“A wise traveler never despises his own country.”
– Carl Goldoni
We landed in Christchurch, New Zealand at 5:00am. With only three hours of sleep on the plane the night before we were eager to get to our Airbnb and get some rest, but alas upon our arrival our host informed us that we could not have our room until 5:00pm that evening. Needless to say it was a long first day on the South Island.
Christchurch is quite a small city, located on the east coast. Although the city does not have a lot to offer travellers, it was interesting to see it being rebuilt. Earthquakes are a common occurrence in New Zealand and a devastating earthquake hit Christchurch five years previous, causing serious damage to roads, historical buildings and many homes. Around every corner is construction of some kind and positive messages of hope are painted all around. Our favourite spot in the city, where we enjoyed the majority of our time, was the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The 21 hectares of large green space is filled with massive old trees and fragrant gardens. It is a popular spot for a picnic, a stroll or reading on a blanket.
We rented a car in Christchurch, through Ace Rentals, for our two week New Zealand road trip. We very rarely hire vehicles when we are travelling, but public transit is few and far between in NZ and we wanted the opportunity to move at our own pace. Our first travel day was routed at four hours of driving, which we turned into six, with our added spots to ogle at the incredible landscape that enveloped us. The drive from Christchurch, on the east coast, to Franz Josef Glacier Village, on the west coast, required us to drive all the way across the South Island, through an area called Arthur’s Pass. With mountain ranges as far as the eye could see, the stunning landscape made us feel a little like we were back home, on the west coast of Canada.
Franz Josef Glacier Village is a tiny town, with one strip of restaurants and hostels, tucked away in a valley. It felt great to be off the beaten track and out in the wilderness again. Travellers venture to this area for the hiking and views of the two glaciers, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Our second day there we hiked the Roberts Point Track, a 12.3km tramp up mountains, across rivers and over many swing bridges, ending at a lookout with a spectacular view of Franz Josef Glacier.
The next day we wanted to see Fox Glacier, but as a result of the blisters that I incurred during our intense hike the day before, we chose a much shorter track. We did the Fox Glacier Valley Walk, just 2.6.km to a view of the giant mass of ice. It is an ongoing debate between travellers and locals as to which glacier is more incredible. Personally, I’m not sure if it was because we worked so much harder to get to it, or if it was because it was the first glacier I had ever seen, or perhaps because it truly is that much more spectacular, but Franz Josef was my pick.
Our next destination on the South Island was Punakaiki, another tiny town, along the western coast, which is home to the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. Our first afternoon in the area we walked the Truman Track to a spectacular lookout point of the coast. That evening, after the sun had said goodnight, we strapped on our headlamps and ventured into the Punakaiki Cavern to have our first ever look at glowworms. It was fascinating enough, being in a cave at night, but we’ll never forget the moment the tight cave opened up into a vast cavern and we stared up at what looked like the twinkling stars of the night sky. It was amazing to witness the talents of such tiny creatures, lighting our way through the dark.
The following day we rented kayaks in the morning and paddled down the Porarari River. We were hoping to rent a canoe, but we have come to realize that they must only exist in Canada, and we added it to the list of things we miss from home. That being said, it was a fantastic morning of fighting rapids, floating downstream and wading in the crisp fresh water. That afternoon, our last afternoon in Punakaiki, we made our way to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. The famous rocks have been named as such because of their distinct look, like large piles of flapjacks, a natural phenomenon which scientists have yet to figure out. The years of crashing waves against these fragile rocks has caused erosion, in the form of large holes. At high tide when the waves are their most powerful against the rocks, water shoots through the holes and sprays out towards the sky. The blowholes are as much a sight for the ears as they are for the eyes and we watched and listened, inquisitively, for a long time as the sun was setting over the ocean.
As if being among the mountains, green forests and fresh water wasn’t making us feel at home enough, that afternoon we met the sweetest Canadian girl, named Amy. We shared food, wine and heartwarming conversation at our hostel that evening, until late into the night, talking about travel, adventures and, best of all, home. Although we shared a common bond of our thirst for adventure, and we all love meeting people from foreign and interesting countries, it had never felt so good to speak to a fellow Canuck; without having to worry about the number of times we were saying, “Eh?!” or having to explain what “May 2-4” is. Our eight hours with Amy warmed our hearts and reminded us that home is never that far away.
The next morning our time had expired on the South Island, but we wanted to get in a few more sights before our ferry, from Picton, to the North Island that afternoon, so we were up and out of Punakaiki by 4:00am. First stop, the seal colony of Cape Foulwind; we arrived just as the first light of day was hitting the rocks where the colony calls home. The moms and pops were groggy, while the pups were full of energy. Having never seen seals before, we stood there laughing at their clumsy movements and silly nature. As we continued to drive north, towards Picton. We found ourselves surrounded by beautiful green wineries to our left and right. We chose from the many in the area and stopped in at Clos Henri for a tasting for four local wines. We each selected our favourites and treated ourselves to two bottles before we continued on our way. Just prior to our arrival in Picton we had another reminder of home as we passed by a road called Uxbridge Street. We were starting to notice hints of home all over the place.
The four hour ferry ride that afternoon landed us in the capital city of Wellington on the southern tip of the North Island. That evening we met up with an old university friend of mine, Melissa and her Kiwi boyfriend Dylan, for dinner and drinks. They chose the trendy Havana Bar, where we shared tapas and sangria on a heated back patio. It was fantastic to see Melissa again, after five years apart, and it was even better for her to be in the presence of Canadians, as an expat in New Zealand. We got that same familiar feeling we had talking to Amy, like we were back in Canada again.
We had one day to see Wellington, which was perfect for the small city. We began our exploration at Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, which is free. Hours could be spent in this building full of Kiwi knowledge, artifacts and interactive exhibits. We learned about New Zealand wildlife, environment, natural disasters and the Maori peoples’ history within the country. The museum is located right at the harbour, so after a few hours spent there, we walked along the waterfront, past joggers and fisherman, all the way to Oriental Bay. The small city beach was busy with people and the bay was dotted with sailboats of all sizes. We then ventured into the city centre to check out the hipster ridden pedestrian promenaded, Cuba Street. We wrapped up the day with a trip to the new and old Parliament Buildings, where we admired the architecture.
That evening we met up with Melissa and Dylan again for dinner and a show. We just happened to be visiting Wellington in the middle of their performing arts festival, known as Fringe. Earlier that day, while strolling the city, Jeff and I had stopped into a few theatres to check out the performances taking place that evening. We had trouble deciding, with so much talent to choose from, but we ended up at a two woman show called “You Make Me Feel So Normal – A Tale of Two Enablers”. The women starring in the show had written it themselves about their relationship with each other, best friends. It was heartwarming laugh-out-loud comedy and the only thing better than the show, was being back in a theatre with my old theatre comrade, Melissa.
Again we were on the move, making our way to Tongariro National Park, located right in the middle of the North Island. We were early to bed our first night there, as we would be hitting the trail at 6:00am to hike the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We had our lunches packed, our water bottles full and our courage in our back pocket for those moments of weakness. Rated as one of the best hikes in the world, and within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the track allows trampers to venture around several active volcanoes and view the Emerald Lakes, which most definitely live up to their name. We were thrilled to have completed the hike in six hours and to still have the entire afternoon to relax back at camp.
After a well earned sleep-in the following morning we went for a drive to check out some nearby swimming spots that had been recommended to us. We landed, with our picnic lunch, at Tawhai Falls. As if the falls themselves were not beautiful enough, the water was absolutely crystal clear and sparked blue in the sun. Jeff got up the courage to take the leap from the 20ft falls, while I gladly watched and took photos. We thoroughly enjoyed our last day in the New Zealand countryside before heading to Auckland, our final NZ destination.
Our car rental was due back by 10am in Auckland, so it was yet another 4:00am morning to make it from Tongarigo, drop our bags at our Airbnb, and make it to the rental place on time. Once we had dropped the car, our day in Auckland began on Queen Street. Much like the Queen Street of Toronto this area is well know for good shopping and great restaurants, with views of the Auckland Sky Tower in the background, a smaller CN Tower. We passed by the Auckland Public Library and stopped in to see Shakespeare’s folio, which our guide book stated they had on display. Much to our dismay, the exhibit was under construction, however determined as I am, I asked at the special collections desk and was able to see, touch and read the first folio with my own two hands. Having dedicated much of my life to the art of theatre, this was quite literally a dream come true for me. Jeff and I read some of our favourite passages together and spent as much time as we could in the presence of genius, on a page. Following the library we walked through Waterloo Quadrant and Albert Park, before we made our way to the Auckland Harbour. After a long walk at the waterfront, we took the ferry from the city back to the North Shore borough of Beach Haven, where we were staying. The view of Auckland’s skyline from the water is fabulous and definitely the perfect way to take in the city as a whole.
Although we enjoyed Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, the true beauty of New Zealand is found outside of the cities; within the mountains, forests, glaciers, lakes and rivers. It was this beauty that reminded us of home and what a beautiful country we live in. In addition to the landscape, our Canadian encounters in NZ brought forth one of my favourite feelings, nostalgia. New Zealand showed us that, although we we’re not homesick, there is a lot about our incredible country that we miss while we’re on the road. Travelling has allowed us to develop an appreciation like no other for our friends, family and of course maple syrup, but also the stunning landscape of our homeland, which many Canadians tend to dismiss. With this new appreciation comes the effort I will make to see Canada through travellers’ eyes, with awe, wonder and amazement, from this point forth.