Two days after taking step 1, we left for Whistler to ski. After a week in Whistler, the fam went back to the east coast as I continued to head west to NZ. When I visited NZ two years ago, I traveled around using buses and realized that it was quite inconvenient. This time I decided to rent a car.
Renting a car = waaaaay easier than buses
Renting a car = sooooooo much more freedom to stop at random places
Our last stop on the trip: Queenstown (again). This time with Ang! Ang got placed on a project in Auckland and we really wanted to meet up while we were both in NZ. Since she had Good Friday and Easter Monday off, she flew into Queenstown so we could meet. Dad and I met Ang in town for dinner before heading to her AirBnB to play board games. It was so nice to catch up face to face.
Wanaka is like a chilled out Queenstown. After settling in, we walked over to Puzzling World, which is about 3km outside of town. I loved the “tilted house” exhibit in the Room of Illusions, but I felt so dizzy coming out of it. It’s crazy how easy it is to trick the brain.
We walked the 3-D maze (there are bridges that let you go up/down, adding the third dimension to the maze), which was a blast! It was drizzling the whole time we walked through the maze. After Puzzling World, we walked back to town for dinner and picked up some groceries (hello Whittaker’s chocolate!).
New Zealand has 9 Great Walks featuring some of the country’s most spectacular hiking, or tramping as they call it. The Department of Conservation (DOC) owns huts on all of the walks since these are multi-day walks. Freedom walkers, people who go by themselves, must book a bunk in the hut months in advance since camping is not allowed on most tracks. I wanted to walk the Milford Track (33.2 miles over 4 days), one of the 9 Great Walks, but since dad didn’t want to pack all of our own food, water, and equipment (aka bed sheets, blankets, hiking poles), we decided to go on a guided walk. Ultimate Hikes is the only licensed company to take groups on walks on the Milford and Routeburn tracks, and they sure do hiking the posh way. Ultimate Hikes owns their own huts, complete with giant drying rooms for hikers to dry our clothes after hand washing them. They also have a hot room to dry our boots. (These drying rooms were my favorite feature of the Ultimate Hikes huts.) We also had three course meals at the end of the day (they use helis to restock their huts once a week and to take out the trash), electricity from a generator, hot water…Ok, but enough about Ultimate Hikes. Let me jump back to the beginning.
I met dad in Queenstown for the last leg of my trip. Flying into Queenstown was spectacular. I had great views of the Southern Alps and saw some glaciers from the air. After checking in, dad and I walked around the adventure resort town and contemplated what to do the following day.
Lovely little Wellington was a delight to explore. I took the cable car up to the botanic gardens since my legs were still slightly sore from the Tongariro. I walked through the fragrant, succulent, and rose gardens, which were impeccable. From there, I went to Zealandia, which is a nature reserve for native NZ birds. To make Zealandia, they cleared the area of mammalian pests, built a fence around the entire reserve to prevent the entrance of new pests, and repopulated the area with birds. I walked the recommended route, which took about 2.5 hours. There are many more kms of tracks going deeper into the reserve that I didn’t have time to explore!
I arrived in sleepy National Park Village, which is truly a village consisting of one convenience store, two or three restaurants, and a hostel. However little the village might be, the views are grand, with Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom in LOTR, pronounced NA-ra-hoy) looming in the background. And, it’s the closest place you can stay to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trailhead, which is an epic 19.4km hike featuring volcanoes, craters, and lakes (oh my!).