Sorry I’ve tarried so long in creating this second part to my Oceania Adventures post, but I really have no valid excuse.
So here goes:
After parting from Amy and Kiz in Melbourne airport, I was quickly on my way to Queenstown – a city on New Zealand’s South Island. During my pre-trip research I had come to the conclusion that I would likely enjoy the city, and it more than lived up to my expectations.
Nestled on Lake Wakatipu the city is known for being an adventure travelers paradise, and while I wasn’t planning on doing any parasailing, whitewater rafting or dirt biking, the terrain that makes such activities popular there made for some absolutely incredible scenery.
My first day was spent relaxing on the beach and exploring the little downtown area. The following day was dedicated to visiting Arrowtown, a smaller town outside Queenstown that came into being during the heady gold rush days in New Zealand, and is now a little tourist town themed to look like a stereotypical ‘Wild West’ town. Nestled in a green valley, I was able to enjoy a few hours of hiking and had a delicious lunch and local cider on the patio of a great pub before heading back to Queenstown.
Libation in Arrowtown
That night, since the weather had held off and it was cloudlessly beautiful, I took the opportunity to head up the gondola – and oh my! The view from the top, near Ben Lomond peak, was stunning. I had timed it so I was privy to the sunset fading over the mountains to the east and watched as the city was slowly bathed in deepening shades of blue before the lights below twinkled to life. It was incredible to see the city faintly illuminated with the hulking mountains surrounding it thrown into shadow in the background.
The following day was the Milford Sound expedition. So I caught the bus bright and early, which allowed me to see the sun rise from behind the mountains, and settled in for a 3-hour drive out to the sound-that-is-really-a-fjord. At first I was worried since it had been raining the entire drive out the Milford and I despaired that the cruise would be a write-off, but as we got closer to the Sound the rain stopped and I started to understand why the locals had told me that the area was best seen during a rainy day.
The winding drive through the green canyons leading to the sound because a fairy wonderland with the rainwater run-off creating hundreds of beautiful waterfalls. And even while cruising through Milford Sound through the mist, the waterfalls remained a wonder, cascading hundreds of feet into the sound. It was an amazing afternoon, quite frankly, with the scenery and even a great view of some sunbathing seals.
I was left, after my Milford expedition, with only a single full-day remaining in Queenstown, so I decided to spend it exploring and enjoying. I visited the Royal Botanical Gardens, wandered up the coast, and took in the sight of The Remarkables – the mountain range that doubled for the Misty Mountains in ‘The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’.
My time in Queenstown at an end, I was now of to Mt. Cook National Park to spend a night there and, weather permitting, do some stargazing. Unfortunately it was overcast so stargazing was out, but I was still able to enjoy a great dinner, check out the observatory and planetarium, and do some more hiking – this time out to a glacier.
After that I spent a quick night in Christchurch before catching a flight to Wellington on the North Island – and it’s here that I start my Lord of the Rings tourism.
A morning spent at the incredible Te Papa museum, a stroll along the military memorial wall on the waterfront, and then a trip up the hill on the trolley and a stroll through the botanical gardens for some shopping marked some of my time spent in the city. But I also spent an afternoon indulging my internal nerd and took a LoTR tour that had me hiking through a local park and exploring the area used to film scenes like ‘Escape to Buckleberry Ferry’ and ‘Shortcut to Mushrooms.’ I then found myself at the WETA Studios where I spent too much money on souvenirs before getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the labs that created all the props for the LoTR and Hobbit movies – a tour which was absolutely incredible!
Following my time in Wellington, I headed North again to Auckland where I’d mark my final few days before enduring the 28-hour flight home.
A large city, by New Zealand standards the largest, Auckland reminded me of a smaller Toronto – albeit one with a nicer waterfront. Whilst in the area I spent a day travelling to Matamata, a small town a couple hours outside of the city, where I’d get to enjoy the ultimate Tolkien fan-girl experience: tour Hobbiton.
Oh man, it was incredibly!
With the original Hobbiton having been torn down after the LoTR trilogy completed filming, the town was rebuilt for the current Hobbit series and has since been turned into a tourism staple on the North Island. With both Hobbit-sized houses and human-sized houses used for filming, the property is an adorable mishmash of recognizable structures surrounded by an immaculately maintained gardens. I got to stroll along the paths to Bilbo’s house at Bag End, wander through a vegetable patch, pass over a beautifully constructed stone bridge and enjoy a special-made Soutfarthing branded cider.
It was easily the highlight of my sojourn on the North Island.
My last day before I returned home was a relaxing one wherein I hopped on a ferry and headed across to Waiheke Island for wine and food tour. With a glass of white in one hand I strolled through vineyards and up hillocks to enjoy a beautiful 360-degree view of the island before returning to Auckland in the evening with the sun hanging low over the water behind the city.
The trip was perfection.
From my first day in Sydney to my last evening in Auckland, I enjoyed every second of my adventure and came to one comforting, and terrifying, conclusion: One day I’d have to return.