We landed in Christchurch, took our stuff to our homestay, and headed downtown. Unfortunately, there was no much to see in Christchurch. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch on February 22, 2012, resulting in the death of 185 people and absolutely leveling the downtown area. As we walked around down, we saw lots of construction as well as lots of building that have been partitioned off and eventually demolished. There are gravel lots where buildings once stood as far as the eye could see. It's pretty depressing. Many people have moved away from this once vibrant city (the second-largest in NZ). It's crazy to think how much still needs to be rebuilt in the city especially because it's a developed/fairly wealthy country; it makes me think of places like Nepal and Haiti and how tragic natural disasters are in those kinds of place, places that are poor and underdeveloped to begin with.
We had a great lunch on New Regent Street (a great, quirky street with fun cafes, restaurants, and shops) and then hopped on the Christchurch tram for a tour around the city. There are 17 stops on the tour, and you can hop on and off anywhere. It's a great way to see the city and hit the highlights especially if you have limited time. Throughout the tram tour, we jumped on and off at points of interest including Cathedral Junction, Avon River, Re:START Mall, Gothic-style Arts Centre, the Canterbury Museum. The Re:START mall was particularly interesting as it's a mall constructed from giant containers. We finished the evening with a really great meal downtown Fiddlesticks which is right off the tram track (super convenient!). We headed back to our homestay to relax, read, and get some sleep as our train was due to leave quite early the next morning.
|Memorial for those killed in the earthquake. Each chair represents a life lost.|
Christchruch to Greymouth to Fox Glacier
Early the next morning, we boarded the TranzAlpine train ride from Christchurch to Greymouth. It's supposed to be one of the best train experiences in the whole world, and after a 3-hour journey, I don't doubt that claim. Here is the train's advertisement, "Climb aboard one of the world’s most famous train journeys, between Christchurch and Greymouth. Cross the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains, and enjoy thrilling vistas over deep gorges as you travel alongside the ice-fed Waimakariri River. Traverse the mighty Southern Alps, where spectacular views of the chiseled alpine landscape will take your breath away at every turn." The scenery was incredible. It's some of the most beautiful landscape I've ever seen with my own eyes. You could also listen along on a headset to commentary on important points of interest along the way. It was really fun and so breathtakingly beautiful. I'd do it again and again; it was definitely a huge highlight of the entire trip.
We arrived in Greymouth and rented our car. On a whim, we decided to drive north (which was going the opposite way of where we intended to stay the night) to see the Pancake Rocks. The Pancake Rocks are a heavily eroded limestone area where the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes during high tides. Together with the 'pancake'-layering of the limestone (created by immense pressure on alternating hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediments). The rocks were awesome, but the best part was probably the drive to and from Greymouth. You drive right along the coast, next to the Tasman Sea. It's what I would imagine driving in California is like, through Malibu, along the Pacific. It was fantastic. My mom and I had to switch driving duties because neither of us wanted to drive due to our inclination towards looking out the window.
|Driving on the wrong side of the road. A little scary :)|
We arrived late in the sleepy, tiny town of Fox Glacier. We opted for Fox Glacier over Franz Josef due to the closer proximity of the glacier to the car park. With my mom's bad ankle, we couldn't really do heavy duty hiking, so we opted for the shorter trail to the glacier, but were promised it was just as amazing. We hiked roughly a mile back to Fox Glacier, and both the hike and the sight at the end were well worth the effort. It is breathtaking. When you look at the pictures below, I tried to capture the scale of what we were walking through, you can see how tiny the people look in comparison to the surroundings. I'd never seen a glacier before, so I was mesmerized by it.
|Wanda. Pondering big life questions.|
|Scary high bridge.|
We arrived in Wanaka, a cute, little artsy town in the southern part of the island, to spend the evening and the next afternoon. We stayed through AirBNB again at a quirky, cool home stay at the Rippon Winery (click here for link). Lois had an amazing house. We sat with her for a long-time in the evening by the fire discussing her life, how she started the winery, her antique collection, and New Zealand culture/history. The next day we wandered around Wanaka, exploring fun shops, visiting a lavender farm, eating some delicious food, and finally hit the road for our last stop in New Zealand. On the way we drove through the mountains and encounters even more amazing scenery.
I love Queenstown. It's beautiful. It sits right on a stunning Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by mountains. While walking to dinner one night, the sun was setting and the lake was perfectly reflecting the mountains, and it just looked fake. It was actually SO beautiful that it just looked like someone had painted a gorgeous backdrop and stretched it up to the sky.
On the first day in Queenstown, we took a scenic flight and boat cruise to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is about 6 hours away by bus or a 45-minute flight. Although much more expensive, we opted for the flight + scenic cruise package. The flight was well worth it because we flew over the Fiordland National Park and between some intense mountains. I say it was incredible, but I actually was so scared the entire time and felt very sick when we arrived (hello, it was an 8 seater plane). The whole time we were flying, I kept thinking that if we crashed, we die. Not the greatest thoughts for the flight. Haha :) We arrived in Milford Sound and headed towards the dock to board our cruise. The cruise was about 2 hours long. We saw waterfalls, drank fresh glacier water straight from one, saw wildlife, and learned about the history of the area. After the cruise, we headed back towards the airport to catch our flight back to Queentown. We returned to Queenstown. I opted for a nap and some lounging time in the hotel room. I was reading a fantastic book ("All The Light We Cannot See") and wanted to just relax. After almost 2 weeks, my legs were tired! We had an early dinner and came home early for bed since it had been such an early morning.
|The only foolish person who braved the cold and stood under the waterfall. That's my mom.|
On our last day in Queenstown, we took a tour on the iconic steamship the ESS Earnslaw, which began sailing the same year as the Titanic. We took a ride across the late to Walter's High Country Sheep Farm where we watched sheep shearing demonstrations, sheep herding with some cool dogs, and had the most fantastic gourmet BBQ lunch. We ate SO. MUCH. FOOD. I had BBQ chicken, ribs, lamb, lots of veggies including brussels sprouts which are my favorite. It was a perfect day to be outdoors and enjoy the crisp, cool New Zealand air. After lunch, we headed back to town, enjoyed one last diner overlooking the lake, and headed back to the hotel to pack up and get to sleep for our early morning flight back to Sydney.
|Piano by the lake.|
We loved New Zealand. We saw so much in 2 weeks, but it hardly touched all that I would love to see given unlimited time. It's a place I hope to get back to one day, to explore & hike & eat & drink more flat white coffees. Definitely a highlight from my time in the SE Asia region, and I'm so happy I got to experience the trip with my mom. It's an adventure I will always treasure.