I’m stubborn, I’m opinionated, and I could listen to Disney songs for an unhealthy amount of time and still be perfectly content. Lucky for me, I have an equally opinionated group of women in my life to play devil’s advocate and open my mind to new ideas – I can’t tell you how grateful I am for their strong, independent souls.
One such friend flew half way across the world last week to visit me in New Zealand. Kyla booked a flight from the U.S. 10 days prior to departure, and arrived in New Zealand looking more well rested and refreshed than anyone legally should after traveling for 30 hours.
Kyla and I met exactly five years ago, when we were slinging mortgages to J.P. Morgan’s über wealthy Private Bank clients. We shared a cubicle wall, lived in the same hotel, and basically spent every moment together for six months. Miraculously, we never tired of one another.
Kyla recently left J.P. Morgan and had ten days to see New Zealand before starting a new career with Challenge Detroit. Neither of us are big “planers” when it comes to travel, but we had the general notion that we were going to drive south until we reach Queenstown.
We loaded up my car with groceries, gear and enough petrol to nearly break the bank and started the long, windy drive down the west coast. It seems like the only word I ever use to describe New Zealand’s west coast is rugged, but it’s so much more – it’s wild, windswept, unpredictable and nearly uninhabited. The sea is so ferocious that there are only a handful of places along the entire 1000km coast where swimming is possible. The coast is stacked with mountains, filled with sheep, and home to only 31,000 people.
Our first day on the road brought us face to face with the sad reality of melting glaciers. Just five years ago, the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers could be traversed safely on foot. Since that time, they have retreated to a point where it is only possible to reach ice via helicopter – a $499 excursion that we weren’t ready to pay for on this trip. We were still able to hike nearly to ice and had a pleasant lunch sitting next to the eery glacier blue ice.
Wanaka is a small town, on a lovely lake, surrounded by mountains. The people here live and breath outdoor adventure. In the winter this means skiing and snowboarding, and it doesn’t get any better than the ski fields in this part of the country.
When we made it to Queenstown, we felt like we had made it to heaven. Yes, it’s a little touristy. Yes, it’s filled with young, loud Australians, but it was just what I needed after spending the past four months in quiet Nelson. We took a stunning drive alongside the lake, to the small town of Glenorchy. Past Glenorchy is a tiny place called Paradise, we had been told by nearly a dozen people that it was the place to go when you are in this part of the country. We still aren’t exactly sure what everyone was talking about, it was lovely, but so is the rest of New Zealand. The best part about our 20km, dirt road, detour was that at one point our road was blocked with a herd of sheep. I pulled alongside the driver and he told us to just herd them along, drive behind them until they move out of our way. I herded a 100 sheep with my car! Only in New Zealand.
We had one rainy day in Queenstown, which was the perfect excuse to spend too much money in cafes, drink too much of the infamous Central Otago Pinot Noir, and have a fancy night out at Madame Woo’s. Queenstown filled us with delight, the only lesson learned was that we may have outgrown our ability to sleep in a co-ed, 8-person dorm room. As nice as it was to be living alongside six, muscle-bulging, shirtless Australian snowboarders – the smell and noise is something I could do without for the rest of my life.
After Queenstown, we headed up the east coast, saw a couple thousand more beautiful mountains along the way and landed in Kaikoura. We oogled and gawked at the seal colonies for hours, they are so playful and at ease in the water.
Our trip was flawless. We drove 2,000km in seven days, solved nearly all the world’s problems, sang Disney tunes at the top of our lungs, and accidentally ran over one bird. It was the kind of perfect that could never be planned. It seemed that we just kept getting lucky. Lucky that the hostel we found at 9:00PM happened to have a sauna, lucky that the rain always seemed to fade away right when we were ready to hike, and lucky that the snow-covered roads requiring chains to pass had melted moments before we crossed.
Day 1: Nelson to Franz Josef
Day 2: Franz Josef to Wanaka
Day 3: Wanaka to Queenstown
Day 4, 5: Queenstown
Day 6: Queenstown to Kaikoura
Day 7: Kaikoura to Nelson
Day 8, 10: Nelson
Thanks Kyla for always meeting me wherever I am in the world. I hope we keep traveling together until we are grey and wrinkly!