Travel always seems to turn out to be about the people that surround us and colour our experiences.
For our little trip around the South Island, New Zealand, we were accompanied by Vince’s cousin Caroline and her partner, Jake, whom we’ve been staying with in Dunedin. A road trip with more than just Vince and I would prove to be a happy change from being on top of and dependent on each other the whole time. As well, with Caroline and Jake having grown up in NZ, they have a better idea of geography and could suggest activities and sights for us to visit. I didn’t realize how much time and effort goes into actually planning trips, especially when you have no idea where anything is in relation to anything else! Having Caroline and Jake’s experience and knowledge was so helpful and allowed us to ‘just enjoy’ a little bit more.
We ended up doing a bit of a zig-zag all the way up and down the South Island which gave us the opportunity to see both coasts as well as the interior of the island.
Our first stop after the first night camping was the Clay Cliffs in Omarama.
The Clay Cliffs are a stark sight – tall pinnacles separated by narrow ravines.These otherworldly formations are made up of layers of gravel and silt, originally formed by the flow from ancient glaciers over a million years ago.
This casual sight-seeing was such hard work, we celebrated our achievement by having a soak in the HOT Tubs in Omarama (lol). We got to spend an hour warming up in pure, chemical-free mountain water hot tubs that are heated by a firebox submersed in the water. They are completely private, and ours sat next to a lovely pond. It was so relaxing and serene. A deserved treat?
We continued to make our way through the interior of the island to Queenstown, the New Zealand city most renowned for adventure and adrenaline sports. We had a quick bite to eat, considered which adrenaline-pumping activities we would be willing to put ourselves through, and continued on—we will be back, though!
We decided Mt. Cook was a must-see, although it was out of the way of our broader plan to reach the west coast and top of the South Island. The drive towards Mt. Cook did not disappoint, however. We drove alongside Lake Pukaki (below), featuring the bluest water I have ever seen in my life. It was nothing short of breath-taking. The adventure part of this activity was not to drive us off the edge of the cliff as I oohed and ahhed at the lake—just kidding, Mom!
As we approached the village of Mt. Cook, we could see the mountain before us, although a bit of cloud-cover prevented us from seeing its peak. We did a quick hike up to the lookout overlooking the Tasman Glacier and Lake. We arrived at the top to see milky-white/blue glacier waters and a couple of small melting icebergs below. The information signage makes it evidently clear how much the glacier has melted since 2011 when the sign was posted—a sobering reminder of the warming of the planet. Staying present, we simply enjoyed the stunning views and the strong, energizing breeze at the top.
Christchurch was our next main stop for the night. We treated ourselves to a traditional American breakfast the next morning—at Denny’s. And we loved every second of it. And we would be back!
On our journey to the west coast of the South Island, we would go through Arthur’s Pass. This stretch of driving was absolutely beautiful—the green, rolling hills, tiny waterfalls, autumn colours, winding roads…
Next, we hit the west coast. Greymouth was our planned stop and launching point up to the north part of the island where we planned to stay a few days. It was nice to see the ocean again! We made a quick stop at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes to see the incredible rock formations. The pictures below can speak for themselves.
After a rainy evening and some trouble finding a dry place to camp in the dark (classic Vince and Jess!), we finally laid our heads down and woke up to our beautiful bay-side campsite in Motueka, at the top of the South Island. One good thing about setting up camp in the dark is the lovely surprise of where you are in the morning! We stayed in the McKee Memorial Scenic Reserve Campground alongside Ruby Bay. We spent our first day exploring the area, visiting a local arts and culture fair and arranging to rent a fishing boat the next day!
To be honest, as we hit Day Five and had planned to take the boat out, things started off a bit rough. We weren’t communicating well as a group, we were learning and adjusting to compromising with each other, we were trying to make the most of our trip and tensions were quite high. In the end, we set aside our issues once the boat was in the water and we actually had beautiful, clear day on the Tasman Bay. We had left our tents at the previous nights’ campground, but by the time we returned the boat we were pretty zonked. From experience, I suggested we give ourselves a break and “splurge” on a cabin/motel room for the night. Vince and I were finally learning from our experiences of pushing ourselves too far only to fall apart. This was a much-needed break from sleeping on the ground.
The next day, we did a bit more exploring of the area, drove up to Takaka, took a quick dip in the ocean, and headed back to the McKee campground for one last night at the top of the island. We met a local campground resident, Phil, who kindly offered to show us an unknown spot to see glow worms! We weren’t able to capture decent photos, but this was really such a special sight to see. After sunset, we walked along the beach and then into the woods to see the tiny creatures dotting the side of our walkway. There are different kinds of glow worms in New Zealand, but below is the closest thing I could find online to what we saw in Motueka:
We spent the next day traveling back down the east coast, stopping in Blenheim to visit a winery with ties to Caroline’s family, and then in Hanmer Springs for a late-night dip in the natural sulfur hot tubs there. Surprisingly, we were super energized afterwards and decided to drive the rest of the way to Christchurch to camp for our final night on the road. On our last day, we had our second breakfast at Denny’s and finished off the trip with some mud carting!
We have been fortunate enough to see some amazing, beautiful things. But in the end, always, the experience is MADE by the people who share in it with us. Getting to road trip with Vince’s cousin and partner was such a good way to get to know them and the memories we made exploring different places will be stronger and more special because we’ve shared those experiences with people we love.
For Vince, the travel continues on until further notice. For me, I am back on Canadian soil in one month.
As the last month abroad begins to unfold, I am thinking more and more about the trip as a whole. Now that I can see it broadly from this end of it, things fall into place; experiences begin to settle and their lessons begin to sink deeper down into our lives where we can use them in the future.
I wonder what the transition will be like back to “normalcy” in Canada. I consider how I’ll perceive this trip in one year from now. I have mental plans for what I’ll do next… and I also have no idea what the hell I’m doing.
Be here now, I keep telling myself.
And in the end (favourite phrase?), I always go back to the PEOPLE. The people in my life—our life—who hold me up, hold me accountable, remind me of what’s important, remind me of the things I’ve done and seen.
I heard someone say recently to never let anyone make you feel bad about wanting more out of life. This is what we have spent the last near-year doing: searching for more. As we slowly transition to a life more stable and rooted, I will remind myself of this. And it will remind me of the people who inspire this mantra—the people who have long held a place in my life, as well as those we’ve met over this short year away—all of whom, in one way or another, embody this motivation to never stop reaching for the stars.
There is still a lot left to see and do! Let’s get at it.