WHEN IN ROME
Documenting my travels across the globe
As I write this, I am sitting on the waterfront of Glendhu Bay with the snow-capped mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park in the background. I am about halfway into my trip on New Zealand’s South Island and already wishing I could spend more time here. I debated calling up my airlines to see if I can push back all of my future flights… but it looks like I will have to just plan another trip back to this beautiful country sometime in the near future.
My first stop on the South Island was Christchurch to rest before heading to the coastal town of Akaroa. I woke up early my first day, excited for the dolphin swim tour I booked with endangered Hector dolphins. Hector dolphins are about a meter in length and native to New Zealand. After some “minor” car troubles (I locked my keys in the boot of my rental car and had to jump through hoops to get someone to unlock my car), I ended up missing my tour and having to reschedule for the following day. Ultimately, I think this worked out for the better because I was still able to take an absolutely stunning hike up the golden yellow hills of Akaroa that afternoon. The hike was the steepest that I had hiked thus far, but definitely worth the challenge. The trail goes up through a local farmer’s land and is surrounded by beautiful green hills, massive trees, sweet-smelling Manuka plants, and heaps of sheep. It also overlooks Akaroa’s bright blue bay.
Akaroa is a small, French town on the East coast of New Zealand. The town is situated along the bay and beside rolling hills, that are topped with beautiful bushes with bright yellow flowers. The homes all have magnificent gardens, filled with has heaps of plants. One house’s yard was covered in lavender bushes. Another had all sorts of citrus trees. The area is also known for its variety of native birds, that sing beautiful songs in the trees. Needless to say, I was in heaven.
My second day in Akaroa, I went on Ecoseaker’s dolphin tour and met Maggie and Oliver, who would unknowingly become travel buddies for me on the South Island. Maggie and Oliver are from Canada and traveling together before starting their careers as dentists. We were on the Ecoseaker tour together and ended up running into each other in Mt Cook National Park a couple of days later. Since then, we have taken several hikes together and shared more than a few laughs.
The Ecoseaker tour took us through the bay into the open ocean to spot friendly Hector dolphins. Within minutes, we spotted a pair of dolphins coming right towards us. I cannot explain how cute these dolphins were. They are tiny and super curious. Hector dolphins do not sleep, so they spend their days hunting for fish and playing. They are typically interested in playing with boats and humans, swimming under and around the bow of the ship, and through people wading in the water. Unfortunately, we did not encounter any pods of Hector dolphins that stuck around long enough to swim with, but the tour was still worth it.
We learned that Hector dolphins swim in small pods and usually have a friend for life. They live for up to twenty-five years and the females reproduce every two to four years. Their slow reproductive cycles are part of the reason they are going extinct, but the main cause is from humans overfishing them — until they became a protected species in the last decade.
On the tour, we also saw fur seals sunbathing with their little furry pups and spotted two yellow-eyed? penguins — the rarest penguins in the entire world. The yellow-eyed penguins even swam by us and jumped out of the water right next to our boat. They are some of the largest penguins in the world and look like they have yellow eye masks on. The experience was spectacular.
After Akaroa, I stopped in Christchurch to pick up my Kiwi friend Charlie who came to the South Island to join me for a weekend in Mt Cook National Park — which is also where we ran into Maggie and Oliver. We all went on the Hooker Valley hike that is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and ends at a lake with the best views of Mt Cook. Mt Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand and looks like a drawing, it’s so perfect. Mt Cook National Park itself is like one big giant painting. Our hostel itself was surrounded by snow-capped mountains. The area was breathtaking, and definitely a reminder of how big and beautiful this world is. We did a few more short hikes in the area to nearby glaciers and icebergs. I especially loved sitting by the frosty blue water and taking in the mountain backdrops.
Our last night in Mt Cook National Park, we drove out to a remote area for stargazing. The region is an International Dark Sky Reserve, so it is known for having some of the best stargazing. Within minutes, we saw the International Space Station drifting through the sky, which I immediately took as a sign from my Uncle Carl. He loved tracking the International Space Station and would have been in heaven stargazing on this particular night. We could see the Milky Way, satellites blinking in orbit, and heaps of shooting stars. I have never truly seen a shooting star and that night I saw more than three. I also learned that the Southern Hemisphere has a different view of space, so the constellations are completely different. This really blew my mind, since I always try to spot the Big Dipper and it was nowhere to be found! The evening was absolutely perfect and one of the highlights of my trip so far. We laughed almost the entire time, making all sorts of corny space jokes and screaming whenever we saw a shooting star.
The following day, I made my way to Wanaka. I heard from another traveler that Wanaka was a lovely lake town, but I was immediately infatuated. It’s a beautiful and lively town situated on the bay of Wanaka lake. The lakeside is lined with peaceful willow-like trees and restaurants and has a backdrop of Mt Aspiring National Park’s snowcapped mountains. The hostel is on the edge of a large green park and has unobstructed views of the lake and mountains. I am sure it doesn’t shock anyone that I ended up staying here for three nights instead of two.
My first full day in Wanaka I hiked Isthmus Peak with Maggie and Oliver. Isthmus Peak is an extremely steep hike that takes about three hours to reach the peak. My calves and glutes were on fire, but the views were worth it. The peak has 360-degree views of Mt Aspiring National Park’s snowcapped mountains and dark blue lakes. After the challenging hike, I spent the afternoon reading by Wanaka Lake and taking a nap as the sunset.
The next morning, we went for a sunrise hike up Mt Iron. Mt Iron is a short, 35-minute hike right in Wanaka. By the time we reached the peak, the snowcapped mountains were surrounded by a rainbow of colors. As the sun rose, the mountains turned a bright pink. On this trip, I’ve started to call myself a sun chaser because I am obsessed with sunrise and sunset. Sunrise hikes are one of my favorite activities to do in a new city. We rewarded ourselves with a delicious breakfast and coffee from a local cafe before Maggie and Oliver headed further south. I spent the rest of the day, well, writing this! Between the hostel’s unobstructed views of Wanaka Lake and sunny Glendhu Bay, I spent my day grinning from ear to ear as I reflected on my experiences so far. I am beyond excited to see what the rest of the South Island has to offer.
Watch my video blog from New Zealand's South Island (Part 1):
When In Rome
Two of my most cherished hobbies go hand-in-hand. Writing is my favorite way to reflect after traveling to a new country. I have kept this blog ever since I studied in Rome to share my travels with families and friends. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and getting a sense for my writing skills. If you have any questions, please reach out!