December 22, 2015 – Left house at 8 am
Newark -> Dallas -> Houston -> Auckland -> Queenstown
December 24, 2015 – Arrived in Queenstown at 11 am
Total travel time: 35 hours
FINALLY, after about 35 hours of sitting around we got to Queenstown. Dan’s aunt Mary picked us up and brought us to their home in Arthur’s Point named, “The Mangy Moose.” If Med and Andy are reading this – Thank you so much for letting us stay the week!! After greeting the family we went back to town for lunch and to check out Dan’s cousin Gemma perform a demo for the family’s FlyBoarding company. Oh by the way, she won first place in the women’s division at the 2015 FlyBoarding World Cup. Afterwards we went back home for a little Christmas Eve get together, where we got to meet some more of the family.
Merry Christmas! We celebrated the day at Dan’s aunt Maggie and uncle John’s house that overlooked Lake Wakatipu. The sun was shining, booze was flowing and good times were had. After dinner we merrily strolled down to the beach belching, “Merry Christmas!” to all who walked by. In Kiwi land you are able to drink anywhere there isn’t a liquor ban. So everyone was quite merry. On the beach, the sun was setting when suddenly we noticed three skydivers flipping and twirling until landing in the water, causing a bit of excitement in the crowd. A liquor ban began at 10PM and the cops shooed us off, so we got a meat pie (the greatest thing New Zealand has to offer; it’s basically America’s slice of pizza) and headed home.
Once everyone was able to wake up, we went to the lake to go in uncle John’s boat. We all took a turn on the tube, until Jackie (Dan’s cousin) promptly whipped us off. I then took a turn on the skis and was a bit scared to be embarrassed since I hadn’t used them in over 5 years; but I prevailed and only fell when trying to jump on the wake. After our fun, we met up with the rest of the family that were hanging out on the shore. Dan then tried to be towed on the mattress but soon realized why they’re not designed for that. I also tried wake-boarding for the first time! The first time trying to get up I thought my arms were going to rip off. After the third try I got up and after getting comfortable going straight I fell attempting to curve. At the end I again tried to jump the wake, sticking the landing with my face… Dan, after six tries, wasn’t able to have opportunity to fail as spectacular as I did. (Suck it Dan)
Today I experienced the most difficult, but most rewarding day hike of my life – the Ben Lomond Track. The peak is 1750m above sea level and I believe the estimated distance was around 12 miles. After about an hour of hiking, Angela couldn’t handle it, so her and Dan had to quit. The tree line dissipates at around 800m and the terrain becomes similar to that of Santorini, Greece. At the saddle (1300m), we had a very generously packed lunch that Dan bought and I had to carry because he left… Thanks Dan. After that began the steepest portion till the top, 500m in elevation away. I was basically crawling by the time I got to the top but the views kindled my spirit right back up. A 360 view of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables, as well as the beautiful southern alps. There was even a compass at the top that showed the exact location of each distant mountain. Once we finished taking our pictures and got some rest, we headed down for the long haul to end up at Arthurs Point. At this point, I was almost out of water which made the rest of the hike miserable. After about 4 more hours of hiking, we finally made it to the Mangy Moose where I got to chugged about 2 liters of water. That night, our trio chilled in the Jacuzzi then watched a movie and went to bed.
Today we hired an 8-hour round trip bus ride to Milford Sound. It was… underwhelming to say the least. I don’t know, Dan hyped it up to be this beautiful haven of paradise, but it was simply a tourist trap. I mean don’t get me wrong, the views were spectacular; just not what I was expecting. We spent 4 hours on a bus ride stopping at a few main areas that everyone stopped at. And I mean everyone. Then when we got there we were prodded onto this big boat that took us to sea and back. It kind of had a Jurassic Park feel, with the terrain and the aircrafts flying over us every few minutes. Definitely cool. I just wish we could take our own time and relaxed at a few points. Taking our own car to see all the sites on the way there would’ve made the experience much more memorable.
Today we finally got our own car; the last one in town! While waiting for the car we booked our rafting trip and got sushi. With the car we went to Arrowtown – a historic mining town bordering a river with quaint little shops everywhere. On the river we made a sweet rock damn, then ate ice-cream and went back to the moose. Uncle John invited us to go fishing so we spent a few hours in Lake Wanaka with a couple of beers and “crisps.” We caught only one fish, I mean Angela (with the help of Dan), reeled in a trout. Afterwards we had dinner and went to sleep.
Today we took a trip to Lake Wanaka, which took a very windy path through the mountains. A bit sketchy, keeping in mind that it was our second day driving on the opposite side of the road! In Wanaka we went to town, did shopping , got beer, then went to some other of Dan’s relative’s campsite. We chilled by the lakeside campsite for 2 hours. After a couple of beers, Angela and I were coaxed into singing for everyone. Under the pressure, I butchered Ave Maria, Angela sang well however. They were very encouraging though, super nice folk. It was my turn to drive as it was legal to have a couple of beers before driving in New Zealand. It is also legal for passengers to drink in the car; so Dan kept me quite entertained on the way back. Oh, there was a bra fence on the way back so of course Angela left hers there. Once back, we decided to go to town for a few drinks. Went to a couple of overcrowded and loud bars until we miraculously discovered that Fergburger only had a few people on line. During the daytime this place has a minimum of a two-hour wait. Its reputation did not precede it’s expectation as it ranks as the number one burger that I’ve eaten. Mmmm.
New Year’s Eve! The bus that took us through Skipper’s Canyon, which is rated as one of the most dangerous road’s in New Zealand. Basically it’s a very narrow one lane dirt road carved into the side of the mountain. So we took a bus there… Once there, they took us through the briefing and let us know what to do the case of flipping over. Pshh, we won’t need that…
It was nice and slow at the beginning where we hit a few small rapids. I thought it was funny how nice the lady that guided us sounded in the easy parts but at the more intense part, she was INTENSE. At the difficult rapids she would tell us to “get down!” which is the command to sit on the inside of the boat. When we reached the grade 4 section there were five in succession. After the third, which was called “Oh Shit,” she told us to GET DOWN, then the boat began going sideways just before the rapid. Going into the rapid diagonally, the front right dipped in and the raft began tipping over. Seeing this, the instructor jumped on top of me in an attempt to save the raft. No luck, it completely tipped over in the flash of an eye and I went under without taking a deep breath. Having zero visibility and little air, I thought of the training from watching hours of Bear Grylls and put my feet up to avoid hitting rocks. I began to panic as it was taking far too long to get above the water. After about 10 seconds, which felt like an eternity, I got up and ended on the inside of the flipped over raft. I then took a deep breath and got out to the other side where luckily, another raft was on the left side and I was able to swim to it. I looked over and saw our instructor attempting to tame the beast that is the flipped over raft; lifting a strap on the bottom in order to cause it to flip. The people on board lifted me up onboard, as well as two others. Dan and Angela were gone. In the raft we needed to continue down the last rapid, which was scary as the raft was completely filled, and it nearly tipped over again. However, we got over and continued down to meet Dan and Angela who were seemingly okay.
After getting home from rafting, we left for town to see Gemma (the number one FlyBoarder) do another demo. Before she went however, I got to have a turn on it! The way it worked was that Gemma controlled the thrust of my FlyBoard with a jet ski. She thrusted me out to the deeper end and then I stood up out of the water on the first try. I got up to about 20 feet and felt like a damn super hero! It was exactly like Bo’s hoverboard that I was messing around with so that helped a lot in understanding the controls. I did a few laps around the jet ski and of course there were a few times where I messed up a little and she would decrease the thrust then I would catch myself at the water. After nailing a 360, I started getting a bit cocky and tried doing the tricks that Gemma did at the first demo… After trying a 720 I ended up belly flopping from 20 feet in the air. Even with a wetsuit and lifejacket, it knocked the wind out of me and so I took it easy after that. After about 10 minutes a customer came and I needed to stop. Unfortunately, when I got back I found out that Dan didn’t take a video of me… Thanks Dan
After I was done, Gemma began her demo. She was using a remote that controlled the thrust of the water. Straight off the bat she went to the maximum height and lost power, resulting in her falling from a height of about 40 feet. Ouch. Turns out that the cause of power failure was that the pressure at the elbow joint that connected the jet ski to the hose was too great and the seal failed. So we left, got food and by the time we got back the FlyBoard was fixed and the demo was over. Buggah.
Back to the house we had dinner then a power hour nap was taken in preparation for NYE. I’ll place that account for the next day as there wasn’t much done after that.
We pre-gamed at the house with some Stella and Patron, drinking until the taxi’s arrived at around 11. The family decided we should go the shore to finish up drinking as there was a liquor ban in town. We then walked to town to count down New Years and watch the fireworks. Jose is from Spain and brought up the custom to eat twelve grapes on the last twelve seconds of New Years. The bag he bought didn’t have enough so we made due with six. After popping in the grapes and garbling out the last few seconds, we, along with the entire town shouted out Happy New Years! At that moment, a massive firework sprung up from other side of the lake with about 10 minutes of subsequent fireworks. After the show we went to a Latino bar, took shots and danced! Things were getting too rowdy outside which caused the bar to close down so at that point we all decided to go home. There was a MASSIVE line to get a taxi and it took about an hour to get one.
The next morning was a bit harsh but after a shower, breakfast and coffee, things were alright. We just played RISK and hung around the house all day. This was our last day so Dan, Angela and I made a good bye dinner for the whole family. After about 2 hours of preparation and cooking we had our Chicken Parmesan, Pasta with crumbled sausage and tomatoes. Delicious.
The next morning, we emptied out the camper van, said our good byes and headed for Haast. On the way we stopped at Wanaka where I went skydiving! With the circular farmlands bordering by Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, surrounded all around by snowy peaks, the views were absolutely spectacular. Afterwards we hung out by the shores of lake Wanaka and had a few beers with some other members of Dan’s family until the last minute which was at 7:30 PM. We then continued on and headed into Arthur’s Pass where we stopped at the Blue Pools. It was about a 15-minute hike through the jungle like forest until we reached the pools which were in fact, blue. I then decided to jump off the bridge to which Dan had to one-up me and jump in naked, which as you can tell by my laughing was hilarious. Afterwards we hurried back to the car because it began getting dark and Arthur’s pass had a lot of beautiful waterfalls and mountain views. It was far too late however and we only got to seeing two waterfalls. We promised to return the next day but as you’ll see, we didn’t. At Haast we ate, interneted, went to sleep.
Big day today as we have four hours of driving to get to Greymouth. Did the math… ain’t nobody got time to go back to Haast pass. We stopped at a lot of viewpoints on the way. In particular, there was a beach filled with driftwood as well as a pile of signed white rocks. Putting our feet in the water, we noticed baby dolphins surfing the waves! Afterward’s we stopped at a fish farm where I had salmon for the first time in my life. I’ve always hated fish, but it was actually pretty good. On the side of the road we bought some local honey from a little stand that was monitored with a camera. This would never happen in America… We then got to our first main destination: Fox Glacier. It’s a beautiful valley that looked similar to Milford Sound, aka Jurassic Park. It took about 30 minutes to get to the viewing point and on the way found LOTS of danger signs. Apparently there are a lot of rock slides on the path to get to the glacier, which has killed a few tourists. Looking at the glacier was pretty cool, however I certainly regret not taking the risk. Although I may not be writing this if I had gone so… Anyway we stopped at the town of Fox Glacier for sandwiches and “crisps”. Back on the road we had no time to see Franz Joseph because it was a 2-hour hike to get there. After that it was quite a tedious drive so I called our hotel to check if they had a kitchen; turns out I accidentally booked for the next day. Oops. Once we got there we called all hotels and most were booked except for one, it turned out to be nice for the price. Dinner consisted of chicken, rice, and coleslaw from the supermarket. Played a game of pool at the bar, had a beer, watched a movie and went to sleep.
From Greymouth we took Arthur’s Pass to get to Christchurch. On the way, we stopped for breakfast, where we all had eggs benedict; theirs with salmon, mine with bacon. Yum. On the way we had little time as we needed to return our rental car at 2PM. So we quickly stopped at only a few viewpoints.
If not for the rental car needing to be in Christchurch today, we wouldn’t have gone at all. We were here however and we stayed to hang out with Dan’s cousin Lana. She was going to get there at 10PM, so we needed to figure out a plan to kill time. So after the rental place, we went to get some Nandos which Dan highly praised. Chicken, avocado and lettuce in a pita sandwich with “chips”; Nice and SPICY. Afterwards we went to the botanical gardens which was pleasant. Then it was time for some ice cream and coffee. Revitalized, we went to Sumner beach where Dan and I played some soccer and Angela took a nap. We saw a group of people with buckets digging in the sand by the water. We went up to them and found out they were digging up clams and so we asked how to find them. Simply, there’s a small patch of seaweed attached to them that sticks out on the sand, which we found there were to be a ton of.
We then went to Dan’s cousin’s boyfriend Kobi’s house to unpack our stuff and went to a nearby restaurant called Mexico. Got lamb gorditas which were pretty good. After that we went to the best public park I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible what you can do when there is free healthcare. No lawsuits, no problems. The park had a 100-foot zip line, centripetal force seat, trampolines, and of course the usual slides, seesaws and whatnot.
Back at the house we played some drinking games with our signature beer – Stella. Dan however made himself vodka, sprite and cranberry juice; using the local New Zealand vodka – Stil. Once we were done drinking we needed to figure out our sleeping arrangements. Kobi’s roommates were gone but the doors were unlocked. I carefully jumped out the window to get on the roof where one of roommate’s windows were. It was locked… Next the other roommate had an indoor window about 20 feet up from the floor. We moved the fridge and placed a chair on top. Then Dan tried to get up and got too scared (see picture), so I stepped up and got in there. I earned that damn bed and had a great night’s sleep.
The next morning, we woke up a bit late… 11:30 AM. We then got some breakfast at Black Betty’s, where I had one of the best breakfast sandwich’s in my life. I ordered a Mocha coffee with a bacon, egg, avocado, tomato and garlic in toasted ciabatta bread. Absolutely delicious. We then went back to Sumner beach to hit the waves and shred the gnarr. The 9-foot foam tops made for some excellent beginner surfing as the waves were only about 1-2 feet high.
It was then the time for us to hit the road for Kaikoura and now I sit here writing about the last few days.
In Kaikoura we stayed at a quaint little Irish hotel away from the city called Donegal House. It had a very nice field of gardens and ponds; we played a bit of soccer there. For dinner we went to town for Fish and Chips, which we had gotten A LOT of. Back at the room I met a Ukrainian group of people outside by overhearing them and saying, “Zdrastvoitye!” Which is Hello in Russian. So we sparked up a conversation and they invited me to drink wine. So I called over Dan and Angela, and we had wine.
The next morning, I woke up at 5:30 am to shoot the beach sunrise. Went back to bed and we woke up late. We then took the long inland route to Nelson. Which took forever and was NOT worth it. Only saw one decent waterfall. Once there we found our hotel to be really nice. Kitchenette, living room, balcony and bathtub. A bit out of our budget but we’ve been living modestly so we said screw it. Chef Dan made steak and vegetable stir fry with rice. We had a bottle of wine and watched the Godfather.
We went up to Abel Tasman and stopped at the shore to do some kayaking and paddle boarding. Not ideal conditions because as soon as we got out the tide went out and wind picked up. So it was a pain in the ass because we had to drag our stuff on the sand to come back. We then went to Collingwood to go to our hotel. On the way however we decided to pick up a hitchhiker. Her name is Antoni and she is from Germany. She just out of high school and decided to backpack New Zealand and Thailand for 3 months. Her philosophy was to go wherever whenever with no specific plan. I’ve never met anyone like that. It was quite interesting to hear her stories; of which I could never imagine myself getting into such situations. She was very cool so we decided she could stay with us at our hotel.
The hotel we got was really unique as it was made for backpackers and is very community oriented. Everyone just hung out in living room, with very relaxed and nice attitude. In the back there was a small stream with a giant hammock stretched over it; I planned to read on it however it began to rain. They were very environmentally friendly as well, as they recycled everything and composted left over food. There was even a compost outhouse! This night, Dan made vegetable stir-fry for Toni as she was a vegetarian; ours was with chicken.
Today we planned to rent out a boat and see the sights of Abel Tasman however the weather was really bad. So we decided to simply drive up to the northern most tip of the South Island. We got coffee at little shop near that point which overlooked the “Kiwi’s Beak.” Take a look at the map and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Visibility was poor however and we continued on. At the northern most point there was an incredible amount of wind; I’m talking hurricane force winds here. The wind made the drizzling rain sting our faces, but we had a blast in it. We would jump up with our coats spread out and the wind would carry us backwards. Looking down at the huge cliff, the waves at the bottom were deadly; the seals didn’t care though! After our fun in the hurricane conditions we went back to the car to head for Picton. Our friend Toni parted ways with us in Takaka. (If you’re reading this Toni, I hope you’re having fun wherever you are. Be safe!)
In Picton, we reserved a small motel about 20 minutes from the city. There we decided to go for a little hike on the Queen Charlotte Track. On our trek we attempted to find a cliff jumping spot, but weren’t sure if the water would be deep enough. We yelled to a fisherman to help and so he used his fish finder to determine that at 2 feet, it was in fact not deep enough. Buggah. Back at the hotel we decided to go into town for dinner and possibly even a movie. The drive was not worth it however, as it was all windy roads that would make even the most seasoned seaman nauseous. We had to do it twice. Well, thrice for the next day… For dinner we decided to make pizzas from supermarket ingredients; it was gross. Never again.
Woke up early for the ferry to Picton and made that awful drive again. The ferry was pretty cool as we had great views of the sounds while leaving. After three hours we got to Wellington, got our car, and went to the hotel. Some more of Dan’s cousin Lisette and aunt Catherine met us and so we got lunch in an area of basically any type of Asian food you could possibly want. We then took a stroll around town and the Te Papa Museum which had some very interesting historical information about New Zealand. Apparently a picture of Dan’s grandpa is exhibited there, but we couldn’t find it. Afterwards we hired a 4-person bicycle type car and terrorized the city with our shenanigans. We were then pretty tired so we went back to go the hotel for a nap so we could spend our, well my, last night out. (Dan and Angela left on the 15th)
Once nighttime came by we got ready, we went to the public gardens for a free concert. Afterwards we got dominoes then started our bar hopping journey. We started up at a pool club, then a strip club (Angela’s never been and wanted to see what the hype was about), then a 70’s theme place. At one point there was a guy standing outside of a bar just dancing the same dance for hours. Apparently he does this for over 6 hours each week; pretty good workout if you ask me. At a karaoke place we sung bohemian rhapsody, then there was a texas themed place that gave out a bunch of hats. Hey, we even ended up at a douchie Guido bar. This city had everything. Fun night.
Not a fun morning though. We had a late breakfast, then shopped around. I noticed his city has a very hipstery vibe about it as there are a ton of young people. We were running out of time before my flight so we quickly took a trip to the peak of Wellington, got the shot, then off the airport. I reserved a window seat on the right side, and was able to get some good photos of the coast. I was even able to zoom in and get Mt. Taranaki protruding through the clouds. And that’s where my story ends. Thanks for reading if anyone has made it this far!