There and Back Again: A New Zealand Adventure
My first stop in New Zealand was Auckland, on the North Island. Although not the Capital of New Zealand, this is by far the largest city on the two islands, home to around 32% of the population.
The iconic 1074ft Sky Tower dominates the city's skyline, the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
To the west of the city lies Muriwai, the dramatic and scenic coastline of the North West of New Zealand, also home to a huge Gannet colony.
Taupo, Rotorua and Hawke's Bay
Not having a huge amount of time to explore the North Island, a quick visit down to Lake Taupo and Hawke's Bay was needed. Taking in the Geothermal landscape of Waiotapu and Rotorua, including the beautiful, but violent Champaign Pool. The Art-Deco architecture of Napier, a city that time seems to have forgotten and the volcanic Tongariro National Park.
The plan was to walk the Tongariro Crossing, which would lead me over Mount Tongariro and along the base of Mount Ngauruhoe. However the weather scuppered that plan, so a drive upto Mount Ruapehu and Meads Wall was the alternative. Meads Wall was used in a scene from Lord of the Rings where Frodo and Sam get lost in the mist trying to get to Mordor, so with the same conditions it felt as if I was in Middle Earth searching for Mordor myself.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Simply the most stunning place I have ever seen in my life. The landscape around Mount Cook (Aoraki) is absolutely breathtaking, and boasts some of the best day walks in the world.
I opted for the Hooker Valley track, which leads its way through the Hooker Valley to the base of Mount Cook. Also taking some time to take in the views from Lake Pukaki and my first attempt at trying to photograph the Milky Way.
To be honest I wasn't a huge fan of Queenstown, a haven for adrenaline junkies. Although I would go back and spend a bit longer there to be proven wrong, as this was on a quick stop on my way to Fiordland. The scenery was stunning, and the drive through the Lindis Pass and the Crown Range Pass was spectacular.
Fiordland (Rain, rain and rain)
I was looking forward to my visit to Fiordland and a cruise around Milford Sound. However it would not stop raining for the three days I was there, and having seen photos of a pristine Milford Sound with blue skies this was a little depressing. However, I have since learned that it rains around 220 days a year in Fiordland, so in-fact I was getting a true experience, and I must admit the overcast skies did add a lot of drama to the landscape.
I had also heard about a spectacular lake hidden away in the Darran Mountains, which would mean a tramp up through some rainforest to an amazing view. However, after the hardest hike of my life through streams, waterfalls, over fallen trees and nearly 4 hours of UP, I came across a cloud hidden and flooded lake at the top, and no way through. Disappointing, but some amazing rainforest to hike through.
Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park
Around Lake Wanaka and Mount Aspiring National Park is stunning, but again I was very hit and miss with the weather. A hike up Roy's Peak was hampered with incoming thick cloud and fading light, but I did get some amazing views walking up.
I did have to take a photo of the Lone Tree of Wanaka though, and some say it's possibly the most photographed tree in the world, and you can see why! On a misty and calm morning, the tree looks a lonely figure with only its refection for company.
In both 2010 and 2011 Christchurch was hit by 2 major earthquakes and their aftershocks. Although the larger 2010 quake did cause damage, the second quake caused more devastation to the City's infrastructure, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral.
I was shocked at the amount of damage still visible, with nearly all the buildings still condemned and waiting for demolition. The most recent earthquake hitting earlier this year, and halting most of the rebuilding. However, the spirit of Christchurch is most defiantly being rebuilt, with a temporary mall (Re:Start Mall) made from shipping containers, flowers adoring the security fencing, the main square being used for pop up street food vans and entertainment in the evenings.
I also took some time to visit some areas around Christchurch. Venturing to New Brighton on the east coast for sunrise, a drive to the harbour town of Akaroa, the epic Devil's Punchbowl Falls in Arthur's Pass, Castle Hill's surreal landscape of limestone boulders which was used as a backdrop for the Battle of Narnia in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I also stumbled across the Clay Cliffs while following signs for a 'scenic lookout'.
What trip to New Zealand isn't complete without a visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata? Yes it was touristy, yes it was busy and yes it was expensive, but well worth it for any Lord of the Rings fan. A great end to my first New Zealand adventure (oh, I will be back!).