After donning very silly looking but functional gear and after a ‘wee bit’ (as they say) of a safety briefing, we took off in our two-person kayak into the pristine blue waters of Abel Tasman National Park’s coast. We paddled as close to the colony of seals as we were allowed including some seal pups, and among playful dolphins (we got lucky, they only show up about once a month). What’s not to love about New Zealand?
First and foremost, New Zealand has some of the prettiest scenery I have seen anywhere in the U.S. or in my many travels abroad.
Needless to say, it has loads of beaches because it is made up of two large islands surrounded by many smaller ones. The diversity of beaches is also notable as they were formed uniquely from black to tan to brilliant white sands.
We took a small plane to best see the top of the north island. While some of the trip was over vast fields of forests and orchards of fruit trees, much of it was over long stretches of gorgeous beaches, accessible only by water. On this same trip, after hiking out to the lighthouse at the very northern most point of New Zealand where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean we headed for the sand dunes where we ‘surfed’ (laying down on surfboards) down the giant hills of sand. The coastline is simply stunning.
You would naturally think of the ocean and seas (e.g. Pacific ocean and Tasman Sea) but there are also plentiful lakes, as well as too many waterfalls to count. Fiordland National Park is one of the top destinations in New Zealand because of its luscious green hills and average annual rainfall of over 9 meters which leads to huge waterfalls down the long plunge into the water about every 10 feet or so.
We decided on a trip into Doubtful Sound rather than the more popular Milford Sound in order to avoid the crowds. We took a bus out of Queenstown, to a short van ride which took us to a ferry across Lake Manapouri and onto a minivan to get to our boat for the night. The sun peaked out while we were boarding and we lunched on lobster caught the day before along with delicious fresh salads and breads.
It was then time for kayaking off the back of the boat where we could go right up next to the waterfalls. As we got back on board, fishing for dinner was in full swing. We pulled out too many fish to count, only keeping the big ones. We mostly caught red gunard but got lucky enough to snag one sashimi grade fish which we ate within ten minutes of landing in the boat. Then came the dolphins … a pod of about 15 of them which we watched surface, jump, frolick, play and follow the boat.
Dinner was more fabulous fresh food including the fish we caught. Then we moored our boat in a small cove to spend the night. It was one of the most peaceful night’s sleep I’ve ever had with no lights and no sounds apart from the waves gently lapping against the hull of the boat. What a great way to sample the beautiful nature of New Zealand.
Formed by volcanic activity and the shifting of the earth’s plates, New Zealand has mountains at every turn, especially picturesque because most of them plunge directly into an equally spectacular body of water.
Probably my favorite site was rounding the bend on the road from Christchurch to Nelson, bringing into full view the splendor of Mt. Cook dropping into the pristine blue lake of Lake Taupo.
Because of New Zealand’s significant rainfall and the variety of plants that populated the land when it broke off from the larger continent (way back when), it has very dense and lush vegetation throughout the entire country. In fact, many trees have been transplanted from the U.S. and grow significantly faster there than here.
When we were finished with our flightseeing to the top of the island, we had them drop us off at a beautiful waterfall where we could walk back to town on a nature path through a lovely green (ever present) forest on a river. Similar opportunities abound as there is always a body of water surrounded by green.
One area of the country is know for its glaciers which have a dazzling beauty all their own. And in winter the snow makes for decent snow skiing and other cold weather activities.
Another area is known for its underground springs. Driving through is like being in another world as steam escapes from frequent fissures and seems otherworldly. Bathing in these waters is purportedly good for the skin.
It’s no wonder the Hobbit and Lord of the Ring movies were filmed there because every type of topography is available (except a desert) to make for an impressive backdrop.
Many of our overseas trips have not been particularly relaxing or easy, but in New Zealand:
They only real challenge was driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road (for us) and with the driver on the opposite side of the car (right side). It took a little more effort in order to stay safe but was surprisingly easy after a time.
The whole country is one big outdoor playland. Home of the first bungee jump, they boast almost any other outdoor activity you might want:
Outside Queenstown we decided to shake out our jet lag and bike in the vineyards. Katie, the owner/operator of the biking company picked us (we were with another couple) then stopped to pick up a third couple and we headed for the wine country, an area about an hour outside Queenstown. We biked for a bit on the Gibbston River Trail then stopped at Mount Rosa for a well orchestrated tasting of about 7 of their wines. Back on the bikes to Kinross for another tasting of wines from several vineyards followed by picnic lunch by a pond. Then back to the bikes to our third and last vineyard, Rockburn.
She offered for us to ride for a little while longer to meet up with her at another tasting room. We all, unwisely, decided we should get some more exercise and ended up on the ride from hell into 20 mile per hour headwinds. We were really glad to see the end of the ride come though we had a fabulous day of tasting amazing wines and meeting fun, informative vineyard workers.
I could go on but you get the drift. We went in the summer so it was good weather for all our excursions and because tourism is a huge portion of their economy, they offer endless options for enjoying their country’s landscape and nature.
The only two downsides for travel to New Zealand:
Plus, we never did see a kiwi bird because they’re nocturnal, fairly rare in the wild and very difficult to see, even in the zoo.
Our trip started January 1st with a January 3rd arrival even though the flight was only 13 hours from Los Angeles. And we arrived home to Austin 3 hours before we left. It’s a head scratcher for sure!
I would highly recommend a New Zealand vacation … it is worth the effort if you want a truly fun, relaxing and enjoyable vacation!