let your thoughts wander

Category: New Zealand

Exploring the South Island of New Zealand

To round out the Epic Adventure, before returning to the U.S., we spent over a week circumventing the south island of New Zealand. It was like no other place we had ever been (or have been to since). We saw very view people as we drove from place to place and definitely could tell the sheep population was higher than that of the human population. New Zealand truly is paradise of its own accord.

Castle Hill

Adult female sitting on top of a large gray boulder with several other large boulders surrounding.

I think I learned about Castle Hill from one of the students at the college where I worked. He had studied abroad in New Zealand not long before we were scheduled to visit. I reached out to him and picked his brain for good places to visit. I am pretty sure this was one of the areas on his list, and I am thankful it was!

Castle Hill is definitely a place I would recommend to visitors of the South Island. There’s nothing I can compare it to. It’s one of those fairly perfect places of quiet exploration you could spend forever in – enjoying the scenery and the stillness of nature.

Franz Josef Glacier

Building rooftops in the foreground with trees and glacier covered mountains in the background.

One of the activities on our New Zealand itinerary was to take a helicopter tour and hike on Franz Josef Glacier. This was the highlight of the entire 26 day itinerary for Bill. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate the day we were scheduled to go, and it was too cloudy for the helicopters to fly. This was a major let down for both of us, but it really hit Bill hard and his spirit was crushed for a day or two after.

We did do some hiking and explored the Fox Glacier area, but it just wasn’t the same. We had planned to hike on a glacier and inside ice caves – nothing could compare to that. I did love, however, how vastly different the water was in the area. Its milky gray color was truly unique.

Rocky valley filled with a blue and white glacier.

From the glacial area, we made our way toward Milford Sound, with stops at the Blue Pools, Wanaka, and Queenstown along the way.

View looking down at blue green water with light gray boulders along the bottom.

Milford Sound

The drive into Milford Sound was surrounded by panoramic waterfall views. It rained as we drove in and it was clear the waterfalls existed only because of the rainfall. This was one of the only times we would be happy it was raining. An artistic display put on by nature!

Jagged black rock wall with thin waterfalls streaming down.

The main activity for us in Milford Sound was a tandem kayak trip we had booked before we left home. The first time kayaking for me, and I was in for it! The water was extremely choppy which meant a lot of hard work paddling. Of course it was worth it to get a completely different vantage point of the area, and get close to the waterfalls. We also chatted with another couple whom we saw again in Lake Tekapo and exchanged information to keep in touch.


We stayed in Queenstown before and after we visited Milford Sound. While we did not partake in any of the extreme activities, we did enjoy Queenstown very much. We stayed at the DoubleTree right on the lake and enjoyed their expansive brunch in the mornings.

Chicken burger on a bun with lettuce and tomato.

One “must do” that we were sure not to miss in Queenstown was Fergburger. While the lines are quite long, the food is definitely worth the wait. Bill fell in love with their Bombay Chicken sandwich. So much so that we had to go back a second time and wait in line all over again. They have a pretty good business model, as Fergbaker and Mrs Ferg Gelateria are just next door. Let me tell you, the custard filled doughnuts from Fergbaker are amazing!

Milk and two doughnuts sitting on a table in front of a window with a mountain view.

Mount Cook

I wish we would have had more time in the Mount Cook area. The views are stunning! It also helped that we had extremely clear skies while we were there. Typically when we visit mountainous areas we end up with cloudy skies that often envelope the mountains and make for less than ideal experiences.

Mountain range in the distance with a road and open fields leading to it.

Unfortunately our visit to the area was mostly a drive through experience. While we would have liked to have taken at least one longer hike, time did not allow. We did do the shorter hike to Kea Point and enjoyed the views from the visitor center and the road as we drove around.

Mountain range.

Lake Tekapo

As we approached Lake Tekapo, we passed the hugest cow I have ever seen! This is a big statement, since I live in the midwest where cow sightings are abundant. I am not sure if it was pregnant or if they just grow them that much bigger in New Zealand.

Large brown and white cow standing in a pasture.

We arrived in Lake Tekapo fairly late in the evening and found it difficult to find somewhere to eat for dinner. In the end, we ate at an asian restaurant and it did not disappoint. We also ran into Dave and Meredith (the couple we met while kayaking in Milford Sound) while we were walking around looking for dinner. It was nice seeing them again.

Two attractions we visited while in the area were the Church of the Good Shepherd and the observatory. While we chose not to go up to the observatory in the evening (although it is known for some of the darkest night skies), it was still fun exploring during the day. Some of the signage they had posted on the buildings and in the restroom was rather humorous as well. And the lupines we saw along the way were beautiful as well.

From Lake Tekapo we returned to the Christchurch area, and flew to Oahu shortly after.

Tryptic of three photos: Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge, adult female sitting on a large gray boulder, and sandy beach with turquoise water and an island.

Epic Adventure: Bangkok, Australia, New Zealand & Oahu

Starting Christmas Day, 2014, Bill and I embarked on our 26 day Epic Adventure. Our flight routing consisted of Chicago-Tokyo-Beijing-Bangkok-Melbourne-Cairns-Sydney-Chrischurch-Auckland-Honolulu-Dallas-Chicago with an overnight in Beijing, most of a day in Bangkok, several days in the Melbourne area, several days in Cairns, several days in Sydney, several days exploring the south island of New Zealand, a short layover in Auckland, and a three day stop over in Oahu. If that isn’t an epic adventure, I don’t know what is! (To add to its grandiosity, we flew business class for the longest legs of the trip.)

Adult female with long dark hair and glasses sitting in business class section of an airplane.

This trip was a long time coming. I had yearned to return to Australia ever since my People to People Student Ambassador trip back in 2000. Fourteen years later, it finally became a reality. After being there, I think Bill now realizes precisely why I was so adamant about wanting to go back. The country is beautiful, the people are wonderful, the sights are great, and food treats you right! What more could you ask for?

This trip was not exactly the same as the trip I was on in 2000, but it hit some of the highlights and added even more great things. In 2000 we took a bus from Sydney up the eastern coast to Cairns, with frequent stops along the way. On this trip we first explored Bangkok for a day and then were off to Australia, starting in Melbourne – driving the southern coast along The Great Ocean Road to Port Campbell and back.

Photo of Melbourne, Australia skyline in the distance.

From Melbourne we flew to Cairns, rented a car, and visited the Daintree Rainforest. We also took an organized snorkeling trip out to the Great Barrier Reef – no trip to Cairns is complete without visiting that natural wonder.

Photo from airplane window over the Great Barrier Reef.

When we were done in Cairns we flew to Sydney. After exploring the city and reminiscing on some of the things I had seen on my previous visit, we took the train in to Blue Mountains National Park for an overnight.

Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Then back to Sydney and off to New Zealand! New and unchartered territory for both of us. After visiting, it was clear why many people say you cannot visit Australia without visiting New Zealand and vice versa. Both are amazing, but in totally different ways.

Adult female sitting on top of a large gray boulder with several other large boulders surrounding.

To end the trip, Bill had found that we could include a stopover in Hawaii on our way home, so we took full advantage of that and spent 3 days on Oahu soaking up some more sun before returning to the cold midwestern winter.

Sandy beach with turquoise ocean and an island in the distance.

Three continents and four countries later, this epic adventure is what I consider to be our best trip to date.

Narrow road surrounded by trees

Around the lake and through the woods, to Paradise we go

While in Queenstown, Bill and I decided to take a drive in hopes of seeing some of the areas where scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed. What a drive it was!

We set out from Queenstown up over a high pass around Lake Wakatipu, down to the town of Glenorchy, and out passed the farmland toward Paradise. Getting to Paradise was quite an interesting journey. As we entered the forest, I wondered if we were headed the right direction. When we saw the school bus route sign I still was not convinced we were actually on a road. It seemed much more like an expanded hiking path – certainly not made for driving.

It wasn’t until we arrived in Paradise and saw the two houses there that I was convinced we had actually been on a road the entire time. I can say one thing, Paradise was the perfect name for the tranquil location. I could definitely see myself living there.

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