After three and a half months exploring the South, Uschi and I are back on the North Island. Smaller, yet home to 70% of New Zealand's population, it's time to see what this beautiful gal has in store for us
When I talk to people about New Zealand, most tell me that the North and the South Islands are like night and day - completely different - practically separate countries. People recommend spending more time in the South. It's more beautiful, they say, more scenic. And they're not wrong. All the beautiful photographs you see of New Zealand - the towering mountains, impressive glaciers, grassy tussocks, wild west coast waves - chances are good they were taken in the South.
And although the South Island was everything I had hoped for and more, and how so much beauty can be crammed onto so small a land mass I'll never know, I feel the North calling me (maybe it's my Canadian roots), and I think it's time that we get better acquainted.
But before we do, I'd like to take a little time to look back on everything that Uschi and I have done over the past couple months since I last checked in. So pour yourself a cup (I'll let you decide of what), snuggle up, and read on to find out what in the world we've been up to lately!
1.) Visited Abel Tasman National Park (Twice)
Uschi and I visited Abel Tasman National Park twice during our time in the South. A beautiful National Park located near the northwest tip of the island, Abel Tasman is a GORGEOUS area of land overflowing with warm turquoise waters, sandy coastal beaches, lush green forest, and many beautiful birds.
Abel Tasman is a giant natural playground for adults and kids alike. Tramping, camping, boating, kayaking, swimming, you can do it all here! And you better believe that we did.
On our first visit we planned a multi-day hike across 3/4 of the Abel Tasman Great Walk. You can read about our adventures here. We camped in campsites, swam in the ocean, and covered almost 50km's in three and a half days.
On our second visit, we returned to experience the park in a different way. We decided to kayak in to a campsite for one night. What we didn't think about at the time, was that our kayak is not a sea kayak, meaning that it was a bit more difficult for us to maneuver the waves and wind, and that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING got wet.
It's easy to see why the park gets so busy during the summer months. Most of the walking trails are not overly difficult, and the beauty of the park is without compare. If you have a chance to visit this South Island gem, DO IT - I highly recommend.
2.) Worked On Our Van
After saving up a bit of cash working in Franz Josef, we set about doing some work to fix up our beautiful campervan Jack. For although we always loved him for who he was, we wanted to help him reach his full potential.
We found a Couchsurfing host in Christchurch who was willing to let us stay at his place for a couple weeks to complete the work. I'm still not completely convinced that John knew what he was getting himself into when he agreed to host us...
After weeks of working from dawn until dusk, enduring screaming matches with one another, making countless trips to Bunnings (the Home Depot of New Zealand), and pissing off John's neighbours (oops), we finally completed (almost) everything we wanted to.
When all was said and done, we had insulated; painted; installed flooring, walls, and a ceiling; wired an entire electrical system complete with a solar panel and deep cycle battery; cleaned; decorated; and made Jack our home. You can read all about the process here.
About a month later we returned to John's for a visit, and to finish a few small Jack-related projects. Previously, during the two weeks we had lived at John's, there were three to six people staying at any one time. When we returned however, I counted at least 15 backpackers when we arrived!
We slept in our van on the street, but during the day got to know the other Couchsurfers and reconnected with a few friends from our first stay. It was wonderful sharing meals and conversation with people from all over the world. We even headed downtown to attend the Night Noodle Market one evening and were treated to live music from UB40.
We truly couldn't have done what we did without John. He offered support, advice, and was always willing to help. If you're ever in Christchurch and in need of advice, travel tips, or just a friendly chat, you should give him a call.
And if you’re reading this John, thank you for everything!
3.) Worked on a Vineyard
After spending exuberant amounts of money on our van, we needed to work for a bit to save some money for the rest of our summer travels. We had a couple of weeks until my parents were set to arrive, so we decided to look for some short-term vineyard work in Blenheim - the Kelowna of New Zealand - land of rolling hills and bright sunny skies.
While making our way up the East Coast from Christchurch to Blenheim, we ended up picking up a hitchhiker called Toby. He was heading back to Blenheim after a Christmas holiday, where he had a job working for a labour company that contracts workers out to vineyards. Luckily for us, he offered to help connect us with a job.
Soon after arriving, we secured a job and were set to work leaf plucking, bunch thinning, bud rubbing and every other task you can think of that has to do with growing grapes.
We rotated between staying at two freedom camp spots in the area, assuring that we didn't have to pay for accommodation, and would often visit the river in the afternoons to swim.
We worked with a ton of other backpackers, met some pretty cool people, and earned a bit of cash. We got to spend our days in the hot hot sun, and although the work was boring, it was still miles better than bud thinning on the kiwi orchards.
4.) Road Tripped the South Island with Mom & Dad
We met up with mom and dad in Nelson after our first visit to Abel Tasman. They rented an Airbnb for us all to stay in on our first night together, so that we could spend some time with each other and catch up.
Our first night together was spent recounting adventures - both ours and theirs. Mom recently joined dad in retirement, and they had been enjoying a two-month trip around Hawaii and New Zealand. Safe to say we had a lot to talk about.
We went out for an all vegan dinner at East Street - a restaurant in Nelson (mom's choice) - and ended up passing our plates around the table, and sharing the whole meal because everything was SO delicious.
10/10 recommend this place!
The following day we embarked upon our 10-day roadtrip. After dad got in some golf (of course), we headed out of Nelson, destination: Westport.
You might ask why were we going to Westport. Good question. Uschi and I had heard it was a cool place to go - a laid-back, rugged, west coast surfer town - and it was in some ways. But in most ways it was just a very sleepy little town with not much to see or do.
Nevertheless, we had a wonderful dinner at the one restaurant that was open and welcoming customers, after which we spontaneously decided to drive a few kilometres out of town to visit the seal colony.
Turns out this was the best decision we could have made. We were treated to a beautiful sunset and saw many seals.
We woke early the next morning to get a head start on the day's drive to Okarito. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time for the many scenic stops along the way on our drive down the West Coast.
Our first stop was the Truman Track - a short 10 minute walk (one way) to a lookout and beach, with a Jurassic Park feel.
Next, we stopped at the touristy Pancake Rocks in Punakaki. It wasn't quite high tide when we arrived, so we were unable to witness the blowholes, but the scenery was impressive nonetheless. Plus, we saw our first penguin! (albeit from afar)
We stopped for a quick lunch near the beach in Hokitika, and then continued on our way to Okarito.
We decided to stay in Okarito because it's quieter and less touristy than Franz Josef. Uschi and I paid for the campground across the street from my parents' Airbnb and then we went for our FIRST ever ride in our kayak!
Mom and dad even had a go!
Afterwards we cooked dinner together and went for a rainy night walk in the hopes of seeing a kiwi (sadly we did not), before turning in.
The next morning, we woke to rain, and because we had another long drive ahead of us we decided to head out early. Unfortunately, my parents were unable to see much of Franz Josef because of the rain and clouds, but we did stop in Fox Glacier for a coffee and a quick walk around Lake Matheson (1.5-hour loop) as the weather had cleared a bit by then.
We drove down the West Coast towards Haast Pass, stopping here and there at a beach or lookout along the way. We lunched at a campspot near the Blue Pools, enjoying the mountain views before embarking on the short walk to the pools.
We watched a few brave souls jump from the bridge and although dad and Uschi dipped their feet in, I was the only one who went for a swim in the freezing waters.
From there it was only a short 40-minute drive to the beautiful city of Wanaka. Uschi and I paid for another campground, and after mom and dad settled into their Airbnb, we decided to check out a local brewery - Rhyme and Reason - before grabbing dinner (complete with tequila shots).
We took the next day off from driving, and spent the full day in Wanaka. Dad played a round of golf, and Uschi took a little "me time," while mom and I walked the beach, found the famous Wanaka tree, and swam in the lake.
That evening after dinner, based on a suggestion from mom, we decided to take in a movie. I know, I thought it was weird too. Going to a movie on a beautiful evening in on of the most outdoorsy cities in New Zealand? Madness.
But this was no ordinary movie theatre. The interior was covered in movie posters, the concession served a full food and beverage (yes alcoholic too) menu, and movie goers are able to take everything into the theatre.
The theatre is filled with cozy couches to sit on, and two lucky patrons can even sit in a car to watch the film. At intermission (yes there is an intermission), patrons are able to purchase FRESH BAKED cookies, hot from the oven to enjoy (and they are sooooo good).
As someone who loves going to the movies, I really enjoyed this experience. We watched the movie Green Book and I highly recommend it. It's beautiful.
We had a short drive ahead of us the next day, as we were headed to the adventure capital of the world. Queenstown: where tourists can spend hundreds of dollars to bungy, ski, hike, swing, sail, fly, parachute and any other activity you can think of.
Before we headed into Queenstown itself, I persuaded everyone to stop at AJ Hackett, the world's first bungy jump. I was about 98% sure that I wanted to face my fear and bungy while there, but I had to see the site with my own eyes before I could make my final decision.
Thrill seekers jump from a bridge at a height of 43 meters, with the option of a water touch. We stood on the viewing deck watching jump after jump, and every time someone's feet left the platform a little shiver of fear and anticipation ran through me. That could be me, I thought. That will be me.
After an hour or so of watching, I decided that today wasn't the day. Plus I could tell that mom was totally bored, so we left the bridge behind (with my silent promise to return), and headed into the city.
My first impression of central Queenstown: BUSY. Holy damn there are a lot of tourists. Downtown was flooded with people, and I must say, I was very happy that Uschi was driving.
From what I can tell, Queenstown is basically the Banff of New Zealand. Home to ski bums in the winter, outdoor enthusiasts in the summer, and tourists ALL YEAR ROUND.
When we got into town, Uschi and I split up from my parents for a few hours so that I could prepare my dad's secret Christmas present.
Allow me to explain.
This past Christmas I was fortunate (cough not fortunate cough), to pull my dad's name in our family secret santa. My dad is the most challenging person to buy for. I don't really know why, he just is. And yes, I could have bought him something golf related as I do every other year, but this year I wanted to be different.
I crafted a Facebook post explaining my predicament - that I was a broke backpacker who had pulled her father's name in family secret santa, that I was on the other side of the world with no clue what to get him, and that shortly following my mother's retirement my parents were embarking upon a two-month journey to Hawaii and then to New Zealand to visit me.
I explained how cute my parents are (duh), and that as best friends who love to travel and explore new places together, they are basically the ultimate #relationshipgoals
The catch is that whenever they travel they always end up with a million selfies, or as they prefer to call them ussies (so cute right?), and although they ARE very cute, they rarely end up with any photos that involve more than just their faces.
Now that mom and dad are both retired, I wanted to do something for them to celebrate this milestone moment in their lives. Something acknowledging all that they have achieved, and celebrating all that is yet to come.
I put a call out for photographers, and posted it to a New Zealand Backpacker group (along with a few good examples of mom and dad's ussies of course). The response I got was phenomenal! So many people reaching out to help, or to offer support. Many people offering to do the photo shoot for free, or tagging friends who might be interested in offering their services.
Eventually I got into contact with a photographer from Christchurch called Gemma, who offered to help me out. She was planning a road trip down to Queenstown (where I wanted the photoshoot to happen) with her boyfriend anyways so it worked out perfectly.
I planned for the photo shoot to happen the evening we arrived in Queenstown, and arranged for mom and dad to meet Gemma down by the lake at 6:30. Although they knew that dad was about to receive his present, they still didn't know what it was, or what they would be doing, until the moment they arrived.
The results were fabulous, and if you're ever in New Zealand and in need of a photographer, here is a link to her Facebook page - Gemma Coutts Art.
The following day was the day of our big trip to Milford Sound. We had originally planned to drive, but to give dad a bit of time off behind the wheel mom decided to book us on a bus tour instead.
As one would expect, taking the bus offered both pros and cons. If we had been driving, I have no doubt we would have stopped hundreds more times to check out the scenery, but then we probably wouldn't have arrived at Milford until midnight, so upon further reflection maybe that's actually a pro...
The fact that dad had time to snap all these incredibly unflattering pictures of me is definitely a con.
Our driver was fabulous at his job. He had the whole 'bus-tour-guide-thing' down to a T. We learned so much from him about history, geography, the birds, and the land. And the best part was that we all got to relax a bit and really enjoy the scenery.
Once at Milford we boarded the Maiden of Milford for our scenic boat ride. It was a bit misty, cloudy, and rainy, which upon first glance might be seen as a con; however, it made for some FANTASTIC waterfalls, and made the journey seem so much more mystical and mysterious. Life is all about perspective!
We all had an amazing time on the boat, although none of us more than mom I expect.
Well okay, and maybe Uschi. She and dad had a whale of a time counting all the waterfalls we saw - I believe 25 was the final count.
When we had returned safely back to Queenstown that evening, we decided to go for a beer and some dinner. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that I had forgotten my wallet on the bus...which had both mine and Uschi's passports in it.
Panic mode ensue.
Mom and dad went into problem-solving-mode, sending emails, making phone calls, looking up information about the Canadian Embassy. Uschi went to go check the van and backpacks just in case, and I sat with my head in my hands at the kitchen table berating myself for being a complete dunce.
BUT, remember that amazing bus driver I told you about, LUCKILY he found my wallet, had emailed mom, AND was willing to drive all the way to our Airbnb to drop it off. The six-pack of beer we gave him was definitely an inadequate thank you for all the trouble he saved us.
By then it was nearing 9:00, and hungry, tired, and in desperate need of beer we set out in search of a restaurant that was still serving dinner. Shops close early in New Zealand, and although there were several restaurants still open, most were only serving drinks by the time we arrived. We ended up walking the streets for an hour until, amidst a flurry of shouting and whining, dad announced that he was going for a beer, screw the food!
Who could argue with that? We shrugged our shoulders and followed.
After a couple of rounds we had all calmed down a bit. Enough so that we were ready to re-open the discussion of dinner. But where does one go when both tipsy and hungry at midnight in Queenstown? Ferg Burger of course! The home to what I was told is the best burger in New Zealand, and possibly the world.
But at that point we were all so hungry that it didn't matter. And it WAS a good burger, I'll give it that. Just not good enough to justify waiting hours and hours in line for (which tourists do at all hours of the day and night).
After a long day, our tummies finally satisfied with food and beer, we hit the sack.
We set out from Queenstown the following morning, me determined that this was going to be the morning that I jump off a bridge.
I was very close to bungy jumping one other time in my life. I was 18-years-old and living in Costa Rica for two-months. It was the final weekend of my stay and a few friends persuaded me to make the trip down to San Jose to jump the popular bungy there. I had juuuuust psyched myself up enough to make the trip, when I discovered that the bridge was closed for its annual maintenance. Right during the one and only weekend I could go.
But, since learning that New Zealand is home to the world's first bungy jump, I convinced myself that I was 100% (okay 98%) prepared to face this fear.
We arrived at AJ Hackett and as soon as I saw the bridge my stomach did a little flutter.
Uschi wanted to do the jump as well, but was still slightly hesitant. Giving her time to decide, I barrelled down the stairs to the desk to book my jump. I was in luck, they had two spots open in 15 minutes!
Uschi made her way down the stairs, and I ran up to her saying that we can do our jumps in about 15 minutes if we book now. Still slightly hesitant, but with a determined look in her eyes, she said okay.
A few minutes later we were on the bridge waiting in line to be fitted into our gear. Uschi graciously let me go first, and as I climbed onto the little platform she was by my side offering encouraging words.
I could barely register what the employee was saying as he clipped and harnessed me into my gear. He wrapped a towel from Bed Bath & Beyond around my ankles, and I wondered just what the hell I had gotten myself into. As I did my best to answer his calming questions, I found myself unable to take my eyes from the ledge.
I am going to jump off that.
I was forced to wait a few extra excruciating minutes on the platform, while a couple did a joint bungy. Suddenly, Another One Bites The Dust began blaring from the speakers, and I thought hell no, this is a terrible song to bungy to! I told the employee so, and he assured me he would change it before my jump.
The moment of truth. They asked me if I had any final questions and explained to me what was about to happen.
"You are going to shuffle up as close to that edge as you can, smile and wave into that camera, smile and wave into that camera, I am going to count to five, and then you are going to jump. You are going to jump on the first try, because you're only making it worse on yourself if you don't."
I already knew this. It was the first jump or not at all. What I didn't know was just how freaking terrifying it would be to shuffle up the edge of that platform. As I shuffled, I kept one hand on the wall and one hand on the poor employee who was ushering me forward.
" A little farther, don't worry, I've got you."
Oh yea, I'm not worried, not worried at all.
I had planned to look brave, tough, happy even in my photos, but nope. The universe had other plans for me. I ended up looking flipping terrified, which is exactly what I was.
He began his count.
"Five, four, three, two, one..."
I hurtled my body off the ledge.
It happens very quickly, and it's over just as fast as it begins. There were a few seconds of panic as I was flying through the air, but before my brain could even register what was happening, I was snapped back and began flying manically through the air, spinning in circles. Only then did my body give into the adrenaline that had been building up and I began hyperventilating.
Two employees in a yellow dingy yelled at me to grab the pole they offered up, and then pulled me down to safety.
Those poor guys were just trying to calm me down, trying to get me to pose for one last picture, and all I could do was shake, hyperventilate, and try my best not to cry.
"Hey, you did it." One of them said to me encouragingly as I climbed off the boat. I offered a quick nod before I promptly bursted into tears.
I then watched from below as my beautiful, courageous girlfriend executed the most perfect swan-dive.
Damn. What a woman.
Riding the high of our jumps we hit the road planning to camp somewhere near Mount Cook for the night.
We camped at a holiday park located 20-minutes outside of Mount Cook Village. We swam in Lake Pukaki, and Uschi cooked us a delicious curry dinner while we enjoyed the stunning sunset and views of the mountain.
Mom and dad spent the night sleeping in Jack, while Uschi and I camped under the stars, barely surviving the crazy gale-force winds that blew all night.
The following morning we awoke to a gorgeous sight.
Unfortunately it was raining, and as we drove closer to Mount Cook Village, the rain only intensified. This halted our plans of doing a hike, and instead sent us into a local cafe for coffee before heading out to Lake Tekapo a bit earlier than planned.
Fortunately, the weather at Lake Tekapo was a bit more forgiving, and we were greeted with sunny blue skies. We set up camp at another holiday park, and set about exploring the small town.
We spent most of the day wandering about, drinking beer, and enjoying the sun at our campsite. This was our last day together, so we were determined to make the most of it.
In the evening we dined at the local Japanese restaurant, and as night fell we laid in the grass and watched the stars come out.
The following morning we said a tearful goodbye as we parted ways - mom and dad heading to Christchurch, while Uschi and I planned to head back to Lake Pukaki to do some kayaking and camping.
Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for us. The pulley for our power steering came loose, and we had to spend a couple hours waiting by the side of the road for a mechanic. It was Saturday in rural, South Island New Zealand, so it took a while.
When the mechanic finally showed up, he took our power steering completely off, and we decided that the best thing to do would be to go to Christchurch to find a new pulley and get it fixed right away.
Fortunately, this meant that we were able to meet up with mom and dad for one last evening! We met up in New Brighton for dinner and a sunset stroll down the pier.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel such a beautiful country with my parents, even if it was only for a short time. We saw, did, and visited so many incredible things and places, and I am happy to have shared that experience with them. They truly are the most wonderful parents I could ever wish for.
Uschi and I arrived back in the North, spent a few days in Wellington and a few days in Taupo before heading over to Hawkes Bay.
We plan to settle here near Napier for a few months to work, chill, make some friends, relax, and and breathe.
Uschi has begun work as a gardener, everyday bringing home giant zucchinis and pumpkins, armfuls or rhubarb, and barrels of lemons, and has been baking and juicing like crazy.
I have just been hired on as a server at a busy local eatery/lounge.
I am happy to be here, and to settle for a bit. Constantly being on the move exploring new places is incredible, but can get very taxing and exhausting as well. I believe that it's important to find balance, to find what works for you, and for us, this time is much needed.
Cheers to a bit of rest and relaxation, and a new kind of adventure!