Arrived: Seattle > Honolulu > Auckland > Nelson. We left Washington on the 25th, landed on the 26th and have been exploring the South Island for almost 2 weeks. We have one more week before returning back to the states.
My first impression is: the country has uncomparable beauty, the locals treat you like family, and our 3 weeks is barely enough time to hit the highlights!
The highlight so far: I wouldn't be lying if I said each section of this trip has been a highlight, but we recently stayed overnight at the Mueller Hut in Mt. Cook / Aoraki National Park and that was really special. While the journey to get there is short (5.2 km / 3ish miles), you gain over 3,000 ft of elevation. It's separated into two parts, stairs and rock fields and to be honest, neither are that enjoyable. BUT, once you get to the top and finish scrambling to the Mueller Hut it's instantly worth it. We arrived early, claimed our bunk, and spent the rest of the day reading, napping and chatting with other backpackers and hikers. Watching the sunrise and sunset over Mt. Cook was phenomenal- so much that I didn't even mind the cold temperatures.
I'm most looking forward to:
- Our last backpacking trip - 4 days and 3 nights on the 60 km loop Kepler Track
- NOT backpacking and relaxing for our last few days near Fiordland National Park
- Clean clothes
I'm surprised at:
- the amount of diversity in landscape and climate just on the South Island. We've spent over 20 hours in the car driving to all our destinations and it's never been boring because of the change. One trip we are going through a warm subtropical in the far north and then a few hours south we experience cool temperate climates.
I learned: that approximately 180 million years ago, New Zealand broke away from a giant landmass called Gondwana. It drifted nearly 3000 meters to where it sits today. Polynesians sailed here in the early 1300s, following their ancestor Kupe, who named the country Aoeteaora - "Land of the Long White Cloud."
The best thing is that: simply that we are able to be here. Escaping our rainy days and experiencing sunshine and warmth has really been good for the soul. We've been off the grid and without wi-fi a fair amount which has been helpful in allowing us to disconnect. The trail has been our place for enriching conversation and an opportunity to connect with other travelers.