We conclude Rob's parents' visit with a short message: road trips in New Zealand rock!
Seriously. You don't have to go very far to be blown away by scenery that in most other places you'd travel days to see. It's like one picture perfect landscape stacked on top of another.
Our five-day road trip began in Central Otago, which is New Zealand's most famous region for pinot noir, which just so happens to be my favorite wine (along with the most expensive varietal.) Ugh. Lucky for us, most wine tasting in New Zealand is dirt cheap, as in either free or a "gold coin" ($1 or $2) donation.
The views at Mt. Difficulty were sublime, and the wine wasn't half bad either. Even though you can't sit on the terrace unless you buy a flight, you're welcome to go out there with your glass and take in the views. Just like the Remarkables and Mt. Aspring, the naming of this mountain range left me wondering at what happened to Kiwi creativity.
Although the tasting room wasn't much, the wine at Akarua was superb. We didn't want to splurge for the pinot, but did buy a bottle of the sparkling wine for New Year's Eve. Rob's parents bought a bottle of the rose, but we convinced them to take it home with them rather than share!
This area is known as the desert of New Zealand and it was pretty incredible to see the change in landscape as we left the desert and continued on to the rivers and lakes of Wanaka. On our way out, we also made a quick stop at the Historic Cromwell district, which was a cute replica of what the town looked like during New Zealand's own Gold Rush.
Wanaka is a more relaxed and "authentic" Queenstown and offers superb lake views and pricey restaurants just like it's sister city an hour south. Instead of going out, we grilled at our hotel and then spent the evening watching the sunset over the mountains.
Up next was another day hike, although I was particularly nervous about this one. The Rob Roy Glacier Hike is supposed to compete with the Hooker Valley Track in terms of views, but getting there is much more difficult. Not only is the road unpaved for 30km, but sometimes you have to ford rivers.
Yes, you read that correctly. And this is from the girl who never won Oregon Trail. (Rob would like everyone to know that he ALWAYS won and doesn't know how he married someone who always picked the banker as her occupation.)
Saying the scenery was superb doesn't do it justice. The entirety of the drive is through a valley and on each side of you are cliffs dotted by waterfalls. Going 20km/hour gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views, but the going was just getting tougher. The first few fords were okay, but around the fifth one we decided we were too nervous to push the car farther. So we parked it and got to walking. (Rob's parents were not pleased.)
To make matters worse, we had to make it to the West Coast that evening and the road closed at 6pm, so our timeline was a bit tight. So we decided to do what any normal person who'd traveled the world for a year and now had parents visiting them would do: hitchhike.
Saying we got lucky doesn't do it justice. The first car to pass stopped and inside happened to be a guy we met the day before at two of the wineries. Not only did he have four empty seats in his car, but he was from Maine, which meant fording rivers is basically in his blood, as is cooking a killer lobster I presume. (Thanks so much, Justin! We seriously couldn't have done it without you!)
The hike itself was somewhere between Key Summit and Hooker Valley in terms of terrain and challenge and even though it was a bit cloudy, the view at the top was spectacular. Unfortunately eating underneath a glacier is cold, so we stuffed our sandwiches into our face and quickly descended back into the land of sun, wildflowers, and sheep. Corny? Yes. True? Absolutely.
Worth it? It would have been better had we been able to see the peak of Mt. Aspiring and the range, but the whole experience (including the hitchhiking) made the hike a win.
More rivers and snow-capped mountains awaited us on our drive over the Haast Pass, which was the easiest "Pass" of my life. There are a few beautiful waterfalls about 2 minutes from the highway, so keep your eyes peeled for the signs and take the opportunity to stretch your legs.
One of the things we encouraged Rob's parents to do while in New Zealand was to walk on a glacier. Having hiked a bunch in Nepal and paid to do a glacier hike in Patagonia, we opted out, but were happy to chauffeur them to Fox Glacier Guiding, which offers an affordable half-day walk for around US$100. (Franz Joseph Glacier is too unsteady to walk onto so you have to take a helicopter, which means $$$.)
The next morning, with Rob's parents on their glacier walk, we drove out to Lake Matheson and attempted to get a perfect shot of Mt. Cook's reflection. Unfortunately, it was too breezy, which gave our photos an unintended artsy vibe.
After being surrounded by sheep, we managed to escape and meet Rob's parents on their way down from the glacier.
It's pretty awesome how close you can get to the glacial moraine and how accessible the whole park is from the road. You pretty much drive in on a perfect track, pick your jaw up from the floor at the crazy green lake in front of the car park, and then walk uphill for 30 minutes.
In front of you is this.
After regrouping with Rob's ecstatic parents, we piled back into the car and headed back to Queenstown. Even though we were retracing our steps, the scenery was breathtaking yet again.
We even had extra time to admire it since some campervan drivers are idiots and don't know to pull over when they're being followed by multiple cars who can't safely pass.
Since Rob and I had been to Queenstown several times, we spent the next day walking around the lake and Queenstown Gardens, enjoying some beers, and taking in the scenery, opting to leave the touristy things for his parents to do on their own on their last day. On our way back home, we did squeeze in a stop at the Chard Farm winery, which has an idyllic setting, a Burning Man-esque statue, and some nice pinots.
This is Rob trying to win us a free weekend at the Chard Farm cottage for my 30th birthday. The owner told him he got an A for effort, but so far, we haven't heard back about the actual prize :o). (I actually just looked at the entry form, and I guess they no longer do weekends. Instead, you get a huge bottle of wine. Talk about drinking away your tears!)
More New Zealand
Have you hiked a glacier? Where? Have you ever had to ford rivers in a sedan? Let us know what you think of our trip by leaving a comment!