tūhura: exploration (South Island, New Zealand Adventures)

When most people hear the phrase, “Spring break” their minds wander off to warm sandy beaches and rolling blue waves. However, if you’re anything like me you hate the sedentary lifestyle and want to spend your time doing something more action packed and adventurous. This is what led me to choose New Zealand as my optimal Spring break destination. Knowing that there was so much to do in only so little time, my two friends and I signed up for Top Deck Tour Group to guide us through the South Island of this mystical and magical place.

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 Upon landing in New Zealand I didn’t know what I was about to embark upon for the next week plus. Now reflecting back on the journey I had, I can say with confidence that it was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I’ve had to date. I owe a big chunk of that to our Top Deck tour guide Tia and driver Kyall, as well as our tour group as a whole for making this the trip of a lifetime.

Every person on that trip had a unique and personal story. This is one of my favorite aspects of traveling to new places: the people you meet. Gaining insight to other cultures, ways of life, and people’s views on things we only see one way enables us to have such a broader view of things. The world and the way you view it starts to look a lot different when you surround yourself with new people and new places. The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is took a leap outside of my comfort zone and having dove right into new and unfamiliar places.

So here I was on a bus that would be my transportation for the next seven days to come ready to have my eyes opened by the beauty of New Zealand.

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The first town we reached was Fox Glacier where we spent one night. Here I got my first real taste of New Zealand. Upon arrival we set forth to Lake Matheson to partake in a scenic nature walk. Encompassed by wild green trees that towered above us, we followed down windy wooden pathways. When we finally broke through the greenery we had our first sight of a New Zealand lake. The crispness of the water paired with the clarity of the mountains being reflected back upon it made for an amazing sight to see.

At night we set out into the depths of the forest to see ‘glowworms.’ Glowworms are fly larvae that emit a glow in order to attract small insects. While this may seem unappealing, it was one of the most magical sights. As we stepped slowly and carefully down the winding dirt path in complete darkness we were surrounded by the luminosity of thousands of little glowing lights. It was as if woodland fairies were perched on all of the uprooted trees and bushes encasing the path. In order to trap their prey glowworms make chandelier-like structures composed of a silky thread like substance covered in dewy droplets. Up close, the intricate structures made by these little critters are remarkable!

IMG_1392Day two of my New Zealand adventure was one of my favorite days. I got to experience my first ever helicopter ride as we ventured to the icy depths of Fox Glacier. After all, what better way to see the beauty of these massive glaciers than from up above? We soared through towering tree-covered mountains until we touched down onto the crystal blue ice of the glacier. After putting on our crampons- the spikes that attach to your shoes to make it so you can walk on the ice- we set out to explore the glacier.

As the days progress and the weather changes, glaciers do too. We had the chance to explore ice caves that would be nonexistent as soon as the next day and see pools of water that would change overnight. I even had the opportunity to taste the icy cold glacier water and fill my water bottle with it. It was the most refreshing and crisp water I’ve had in my life. Along side the glacier was a beautiful waterfall that we got to see up close and personal.

In the distance of fox glacier is a surprising setting- a rainforest. Something I found peculiar due to the close proximity to the glacier. As the slow rolling clouds began to approach it was our cue to pack up and head out. 

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 The next destination on our trip was Queenstown. The drive from Fox Glacier to Queenstown was a lengthy one and we made the most of it by making numerous pit stops along the way to stop and absorb the beauty that is displayed across all of NZ. This included a view of classic New Zealand mountains reflecting into water along with a waterfall that poured into water so blue that it almost looked fake.

In due time we arrived in Queenstown, home of action packed, adrenaline seeking, junkie activities. Also, if not more importantly, it is also home of Fergburger. This burger joint opened fairly recently in 2001 and become a sensation in no time. Known for none other than their delicious burgers you can find yourself waiting in an hour line just to simply place an order and that is if you are lucky! Open 21 hours of the day Ferg aims to please! This burger joint was so good that my friends and I ate their not once, but TWICE in our short stay in Queenstown.

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Day three of my trip happened to fall on Easter-He has risen! In Queenstown resides a small church that exhibits its own distinctive charm and character. Here we were greeted with a warm welcome for Easter morning service. After church we soaked up the sunny morning alongside the water as we searched for a good place for brunch. We found a restaurant alongside the water where you could see the mountain ranges in the near distance- what a view!

Later in the day we took a gondola ride up the side of a mountain to see Queenstown from a new perspective. The view: breathtaking as always. I am convinced that no matter where you look, New Zealand always manages to look like a picture right off of a postcard. Between its’ mountains- partially obscured by the low hanging misty fog that lingers above them, the waterfalls cascading down the mountains, and the sheep and cattle that roam the never-ending rolling pastures it’s always picturesque.

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Day four came around and I couldn’t have been more ready. Today I would have the opportunity to take advantage of Queenstown’s legacy and be an adrenaline junkie as I hang-glided! With The Remarkables (the astounding mountain range in the area) as the backdrop I ran down the side of the cliff until my feet were left only treading air. In this moment I felt like a bird. With the hues of greens that made up the pastures below me I had a true birds-eye-view of the area below me.

Come nighttime our tour group went to the ice bar, which is exactly what it sounds like- a bar made out of everything ice. Equipped with heavy coats and gloves we entered a winter wonderland! Everything is made out of ice here- the glasses you drink out of, the sculptures that decorate the space, even the ice hockey table was 100% ice! 

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Upon us now was day five of our trip. Rainy outside, we loaded the bus and set out en route to Fiordland National Park. Left completely untouched and fully preserved, this national park is the largest in New Zealand.

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Within the territory of Fiordland National Park resides the Milford Sound, sometimes referred to as the eight Wonder of the World. I quickly learned that the Milford Sound was really not a sound at all but rather a Fjord. A sound differs from a fjord in the sense that a sound is formed by the sea flooding a river valley, while a Fjord (like Milford ‘Sound’) is cause by the retreating of a glacier. There are apparently two ways to see the Milford Sound each equally as beautiful creating a completely different setting from one another. The first is on a sunny day where you will see dry mountains and blue skies. The second is on a rainy day where the mountains are filled with surging waterfalls around every nook and turn. The thousands of waterfalls that emerge on these rainy days change daily. It is said that the ones you see one day will be gone by the next.

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My tour allowed us to do a boat cruise of this miraculous place. Not wanting to miss a thing, my friends and I ventured up to the top deck of the boat for a full 360 view of the area. We enjoyed the rain as it provided the perfect setting for the trip allowing for the waterfalls to make an appearance all around us. The captain got so up close and personal to the main waterfall (which is THREE TIMES the size of Niagara Falls to put it into perspective for you Americans) that we essentially took a shower in it leaving us completely soaked!

 

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Awoken the next morning we were greeted by day six of our trip. Destination of the day: Arrowtown. Arrowtown happens to be home to AJ Hackett Bungy, the first ever known location of bungee jumping! In this town we had the opportunity to go for a scenic bike ride. We biked along all varieties of terrain from narrow windy paths along mountains, to teetering suspension bridges hanging over crisp sapphire rivers. Eventually we reached the Kawarau Bridge where the famous bungee jumps take place. The water here, like countless places around NZ, is that beautiful blue that almost resembles the fake water they use at mini-putt putt courses. We learned the reason behind the crystal blue water you often see in New Zealand is a result of it being made up of glacier run off which consists of different minerals than most water giving the it that beautiful, rich blue color.

 Boarding the bus we made our way to Lake O’hau where we stayed at a small inn with a view like no other. Nestled in the crooks of the mountains we had a full-fledged view of the lake and mountain ranges. The setting was restorative and relaxing allowing us to enjoy each other’s company for the night. 

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 In the morning we came face-to-face with day seven of our tour: our final day together as a group. We loaded the bus with Christ Church as our final destination. We made use of the journey there making several pit stops along the way. Stop one of the day was in the town of Pukaki. Along the shoreline you can catch views of Mount Cook, the tallest mountain here in New Zealand. On this land resides a beautiful small church that faces the lake. Also at this location is a small zip swing that you can ride along side the water.

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Our next stop was Morelea Farm. Family owned, we were welcomed into their gracious home with open arms by the farmer and his wife. The wife had prepared us farm fresh food consisting of homemade sausage rolls, fresh scones topped with homemade jam, and yummy chocolate-chip cookies.

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After enjoying the tasty treats on the back porch of the home Farmer Stan took us to the barn where he preformed a live sheep sheering and explained the process to us throughout. We also had the opportunity to watch a demonstration of a sheep dog rounding up sheep on the farm.

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After a long day of travel we eventually reached our final destination of Christ Church where we said our goodbyes and parted from our beloved tour group who we had spent the last seven days with. Christchurch, rich and full of history, is now a mere sliver of the sight it once was. In 2010 the town was struck by an earthquake that badly disrupted the foundation. Luckily being at night, no one was badly injured. Not wanting to put the money into it the town didn’t fix the damage that had resulted from the quake. Only a short year later in 2011 the town was hit once more with yet another earthquake. Sadly this time the quake destroyed the beautiful city of Christ Church and took the lives of 185 people that day. It is believed that the city will not be restored to its original state for close to 90 years.

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In the wake of tragedy the town has united and puts forth a positive attitude hoping to bring back the city bigger and better than ever. There are signs of hope and positivity radiating from every corner.

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Getting inspired, the town now has a very creative vibe to it. Many cafes, restaurants, and shops have popped up in the form of old storage containers. These unique shops offer people a great place to do some shopping or grab a bite to eat.

 

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One of the most historically rich locations in Christ Church that was horribly affected by the earthquake is Cathedral Square. It was once a vital meet up place in the city and home to the city’s major cathedral. This area reopened in 2013, which is accredited greatly to artist Chris Heaphy who constructed a beautiful Planted Whare in the center of the square. A sign in it reads, “Constructed from robust steel scaffolding and covered with plastic bread baskets filled with a profusion of local and exotic plants, Heaphy’s Planted Whare may be seen as a hopeful presence: an affirmation of life and existence alongside acknowledgement of loss, including in its quiet relationship with the damaged cathedral.”IMG_2912

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New Zealand as a whole has provided me with one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had to date. Between the restorative setting, the ability to express my love for adventure, and being accompanied by the most amazing people, this trip gave me everything I could have wanted and more.

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Now back in Melbourne, it is time for me to go off and continue on my journey making even more memories along the way.

Until next time,

Cheers! Kait.

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