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South Island, New Zealand

Updated: Apr 26

I landed in Queenstown early afternoon and was able to pick up my Juicy car rental right at the airport, it was super easy! Walking out of the plane was such an eye opening experience with all the mountains surrounding in the distance covered in snow, such a beautiful view with crisp air (a little colder than Auckland). My new rental was a 2016 Mazda MX-5 start/stop engine with buttons I didn't even know how to use - would've rather had my cute little Swift mid-hatch because I didn't want to deal with this new technology (or break anything), but it was the only option available. As I drove to my hostel only 30 minutes away, I was surprised by the beauty of the lakes and snowcapped mountains with many people out and about in their winter gear (much different vibes than Auckland). I found parking right across the street for $1/hour and reorganized my bags to check in since I could leave most of my belongings in the car. The hostel I booked was another Juicy (should've learned my lesson the first time) and it was like no other hostel I had ever seen before. The hostel was on a corner in the main town and very advanced with kiosks to check in and 7 levels with rooms filled with “pods” fitting 8 people in a room - it felt like a freaking spaceship (no window, no air circulation, right next to a shared bathroom). I didn’t like it right off the bat but had already paid for 4 nights and it was super cheap so I figured I would suck it up since this was expensive area and didn't want to spend more money on accommodation if I wanted to go skiing. The pod assigned to me was thankfully a lower bunk and each of them had a storage bin underneath with key codes and privacy shields for when you're in the pod so I unpacked, locked up my belongings, said hi to my pod neighbors (young Asian, American, European girls) and then walked around town. It felt like Colorado in a way and I found a nice spot at a restaurant with the best sunset of the snow-capped mountains in the background along the lake and ordered a beer. Then, to my surprise, as I was taking an IG video, some random larger dude (probably in his late 20s) comes up to me and asks “Are you on the South Island Tinder?” Lol. I couldn’t believe what he said at first...and the fact that he went out of his way to come up to me to ask that question - it was the first time being asked something about Tinder and I answered him straight up “No I’m not" (never been on a dating app in my life). And then proceeded to enjoy the rest of the sunset and go get a pizza at the rooftop bar of my hostel. I did some more planning and then headed to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep, probably only got 3 hours of sleep because of how uncomfortable this room was - similar to the movie Zenon: Girl from the 21st Century (if you're a 90s baby ;-)) where everything is very compact - the most claustrophobic sleep I have ever experienced. The only thing that saved me getting any sleep the next 3 nights was the lavender essential oil I had from Costa Rica - thank god I had that with me because it didn’t smell so good inside the room as there was no window. I feel like I’m also becoming more and more claustrophobic the older I get, and going to the bathroom and back into bed just made me feel so uncomfortable. I had to wake up to pay for 8am parking and then went back to bed and woke up just in time for the call with my family to plan for our trip to Italy in May. I went to a really sweet cute cafe a few blocks away called Vudu Cafe and ordered a Matcha latte and oatmeal bowl which included flowers in this acai-type bowl while I chatted with my family - it was delicious and great seeing my families faces together for the first time in a while. Then I walked to the gondola 15 minutes away and went up to see the Skyline which had the best view of Queenstown. I went on 3 luge track rides and felt like a little kid again. I knew if my sisters and I had been able to do this when we were little we would have died and gone to heaven…literally a little kid’s dream to drive a little car and act like you’re in a race course going down windy trails speedy gonzales. With the most beautiful views of the mountains in the background might I add..they got it going was really fun for even a 29-year-old! Once I came back from the gondola, it started raining so I decided to go get fitted for skiing the next day, which took about 30 minutes or so (thankfully got the 20% off Spring discount - it was the last week of the season - just in time!). Then I walked to the gardens nearby and took a nap on this bench next to the lake and there were people walking, biking, and playing with frisbees. I saw this restaurant that had tons of people waiting outside the doors earlier so I decided to go there for lunch when it wasn’t so crowded (mid-afternoon) and apparently have the best hamburgers in New Zealand. Thankfully I only had to wait 15 minutes and devoured the hamburger sitting outside by the lake. It looked like it was going to start down pouring so I walked back and showered and then had leftovers for dinner and went to get my 10% off gelato coupon from the burger place - Fergberger. I have to say, the hamburger wasn’t the best hamburger I've had but it was certainly good meat. The gelato was also decent but not the best - I got this berry fruit that was yummy, and pistachio (seems like a fav combination recently for me?). It was raining again so I tried going to bed early since I had to be up to go skiing the next day but couldn't really fall asleep from being so uncomfortable in this tiny space. It was tough getting up but I was motivated to go skiing and was wondering if the weather would be okay. Thankfully no one stopped me for not having chains on my wheels as I didn’t have any going up the mountain to the slopes (the ski rental place was saying it was mandatory for severe weather)! But the roads weren’t too bad so they weren’t needed anyway (it was a sunny day, not many clouds) so glad I didn't purchase any beforehand. I was finally on the slopes around noon, after renting a locker and realizing where everything was…I forgot how much work it is to ski (especially in an unfamiliar location and by yourself). I skied for a few hours checking out all the slopes before stopping for lunch/snack - they were medium/hard slopes as some parts became very steep and other bumpy but nothing I couldn't handle (after learning how to ski in CO and then many times in the German alps). It wasn't very crowded so I could go up and down pretty quickly and decided to do another hour and then walked back to my car around 3:45pm as they closed at 4pm - my car was one of the few left in the parking lot. Something wasn’t right when I tried opening up my rental car with the electronic key, the car wouldn’t click open and the light wasn’t turning on. I kept trying and trying and it still wouldn’t work (thinking in the back of my head - this is exactly why I didn't want a modern car like this). Instead of freaking out in the middle of the parking lot, I noticed there was a clip on the back of the key (that no one told me about) that opened to a version of a manual key. Thankfully I was able to open the driver door to unlock all the doors but then the car wouldn’t start when pushing the start/stop button. I tried everything I couldn't find to turn on the damn car and looked for the manual but there wasn’t one so I assumed the battery had died from the cold weather. It was about 4:25pm and there were only 2 cars left in the parking lot so I called the rental company to see what my options were. I was on hold for a long time of course and then they decided to send AAA and said it would take about 30 minutes to an hour and mentioned there being a cost but in the back of my head there was no way I was going to pay for any charge for this. So I waited for an hour until AAA came (as the sun was setting) and this nice chill guy in a t-shirt (mind you it’s freezing outside) comes and concludes the problem is the battery of the car. I told him I only had the car for a day and he mentioned that it’s probably the fault of Juicy (the rental car company) as they’re his most popular customers with issues all the time. He recharged the battery and told me to try to get reimbursed and get a new car tomorrow morning. So I went back to my hostel and charged my phone (it was on 3% the whole time dealing with this) and called Juicy right away. Thankfully a guardian angel was watching over me with my phone not dying as I don’t know what I would've done (my portable charger broke that morning) - second time where it was a close call. That night I went to get Mexican tacos and then went to bed to wake up early to go get a new car rental the next morning before skiing (I bought a 2-day ski pass since it had a better discount). Turns out there was no cost savings when downgrading my rental and they put in a new battery in the key so my Mazda was good to go. It was a tough decision because I had to drive a long distance the next day and didn't want the key or car to die again, but ended up keeping the same car and the cute guy at Juicy gave me chains for free. Thank goodness because this day it was snowy and I actually got stopped to put chains on halfway up the mountain! The man checking chains showed me how to put the chains on and it was pretty tough in the cold windy weather - learn something new every day hehe. Finally I was on the ski lift at 10:30am but it started to hail/snow as soon as I was on my way up. Very very different conditions today than yesterday, much colder and harder to ski - could barely see anything through the goggles. I lasted about an hour before having to go inside for some nose blowing and water as I wasn’t feeling too well. I went back out for another 2 hours and then went back inside to the bathroom a couple more times before leaving around 3:30pm. It was just too cold to handle any more, but it was fun because you couldn’t see anything so you didn’t know what to expect which became more of a roller coaster. Like if there would be a bump or where the trail ends - you couldn’t see, which was scary and thrilling at the same time and I really enjoyed it other than it being freezing cold. So I got back to my car and the light on my car wasn’t working again and I somewhat freaked out but thankfully the car started this time, after opening the car with the manual key (probably frozen again). I went straight to Juicy to have them take a look again and return the chains, all good to go now. As soon as I got back to the hostel I went to get Malaysian food and then packed up my car as I was off to the Milford Sounds the next day on a boat cruise! I chilled and journaled upstairs where there were many backpackers watching rugby and chatting but went to bed somewhat early that night, it was a long day.

I was so ready to get out of that hostel and the drive out of Queenstown was breathtaking when I left early at 8am, it was about 3 hours to Milford Sounds and driving along the coast of the lake with windy roads and snow-capped mountains made me feel so free. It’s pretty simple to pass other cars in NZ, as it’s usually only one lane and you just turn on your blinker and pass as the car in front realizes this and lets you go..and there are many chances to pass during certain points with 2 lanes you have about 3 minutes to pass with the 2 lanes and then it goes back to 1. Anyway, I stopped a few times to take videos of the beauty and as I got closer to Milford, there were certain points to stop and I saw tourist buses there so decided to stop as well to see what the fuss was all about. At one of the stops, there were reflection pools that were stunning and I’m so happy I stopped there and took it all in. Once I got to Milford, I had to pay $10 NZ for parking and this charge had just started a few days prior so was very disappointed but it is what it is (and I got a refund for the cruise as they had to change the boat from Premium to Classic so got an hour of parking back pretty much).

I arrived 10 minutes before boarding the cruise and it was a fascinating view of the large sound filled with water and black limestones surrounding it. There were a lot of tourists, families and couples, a lot of Indians and Asians. The cruise initiated and it was 2 hours or so long, it was breathtaking, seeing the waterfalls and sea lions and glaciers up close. I got a sandwich and beer and felt satisfied sitting at the front of the cruise admiring the scene during a somewhat cloudy day. I had an hour and a half drive to Te Aneu (where I booked a hostel in advance) as it would have taken too long to drive all the way to Wanaka Lake. So I headed straight there after the tour and arrived at this cute lake cabin-feel hostel with the cutest cat, Leroy (orange and feisty little fellow). I was so happy with the hostel choice as when I got to my room, it included a small kitchen in it! There was another room attached but that was okay because I was so happy to be in my own big room and kitchen as I didn’t want to go out to eat or anything and stay put. The first thing I did was yoga, I did a full hour and a half before the other room guests arrived (right when I was finishing up). So I finished up in my room and then went on a run to the Subway to get change for laundry as the receptionist had closed already and I needed coins. I took a long shower and shaved my legs and then put laundry in. I realized as I was showering there were tons of these bites on me and my skin swelled was puffy and starting to worry me. I sent pics to my family and assumed it was mosquitos but then when I was chatting with the two ladies in the room next to me (from Christchurch), they told me it was probably sand flies. So I put aloe vera on it and it was fine and then cooked some pesto pasta and finished up laundry and went to bed.

The next morning I went to this cute coffee shop in town which was busy as it was a Friday. Then I set off on a 5 hour drive to Lake Wanaka. Another beautiful drive, arriving at this cool hip lodge hostel with a lake view around 3pm. I unpacked and went on a hike to Iron Mountain which was this stunning windy hike about 5 minutes from the hostel with gorgeous views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Probably one of my favorite hikes as it was the perfect challenge for that day with a nice breeze and open spots with a view of the lake and surrounding snow-capped mountains. Then I set off on a walk to the lake to go see what this Wanaka Tree was all about. I was pretty disappointed as it was filled with tourists and the tree wasn’t even really that far in the water. I felt bad going up close to it and taking a picture as each person stepping close to it destroys its natural habitat and I didn’t want to damage it’s beauty in any way. But nonetheless it was a pretty view and a nice walk around the lake. I decided to get an early healthy dinner so I stopped in town which was busy with tourists in this main section of the town, everyone sitting outside at sunset for happy hour. I found this healthy-looking cafe restaurant and got this salad and fig for dessert. Then headed back to my hostel to shower and do some research on Australia. I sat in my dorm room with a view of the lake and then out in the lobby area where there were a lot of young backpackers playing games drinking and chatting away. I was tired so I went to bed around 10pm and called it a night without much socializing.

Woke up and left around 10am to get to the famous glaciers on time which would take about 5 hours to get to - another beautiful windy drive. I didn’t really know what to expect but knew this was a top destination and where I was going to possibly skydive (when that was still a possibility). I arrived at my first destination near Fox glacier at this lake where you hike around this “Reflection Island” - about 1.5 hours with tons of foliage and small waterfalls. Then I drove to Frans Joseph glacier which was like a massive hole with rocks and snow at the end. I felt like I had been dropped off in the show Lost or movie Hunger Games, it was massive and out of this world weird. You first start to hike in the middle of trees and then it opens up to this wide split open area between glaciers with tons of grey rocks to walk on to get to the end point with the snow and surrounding waterfalls. I was expecting more snow to say the least, it was definitely another prime example of global warming as there wasn’t half as much snow as there should be at that time of year. It took about 45 minutes or so to get there and I took in the view and then walked back and it was getting dark so I headed to my next hostel. I was happy I chose this particular hostel as you drive right up to your room and it had a fun cabin feel as well with worm gummies and free soup and popcorn. I unpacked and got some free soup and popcorn and then admired the sunset, did some yoga and showered and then did some research on my tattoo (where I wanted to get it done in Thailand). I didn’t get as much sleep as I had hoped that night but it was fine, I got the free breakfast which was toast and cereal (typical hostel breakfast) and stopped at a cafe in Fox glacier town and headed to my next destination which was Lake Pukaki/Mount Cook.

I basically had to go back the way I came to Lake Wanaka and this was a longer drive around the mountains to the other side…about 7 or so hours. At this point during my trip, it already felt like a lot of driving but it was all worth it to me as Lake Pukaki was another one of my favorite lakes (Lake Wanaka was beautiful in the way it was set with a camping vibe and Lake Pukaki was more of a site to see and take in the vibrant colors around for a day). I sat close to the bright blue water with non-stop mountains surrounding and journaled and reflected and let go of some things I needed to let go of. During the long drives, I listened to many podcasts that got me thinking and reflecting and it was good for my soul to be at this lake during that time.. I drove to Mount Cook and took in the views of this mountain that girl from Holland Hanna had suggested and definitely would have wanted to go on another hike here, but didn’t have time or energy. So I drove back around Lake Pukaki, did some more journaling before heading to Lake Tekapo. It was sunset when I arrived at Tekapo and this became another favorite lake…the last 3 lakes I visited in South Island, NZ were definitely my favorite. Lake Tekapo had a different feel from the others, it was more of a turquoise color as you looked past the dark green trees on one of the mountains close by while the other side was more of a bright blue with red/brown mountains and some snow on top. It was a site to see so I sat and took in the view before checking into my next hostel. The next hostel was another 4 person dorm, I made some pasta and chatted with this British couple as I ate about driving in Australia and the different laws. Then we chatted about the differences between the UK and US (in terms of metrics, weather, etc) and enjoyed the conversation sitting by the warm fire. Afterwards, I went to look at the stars at this golf course close by (as I heard it would be the best place to stargaze). But it wasn’t for me for some reason...first of all there was a guy on his cell phone chatting away and ruining the vibe and second of all, maybe it’s because it wasn’t a full moon or it was cloudy but I didn’t see as many stars as I had expected. So I left after 5 minutes and watched some shows and went to bed late since the couple in the room was snoring and it bothered me.

I woke up the next morning to check out by 10am, went to a nice cafe with a big vegan breakfast and then sat next to Lake Tekapo sketching my tattoo before leaving on another 3 hour drive to Christchruch. I chatted with my family in the car most of the way and listened to some more podcasts. Christchurch wasn’t what I expected, it somewhat reminded me of Copenhagen, Denmark in a way, next to the coast with a modern European feel, but bland and grim too. I checked into the hostel and I was shocked that my portable charger had already arrived (I had called from Queenstown when it broke to get a replacement and had to talk my way into getting a replacement asap since I was leaving the country in a few days so I gave them this hostel's address), I was extremely relieved. As a backpacker, it’s crucial to have a portable charger at all times. This hostel was great, it had a big private room and a ton of free clothes that were stacked in piles from backpackers leftovers, and to my surprise, found a few things I wanted. I had to return the Juicy rental so I did that first thing and then unpacked and got organized. I was extremely tired so I decided to just do some yoga, shower, laundry and go to this pub close by for a nice meal where I tried fried cheese (halloumi) for the first time and a craft beer. That night, I went to bed late again for some reason, not sure what my problem was (probably just overwhelmed from all the moving around) so I slept in and then headed to this vegan cafe next store and I’m so glad the receptionist suggested this place as I ordered an organic cashew milk cappuccino and an acai bowl that were both delicious. After eating a hearty breakfast, I walked to the botanical gardens which was not the best as I had heard, and then walked over to the art gallery for some relaxation. Afterwards I walked to this food market the receptionist recommended next to the river and it was packed with business people as it was lunch time, mostly locals and some tourists. It was a neat market with many food options and then I stumbled upon this Kombucha place that had Feijoa flavor and I was super happy because the Australian girl from Lake Taupo (said you can only get this fruit in NZ). So I got that flavor of course and it was sweet and yummy. After eating some fish and chips, I walked around the shops, bought a pair of $18 sunglasses and $18 bathing suit that I was extremely excited to wear as it was red and in style and I had been wanting a red bathing suit like this for a long time! I was getting tired so I walked back to my hostel and organized my clothes since I had just taken some and needed to leave some. I sat and chilled out as I was in some weird mood (and pmsing) so I tried doing some yoga again and journaling and didn’t last very long but then it was getting late again so I showered and had some snacks for dinner, packed up and tried going to bed by 11pm but ended up being midnight and had to wake up at 5am for my flight to Australia (oh well). I only got 5 hours of sleep and about 6.5 hours of flight/4 hour layover so wasn’t in the best mood about this day, but at least I was on my way to a new country, and a country I’ve been wanting to go to for a long time now!!!!

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