If you have ever looked at pictures from New Zealand & wondered what sort of “filters” have been applied - I can assure you it is 0. The entire country looks like it has been photoshopped.
Our arrival to the Land of the Long White Cloud was bittersweet, our final destination of the world tour, it marked the beginning of the end to our incredible adventure. Everything we’d heard along the way made this one of our most anticipated stops & we made sure to do it right.
Saying the country is focused around an outdoorsy culture would be an understatement; ask almost anyone & the answer will be the same - camper van is the only way to see New Zealand. Not wanting to miss out on any of the action, not to mention many of these places are only accessible by van or car (no crazy tourist buses here!) down backroads, we drank the Kool-Aid & rented our own little “spaceship”.
For the next several weeks, this baby would be our home away from home. We’d drive, eat & sleep in the tiny confines of our little family minivan. Was it a brilliant idea, after 10+ months traveling together to literally be trapped in a 4-wheel contraption all hours of the day? Only time would tell.
First stop was Christchurch, just to pick up the van & hit the road, which was still a 3+ hour flight from Sydney. We thought Australia was far but apparently New Zealand is further. Much of New Zealand is remote & still vastly untouched that customs is very strict about what you can bring into the country. We were questioned & inspected about food, camping gear, boots etc. While we were completely innocent I was irrationally terrified we’d done something wrong & would incur the embarrassment of the “instant NZ400 dollar fine” being splashed across prompters at baggage claim. Ben was not worried.
Oddly, we’d heard from many other travelers of the rough conditions we’d find in Christchurch after its most recent earthquake. But we found nothing of the sort, while it’s arguably still a quiet city we found it full of quirky startups, cafes & outdoor shops, loads of young people made it appear like a hipster’s dream.
After loading up on chilly weather gear, food supplies & gas (stupid expensive by U.S. standards btw) we were off for our first big adventure!
Mt. Sunday is probably one of the best kept “secret-ish” spots around. It is more well known in the realm of “Middle Earth”, New Zealand’s other little nickname thanks to a few films you may have heard of - “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Home of “Edoras”, the capital of “Rohan”, Mt. Sunday has increased in popularity over the years but miraculously we found it completely deserted. Except for the yaks & some terrifying cows.
Oh & the hilarious goats that watched our every move.
After getting settled at our first campsite - Mt. Potts (basically the only place to stay) we set off to conquer the mountain. That turned out to be a little bit of a stupid idea, but I blame our host. According to him it’d be a quick & easy down & back, easily doable before dark. False. It was more like a 3-hour trek which we had NOT been prepared for in any way, shape or form. I only assume he had meant from the beginning of the trail, not the distance from the campsite all the way up to the top of Mt. Sunday. The more you know.
Kiwis value their beautiful lands & it’s pristine condition above almost anything else. The country’s rise in popularity, & of course the movies, have made this a challenge. To reach Mt. Sunday we had to cross through still private lands, obviously wrestling with the areas newly found fame.
While there were no other hikers, there were plenty of the scary cows. These ladies were very large & on alert to protect their young. One refused to move for us, we politely accepted we were below her on the animal hierarchy, timidly skirting around.
Oddly it was one of the most nervous moments I’d had on our trip.
We made it back to “camp” without passing out or being trampled by cows. It was eerily quiet, calm & peaceful sitting in our little van, all alone & able to look up at a vast sky of stars. Silent save for the occasional greeting from our local yak.
So far, we had managed to navigate our ways through New Zealand’s gravel roads, cook our first “van meal”, not bet manhandled by cows & survive a 30-degree (Fahrenheit) night with one blanket. We were calling it a success & headed off to conquer our next mountain!