To the End of the World and Back
‘Are you only going to Auckland, or further?’, I was asked by a couple while waiting for boarding. ‘Further? Where could I possibly go further?’ I asked, laughing. And this is how my farthest trip began.
New Zealand, two words which evoke pure paradise, The Lord of the Rings and, surprisingly, Germans. It is hard to believe, but there are Germans on literally every corner. I had a chance to visit one of my family members who is living in a country in the Pacific Ocean and that was one of the reasons why I decided to fly across the globe.
If you have always dreamed of living in a van, visiting abandoned places with no signal, only meeting sheep and cows on the way, then New Zealand is the best place for you. Almost everything that is said about the country is true.
New Zealand consists of two islands, North and South, and it is said that South Island is nicer and less populated. I can confirm the second statement. However, each of them holds something unique. You can find a big city, the only place in New Zealand you can really call a city, Auckland in the south. It is a classic busy city, and if you decide to visit the country, Auckland will probably be the first place you see. I would also recommend that you visit another city named Tauranga. A lovely coastal area which is only a short hike away from Mt. Maunganui where you can find a view of the entire surrounding area. Another city which is worth visiting is the capital, Wellington. The city is easy to fall in love with. There, you can find the famous Te Papa Museum, walk along the coast or find accommodation in one of the Victorian houses. And the best thing? It is student friendly.
Is that where the famous Mount Doom is, you ask? Confirmed. The real name of the mountain is Mount Ngauruhoe and it lies on the famous Tongariro Crossing. It is hard to find the right words to describe the beauty of this piece of land. And it is even harder when you take into consideration I had only one day to hike there, and that on that very day it was, of course, rainy and foggy. Still, it was one of best experiences, especially when I remember my excitement when I could see further than 20 metres past the fog after walking countless kilometres. In addition, in weather like this, the number of visitors is minimal so you can have the entire area all to yourself.
Moving south, you can immediately spot differences compared to the north. More hills, more greenery, fewer towns and people. To experience one of the most beautiful coastal roads, you have to take the main road from Picton to Christchurch through Kaikoura. This road is still under reconstruction due to the strong earthquake in 2016. On the other hand, you have time to spot countless sea lions lying on the seashore and enjoying the sun while standing in colonies. If you don’t have a tight budget, Kaikoura is a perfect spot for whale watching. Unfortunately, my budget was just enough for eating fish and chips there.
Popular Christchurch is like a half town, half village from my point of view. The city centre itself is not very big. The must-see place is the cathedral which was almost destroyed during the aforementioned earthquake. The last town worth mentioning is the birthplace of most extreme sports, Queenstown. Again, if your budget is bigger than mine, try bungee jumping, for instance. If you are still a poor student, try to spend as little time as possible there since it is not the cheapest of places. However, if you are a lover of extreme activities, not far from Christchurch you can walk through the Cave Stream, the underground river for free.
The second half of my trip I spent travelling with a girl from the US. And where did we meet? Through a Facebook travel group. I can say that we were a perfect match. Those two weeks put my driving skills to a test. I’ve basically learned how to drive in New Zealand. The only bad thing is that now I drive better on the left side of the road. You can often see signs which show that places are further away than they seem. Especially since the roads on the South Island are narrower and curvier, and gravel roads are considered to be a standard. And most of the time you will simply have to drive one way since there is no other choice.
Lake Pukaki, which is deserted compared to the popular lake Wanaka, belongs to the list of my favourite places on the South. From the northeastern side, you can see the highest mountain, Mt. Cook. One of the most beautiful and definitely must-see places is Milford Sound - the place where rain is liquid sunshine. Yes, it rains more than 200 days per year there. On the other hand, during the rainy days, you can see most of the waterfalls, and it is generally nicer. If you are a fan of small beaches and not challenging hikes, you will like Abel Tasman National Park.
New Zealand is a magical place where everything is completely the opposite of Europe. Summer is winter, morning is evening, and watching the clear sky with so many stars and a Milky Way, which seems so close you feel like you could touch it, makes your jaw drops every night. New Zealand is for people who love the outdoors, camping, stunning views and who are not afraid of being offline for a few days.
This might feel like a very personal piece, but above all it is meant to highlight the inspiration, skills, and self exploration that leaving your comfort zone can bring, whether that’s an exchange, volunteering or simply being honest with yourself.