New Zealand is known as the adventure capital of the world. I remember my older brother talking about his trip here in the early 90’s and what stayed with me is his experience bungy jumping. He walked to the edge of a bridge (hoping they knew what they were doing) with a bungy tied around his ankles. He experienced terror before stepping off the ledge, a heart racing free fall, and a few moments later, was dangling inches above a body of water waiting for someone to come rescue him. It was one of the first ever (if not the first) bungy jumping spots in the world. It sounded insane at the time- and it still does. But that’s New Zealand: people here feel compelled to take experiences to the extreme when surrounded by such dramatic beauty.
It’s true, this country has landscapes that will make your jaw drop: electric green rolling hills, snow-covered jagged peaks, crystal clear rivers, smoking volcanic islands, dense rainforests, pristine beaches, and the list goes on.
I’m here for 3 months, traveling through the country from north to south (and back again) house sitting, working on horse and alpaca farms, and helping communities with projects- all while pausing long enough to enjoy each place. I might not be rushing to stand in line with 10 other Americans on a bungy jump bridge, but I have found myself swimming off the country’s coast, walking and jogging over mountains and alongside lakes and rivers, and (in general) just enjoying being surrounded by arresting scenery.
Below are some of the places I’ve visited so far, with a horizontal scroll of photos for each location. Use the scrollbar under the pictures to see the full photo montage.
The chronology begins with my most recent trips…
I visited Golden Bay (located on the NW corner of the South Island) for a few days and absolutely fell in love with it. It’s an artist and farming community on the edge of Abel Tasman National Park with just one road in, keeping it remote and secluded. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to: sunrise, sunset or daytime can equally take your breath away. The one road in is a steep mountain pass with a single lane in each direction. The week I was visiting, the pass was being repaired from a cyclone that hit 1 month prior to my arrival. The road was severed at the dotted line, normally a barrier between the two single lanes, but now the edge of a sheer cliff hundreds of feet down. There was a 3 hour window in the evenings to drive up and over the pass behind a caravan of cars led by a construction truck, one direction at a time. The sprint to make that opening time slot and then make it over the hair-raising pass itself was an adrenaline rush, but well worth it.
Nelson Lakes National Park is a little over an hour outside of Nelson and is home to some of the largest lakes in the area. They’re also surrounded by mountains that look just like the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Southern Colorado. If the lakes hadn’t been there, I would have thought I was home. This is where I spent my Easter and if I had to be away from family, this was a great alternative.
Nelson, at the top of the South Island, is a city known for being the sunniest spot in all of New Zealand. It’s nestled into large hills along the coast with vineyards in every direction but the sea. The bay drains completely out at low tide in the harbor, creating a perfect beach parking spot for boats, but also creating mirror reflections on tide pools at sunset, light bouncing off the flat, shallow waters. The adorable downtown looks like a storybook, the many parks, galleries and festivals a testament to the year ’round great weather. This is literally the Center of New Zealand and a monolith stands at the top of a hill in one of the city’s parks as a marker and overlook.
Taupo is a destination for both New Zealanders and visitors. It’s located on Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand, surrounded by geothermal activity. On the edges of the lake and the river (the Waikato) hot springs bubble up in pools. Huka Falls (one of the most popular destinations in NZ) is a crystal-clear waterfall on the Waikato River, a river which powers 9 hydroelectric plants.
My alpaca farm in Tauranga:
I’m taking care of an alpaca operation called Hacienda Suri Alpaca Stud just outside of Tauranga. I feed them once a day by pouring pellets into individual bowls, but otherwise they keep to themselves and graze the fields of thick green grass. They don’t love being pet, but they’re comfortable standing next to you. If you crouch down on your knees, the babies will come over to check you out. My household also includes 3 dogs (1 blind) and 3 cats (mainly outdoor cats), so it’s an ongoing circus with a revolving door. My first day here, a baby alpaca was born with the cutest floppy ears and walking, almost immediately, as if in heels.
My first stop in New Zealand was Auckland, a city that reminds me of Seattle, Washington, but on a smaller scale. They city was bustling with an Art and Music Festival, an Ed Sheeran concert, and even Obama, who was speaking just over the hill from where I was staying in Mt. Eden. My two days were blessed with blue skies and warm weather, and I look forward to spending more time here in June.
With 2 more months to go in this beautiful part of the world, there’s still time to go bungy jumping or dive off a mountain with a parachute. (Just kidding, Mom). I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.