|This picture really encapsulates New Zealand to me. Everywhere we went there were hundreds of sheep in bright, green, grassy fields with beautiful mountains creating the most perfect backdrop. It was truly breathtaking!!|
Austin has been back and forth between New Zealand and home (Ann Arbor) quite a bit this year for his Phd research. He is actually about to head back on Monday for another 6 weeks to help them finish up the drilling and collect all the rest of the samples he needs. SO... Oliver and I decided to head out there on the front end of one of his visits to explore! And, I'm SO SO glad we did. It was an incredible experience!!
We ate seafood every single day... seriously. Pregnant ladies aren't supposed to do that. But, I did. And, I don't regret it. We camped almost every single night, went on tons of really cool hikes, saw some incredible wildlife (fur seals, penguins, etc.), and just had a really great time road tripping and spending time as a family.
This was Oliver's first international trip and we weren't sure what to expect. But, we treated it like any other trip (packed full of adventure) and he had the time of his life! We were complete minimalists on this trip. We packed our bags full of mostly camping gear, some dehydrated meals (for when we were camping far away from civilization), our camera and iPad, basic toiletries and clothes and hiking boots of course!
We flew into Christchurch, picked up our rental car and drove straight over Arthur's Pass to the West coast. We stayed on the coast in a town called Hokitika and since we got in kind of late we just grabbed a hotel room. It was nice to rest up after a few days of flying and traveling.
The next morning we headed down the West coast stopping anytime we felt like it to see cool overlooks and anything else that caught our interest. About half way through the day we made it to our first planned destination: Westland Tai Poutini National Park.
Westland Tai Poutini National Park
I had never seen a glacier before in my entire life. So, stopping at Franz Josef Glacier in this National Park was a seriously amazing experience for me! I couldn't believe my eyes the whole time we were hiking in. It was just so beautiful. I don't think I have ever been this "in awe" before. It was truly breathtaking!
Austin, having traveled all over the world to see different mountain ranges and glaciers, is a bit spoiled I think! haha. He thought the glacier was great and all. But, he was disappointed in how much it has receded over the last 5 years and also at the fact that the hike only let us see the glacier but not actually stand next to it (or on it... haha).
|Hiking to Franz Josef Glacier on the West coast of the South Island|
|Standing at the base of Fox Glacier at the end of the hike. Oliver wouldn't cooperate for a picture, obviously. It is really sad how much this glacier has receded in the last 5 years.|
After spending some time in the National Park we headed down the coast. In the late afternoon we decided to stop and camp for the night. We lucked out in finding this great little secluded conservation site near Lake Moeraki. We pitched our tent right next to the lake and had a really fun evening playing in the water, eating dinner and taking a long walk around the coastline.
|Everywhere we went there were incredible little camp sites along the highway. We just happened upon this beautiful spot on our way down the West coast.|
|Oliver playing in the water.|
|Such a happy camper! ;)|
|Waiting for our dinner to be ready. Notice my face is covered in sand flies. They were nasty little flies as small as gnats but they bite and the result is worse than mosquito bites! SOO itchy!!|
|Our humble abode.|
All of these next few pictures were taken somewhere between Haast and Lake Wanaka. And, I just have to put a word in for a place called Lake Hawea. We stopped there mid day for lunch and had the best meal of our entire trip! Right along the lake there was a general store with a cafe above it called "Sailz Cafe". We were seated outside on a covered deck overlooking the lake. Austin ordered fish 'n chips and I ordered the seafood chowder and both were incredible! We were especially blown away by the seafood chowder. Oliver's favorite, though, was the hot chocolate. :) haha. I will never forget our peaceful afternoon at Sailz looking out on Lake Hawea eating the freshest, most delicious seafood. We were in heaven!
|All along the West coast there were little cheeseries and wineries. And, we love cheese. So, of course we had to stop.|
We had planned to spend a day and a night in Queenstown, but honestly... It didn't really appeal to us. It is considered "adrenaline city" here on the South island which normally would have made this a top spot for me! But as a 6 month pregnant lady traveling with a toddler there wasn't much for us to do there. So, instead we stopped just outside of Queenstown in a really cool and much less traveled place called Arrowtown. Not only was it WAY less tourist-y but it was just the most quaint and charming little place.
Arrowtown was originally settled by gold miners who traveled overseas to strike gold here in NZ. There is a really unique Chinese gold miner settlement with lots of original huts to explore and a place where you can rent gold pans. It was a really fun experience! Austin spent a little time panning for gold when he lived in Alaska but I had never tried before. Oliver and Austin got really into it. haha! It was hilarious to see Austin's determination... and hey! It paid off. He eventually found a few flecks of gold. We were pretty proud of ourselves.
We walked down the main street of Arrowtown and checked out the local shops and restaurants, grabbed some dinner, and camped for the night there in town. It was a really fun stop!
|Some of the original huts from the Chinese gold miners who settled in Arrowtown to pan for gold.|
|We tried our hands at a little gold panning. Oliver was in charge of the shovel. :)|
|Austin and Oliver panning for gold.|
|Austin wouldn't give up until we found some. It took a while but he actually did find a fleck or two in the end. That's my man!|
|Panning for gold down the river a little ways.|
Fiordland National Park
About half way through the trip we made it to the southern tip of the South island. This was what we had been looking forward to the most!! Te Anau was a really cool little town with lots of charm and AMAZING fish 'n chips!!! Te Anau was sort of a base point where we could eat, stock up on supplies, get information and maps, etc. But, we were really anxious to get out of town and deep into the National Park.
So, we headed to Fiordland National Park to claim a good camping spot for the next few days. The mountains provided some of the most incredible views I have ever seen in my life. Everywhere you looked there was a picture you wanted to take. There were so many incredible hikes to choose from. We squeezed in as many as we could in the few days that we were there. And, the camping was incredible! We would have been stoked about any of the camp sites in the park but we were especially happy to find Lake Gunn. It was really small and secluded and we could pitch our tent right on the water. We were in paradise!
|Hiking The Chasm. Below this bridge was a huge tunnel carved away by rushing water and the view was spectacular! Pictures didn't do it justice, though.|
|Standing on the coast of the Milford Sound|
|Austin was obsessed with this rock wall. :)|
|We camped at Lake Gunn which was halfway between the Milford Sound and Te Anau.|
|Oliver loved having "family sleepovers" every night in the tent. It was really fun for him!|
|Hiking Key Summit in the Fiordland National Park. This hike had some of the most incredible views! It was probably the most beautiful hike we did the whole trip!|
|At the Key Summit|
|We stopped at this quirky little shop and museum at Gunn's Camp.|
|We found this really cool swing bridge on one of our hikes.|
The highlight of the entire trip (especially for Austin) was taking a boat tour through the Doubtful Sound. The Doubtful sound is a river-like body of salt water from the ocean that was originally carved by glaciers. It is often a pretty narrow canal and the mountains on either side just tower over you! It is the most incredible and "awe-inspiring" feeling.
To get the Doubtful sound we had to take a boat across Lake Manapouri (there was no other way to get farther West) and then a bus through Fiordland National Park until we finally reached the Doubtful Sound. There we boarded another boat and took a tour through the sound. We saw bottle nose dolphins, tons of fur seals and two types of penguins that were really rare to spot. It was really incredible!
|This was during Oliver's "grumpy hour" as we rode the bus to the Doubtful Sound.|
|I am so in love with this man!|
|Checking out the fur seals.|
|Apparently you can sometimes see great white sharks hunting the fur seals here. That would have been so cool!|
|Our future sailor loved hanging out on the edge as close to the water as possible.|
We drove across the South island to the East coast. Then we drove all the way up the East coast back to Christchurch so Oliver and I could catch our flight home. We stopped in Dunedin to check out a few recommended spots. It was an incredibly windy day... we were literally struggling to stay on our feet and not get knocked down by the wind. It was crazy!
|We heard you can see blue penguin colonies here a lot. But, we didn't see any. Evenings are supposed to be better.|
|Chasing the seagulls.|
|In downtown Dunedin we just had to stop at the chocolate factory! No one had any complaints about that! :)|
Our last night was spent in a town on the East coast called Oamaru. We grabbed a hotel room so we could air out all our camping gear, pack our bags up, clean out the rental car, etc. We grabbed some seafood in town and had a really relaxing evening together. The next morning we drove up to Christchurch had one last fish 'n chips meal and then headed to the airport.
Oliver hated saying "goodbye" to his daddy. And, I can hardly stand it either sometimes. But, I am so glad we got to see where he has been working this year and drive by the drill site. It is so nice to be more a part of what he is doing so I can fully understand his work and know what he is talking about when we get to skype each other.
I will always look back on our time together in New Zealand and be so happy and grateful that we had this adventure!