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