New Zealand. One of the most highly rated destinations in the world, said to be the world’s “youngest country” and adrenaline capital. It is probably one of the few countries in the world that I haven’t heard anything negative about. Everyone I’ve met who’s been there only have praises for this small but progressive nation. Despite a seemingly endless list of good things, New Zealand was originally not in my priority of travel destinations. I’ve heard good reviews about the country. And yes, I may have seen a few shows on TV attesting to the majestic landscapes in the land further down under. But that was about it. In my mind, there wasn’t any mystique about this country. There wasn’t one major attraction that I associated with New Zealand so the strong desire to visit just was not there.
With this being said, I would say that my recent 8-day trip to the country changed the mental filter I initially had. I consider New Zealand to be within my Top 5 most enjoyable travel experiences so far. There are just too many things to try – and I was only able to do a sampler during my short trip. If I were to just put my experiences and general impressions of the whole thing in one word, that word would be “refreshing.”
It took a launch promotion and USD 200 roundtrip airfare to convince me to book a trip there. And it turned out to be such a great decision. I (with the assistance of others) had booked an April 2011 ticket to Christchurch a few months before the said date. A major earthquake struck the city in Feb 2011, rendering much of the city centre closed. Despite this, I pushed through wih the trip. Throughout the entire ordeal after the earthquake, the South Island of NZ remained as tourist-friendly as ever so there was no real reason to change schedules.
And so the trip continued. I arrived in Christchurch just a few minutes before midnight. The whole process was quick – breezed through immigrations, picked up our bags and was out of the airport in less than 30 minutes! Took a shuttle (NZD 28 for 3 persons) which brought us to our motel and was delighted with the room that we got. Despite booking only for a large studio, the owners upgraded us to a 1-bedroom unit at no extra cost. Twas certainly a great start to our trip and we only had more to look forward to.
i wonder what kind of fruit this is…
The next day marked the real start of our trip. Now there are many ways to get around New Zealand. Car rental is recognized as an economical and common option. However, as I was the only who could drive, we decided not to choose this option. Instead, we booked with Great Sights, which is a bus company that goes to most of the major cities and towns in the country. We were heading for Queenstown, which was around a 6-8 hour journey.
a more or less common scenery as one drives along the south island
I have taken long car/bus journeys before, and usually I find 6-8 hours to be very excruciating. Even until now, I still have bad memories of a Singapore to Malacca ride I took 2 years ago which took 4 hours. Fortunately, the one heading to Queenstown turned out to be very pleasant. There may not have been any entertainment set that kept me busy. But the view outside was more than enough to outrank any Hollywood blockbuster. It was scenic at almost every turn. There must have been more than two dozen instances when I wished I could ask the bus to stop just so I could take pictures.
New Zealand is very well known for agricultural and farm products and it shows. Everywhere you go, you’ll see sheep. The sheep population outnumber humans by 10:1. The make a nice complement to the natural scenery across the main highways – and the Christchurch to Queenstown route is certainly not exempt of this.
baby blue waters of lake tekapo
church of the good shepherd up close
The first memorable one was at Lake Tekapo, which was roughly the halfway mark of our trip. It was the most beautiful lake I have seen in my life. The waters were a milky, gem-like blue against the sunlight. The mountains surrounding the lake and the trees in green, yellow and reddish hues of fall completed the picture. It was absolutely picturesque.
near mt cook
Afterwards, our bus left Tekapo but drove past another baby blue lake – Pukaki – down the coast up to Mount Cook where we stopped for lunch at a The Hermitage, a well-known hotel in the area. The sky was hazy as we were nearing the west coast of the island which is also much wetter compared to the eastern side. The visibility was poor and we could not see Mount Cook that day, unfortunately.
sheep, sheep and more sheep!
We reached Queenstown in the evening. But from the faint glow of light, I could already get a glimpse of the astounding scenery which everyone has been raving out. By this time, we were feeling refreshed despite the long ride – excited to explore what this town had in store for us. Queenstown is supposed to be a town of less than 10,000 people but the vibe and the extent of the city infrastructure suggest a community that is much larger. As it was Black Saturday when we reached, the town was abuzz with party-goers hanging out in the bars, enjoying the long weekend holiday. Queenstown had a very outdoorsy vibe to it – something which I’ve noticed only in one other place among the destinations I’ve visited. I could very well understand why most New Zealanders have a holiday home in town and I wouldn’t mind getting one – if it gives me an well-enough excuse for visiting every summer.