After weeks of planning, making an Excel spreadsheet with our trip planned to the hour, and freaking out about how expensive it is to have an awesome vacation, we finally made it to New Zealand!
My friend Caitlin and I set out on a ten-day trip to New Zealand almost 2 weeks ago! (Guess school has gotten in the way of me actually writing this post. Or catching up on TV shows. Or adventuring through Brisbane and eating a lot! Or all of the above…) Needless to say, our trip was absolutely amazing. New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the entire world! I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new adventure on this side of the planet.
It all began when we arrived in Christchurch around 1 a.m. New Zealand is the land of sheep. I believe they said that New Zealand has a population of about 4 million and there are around 43 million sheep. So of course, in New Zealand fashion, we were welcomed into the country by a ton of sheep. (OK, it was just a mural of sheep with sounds of sheep “baaaaaa”-ing coming through the speakers in the airport.) I thought it was pretty hilarious and as our trip continued, I understood why the sheep were so significant: They are EVERYWHERE.
After making our way out the sheep-infused walkway, we grabbed our bags, went through customs and hopped into a taxi to head to a hostel. I realized right away how hard the New Zealand accents were to understand. I feel bad that I had to ask our driver “What?” so many times. Imagine an Australian accent, but with sharper vowels and very mumbled. Of course, they were still so cool and I loved listening to them talk, but it was definitely a workout for my mind. Our sleepless trip began immediately, as we had to wake up 5 hours after we went to bed to go pick up our car—yep, ten straight days of driving on the other side of the road. All in all, we got used to it pretty quickly. Other than a few minor panic attacks when trying to figure out if we were turning onto the wrong side of the road or not, I think we did pretty well. I feel like it might even be weird to hop back onto the right side of the road when I get back to the States—we will see!
Our true adventures began the next day as we drove a few hours to Lake Tekapo. Knowing us and our love for food, of course we stopped at a little café on the way. Technically, we only stopped to use the bathroom, but once we saw the coffee list, how could we not get one? Our first stop at this café got us VERY excited for what was to come. We could see mountains in the distance and feel the beautiful cool and crisp air. Sorry, Australia, but your humidity was getting a little old.
In order to save some money on this trip, we figured we would go to the grocery store and stock up with snacks, breakfast food and lunch food. (Sandwiches for the win.) We went in with the idea of going out for just one meal a day. We followed this pretty well at the beginning, bBut some restaurants just looked too good to pass up. After our grocery shopping adventure we FINALLY made it to our first destination: Lake Tekapo.
The lake was beautiful from up close and from afar—we took a wonderful hike up to the top of Mt. John and witnessed even more beauty once we reached the top. Lake Tekapo is one of the best places in the world to stargaze. They even have a whole stargazing research building at the top of Mt. John. Stargazing is extremely high on my list of favorite things to do in nature, along with watching sunsets and sunrises. Caitlin and I were so excited to stargaze at such a perfect location, but to foreshadow the rest of the week’s weather, it was way too cloudy and we couldn’t see a single star 🙁 We were pretty bummed. By the third or fourth night of cloudiness, we finally came to the realization that we probably just weren’t going to be able to stargaze on this trip. Good thing we were doing so many other wonderful things that I didn’t even have time to be too upset about the stargazing.
Up next: Oamaru, Dunedin, and Te Anau—yes, all in one day. How in the world did we fit so much in one day? I really couldn’t tell you. But it was one fantastic day! We left Lake Tekapo at 5 a.m., and I took the first shift of driving that day. Following the advice of one of our new friends that we met at the hostel, we stopped in a cute little town called Oamaru to break up our drive to Dunedin. We originally stopped in Oamaru because they have penguins that just casually hang out by the coast around dusk. We were only able to go in the morning, though, so we were hoping for some good luck and some penguins. Unfortunately, they didn’t come out early just for us, but we did see an entire dock FILLED with birds. We thought they may have been penguins, but when they started to fly, we realized they were just birds. But still very cool birds.
As we were about to exit Oamaru, disappointed that we did not see penguins, we stumbled upon the cutest street I have ever seen in my life.
I felt like I was in the middle of a movie set! At this time, it was around 9:30 a.m. and the shops didn’t open until about 10:30-11ish, but we NEEDED to stay. We popped into a little café, had some hazelnut lattes and waited until the stores opened. And, man oh man, I’m glad we waited. These shops were filled with cool vintage attire, handmade trinkets, jewelry, a man working on limestone sculptures, and so much more. There was even a little brewery that I just had to try. I find all the brewing stuff pretty cool after learning about the methods in my food science classes. I wasn’t going to get a beer at 11 a.m., but I thought, “When’s the next time I’m going to be able to try locally brewed beer from New Zealand?” so I bought a six-pack to try another time.
We were then on our way to Dunedin! Our first stop was Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. We were too afraid to drive our small car up the hill, so we parked and took a nice little walk up the road. It’s hard to tell from the photos how crazy steep it really was; it would be really interesting to live on it.
So what’s the one thing you need after trekking up and down the steepest street in the world? Chocolate. We went on a tour through the Cadbury chocolate factory. It was really cool and we got plenty of free chocolate. They told us that many countries have their own factories that use different kinds of cocoa beans and different milk, so to us, the Cadbury chocolate from New Zealand might taste very different from the Cadbury chocolate in the States. Don’t worry, I bought a bunch of chocolate bars to bring back home to do some taste tests between the two!
We then went to tour the Larnach Castle! It was pretty cool, and the rooms were filled with old furniture to illustrate what the castle once looked like.
After some good pizza and ice cream, we were off to Te Anau. By the end of the day, we had driven a total of 8 hours. And did all of those activities. Even I’m impressed!
We arrived in Te Anau at 2 a.m. Our hostel was in the middle of a national park and it was pitch black outside. We had a wee bit of trouble and just a little bit of freaking out before finding the hostel, but thankfully we arrived and settled in nicely! Throughout the trip, we stayed in some shared rooms (4-12 beds), but in some places we had our own room. This hostel had an amazing view right outside of the kitchen window. (And would have had an amazing view of the sunset/sunrise without all the clouds…)
If this was my breakfast view every morning, I would be one happy camper!
When we woke up in the morning, we were ready to head out to Milford Sound. Google Maps had informed me that our cruise to explore the Sound was only 20 minutes from the hostel. Unfortunately, Google Maps was extremely off: It was actually two hours away! Thankfully, we had nothing else planned for the day, so we were able to reschedule our tour to later in the day because we would have completely missed it with the two hour drive. Once we were on the road to Milford Sound, I realized how happy I was that the ride was two hours long: The views along the way were breathtaking! I could have driven on beautiful roads like that all day and would have been a very happy girl.
Milford sound was unbelievably beautiful, too. Who knows what it would have looked like with a blue sky, but the rain and clouds brought a really eery and cool feeling to the area. It’s hard to see from all of the pictures, but it was amazing to see how HUGE these mountains were. Just imagine these formations bursting out of the water, filled with trees and waterfalls. It is pretty incredible how the world forms this crazy landscape, from Milford Sound to the rolling green hills just a few hours away.
To continue hearing about my trip to New Zealand, follow along to the next post!
Jessica Brand is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in food science. She is studying abroad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia in the spring of 2015.