In this introduction:
- a country with modern cities;
- a country with local cultures;
- a country with insane beauty.
- Introduction (this page)
- the Cities: Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch
- North Island Road Trip
- South Island Road Trip
I have been to many places, travelled to quite a few nations of great wonder and immense beauty, yet one hole in my travels existed for years, staring down at me and any devout follower of this blog with a snicker. This gaping hole is New Zealand. Many have asked me about my opinion of New Zealand, but would find themselves as uninformed as I was. Yes, I may know a thing or two about Japanese hanami hotspots, Kilimanjaro peak formations, or Finnish cuisine tricks, but New Zealand is a blank for me. And this is for a reason: I have always known this place as a place of incredible wonder, but it is not for a backpacker to do it alone. These islands are reserved for non-solo adventures, and it is the hardest kind of adventure for me to embark upon.
Luckily, I met Chacha during L.A.S.T. in Himeji, and we reunited again during my brief visit in Chengdu later in the year. I was bored and asked her if she would like to go somewhere as I was starting to grow incredibly agitated for staying in a place for too long after supposedly giving up long haul journeys after L.A.S.T. However, she is a Chinese citizen and cannot go to a lot of incredible places willy-nilly, so I had little hope. However, it turned out that she accidentally applied for a New Zeland long-term visa a few years ago, as everyone does. (Who has not accidentally handed in his or her passport to random embassies around the world am I right?) As a result, we decided to go for a roadtrip in New Zealand, in the dead of winter, July. Finally, I found someone to go on a journey with, and it would be the place probably most suitable for non-solo travel.
North Island Road Trip map
I followed the model I learned in The Run 2017, and rented a campervan. It was hella fun. We began in the city of Auckland, continued east, around Coromandel Peninsula, all the way to East Cape via Tauranga and Rotorua. In Rotorua, a small town with steam gushing out everywhere, we were invited into the local Maori village for a unique perspective of kiwi history and an incredible dance performance.
At the easternmost tip of North Island, we watched the first sunrise on the globe, before heading down the coast and discovering the little settlement of Waipiro Bay. A tiny church stood by the sea on the black sandy beach, waiting for something to happen. After a quick stop in Tolaga Bay admiring the long docking brdige, we reached Gisbourne, a city of incredible tranquility.
After an overnight at the beautiful and calm Mahia Beach, we continued south, passing Mohaka Viaduct, the highest railway viaduct in southern hemisphere, and took a walk in the forests of Tangoio Falls Scenic Reserve. Then, we reached the southernmost point of this trip, the small town of Napier. It seems to be stuck in 1950s, constantly broadcasting old radio swing music over the wide, open streets hugged by Art-Nouveau buildings that never realized Soviet Union was no more. Finally, 2 hours of mountain road brought us back to Rotorua, where we rested in a holiday park that allows you to dig your own hot spring in the mud.
We passed by Sanctuary Mountain looking for tui birds and kiwi, the internet-famous Blue Spring for the clearest water I have ever seen, and Waitomo Caves for the absolute wonder that is the glowworms. Finally, our last stop is Hamilton, a large city by New Zealand standards. Its iconic gardens featured styles from over a dozen countries, which is truly unique in the world. We ended our trip 7 days after the beginning, barely touring a half of the North Island, but it was absolutely gorgeous and unbelievably wonderful. Yet sadly, our New Zealand adventure had to be concluded due to restraining time and budget.
New Zealand is the kind of country that you wish you had never realized it existing. The moment you arrive at this magical place, you are a changed man/woman. We were both so hooked onto the breathtaking sceneries and friendly locals that we decided to go again, just two months later, in September. Yes, I always resisted going to this place, but the moment I left there after my first trip, I began seriously plotting my next visit. For a seasoned voyager like me, it was unprecedented, and until today, no other country has casted this strong of a spell onto me. Unbelievably, even to myself, we finalized anoter trip just 10 days after our return, which took place a mere month after our first one. So, I flew back to Auckland first for a few days as a visit, since Chacha had to work. I had extra time so I began exploring the only major city in this nation.
I fully explored the gorgeous city parks, indulged in its international collection of cuisine, and found myself surrounded by the friendliest bunch of kiwis ever. Then I took a short hop to the capital, Wellington, as I encountered some of the sunniest days in my existence, both physically and mentally. The small capital of this “Canada in the South” completely blew me away, especially so if you count the strong gusts Wellington is known for.
Finally, a quick hop took me to the capital of South Island, Christchurch. This is a city inundated by a disaster after another, but it stood strong, and let me make this clear, remarkably beautiful. It is unlike any other city I have ever seen, and I doubt there is any city out there that can even shine a light on this unfortunate yet unwielding regional capital. The calm Avon River, the vibrant underground food scene, and the cultural resurgance, all told those who wish ill upon the city that Christchurch will perservere no matter what.
Yet, this was just the beginning, oh boy, you have no idea. The real fun was the South Island roadtrip. This is the best I had ever had, and there is solid evidence as proof. We got a bigger van this time for our drive through the southern counterpart of our northern adventure, and that allowed us to travel more in relative comfort without breaking the bank.
South Island Roadtrip map
I picked up Chacha at Christchurch airport, headed all the way down south, past the mountain passes and eventually reached the eye-burstingly blue Lake Tekapo, along with its truly breathtaking Church of the Good Shephard.
From there, it was all the way north from the next lake, Lake Pukaki, to the foothills of Mt.Cook/Aoraki, the tallest peak in New Zealand. A hike would take me all the way to Hooker Lake, right at the perfect angle to look up towards the giant. Then, a few hours south, passing Oamara where I reunite with an old friend, we continued to the city of Wanaka. No word can describe how jealous I am of the residents of this astoundingly beautiful town. As if a perfectly reflective lake right in front of the heart of the town is not enough, that Wanaka tree sits right at the edge of the water… Wow, just, wow.
Then we crossed westwards towards the much less-traveled West Coast. We had an in-season whitebait patty in the tiny settlement of Haast, before proceeding towards the ultimate adventure: Glacier Country. The long undulating road is hugged by gigantic snowy peaks and fierce Pacific Ocean, while slithering through waterfalls, lakes, swamps, forests and glacial moraine. Right by Fox Glacier, we caught a glimpse of the famous reflection at Lake Matheson, and then just a few kilometers away, we got to face nature’s carver, Franz Yosef Glacier, right at our feet. Finally, the small campground at Okarito caught my heart. A tiny village of 26 people hosted us at the beach, where I collected driftwood to start a fire, illuminating the milky way and those snowy giants in the back… This is the only place in the world that I decided to break my itinerary and stay one more night at all costs. It is well worth it, and I would do it again.
Next stop is the oceanside town of Hokitika, where we visited a kiwi enclosure, fed 80-year-old eels, saw a sunset literally burning red, and found ourselves in a forest full of glowworms, all on the same day. Yes, life is that insane here on the west coast, and damn do I wish I can be back right at this minute! For our last destination, we traveled acrossed the Alps on the historic Route 73, via the grandiose Arthur’s Pass, eventually reaching the other side of South Island, at the authentically-French town of Akaroa. At this place, we found ourselves at a mesmerizingly calm volcanic bay, surrounded by tall mountains filled with sheep and flowers. The tiny Flea Bay also harbored homes for hundreds of penguins, not to mention the myriad of delicious food put on offer by the local French chefs. What a place!
Let the Magic Happen
So here ends the introduction, and begins the magic of New Zealand. To make the journals more organized, I have decided to merge my two separate trips into one: New Zealand 2019. The three part journal of this trip will be divided into the following:
Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, the three largest settlements of this gorgeous country will definitely surprise you with their extraordinary attractions.
The main cultural and economical center of the nation will prove to you that the natives and the colonizers can coexist; human inhabitance does not have to come at the expense of nature; and volcanoes are more than just mildly interesting.
The immaculate conception of Mother Nature brought us this piece of glorious land, devoid of a single spot of imperfection, and full of snowy peaks, azure lakes, crashing waves, and dense rainforests.
The Maori call New Zealand Aotearoa, meaning “the Land of the Long White Clouds.” It is rather easy to see, as Mt. Cook slices up clouds like a knife through butter on a daily basis. I have another name for it, though. I call it the ultimate destination, where a traveler becomes a self-fulfilled person, ascending over other forms, becoming one, with those long, white clouds.
Welcome to New Zealand.
Welcome to the place of spiritual purity.
Welcome to Aotearoa.
-=ForeverYoung|New Zealand 2019=-