We began our journey of New Zealand’s South Island in picturesque Picton on a lovely autumn day. It reminded us a lot of Vancouver in some respects. We wandered along the marina front getting a feel for the city before having to head out on the road to begin our exploration.
We all had very much looked forward to our time in New Zealand and wanted to fit in as much of it as we could. We had mapped out our ’must dos’ and figured out a route that made sense - we would start in Picton, heading down the west coast (some roads on the east coast were closed due to earthquake damage and landslides) to Queenstown, continue south to Milford Sound, over to Dunedin and then to Christchurch where we would depart for Australia.
We had just 10 days to do this and needed to be back in Christchurch on day 7 as we had bought rugby tickets for the only game we could attend during our trip in New Zealand. It would have been sacrilege to have missed it! That was 5 days to do the South Island. Not a whole lot of time as those of you who have been before know. For 2 islands, New Zealand is a surprisingly big country as we quickly discovered.
While planning our route, Dave and I talked about how the days would be long for the girls (and us). We had referred to Google maps and knew that most days would be about 5 hours in the car. Not ideal but in order to get to Milford Sound which we REALLY wanted to do, it was going to be the only way. As mentioned in a previous post, Dave and I are fans of the road trip. The girls are also fantastic travellers which makes these types of excursions easy to do. However, our South Island tour may have pushed the boundaries of this fandom.
You see, we came to the South Island with our Canadian standards of roads and driving in mind and didn’t accurately interpret the sign at the ferry crossing “SOUTH ISLAND ROADS ARE DIFFERENT, TAKE YOUR TIME.” We quickly realized that first day that 5 hours on hilly, twisty, single lane roads through a variety of weather conditions in a camper quickly turns into 6 or 7 hours depending on traffic.
Most of our days exploring the South Island were like this - long driving days. While we had planned many stops along the way to help break up the drives, many of them were abandoned - weather impacted photo opportunities at Mount Cook, trails for hikes were closed due to previous rains and winds from a recent cyclone that had come through, or we all decided to keep plodding ahead in hopes of getting to the next campsite before it was dark so we could explore the town we were staying in.
Throughout our trip Dave and I have ‘struggled’ (for lack of a better word) with the question: do we want to do ALL things in each country we visit, or do we want to do SOME things well? During this leg of the journey the question was at the forefront in our mind and most evenings we discussed whether we were doing the South Island right.
Yes, we didn’t get to do some things we wanted to like hike the glaciers, go wine tasting and spending more time exploring the cities we stayed in. However, we certainly enjoyed our time in the camper and in the South Island. Driving for longer periods of time we got to see the diverse landscapes morph into one another. Such amazingly beautiful scenery! We also did school a little differently. One of the girls sat up front with Dave in the passenger seat wile I got one-on-one time with the other for school. It was awesome to carve out this individual time with each of the kids each day.
We also spent time in Queenstown (a place with similar scenery and vibes which reminded us so much of Banff - including the Aussie and Kiwi populations). We walked the trails and took a boat tour through the fjords of Milford Sound. We were fortunate to have had rain the day before which contributed to the incredible feeling of being surrounded by majestic mountains and hundreds of cascading waterfalls, even getting soaked by one! Our family enjoyed an amazing night watching the Crusaders rugby team play. (It might have been more fun to watch Dave watch the game and meet the Captain of the All Blacks). We also were in awe of Christchurch’s resiliency as they recover and reinvent their city after their recent earthquakes. Such a resilient city who is really thinking about honouring the past tragedies while rebuilding vibrant public spaces. So many parallels to Calgary
So while we truly loved the beauty of the South Island and New Zealand, and enjoyed our time visiting with locals, we still feel that perhaps that’s just it - we saw the South Island rather than experienced it in the way that we wish we could have. And while we’re not going to beat ourselves up about it, we are using it as a learning opportunity to help inform our future planning for this trip.
After all, we know we can’t do it all so the question is: how much can we do so we do that well?
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).