Fall break at my U.S. university consists of two whole days, enough time to make it back home, take a bite of turkey, and head right back to the books. It is a mere shadow of fall break here. Despite that, my three whole weeks of freedom flew by in a flash. I cite the good company, good food, and good adventures. Three weeks ago, my parents landed in Christchurch and I got to play tourist and tour guide across the South Island. It’s a lot to recap in one post so grab a seat, settle in. Hopefully this will help me cope with the family and adventure withdrawals I’m feeling right now. I better do this post justice, since half of my audience was actually there this time.
Day 1 started off easy, simple. I met my parents at their B&B (lucky ducks) to start off the trip taking a tour of Christchurch. Mostly meaning we walked for quite a ways and I pointed out the sights I’ve seen. We hit the main attractions: Re:start mall, Cathedral Square, Botanic Gardens, Avon River, construction, etc. Our first meal was also a highlight: wine and tapas in the sunshine of the botanic gardens. (Since I love food, I’m going to mention the food frequently in this post. I ate considerably better than on my road trips with kids my age; thanks mom and dad).
Much to all your excitement, at dinner I finally had another fish taco! Since it is clearly the highlight of my blog, let me commence another review. We ate at Dux Central, mostly to give my parents a taste of good New Zealand beer. It was only natural that the beer was the high point of the meal, the fish taco average. The sauce was both zesty and creamy but the other add-ins were a bit lacking. I really liked the Parrotdog beers I had, so I’d recommend those to any visitors to NZ. Also, to any fish taco lovers out there, be aware that the tacos here are usually beer battered. (I’m not complaining, but some people might).
The next day, we took baby steps away from Christchurch. The adventure of the day was Taylors Mistake/Godley Head. Some winding, narrow roads later, we made it to a coastline that had some strong resemblances with the Big Sur coast. Less trees, more sheep, but reminded me of home all the same. We could make out silhouettes of mountains on the hazy horizon; I can only imagine the view on a clear day. Despite the worrisome clouds, we lucked out on weather; it started to rain as soon as we parked ourselves at a cafe for a very late lunch, adventure complete. I let my mom order an ice coffee (sorry Mom). If I was a good daughter I would have said something, but instead I let the waiter bring something more milkshake than coffee. I have yet to find coffee with ice here–it’s usually coffee with ice cream.
The rain caught up with us on the true first day of our road trip as we headed up through Arthur’s Pass. Unfortunately, we couldn’t actually see much of the mountaintops due to the low-lying clouds. However, it was perfect pie weather. I had to introduce the New Zealand meat pie to my parents and Sheffield’s Pie Shop is the best place to do that. With the warm comfort of meat and gravy, the rain and the clouds didn’t deter us from stopping for a pit-stop-hike, as mom & dad had some new rain gear to induct into service. We were a good lookin’ family, let me tell you.
We ventured up to Devil’s Punchbowl in the mist (I’ll admit, the rain wasn’t terrible) only to find the viewing platform I’d been to last time closed due to some damage. Naturally, I forced my parents to blaze a trail underneath it, so they could see the waterfall. No missed opportunities.
We came, we saw, we conquered, and we were off again (not before I got my sticker though), through the pass that experienced a slight lifting of the clouds the further we drove. We pulled over just after the bridge that everyone knows, but I don’t know its name, and much to my delight, a kea waited for us in the parking lot. I’d been waiting to get up close with one of these mischievous buggers so it was a definite check off the NZ bucket list.
(PSA to all tourists: don’t feed the birds. It may look like they want it, but it’s bad for them, both behaviorally and physiologically. Actually, scratch that, don’t feed the wildlife in general. Admire it, don’t interfere. Wildlife biologist rant over.)
Over the mountains and through the woods, we made it to the West Coast. We stayed the night in a little town called Hokitika, where I can’t tell if it’s famous for anything other than the driftwood sculpture of the town’s name.
Our first order of business in the town was to touch the Tasman Sea (as in, it was more my mom’s, as she beat both of us to it). But hey, there are only two country’s coastlines where you can touch this body of water so it’s a pretty unique claim to fame.
We hunted for green stone (jade), maybe found some, probably did not, and admired the sheer amount of skipping stones before heading down the road to explore some short nature walks and find the right road to the gorge. I made the mistake of wearing Birkenstocks on our 20 minute jaunt through the jungle–my ankles still have marks from the descent of sand flies to my bare skin. They were already itching when we headed to our second walk, which turn into a surprise panorama and a conversation with a Kiwi hydrologist instead. His dogs had rolled in something dead, so were not allowed out of the car (it turns out some things are a global phenomena).
I’m not surprised we found ourselves in a cheese shop after that nor a pizza place after. We love our food. The next morning was the food highlight of Hokitika: a little cafe that greeted us with something along the lines of “The cheese scones are fresh out of the oven. You’re just in time!” When they say something like that, bleeding with authenticity, you know you made the right choice. The scones and quiches were excellent fuel for the rainy Hokitika Gorge adventure. The rain didn’t let up the entire time we drove to the gorge, walked down to the gorge, and walked back. It was only after we returned to the car could we see the sunlight approaching from the mountains beyond. The gorge itself was still gorgeous (haha) and worth the stop. The best part came on the drive out, where we drove straight under the most vibrant rainbow I’d ever seen. Never had I seen one so low either.
On recommendation from the hydrologist for our commute to Fox Glacier, we stopped at the town of Okarito to marvel at the coast once again while feeling the wrath of sand flies. Before that, we made a pit stop at Lake Ianthe, just for the sake of it. That was the spirit of our road trip: stop when something catches your eye and stop to reveal another layer of New Zealand’s character.
Upon arrival, rain unsurprisingly bombarded Fox Glacier. The forecast wasn’t entirely promising for our up-close and personal tour of the glacier. However, the rain was kind enough to pause just long enough the next day to let the helicopters fly and I’m entirely glad it did. Walking on a glacier was something I didn’t realize was on my bucket list until it happened. We had a lovely Scotsman as our guide, who led us with his pickaxe across the ice, pointing out water we could drink and holes we could fall or crawl into. I even licked the glacier, which is a missed opportunity if you’ve ever been on one and haven’t. If I had to pick a highlight of the road trip, this would be up there.
Afterwards we took a short loop around Lake Matheson, but missed out on the perfect reflection opportunity, thanks to raindrops and clouds. It wasn’t too heartbreaking. The day had been rewarding enough.
The second pit stop recommendation of the hydrologist was Ships Creek, found on the way from Fox to Wanaka. Though the weather had cleared, the sand flies had not, so our rain gear stayed on.
We took a jaunt through a swamp, admiring the sheer amount of ferns and moss laden trees, leaping over a few partially flooded trails, trying to find the birds filling the air with song. Eventually, the path turned into the nice, wooden platforms we get spoiled by and we followed that back to the beach and Dune Lake.
I slept for most of the drive after that (thanks dad for the car sickness genes) but we did stop a few times once we hit Mount Aspiring National Park. The road into Wanaka is laden with places to stop and admire a waterfall, a view, a river, some mountains, you name it. We revisited the Blue Pools, but they were rather green this time.
I was excited to be back in Wanaka. With mountain views in every directions and a quiet tourist excitement breaking into the laid back atmosphere, it’s my kind of place. My parents and I took a stroll around the lake (most of it) and there truly isn’t a bad angle. The trees had given up their green for gold and shaded the path in that subtle fall magic.
Our B&B had a beautiful glimpse of a distant glacier, set behind a soft hillside dotted with horses. Over the hill, was the winery I visited last time and I found it a little ironic that I walked right past the B&B, a little annoyed at the hill and glad to never see it again (I was hungry and wanted wine, okay), only to find myself enjoying the view with breakfast at the top. I did end up back at the winery, but this time I didn’t have to walk there.
It was also nice to eat at the actual restaurants of Wanaka and try some local brew. I say this because I had one of my favorite beers so far at a share plate restaurant called Kika. It was the Rusty Peg red ale from Ground Up Brewing, surprising even me since I generally consider myself an IPA person. After a bit of research I think I can only get it again if I’m in the Wanaka-Queenstown area. A bit disheartening, but it’s just another reason to head through to Queenstown.
The next day was Easter. Strange to not start off the day with an egg hunt and oodles of family, but starting off with a hike and a chocolate kiwi is a fine compromise for me. Since I don’t know if I could handle Roy’s Peak again, we opted for a less intense but nearly as scenic ascent up the Rocky Mountain track at Diamond Lake Conservation Area.
The autumn leaves were at it again in the willows framing the lake. The rest of the shrubby hillside strongly reminded me of California (but it seems a lot of these landscapes are reminding me of home these days, and home is also a lot less prickly). After a bit of rock scrambling and a bit of picture taking, we made it to the top to soak in the view and finally eat that cheese from the cheese shop. From there it was a trip to the winery and yet another fabulous dinner (thanks mom and dad, you have a very grateful college kid).
The final stop of leg 1 of the road trip was Queenstown. I was only there for half a day, as I had to fly back to Christchurch for a field trip in my ecology class. I might talk about that here, or write a short post where I try not to bore you talking about t-tests and sampling methods. Before I left, we managed to take the gondola, ride the luge, see the views, and eat a the cafe of the year (or at least that’s what the hotel manager told us). My flat white “art” was a silver fern, so they get points for that.
Then I was out, flying over the mountains and trying to finish my book so I could send it home with my parents. Four days later, we were reunited and leg 2 of the road trip commenced. This time just to my backyard: Akaroa, on the gorgeous Banks Peninsula I hadn’t had a chance to visit.
We stayed at another B&B, a working farm tucked away in the green hills. Upon arrival, we were greeted by two of the farm dogs, Griz, a very enthusiastic fellow, and Ned, a old man with a few quirks. Maybe it’s just me, but any place with dogs as loyal employees rarely lets you down.
The farm itself was lovely. I honestly think that’s the perfect word to describe it. The house rested between two hills, with a creek coiling adjacent and filling the air with the tranquility of running water. Sheep wandered on the crest of the hills, somehow always when the light struck them best. We wandered through the property on recommendation from the B&B owners, only missing the signs once and getting lost trying to find the waterfall. We eventually found it. Saw some photogenic cows and a kererū in the process.
Akaroa quieted down after sun down, but we managed to find a restaurant with a pun (Harbar.. it was on the harbor.. it was a bar) and I managed to find yet another fish taco!! The fish was was melt right off the bone (if there was bone) under the fried goodness. Very happy with my taco.
However, the food highlight was the farm breakfast provided by our lovely host. Eggs, yogurt, toast, good conversation, our days started off on the right foot. Akaroa is no place that stands to ruin the days either. We lucked out with full sunshine and only remnants of the rain on our muddy trail up to Heritage Park, catching gorgeous views and birdsong. After we made our way down, we had time to kill before our boat tour so we did the only natural thing: eat. A fish and chips cart on the pier called our name. It turned out to be some nontraditional fish and chips–not fried, but grilled. Juicy and a whole lot of protein.
We needed a few more loops around the block to kill time, hitting all the art galleries and the lighthouse. Eventually though, we got on the the boat and were greeted by the dolphin-detecting dog and a glass of wine.
It only got better as we cruised at the bay, marveling at the coastal cliffs and catching a glimpse of penguins bobbing around us as we headed out to the marvelously blue Pacific. Not only did we catch a glimpse of Hector’s dolphins (the rarest dolphin in the world), but young fur seals and more cool rocks as well. Then the fog set in and we couldn’t see much of anything. It chased us all the way back to the harbor as our captain made jokes about ending up in Chile. We didn’t, which unfortunately meant I had to go back to Christchurch.
We got one last breakfast and said goodbye to the farm dogs. Before I knew it, my parents were packing up in my flat’s parking lot. Two weeks were done, just like that. Time is a strange creature; it still feels like it was just yesterday I was showing my parents around Christchurch, and the two weeks went by faster than I wanted them too. Sign of a good time, I guess? It would be dishonest if I lied and told you there were no moments of hanger and indecision just like any trip. I don’t know how my parents feel but it seemed like there were a lot less than normal family vacations. I cite New Zealand itself and the magic in this country. That and the choose-your-own-adventure mentality we adopted towards our activities.
It’s raining? Oh well, we can either sit in the car or go see a waterfall. No plans? Let’s walk around the lake. Been in the car too long? Pull over. Nothing is ever perfect, but I believe your attitude towards setbacks and adventures alike has the ability to determine if you’ll look back on the trip through the window of lost opportunities or through moments seized. There were many moments seized on this trip, and the adventure was a good one.
Thanks Mom & Dad for an incredibly remarkable (or remarkably incredible) trip. Couldn’t ask for better partners in adventure and I definitely couldn’t be here without you guys. If there’s anything of significance I left out in this recap, let me know 🙂
“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – J.R.R Tolkein, The Hobbit.
The final pictures of the trip from the ridge overlooking Akaroa