10 days into our adventures in New Zealand, we began our journey on the South Island. The larger, and less populous, part of the country is meant to have some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on earth. Our route is essentially an extended fish hook: we planned to start at the top of the island, travel down the rocky and untamed West Coast to Fiordland, the southernmost section, and cut back up through the mountainous center, ultimately ending up on the Eastern shores in Christchurch.
Our odyssey commenced in the Marlborough Wine Region. Rather than striving to reach summits and conquer long hikes like most of our proposed days on the South Island, our quest that hump day was to make it to as many wineries as possible in a 5 hour period, while still being able to safely pedal our bikes back to the rental shop. We had a great experience with Bike2Wine. The owner picked us up from our accommodation and dropped us off later in the afternoon so we did not have to worry about driving.
Hobbiton was Matt’s happy place, and those vineyards were mine. My drink of choice is white wine from Marlborough, so you can imagine how excited I was to drink the vino directly from the cellar doors. Out of the 6 that we visited, Nautilus Estate and Wairau River Family Estate were my favorites. The wines at the boutique, family-operated wineries were of a much higher quality than those that are commercialized and mass-produced, such as Cloudy Bay and Giesen. Though Matt and I did not prefer the wines at Giesen, we thoroughly enjoyed a meat, cheese, and seafood tasting platter.
I picked up a bottle of the peachy and refreshing limited-edition Albarino at Nautilus for my mom. Across the road at Wairau River, I chose 2 more bottles to bring back to the States: a succulent single vineyard dry Riesling to share with my friends, and a delicately acidic, off dry rosé to keep for myself. New Zealander’s, you’re lucky that you have access to these gorgeous wines!
We continued West and stayed at an awesome Airbnb in Tahunanui. The wraparound balcony had panoramic views of the calm waters of the Tasman Bay, the distant mountains of Rabbit Island, and the quaint beach town below. I still can’t believe that we only paid $76 for 2 nights. Airbnb is the way to go.
An hour drive through evergreen covered hills brought us to the start of Abel Tasman National Park. Matt and I booked a water taxi to Torrent Bay at 1:30 pm. We had over an hour to kill in Marahau, the gateway to the national park, so we decided to rent standup paddle boards. Sadly, a wave knocked me off the board and my GoPro was lost at sea. I searched frantically for a few minutes, but the water was too deep and the current was too strong, deeming the little camera gone forever.
It’s impossible to be in a pissy mood for a while, though, when in a beautiful landscape like Abel Tasman. Our water taxi was more like a private motor boat ride around the turquoise bays. The captain pulled into granite coves so we could get a closer look at the lazy sunbathing fur seals and tui birds.
After our arrival at Torrent Bay, we hiked South along the coast through fern canopies and golden sand beaches. We climbed up headlands and were rewarded with breathtaking views of the crystal clear water below.
Although the trail was relatively flat, the 11 miles took a toll on our legs, so we were thrilled to reach the end. We refueled with fresh seafood at a beachfront restaurant called Hooked on Marahau. The understated nautical décor and prime location reeled us in. Matt and I started with the salmon ceviche, which was perfectly marinated with the classic quad combo: ginger, lime, chili, and coriander. I chose the steamed white wine and lemon green lipped mussels for my main dish, and Matt ordered the fish of the day, hoki. I had never heard of this species of fish before, but it proved to be delicious. Served with creamy potato salad and dressed greens, this white, delicate fish flaked easily and melted in my mouth.
A fiery sunset entertained us for the drive back to Tahunanui.
We slept in, which was a rarity for us, and got on the road mid-morning. The 6 hour drive to Fox Glacier went quickly as we had constantly changing scenery, and good tunes, to distract us. Around dinner time, we arrived at our farmhouse B&B. The idyllic, cozy white house was surrounded by green farmland and misty mountains. The owners, who were the 3rd generation to live in Fox Glacier, maintained a pristine garden filled with pastel hydrangeas and organic vegetables. In their backyard stood 2 quirky, mini cabins, belonging to their sons who spend the majority of their time at boarding school. Though I felt a strange sense of guilt as I potentially slept in their old bedroom, forcing the boys outside, their father insisted that they loved them.
The next day, we planned to take a helicopter up to Franz Josef Glacier and navigate through the maze of ice with an experienced guide. However, just like the Tongariro Crossing, the weather was not in our favor. The thick clouds and drizzling rain made it too dangerous to fly up the mountain. There’s one mother that you definitely cannot mess with, and that’s Mother Nature. We took the old-fashioned route and used our legs to spot the dense ice.
The trail began at the end of the glacier access road, immediately before the Fox River bridge. We primarily walked on the moraine, the accumulation of rocks and soil left behind from the retreated glacier. The lifeless grey path allowed the lime green shrubs and rusty orange boulders to prominently stand out. Haze masked the tops of the mountains and trickled into the valleys, making it difficult to see far into the distance. The dreary weather added an eerie vibe to the hike. Honestly, I thought the otherworldly terrain was more impressive than the actual glacier.
We dried off and warmed up in our car and continued to journey South. The scenery perfectly resembled the Jurassic Park movies. Waterfalls cascaded down misty, lush mountains. I was waiting for a T-Rex to storm across the highway. The Haast Pass is one of the most scenic drives in New Zealand and I'm so glad that we stumbled upon it.
Our Airbnb for that evening was in Makarora. I picked it solely for its location; it seemed like an easy stopping point in between Fox Glacier and Queenstown, so I wasn't expecting much. However, it completely blew my mind. We stayed at the Wild Earth Lodge, just off of the State Highway 6, and our hosts Pete and Janine went above and beyond our expectations. They welcomed us with wine and a cheese platter, two of my favorite things, and shared stories about their adventurous lives in the untouched wilderness. We also met a lovely French couple and their adorable son and twin daughters who were traveling throughout the Eastern Hempishere for a year. The kids were homeschooled and they lived with families in Bali, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand, each for 3 months, and introduced their children to different cultures and lifestyles. I had never heard of this concept, but the whole family seemed to love the experience.
Pete and Janine's eco-friendly home was built out of the earth, hence the name of the lodge. Large glass windows and pocket sliding doors allowed the natural light and fresh air to pass inside the framework, made of mud walls and wooden beams. Matt's impressive piano tunes echoed beautifully as the smells of Janine's legendary baking wafted through the rooms. The house truly felt alive.
As if the environment could get any more magical, we woke up to a full rainbow stretching over the mountains in the backyard. We ate our delicious home cooked breakfast and marveled at the view. It was one of those "pinch me, I'm dreaming" moments, which seem to happen daily on this trip of a lifetime.