I am happy to have called New Zealand home for over six years. Long and lean, New Zealand offers 8,700 miles (14,000 km) of heavenly coastline, 13 national parks, 9 great walks, and countless scenic settings. I hold many great memories of exploring this country. I found it to be the perfect place for a road trip inspiring the spontaneous and the box-tickers alike. In celebration of the years spent here, I’m sharing my top 6 experiences in this corner of the world.
6. Sandsurfing Te Paki Sand Dunes: Cape Reinga
The sight of immense sand dunes is a sharp contrast to the vast green landscape in New Zealand. Parents attempt to apply sunscreen to their squirmy little ones who only want to be given permission to start sandsurfing. I rented a board from a nearby stall and headed up the dune. Two steps up, one step sliding down, walking up the dunes is a test of fitness and persistence. Once I reached the top I was rewarded with the rush I felt while surfing down the dune, creating my own breeze on a hot day, if only for a moment.
5. Exploring the Sounds: Fiordland National Park
Fiordland is New Zealand’s largest national park stretched along the bottom corner of the South Island. This is my go-to spot to take visitors because it has the most awe-inspiring landscape. I’ve visited this area four times so far, but I have only explored a small portion of the 4,800 square mile territory. I kayaked in Milford Sound and explored many of the tracks. I cruised through Doubtful Sound in winter and Milford Sound in summer. I’ve seen the glowworms in Te Anau shining like stars along the cave wall. Every time I visit I am reminded how much time has gone into shaping this earth and how much sandfly bites itch.
4. Orca Spotting: Bay of Islands
I joined a dolphin sightseeing tour one summer afternoon. A few dolphins followed our boat at the start of the tour then all of a sudden they disappeared. I was feeling disappointed, but then we spotted several orca taking a break from deeper waters. Orca (a.k.a killer whales) are remarkable creatures. Although they are found all over the world, each population is culturally distinct. New Zealand’s population is known to come into the bay to hunt stingrays. No stingrays were harmed this afternoon, however. The orca checked out our boat as the tourists took photos until we reluctantly said goodbye.
3. Great Walk: Abel Tasman
For my 30th birthday present to myself I organized the Abel Tasman Great Walk with friends. We were gifted with perfect weather and gorgeous views on our three-day journey from Marahau to Mutton Cove. The best part of the trip was the last night in Mutton Cove. One of the guides from a kayaking group caught a fish. Someone else at the campsite supplied a pan, another some oil, and we supplied the fire. The fish became a shared meal among friendly strangers. On the forth day we took a water taxi back to the start, which enabled us to admire the span of our tramp from another angle.
2. Bungy Jumping: Queenstown
My little sister, Courtney, came for a two- week visit. During our road trip, she suggested we go bungy jumping. Bungy jumping is a common thing to do in New Zealand, but I had not yet signed myself up for the fall. She picked Nevis, the highest in New Zealand at 439 feet (134m). We signed up, geared up, and went out onto a platform above the Nevis River. I anxiously waited my turn while watching others fly into the air. It had been raining on and off that day and once it was my turn the rain picked up. I jumped off the platform (what I thought to be an epic, powerful jump) and instantly became soaked. Once I was in the air all my nervousness vanished. I enjoyed the view while I bounced. One. Two. I pulled the release after the second bounce and felt a sense of calm while the crew pulled me back up.
1. Whale Stranding: Golden Bay
I created a 25-minute film as part of my final thesis for my Science Communication degree called Once a Pod of Whales. My film partner, Vanessa and I chose the topic of whale strandings because there are a few hotspots around New Zealand where whale strandings take place. The day of my 25th birthday, 99 pilot whales stranded on Farewell Spit in Golden Bay. Vanessa and I rushed up to the location. Pumped with adrenaline and energy drinks, we started filming the volunteers covering the whales with wet sheets. At high tide the volunteers formed a human chain to try to keep the whales from restranding. This was a very emotional experience that I was thankful to be a part of.
I left New Zealand carrying with me these beautiful memories and more. This is a very short list considering the abundance of beautiful locations and experiences this country has to offer. I will be back again after new adventures in other locations.