It’s no secret that I lost a huge chunk of my heart to Aotearoa, New Zealand ever since I stepped off that plane back in 2013. I might be back in Germany now but that slice of paradise on the other side of our Planet is on my mind every. single. day. And this is no exaggeration! Not a single day passes where my mind doesn’t wander to the Alps, the lakes, the rainforests or the beaches…
It’s been happening more than usual recently and it’s not like I’m only thinking of New Zealand when I see a photo or read an article. No! It happens while I’m doing completely random things: I open the fridge and an image of a road I travelled down 8 years ago pops up in my head, I empty the dishwasher and all of a sudden I see that one particular house I used to drive by when I dropped the kids off at school. Those memories only ever last two seconds and every time I’m confused how my mind came up with that particular image. Sometimes it’s moments or places that I had almost completely forgotten about. But after these very vivid, fleeting escapes my Fernweh grows even bigger. As I can’t do anything about that right now, I thought I’d just relive my last time in New Zealand and share some of the memories with you:
Having been to New Zealand all by myself three times already it was a pleasant change to have someone by my side this time around. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t lonely on my earlier visits but sometimes it would have been nice to share all the joys (and also pain) with someone else while I was on the road and not with my kiwi families and friends.
Philipp hadn’t been to this part of the world before so I was super duper excited to introduce him to the place he had already heard so much about simply because yours truly wouldn’t shut up about it (still won’t shut up about it, hence you’re reading this blog entry right now).
In good old Maike fashion I had planned the most amazing, adventurous road trip for us (some might say in good old German fashion but I bet we’re not the only excessive planners out there right. Right?), and as I hadn’t seen my dear Wellingtonians in 5 years I picked New Zealands capital as our starting point.
There’s a lot to love about Wellington – it’s compact, it’s chilled out, it offers great food and even better views, it’s full of native bush and birds, and the sea is right there for a quick swim or paddle. Water makes cities just a tad more livable, don’t you think? Wellington is also home to the national museum Te Papa which is always worth a visit. As is the Weta Workshop for all you hobbits and elves out there. Oh and if you happen across Eva St you have to stop to there to pay the folks at Fix & Fogg a visit to get your peanut butter fix. Don’t just let Wellington be your gate to the South Island. If you have enough time on your hands stay there for a few days to fully savor the city’s vibrant mood.
Unfortunately Philipp and me didn’t have heaps of time but it was enough to spend some much-needed time with my Wellington family, check out Te Papa, hike up Mount Victoria, and devour some ice cream while strolling down Oriental Parade. After one night in an Airbnb overlooking Lyall Bay it was time for us to board the ferry that would carry us across the Cook Strait and into Picton harbour where our rental campervan would be waiting for us, ready to explore Te Waipounamu, the South Island with us.
We arrived in Picton late that afternoon and as we wanted to go kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park the next morning we hopped in our van and drove all the way to the small village of Mārahau, which sits at the eastern entrance of the National Park, where we had booked our first night down South.
Abel Tasman National Park
The next morning we were not only woken up by pūkeko (‚weird ducks‘ Philipp called them just now as I’m writing this) foraging the ground around our van: the loud tapping of rain drops had me worried right away that our kayak tour might be cancelled but despite my initial sense of foreboding I was surprisingly calm and positive that it would be alright (usually the slightest threat to a perfect plan has me running around in desperation). When we arrived at Abel Tasman Kayaks they were still keen to take us out there and told us that rain usually brings out the wildlife. The prospect of maybe seeing seals was all it took for me to be really fond of the weather that morning.
So we donned our rain coats and after a short safety briefing we were off! Philipp and me had decided to do a kayak and hike combo but again, if you have more than one day to spare go on an overnight adventure. The Abel Tasman National Park is such a special place, the more time you spend there the better. But as kayaking and hiking both are very calm and relaxing activities it didn’t feel like we were rushing it at all. I can still feel the raindrops on my bare hands and hear the soft rushing of water as we cut through the surface… We might not have seen any seals that day but the views more than made up for that. After about 2 hours on the water we reached Observation Beach where we dried our feet and slid back into our hiking boots while our guide prepared a savoury, warm lunch for us.
The walk back to Mārahau was fairly easy so we enjoyed many breaks to marvel at the ginormous tree ferns, the bright colour of the water below us and one especially curious pīwakawaka that kept following us around. And to top it all off the sun decided to poke her head through the clouds as well. That day in the Abel Tasman couldn’t have turned out any better!
Before bidding the far North of Te Waipounamu good bye I just had to take Philipp to Wharariki Beach. After spending the morning of my 24th birthday there in 2014 I labelled it my all time favourite beach and nothing has changed since. Not even the dismal conditions the two of us experienced when we visited could change my mind, though they probably kept it from becoming Philipps favourite beach, too. To be fair, the weather was harsh. Rain kept slashing at us from the side, that’s how windy it was and the tumultuous sound of wind and waves combined made it hard to understand each other.
But despite being drenched to the bone it felt weirdly good to be exposed to nature like that. And Philipp just reminded me that we had the whole place to ourselves as no one else was crazy enough to go out in conditions like that. And Wharariki not being much of a secret spot anymore, it was indeed quite special that there wasn’t another human being.
Then it was time to head further inland again to a place that really made me fall in love with Te Waipounamu during my first time in Aotearoa.
Back in 2013 I worked on a small lifestyle block just outside of Blenheim, taking care of the horses and chooks and looking after the house. One day I woke up in the small hours, fed the horses, threw my backpack in the trunk of my car and headed off towards Nelson Lakes National Park. Lake Rotoiti had been on my travel list mainly because of its prominent jetty (because who doesn’t love a good, wooden jetty) but there’s so, so much more to explore. In 2013 I decided to hike up the St Arnaud Ranges and the views from the top blew me away. So I can actually pinpoint the exact moment where I lost my heart to the South Island, because that’s when it happened – while I was standing up there in the sun, facing the snowy mountains, high above the blue lake with its glistening surface.
Philipp and me weren’t that lucky with the weather. We had spent the night on a DOC campground by the lake and when we looked out the window the next morning, there was snow on the ground. But white quickly turned into grey again as soon as it started raining. So instead of taking Philipp up the ranges, which were now shrouded in mist, we watched a black swan glide through the water and the domestic eels coiling round below it. There were little tarāpuka/black-billed gull hanging out on the jetty, which I loved observing. Tarāpuka are only found in New Zealand and have the unfortunate status of being the most threatened gull species in the world. So seeing a whole bunch of them was special.
As there was no point hanging out in the rain much longer we headed off towards the West Coast.
The West Coast
A New Zealand road trip isn’t complete without taking in the beauty of the West Coast. There are glacial streams, lush green forests, rugged coastlines and the snow-capped peaks of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, the Southern Alps to feast your eyes on.
There are a gazillion wonderful places you should stop at while travelling this part of Aotearoa, but let’s just focus on a few of them, shall we.
I. Lake Kaniere
Although our itinerary included a lot of places that I had already been to, there were one or two that I hadn’t seen before. Like Lake Kaniere, a few kilometers inland from Hokitika. We spent some time lounging on the jetty until the rain caught up with us. Again. But luckily the sun managed to squeeze through the blanket of clouds in the evening so we could have dinner by the shore in its golden light.
The next morning we headed for a higher vantage point to understand the grandeur of the lake and its surrounds so we shouldered our backpacks and hiked up a steep, steep trail to the top of one of the foothills that rise before the mighty Alps. From up there we could see as far as the Tasman Sea and deep into the valleys separating the mountains behind us.
II. The Glaciers
The West Coast is also home to a few magnificent glaciers, Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere, Franz Josef Glacier being one of them. Descending from the tops of the mountains into native, temperate rainforest, this magnificent river of ice used to fill the whole valley and its terminal face reached right to the sea. That was 18,000 years ago though. Today it lies about 19km away from the shore. When you visit this wild part of Aotearoa, don’t just marvel at the beauty of it all, but let the glacier tell you its very own story of how our Planet is changing.
III. Lake Matheson
The magic that lingered over the lake on that early Spring morning was out of this world. I could have stood there and watch the scenery unfold in front of my eyes for hours on end and after quite a few days with lots of rain and clouds it was a dreamy thing to see clear skies and witness the first light of the day touching Aotearoas two highest peaks, Mount Tasman and Aoraki/Mount Cook. Just looking at my photos from that morning gives me goosebumps (the good kind) and it doesn’t help the fact that I already miss New Zealand very, very badly.
We have now covered the first stretch of our road trip and came all the way from Wellington to the West Coast. The second part of our journey will tell stories of road closures, fine weather days, comfy huts and cheeky goats. Until then you’re welcome to feast your eyes on a few more memories from the slice of heaven that is Aotearoa, New Zealand: