Some places I fall in love with instantly, and others make me work for it.
It took a week for New Zealand to wow me, but once it did, it completely stole my heart.
We arrived in Auckland, where the suburb of Ponsonby afforded a cool afternoon of meandering through one-of-a-kind shops and eating delicious food, but nothing we hadn’t seen in Aus. Then we pressed on to Hobbiton, which was quaint and quite cute, but for someone who isn’t a Tolkien fanatic, if you’ve seen one Hobbit hole you’ve seen them all.
I was eagerly awaiting our arrival to Rotoura, hoping to finally get a dose of that New Zealand nature people cross the globe for. But sadly the torrential rain meant no geothermal park or Maori village visit. (This broke Josh’s little, warrior-loving heart).
The silver lining was: we had a stunning, two-room lakefront cabin to stay in with a working fire-place, private hot tub, and a pet sheep named Lamb-Lamb. So though we didn’t get to see the geysers, we embraced the rain, cozied up by the fire with some wine, and took it easy. I usually go so hard on a trip – forcing myself into early mornings and packed days and nights that this was a nice, forced evening in.
From there we drove six hours south to Wellington, where Josh had a show and we spent the day exploring the streets yet again. Coffee shops, quirky stores, yummy bakeries.
I found an amazing rabbit-fur coat in a vintage store that fit me like a glove! Since the weather was getting increasingly colder, and all I had was my leather jacket and a scarf, I decided it was fate. We’ve named my jacket Abracadabra.
But aside from this find, I was beginning to feel a bit cheated. I knew this country is one of the most incredible places for nature in the world, and I hadn’t seen anything but latte art and heaps and heaps of sheep.
There really are heaps, and heaps, and HEAPS of them. There are more sheep in New Zealand than people. You wonder how that statistic could possibly be true, and then you start driving, and it’s like being in Tanzania during the Great Migration except the wildebeest are white and fluffy.
I didn’t care about them until my encounter with Lamb-Lamb, who came on command like a puppy and “baaah-ed” proudly. I was desperate to win his affections, so Josh raided the sheep-treat options in our room and came up with an apple which I took and wagged in his face while commanding “come!” He licked it, but never took a bite – because as it turns out, sheep only eat grass and forbs. Nonetheless, we bonded and now I have vowed to never again eat lamb for fear it could be a relative of his.
I was deep in love with Lamb-Lamb, but luke warm on New Zealand. Then, we flew to the South Island..
A welcome sign at the airport boasted “30% more land with 75% less people.” Excellent stats.
We picked up a rental car and started driving (terrified, on the wrong side of the road) from Christchurch to the west coast via Arthur’s Pass. The weather went from Christmas in July to clear blue skies, and we began our ooo-ing and ahhh-ing that three days later has not ceased. We drove under waterfalls, over suspended bridges, through snow-capped mountains, and ended up at the sea.
Being back in a car, with piles of suitcases and no agenda, I felt nostalgia for our American road trip. I found a grin plastered on my face as we drove through scenery that was like Montana on crack. I love the open road!
Our route was determined by a local who we found drinking beer, shoeless, inside a run-down hotel near the town of Moana called The Stagecoach; “Proudly serving the west since 1865.”
There was a rusted-out truck outside the run-down facade, and awesomely bad taxidermy covered in the dusty, wallpapered interior. It was road-trip gold.
The couple inside looked completely crazy, but also like people who knew their way around the land. On a paper map, they drew us up a route and even marked all their favorite places to stop for a beer along the way. It was decided we’d take their advice.
We went from Moana to Greysmouth and then were meant to head north to Punakaki. But when we passed a sign for Shantytown, a re-created 1900s gold mining town/tourist attraction where you can pan for gold, Josh’s eyes became wide and puppy-like. What kind of wife would I be if I denied my 35 year old hubby the chance to strike gold?
At $40 entry a person, it was kind of a huge rip off – but in the moment we had fun. We rode the steam train, we visited the saloon, and we collected a few small speck of gold which now float in tiny, commemorative plastic bottle that Josh swears he will cherish forever.
By the time we got to the famous pancakes rocks, all you could see were hundreds of stars. So we found a room at a B&B, ate some chocolate bars for dinner, and passed out cuddling out next to our space heater. Road-tripping is so glamourous.
No form of hotel that is anything but functional exists in this part of the country. I’m not sure the word frills is in their vocab, and that’s fine. There’s something about road tripping that doesn’t seem complete unless you’re in a somewhat sketchy motel, sleeping with one eye open in case you were to be robbed. What was advertised online as a charming “cottage” was four plywood walls with a rock-hard mattress.
But we woke up to the sound of crashing waves, threw the curtains and realized our private little “cottage” had a stellar view on the ocean and a deck with loungers, despite it’s modest everything else. Tall, treacherous waves smacked the shore, the sun shone brightly on the sand, and suddenly we felt like the king and queen of Sheba, eating peanut butter out of the jar and breathing in the fresh, alpine ear in matching his and hers beanies.
I was wowed.
Read What Happened Next: Locals Rarely Lead You Astray