This post is a bit of a special one, of a story dear to our hearts, and I truly hope that you enjoy it. That’s because exactly a year ago today was the day that Ms Lust and I started our lives together. Now this isn’t a story of how that happened, although a little bit of a backstory is required, but instead a story about when that happened and the events immediately before and after. So please, make yourselves comfortable, relax, and let me take you back to the wonderful days of May 2016.
Prior to this moment, I had been living in Queenstown, on New Zealand’s South Island, for two and a half years, and Ms Lust had been living in London for the last three and a half years. We started chatting online and in April 2016 Ms Lust decided she would come and join me in New Zealand, a decision which I was obviously thrilled with! With that decided, the next job was to book the flight. Queenstown Airport is not the best airport to fly into, the location and surrounding topography cause a great deal of turbulence on approach and flights are frequently diverted elsewhere. Added to that is the fact that it is such a popular, yet still reasonably small, airport to fly into, and flights usually incur premium prices. So I suggested it would be better for Ms Lust to book a flight into Christchurch instead, and I would drive across to pick her up. This also meant we could spend a few days travelling back together, and Ms Lust would have some time to acclimatise before plunging into Queenstown life.
So, on 7 May 2016, it was time to drive almost 500km from Queenstown to Christchurch Airport to pick up Ms Lust after her trip across the globe. On the way back we would split this trip up into a few sections, but, as I had already made this same trip a number of times before, I drove almost non-stop for about six hours to get there. Just as a quick side note, although all of the photos that are either on this post or posted as links are my own, some are from previous trips and not this one in particular. With a pounding heart and a body overflowing with adrenaline, I was definitely not in the frame of mind for sight-seeing anyway! My only real concern was making sure I could stop in an area with network coverage when Ms Lust arrived in Sydney, as I had had to leave before she had even arrived that far. At this point, I would like to say a huge thank you to my boss at the time, who very kindly lent me his company car to make the trip in. As suggested, it certainly was more comfortable than my beaten-up old Honda Civic ‘Shrek’, and I’m sure it gave Ms Lust a much better first impression! So I eventually arrived just in time, and hurriedly checked in at the hotel I had booked for our first night. With this done, I walked the short distance over to the airport and waited for Ms Lust to arrive.
As I said, the hotel was literally just over the road from the airport (we both felt that we’d done enough travelling for one day!), so our travels together didn’t really start until the following day. When travelling through the South Island of New Zealand, especially for the first time as Ms Lust was, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the landscape. It really is how the travel brochures and documentaries make it look, not just in the national parks but literally everywhere you look. In particular, the route from Christchurch to Queenstown is one of the more scenic drives, passing by some of the country’s most famous landscapes. Even with this in mind, I had made a couple of detours from the main route in order to make sure Ms Lust was blown away and fell in love with New Zealand the same way I had done previously (I also needed a back-up in case my charms weren’t enough to convince her to stay!).
I didn’t want her first impression of New Zealand to be Christchurch City itself (no offence to Christchurch, but there was still a lot of evident earthquake damage at the time and I had found it a little depressing to see), so our first stop was the beautiful Rakaia Gorge. I had discovered this spot about six months earlier on another road trip, and I really hoped Ms Lust would be as amazed as I was when I first saw it. The colour of the glacier-fed rivers in New Zealand have always been one of my favourite features of this country, and I honestly think I would have to travel to a tropical island somewhere to find waters that look more inviting (and they would probably be a bit warmer too!). Up until now, the scenery along the way hadn’t been too impressive as we made our way out of the suburbs of Christchurch and crossed the Canterbury Plains. But now, as we left Rakaia Gorge, we were heading towards Mt Hutt and into the Canterbury High Country where the scenery would become a lot more dramatic.
The vast majority of the South Island is mountainous, yet it is the Southern Alps, draped along the entire west coast of the island, where most of the postcard perfect landscapes are found. And it is in winter, when the snow covers the tops of every single peak, when they are looking their best. Which is exactly the conditions we found ourselves in now, although thankfully the weather had been very kind so far to help Ms Lust acclimatise. After driving through a couple of mountain passes, with the snow-capped peaks ever present, we came to our next overnight stop, Tekapo. One of the two most common stopping places on this route (we’ll get to the other one later), I had chosen to stop in Tekapo for our second night mostly for the scenery, but also as it is one of the largest towns around the mid-point of our journey. Having left the hustle and bustle of London and now finding herself in an extremely rural and remote area of an already sparsely populated country (at the time of writing New Zealand has only just over half of the population of London, of which over three quarters live on the North Island), I didn’t want Ms Lust to feel too isolated and a town of approximately 370 residents was almost the best I could find (I told you it’s extremely rural!). Only Twizel has a higher population in the area, but I felt the scenery in Tekapo deserved more than just an quick stop along the way.
We arrived just in time to check-in at the hotel and to head down to Lake Tekapo for sunset. As I said, this is one of the most popular stops on this route, and for good reason. A huge lake surrounded on all sides by mountains, this is a truly iconic South Island landscape. We were still being fairly lucky with the weather, but that is another reason that makes this area so beautiful. Nothing the weather does seems able to detract from the beauty of the landscape itself, each different set of conditions just adds its own individual character to it. On the side of the lake is the cute Church of the Good Shepherd (pictured above), a tourist attraction in its own right, and a great spot to admire the views that the lake and the surroundings have to offer. So this is exactly where we went, to join all the other tourists and photographers waiting for the ever-important sunset to occur. I’m a bit of a sucker for a good sunset, and, although they’re not quite a match for the vivid colours I got used to in Australia, the addition of the unique landscapes give the sunsets in New Zealand that special touch. There is also a small monument nearby to honour the working dogs of the Mackenzie Basin, just a short walk east along the lake and definitely worth checking out. After this it was time to retire once again to the hotel, before continuing our road trip the next day.
We had decided at some point beforehand that we would drive all the way back to Queenstown in two days, so that I could spend a day showing Ms Lust around the place she would now be calling home before I had to go back to work. So we had a little over halfway to cover, but still with plenty of time for some exploring. Our next stop would be Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook, not too far down the road from Tekapo. Mt Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and was one that Sir Edmund Hillary used as a ‘training mountain’ to prepare for his expedition to climb Mt Everest. Now Mt Cook, at 3724m, is not even half the height of Mt Everest and most definitely not in the same league, but it towers over and dominates the landscape nonetheless. Unfortunately the weather was being less kind to us at this point, and the clouds had rolled in to prevent us from seeing Mt Cook in all it’s glory. However the drive along Lake Pukaki was worth it just for the lake itself, which was the beautiful shade of blue that only a glacial-fed lake can be. Once we realised that the clouds weren’t about to lift any time soon, we returned to the highway and continued on our way to Queenstown.
The next town along our route was Twizel, which as I mentioned before is the largest town in this area, with a dizzying population of about 1200 people! We stopped here quickly for the chance to visit some shops that weren’t run by farmer’s wives(!), but it wasn’t long before we were on the road again. We passed through Omarama, the last town before we would leave Canterbury and enter the Otago region, and shortly after this we decided to stop to see a place that I hadn’t been to previously either. This was the Omarama Clay Cliffs, a geological formation which, through erosion, has created impressive cathedral-like structures. It was really stunning to see, especially as you can walk right up to them (well more of a trek I guess!) and fully appreciate the size and scale of them. This place will also always be special for me, as I consider it the first place that Ms Lust and I truly explored together. I’m not sure if my boss has the same affinity for it though, as the rough gravel road leading to the cliffs caused his car to get a puncture (sorry Boss!).
After putting on the spare wheel, we then decided that we should get to Queenstown with as few stops as possible. We drove through the Lindis Pass, onto Cromwell and Lake Dunstan, but any sight-seeing here was destined to wait until we would make this exact journey in reverse three months later. From here there was very little between us and our final destination, and it wasn’t much longer before we arrived in Queenstown. Having lived there for a while I could now go on and write another ten pages about Queenstown itself, but I’ll save that for another post. For now all I will say is this, we arrived in the hours of darkness and it was such a pleasure to see the reaction from Ms Lust the following morning when she saw the surrounding scenery for the first time. I’m sure many of you will have seen photos of Queenstown before, but this is a place that really does have to be seen to be believed and fully appreciated. So the advice I would like to leave you all with is this, at some time in your lives you should definitely find the time and money to go to Queenstown (if you haven’t been already of course, although I would still recommend to go again!), I guarantee you won’t regret it. Like I said, there will be more on this later, but it really is the most beautiful town I have ever visited and it has something for everyone.
Well that’s all for now, I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our first travels together. As you are reading this, we are busy holidaying so that we can bring you more content, so stay tuned for more!
As you may have noticed, we are posting on a Sunday this time. It seemed quite appropriate to wait one more day and to post our first article about New Zealand the very day I arrived to the land of the long white clouds one year ago. Having had a bad start of the year and taking Mr Wander’s invitations to visit more seriously, at the beginning of April last year I booked my ticket, tied up as many loose ends as I could, and I took a plane (well, three) that took me to the exact opposite corner of the globe. Those who know me, also know that flying doesn’t scare me, what I don’t like is packing, so imagine me trying to fit my life in a baggage allowance of 30 kg with only winter clothes without going through a nervous breakdown!
Back to us, I was lucky enough not to have had to plan anything for my arrival, as Mr Wander (back then just Hottie) was settled there and had planned it all for me (yes, he is an angel in disguise, I know!). Not happy about that, I decided not to look anything up about New Zealand, I was going to go there only with what I already knew; it may sound lazy, but it was important for me, he had been living there for a while and he was a local, I had been following his trips on Instagram, and I wanted to discover New Zealand through his eyes, I wanted to see Mr Wander’s New Zealand, and so I did. With 27 kg shared between a suitcase and a duffle bag, plus a laptop and a handbag, I left my flat in East London at 2pm on 5 May and I landed in Christchurch at 2pm on 7 May. In between, a taxi ride, almost falling on the escalator with all my stuff, a tube journey, and three planes, of which two were so empty that I basically slept the whole time stretched on the four seats of my empty row, and the last one with free Wi-Fi. Incredibly enough, I barely felt that trip (I would pay that back on the return journey, trust me!)
So, there I am, having left the UK at the beginning of May, where the weather is still not sure whether to keep winter going or to finally start welcoming spring (basically the same that is happening this year,) and landing in a country where the autumn is still pretty nice but where winter will soon come and strengthen my belief that nothing under 18 degrees Celsius should really be legal! But that is going too fast, all that has not happened yet and I am still trying to find my way out of customs and possibly not to look too trashed. As you can see here, I found my way out but I didn’t succeed in not looking trashed!
I have to admit that Qantas and Emirates provided a good service and the food was not too bad, but trust me, that shower and room service dinner at the hotel felt like heaven nonetheless. As many of you may know, Christchurch still shows a lot of the damage of the recent earthquake and Mr Wander decided that we were not going to visit that first, we just rested and started our trip back the day after. Queenstown, where Mr Wander was living, is about 500 km away from Christchurch, and that allowed for a nice road trip as he was not going to be back to work until the following Wednesday.
I was just mind blown by everything I was seeing, I was expecting something like Australia but there is nothing like New Zealand, or I haven’t seen anything alike yet. One thing is like in Australia: the sky. There is something special about the sky down under, that makes it so immense and so distant, something that is impossible to explain and that just strikes you when you are there and look up. Even with the long, low clouds, the sky in New Zealand still looks like that. The idea of immensity is magnified by the fact that the country is young and empty, which means that the mountains are new and tall, the roads are wide, and the cars are almost non-existent. At first, it is refreshing, to leave a place like London and to land somewhere where everything is emerald green and bright blue, where the air is pure, where you don’t have to queue or to be surrounded by countless strangers. As I said, that is the first impression, but that peace and quiet goes hand in hand with other aspects that I discovered later in the three months that I spent in the country. By the way, in this shot (from our bedroom window, not taken during the trip) you can see why Māoris called their land Aotearoa, the land of the long white clouds:
Back to our road trip, we left Christchurch and headed somewhere whose name was unknown to me and also hard to pronounce or remember, I was yet to be acquainted to the beauty of Māori language and culture. Our first stop was Rakaia Gorge, the first place where I saw New Zealand water. I say New Zealand water because the lakes and rivers have a distinctive colour that I have only seen there, a turquoise nuance that looks like clean and impenetrable as if you were looking through a cut section of glass, I hope the picture conveys part of what I mean and what I saw then.
A lot of that trip is driving, because it all becomes a tight schedule when the distances are so stretched and you can’t stop whenever you are tired in the first hotel that you find. The first hotel that you find is the one you carefully booked because there is a lot of wild nature in between the two points. As I said, a lot of time was spent in the car, trying to pretend it was not strange to finally be 30 cm away in flesh after so much texting and the little video calling time the we could fit in with full time jobs and a good twelve hours time difference. That kind of experience teaches you to talk and enjoy the other person’s conversation, if you want to spend some time together long-distance, you have to talk, you have nothing else to distract you, no movies to watch, no jigsaws to build and hate together, no activities to share, just talk. It is how the relationship is blessed or doomed, there is no escape if you don’t like each other’s company. As we have always loved talking to each other, we were so lost in conversation that very few pictures were taken on the road. When we arrived at Tekapo it was already quite late and we just had time to drop off our stuff in the room and have a tea and as it was already getting dark, we had to go to the lake for sunset. Tekapo is a little town in the Mackenzie District. The main attractions are the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Monument to the working dogs that represents Friday, a border collie that belonged to the shepherd Mackenzie who gives the name to the district. As Friday kept driving the sheep without the shepherd, he was then used as a symbol to commemorate all working dogs. After a walk to the lake and a quick visit to the monument, we headed back to the hotel and now here comes my most important advice if you visit New Zealand: Buy a sim card with internet plan or use roaming, but don’t rely on the Wi-Fi because it rarely works. Sometimes it is limited to a very low amount of data, but in general it is not accessible on foreign cards or doesn’t really work even when available.
The following day was the day we planned to arrive to Queenstown and we had another early start. We stopped a few times, but definitely to remember is our first stop in a shop and my indescribable happiness when I saw how many kinds of sweet potatoes they have. There I learnt my first, and now also my favourite, Māori word: Kumara, sweet potato. On our way home, there was something that Mr Wander had never seen, the Clay Cliffs. Glaciers have worked wonders in the country’s landscape, and the Clay Cliffs are just one example. As the name says, they are pinnacles of clay formed by the glaciers. It is a stunning sight and it is not too hard to walk through them, and the view of the surrounding land is also breathtaking. As this is in private property, there is a honesty box at the gates for donations, so keep some spare change.
I would tell you more of our arrival at our place, but there is not much about it, the morning after, seeing the town and the views from our window and our road is another story. Life in Queenstown was not easy, but the place is beautiful. Stay tuned for more of our trips down under.