I would say that at this point we’re more or less halfway through my journey around New Zealand, but the truth is I’m not writing this in any kind of order so I really have no idea how much more there is to go. Sorry about that!
In all my three weeks travelling through New Zealand I couldn’t help noticing that it had a lot of two things: mountains and water. When I say water I obviously mean the sea, it is made up of two islands after all, but New Zealand also has a hell of a lot of lakes and waterfalls. I think I saw more of both in my first week than I have in the rest of my life up until this point. Travelling through the Fiordland National Park in the aftermath of bad weather we saw a waterfall probably once every few miles, ranging in size and some even running off over the road. In fact, on the way back from Milford Sound we even went on a walk just to see a waterfall. Maybe. Like I said back in part 1, on the journey back from Milford to Queenstown we stopped pretty much constantly to see the views and take way too many pictures. On one occasion we stopped following a sign to ‘The Divide’. None of us had any idea what ‘The Divide’ was, and so started blindly wandering up a track presuming we’d just come across it. Well, there was no sign, plaque or obvious marker to tell us we had reached ‘The Divide’, and after walking a mile or so (it was only supposed to be 500 metres) we came across a random waterfall, decided it was probably ‘The Divide’ and turned back. God knows if we found it, we could’ve well walked straight past it, but as far as I’m concerned ‘The Divide’ is a waterfall.
Aside from the waterfalls we also saw a hell of a lot of lakes, and camped by a few of them. It turns out that Kiwi lakes are also very attractive to Kiwi ducks, who aren’t particularly bothered about humans being around their lakes and will interfere in you trying to put up your tent as much as they possibly can. Every lake we visited or drove past was beautiful and breathtaking, but our first experience of a lake was Lake Tekapo and for that alone I think it’s my favourite. It of course helped that we saw a beautiful sunset there, and that the shore was covered with beautiful lupines (a flower native to the South Island), but even without those I think it would still be my favourite.
Another thing that featured very heavily throughout the South Island was birds. Unusually, the only animals native to New Zealand are birds, making them more than a little bit stupid. We didn’t see any kiwi birds while we were there, but the fact that no dogs, and sometimes no cars, are allowed in kiwi protected areas suggests they’re not the smartest creatures out there. On our journey through the Fiordland we did see a lot of Kea, a rare type of mountain parrot with only around 5000 birds left in the wild, which made it a pretty special experience. Turns out that Kea are also pretty mischievous and have a tendency to rip windscreen wipers off cars, or else just fly in through open doors and steal whatever’s lying around, so we were pretty grateful that the closest any got was just sitting on top of the car. We also saw Tui birds and Fantails, but they’re a lot less sociable than the Kea and wouldn’t oblige me with any pictures.
I’ve now written almost 2000 words on New Zealand and have somehow managed to not mention Lord of the Rings once, which is pretty damn amazing! Well, I’m afraid this Middle Earth silence will last no more! Of course, as pretty much anyone who’s even thought about watching the LoTR films knows, they were filmed solely in New Zealand. What you might not know, unless you’re more than just a casual viewer, is that they were filmed across the whole country meaning that not a day went by when there wasn’t a shout of ‘One does not simply walk into Mordor’ or ‘They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard!’ in the car. I think we probably saw about ninety percent of the locations for the films, although we didn’t always realise it until we’d already been through a place.
Two places we very much did know about were Hobbiton and Weta. Hobbiton, for all you LoTR novices, is the hobbit village built for the movies that’s now a permanent tourist attraction a few hours outside of Auckland. Hobbiton itself is actually in the middle of a working farm which is a little bit odd, especially when you’re on the bus in and all you initially see are hills (even if they are Shire-y hills) and sheep. But maybe this makes the actual entry into Hobbiton even more exciting, I could barely contain myself while we were stood in front of the Hobbiton sign about to walk into the village. Most of the hobbit holes are just front doors built into the hills but there are 44 doors in total, a garden, party field, water mill, bridge (that Gandalf crosses in Fellowship of the Ring) and the actual Green Dragon where you can have an actual beer like a real hobbit. It’s pretty much exactly how I imagined it would be and it was awesome. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to just walk around by yourself, but the guided tour was informative (did you know that the tree above Bag End was real for LoTR but was replaced with a fake tree, complete with specially made fake leaves, for The Hobbit?) and it definitely kept us all in check. I think it was, hands down, the most exciting part of the whole trip. If I could live in Hobbiton I definitely would.
The other Lord of the Rings-y activity we did was to visit the Weta Workshop in Wellington. We only had a day in Wellington, which was a shame as I would’ve loved to explore it further, but visiting Weta was definitely worth it. The Weta Workshop is a special effects studio responsible for the props and effects in every Peter Jackson movie ever made and a load of other great movies from the last two decades. Taking a tour around the workshop, you wouldn’t believe it comes out with so many amazing props and effects as it kind of looks like a big shed where your dad might tinker with some bikes, or maybe boats, but it really does and was a really fascinating place to visit. Plus it had a great gift shop.
So, we visited beautiful places, exciting places and interesting places throughout our journey. We also managed to visit probably the smelliest place in New Zealand. On our way through Rotorua we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, a massive geothermal park featuring pools, rock formations, a natural silicon lake and lots of other weird and wonderful sights. Now, geothermal activity tends to mean sulphur, and sulphur of course equals an awful, awful smell that makes you understand why people used to think it came from the devil. Don’t get me wrong, we spent a good few hours wandering around Wai-O-Tapu and had a really great time, but oh my god that smell stayed in my nose for a good 24 hours after we left.
We’ve almost reached the end of my trip to New Zealand, but I have a few honourable mentions that I didn’t manage to cram in elsewhere before I go. Despite only having a day in Wellington we managed to spend the morning playing crazy golf, at the weirdest mini golf course I’ve ever seen. Carlucci Land is built on a hill and made entirely of scrap and abandoned metal formed into weird obstacles and courses. It was probably the most fun I’ve had playing crazy golf and looking around the shed afterwards, filled with random items such as old dolls and machinery, and more scrap metal was just the icing on the cake. On our last full day in Auckland, and with the spectre of the Abel Tasman washout on our minds, George and I decided to visit Rangitoto, a volcanic island just off the coast of Auckland. Thankfully it didn’t rain, and even more thankfully I didn’t die trying to get to the top of the volcano (even though I thought it might be a close-run thing at one point). Surviving all the way to the top meant that I was rewarded with some amazing views of Auckland, and we even got to do a bit of amateur caving on the way back down when we tried to navigate a system of lava caves (which were pretty much perfect for kids but a bit too small for anyone normal sized).
So, 21 days, two islands and countless sights, and New Zealand was over. I have to say, I’ve been to a fair few places in the last few years and I think that, for scenery and just straight up amazingness New Zealand is unrivalled. For weather it maybe could do better!
Next up I’m in Australia – Sydney, Melbourne and then three weeks in the Outback (and if I survive the spiders, snakes, boxing kangaroos and drop bears it’ll be a miracle!)
p.s. if you’re awed by my photography skills you can follow my progress around New Zealand, Australia and Asia on Instagram. I’m sure it’ll be thrilling!