This may sound very familiar, but I am someone who is suffering from a serious travel itch. I have had the urge to get out there ever since I lived in Poland for a year during a uni exchange program. When I got back to Belgium, I knew nothing would be the same for me anymore.
It took me 3 years of working to realize why I didn’t feel completely comfortable in doing what I was doing. I knew something was off, but couldn’t exactly put a finger to it. After a few hardships and a lot of talking, I saw the light – I just wanted to see more, learn more, experience more.
The decision I made after that realization happened pretty fast. I notified the office, booked some flights, and found someone with the same feeling I was having. That person is named Inge, who I would share the first part of my journey with. Originally, I only planned to go to Australia with a working-holiday visa. I didn’t really think of anything else. But Inge wanted to do the same thing in New Zealand, so I decided to join her there before my Aussie adventure. Later on, I also added the plan of going to Asia as well.
I distinctly remember the first moment I truly fell in love with New Zealand. Inge and I were driving from Fairlie to Tekapo in our camper van, happily chatting away, when suddenly we turned around the bend and the view over Lake Tekapo opened up. I literally stopped talking and felt my breath stop for second. The only thing I could say was ‘Wow’.
Now I could give you a full description of why Lake Tekapo looks the way it does, but I think you could find a better explanation on Wikipedia. The only thing I want to say is that the lake, so amazingly clear and blue, combined with the sky with its few sheepish clouds, made us park the car as soon as we could, get out and run to the lakeside. The feeling that fell over me was one of complete freedom. As if I had finally found my spot. I know that sounds crazy so early in my travels, but what can I say. I have been to so many more places in the past year, before and after Tekapo, but Tekapo still gives me that feeling of freedom whenever I think about it. It is the place where I first felt that everything is possible and that you should never settle for something that you’re not truly feeling in your heart.
Raving about one lake is not enough to describe New Zealand. Maybe it is due to the fact that it was the first stop on my travels, or maybe it simply because I find New Zealand so beautiful, but almost every spot that we went to in those 5 weeks on the South Island made me sigh.
When I talk to other people about traveling around the South Island, it’s made pretty clear to me that we have seen a very extensive, varied part of the country. We just had our camper van, named Tony, and took him everywhere we pleased to go. In the end that turned out to be a nice tour.
As I mentioned, we started off in Christchurch, where life had come to a bit of a standstill due to the quakes. Earlier than planned (if you can say we planned anything), we hit the road and our first stops were Lyttelton and Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, both very cute places but also badly hit by the quakes (later, when I returned to NZ, there had been more serious, fatal quakes and the whole area around Christchurch seemed lifeless, and my heart bled).
Later on, we drove south-west, past Fairlie and Tekapo, towards Aoraki/Mount Cook. Once again, the day was perfect, and we had a little hike towards Mount Cook and the glacier beneath it. We stood on the ridge and yelled into the wind – why not?
After Aoraki, we past numerous places like Twizel, where we had a Lord Of The Rings-tour (at the time I didn’t want to say that out loud, but now I am happy to have done it, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen those amazing mountains). We eventually arrived in Oamaru, back on the East Coast, where we saw our first penguins. It was a colony of Blue Penguins which came ashore at night. This was was another first experience and again I felt my heart swell up a bit more. Another thing to check off my check list!
After seeing the Moeraki Boulders just below Oamaru, we went past Dunedin, which has the steepest street in the world, and through the ever-feared Catlins, although we didn’t really see what the fuss was about. It was supposed to be horrible weather and there would be nothing around for a long, long time, but we did fine and Tony took us everywhere we wanted to go without complaining.
The boldest decision we made on that trip was when we arrived in Invercargill, at the bottom of the South Island. The decision was to cross the Foveaux Strait towards Stewart Island. Not only was the weather horrible, and we would be stuck for a few days on the island, but the ferry trip itself was a hassle. It’s more like the ferry ride to death, if you ask me.
Being on Stewart Island and not being able to leave the lovely hostel, was a perfect way to spend some lazy, video-watching, getting-to-know-people-and-eat-brownies kind of day. Back on solid ground in Invercargill, we went back up towards Te Anau, where we had a lucky shot at seeing the Milford Sound – once more a gorgeous place which you have to go see in the South Island.
We arrived in Queenstown by the end of September, when spring was fighting its way through. We decided on a heli- rafting trip, which was my first helicopter experience ever and which I’ll never forget. I also met someone who I never thought would make such a big impact on my life. Life in Queenstown was happy, sunny and relaxed, and soon we went on northwards on the rest of our trip, which was towards the West Coast. I would like to say that you shouldn’t ask me which coast I prefer because they are both so very different and valuable. You should just see all of it!
On the West Coast we had a glacier walk on the Franz Josef Glacier and passed the Fox Glacier. This followed by an arrival in Punakaiki to see it’s pancake shaped rocks. These rocks were such a small part of this journey, but still I can’t seem to forget about them for some inexplicable reason. I do remember that the sun was setting and the scenery was just, simply, gorgeous.
From Punakaiki, we crossed the island back to the East Coast, where we arrived in Kaikoura to see whales. Once again, this was a life-changing experience. It took a while for the boat to locate the whales, but in time one eventually poked its head out of the water. That was the most amazing wildlife experience I have ever had. I mean, I have seen a whale!
After that, my South Island trip was wrapping up very quickly, and I already had to prepare myself mentally for the next part of my trip; the North Island with Alex, the one I met in Queenstown. But this was not before I visited Abel Tasman National Park. Trekking through this park is one of NZ’s Great Walks. It seems to be the easiest, but I enjoyed it so much. It had finally become real spring weather, and we were also far more north than we had ever been in NZ, so it was time to bring out the shorts and t’s. Wahoo! The park was so lush and beachy that I think I could have stayed there for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately I didn’t have that time. We took a kayak trip and hiked a few days, interspersed with some beach time and laziness. What a life.
After the Abel Tasman National Park, we moved on to Picton to take the ferry to Wellington. This meant that the trip with Inge came to an end and the next trip with Alex was around the corner. Alex and me traveled around the North Island. We met in Wellington, where we said goodbye to Inge, and headed northwards, past Wanganui, towards Turangi and the Tongariro National Park, where we wanted to attempt the Tongariro Alpine crossing. Unfortunately the weather was against us, and we had no choice but to turn back – or otherwise turn into snow(wo)men.
From Turangi, we passed Taupo and went sideways to Gisborne. This we did through the Whirinaki Forest Park. This is where I didn’t feel 100% comfortable for the first time in NZ. I can’t really put a finger to it, but there was something about the place that made me want to move on. No worries though, the Forest Park was soon followed by the Te Urewera National Park, which was, in my eyes, much more worth a visit, and the arrival in Gisborne. This is a pretty laid-back town in Poverty Bay, on the East Coast of the North Island. We stayed here for a couple of days and were very sad to learn that the Gisborne Wine and Food Festival was sold out. By the sounds of it, it is something I have to go back to New Zealand for.
Gisborne was followed by a visit to Rotorua, where unfortunately every hostel and hotel were fully booked for the weekend. We had no choice but to move on to Tauranga, a harbor city farther north in the Bay of Plenty. Plenty it was: plenty of sun, plenty of relaxing, plenty of hanging around. We took a few trips to Mount Maunganui, which had a strange attraction to both of us – so peaceful and beautiful.
I was about to extend my stay in NZ, since we still wanted to do the Coromandel, Auckland and farther north, but disaster struck, and we had an accident with Alex’s car, which he had to get back to Christchurch. So instead of extending my stay, I found myself boarding a flight to Australia and saying goodbye to New Zealand.
When I am writing this, it seems that I have rushed through New Zealand very quickly, and in some ways it feels that way too. There was much more that I wanted to see on the North Island, for example. I have returned to New Zealand three times since the first time, when things started to evolve with Alex. I can say that I have lived in New Zealand and truly experienced the country I love.
For some reason, when making the last part of the trip (if you come from Belgium), meaning the bit from Sydney to Christchurch, I feel like I’m arriving somewhere I can call home. It is not the same as arriving in Belgium and meeting all my friends and family, and it never will be. But New Zealand is the first place where I arrived with a feeling of conquering the world, and I don’t think this will ever change. I have learned so much about the country and myself. As many people say, traveling opens your eyes and your heart, and NZ is where this happened most for me. It got me to open up, relax, be receptive, get to know people more easily, and live with passion. I will always carry New Zealand in my heart.
This one come from Marie-Anne Grillet from Belgium. Thank you for sharing your story and beautiful pictures with us.
If you want to read more of Marie-Anne’s adventures, you can check out her blogs: