouth to board the Transalpine train back to Christchurch, another incredible experience as our open train car chugged through hollowed out mountains and over impossibly narrow bridges. We crossed deep gorges between the ridges of what sometimes looks like a wall to wall carpeting of green that covers the lines and crevices of the mountaintops.
Lots of driving, kudos to Joe for taking the wheel and navigating us safely through the ever changing landscape while being mindful of the opposite side of things. When we reached Wellington again, I made the mistake of opening up a guidebook to the South Island section. Pangs of regret over what we had missed! Perhaps I hadn’t orchestrated the best possible trip. But perhaps it is a testament to place that the feeling didn’t last long. Maybe I’m learning that every experience is an opportunity setting the stage for the next great adventure, made even better through the sharing of this time together. For the girls, there are so many jumping off points here, even though their mother kept them a good distance from the bungy. This time. When they come again, who know what might happen?