Today was my first day back at work since August. I survived! And only had 2,000 emails. O_o.
We’ve been back in the UK for exactly two weeks, and despite the frigid temperatures, lack of daylight and absolute farce that is Brexit (don’t get me started…)… it is good to be home. We’ve spent the time since we landed catching up with our gorgeous friends and families, including meeting my extra-gorgeous 10-week old nephew for the first time, and of course stuffing our faces with Quality Street over Christmas.
I’ll write properly about life since we landed in a little while, but I didn’t want to leave our trip unfinished. First, I have one last adventure to bring you, and I think it was probably the best one yet. A ridiculous road trip from Christchurch to Queenstown, on our final weekend in NZ.
Back to the start
Christchurch was the first place we flew into, on the 1st of December 2013, and to this day I can remember looking out of the plane window and seeing mountains for the first time. I skyped my mum from our hostel room and held the computer up so she could see them out the window. It wasn’t long after the earthquake that decimated the city, and it was a really strange place to be. A lot of it was just rubble, or recently cleared: one third of the city’s buildings had to be demolished, including most of the CBD.
I remember walking around talking about how cool it would be to come back in five or ten years, and see what had changed. Spooky, right?…
A lot had changed. The Re:Start mall (famous for being made of shipping containers) is long gone, with a beautiful new shopping district now in its place. On the bus in from the airport, I mentioned to Rob how clean the city looked, and once you noticed it you couldn’t not notice it. It all looks really new. And then you realise why. It’s kind of haunting.
Our hostel was awesome, and a total flashback to travelling (we would have felt we’d hit the jackpot turning up there 5 years ago!). But we were really only there to sleep: we dropped our stuff off and went straight into the city to explore.
Christchurch was built to really closely resemble an English town, and it’s truly bizarre: at times you could be forgiven for thinking you were strolling along the river in Oxford. They even have punts!
It’s also quite a controversial place, nowadays. the people who live there want to rebuild the city back to how it was before the quake. Which makes sense. But costs money. Which would have to be siphoned off from other things. And should it? It was a really thorny issue, and in the news quite a lot while we were out there.
The cathedral had a real impact on me. It looked exactly the same as when we were there last time. There are great gaping holes in the roof and the walls, and you can see pigeons nesting on the rafters. There’s rubble all around it, and its closed off behind a big fence. It was like news footage you see of a war zone, or a city that’s been bombed, and it’s very strange being in a place like that having grown up somewhere as secure (both politically and geographically!) as Britain.
There are lots of pictures on the hoardings around it of how it used to look. It was so strange to see things from my own not-so-distant past so completely altered. I do wonder what they’ll do with the cathedral in particular; it’s something I’ll be following now that we’re back.
ANYWAY. It certainly wasn’t a sad place. There was loads of street art, including the one below which REALLY spoke to me…! We went to a crazy coffee shop in an old post office which delivers chips via pneumatic tube (not even joking). We walked around the Botanic Gardens, and found ourselves back outside the first hostel we stayed in on our previous trip. I could almost see 25-year-old me walking down the road ahead.
Then we got an early night, because Sunday was ROAD TRIP TIIIIIIIME!
Up by 7, on the road by 8. No map, because there aren’t enough roads, and 470km until Queenstown. MY KIND OF DAY.
We took the scenic route, as advised by R’s workmates, though because it was pretty cloudy for most of the morning we aren’t sure how scenic it actually was. Thankfully, about 10am the cloud lifted… and we were rewarded with this.
I could have stood there all day. Those flowers <3. They’re called lupins, and I remember them so clearly from our last trip that I actually showed photos of them to the florist for our wedding. (I really love NZ, did I ever mention that?…)
Our first stop was Lake Tekapo. This is best known for being a dark sky reserve, and therefore excellent for stargazing. We’d actually thought about staying there on the Saturday night in order to experience it for ourselves, but then we wouldn’t have had much time in Christchurch, and we were really keen to retrace our steps from travels past. It also didn’t get dark til so late we’d probably have fallen asleep before we saw any stars!
Anyway. Tekapo was very blue, and very pretty, but also seemed very touristy. If you’re heading to NZ any time soon, may I recommend Lake Pukaki instead?
Now we’re Cooking*
(*I have to thank my husband for that pun; it’s one of the best he’s ever come up with and he’d never forgive me otherwise.)
Pukaki is less than an hour on from Tekapo and is so beautiful I was honestly SPEECHLESS. And that does not happen very often. I think the last time it happened, a certain Welshman asked me to marry him.
YEAH. IT’S THAT GOOD.
We came round a corner and over a hill and suddenly… BAM. I’ve never seen so much blue. BRIGHT blue, thanks to the glacial waters, and absolutely bloody stunning.
These Kiwis really don’t shout about things enough. There was a small visitor’s centre, but it seemed more preoccupied with selling smoked salmon than celebrating THAT VIEW. I mean, come on, guys!…
The thing about Lake Pukaki is that on a clear day you literally look straight across the water at Mount Cook, the highest mountain in NZ. Now, there were a few clouds hanging about when we arrived, but we still took some photos. Of course we only realised once the clouds cleared that the mountain I am looking at below is actually… slightly to the right of Mount Cook.
Because once Mount Cook revealed itself, it was pretty flipping obvious which one it was.
Oh. My. God. This was a total pinch me moment. Sitting eating our lunch staring across this gleaming, sparkling lake, at a gigantic snowy mountain. I felt like I was in Narnia. ButI wasn’t! I was in NZ!!
Mount Cook’s Maori name is Aoraki, which means CLOUD PIERCER. Very cool. Very unforgettable. Again, it was hard to tear ourselves away, but we had to get back en route to our next stop: Wanaka.
I’ll tell you what I Wanaka
(Just a quick note, the “Wan” is pronounced to rhyme with “gone” (or Obi-Wan) not to rhyme with “man”. R got it wrong every single time and it drove me CRAZY. So I just needed to get that in there.)
Wanaka! Another revisit from our previous trip. We only had an afternoon here last time, but I remember sitting on the gravelly shore of the lake and of course, backpacker clichés that we were, going to Puzzling World. If you know, you know. And if you do know – how hard was that maze!?!?
The weather was incredible: absolutely baking. We had thought about doing one of the walking trails and getting to Queenstown a bit later, but it was really too hot to do much more than stroll around the lake! I’m running out of adjectives, but it really is mindblowing to be stood in 27 degree heat, wishing you could throw yourself in the cool water, yet looking at snow-capped mountains across the lake. This is summertime NZ at its best.
The main event
Back in the car, and we were getting excited. It was late afternoon by this point, and our final stop was getting closer.
If there is one place in NZ we remember, and talk about, and dream about, and rave to anyone who will listen about… it’s Queenstown. If you only had time to visit one place in NZ, I’d tell you to go to Queenstown. It’s magical. It’s incredible. It’s a playground. It’s the greatest place I’ve ever been.
And we were on the way back there.
We were both buzzing. Queenstown is New Zealand on steroids. It’s mountains and lakes and forests and jetboats and sunsets. It’s like a film set. Nobody who lives there is from there. Everyone’s passing through, stopping for a few weeks, working the season. It’s THE BEST.
We made sure we drove in via the Crown Range Road, which really is the only way to do it. Switchbacks like you’ve never seen, and sweeping views over the hills and plains… it’s the best, I tell you!!
Queenstown is on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, which is NZ’s third-biggest, and its deepest. The mountains here are called the Remarkables, and I can’t imagine a more perfect name for them. In the winter this is a ski town, but in the summer, its adrenaline central. This is literally the place where the bungee was born.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Sally’s not exactly an adrenaline junkie. Especially after the Sky Tower incident. And you would be right! But even if you aren’t looking for a cliff to throw yourself off, there’s just an electricity in the air in Queenstown that isn’t quite like anywhere else.
We hot-footed it straight to potentially our favourite bar IN THE WORLD: Atlas Bar. Yep, this is another place we visited five years ago. I remember being squeezed in the corner of this tiny, galley-shaped bar, drinking a pint back in the days when I couldn’t really drink a whole pint (to be fair, that hasn’t really changed). We didn’t have much money to blow on drinks last time, so I’m pretty sure I made that pint last quite a while! I was so so happy that it was still there.
Of course, we went to Fergburger. WHAT DO YOU MEAN you haven’t heard of Fergburger? It’s ONLY the best burger in the world. True story. Go, queue, enjoy. It’s SO worth it. If it’s good enough for Ed Sheeran and the Irish Rugby Team (during the World Cup… questionable nutrition tactics there), it’s good enough for you. There are no pictures of my burger; this shows how good it was. I had been worried that 25-year-old backpacker me had just thought it was good because she’d been living off pasta and tinned tuna for weeks, but never fear. 25-year-old me knew it was a good burger. 30-year-old me knows HOW GOOD a burger it was.
We nabbed a spot on the jetty and watched the paragliding instructors whizz down from the mountain to the beach (if those guys aren’t living the dream then seriously, who is?) as the sun went down. At like TEN O CLOCK AT NIGHT. Did I mention how much the lack of daylight is getting to me since we’ve been back!?
Then we made a new discovery: Little Blackwood. It felt like the closest to a British pub at Christmas as we’d found in NZ; maybe because it was dark, maybe because we were drinking whiskey, maybe because there were two Irish guys singing folk songs? Who cares why: it was great. One for the list next time we’re back in town.
We woke up at 6am on the Monday to blazing sunshine. SO MUCH DAYLIGHT! SOB.
It was very strange to think, “I’m going home this week.” So I stopped thinking about it, slapped on a sh*t load of suncream and after a quick stop at Fergbaker for breakfast, we set off on our absolute favourite walk of the trip. Everyone who visits Queenstown takes the cable car up Bob’s Peak. We decided to walk it!
It was pretty steep, and pretty scrambly, and absolutely bloody beautiful. It does warn you the track is fairly strenuous; once you get nearer the top there are steps and it levels out, but for the first hour or so we did find ourselves clambering over tree roots wondering if we were even still on the path! Every now and then you’d get a little snatch of bright blue through the trees. Rob started playing “sky or water”, and sometimes it really was hard to tell.
There’s also a Zipwire through the forest here, so every now and then the beautiful, scenic, peace would be shattered by some nutter screaming swear words as they flew over your head. Hilarious!
You can go on further than we did, all the way to the Ben Lomond Reserve, but we’d have needed all day for that. Another one for next time!
Last time, we spent ages waiting at the top of the peak for the sun to go down, to take some pictures of the town all lit up. Which means we have absolutely loads of photos of the two of us on that viewing platform. We love them. There’s one in particular which I’ve always kept going back to: it just captures so much of that trip, and looking back at it I can really remember how I felt to be standing there.
So being able to recreate it was pretty special.
Speaking of special: we had one more thing planned to mark the end of the trip. We booked a lil pamper sesh at the Onsen Hot Springs, and if you are ever in the area I cannot recommend this highly enough! We went at 9pm and looked out over the Shotover valley and watched it get dark, sat in this beautiful, steaming-hot tub. An hour was not long enough, and I’ll be staring at the photos of that view for a long time.
Don’t take me home
Then suddenly, it was Tuesday, and that meant we were going home tomorrow. We didn’t fly until the afternoon, so we spent the morning dodging the rain, walking around the lake, playing on the swings (I’m a child), drinking hot chocolate at Patagonia Cafe and taking a few last photos.
Before I could get too misty-eyed about leaving QT (again), the flight back to Welly brought me back down to earth. Seriously. Good god. It was HORRENDOUS. I am not a brilliant flyer at the best of times, and I seem to be getting worse as I get older, though in my defence when we (FINALLY) touched down the man in front said that he’d done that flight hundreds of time, and that was the worst he’d ever experienced. I honestly thought we were going to die, as I told Rob a number of times. He just read his book, because he is a) calm and b) trusting of flying machines. I am neither of those things (humans are NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE AIR) and found myself drafting the news story about our untimely demise for the entire length of the journey…
Anyway. Suffice to say, we did make it home. By which I mean Welly. I just wrote that automatically. Home.
We were back in the flat, we were packing, then all of a sudden… we were packed. That makes it sound a lot easier than it was. I definitely sent a photo of my overstuffed suitcase to Mum saying “SEND HELP”. But that’s how it felt: I zipped up the bag, and was done.
All that was left was to go home.
More on that later.