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Another Tick off the Bucket List

When I retired twelve years ago, the top item on my bucket list was to write a novel, but my top TRAVEL bucket list choice was New Zealand. The novel, times two, got written, and this January, we got to go on the trip of a lifetime to NZ!

This is a LONG post, comprised mostly of photos. The cliff notes version is that New Zealand is an exquisitely beautiful country, and we were made very welcome by friends and strangers alike. (with one notable exception, which resulted in an essay you can read here.)

Our month-long trip was divided into roughly four parts. 1. Travel on the North Island with our son Nathan and his friend Tiffany 2. An REI bicycle trip on the South Island from Christchurch to Queenstown 3. A driving odyssey from Queenstown along the west coast of the South Island up to the northern tip at Abel Tasman Park, and 4. Fascinating visits with three author friends in Christchurch, Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula.

The gift of a long journey to a far-away country, particularly if it’s been a longed-for bucket list destination, is the opportunity to let go— to decontextualize, re-order habitual behaviors and sharpen perceptions. Every day brought stunning sights, interesting conversations, pleasing physical exertion, new foods, historical and cultural education that exceeded our high expectations.

This type of travel, which I think of as adventure immersion, requires an opening of mind and tolerance, an appreciation for difference, a willingness to see and do another way from the habits of home. Quite unexpectedly, I found myself able to do some research for my next book… in the 650 m long millennial footpath in Wanaka, with its clay tiles referencing hundreds of years of historical events, in various guides’ information about herbs, and other medicinal and textile plants, and in the psychic space I had to think about my new story. I also was entranced by the prevalence of Maori culture and language in New Zealand, and the efforts to revitalze its use.

So here is an idiosyncratic taste of New Zealand!

Jasmine in January, Rudi’s Pilsner, a harbor full of gorgeous sailboats, great public art and a fiercely sunny day. Welcome to Auckland!

Did we succumb to the lure of an afternoon in the Shire? We DID! The gardens at Hobbiton alone were worth the “the adventure!”

A visit to Rotorua and the Maori village, Mitai for the traditional Hangi meal and dance (poi) performance.... and war cries of the haka, ta maka (tattoos) chants, sacred pool... warriors.. rounding out the day of tourist attractions, but learned a lot...

Geothermal wonderland at Orakei Korako

Tongariro National Park, staying at Ahakune- hiking to Taranaki Falls amidst the tea trees- Leptospermun scoparium or as the Maori say, Manuka… from which special honey is made. Book research for Isabella's Way! The honey allegedly has wound healing and antibacterial qualities… and protection against bacterial damage. Some suggest it is also an anti-inflammatory.

Unexpected find on our journey along the Forgotten World Highway… Lauren’s Lavender shop…

We stopped by Whangamomona, a self-proclaimed republic within New Zealand high in the hills among the volcanoes and the sheep. Tthe whole place showcases New Zealanders' wry sense of humor and independent streak...

Then to New Plymouth with its lovely sculpture dotted shore promenade.

Just your average volcano peeking through the clouds on the flight to Christchurch. A walk from our hotel, “Chateau on the Park” brought us to this mini sailboat regatta!

Then off for a grand tour with the amazing Jodi Wright and her wonderful husband Peter, exploring the coast around Sumner and Littleton, then back to Christchurch for dinner. No wonder Jodi writes such fascinating books! (stay tuned for an author profile on her…) These two are life adventurers and curators of fascinating experiences. SO grateful to have spent this day together!

The Cycling Trip- REI's Cycling the South Island

Day 1- .Christchurch to Tepaku Lake at the foot of the Southern Alps- Canterbury Plains- 40 Km of riding, a transfer in the van, fine road, rocky trail, hills, ridiculous headwinds, and thank the lord for electric bikes!!! We may have only used the electric boost 15% of the time, but for those extended intense climbs over rocky switchbacks, we were so grateful to have them!

Day 2- Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail along shores of Lake Pukaki – Tekapo Canal, Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook, Twizel, (yes, there is a town named Twizel!) Ohau Canal to Lake Ohau with views of Glen Mary Glacier and Ben Ohau Range. 50 miles….

Day 3- Up and over Tarnbrae Saddle to Omarama for lunch, shores of Lake Benmore to Sailors Cutting, transfer to village of Otematata - Ride over Benmore Dam and descend to Lake Aviemore .. then to village of Kurow and our 19th century lodge… 45 miles

Day 4. a descent from our 900 m climb that was NOT for the faint of heart. Yes, I rode the brakes through gravel, dirt, rocks, hairpin turns and no railings on the bumpy narrow path. Exquisite beauty of the glacier fed lakes, lupines everywhere, fun adventurous cyclists, and my I-look-like-I’ve-been-doing-this-forever husband on his first formal cycling trip! 50 miles​

Day 5. 40 mile ride today to finish the Alps to Ocean (A2O) trail at...... you guessed it.. the Pacific Ocean at Oamaru! What a gorgeous ride! Crayola does not have a color to describe the New Zealand blue of the sky on this clear day!

Day 6- a “rest day” with no biking but a wonderful boat tour of the Otago harbor and bay... albatross, many other sea birds, fur seals, penguins, and the beautiful peninsula outside Dunedin.

Day 7... 48 mile ride on the Otago Central Rail Trail from Middlemarch to Wedderborn. Very lucky with the weather!

Days 8 and 9 ... rounding out this wonderful cycling trip, riding the Otago Central Rail Trail, visiting (and tasting at) the beautiful Clyde Village Vineyard, a gorgeous 4-acre boutique vineyard with beautiful Pinot Noir wines, and finally the last trail before Queenstown, a lovely lakeside resort town in the south of the South Island of New Zealand. Saying goodbye to the wonderful people we cycled with and especially our guides, Peter and Angela was poignant, and we have two more nights in Queenstown with an adventure tomorrow to Milford Sound. Oh, and was it someone’s big birthday?! Our guide found the perfect birthday dessert for the good doctor- Granny Smith Syringe Donut!! Went well with the champagne.

Milford Sound… Deep in Lord of the Rings territory. Bus, boat and helicopter from and back to Queenstown with Mirror Lakes . shores of Lake Wakatipu to Te Anau.. Fiord up Harrison Valley over Mount Tutoko to Donne Glacier.

Queenstown to Wanaka to Haas Pass to Franz Joseph- back to mountains, rain forest (Haas Pass gets 187 inches average rainfall each year- New York gets 45...) and to the Tasman Sea. Mt. Cook and the glaciers peek in and out of the mist or low-lying clouds.. but when it’s out it’s stunning! These are not tropical rain forests... dense with ferns of all shapes and conifers that I’ve never seen before.,., very quiet.. only the occasional bird sound... hike at Okarito

Franz Joseph, Punakaiki, (Pancake Rocks) Kaiteriteri and the last spot on our South Island journey, Awaroa Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park... a beautiful kayak with proper tea at the end, driving, a traumatic experience with a motorcyclist on the road (more on that later- all ok), the pancake rocks, a boat ride to the park and a three hour hike this a.m. to the next bay.. again, the ocean color, the ferns, the continual reminders of why ferns and spirals are such a part of Maori symbolism. There may have been a massage at the end of the day......

Well, just when you think it can’t get any better, a visit to Great Barrier Island and the fantastic Jenni Ogden and her husband John have taken us on a wonderful tour of mountain lookouts, one beautiful beach after another, and their amazing all solar-powered brand-new home. Getting to know another extraordinary She Writes sister and her work past present and future. What a gift! (author profile coming!)

An absolutely perfect last day in New Zealand visiting @Patti Clark and her wonderful family on the Coromandel Peninsula. A hike, a swim, a tour, and learning more about this beautiful person/author. Got our Manuka honey, and we head home so full of the generosity and hospitality and beauty of this country. Gratitude.....