Lake Tekapo was always just a stopover place when I was planning the South Island, a moment to gather myself between the lively scene of Queenstown and the end of the route in Christchurch. In fact, it ended up being, like many of the smaller stops on the way, one of the most memorable. I suppose it has to do with limiting your expectations. As a daydreamer and a romanticist I tend to put too much hype in the way of future plans. Lake Tekapo didn’t strike me as spectacular so all it could really do was surpass that and surpass it indeed it did.
I make friends with another solo female traveller on the bus between Queenstown and Tekapo. An intimidating look sets on her face and I’m apprehensive to start up conversation on the drive. She speaks first though and she’s bloody hilarious, a girl from Finland roaming around a couple countries before she devotes herself to the army back home. We clamber up Mount John, a small forty five minute hike, and chat like we’ve known each other for years. We even scout out vegan food in the village together and are reluctant in our farewells in Christchurch, just the next day.
The scene of it all is something magical all on its own and you’d think that by this stage I’d be over the remarkable natural treasures of the South but nope, each stop has something that sets it apart from the others. Here it’s the sprays of Russell Lupine’s, a wildflower that has quick become my favourite and one I’ve only spotted here in New Zealand, blooming around the still glassy surface of the Lake. Up on Mount John’s peak we take in the full view of Tekapo, tones of purple, pink and turquoise, accented in that lush evergreen that trademarks these lands for me. There’s an observatory up top which we both skipped out on. As with most activities here, it’s pretty pricey and we fancy a free, mellow, star show by the lake later anyways.
On the drive in, our tour guide gets us all stoked for clear skies filled with constellations. For most of the night we aren’t at all fortunate and everything is instead blotted out by thick clouds. Luckily after a restless couple hours trying to sleep on a squeaky bunk, I get up and go for a walk in the early morning hours, I’ve never been so grateful for a sleepless night. Of course I didn’t have my camera with me and it’s not like it would have captured the site all to well anyways. But the sky was filled with stars. I grew up in a city and other than a couple camping trips where the light pollution was left behind, I’ve not had such an opportunity to really see them. It frustrates me some, that such a simple sight, should be so rare but simultaneously renders me speechless that such a small moment could leave such an imprint on me.
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging..”
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”“Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
This is a little bit of a fun one. A once in a life opportunity to be catapulted into one of my most treasured fantastical worlds. Little Hobbit homes on lush green hills, rolling just like Tolkien described. Huge, cinderella pumpkins and budding blooms in pops of vitality. The tour is annoying, like a school trip, everybody overcrowds to get that photo and even take pictures of me and my friends as we act silly in our giddy amazement. It’s still worth it, all of the touristy frustration is okay because this is Hobbiton and this is a very real enchantment. I think I suppressed my expectations for the week building up to the trip. It had been on my bucket list forever and was the first thing I wanted to see on my arrival in New Zealand. Granted it was overpriced and you didn’t get nearly enough time there but it’s just one of those things that’s such a treat if you’re even a little bit into Lord of the Rings. And so much effort went into that movie, the things you learn about the set and the design; individually painted leaves, smaller and bigger Hobbit holes to allude to size difference and the importing of specific cattle and tree types to get Tolkiens world just right. It’s a testament to the whole team behind the series to have this permanent piece of their hard work here.
“May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.”
Queenstown is the backpacker capital of New Zealand. It’s got all of the hikes, water sports, the infamous bungy and of course the wild nightlife. It’s a perfectly fun place to visit…for a couple of days. This is where the strain of being on a guided tour kicked in. I’d based my whole South Island trip on research alone, with an allotted amount of time, before an already booked flight back to England, I’d made a, very unlike me, itinerary. The whole thing was based on the experiences of friends and countless hours of research, so of course Queenstown came out on top.
In the end I had four days there and not all that much to fill them with. The bungy jump had never really appealed to me, I love adrenaline but having to stare over the edge and then throw myself off of a very high platform did nothing at all for my excitement levels and everything for my anxiety. People who had done it gave very mixed reviews and I’d already done my lifelong bucket list goal in Wanaka (read all about my sky dive HERE) so in the end I passed on the whole bungy hype. I don’t regret it by the way, a lot of people have asked me that since.
Other than that there are smaller activities around, the luge gets a good write up, as does the jet boat and the parasailing but I was just over it by then. Overall I’d spent a lot of time, and funds, on activities in the previous stops and nothing in Queenstown really got the blood pumping. It is very touristy, too many people for such a small town. And whilst the atmosphere was thrilling, everyone was putting so much pressure on doing stuff that it sort of sucked the fun right out of it. Not to mention the prices of some of the stuff was just daft. So I did some treks, some sunbathing and some partying and called my time there ‘vacation mode’. I ate a lot of vegan cake and drank a lot of coffees too. It wasn’t a bad time at all, I made some mint memories with some good people but I just wished I’d planned more time in Wanaka and Abel Tasman.
If you are more of the thrill seeking, do absolutely everything possible, type then you will love Queenstown. It’s activity central and the nomads hostel there is a proper good hub for meeting people to do stuff with. Great for my fellow lone wolves out there who sometimes need to grab a group for those group only excursions. But I do feel I have to be honest and say it was by no means my favourite stop, not even close really.
From beaches and lakesides to mountains and hot pools. Franz Josef is grey and that very tangible colour doesn’t transition for the three days we mourn there. Trapped in a hostel with violent clouds that press down and seep into our moods. The whole bus is sullen, moving slower, talking lower, life is at a stand still as we wait and wait for the clouds to lift. Maybe you feel it’s a little melodramatic to be so fixated on the weather, a little eye roll worthy even. But in Franz Josef our two main activities were hiking on the infamous glacier or, in my case, skydiving over it. The skydive there is the highest in New Zealand at 19,000 feet and the view one of the rarest in the world. Not only that but it is voted the second best spot in the whole entire world to skydive. It didn’t happen though. The clouds made flying conditions unsafe and guaranteed that if we did make it up into the skies we probably wouldn’t catch a glimpse of very much. So it was a sullen slump but made for a quick recharge moment, I ate a lot and bonded with others on my bus lots. So there’s that. And I did managed the tiny hour or so trek to actually see the glacier. Not a complete loss but not a trip highlight either. I truly think that this could have been a trip highlight had the sun broken through for just half a day but you win some, you lose some and the disappointment here only made for an amplified experience at my next destination…
Sunset lighting makes me feel at home no matter where in the world I am. It rests somewhere deep inside with a spreading warmth, a belonging and a detachment. When you watch on surrounded by other bodies, you’ll notice the same awe struck look on each face. There’s a reason so many people indulge in sunsets, take photographs aplenty and try so ardently to capture the colours, the shadows, the magic. Nature is a constant reminder of how insignificant we are and I feel like when you’re confronted with the almost divine impossibilities of the world you can’t help but mellow out into everything surrounding you. This is that united energy, the higher conciousness of realising we’re all lost here really. We don’t know whats out there, why we were put here, what really made our universe and continues to keep it going. This was one of many moments in the South Island that I truly couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. I was forcing my mind to catalogue the shape of the water in the shadow of the sun, the mist in the air like visible energy dancing around us, the passing clouds so defined they looked photoshopped in the clear sky. I felt alone amongst that crowd of strangers but I also felt so contentedly at ease. The anxiety vanished and I could breathe slow and distinguished. It remains the best sunset I’ve ever seen and part of me likes the thought of one day maybe witnessing another, greater, one. The end of the day in all of its celebrated glory. I’ve seen many sunsets on various beaches, in so many lands but this was spectacular. None of these photo’s have been edited and my camera is definitely not the greatest, I don’t have a fancy lense or any knowledge of how to use it properly, really. And still, this little gallery makes me smile and catch my breath and I hope it illicit’s something in you too. However basic bitch, extra af, a sunset photoshoot may be, they’ll always remain some of my favourites to look at because despite the mysterious beauty, the liveliness of the dieing day, the visuals come to my mind in a rush of scattered words and vivid emotions and that is the magic I’m running toward with every plane, train and bus I take. I’m searching for the simple forms that define ‘living’ and this is it.
Tauranga is a handful of city with a less hectic vibe. There are some halfway there towers of buildings, professionally dressed people dotted about the cafes and a lot of cool projects on the rise. When I feel like I need a little city wonder it doesn’t really do it for me but then there lies the charm of New Zealand, it’s tiny cities and easy flow of life. There is a starbucks in Tauranga and it is the main reason I ever ventured there in the first place. Starbucks has always been my constant as I’ve bummed about travelling, always a familiar mug of coffee in a nearly identical space. But nowadays when I head to Tauranga it’s for this place, The Nourished Eatery. It lies just a two minute walk from the city centre bus stop and first snagged me in because it advertised, not only vegan food but Flight Coffee too. And Flight Coffee is my preferred bean for sure.
They do an Iced Maple latte that you can have with any choice of plant based milk (every single thing here is vegan, not even cow juice is available for the drinks). I always go for rice milk and they serve the components separate so you can chose your own level of caffeineyness. Of course I just chuck all of it in there. I always want to go for one of their smoothies but I can’t get over how good this iced coffee is.
As for food, well, it’s just as impressive. There are the expected raw treats on display which do look yum but me and my sweet tooth always sidetrack them for the good, indulgent, baked stuff. So far I’ve tried their custard passionfruit donut, apple and cinnamon muffin, choc chip cookie and Banana loaf. Now I just always chose the banana loaf. They manage to make all of their cakes so fluffy and light which is always a problem I have when I bake vegan bits myself.
From the menu I’ve only ever tried the avocado on toast, it was insane. They give you so much avocado and the seasoning is wonderful thing. I don’t really have the foodie lingo to truly amp it up I guess but as far as vegan food goes this is a top choice here in New Zealand, definitely one of my favourites and of course it’s a local, independent, business which is always a bonus.
This is the West Coast, a stretch of road put up on the list of the best road trips in the world. Can you see why? Imagine the pure, raw, site of it all. That lazy ocean and frayed shapes of the pancake rocks. This little piece of my journey was enough to remind me that seeing an imagine second hand isn’t enough. That as much as I appreciate photography, as much as it may be my favourite visual art form, it can’t quite ignite the feelings of being present and reaching that cosmic level of understanding. Understanding the levels of beauty on our tiny piece of universe. This shit is what the aliens would invade us for. Standing at a view point with that early summer breeze sauntering through the air, temperatures so perfect you’re niether shivering nor sweating, the crowds around you are nothing because what you see, this actual real scenery, has consumed you. The ocean is my home, it’s my councillor, my mysterious lover, the one place I will never tire of returning too and this chunk of road time swelled that connectedness in my heart.
My memory is a little mushed with the particulars of the trip but I’m almost positive that this was the connection between Westport and Lake Mahinapua. I have no pictures of Westport so I’ll quickly say that, though it wasn’t as magical as a lot of the trip, I did paddle board for the first time (such a meditative activity) and did enjoy the hostel heaps, Bazil’s Hostel. Me and a couple of the girls even did an early morning Yoga class and grabbed a surprisingly good cup of coffee before we set off which probably put my mind in the perfect set up to connect with all that natural wonder around us.