As many of you will know, earlier this year I spent a few months travelling solo around New Zealand. What a powerful way to kick-start the year, and a very deep and personal inner journey too! That inner journey is still ongoing and very raw, and though I have already shared some of that with you, I hope to come to a place where I can share the rest with you soon. For now, I want to focus on New Zealand itself – that incredible, astoundingly beautiful country! A few weeks back I shared my North Island Highlights, and now it’s the South’s turn. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them).
The first time I visited the South Island in 2011, it was a two-week, whistle-stop tour of the island. Back then, somehow, Queenstown barely left an imprint on my mind as it was just a base point for a trip out to Milford Sound. All I recalled of it was arriving late, inconsiderate dorm-mates, a pizza place and an early bus leaving for Christchurch. I wasn’t even going to go back there this second time around as I had thought it wasn’t worth it, but in the end I decided to give it a second chance seeing as my planned route pretty much took me there anyway.
I am SO glad I went back. I cannot comprehend how I was so blinkered to Queenstown’s stunning beauty and wonderful, happy vibes the first time around. That lake, those mountains, the sunsets… True, Queenstown is a major destination for backpackers, tourists and adrenaline junkies, but it still felt pretty relaxed to me. In fact, when sitting on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and taking in that view, I felt the deepest peace and serenity I have ever felt. Perhaps it is because the water is so pure (one of the purest bodies of water on the planet, apparently) and the mountains so protective.
Glenorchy and the surrounding area
Being the The Lord of the Rings superfan that I am, I jumped at the chance to see more filming locations and hopped on a tour from Queenstown out towards Glenorchy and the surrounding area. Really, there are no words to do justice to how impressive, mesmerising and strikingly beautiful that part of New Zealand is. Even if you are not a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you just HAVE to go and see it with your own eyes. Mountains, Lake Wakatipu, forests, great rivers and valleys… It is no wonder that so many films are shot there – the grandeur and purity is like nothing else.
The night sky at Lake Tekapo
Tekapo, a very small, nondescript town perched on the edge of the lake of the same name, is a black-out area – meaning that, at night time, there is next to no light pollution and thus the clearest skies you will ever see in your life. I went on a 1am trip to the Mt John Observatory where no white light is allowed at all, and the starry skies are as clear as they can be on earth. From this vantage point, you can even see the whispy cloud-like form of another galaxy! Back in “civilisation”, I lament the diminished night skies we have due to light pollution. Craning your neck to drink in the sight of millions of stars scattered like diamond dust across the heavens creates the truest feeling of awe. It is a sight that every pair of eyes should see. That’s when you “get it”, when you really start to appreciate the true magnificence of our universe.
Although, weather-permitting, you can really appreciate the wondrous skies from anywhere around Tekapo, the Mt John Observatory tour is definitely a must. For several hours you are guided by knowledgeable astrophysicists who explain to you exactly what you are looking at, and you can look through some of the powerful telescopes they use there. It was here that I saw the Tarantula Nebula… a nebula located in another galaxy! It’s the most fun science lesson you will ever have, with complementary hot chocolate to boot!
The South Island is famed for its natural beauty, but also for its unique wildlife. I hopped on an Elm Wildlife tour from Dunedin that not only took in the gorgeous landscape and scenery, but gave us the opportunity to see some incredible wildlife up close: Royal Albatross, Sea Lions, Fur Seals and the rare Yellow-eyed Penguins and Blue Penguins. It was like walking through the TV into an Attenborough documentary! Of course, you can drive the peninsular on your own, but I completely recommend Elm Wildlife tours as they are the only company to give you up-close experiences of the animals on normally inaccessible nature reserve farmland. The guides are really knowledgeable and completely respectful of the animals.
I was torn between Dunedin and Christchurch as to which city impressed me the most. Christchurch has been a wonderful place to visit both times I have been, all the more so as it bravely and positively puts itself back together post-earthquakes. However, Dunedin just edged in on the top city spot because of its interesting (though indisputably morally questionable) colonial history and incredible buildings. Dunedin has a very strong Scottish heritage which is still heartily embraced to this day (in fact, on the day I arrived, there was a bagpipe concert competition in the octagon-shaped main square, kilts and all); this, coupled with the fact that it is a university town, gives it a fun, thriving, cultural atmosphere. Dunedin is also the farthest city in the world from London!
New Zealand as a whole is a truly incredible country, but (Hobbiton aside) I definitely favour the South Island the most. It is a never-ending feast for the eyes and the soul, especially for those of us for whom nature is life force of our lives! I simply cannot wait to go back one day and see even more.