Today’s guest post was contributed by Michelle Ray of Wander There. I’ve been spending much of my free Snowpocalypse time researching New Zealand so I really enjoyed reading about the highlights of Michelle’s trip to the South Island. It definitely gave me some new ideas for my own bucket list:
There’s something alluring about an island country (or in this case, two islands) known as ‘Godzone.’ Then, you add in all of the tails of adventure, beauty, wildlife and winding roads. Oh, and I can’t forget serving as the backdrop of The Lord of the Rings movies. Who wouldn’t want to pack their bags and head to New Zealand?
I don’t know if it was my adventurous spirit or love for natural wonderlands, but I had to find a way to New Zealand in my twenties. Luckily, fate dealt me a royal flush. I found insanely cheap airfare and was able to take off about three weeks from work on short notice. In less than two months, I was eagerly boarding a plane and on my way to the South Pacific, ready for an unpredictable adventure.
For those who have not been lucky enough to visit New Zealand, it is a breathtaking country with vibrant blue skies, low-hanging clouds and lush, green hills that give way to towering, dark mountains. I almost had to pinch my arm on a few occasions, just to remind myself that I was still on planet Earth. And, the Kiwis are such kind people who get to enjoy my now favorite beer, Speight’s (which, sadly, is not available in the States). On top of that, there’s an endless list of activities that you can add to your NZ “bucket” list.
Here are some of my memorable adventures….
Swimming with Dolphins
This was a must-do while I was in New Zealand. I have always loved dolphins, so much so that I wanted to be a dolphin trainer when I was younger. And, after some research, I learned that I could swim with wild dolphins in the ocean. Sold.
With snorkeling gear in hand, we boarded our boat in Kaikoura, and then sped out to sea. Not long after soaking up the sun and searching the horizon for any movement in the water, we came upon a pod of dolphins…well nearly 250 of them! We launched ourselves into the ocean and swam towards these curious and social creatures, ready to meet them and experience the world from their eyes.
While in the water, the dolphins would swim up towards me, circle me and even show off their acrobatic skills with graceful flips. Though we were asked not to touch them, those rules did not apply to the dolphins — some grazed against me! One in particular became my shadow, following me and constantly circling me, as if teasing me to play. The dolphins danced in the water and zipped around us for what felt like hours. I didn’t want euphoric experience to end, nor did I want to stop observing and interacting with my favorite animal – the majestic dolphin!
Kayaking Abel Tasman
At Abel Tasman National Park, the ocean meets sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, coves and seals. Plus, it’s an area rich in history and folklore.
Coming around the rocks, we kayaked to seals and seal pups sunbathing on rocks and gliding in the water. Some even swam under and around our kayaks, twirling and splashing. Then, the sun dived behind heavy clouds, and the southerly winds picked up. So, we started our long, adrenaline-charged paddle back to shore with the wind and water pounding against our face and kayaks.
Abel Tasman goes beyond stunning scenery and wildlife, though. While there, you meet other global travelers from different lands, leave behind trivial concerns and just let wanderlust set in.
Fiordland National Park
Sometimes a place can make you forget about how neon signs assault your vision with their dancing lights and car fumes infiltrate your lungs and sting your eyes…and make you feel completely alive. Welcome to Fiordland National Park. Here you can sail the majestic fjords, as well as backpack the Milford Trek and other less famous but overwhelmingly scenic trails.
While Milford Sound is the most accessible fjord (and well-worth a visit), I’m thrilled that we did an overnight trip in the remote Doubtful Sound. To arrive at this celestial fjord, we had to surrender ourselves to a boat that sped across the lovely Lake Manapauri, then we stepped on land and boarded a bus to cross the Wilmett Pass, the most expensive road in New Zealand…and from there, we became the only visitors of Doubtful Sound, well alongside 65 other passengers. There were no other humans for hundreds of kilometers.
We witnessed the glory of Doubtful Sound on a sunny day, which was only dotted with clouds, as well as the forested mountains engulfed in fog on a rainy morning. We also experienced the isolated fjord from the view of a kayak, as well as encountered some of the wildlife residents- seals, dolphins, sea lions, nearly extinct birds and even the rarest penguin in the world!
As a photographer, nature lover and adventure seeker, it was almost heaven. No wonder New Zealand is nicknamed the Godzone.
What’s Still on My Bucket List
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I didn’t get accomplish everything on my “bucket” list. So, I’m hoping to return in the next 4-5 years to do some tramping (backpacking) in Fiordland, climb Franz Josef glacier, visit Speight’s brewery, swim with seals, ski in Queenstown and attend an All Blacks rugby match. Oh, and also because New Zealand is a natural wonderland, and I like having my breath taken away by adventure and immense beauty.
What would be on your “bucket” list for New Zealand?
Michelle Ray is a 20-something travel addict and animal lover who works for homeless pets by day and obsesses about her next overseas adventure by night. Struck by wanderlust at a young age, Michelle constantly craves freedom, a difference in land and culture, a world away from the one that she lives. When not traveling, she shakes off her itchy feet through photography, writing, reading, hiking and kayaking. She recently moved to Colorado so she could wake up to stunning mountain views, pursue her passions and play outdoors more often. Follow her on Twitter @wanderstruck and join her adventures (and misadventures) online at wanderthere.blogspot.com.