New Zealand is one of the most beautiful locations in the World. It takes more than thirty hours to get there from Europe. I enjoyed this country very much. But as a team of travelers, we f….d it up. The post is on goods and bads of a New Zealand trip. A subjective one. But if you travel there, do not repeat the mistakes we made.
EXHAUSTED, BORED AND ANGRY
The night in Milford Sound was a disaster. Most of us, who got sick during our New Zealand trip, had no chance to get better. The night made us even feel worse. Most of us, with probably one or two exceptions, were on a desperate shortage of sleep. The morning plan – that fortunately failed was to get up early between 5 and 6 am, climb a mountain in the darkness for an hour or so, and photograph the sunrise. Later on that day, according to our travel schedule, the only one longer stop should have been at the Slope Point, the lowest point of the Southern Island. To get there, we had to deviate from our main route for an hour or so. Our motel was further to the North, in Hampden in the Pacific. From the camping site, where we stayed the night to Hampden, including the side road to Slope Point, it meant around eight hours of constant riding. The plans changed, but in the aftermath, the day was absolutely lost and exhausting. How foolish it was, I realized only back home after having scrutinized it in detail and analyzing time marks on all the photos I made on that day.
Day 11 plan of our New Zealand trip. We woke up on a camping site around 20-25 minutes’ drive from Mirror Lakes. Adding up the route statistics by Google, we had around eight hours of non-stop sitting in the van ahead of us.
If we stuck to our original travel plan, we would be back from the sunrise hunting in the mountains around 9 or 10 am. Counting in an hour for breakfast in Te-Anau, driving non-stop to Hampden, we would arrive there at 6 pm. Counting in ‘technical’ breaks, including lunch-break, it would be easily around 8 pm. With only an hour dedicated to photographing the famous tree formations at the Slope Point, we would arrive in Hampden around 9 pm. The plan was, however, to yet photograph the sunset at the Koekohe Beach famous for its Moeraki Boulders (stone formations). With the sun going down before 9 pm, not doable at all.
Thankfully around 5 am a decision was made to skip the sunrise hunting in the mountains. Instead, we packed and made us on the way. We stopped two or three times to photograph the area in the morning sun. We ate breakfast in Te-Anau. After the exhausting camping night in Milford Sound, a couple of days in a row that we spent mostly in the van and still feeling sick, I was indifferent to any plans ahead of us on that day. Already in the morning, I had a feeling it would be another day lost. Yes, in the aftermath, it was yet another long but very long day lost …
Before we arrived at Slope Point, our male fellows wanted to play with a drone. The idea was to film some green hills from above. The original plan was to make it in Milford Sound. But in Milford Sound and Te-Anau area, you have to first obtain a permit for drone flights. Already close to Milford Sound, we saw two guys flying a drone for a short moment. But out of the blue, two park guards appeared asking them for a permit. Getting the license was nothing complicated, but you had to arrange it in Te-Anau city. Yet again, we stroke out by not prepping correctly. So, to avoid fines in the Milford Sound area, we left the drone in the trunk. As we left the Te-Anau area during most of our ride to the Slope Point, it was drizzling. Not a very good time to start a drone and to film green hills. But still, our fellows wanted their fun. Big boys with a little toy. The remaining others patiently stayed in the van, half-hour or so. Maybe longer. To be frank, I lost count. I think the moral of our traveling fellowship was already that down that nobody even dared to discuss.
Finally, we arrived at the Slope Point – the lowest point of New Zealand Southern Island famous for some twisted tree formations. In reality, it was only one, maybe two tree formations repeated on photos over and over again. We agreed to get out for thirty minutes, take pictures, and hit the road yet again. At first, I decided to stay in the van. It was too cloudy for a reasonable photo shooting, and the twisted trees turned out to be in the middle of a ring-fenced field with no access. But two of our most sick fellows, the same who were not able to sleep through the night in Milford Sound and joined me in the camping site kitchen, said they wanted to take a walk to the coastline. I think they simply needed a break from constant riding in the van and a breath of fresh air. Under the circumstances, understandable. Unwillingly I got out of the van and went to take some photos of the famous tree formation and later followed my fellows to the coastline. Yet again, photographing sheep and cows for an hour or so was the main attraction. A place that might seem attractive to photographs turned out to be merely dull. Being at the lowest New Zealand Southern Island point was the other excuse. In the aftermath, complete loss of time, in particular, that we needed to take a side road to get there. We left the Slope Point around 2 pm.
The famous trees with branches twisted by the wind at the Slope Point. That what you see on the photo is one of two formations that you can photograph.
Out of pure boredom, we photographed sheep.
… and the coastline that could be located anywhere …
We hit the road yet again. And yet again, we stopped at some scenic point to see a waterfall. To reach the waterfall, we needed more than twenty minutes in one direction. The stop cost us around an hour and a half altogether. Without any thought, I made a couple of photos. The waterfall was a fascinating formation and turned out to be quite photogenic. The parking place was one of the few with regular restrooms and running tap water. In the aftermath, on that day, it was the only place where, if next time in New Zealand, I would stop yet again.
Short of food and water we realized, it was already time for a late lunch. The only meal we had on that day was breakfast in Te-Anau. But we were in the middle of nowhere, and it was getting late. Our road took us through Dunedin, one of the New Zealand major cities, originally a Scottish settlement. A place when we could have sat down and enjoy local food. We started to look at the Trip Advisor for a restaurant. But it was getting late. Finally, a decision was made, we did not enter the city. It would cost us too much time.
Hungry, with no prospect of finding a restaurant alongside our route (restaurants close early in New Zealand), around 6 maybe 7 pm, we stopped at a road-side Subway. I do not think any Subway sandwich I ever ate tasted that good as that one on that day … But did I come to New Zealand to eat a sandwich at Subway? Definitely not. I have it at home. A close friend is even a franchisee in the network.
At the end of the day, I was angry all inside me but kept silent. In less than forty-eight hours, we would be flying home … Impossible. I was in New Zealand, and the only thing I could have thought of was coming back home? But that day I was feeling so.
MAYBE IT IS TIME TO STOP AND EASE
We checked in our motel in Hampden after 8 pm. I was exhausted after two or three hours of sleep in the night on a narrow bench in the camper site kitchen and fourteen hours on the road. Our van turned into a hospital on wheels. The jokes about past days got louder. Seemingly the bad weird things that happen on a journey are those we remember best …
But still, my fellows did not give up. Yet again, they went in the evening, minutes after we arrived at our motel, to photograph a beach with famous stone formations at sunset. I did not. For me, it was time to finally say stop. I took my medicine, drank a lot of water, and fell asleep. I did not even hear them as they came back. I only heard as in the early morning before 6 am, they departed yet again to photograph the same beach and stone formations at sunrise. Later on that day, one of the fellows who seemed to quite well cope with our travel schedule, out loud expressed her anger about yet again getting up after a too-short night. Today I think, most of us were angry about the schedule, but without any expressed will to co-operate and make some changes in our travel itinerary, the only remedy was to keep silent till the end of our journey.
Around 6 am, after eight hours of good-night sleep, I was then sitting alone in our motel room trying to calm whatever disease I had and prepare for the long flight home. Landing with a sinus infection is not a pleasant one. I went through it once. For ten minutes or so, I thought my eardrums would explode. This time it would be three landings within thirty hours. An ugly prospect. I drank my morning coffee, took all medicine that could have helped I had with me, and showered for some long minutes in warm water.
Did I lose anything by saying stop? The famous stone formations called the Moeraki Boulders are told to be one of the most famous attractions on the Southern Island. Maybe they are. But several weeks after coming home, I saw a 360° film made from our drone of the photo shooting in the morning. The formations are one of a kind. But in the movie, I lacked fun we had almost two weeks earlier on our first sunrise photo shooting in Auckland. No, I do not think I did lose anything …
Around 8 am, I was already feeling much better. From the day before, I remembered that the ocean coastline was quite close to our motel. Indeed, it was less than ten minutes until I reached the beach. The sun was still quite low over the horizon. I took some photos in the morning light. But later, I just sat down on a stone and listened to the ocean waters. I took off my shoes. After the first night for a couple of days with a good night’s sleep for more than eight hours and the medicine working, it was really soothing. Some other early raisers were on the beach. Still, it was maybe six, maybe seven people. We greeted one another while passing by.
Appreciating the morning hour at the Pacific Ocean
As I came back from the beach, my fellows already came back and were eating breakfast. I joined them. Before hitting the road, we left our Landlords all other camping equipment we did not leave in Milford Sound. We had only less than four hours of ride ahead of us. As the day before, I did not expect anything of that day. I was only happy that this was the end of our fixed travel schedule. We were to stay a bit less than twenty-four hours in one hotel. It meant I could leave my company and sightsee on my own. In particular, that already one or two of my fellows revealed that walking streets of a city is nothing of interest for them.
The morning made me realize that, for me, it is just the opposite. While traveling, I need diversity – exciting places, nature, local food, but also local culture and history. If I cannot travel with my head, I feel dissatisfied. And precisely what was happening with me for the last couple of days. We did nothing that would give me some notion about the New Zealand culture and its history. I recalled my journey to Scotland three years ago. There, it was just the opposite. Day by day, it was about castles and cities. But I remembered being angry that the famous Glen of Weeping we saw only through the window. I lacked at least one-day on-foot Highland experience. Here in New Zealand, it was just the opposite. The whole two weeks about nature, most of it through the van window. About haka (Maori traditional warrior dance, a tradition also maintained present day by New Zealanders) I could have forgotten. And before departing, I was so excited to see it live and learn about the background.
The wedding haka. One of the YouTube videos I watched, while prepping for my New Zealand journey. I think watching haka either performed for tourists by Maoris or during a haka contest should be on any bucket list in New Zealand. Plus of course, the background explanation by a local guide.
So, we hit the road again. For a moment, we stopped at a gas station for a coffee break. The day was getting warmer and warmer. The sun was shining bright. Still, there was no heat around us. A middle hight mince man at the desk asked us whether we enjoyed the sunny morning, after several rainy days. ‘Yes, I did’ was my answer.
Finally, we got to Christchurch. Our hotel was yet another spacious apartment. My company left a bit earlier to see the city. I needed yet another bunch of pills to be able to get out and not feel as I needed coming back the whole time. We agreed to meet at 7 pm to go to a restaurant for our last supper in New Zealand.
CHRISTCHURCH. YES ON THE LAST DAY IN NEW ZEALAND IT IS TRAVELING AGAIN
I uploaded a map of Christchurch to my cell. But to be frank, I did not do any additional research, what to see. I only looked for the main buildings. The quick traveling logics, if you do not know the city and you want to see its core, look for the main cathedral. On my way there I did some window shopping. Passing by an office building, I saw some advertisements for an earthquake museum.
Yes, indeed, the earth in Christchurch trembles over and over again. Having entered the building and I asked the ladies at the desk about the museum. ‘Yes, you may visit the museum, but we close in about one hour.’ As I live in a country safe from any earthquakes, visiting the museum was not only about learning about this phenomenon. It was also about the rescue management and logistics in the days after. The visit to the museum prepared me for that, what I saw while walking further the Christchurch city center. The city is still recovering after the last two major earthquakes that took place in 2010 and 2011. The aftershocks of lower magnitude are, however, even waking up the city from time to time.
Christchurch city center is like one big construction site. The main city Cathedral (build in XIX century gothic-style) and some other old buildings have still not been reconstructed. Different funding needs had to be met. As I write this text (end of June 2018), a decision was finally reached by the authorities to start with the reconstruction works.
The Christchurch cathedral. Awaiting reconstruction after the 2010/2011 earthquakes.
Yet another of many construction sites in the city center
To sightsee the city center, I decided to take a historic tram offering a sightseeing tour in the old parts of the city. You buy a ticket for a day, and you are allowed to get out and get back in as many times as you wish. The tram was moving very slowly. Yes, indeed, slow and quiet gets another meaning in New Zealand. But the advantage was that the tram driver was commenting on that what we saw. He talked of the local traditional gentleman’s house that now is led by a lady and of a college that looks like Hogwarts designed Eaton style (a famous college in England). To be exact, the city name Christchurch was given after one of the constituent colleges in Oxford (England) – the English Christchurch is one of the larger and most prominent colleges of the University of Oxford. Of course, the tram route passed alongside the college area with its traditional buildings and the great hall, English style, that still awaited its restoration after the earthquake. As we returned to the city center, I got out of the tram, and following back the tracks, I went back to the college area. It was already after six. I had only an hour to get back to our motel. For a half-hour, I walked alongside the college and other old buildings. For a moment, I stopped to make a discrete photo of students in their traditional uniforms. And I was not the only one. A Dutch (I think) did the same. We looked at each other and burst out with laughter.
The Christchurch college students on their way to the campus
Short of time but satisfied, I went back to meet my fellows. Most of them have already eaten for the late lunch – and were not very interested in another meal. I was the only one who did not. But just in front of our motel, there was a steakhouse with live music. We decided to go there with an option that those willing would leave earlier. The choice was exquisite. We spent there a long evening (in New Zealand means we were among the last customers to go around 10 pm) enjoying delicious local beef and red wine. That evening, I felt like traveling again.
Delicious food and live music on our last evening in New Zealand.
What would I make differently on our three last days in New Zealand? First, I would not camp in Milford Sound. I would stay two nights instead in Te-Anau with a full long day focus on Milford Sound even if it meant more than sixteen active hours. On the must-do list, it would be taking the shipping route alongside the Milford Sound. If on a higher budget, I would also plan on a helicopter flight over the fjords. Two or three hours, maybe more on foot in the mountains I would also recommend to everybody. If I had to choose between sunrise and sunset photos, I would select sunset photos, in particular, that shortly after the sun hits down, the sky is full of shining stars and planets. As the area is almost non-inhabited, the view of the night sky is breathtaking. For the night photo session, I would obligatory take the tripods. For those who love trekking and spend more time in New Zealand, I would recommend one of the multiple days trekking routes. The advantage of New Zealand in many areas in Europe is that there are no crowds there.
From Te-Anau, I would take a direct route to Dunedin, to visit the city, learn a bit about the Scottish settlement history and eat for lunch some local specialty. This would give some balance to the busy day at Milford Sound. Because the New Zealand road system does not give you an alternative, you must take the route. I would, however, absolutely skip the side road to the Slope Point. There is simply nothing unusual there. I would stay the night in Hampden as we did it to photograph the famous stones at sunset or at sunrise, but still, put attention to a good-night sleep prepping us for the morning journey and a long day in Christchurch. In Christchurch, if possible, I would take a guided tour in the area to learn more about the settlers and the New Zealand history. I would also spend more time in the vicinity of the local college buildings and visit the earthquake museum. The steakhouse visit in the evening I would recommend to everybody, as well.