If you asked me for only one single place to visit on the South Island, I would recommend Aoraki/Mount Cook without hesitation. It has everything — flat plains/valleys, soaring mountains, impossibly blue lakes, rivers, glaciers, and forests. If you want a luxury hotel stay and do not want to do any hard hikes, there’s something for you. If you want something more middle-of-the-road and want to do some easy/short walks, there’s something for you. If you’re hardcore and want tough multi-day treks, complete with backcountry skiing or kayaking, there’s something for you too.
After the low-key atmosphere of Fiordland and Te Anau, Queenstown is somewhat of a shock to the system. It’s big, it’s brash, it’s bold. By New Zealand standards, that is. If Wanaka is like Summit County (Colorado), then Queenstown is more a mixture of Aspen and Boulder. Of New Zealand.
I’d heard about Fiordland ever since moving to New Zealand. Words like “spectacular” were usually thrown around in conjunction. So I figured that we should probably check it out during our time here on the South Island. Now, if you ever visit New Zealand and especially if you spend some time on the South Island, you might get mountain fatigue by the time you reach the southwestern corner of the South Island that is Fiordland. The Southern Alps offer stunning vistas for much of the island, and you would be forgiven for wondering if the long drive out to Fiordland would be worth it. But trust me — it is absolutely worth every kilometre and hour spent getting there. Many countries have a defining “highlight”, something that is unique (or nearly so). Fiordland is New Zealand’s defining highlight.
Wanaka, in the one day we were there, reminded us quite a bit of our old home in the US, Summit County, Colorado. There’s a large lake, Lake Wanaka, ringed by mountains on all sides, and the town sitting on the flat areas. The central core of the town caters to tourists, with residents seemingly scattered around the outskirts (again, similar to Summit). We were there for only one night as a stop-over on the way to Te Anau in Fiordland.
I’m not one for bucket lists. But ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had a list of 5 cities that I wanted to visit (in no particular order): Istanbul, Barcelona, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Rio de Janeiro. I’ve been to Istanbul and Barcelona, but didn’t think I’d make it to Sydney (simply because it was so far from the rest of the world). As luck would have it, our move to New Zealand opened up Australasia/Oceania for us to explore, and this past Christmas 2014, we made a quick trip to Sydney.
Ah, the South Pacific…conjures up images of white sandy beaches, swaying coconut trees, and warm blue waters. I’ve been on a few beach vacations to some great locations…Maui, Anguilla, Cancun. They were all very pretty. But nothing prepared me for our first foray into the South Pacific. After two years without a visit to the beach and 12 consecutive months without summer (we left London at the end of the northern winter and arrived in New Zealand at the start of the southern winter), we decided on Fiji as our beach vacation.
Since we’d already been to Spain (Barcelona) and France (Marseille), we decided to go to Italy for a summer trip. Since we’d been to southern and central Italy (Amalfi, Lerici/Cinque Terre) before, we decided to go north this time, to the lake district. I’d been to Lake Como many years ago for a weekend, and had found it quite beautiful. This time we settled on Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.
Got out to hike a bit more in the “backyard” a bit more in the summer of 2012. A relatively light load at work meant I was able to sneak away for a few hours during the week. This was great for two reasons: first because it meant little or no crowds, and second because it meant I could go longer than on weekends when we’d go out as a family with our 5-year old who cannot go as far.