6 days in New Zealand : South Island

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Really happy I got to visit the South Island of New Zealand earlier this April.
It’s one of things on my 2016 “To do” list and I’m glad to be able to say  “I did it”.

I had heard many good things about this land and was a bit worried I had expectations set way too high. You know how it is with high expectations….
Thankfully, the beauty of the land did not disappoint.

It was an impromptu trip, decision made when I was informed to clear my 6 hours off-in-lieu work leave and I decided to take a few more days 0ff to visit the Hobbit Land. I mean, why not.
Found some cheap plane tickets, thank you Jetstar and off I went tramping the South Island solo for a few days.

I had not done a trip by myself since 2014 and it was nice to get back on the road, exploring the world, just me and my backpack.

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Landed in Christchurch bright and early!
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Took the intercity bus all the way down to Lake Tekapo, about three hours away.
If you come with a group of friends or trust yourself with your driving, I definitely recommend renting a car to drive. Roads are well paved and relatively easy to get from one point to the next. Best of all, you are on your own schedule.

Plus side of the bus? Being able to sleep through the whole ride. Especially after a sleepless night on the plane, being kicked by this person behind our row who sleeps-kick. I have heard of sleep walking but sleep kicking?  – My first.

LAKE TEKAPO

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Lake Tekapo Town. Such a sleepy little place 🙂

According to wiki, Tekapo used to be part of a seafloor valley. After some volcanic activity, the large earth crusts pushed upwards to form land. Throw in the end of the ice age which left behind large amounts of rock creating a dam in the valley and Viola – Lake Tekapo folks.
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So pretty in Autumn.

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Eager to get started, I threw my bags down at the motel’s reception and started a little hike up to Mount John Observatory.
Not bragging but I marvel at my own will power sometimes. Lack of sleep, powering on with just one cup of decaffeinated coffee and some snacks, I simply walked it up, right after I got off the bus.
I guess I wanted to cover as much as possible in this short span of time..

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Hike to Mount John, 8 km, 2-3 hour return
To get on this walk, you could either walk on a footpath from the town centre (About 10 – 15 minutes) or drive (5 minutes from the town centre) to Tekapo Hot Springs.
Here, you will see two signs for the Mount John walkway.
One walk goes along the lake front before heading up the mountain. It’s less steep of a hike but takes 2 hours to reach the top.
Second walk is a shorter but steeper hike which takes one hour to get to the peak.
I took the second one and it was a beautiful hike, shaded by pine trees until you get to the last 15 minutes where it opens up to a vast mountain top with Mount John Observatory in the far distance.
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Beautiful view up here at Mount John, Lake Tekapo seems so much more blue /turquoise from this high up as well, about 1000m above sea level.

The town centre on the left, the vast lake in front and on the right. Too pretty.IMG_20160429_171957

Walked around other view points before heading back down the same way. IMG_20160429_172201

Really tranquil peaceful town, perfect for a weekend getaway if you live close.

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A family enjoying a late lunch and some fishing20160429_153256

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Sat down to rest and to take in the view.
It was a beautiful day, wasn’t windy, wasn’t too cold. Imagine every Friday was spent like this 🙂20160429_175004

Day was ending by the time I checked in, got my bed, had a hot shower and cleaned up.
This sunset was one stunner! A palette of pink and blue hues. The atmosphere had a softness to it, a glow wrapping the mountains and skies. A serene graceful way to end the day.
I stood there, wind blowing in my face, with just another person sitting in the distance, closed my eyes and embraced it. My favorite moment of that day.

Logistics for Day 1 :
Intercity bus from Christchurch Airport to Tekapo : 39 NZD – Book earlier to get cheaper tickets / Another bus provider – Nakedbus sometimes offer 1 NZD trips if you book in advance and in low season.
Stayed : Lake Tekapo Tavern / Hostel – $28.00 NZD per night – Pretty good option if you are travelling solo, want to meet new people and just pay for a bed.

DAY 2 : AROKI / MOUNT COOK -HOOKER VALLEY HIKE

Day trip to Mount Cook to check out Hooker Valley.

If you wanted, you could even stay overnight at Mount Cook as they have a few accommodation options available.
Again, if you self drive, you definitely could consider staying overnight here then driving off early the next day or day after to the next city, as compared to buses as they run on scheduled timings.

I took the Cook Connect bus that left Tekapo Town Centre at 7.30am and got to Mount Cook at about 9.30am.

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Lake Pukaki
Mount Cook in the distance!

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Hooker Valley Hike

The Cook Connect Bus drops you off at the Hermitage hotel / The village and from there, it’s a 2.4km walk / 30minutes walk / 5 minutes drive to White horse camp ground where to Hooker Valley Hike starts.

Distance : Approximately 10 km, 3-5 hours in total including walk from the village depending on how fast you walk or how long you want to spend at each look out.

 

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The morning was extremely foggy.
I could not see 3/4 of the mountains on the journey there but on the return trip, the fog finally lifted, skies became blue and the big and mighty mountain gems revealed themselves.
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Some hikers on an early morning start. 20160430_095311

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At the final lookout, Mount Cook. Hiding behind the fog

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I caught a glimpse of a snow capped mountain peak for a few seconds before the fog engulfed it for the next hour 0r s0. But that was enough for me to stay on, brave the chill and just enjoy the foggy surrounding while having my lunch.20160430_105829

Other trekkers.

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After an hour of waiting, the fog finally lifted slowly! Be gone you fog!

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Before – All foggy.20160430_121955

After : Mount Cook in the distance!

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Mandatory shot – a piece of my quirks and Mount Cook.

I love eggs, hard boiled sans the fart smell it comes with, hot soft boiled especially with soy sauce, scrambled etc. If I had to choose one thing to eat for the rest of my life, I think it will be eggs.

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Enjoyed this view a bit more before heading back.

The trek back was gorgeous, sun shinning and the large mountains in its full glory. Along the way, I chatted up a Japanese tour guide Yukiko who travels each year to work here during the warmer months. The peace and serenity this place offers was enough to bring her back. She was leading a group of Taiwanese old folks  at that time and they warmly welcomed me to join them on the trek back.
We laughed, joked and exchanged stories while marveling at the beauty of  the mountains. Journey could sometimes be more enjoyable when you share it with someone else, I’d say.

Some fog / no fog pictures for comparison below :

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Journey there with fog

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All clear!

 

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Fog

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No fog

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So much fog!

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Clear blue skies 🙂

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Before20160430_141759

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Sat down on this boardwalk at the end of the trek to enjoy the view, bask in the beauty of the place and enjoy some peace and quiet.

I absolutely love the feeling of accomplishment after each trek, especially a hard one. That feeling of how far you have come and how much stronger you have become.

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Rested for a bit before Cook Connect bus came and I bid adios to this place.

Ended an awesome day with a night observatory tour that same day and it was absolutely worth it! They brought us up to a hill to observe the milky way, the signs and the planets.

They had this power charged laser which laser beamed all the way to the sky, pointing out Mars, Pluto, other astrology signs and best of all,  I finally learnt the find south with the southern cross!

Logistics

Cook Connect bus : $70 NZD
Departs Town Centre : 7.30am / Reaches Mount Cook at 9.30am
Departs Mount Cook Hermitage Hotel : 4.00pm / Reaches Town Centre : 5.30pm

Cowen Observatory Night Observatory tour : 80 mins / $90.00 NZD
Stayed : Lake Tekapo Tavern / Hostel – $28.00 NZD per night

DAY 3 : LAKE TEKAPO TO QUEENSTOWN

Had a bit of time in the morning to explore the area in Tekapo before taking the intercity bus down to Queenstown

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Church of The Good Shepherd

Church of Good Shepherd was the first church built in the Mackenzie country in 1953, made of local stone. A place of worship and as a memorial to the founders of the area.

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Walked to the other side of the lake to enjoy the pine trees before heading back to board the bus.

Last shot of Tekapo before the bus down to Queenstown.

Relatively smooth path down to Queenstown through Lindis Pass / Arrowtown and after 4 hours, viola – Queenstown!

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It was late in the afternoon when I got there, checked in the hostel and managed to still see a bit of this lovely lakeside town.

Calm & peaceful, right up my alley.

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Logistics
Intercity bus :
39NZD / Departs 1240, Arrives 1630

Stay :
 Queenstown Backpackers – 22 NZD per night

DAY 4 : MILFORD SOUND

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Woke up early for Milford Sound and hopped on the nakedbus tour.Day was breaking around 6am 🙂
Our tour driver also doubled up as our guide and he shared the stories of the lakes and places we drove past. A video of New Zealand was also played along the way which was interesting as it provided some tidbits on the background, animals and history of the land we were on.

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We passed Te Anu and as we arrived at Fjordland National Park, it started raining more heavily. My tour group consisted of a group of ladies celebrating their friend’s 50th birthday, another solo traveler, a Filipino family and myself. It turned out to be a fun loving bunch of people who enjoyed throwing a joke or two around.

Despite the rain, all of us braved the elements, got out of the bus at each stop to enjoy the different scenery along the way.

It apparently rains about 300 days out of 365 days here, so that means it rains almost every second day. Good for the flora and fauna, not good for the clothes or cold. Definitely recommend some water proof clothes for this day trip.

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The good thing about all the rain was the hundreds of little waterfall that appeared!

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Got on our cruise and off we went down towards the Tasman Sea20160502_132131

Misty, foggy, rainy but it was pure gold to get out on the deck, breathe in the freshest air, heart to the world, eye close. All that before you, all yours for that moment.20160502_13294620160502_13324720160502_13340420160502_14185420160502_14190120160502_142319

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“Feel the rain on your skin ” – This instance, the freshest purest water of New Zealand 🙂

Definitely a highlight for me on this trip, getting out here to see the fjords, valleys and be with the vast ocean, be so carefree.20160502_162957

Alpacas 🙂

20160502_170156The world fastest Indian movie had me on the edge of my seat on the way back.
“If you don’t go when you want to go, when you do go, you’ll find you’re gone.”

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IMG_20160503_195445Sun was setting as the bus got back to Queenstown, everything was glowing in soft pink and pastel blue.
I love days like this, where nature revealed its best, and you get to enjoy a piece of it.

IMG_20160505_202853Anya and Eric were in town too! What a coincidence. Had the famous Fergburger and ended the night with them over some drinks and fantastic chat. Hope to see you guys in Brissy soon 🙂

Logistics

Stay :
 Queenstown Backpackers – 22 NZD per night
Milford Sound Tour with Nakedbus : 130 NZD (99 NZD if you book early)

DAY 5 : QUEENSTOWN

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Spent a day exploring this gorgeous lakeside town. It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a hike up Queenstown hill.
It was a 1.5-2 hours hike up and at certain parts of the hike, I had to stop and catch my breath again.  Not an easy walk in the park but the view up here was absolutely stunning.20160503_115636

Another hiker enjoying the view. 20160503_115835IMG_20160503_181409

I sat here for a while to take it all in. It was serene, peaceful and quiet. Just the wind and this amazing view.

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I really like the fact that in Queenstown, there is this hill in its backyard where you could simply walk from city centre to the starting point without driving out to reach it and once you get up to the top, the view takes your breath away.

Imagine a hard week at work, and you leave it all behind as you walk it up, throw your bags down when you get to your favorite spot on the top and just be. Just be in that moment, with your thoughts if there are many and let the wind & the sun sing to your soul again. Close your eyes, a quick nap even and after a few hours, you will be ready to take on the world again.

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Got back down, had a quick lunch and walked around Queenstown Gardens.

Another stunning area again, lake on one side, mountains at the back. What not to like.

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Hi there Mr jacket

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One last hike up the Gondola trail before the day ended. Such a beautiful day well spent. I love that nature is so easily accessible here. I want a hill with this view in my backyard too ! 😦

Day 6 : Back to Reality

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A rainbow at the end of the trip, Bye South Island.

& The best reminder on this trip?
Saying hi to random people on the streets, on hikes, being the first to strike up conversations. It all seemed sooooo easy again, not worrying about what anyone thinks.
I wonder why I don’t do it more or have stopped doing it, wonder where the casual openness go once everything falls back into routine.

A great short trip to regroup again, with a rainbow at the end.

Life, an art where we have to keep drawing without an eraser.
Let’s just say we will all draw the painting we want at the end of the day, where the right strokes and mistake marks all blend into one beautiful masterpiece.

I really need another solo trip soon. Till then, much love & stay gold 🙂

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