I’m going to talk to you about New Zealand as if you don’t know anything about it, because I didn’t before we arrived. If you’re an NZ savant or just know basic world geography, which apparently I don’t, then skip down a bit. First, the country consists of two islands located east of Australia: the North Island and the South Island. 75% of New Zealanders, also called Kiwis, based on the bird, not the fruit, live on the North Island, and the majority of those people live in the city of Auckland, in the north part of the north island. While both islands are said to be beautiful, we chose to spend nearly two weeks driving around the South, where people are fewer and you can go miles without seeing another car. The island isn’t huge, but there are only a few roads connecting the towns and they’re mostly small, often windy and usually filled with sheep and one-way bridges, meaning 30 mph is standard and it can take two hours to go 50 miles. That said, the driving is the reason to go. Every turn is another scene from a postcard and the distances are broken up with super sweet one-horse (literally) towns. Most of your lodging options on the South Island are either motels, motor lodges or backpackers’, which are the same as hostels. We did a mix of the three with an AirBNB thrown in. We were looking forward to renting a car and getting lost for a while, so we left Australia after two weeks there and flew two hours from Sydney to Christchurch. Christchurch is on the northeast coast of NZ’s South Island. It was hit by two earthquakes back in 2010 and 2011 and the latter one destroyed the city. Nearly 200 people died and the place is only now rebuilding, as it took until recently to clear the debris and fallen buildings. They are doing the coolest things with the empty lots and otherwise dead space: street art on the remaining buildings, sculptures, interactive public spaces made up of dance floors, treehouses, grass furniture and kaleidescopes, all in an effort to bring a little fun and life to what would otherwise exist only as a disaster zone waiting to be rebuilt. There is a church made of cardboard, because the main one was ruined. An outdoor shopping mall has popped up, with shops and restaurants housed in huge metal shipping containers and food trucks everywhere. It’s like Brooklyn without the bridge. We left ChCh, as the cool kids call it, after two nights (stayed at City Centre Motel) and hit the road. In the next 10 days we drove through beautiful scene after beautiful scene. It looked like a box of crayons had thrown up: cerulean lakes filled with glacial water, kelly green grass and emerald forests, snow white sheep and goats, bright yellow and orange and pink fields of flowers, purple snow-capped mountains, black sand beaches, fiery red sunsets and rarely another car. It felt like we had Middle Earth to ourselves (btw I’m not a Lord of the Rings freak, but everywhere I looked I imagined Frodo and the Hobbit frolicking ’round the land). We drove south to Mt Cook (Mt. Cook Lodge), further south to Wanaka (Wanakabakpaka, with an amazing kitchen as the hostel used to be a restaurant) and Queenstown (Melbourne Lodge B&B), more south still to Te Anau (Bob & Maxine’s Backpackers), then back up north to Kaikoura (Top 10 Motor Lodge) and Blenheim (amazing AirBNB), in the heart of Marlborough wine country. We hiked, known in NZ as tramping, saw glaciers, chased the full moon around the mountains and picked up a few hitchhikers. When in New Zealand. The first one I asked before he got in the car, “Are you an ax murderer?” He said no so we told him to get in. There are photos of the three of them below – they look relatively normal and nary a pitchfork was to be found. Also during this time, the KC Royals were in the World Series vs the NY Mets (for our international friends, this is baseball). We watched every game but one, and every day that we picked up a hitchhiker, KC won. The day we didn’t pick one up was the only day KC lost. So clearly it was all up to us. On Nov 2nd in NZ, Nov 1st in the US, the Royals won the World Series for the first time in 30 years. We picked up a hitchhiker that day — we actually sought one out this time, virtually ensuring a KC win, you’re welcome — and watched every minute up until ESPN cut us off after the ceremonies. I think my husband shed a few tears. Rugby is the big sport in NZ, along with cricket, and the NZ rugby team, the All-Blacks, won the World Cup on the same day as KC’s World Series win, so a successful sports run was had by all. I also turned 39 during our road trip, on Nov 1 (though I think Anthony driving on the other side of the road aged me another ten years), and we spent the day hiking, had a picnic lunch on top of a mountain and cruised through Milford Sound on the west coast. The boat took us under a waterfall, we saw dolphins and seals and the day ended with a rainbow. It was perfect. We finished our road trip in wine country, where we toured wineries and drank a lot of sauv blanc. Pinot noir is another big one in the area. Finally we returned our postage stamp-sized car and took a ferry three hours north, out of the Marlborough sound and across the Tasman Sea, to the North Island. We spent the night in Wellington (Capital City Backpackers, one of the nicest hostels we’ve seen), the super cool capital of NZ, where we explored the harbor, went out for drinks, ate at the night market and then ate more at dinner with an Aussie couple we’d met at the wineries the day before. The next day we flew up to Auckland (northern part of the north island) and from there flew to Tonga. New Zealand was one of the highlights of our trip so far. One note of caution: though we were all speaking the same language, for the most part I couldn’t understand a word said by anyone who lived there. I had better comprehension skills in Russia. If you go, just have a map handy and get ready to nod politely. And stay on the left side of the road.
Where stayed on NZ’s South Island:
City Centre Motel, Christchurch
Mt. Cook Lodge, Mt. Cook
Wanakabakpaka, Wanaka Lake (loved this place and its kitchen)
Melbourne Lodge B&B, Queenstown
Bob & Maxine’s Backpackers, Te Anau (they have a weird thing here about not turning the heat up too much – just prepare to be cold if you go during winter/spring)
Top 10 Motor Lodge, Kaikoura (this place was something – maybe a step up from camping, and the first where we had to rent sheets & towels – at least the heat worked)
Stay On Stephenson, Blenheim, Marlborough wine country (B&B, as breakfast is included, but you’re renting a small house – loved this place)
Where stayed on NZ’s North Island:
Capital City Backpackers, Wellington (one of the nicest hostels we’ve seen, up there with Soul Kitchen in Saint Petersburg and Pension Aia in San Sebastian)
This is incredible. Looks like a tourism ad for Middle Earth.
Awesome! What a great place to spend your b-day!
Can’t wait to see you and hear more details about your entire
adventure. Welcome Home! Love yous
National Geographic, eat your heart out! Looks like a pictorial documentary of NZ.
BUT, SO HAPPY you are back home, yay!
WOW, Baby it looks cold out side, take me to the Gulf of Mexico, any day, pics are beautiful, just not my type of place I would like to visit, it’s 5:45AM, I woke up early, love your bio on NZ! be safe, belated Happy Birthday, & I love U two, R U coming home for Christmas? miss U guys!!! all my love, BE SAFE!!!!
Y’all have truly seen and done it all. I am just in awe of both of you and all your tenacity and daring. I love you and miss you and CANNOT wait to see you when you’re finally back!! When exactly is that btw?! xoxo
Another awesome adventure!