These Alpacas in Akaroa Stole My Heart and Never Return

Processed with VSCO with e3 presetI have never met a person who does not go nuts over alpacas. I am serious!

This is the last post of the New Zealand series, and I am saving the best for last. This post is cuteness overload; it is possibly the cutest post ever on this site. You’d better prepare yourself to Awww non-stop 😉

Almost a year ago, way before I decided to visit New Zealand, I learned about Shamarra Alpacas Farm when I was reading Legal Nomads, my most favorite travel blog. At that point, I had never seen alpacas in person and was not even entirely sure what kind of animals they are. I do not think there is any of them in Asia. Their peculiar cuteness made a deep impression on me, so I bookmarked the post. (I do it very often, even when I have no immediate plan to visit. Do you guys do it, too?) Around February this year when I chose to go to New Zealand, this farm was featured prominently on my places-to-visit list.

The farm is located in Akaroa, less than two hours drive from the city of Christchurch. Because I did not drive, my only option was to stay in Christchurch for two days and go on a day-trip to Akaroa, where I would be picked up by the farm staff. I thought Akaroa was just a pit stop so I did not do any research about it, and oh man I was in for a fantastic surprise. This small historic French and British settlement is so incredibly picturesque and relaxing, thanks to its stunning nature and quaint colonial architecture.

Mandatory history lesson for y’all: Canterbury’s oldest town, Akaroa was founded in August 1840 by French settlers. It has been suggested that French interest in New Zealand speeded up Britain’s decision to annex New Zealand. By the time French settlers arrived, the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and Māori chiefs had been signed. Akaroa has a fine collection of 19th-century cottages and houses. Once a fishing and farm service town, it now serves mainly holidaymakers and tourists. The French associations are evident in street names. The resident population is slowly declining, and now more than 60% of the dwellings are holiday homes.

The town center is tiny, so several hours between my pick-up and drop-off time were the perfect amount of time to explore. There are accommodation options, so you can stay overnight if you want to dig deeper.

The farm is actually located 20 minutes drive from the town center, so if you do not drive the farm offers to pick you up in front of Akaroa i-SITE visitor information center, as long as you let them know when you book your tour. In my case, I left Christchurch at 8.30AM on the Akaroa Shuttle and arrived in Akaroa an hour and a half later. It was a pleasant trip, but the beauty of the sceneries along the way was somehow compromised by overcast skies. However, the clouds cleared up completely when I arrived. It was strange and fortuitous because I am here to tell you that the glory of Akaroa harbor shines most brightly in sunny weather.

The first thing I saw when I arrived at the farm. Almost fainted!!!

 I seriously wonder how it feels to wake up to this view everyday. I mean, if you look at something everyday, however gorgeous it is, you will eventually get used to it at some point, right? Do the people at the farm no longer bat an eyelid?

I was picked up and dropped off by Frank and Anya, the farm owners. They both were lovely, and it was interesting to talk to them in an one-on-one setting and learn a bit about their lives. Which would not have been possible if I had driven up there myself. They went from South Africa to the Caribbean before settling in New Zealand more than a decade ago and starting their farm. And you can tell by the way they talk about and interact with their alpacas that they do care deeply about them. As a dog parent, I always find it heart-warming to see people treat animals right.

I wish the tour lasted longer than just an hour. I literally can spend an entire day observing and photographing them.

They are mother and daughter, I think? I wanted to squeeze them so badly, but as soon as you get near them they will dodge you 🙁

OH.MY.GADDDD!!!

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How To Spend 3 Days in the Photogenic Queenstown

Heads-up: you can witness very ethereal lighting in Milford Sound 😉

I once read somewhere that your travels change when you find out specifically why, besides all the usual- and entirely legitimate- reasons of seeing new places and exploring the world, you want to travel. Some travel for the arts and history, some travel for the food, and some travel for the sceneries. For me personally, after a few years of being relatively “directionless”, I have fathomed out my Why. I travel to document the natural beauty of this world with my camera. I am wholly in my element when I am surrounded by nature. These days, when deciding where to go, I am more inclined towards countries that afford easy access to beautiful landscapes and plenty of opportunities to be in touch with nature.

New Zealand is one of those countries. And Queenstown in particular intoxicated me!

Queenstown was the final leg of my time in the country. By then, I had experienced an absurd amount of spectacular moments in Wanaka, Mt. Cook, Kaikoura, and Marlborough Sounds. Which made me slightly skeptical whether Queenstown would be able to surpass them all, given that it is overrun with tourists. Now looking back, I can’t help but chuckle a little because that was such a silly, unwarranted concern. A place is touristy not for nothing. It would be unfair to say that Queenstown was the most magnificent part of New Zealand I saw, but from a photography perspective it was the peak. I am truly happy with what I was able to capture.

This was what I saw when I stepped off the bus and looked up. I silently told Queenstown, Hey you were made for me!

I should clarify, though, that I didn’t actually spend all my time inside Queenstown. It is a small, compact, pedestrian-friendly resort town that, in my personal experience, does not take a lot of time to hit all the main spots. However, it is the gateway to some of the most unreal parts of the South Island. And those places were where my eyes and camera got such fulfilling workouts.

So, if you are going to spend about 3 days in Queenstown like I did, below are my suggestions. Queenstown is the capital of adventurous activities from bungee jumping, skydiving, to rafting and many others. They unfortunately cost an arm and a leg, so I steered clear of them. You don’t have to if you have the financial wherewithal 😉

Day 1: Arrowtown and Queenstown

THIS MADE ME SCREAM!!!

Listen, if you are in New Zealand during autumn, you MUST visit Arrowtown. I am not being hyperbolic; I am saying it from the bottom of my heart.

I am an autumn person through and through, and ever since I left the States I have been completely deprived of real autumns. I am living in Hanoi, the only city in South East Asia with four distinct seasons. Yet autumns here pale in comparison. When I set my feet in Arrowtown, I felt like I was finally released from an autumn dry spell.

Arrowtown is small and quaint. The detailed history of the town can be read here, the town’s official website. But basically, it was established in 1862, during the height of the Otago gold rush. The settlement grew quickly as pioneers constructed cottages, shops, hotels and churches, more than 60 of which can still be seen today.

To get to Arrowntown from Queestown by public transportation, take this bus, NZD 30 round-trip. The most important tip I have is you should take the earliest bus at 7.35AM so you can get there at 8AM. As a reward, you will have the whole town to yourself, and the lighting will be excellent. I took all of these photos in the span of two hours, from 8 to around 10AM. It is not easy to take photos once throngs of tourists pour in. I left at noon, but you can spend more time there if you want to.

The postcard quality of Arrowntown is top-notch.

Sigh, I am running out of words already.

I already told you guys I rarely feel the urge to shove my face in photos of places that I visit. I’m not young anymore and have come to a point in my life where I don’t feel like I need to prove anything to anyone. (Kidding, I still have a ton of inner work to do.) BUT, I had to wake up at 6AM to catch the bus and wandered around in freezing temperatures. So, I was just kind of like, “Self-restraints, you can go fcuk yourself. I need a photo with this beautiful background, in an au naturel I Woke Up Like This state.” 😀

One of the cheapest yet most enjoyable experiences I had in Queenstown. 

Day 2: Milford Sound

This sight is just too heinous!!!

Even my friends who live in New Zealand commented on my photos that they hadn’t seen Milford Sound this copiously bathed in sunlight for a long time. Yes, I know I hit the jackpot with the weather!

Milford Sound needs no introduction. It is legendary; it is the quintessential New Zealand experience. It was sad that I had limited time and didn’t have a car; otherwise, I would have allotted more time for this place and the adjacent areas. There, nature is in its unadulterated glory.

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What Made Me Fall In Love with Wanaka

Processed with VSCO with e1 presetWhat people say about nothing worthwhile coming easy is really, really true. Views like these sure aren’t easy.

To me, Wanaka is the poster child for the power of social media (specifically Instagram) in popularizing a destination. I’m sure Wanaka Tourism Board has used other marketing and promotion channels and I obviously don’t know all the ins and outs, but from my perspective as an outsider its social media campaigns (with influential travel bloggers plugging Wanaka on their accounts and websites) sure have yielded good return on investment. That is how I came to know about this place. I decided to visit Wanaka even before I decided to visit New Zealand, if that makes sense to you.

Before I visit a place, I usually browse through Internet photos, all of which, you know, usually show that place in its best light. With Wanaka, when I visited the spots I had seen in photos, I wasn’t let down. Not even once. The town in real life is just as picturesque and vibrant, if not more, as how it is captured in photos.

Wanaka, thank you for over-delivering.

*****

I came to Wanaka from Mt. Cook by way of Twizel (still with Intercity bus. If memory serves me right, there is no direct bus from Mt. Cook to Wanaka. You will have to stop over at Twizel). The entire journey took about 5 hours, the last two of which were a feast for the eyes, as everything that the bus passed by- mountains, trees, farms, and lakes- was bathed in the afternoon warm golden light. When the bus pulled into the parking lot, I barely could keep my excitement in check.

Wanaka is situated in a glacier carved basin on the shores of Lake Wanaka. It is a small town, but quite lively for its size. For me, that was a very welcoming change, especially after a few days in the sparsely populated Mackenzie region where there wasn’t any real good food or coffee.

I allocated four days in Wanaka. It surprised people I met a little bit, because it’s a tiny town and people usually spend a day or two before moving on to their next destination. Wanaka itself doesn’t offer that many things to see and to do, but the surrounding region is a treasure trove of attractions and activities. Mt Aspiring National Park is a prime example.

The sad reality, however, is I didn’t get to experience a lot during my stay either due to…budget constraints 🙁  I didn’t have a rental car, so my only option was organized tours. I love guided tours in New Zealand, since they can be quite informative, but heaven knows they are also prohibitively expensive. Like, I wanted to go on one of Eco Wanaka adventures, but the prices got me 🙁 Fortunately, everything I was able to see was gorgeous and surpassed my expectations so it remains a memorable experience at the end of the day.

Now, without further ado, let me show you what you shouldn’t miss in Wanaka.

1. Roys Peak Track

Multiple eye-gasms!!!

If there were a contest for the best-est free activity to do in Wanaka, I’d wholeheartedly vote for this. With one caveat!

While it’s free of charge, it will cost you a hell lot of calories. People could describe the hike in the most vivid, flowery words, but the simple truth is you just climb a mountain from the base to the top. It’s not the distance (11 km in total), but the steepness (almost 1,600 meters), that makes this track grueling. You don’t have to be an athlete or a seasoned hiker to complete it, but you have to be in good health.

But the views along the way are sensational and only keep getting better. The climax is when you get to the summit with a panoramic view of Lake Wanka, the surrounding peaks and Mount Aspiring. There are two summits to conquer; most people will stop at the first. I conquered both, and while I felt a tad more accomplished, you don’t have to do the same. The first one already will drive you crazy!

(Remember to bring more than enough water and some snacks. The track begins at the parking lot 15 minutes drive from the town center. If you don’t drive, you can try hitchhiking (which is time-consuming and not guaranteed), or take a taxi for NZD 20.)

They will cheer you on 😀

I always wonder when a track is said to take a certain number of hours, does that duration already take into account breaks? For me, it usually takes 2-3 hours more than what is estimated; I pause a lot. Not because I’m too tired, but because I need to absorb what’s in front of me and take photos. I’m not weird, right?

I genuinely feel New Zealand is one of Mother Nature’s most favorite children

I love this view unreservedly!

Here I am, at the very top. Listen, who looks this stoic and dresses like this going on a steep, knee-killing 7 hour- 16 km long- 1600m high hike up the mountain? I do, haha. Why? Because I’ll be shivering, de-hyrated, and out of breath when I get to the top no matter what, and so I’d want to be all of that (and I indeed was) in something that makes me feel I’m in my element rather than in, say, Northface or Columbia. Not that there is anything wrong with Northface or Columbia; it’s just that I’m not a windbreaker & sweatpants kind of person so I don’t want to pretend to be what I’m not, you know 😀

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David Beckham at Louis Vuitton SS17 Menswear Show

I have never been a proponent of the black-on-black look on men, because most of the times it gives off a strong clerical vibe. But you guys already know that I consider David and Victoria my fashion parents. Which means I cannot find fault with anything they wear.

This head-to-toe black outfit David wore to watch the Louis Vuitton Menswear show in Paris last week is no exception. I accept everything about it without question!

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What David Gandy Wore During 2016 London Collections: Men

I am lagging behind in everything at the moment. I haven’t told you guys yet, but if we’re friends on Instagram, you may already know that I enrolled in a hiphop/urban dance choreography class at the beginning of this month. I have always been mesmerized with the performances of Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, and Beyonce, to name just a few; and wanted to learn that high-energy kind of choreography. However, I cooked up various excuses over the years for not doing it until this year when I realized that I’m not getting any younger and there is something wrong with me if I can’t squeeze in 3 hours out of 168 each week to attend the class. Fast forward to now after 7 sessions, I am still barely able to dance and one of the worst students in class. Embarrassed and defeated? A little bit in the beginning, but I have got to learn a few new things about how music works, how to isolate different body parts, and given my memory muscle a good workout so I’m still very happy.

Anyway, onto fashion! The annual menswear fashion month started with London, and even though I haven’t got around to looking through all the collections, I made sure that I got my David Gandy out and about fix. I have always been vocal about my love for his personal style; to me, he is the quintessential part of London Collections Men Fashion Week. Let’s ogle at him, shall we?

David loves monochrome dressing. And so do I. There is nothing revolutionary about this outfit, but I still love it unreservedly. Because it tastefully displays his muscular physique. By the way, the man next to him is Joe Ottaway, whose sense of style is really neat, too. I recently started following his Instagram, too, and haven’t been disappointed.

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The Recent Sartorial Hits and Misses of Nick Jonas

I have been writing about travels a little too much I need a break. I miss rambling about fashion– the reason I started this blog in the first place. So, let’s resume our fashion chat today and check in with Nick. I feel like he is the only male celebrity who is genuinely interested in fashion right now.

So, Nick has been making the rounds lately to promote his new album and upcoming tour. Before we talk about fashion, I just want to note that I have warmed up to him a lot more than I did before. However, Nick, you are still talking a lot about sex. From the no apparent reason boner, bedroom fetishes, to having firm ass…do we really need to know that much about your sex life? We know you have had a lot of sex and you are a man now. Isn’t that enough?

Anyway, I don’t know if he switched stylists or not, but his sense of style lately has been ON FIRE. Like, most of the times I see his photos, I’m like, I want at least one of the things on his body to be on my body immediately. That sounds a little wrong, doesn’t it? 😀

Let’s see what he has been up to:

He wore this outfit at the beginning of June. I LOVE THIS OUTFIT UNRESERVEDLY. PERIOD. It is casual and comfortable yet super stylish. The yellow and black combination is pretty much perfect. The leather jacket is my dream. And the shoes (by Ann Demeulemeester) are my lovers. I have 5 pairs of yellow shoes!

I adore this suit as well. It is by Haider Ackermann, whose collections and personal sense of style I really enjoy. I need to do a post about Haider Ackermann’s style, you guys! The fit is obviously perfect here. The t-shirt underneath is refreshing. High fashion yet still manly. Full mark, Nick!

Nick, your leather jacket game is extremely strong. And hardly anything screams I have a shitload of money more than an enviable collection of leather jackets. That being said, I’m not particularly crazy about this Balmain for some reason. Maybe because of the color? Maybe because the color combo is not right that it takes away the beauty of the jacket? I need to think more!

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20 Photos of the Awe-Inspiring Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook

This, I feel, is one of Mother Nature’s greatest hits! 

Writing about my trip around New Zealand has become increasingly difficult. Every place that I visited lived up to, or even surpassed, my expectations; my reactions were essentially always the same, “This is too much.” I can only rave about its otherworldly beauty.

The wildest, most pristine, jaw-dropping, and formidable place I went to was Mount Cook National Park, which is part of the MacKenzie Country. This region is situated in the center of South Island and based around the Mackenzie Basin, a expansive intermontane basin in the eastern shadow of the Southern Alps and Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain (3724 m). Water from the melting glaciers fill three large lakes: Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau, which feed the Waitaki River and the country’s largest hydroelectric scheme.(Wikivoyage)

The region’s history is a intriguing read as well. In short, it was named after James Mackenzie, a shepherd from Scotland. He was accused of stealing sheep from a large farm with the aid of his dog (stories with dogs always hit my sweet spot!) and captured, but then escaped and recaptured. This Catch Me If You Can game happened several times before he was acquitted. People admired his rebelliousness and audacity and honored him that way. Here is the unabridged version for your reading pleasure.

The two most prominent spots to visit in the MacKenzie Country are Lake Tekapo and Aoraki/Mount Cook Village.

1. LAKE TEKAPO

It was a blessing that the weather at Lake Tekapo was mostly cooperative on the day I visited.

What sets Lake Tekapo apart from the many lakes you have seen and will see is its striking turquoise blue water, which is created by “rock flour” – the glaciers in the headwaters grind the rock into fine dust. The color is amplified on a clear, sunny day.

When I stepped off the Intercity bus, I was stunned. A vast, menacing body of water in the shade of blue that was unlike anything I had seen before. The vast majority of Lake Tekapo photos and postcards shows stands of purple, pink and white lupines in the foreground and the turquoise blue lake and snow-capped mountains in the background. I visited in autumn so there was not any lupine, but I still had multiple eyegasms with the golden brown grasses.

Behind every nature photo of New Zealand you see are a hell lot of hoops I had to jump through to be able to take it. Lake Tekapo looks very calming, bucolic, and photographer-friendly in this photo, but goodness knows I was almost knocked down by the raging wind in the process.

After checking in the YHA, I immediately headed back to the lake. The radiant light lasted for about two hours before apocalyptic-looking clouds almost engulfed the sky. The wind grew stronger. I made it back to the hostel in time before it started pouring and spent the rest of the day hanging out with fellow travelers in the common room, in front of the fireplace. With the rain rattling against the windows, it felt so cozy.

The one thing I did not enjoy about Lake Tekapo (and New Zealand in general) was the food. And I am only saying it as a matter of fact; I am not disparaging the food scene there because I understand that this is a far-off and sparsely populated region.

When I arrived, I was starving and had an intense craving for Asian food. It is such a tiny town that the number of places to eat can be counted on two hands. I went into Jade Palace (the only Chinese restaurant) and ordered the wonton noodle soup. Everything else on the menu is so damn overpriced (considering how basic it is). The soup itself turned out to be a pitiable embarrassment. It definitely was the worst wonton noodle soup I have ever tasted in my life, but I would not consider it a complete waste of money, as thanks to it, I was full for a few hours. Oh and the people working in the restaurant were not very hospitable. No surprise that it has mostly appalling reviews. I would never go back!

In the evening, at the suggestion of Jo’di, my new Singaporean friend, I braved the rain and wind with a borrowed headline  to get  Japanese food at KOHAN, which is within walking distance from the Chinese one. True to form, everything about it is superior, from the manners of the staff, the ambience, the prices, to the quality of the food. I recommend without any reservation!

A quick glimpse of the gentle sunrise before I departed at 7.30AM the following day.

2. LAKE PUKAKI

Not too far away from Lake Tekapo and on the way to Mount Cook is Lake Pukaki, the largest of the three alpine lakes mentioned above. Most buses will make a pit stop here for people to take photos. 

Morning cloud orgy 😀

3. AORAKI/ MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK

Mount Cook is often covered in clouds, and my first day was no exception. 

Mount Cook is the place that defies the “It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey” maxim. It is the place that makes me acutely aware of how inadequate my writing abilities are, as I cannot put into words its magnitude and magnificence.

The route from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook is the most scenic I have ever been on. But as I was on the bus, I could not take any photo. I was intensely jealous of people in cars because they were able to stop anytime they wanted along the way. For the sake of brevity, just look at this photo.

However, nothing really prepared for the moments of officially entering the zone. Words to convey thoughts and feelings started to fall short.

I spent a day and half there and did not feel physically great enough to tackle long walks, so on both days I chose the Kea Point track, which takes about 2 hours. I skipped the popular Hooker Valley Track this time, as it takes longer. But I do not feel like I missed out, because I know I will return.

Visual stimulation!

The rewards for finishing the track are insane views of the Southern Alps (in this photo, obstructed by clouds) and Mueller Glacier lake. 

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3 Lovely Things to Do in Kaikoura. 2 of Them Are Free!

My exact reaction when I saw this sight (you guys will have to excuse the profanity. I was truly overwhelmed): “Fcuk fcuk, NZ IS MAGIC.”)

Kaikoura is not the place that immediately springs to mind when it comes to New Zealand’s South Island. Many fellow travelers I met along the way skipped it, as they either did not know where it is or deemed it not special enough. I myself had not had any idea in the beginning, either. However, when I saw this beautiful seal photo, I quickly made a mental note. The seal is so adorable, and I had never, ever seen seals before. Upon further research, the town turned out to be conveniently located between Picton, where I would begin my South Island tour, and the next stop, Christchurch.

Kaikoura and me, it really was meant to be 😀

Initially, I planned to get there by taking the Coastal Pacific train with KiwiRail, which promises unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean. But digging deeper into the reviews, I learned that the journey itself would not be as amazing as it is touted to be. Plus, it costs more than a hundred, so in the end I opted for the InterCity bus (only NZD 25).

Now, I did not take the train so I am not able to give you a final take-it-or-leave-it verdict, since just being on the train is an experience in and of itself. For me, however, I care about the views and the affordability more than the romance of traveling by train. If you are like me and on the fence about what to take, bus is your answer. Rest assured, what you see from the bus is still quite decent.

Kaikoura is a small coastal town on the east coast, about 2 hours and a half away from Christchurch by car. It is blessed with the most spectacular landscapes, high mountains on one side and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the other, and a diverse range of marine life. Most notable are whales, dolphins, seals, and crayfish (rock lobster). If you have always dreamed of coming into contact with those mammals, your dream will be realized here!

I had a slightly better time in Kaikoura than I did in Picton. Partly because Kaikoura is a little more vibrant and there are more things to do, and partly because the accommodation was better and I met some lovely characters. (Picton is really eerily quiet at night. It’s safe, but I can never feel wholly at peace walking around to find a place to eat at 7PM, and there already is no other human in sight.) I stayed at YHA, which boasted a beach front location. For two mornings, I woke up to the soothing sounds of waves crashing, the pungent salty smell of the ocean, and the dazzling colors of sunrise. In terms of views, it was unsurpassed; I did not have anything more wonderful during the rest of my time in the country. (The Mt. Cook YHA offers incredible views, too, but I’m more of an ocean person than a mountain one.)

I am not lying. This was the view from the window. If this were what I get to see every morning when I wake up, I’m sure I wouldn’t be as high-strung and restless as I usually am 😀

Unfortunately, one week after I left, it was permanently closed due to rockslide threat. After 50 years in operation. It was shocking and saddening, perhaps even more so for the staff there. YHA said it would build another one in town, but where and when remains to be seen.

Hopefully, it will still be beach-front like this. 

*****

Kaikoura offers a fair share of cool activities, but they all come with a price. And since it was only the second stop of my trip around the island, I could not let myself partake in all of them. I had to pick and choose, and so two days was the perfect amount of time.

Now, allow me to share with you the three activities I enjoyed most.

1. The Peninsula Walkway

It was really, really hard for me to remain composed when I saw this.

This is, without any question, the most amazing thing I did in Kaikoura. I did the whole walkway, which takes about a little more than 3 hours to complete. You don’t have to walk the entire track, of course!

It is free, easy (compared to other walks I did), not crowded, and the views along the way are so violently eyegasmic. The formidable Pacific Ocean, the rugged cliff formations, the tidal platforms, the multi-colored grasses, and the forest…GLORIOUS!

The weather was quiet cooperative as well, with intermittent and timely sessions of sunshine and clouds. I am generally not a fan of cloudy weather, but the clouds ended up lending some of the sceneries a beautiful, foreboding vibe.

It couldn’t have been any better. Number 1 on your Kaikoura must-do list, if you ask me!

I, for the record, believe Mother Nature is the best artist.

This is what I consider a front-row view.

I do not know the technical terms to describe what I photograph here, but it is for sure million years old. I love the extraterrestrial feel of it. 

I had goosebumps. SOOOO GORGEOUS!!!

Pacific Ocean in its glory. 

There is nothing more formidable yet therapeutic and calming than oceans. Agree or disagree?

I had a very Into The Wild moment passing through this forest on the way back to town. 

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Spectacular Queen Charlotte Track Day Walk from Picton

I cannot caption this. I really, really can’t!

I have been traveling for several years, but I’m still not getting any better at remaining calm and collected when I see beautiful sceneries. I still act hysterical, like a 6-year old getting new toys.

It was my second day in New Zealand, and I was taking the Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton. I had lofty expectations for New Zealand and even saw a short clip of the ferry ride, but I still completely lost it when I came face-to-face with the otherworldly natural beauty surrounding Cook Strait.

(Per Wikipedia, “Cook Strait lies between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and connects the Tasman Sea on the northwest with the South Pacific Ocean on the southeast. It is 22 kilometres (14 mi) wide at its narrowest point, and is considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world.”)

Fortunately, the weather was calm and glorious. That, along with the radiant afternoon light, gave every scene a painting feel.

Indisputably the most beautiful way to go from the north to the south. 

New Zealand made my heart stop at every turn.

Picton is a small port town in the Marlborough region of the South Island. It is very, very pretty, but quiet; there aren’t a lot of things to do in town. I had two nights there (stayed at Sequoia Lodge, which is quite decent), but only one full day to explore. I had no complaint, though, because everything I saw exceeded my expectations.

The harbor looked dreamy in the early morning with soft light and floating clouds.

Picton has several short walks that you can do, but as an ardent nature lover, I opted for a half-day Queen Charlotte Track walk on my second day. I am using the word “walk” loosely here, because if there is one thing you should know before you travel in New Zealand, more often than not a walk will require some level of fitness. It definitely is NOT the running errands or in the park kind of walk.

The Queen Charlotte Track is a classic New Zealand track and starts from historic Ship Cove to Anakiwa. The entire length is 70km so it is a multi-day track if you want to complete it. While on the track, you will get to see jaw-dropping views of the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds.

Here is a map to give you a better understanding of the walk. With the amount of time I had, I was able to do the last section of the track, from Te Mahia to Anakiwa.

I booked the Half Day Cruise & Walk with Cougar Line at the recommendation of the staff at the tourist center, who said the 13km Mistletoe Bay to Anakiwa section is spectacular because you can see both sides. I was slightly unnerved by the fact that it is an independent walk, but once on the track, my anxiety dissipated as it is well-marked and there are signs everywhere. There is only one way to go, no left or right turns!

In the instruction hand-outs, the suggested walking times for a slow walker is 3 hrs 45 mins (2 and a half & 3 for fast and average walkers, respectively), but it took me almost 5 hours because…I stopped every 10 minute to take photos. I just couldn’t control myself; the sceneries are so incredible.

I mean, look at these spectacles:


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New Zealand Itinerary: A Spectacular Two Weeks

I climbed many hours for this view. And my heart stopped when I saw it.

As you may already know, I was in Australia and New Zealand for the better part of April. I returned a few weeks ago, and as usual it took me a little while to readjust. Now I am ready to talk about my experience. It is going to be a long series, but since I am not going anywhere at least until the end of this year, I have all the time in the world to finish it. Hopefully, you guys will stick around ‘til the end 😀

NEW ZEALAND…where do I even start?

As I mentioned somewhere on this site before, I usually don’t compare which countries are more beautiful because each offers something unique that others don’t. For instance, last year, I visited Iceland and Morocco. Iceland truly is out of this world, but so is Sahara desert in Morocco. I therefore find it pretty impossible to give a definitive answer.

However, now that I have visited New Zealand, I can safely say that very few countries have higher density of drop-dead gorgeous sceneries. My jaw dropped everywhere I went. Well, except for Christchurch. But I knew beforehand that it was going to deeply impress me so…no complaint. In fact, I love New Zealand so much that I have decided that I will return at the end of this year (or early next year) to visit places I missed this time.

I spent 15 days traversing New Zealand’s legendary South Island. I have traveled long enough to know that it is a silly idea to squeeze everything in one trip, so with that limited amount of time I focused on the east coast of the island. And what did I see? Forests, fields, mountains, oceans, lakes, rivers, glaciers…you name it, I saw it. The best part is autumn was (and still is, I believe) in full swing when I was there, meaning everywhere looked triply amazing.

*****

I will write about each place I went to in details. In this post, I want to give you a quick rundown of my own itinerary, which, I figure, will be useful if you are planning something similar.

Day 1: Sydney – Wellington

– I was in Sydney for several days and flew from there to Wellington and spent the evening and following morning exploring the capital of New Zealand. Wellington is compact and cute!

Day 2: Wellington – Picton

– In the afternoon, I took Interislander ferry across Cross Cook Strait, and it was the most gorgeous and relaxing ferry ride I have ever had. Hands-down the best way to get from the North to the South.

Day 3: Picton

– I spent the day hiking a small portion of the famous Queen Charlotte Track and got to see part of the Marlborough region in its full glory.

Day 4: Picton – Kaikoura

– From one seaside town to another. Kaikoura is a coastal town on the east coast (Pacific Ocean), about two hours by bus from Picton.

I don’t understand this Kaikoura sunset. I really don’t!

Day 5: Kaikoura

– I spent two nights in Kaikoura and absolutely loved it. Loved waking up to the smell and sound of the mighty Pacific Ocean everyday.

Day 6: Kaikoura- Christchurch

– After Kaikoura, I headed off to Christchurch by bus. I spent the first night there curling up in a fetal position because of stomachache.

Day 7: Akaroa/Christchurch

– I took a day trip from Christchurch to Akaroa, another pretty seaside town. While there, I took a tour of Shamarra Alpacas farm. You guys, alpacas are so freaking adorable.

Day 8: Christchurch – Lake Tekapo

– Lake Tekapo is quite touristy, but its beauty is remarkable.

Day 9: Lake Tekapo – Mt. Cook

– I spent one night in Lake Tekapo and headed towards Mt. Cook, one of New Zealand’s most prized national treasures. Jaw-dropping!

Day 10, 11, 12, & 13: Wanaka

– I was completely smitten with Wanaka.

Day 14, 15, & 16: Queenstown

– I don’t know anyone who comes to the South island and doesn’t go to Queenstown. It is a spectacular place, but incredibly touristy.

I hit the jackpot with the weather during my time there. The weather in Milford Sound on the day I visited was especially glorious, even the people who work there were shocked.

Day 17: Queenstown – Christchurch

– It was a full day sitting on the bus!

Day 18: Christchurch – Sydney

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