Towering alps and exquisite waterfalls. Te Anau to the Fiordlands, Queenstown and speedboating down the Shotover. Lake Tekapo, made of glacier run-off, milky and frigid and stunning.
The south island of New Zealand is more raw than the north island. The sheep far outnumber the humans. It’s a place of stark contrasts and sudden mood swings.
Flying to the country was a fairly straightforward overnight plane trip, but landing in Christchurch proved to be the first of a series of unanticipated adventures.
I think somehow, we get more than our fair share of those.
I like to say, we get plenty and more than our money’s worth out of life.
The pilot announced our arrival with a hearty “Good morning!” and proceeded to point out the view. The rising kiwi sun struck the tops of snow covered alps in a stunning introduction to the country.
Then he pointed out the obvious. The mountains were all we could see. Civilized areas with runways were totally fogged in. He decided to circle on auto pilot and see if the fog would lift.
While we waited for the plane to run out of gas, we were treated to a glorious bird’s eye tour of the area. Bonus!
Our pilot ran out of patience instead.
Down we plummeted toward the place where he was pretty sure a runway was.
We were completely blind until rooftop altitude, where the fog ended. Suddenly the tarmac was right under us and if the landing was a little bumpy and abrupt, we didn’t mind because now we could breathe again.
The cabin burst into applause.
We rented a camper van on the outskirts of town, filling out an amazing amount of paperwork.
Then we flipped a coin to see who was going to drive first.
As usual, my statement on Day One was, “How hard can this be?”
It was the ultimate backseat driver’s dream. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car.
Which means you drive your car on the left side of the road. We spent the trip chanting “stay left, stay left, stay LEFT!”.
Our first destination was the gondola ride across town, and I drove right through the middle of the city. We had no intention of stopping. But when our one way street starting to turn us the wrong way, I needed to pull over. A nice big parking lot seemed like a safe spot. Which it was.
Turning around and leaving proved a bit challenging.
It’s not my fault I backed into the lady’s shiny new red car.
I had plenty of space and I was going super slow and Hubby was giving directions via large and sweeping arm gestures.
I stopped when his arms went straight up into ‘touchdown’ position, not because of the little crashing sounds from the far depths of the camper. The kitchen galley back there was full of pots and pans that clanked along during the road trip. I just thought they wanted out to play.
This is why you fill out all that rental paperwork.
So that when a woman from another country gets hysterical because some crazy american tourist has put her tail light into said woman’s driver car door, the aforementioned crazy american can just go back to the rental place and say, “Dude, this is your problem and I am now fleeing the country. My bad.”
And flee we did.
Hubby drove the rest of the trip, which is just as well because then I could laugh every single time we bought petrol. He would trot around to my side of the car and hop into my lap to drive away.
I could warn him when the roundabouts were coming. These are circular intersections that will hold you hostage until you make the iron clad decision to exit, just to stop turning. You do NOT want to go the wrong direction in a roundabout.
Our camper van let us park all over the south island. We woke up to a different view every morning and didn’t worry about hotels or pit stops or restaurants.
We searched for greenstone, wandered among Paparoa’s Pancake Rocks, admired glacier ice caves, discovered suspension bridges.
Be warned. This is the land of the bungy jump and the fastest motor bike in the world. Kiwis thrive on adventure. So if you’re told it’s “an easy walkabout”, it’s an all day life-or-death tramp through the Abel Tasman jungles. Now you know.
We didn’t have time to see the penguins or the glowworms.
But they’ll be waiting when we go back.
Driving on the wrong side of the road is always an experience. To turn right you must look both ways. What? Several near misses for me in Ireland and England. New Zealand sounds like a place I would love…bucket list item.