I started writing this post weeks ago. However, between being constantly on-the-go, lack of good Wi-Fi, and, yes a touch of laziness, I forced myself to give up one last hike and get on it since I am down to my last couple days in New Zealand.
Although both islands are not that large, given their road system, one-way bridges, amazing hiking tracks, picturesque scenery and activities, it takes a good amount of time to get around. For the first part of my trip, I chose a self-drive tour with Fine Tours New Zealand, and for the second part I let a tour company called Stray do the driving.
As far as driving on the opposite side of the car and road, I did not find it much of a challenge, but you do need to be on your A-Game at all times. Out of nine days driving, I drove on the wrong side of the road twice, got into the wrong side of the car once, and washed the windshield countless times instead of using my indicators, but at least I always had a clean windshield. The Kiwi’s have a great sense of humor when it comes to advertising and sayings, and keep you entertained with their driving signs and saying “Sweet As”. Although you first think they say, “sweet ass”, they are not. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed when I learned the translation: (Sweet Az – I confirm that what you are proposing is good by me), instead of complimenting my back end.
Some take-ways from my time here, New Zealand is below the hole in the ozone layer, so high-level sunscreen is necessary ALL the time, and I will be coming back with a lot more freckles than when I left Portland. Kiwis are a very laid back people and this is evident from seeing adults and kids walking without shoes in airport and stores, and their very easy-going, friendly and accommodating attitude. The changing landscape is unbelievably stunning and I never got bored with the endless fields of sheep, deer and cows.
They have incredibly high-tech public bathrooms in many areas, which talk to you. They welcome you by automatically opening the door, playing music and giving you step-by-step instructions. You are allotted ten minutes to get your business done, so don’t test the system and dilly-dally. After, you are guided by red lights walking you through washing and drying your hands. Lastly, the door automatically opens and the voice command thanks you as you leave. In the Auckland airport, they have combined the water and hand dryer in one handy faucet to eliminate water on the counter, GENIUS!
Most every waterway is a clear blue color from the glaciers and you can drink the tap water everywhere in this country. There are no predators here, so you can hike at night and not come across anything that will come after you, with exception of the sand fly, which love to feast on you whenever they get the chance. There are larger cities such as Auckland, Queenstown, Christchurch and Wellington, but other towns along the way are usually on the small side, yet there is always a welcome and huge speed sign, so even if there is only one building in the town, you are sure not to miss it. Along the way, there are numerous places to enjoy walking tracks, nature preserves and scenic overlooks, so stopping along the way and having your hiking shoes and camera handy is mandatory.
Some things that made the top of my list are hang gliding in Abel Tasman, stunt flying in Lake Wanaka, seeing penguins up close on Steward Island, cruising through Milford Fiordland on a sunny day, rafting level 5 rapids on Rangatita River, walking the Abel Tasman and Hooker Valley tracks, and meeting some amazing and fun people along the way.
New Zealand is an amazing beautiful country with tons to do and see, incredibly friendly people and very welcoming, even after learning I was from the US. Sadly, they think all Americans are now cra cra for voting for Trump. I reassured them not all Americans voted for him and their response, “we will just have to wait and see how things go”.
Given the colder and rainier than normal summer here, I am ready to escape to the much warmer climate of Australia, starting off in Perth. After I will head to Melbourne, spending my 50th hiking with friends in Wilson Promontory National Park, and end my trip visiting a childhood friend in New South Wales. Looking forward to seeing how many insects and other animals I can avoid since I am still nursing my wounds from the tiny NZ sandflies, and will hopefully see a kangaroo or Koala along the way. Until then…