Day One, March 10, 2020: The day Hoop Away New Zealand ended. I took a bus with a couple other hoopers to the Auckland airport. My best friend, Kyle, was meeting up with me for 5 days while I waited for my next international retreat. During the beginning of a pandemic, mind you. The moment I stepped off the bus he was there to greet me with the biggest hug ever. And I am SO damn happy that I had my camera ready. Because this first picture is definitely my favorite picture of him ever. We quickly headed into the airport to catch our flight to Christchurch, and HOLY SHIT, that was hands down the most epic sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. It helped that we were above the clouds at this point, but this sunset came straight out of a How to Train Your Dragon movie (one of our favorites), which made it even more special. Once we picked up our camper van we headed to our first sleeping location, because at this point it was like 3am. This was also my first time driving on the left side of the road, so I just made Kyle do it (thanks Kyle). When we’re together at home in Indiana, we like to go on night time drives. So on our way to Lake Pukaki, Kyle mentioned how this drive in NZ was taking our night time drives to a whole ‘nother level. And I will never forget that.
Before I get too far into blogging, here is the gear is used for this South Island, New Zealand trip:
35mm for mostly everything
24mm specifically for Milford Sound (that extra bit of focal length was much needed for this location)
50mm for Lake Wanaka Tree
Day Two, March 11, 2020: We woke up on our first real day of travel and checked out the view that we weren’t able to see at night. And I’ve traveled all over the place but damn, I’ve never seen water be such an icy blue before. It was gorgeous. But we had an itinerary to stick to, so we packed up and headed to the Tasman Delta Cafe on our way to Mt. Cook. I had read that this drive was a beautiful view of Mt. Cook, but the clouds were so low that morning that you couldn’t see a bit of landscape. But right after we finished our brunch, we realized that we probably should have picked up more groceries (and alcohol) before heading to Mt. Cook. Sooooooo we drove all the way back into the nearest town. Whatever. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. But luckily on our way back the clouds had cleared and we had a gorgeous view of the highest mountain in NZ. Glaciers and all.
Once we were within a couple miles of the White Horse Hill campsite (our second sleeping location), the glacier became super noticeable, so you bet your ass I made Kyle stop and take a few selfies with me. When we arrived to the campsite, it was pretty busy, but honestly, I’ve seen busier. Especially for such a dope location. We had a couple hours of down time before we headed out on Hooker Valley Track. All in all, it was about a 4 hour return hike, but would have taken a bit less had I not stopped for a photo op every 10 minutes (story of my life).
I finally found my favorite view of Mt. Cook, so I set my tripod up for some more self portraits, and that’s how I found out that Kyle can fall asleep literally anywhere, anytime. We were a whole 3 minutes into setting up and Kyle was fast asleep on a pile of rocks. So it was obviously time to head back to the camper van, but it was getting dark anyways. And I am wildly afraid of the dark. Needless to say I was attached his hip the whole way back. At one point, I saw an animal up ahead on the trail and freak the fuck out. Because all of my internet sleuthing made me aware that mountain lions are scary. Turns out it was just a possum. Kyle still will not let me live that down.
Day Three, March 12, 2020: It gets really cold at night when you’re sleeping in a van. I pulled back the curtains and wiped off our foggy windows. The moon was just about to set behind the mountains, and in the meantime, the sun was peaking over the horizon just enough to light up Mt. Cook. We had some quick breakfast and coffee, but I’m a stickler about itineraries so it was time to head off to our next stop; Lake Wanaka. At this point things get a little messy with the schedule, but thankfully Kyle kept my anxiety about going with the flow in check. We did not stop at the famous Lake Wanaka Tree as intended, and only had time for a quick lunch before heading to Queenstown.
This whole day was basically just dedicated to driving 7 hours to our next destination… MILFORD SOUND! BUT, I did promise that I’d have some photos from Hoop Away ready by this day, so while I spent an hour or so working at a coffee shop, Kyle got to explore this adorable city. Oh! And before I forget! The drive into Queenstown is INSANE and a definite must do. But my god was it scary. It was steep and curvy and I was not confident that our van was going to make it. Thanks again for driving, Kyle. Before we left Queenstown we stopped at a crystal shop. Because yes, I’m one of those people. And if you must know, I did find quite a beautiful Madagascar smokey quartz with a natural enhydro! Kyle even found something he liked (yay for very first crystal purchases)!
We finally arrived at Te Anau an hour before the sun set. The first thing I remember once we arrived is that we needed salt and pepper for our dinner later that night. Three minutes later… Task accomplished. Now it was time to explore the area by foot and relax a bit. 7 hours of driving sure isn’t fun, but at least the views were dope. We headed into town on foot and stopped at the nearest grocery shop for potatoes, carrots, onions, wine and beer… you know… the essentials. Walking back, the view of the mountains were just too gorgeous not to enjoy. We popped a squat on the beach and cracked open some wine while we watched the last sunlight of the day slowly disappear.
Day Four, Friday, March 13, 2020: The day shit hit the fan in the United States. Schools closing left and right, flights getting cancelled in and out of the States, stay at home orders getting put in place, toilet paper & hand sanitizer become black market items… I won’t bore you, I’m sure you remember the panic. And before we’d know it, the pandemic would have the whole world in quarantine. Kyle & and I were pretty disconnect from the world at this point, not so much by choice, but because we didn’t have a whole lot of cell phone service where we were. But honestly, I’m happy we had one more day of peace before finding out about what was going on.
We had an extremely early morning this day, maybe waking up around 4:30am. But it was worth it because… MILFORD SOUND. This other-worldly place has been on my bucket list since I was 15 years old! It was a decently cold morning, and we had about a half a mile walk to the shuttle meet up location. We had just planned on driving ourselves, but about a week prior to leaving for New Zealand, Milford Sound got hit with some crazy flooding that destroyed the only road in. It was completely closed to public traffic other than the shuttles. I was so worried that we wouldn’t be able to visit, but luckily we were able to adjust our plans and book a different kayaking trip. The road to Milford Sound was a long one, maybe around 2 hours. And for it being so early in the morning, I sure was happy that someone else was driving. We passed right out in the shuttle and woke up just as the sun was rising, which happened to be in the same location that I wanted to visit the most on this specific road: Eglinton Valley. Because we took a shuttle instead of driving ourselves, we weren’t able to stop at any other locations on the way back from kayaking. It worked out though. We were pretty exhausted afterwards.
At this point it seemed like forever since we had woken up, but it was finally time to kayak through Milford Sound, just as the sun was about to peak over the fjords. Have I mentioned how excited I was for this?! Let me just say now, this magical place did not disappoint in the slightest. It was absolutely the highlight of visiting the South Island. Kyle & I booked our kayak trip with Rosco’s Kayaks. They were SO professional, funny, and knowledgable about the area. We loved every second with our tour guide and we highly recommend booking with them if you ever visit! It’s insane looking back at these pictures, because not only is it usually cloudy and rainy there (we got very lucky to have sunshine!), but the landscapes are SO much bigger than you could ever imagine! This is one place that photography could never ever do justice, even for the most renowned photographer in the world. Also, shout out to Kyle for constantly steering the kayak while I took pictures basically the entire time, even though I PROMISED you I wouldn’t.
When we finally boarded our shuttle back to Te Anau, I was pretty burnt out on documenting, so I put my camera away for the rest of the day. Once we got back to our van, we walked back into town to do a little bit of shopping. Aaaaand of course we got hungry so we grabbed some pizza while we were out. We were pretty exhausted at this point, but hey, we cracked open some more wine, watched the sunset over the mountains again, and headed to bed shortly after. Because the following morning… It was SKYDIVING TIME!!
Day Five, Saturday, March 14, 2020: We had an early morning once again, but this time, we were headed back to Lake Wanaka to see the famous Wanaka Tree. This tree is one of the most photographed trees in the world and it’s also been on my bucket list since I was 15 years old. Finding this tree in the dark was no big deal because Kyle and I had scoped out where to park and how to get there a couple days prior when we drove through while heading to Queenstown. The photo below is exactly what I had hoped for and envisioned for my final image.
I had hoped we would have a sunny morning, where the rising sunlight turns everything a light pink color, I had hope the leaves would have changed from green to orange at this point, and I had hoped the location wasn’t too crowed. But I never planned for the moon. The full moon setting below the mountain, as everything was glowing, was quite a sight to see. I also highly recommend looking up the history of this tree if you don’t know about it! Sadly, just a couple days after this, Wanaka Tree was subjected to vandalism and the hanging branch was broken off. I am so incredibly grateful that I got to see this unique piece of nature in all it’s glory before it was damaged.
Around 8am, it was time to head off to Skydive Wanaka for the most epic views ever! Kyle had never been skydiving before, but this was my third go around and hands down the best jump yet. Definitely wish I could have brought my camera, but… such is life. I likely wouldnt have been able to enjoy the full experience had I had a camera with my anyways. From the jump, we could see Roy’s Peak, Lake Wanaka, Mt. Cook, and so much more! It was incredible. Completely breathtaking. My favorite part of skydiving isn’t the adrenaline rush from free falling, but the parachute ride after the jump. It’s the most relaxing time when you can really soak all the views in. I called my dad (professional skydiver before I was born) immediately after to tell him all about how epic those views were. He was just happy to hear that Kyle actually went with me and didn’t wuss out.
Later in the afternoon, we had some time to kill before going on our next hike. We decided to just drive around, take random roads, and explore in the van. I mean, I had an entire itinerary planned, but sometimes it feels better to just go with flow. It wasn’t much, but it was definitely chill. Afterwards, it was nap time. Oh yes. What would a vacation be without a nap? We arrived back at our campground in Albert Town, picked our spot next to the river, opened the van doors, and fell right asleep once our heads hit the pillow. I would definitely classify that as the second best nap of my life.
Originally, we had planned to do our next hike the following morning, but weather was calling for clouds and potential rain and I just didn’t want that. So after our nap, we made a snap decision to adjust the schedule, pack our backpacks, and hit the trails. This hike was my next favorite part of the entire trip: Roy’s Peak. Well, okay the actually hiking park suuuuucked, but the views… very worth it. And we timed it perfectly. We got to the top about 30 minutes before sunset and we were the only people up there. Turns out, visiting touristy spots at sunrise or sunset is much better in terms of crowds. The hike itself was pretty miserable. Everything on the internet said it wouldn’t be that enjoyable, but that its definitely do-able for basically everyone and that it would take about 3 hours going up. Well…. with me carrying all of my photography gear, this hike got exhausting quickly. It took about 4 hours up, and 2 hours down. Just make sure to bring extra water and a little picnic if you hike to Roy’s Peak. And be prepared to meet some cow friends on the way up.
We hurried back down because we realized all the grocery stored would be closing if we didn’t hustle. And not only did we need some sustenance, we also needed some more wine for a celebratory “we hiked Roy’s peak” night. I feel like I had so much adrenaline from those views that I couldn’t even think about how exhausted my body actually was. When we got back to the campground, we cooked up some mac ‘n cheese (hell yes, even in New Zealand, mac ‘n cheese is a must have). Hands down, the best mac n cheese ever and I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with the fact that we were in New Zealand. That night, the sky was perfectly clear and the stars were outrageously bright. At this point, it hadn’t really clicked with me, but the night sky (and obviously so) looks completely different in the southern hemisphere than it does in the United States. It was breath taking and a wonderful sight to fall asleep to after a day packed full of adventures.
Day Six, Sunday, March 15, 2020: Our last day in South Island, New Zealand. We didn’t have much planned, and what we did have planned we ended up nixing. It ended up being the right call because I somehow forgot to put “pack everything up” in the itinerary. Whoops. We spent our last night at Lake Tekapo, and we did take a couple hours for another little kayaking trip. Nothing fancy, but it was definitely the perfect way to unwind, take the whole week in, and relax. We had to leave for our flights that night around 11pm. Let me tell you guys something: if you have to be somewhere important, DON’T take a nap when youre crazy worn out. We slept through our alarms, but lucky for us, I’m a planner and knew that even if we did sleep through the alarms, we’d still have just enough time to catch our flights. At this point, we were all checked in and getting ready to board. We said our goodbyes, not knowing that the pandemic would keep us apart for much longer than we anticipated. This trip was one for the books. It was a miniature chapter in my life and one I certainly won’t ever forget or take for granted. One day, I’ll be back. But next time, I’ll be there for longer than 6 days. At the airport, we sat down for one more cup of coffee, and before I knew it, Kyle was heading back to Germany, and I was on my way to Indonesia.