New Zealand | Part II | Queenstown to Christchurch, Milford Sound, South Island
I know I’m not gonna have anything new to say - you’ve probably already heard someone describe New Zealand’s South Island as unreal, stunning, dreamy, *insert all the good adjectives here*, the most beautiful place. And even though you can probably already imagine how incredible all the scenery is, how fresh the air, how vividly turquoise blue the lakes and rivers, and how bright the stars at night, I still want to share the moments I captured while exploring little corners of this lovely island. I visited in March which meant there was still plenty of sunshine and warmth, and I can only imagine how beautiful it is when it turns into a white wonderland in the colder months.
My mind was blown from the moment we were sat on our plane from Auckland to Queenstown. Don’t know whether it was luck or a sneaky plan by my dear friends Mel & Bill that I got the window seat, but I found myself glued to the window the whole time. I would highly recommend reserving seating by a window if you can! As I was gushing about the views, Mel said “just wait till you see where we land”, and the plane started descending right there, what seemed like on top of the mountains, and to be honest it did make my knees tingle a bit. We were greeted by The Remarkables as we stepped of the plane, and it was, indeed, remarkable.
Day one was spent exploring Queenstown, having lunch at the oh-so-famous Fergburger (it was alright but the Bayger halloumi burger in Bondi still has my heart), doing a luge ride with a pretty epic view, then taking a nap with that same epic view, and filling our lungs with fresh mountain air. My mind was probably the most relaxed it had been in the past year, and I thought to myself how grateful I am to be here, to be free and unattached, to be so present. I took full advantage of being 12 hours ahead of my life back home, and giving social media a little break (besides the occasional insta travel post, of course). We stayed in an amazing AirBnb called The Boathouse (here’s a link to it) that was about a 20 minute drive away from Queenstown. It was a beautifully designed guest home next to the owner’s main house, their herd of sheep, a large fenced field with two curious llamas (Ebony and Ivory, as we named them), a vineyard, and vast, neverending meadows and peaks. You could hear the crickets chirping and the river’s current breaking its way through the mountains.
Our second day in Queenstown probably makes it to #1 on my list of ‘days when I felt the most alive’. We spent the morning in Arrowtown - aka the slowest town on earth - and had breakfast at The Chop Shop. It is THE breakfast spot. You have to go there if you’re around, we went back the next day and it was just as good. I still dream about their avo on toast. After that, it was time for the main attraction of the trip - a 1,5 hour helicopter ride to Milford Sound with a mountain landing. It was quite a spontaneous decision to be honest, and quite a pricy one, but worth every second of it. Maybe we were lucky to get a discount on booking last minute, but I would definitely recommend budgeting in a few hundred dollars and treating yourself to an experience like this. It was exciting, emotional, humbling. We got to see so many peaks and mountain lakes and glaciers up close, and it blew my mind thinking that in any other way it would take weeks for a tiny human like myself to get up there, to see those views.
Milford Sound was like something out of the Avatar movie - a beautiful bright blue fiord with massive waterfalls falling from the cliffs. The thing about this place is that it’s not even that far from Queenstown, only ~50 miles, but if you were to drive there it would take about 5 hours as you have to go a long way around the mountains. So a helicopter ride it is! The company we flew with is called Heli Tours NZ, and our pilot was actually the owner of it. He seemed so happy and content - I asked him if he had the best job in the world, and his answer was “I don’t have a job”. I wanna feel that one day!
Somewhere on our way back to Queenstown, we landed on a mountain. After exchanging lots of "wow" and "how cool", we spent our little break here taking silly pics.
I thought the heli experience would be the peak of the day, but it just kept on giving. In the evening, we decided to go to Arrowtown’s very old cinema. We saw a film called “Lion” (a must see, in my opinion. prepare to cry though), and it really struck a chord. I could hear Mel sobbing in the seat next to me, and I found myself reaching for tissues even after it finished. Once we got home and out the car, I looked up to find the brightest stars I have ever seen in my life. When I was a kid in Latvia, I always went out to see the “falling stars” at the end of August, but the light pollution in Europe just seems to make them a bit hazy. Here, we were sat outside with our blankets with no road or city lights in sight, just meadows and mountains around. It was one of those perfect little life defining moments.
You don’t necessarily have to go all the way to Queenstown to chase that amazing feeling, and I’m sure it differs for each and every one of us - but for me, something about the mountains and the meadows made it feel like everything is in its right place.
After that, it was a long drive west to Christchurch, and then a looong long way back home for me.