We couldn’t have picked a more different country to break up our stay in China. New Zealand is famously under-crowded and a wildlife paradise. If green is the most restful color on the eyes, New Zealand wins. No contest.
In fact, we heard of a guy, a friend of my aunt Trish, who would periodically visit an old quarry just to rest his eyes from all the green!
Another magical tree on the North Island
Offsetting the green are impossibly-turquoise bodies of water, empty white sand beaches, impressive and often unmarked waterfalls, and all kinds of big knarled trees.
Beautiful beach at Cape Reinga (the white dots are seagulls)
Tasman, meet Pacific. Pacific, meet Tasman (looking north off Cape Reinga)
Aside from aesthetics, cars are cheap (New Zealand is Japan’s dumping ground), roads are orderly, prices are fixed, English reigns happily, and meat pies and free maps can be found on every corner. It’s the perfect pitstop for a culturally-overstimulated traveler.
Chaos and fractal theorists will love the abundant ferns
Did I mention sheep yet? Yes, there were plenty of sheep!
We started on the North Island, which is by far the more populated of the two. Still, we found it pleasantly bucolic with rolling green hills, cows, sheep, and kiwi fruit farms. Giant kauri trees and graceful tree ferns coexist in tropical jungles, and beaches are plentiful. Surprisingly, a few volcanos and craggy mountains rise up from this landscape.
We spent a few pleasant weeks in Kerikeri over Christmas with my aunt, grandmother, and cousins, followed by sailing and hiking adventures with my parents in the Bay of Islands and Tongariro National Park. Then we bundled my folks onto a bus to the airport (no, I’m not a very good child!) and scooted down south to the South Island.
Cruising down a river to Ninety Mile Beach. Roads are so last week…
Angie takes a swim break on Ninety Mile Beach
Angie, getting her hike on during the Tongariro Crossing
My mom trying her best not to slouch!
Staring down the intimidating Ngauruhoe (location of Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings)
Looking across the crater-rim on top of Ngauruhoe (what was so hard Frodo?)
The nearby Red Crater
Dust plain next to Red Lake
The improbable Emerald Lakes
Soft tussock hills around Ketetahi Hut
Unreal aqua blues at Huka Falls
Though it’s only a few-hour ferry ride between the North and South Islands, they might as well be separate continents–each has its own entirely unique feel.
The South Island is the adventure island. It’s far less populated, and the landscape changes quickly: snow-peaked mountains, lush rainforest, dramatic fjords, California-esque beaches, arid plateaus, vineyards, orchards, and yes, even more sheep.
Goodbye Wellington and North Island, hello adventure and sandflies!
Castle Hill–a bouldering mecca if you like polished limestone slopers, awkward slabs and soft, grassy landings
Flock Hill–more of a hike than Castle Hill but highly recommended. Once again, it’s a mecca if you like slopey aretes and smooth dihedrals (but with a few more features than Castle Hill). Unfortunately, I hiked up with just one climbing shoe, so it was more of a visual experience for me!
Delicate wildflowers we found around the Castle Hill area
The most delicious cherries we’ve ever had–from a farm-stall near Queenstown
Another surprising roadside treat: juicy, tart apricots
The Darrans, Fjordlands National Park–a fantastic sport and trad climbing spot near Milford Sound. If you have time to wait out rainy spells, the Darrans offer the best hard climbing in New Zealand with several steep, featured granite walls (most notably the Big and Little Babylon crags.) Just be ready for steep approaches and reflective hut days!
Looking down toward Milford Sound from Homer Tunnel
Homer Tunnel following a light dusting
The cozy Homer Hut run by the New Zealand Mountain Club
Not a bad view from the doorstep!
The Chasm, a waterfall chute near the Milford Sound
Awesome rainforest around the chasm
Arrestingly blue Lake Pukaki
Mt. Cook–most commonly approached by helicopter these days, leaving just the summit push for would-be peak-baggers
Unlucky beached pilot whales at Farewell Spit, Golden Bay
Much luckier whales! (Although, sadly they beached themselves again that night. Apparently they just hate leaving part of the pod behind)
Gulls and black swans in Golden Bay
Paynes Ford, Golden Bay: a sport climber’s paradise, featuring a good-value unashamedly-hippy campground (Hangdog Camp), nearby swim holes and beaches, and a whack of high-quality limestone sport climbing. Here Angie sends Rhinoceros at the Rhinoceros wall
Me hanging off 1080 and the Letter G
Family photo. (Taken on Robertson Island during our sailing adventure in the Bay of Islands)