New Zealand 2019

This year to celebrate Brad’s birthday, we went to New Zealand.

I had never really thought of going to New Zealand, but we really loved it. It was the longest vacation we’d taken in over 10 years and the first time we’d gone overseas since we’ve lived in Arizona (10 years).

The flight was very long. We flew into Auckland from LA (on very cheap tickets) and then immediately took a quick flight down to Wellington, which was cold and windy as advertised. After an overnight there, we took the ferry down to the southern island. We loved the ferry! The scenery was beautiful.

On the other end of the ferry, we rented a car in Picton. Driving on the left side of the road went better than expected, but it sometimes took two of us. :)

From Picton, we drove a couple hours north to Kaiteri and the Abel Tasman National Park. Though were weren’t here long, it was one of our favorite parts of the trip (and the warmest) and definitely somewhere we’d like to return. The coastline was beautiful, and on the full day we were there, we hiked part of the  Abel Tasman Coast Track. (NZ is known for its many multi-day backpacking trails, called tracks.) We took a boat up the coast and then hiked back down.

After that, we drove to Christchurch and spent a quick overnight at a eco-friendly b&b. (NZ is amazingly ecologically oriented. Everywhere we went there were recycling and compost bins. Carryout cups and bags were discouraged through an extra charge. We really liked all the focus on sustainability and wonder why there isn’t more of that in the US.)

Then we drove on to Te Anau. There was lots of driving on this trip, but it was all very pleasant, scenic small rural roads. In the north, there were miles and miles of vineyards. In the south, green rolling hills with lots and lots of sheep. (There are 27 million sheep in NZ, compared to only 5 million people. A good ratio, I think.)

Te Anau was to be the departure point for the centerpiece of our trip, a 5-day backpacking trip on the Milford Track.

When we set off, the weather was nice, but we had been warned for days about a big storm approaching the whole island. On the boat trip to the trail head, we were told that there had been unusually high rain all month. Then we were told that the dock we’d land at was not a floating dock, so we’d be wading through knee-deep water to reach shore. Little did we know that this would get much worse. By the time we came back, it was waist-deep.

Here’s a part of the trail before the rain started.

The first day’s hike was nice but by the time we got to the first hut, it was raining hard. In the next few hours, we’d get about 4 inches of rain, and it didn’t let up. By evening, we were told that there was a good chance the trail would be closed and we’d be stuck there indefinitely.

To shorten the story, after a day, we had a tough choice to make: stay and wait to see what would happen (the forecast was rain and more rain) or turn back. Ultimately, we decided to turn back, along with about 35 of the 40 people in our hut. It was somewhat heart-breaking to do this, but I think it was probably the right decision. (Brad was more confident of that then I was.) The last we heard, the rain hadn’t let up and they were helicoptering people to a further point.

Here is a picture of part of the hike back. (Apparently, we were both too despondent to take pictures of the waist-deep water back the boat.)

I later learned that Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world getting 252 inches of rain a year (compared to 23 for London and 12 for Tucson). And this month had been a particularly wet one.

One positive of all the rain was the waterfalls that resulted. The Milford Sound drive was absolutely incredible. (The pictures don’t really show it.)

A change in plans gave me a chance to exercise some spontaneity, which is not always my strong point in travel.

We drove south to explore the Caitlins, not originally a part of our itinerary, but we loved it. We stayed on a farm and explored some really lovely coastline on the southern shore. 

We also visited the southern-most point of New Zealand. Looking at a world map, it’s surprising how far south NZ is — definitely the furthest south we’d every been. And after considerable effort, we saw the elusive yellow-eyed penguin! The Caitlins were definitely a highlight of the trip and good reinforcement for me that unplanned adventures can be amazing.

All over NZ, we ate some amazing food (local cheese and dairy were highlights, along with lots of locally-grown produce) and drank some great wine. We stayed at several places that had full kitchens and so we enjoyed cooking. There were also some very good restaurants, especially in Auckland.

After our diversion, we returned to our planned agenda with a couple days in Queenstown. This was a place we weren’t sure we’d love (we didn’t), but it was beautiful, set on a lake and surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Sorry we’d missed our big hike, we did a day-hike here, which was cold and rainy, but still enjoyable. And we saw keas, the alpine parrots.

From there, we hopped a plane to Auckland where we’d planned to spend our final three days. We stayed at a nice b&b in Ponsonby, which was a perfect location. There were tons of restaurants and shops nearby, and we were within easy walking distance of the downtown business district and harbors.

In Auckland, we walked and ate a lot. We also took a short ferry across the harbor to Devonport, which we enjoyed.

While we were there, there was a major volcanic eruption, which resulted in fatalities as well as disrupted travel plans for many (compounded by flooding and collapsed bridges on the south island as a result of continued rains). Fortunately, this didn’t affect our plans.

Other random impressions of NZ…. There was a tremendous amount of variety in the country, everything from sandy beaches to alpine mountains to rocky coastlines. The people were super friendly and nice. The rural areas of NZ seemed to be thriving (unlike similar areas in the US). Everywhere we went felt friendly, safe, and comfortable.

Overall, we LOVED NZ! I would definitely recommend it, and I hope we get to return.

Here are more photos.

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