Five Gems of New Zealand’s South Island

New Zealand on the Globe

Follow your gaze down the world map from the large land mass where you’ve decided to teach English.  Down further still.  Below where the kangaroos live.  Right there at the bottom of the world, quietly tucked away from the hustle and bustle, is your next holiday.  New Zealand.  Land of sheep, rugby, and Lord of the Rings.

Broken up into two main islands, New Zealand boasts some of the most spectacular scenery known on earth: stunning mountains, rolling hills, endless coastlines, towering glaciers.  And while you’ll want to spend years exploring the endless beauty, circumstances may dictate otherwise.  Just please, whatever you do, don’t miss these five gems of New Zealand’s South Island.  They truly are some of the best she has to offer.

Wharariki Beach

Wharariki Rush

Pronounced ‘FA-ra-ree-kee’ and found on the northwestern coast of the South Island, just follow the road to its end and you’re only a 15 minute walk from the most amazing beach you’ve ever visited.  The sand dunes rise and fall in playful taunt until you succumb to tumbling down their exhilarating drops.  As the sea breeze kisses your skin, giant stone arches stand with roots perched in the ocean just out of arm’s reach.  A maze of small caves hides among rock formations only accessible at low tide.

The beach playground stretches on for miles.

It’s probably why the colony of fur seals calls the beach home.  On a warm summer’s day, you can walk as close as prudence and courage allow, watching the seals in their natural habitat as they climb up jagged rock islands, have a play in secluded pools, work on their tans, or just chat about local happenings.  Whatever they’re up to, they do not disappoint.

Once you’ve had enough of cute animals and relaxing beaches, go for a hike around the sheep hills overlooking the coastline.  Not only will the uphill/downhill take your breath away as it gets your tail in shape, it’ll leave you speechless at the most. stunning. view. ever.  As you drive away from what heaven probably looks like, there will only be one thought on your mind.

Lucky sheep.

Aoraki/Mount Cook

Mount Cook
Standing majestic amidst the Southern Alps is New Zealand’s tallest mountain, known as Aoraki (from the indigenous Maori tradition)/Mount Cook (in honor of the Captain who first surveyed and circumnavigated the New Zealand islands).  The 12,000+ feet of stone captivates climbers and casual tourists all year long, with a village located near the base of the mountain for accessible adventuring.

As you walk along the valleys snaking through the history which towers above you in brilliant blues and greens and white, you can hear that history changing as rockslides crash and glaciers melt to the tune of distant echoes.  It’s then when you realize that you are part of something epic.  And it’s all happening right there.

A photographer’s candyland, one almost forgets that there isn’t background music narrating your journey through such rugged magnificence.  Grab a tent, hire a cottage, or stay at the resort – everyone wakes up away from the world and unable to wipe the smile off their faces, thanks to the mountainous reminder of how awesome life can be.

Lake Tekapo

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo

Just a small trip down the road from Mount Cook lands you in a lakeside town with iconic scenery and secrets only told at nighttime.

Lake Tekapo is the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve, being far away from the light pollution of cities and towns, with restrictions even on the kinds of bulbs used in the township so as to keep it that way.  The local Mount John, by day will offer unparalleled views of any countryside; by night is home to the Mount John Observatory where the Southern Hemisphere sky let’s you peek far beyond our own solar system into the very heart of your childhood wonder.

When your feet come back to earth, your soul can be lifted to heaven as you visit one of the most photographed places in New Zealand: the Church of the Good Shepherd.  Never will you find a place so quaint, so perfectly crafted to meld natural with supernatural, as if God himself comes here to get away from it all.

Whether water sports, hot pools, or an astronomical fascination with unadulterated excellence, Lake Tekapo exists as a lighthouse to a spirit tossed by the winds and waves.  Of course, it’s a lighthouse adhering to a strictly enforced bulb policy.

Wanaka

Wanaka

On your way to the popular and crowded adrenaline thrill known as Queenstown, you drive through a serene lakeside city right out of your retirement dreams.  Welcome to Wanaka, where no view is one without water and mountains, where you can have your fun without the claustrophobia, and where you are on the cusp of all your outdoor needs.  The main stretch follows the lake, inviting you to stay for Happy Hour and an ice cream as the sun sets over the water.  That is, after you browse through the artisan shops.

If rock climbing or hiking or cycling is your thing, there is no better place, with well maintained routes all throughout the area.  If a rainy day finds you, it’s a perfect time to visit the optical illusion infested Puzzling World, complete with life size maze and interactive exhibits.  If the sun’s out, you and everyone else will be on/by/in the water doing whatever your sea legs desire.  If winter’s here, you have just chosen one of the World’s 25 Best Ski Towns as voted by National Geographic.  Congratulations.

Honestly, I wanted to take up residency as we were driving into the town.  Wanaka feels like a home I’ve never had, but always wanted.  Matter of fact, I’m not sure why we left.

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand. 8th March 2007

An 8th wonder of the world if there ever was one, Fiordland National Park is a wild, rugged, dictionary definition of spectacular.  Nearly untouched by humans, the park is carved out by fiords – veins of water cutting into the land and dwarfed by tall cliffs – some accessible by car, some by foot, and others only by boat.  Doubtful Sound is the latter and as such is a pearl to cherish.

Once you reach the tiny town of Manapouri, you hop on a boat which takes you across Lake Manapouri where you’ll then board your tour company’s bus for a drive through the deserted hills to the start of your cruise.  Once you’re on the boat, you see for yourself what the finger of God is capable of.  Colors never looked like this before.  Dolphins, seals, fish, and birds of all kinds keep you company.  The air never smelled so fresh.

As the moon rises above your boat and you settle into the calm rocking of a night on the water, it dawns on you that you’ve never before been so isolated from the world.  Yet mysteriously, never more connected.

That’s the story of New Zealand.

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