A Study in Contrasts

Of all the things that fascinated us about New Zealand, one of the most astounding was the sheer diversity of the landscape – and how quickly it changed.  Temperate rainforests abut glaciers, both of which are located mere minutes from the beach.  We only traveled a small portion of the country, yet were met with a range of environments one would typically expect to encounter over a much larger area.

See below for a sample of the wonders the country holds.

Arriving in Christchurch: The Adventure Begins

We landed in Christchurch mid-morning and planned to spend the afternoon and night there before picking up our campervan the next day and heading out.

We weren’t jet-lagged, but we were hoping to freshen up.  The room at our hostel wasn’t quite ready, so we set out to grab some lunch and explore the city.  We found a lovely cafe, Curator’s House, near the Botanic Garden.  The restaurant features locally grown foods, including produce from its own garden.  Derek enjoyed a risotto with seasonal vegetables while I opted for a lamb dish (When in Rome, after all…).

Following lunch, we meandered through the Botanic Garden and South and North Hagley Park.  For a city that lost so much in the 2011 earthquakes, the beautiful park and gardens are truly a bright spot.

On the Road: Taking on New Zealand’s Wild West Coast

After a day and night in Christchurch, it was time to pick up our Jucy Condo campervan and get on the road.  We were quite nervous about driving on the “wrong side” of the road, but we got used to it more quickly than expected and proceeded without incident.  (Those right turns remained terrifying throughout the trip, though!)

From Christchurch, we headed west through Arthur’s Pass then south to Hokitika and on to Franz Josef.  After overnighting in Franz Josef, we spent the next day hiking Fox Glacier.  After reading reviews for both glaciers, we chose Fox based on comments from previous hikers stating it is a bit harder and the guides go off the beaten trail – er, ice path – instead of staying on predefined routes.

Our guide, a Kiwi, was very experienced and knowledgeable.  Learning the history of the glacier and the dramatic ways in which it has changed over the years added to our appreciation of the enormous mass we were exploring.

Perhaps surprisingly, I didn’t find my time on the glacier to rise to the level of one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.  That said, we enjoyed our guide, fellow hikers and the trip very much, and I would recommend it to others visiting the South Island.  It also didn’t hurt that the weather was in our favor, as the sun shined all day.

UPDATE:  Unfortunately, due to changing conditions, hiking on the glaciers is no longer permitted.  Franz Josef actually stopped offering hikes shortly before our visit, and Fox Glacier ended its tours soon thereafter.  Hikes to the face of the glaciers, as well as heli-hikes, are offered; more information can be found here and here.

Wining and Dining New Zealand Style

After we conquered the glacial frontier, it was on to lake country.  We continued south to Lake Wanaka and Central Otago, where we spent a couple of days before proceeding to Queenstown for the next phase of our trip.  Of course, the drive continued to amaze with coast line, waterfalls and lakes along the way.

Lake Wanaka was one of our favorite spots along the journey, and we only regretted not having a day or two longer to enjoy it.  We kicked-off our arrival in the quaint town with a wine tasting at Rippon Vineyard.  The grounds are stunning, perched on a hill overlooking the lake.

The spectacular weather continued, and so we spent our second day hiking along the lake until Derek couldn’t resist jumping in the frigid water.  It was here that we also first encountered Monteith’s beer, produced by a South Island craft brewery.  While we expected to have plenty of amazing wines, the local brew was a surprising treat, and I drank my share of the Summer Ale.

Leaving Lake Wanaka, we spent an afternoon in wine country and enjoyed a lovely lunch spread at Mt. Difficulty.