My husband and I went along with his parents on part of their whirlwind trip through New Zealand and Australia. It was one of the longer trips I’ve ever been on (8 to 27 December).
We covered a lot of ground in planes, trains, and ferries, though I feel like what we saw in Australia was just the tip of an iceberg—or rather, a continent.
I took 2270 photos.
There are lots of landscape photos, flowers and birds, a selection of Christmas trees, some architecture (including earthquake damage and graffiti in Christchurch), interesting textures, signs, and selfies with (among other things) various trees, a plush wombat, and the Sydney Opera House.
Since (even after weeding out the less good ones) there are still an overwhelming number of photos, I’ve split them up into different posts chronogeographically.
My husband Aquinas did, too. There are no photos and no video, though, so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine us skydiving. You can have a look at Nzone’s Instagram photos or their promo video; that should help. After all, one person in goggles and coveralls falling from the sky and grinning from ear to ear is much like another.
See below for my notes on why we went skydiving, what it was like, and why I’m glad I didn’t record the experience.
People go to Queenstown not to hang around the town itself but to explore the surrounding area. Many of the shops in town are souvenir shops, but even more of them are glorified concierge desks where you can book activities like boat tours and sightseeing flights. Oh, and skydiving. (I went skydiving!)
Below are 42 photos of the scenery on the way from Fox Glacier to Queenstown, including a stretch of road delightfully lined with purple wildflowers; an unbelievably precipitous stretch of road; gorgeous mountains by the lakes; and a genius construction traffic light.
Then there are also a few (15) photos in Queenstown itself, including photos of birds, flowers, and signs.
I’m not a rock climber, hiker, trekker, or mountaineer, but I love mountains. The silence, the trees, the mist and clouds, the twisting, rushing rivers in valleys full of rocks… it’s all more magic than a harsh, empty, burning bright beach could ever be.
New Zealand is full of mountains, and some have snow or ice on them all year. We didn’t walk on or fly over any of the glaciers on the South Island, but I was happy we had the chance to stroll up near one of them.
You won’t see a live kiwi in New Zealand unless you’re a dedicated birdwatcher or you go to a zoo. Unlike kea parrots, seagulls, and ibises, kiwis don’t hang out around humans and swoop down from the air to snatch crumbs from your lunch. They’re nocturnal. Moreover, they can’t swoop.
Nevertheless, tourist shops are overrun with kiwi bird keychains, t-shirts, mugs, shot glasses, paperweights, coasters, playing cards, baseball caps, fridge magnets, and figurines made from plastic, wood, glass, and metal.
Although I like animal figurines, and the kiwi is obviously the iconic New Zealand animal, I refrained from buying a kiwi figurine until I saw this inexpensive, tiny, rubber, made-in-China creature. Perfect.
Kumara is a town of approximately 300 people, yet it has a hotel with a remarkably good restaurant… From there we visited Hokitika, a town with about ten times the population. It had a lot of shops selling New Zealand greenstone (jade).
In honor of the holiday season, someone put some extra letters in front of the “Hokitika” sign so that it said: “Ho-Ho-Hokitika”. Among the 25 photos below, sadly, I do not have a photo of that.
The visit to Christchurch was emotionally draining. I’d never seen the effects of a natural disaster up close the way I did there.
Earlier this year I was worried that Hurricane Irma would hammer my hometown (Atlanta, Georgia). It did a lot of damage elsewhere, but unlike Opal, it mostly left my parents’ city alone. Hurricane Andrew was bad, as was Katrina, but Atlanta just isn’t close enough to the coast to ever get the worst of those storms.
Probably the closest I’ve personally come to experiencing a natural disaster was at the Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where I and my 8-year-old classmates nervously rode out the deadliest of the dozens of tornadoes that struck the region while were on a field trip. That night, us kids had fun playing with our flashlights because our hotel had no power. The next day I remember seeing buildings with their walls ripped away leaving raw gaps in the architecture like the gaps in a child’s smile, but a lot less cute. What force could do that? I didn’t know it then, but twenty people had died.
When in 2011 Christchurch was struck by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake on 22 February, it left 185 people dead and thousands injured.
The Quake City museum in Christchurch is an educational tourist attraction, but it’s hard to call it entertaining. I’m pretty sure going to the museum was the right thing to do, but it colored my experience for the rest of my brief stay in the city. Everywhere I looked, there was rubble, construction, graffiti, and a sense that everyone who hadn’t just up and left was making an effort to stand strong. It was a painful object lesson in the fragility of normalcy.