Cheerio, New Zealand

On the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy (click to enlarge).

On the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy (click to enlarge).

On a run with Morgan this morning, I wistfully said goodbye to New Zealand and its intoxicating, idyllic landscape. We headed out from our friends’ home near Queenstown, where we stayed for over a week, and took a trail that showcased so much of what I’ll miss about New Zealand: ragged peaks that rise up sharply to cut the sky, and blue lakes that spread out to make the mountains appear even larger. Soft pastures and tangled bushland that reflect so many shades of green, and trails that lead past communal huts and over bridges carefully covered with a no-skid surface. New Zealand apparently decided early on in its short history as a country to make hiking (or “tramping,” as it’s called here) a national priority.

This trail leads through Closeburn Station, where we ran this morning.

This trail leads to our friends' home at Closeburn Station.

And the sheep — it wouldn’t be New Zealand without them. We inadvertently cornered a big flock against a gate and had no choice but to run right through. What a sendoff: a chorus of sheep at my feet, a group of alpacas to our left, and three fat and sassy horses to our right. This isn’t the Queenstown most people know — the Queenstown of bungy jumps, ski slopes and the famous Shotover Jet — but I highly recommend a taste of life on a station (what Kiwis call sheep or cattle ranches).

Here are a few other recommendations and final reflections from New Zealand to frame Morgan’s photographs:

As we transitioned from the South Island’s West Coast to Queenstown, ever more big and beautiful mountains and lakes kept bursting into view like the grand finale in a fireworks show.

Mount Cook, NZ's tallest mountain (3754m or 12,316ft) as seen on our drive next to Lake Tekapo.

Mount Cook, NZ's tallest mountain (3754m or 12,316ft), as seen on our drive next to the brilliantly blue Lake Tekapo.

The rivers flowing on the Southern Alps, like this one on Arthur's Pass, have the color and clarity reminiscent of gemstones.

The rivers flowing on the Southern Alps, like this one on Arthur's Pass, have the color and clarity reminiscent of a gemstone.

Before we left the West Coast, we stopped at Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki (between Westport and Greymouth). The “pancake” stacks are columns of limestone with almost perfectly thin, horizontal layers fantastically carved by the wind and sea, which rushes into the columns and spews through blowholes.

One of the Pancake Rocks blowholes that fills up and churns like a giant washer.

One of the Pancake Rocks blowholes that fills up and churns like a giant washer.

One of the water- and wind-sculpted figures at Pancake Rocks.

One of the water- and wind-sculpted figures at Pancake Rocks.

Turning east and quickly gaining altitude, we drove over Arthur’s Pass and found ourselves gazing at mountains above timberline on a road barely clinging to the shale sides and flanked by steep drop-offs. It reminded me of the San Juan Skyway in Southwestern Colorado, and it felt as though we had driven from Big Sur to the Rockies in only an hour or so.

Along Arthur’s Pass, we spent a couple of nights at Flock Hill Lodge, a beautifully landscaped retreat with comfortable cabins and a tasty restaurant on the edge of seemingly endless open space. Rock outcroppings on the green mountainsides look so magical that filmmakers decided to shoot The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe near here a few years ago. We headed out on a trail called “The Narnia Track” and saw why this area is a mecca for mountain bikers and trampers.

The view out our window at Flock Hill.

The view out our window at Flock Hill.

Colly and Kyle pretended they were characters from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as we hiked toward the film location.

Colly and Kyle pretended they were characters from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as we hiked toward the film location.

Kyle got a spring in his step when he found a fossil toward the end of our Flock Hill hike off Arthur's Pass.

Kyle got a spring in his step when he found a fossil toward the end of our Flock Hill hike.

Then we bombed down to Queenstown, the home of our high school friends The Kirkpatricks (the same family we kayaked with). Entering town, I suddenly felt as though we were back in the Patagonia Lake District, but the lakes and sky reflected a brighter, clearer blue. Lake Wakatipu, shaped like a lightening bolt, zigzags through craggy glacial peaks aptly named The Remarkables. If you look in the sky almost anytime, any day, you’ll see splashes of color from adventure seekers in parachutes swooping around and wafting down.

There's always someone floating overhead in the sky above Queenstown.

There's always someone floating overhead above Queenstown.

Colly struck a pose on the chairlift to the luge overlooking Queenstown.

Colly struck a pose on the chairlift to the luge overlooking Queenstown.

There is so much to do in Queenstown — it’s a playground of adventure sports, similar to Rotorua in the North Island, plus a winter ski destination — but we didn’t do anything notable in town except swoosh down the luge. All we really wanted to do was soak up the pleasures of country living. Ahhh … the joys of being in a real home, with a real kitchen and washing machine and two wonderful boys to play with our two kids. Who needs TV or a Wii when you’ve got “chooks” (Kiwi for “chickens”) to care for? Long-term family travel really benefits from built-in downtime like we had last week, preferably at the beautiful ranch home of a dear friend. Being on the road for months heightens appreciation for and pleasure in the opportunity to do ordinary things, such as baking pumpkin pie, playing marathon Monopoly games and finding a dentist to clean our teeth.

With our friends The Kirkpatricks, we had dinner and spent a night near Moke Lake on Closeburn Station.

We had dinner and spent a night with our friends in a communally owned "hut" (a small, rustic house) near Moke Lake outside of Queenstown.

Since I’ve been going on and on about New Zealand’s natural environment, I’ve neglected to say much about the people and customs I’ll miss as well. People who call ice cream cups “pottles” and breakfast “brekkie,” who wear wellies (rubber boots) with skirts or shorts, who still dry their clothes on a clothesline, and who sometimes say “hooray” or “cheerio” for “goodbye” seem predisposed to be extra nice and welcoming. This is a country that still relates in an old-fashioned, Midwestern way: telephoning with impromptu invitations, ringing the doorbell to chat, smiling and wishing strangers “g’day.”

Another thing about New Zealand: flashy cars are few and far between. We fit in with our third-rate, 12-year-old rented station wagon. I’m actually going to miss that car, because of all the time we spent in it and the places it took us — even though it made one of my biceps ache whenever I drove because the wheels are so out of alignment that I had to grip the steering wheel to keep us going straight. We named the car Dink because its license plate letters are DNK, and we laughed about how we’ve managed to turn the DINK acronym (Double Income No Kids) on its head (double kids, no income).

Goodbye, Dink!

Goodbye, Dink!

So cheerio, New Zealand, and thanks to our friends and hosts from the past two months. Your country is brilliant and we’ll miss it heaps.

Want to see more photos? We finally updated the gallery with additional South Island shots.

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4 Comments

  1. Michelle saunders, January 28, 2010:

    My favorite posting yet, Sarah! ;) I am so glad you guys experienced the awesomeness of NZ’s south island. Love the flock hill photos and hope you got to meet Anna and Richie. Miss you. Give a big “hey” to Kyle from Henry.

  2. David W. Lavender, January 28, 2010:

    What a bittersweet farewell–lots of excitement ahead, but clearly a wonderful place you’re leaving behind (of course, I thought the same thing when you left South America). Love the panorama with you guys off to the side–an early X-mas card? Can’t wait to check out the gallery when I get the chance this afternoon. The shots remind me a lot of Glacier National Park. Beautiful.

    Safe travels!

  3. Cheryl, January 28, 2010:

    Even I’m sorta sad that your leaving New Zealand! I’ve really enjoyed the posts. Such a beautiful country and you really dug in and experienced all it had to offer! On to the next stop…..

  4. Sarah, February 2, 2010:

    As one who traveled to Glacier with David, Karen, and the kids, I have to agree. Lovely post and I, too, think this is a fine entry. Will be eager to read your commentary about Australia and your thoughts about the brief return to the States mid-stream of this amazing world tour. love to you, Sayso

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