‘When you’re traveling with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there’s no other way to preserve it.” – Shauna Niequist
When the mind needs to clear its head and an individual craves for solitude, travel truly is a method of being able to disconnect for a while and rejuvenate. I had the opportunity to go on a solo trip around the South Island of New Zealand in the first week of November, one that I had in fact been planning since the beginning of the year but wasn’t sure if would actually materialize. The drive in itself with its serenity and its awe-striking beauty was a sight for sore eyes – that naturally goes without saying; everyone knows how beautiful New Zealand is. And although I couldn’t cover all of the South Island, my one-week road trip was well worth it.
My journey first began in Dunedin, where I’d been residing since February of this year. Day 1 of my travels began with a drive straight to Lake Pukaki; the oh-so-wondrous sight of crystal clear cerulean waters against blue skies that were truly nothing short of appealing. I’ll be honest; each and every turn from the road onwards to Mount Cook were so splendorous; I couldn’t contain my excitement! The effort of constantly reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road was indeed a challenge, where photography somehow had to become a second priority.
Amusingly enough, my drive from there to Mount Cook took a drastic change in weather; fluffy cloud-filled skies subtly turned grey and loomed behind the majestic mountains. Although I’d intended to initially take the Hooker Valley Track, my drive to Lake Pukaki and a late start meant that I didn’t have time, as I needed to make it to Lake Tekapo and then onwards to Timaru. Alas – it is simply going to have to wait for another time!
Similar to Lake Pukaki, and just another hour away, Lake Tekapo was sensational in its sight. One thing I really did miss out on here was the Church of the Good Shepherd (I suppose the views made me forget about everything!), although I did sit for about a half hour just outside my car, soaking in the sun that was glowing against the waters, before reluctantly heading back just as the sun set to Timaru where I resided for the night.
One long drive later, tucked in bed, morning hit me before I even realised it. One full fuel tank later, I was set to go! Arthur’s Pass was my next destination. Regrettably, the weather was not agreeing with my excitement. My journey through Arthur’s Pass was honestly a challenging one, with a complete storm hitting upon me and the winding roads causing some (and more) anxiety. I honestly don’t want to recount that tiresome experience, and I’m relieved to say that no harm done, made it through the whole pass, with sadly no pictures and some sanity. This also meant that I was unable to view the famous Castle Hill, which is known for its shooting from the movie Lord of the Rings. Nonetheless, the motel I stayed at (Bealey Motel) that evening and onwards was a relishing one its warmth. And after some hot food and a shower, another day passed by in relaxation turning into sleep. Plus, after every rain there is some sunshine, and that my dear reader, gives me more photographic opportunity!
Day 3: Straight to Fox Glacier. I woke up to sunlight streaming in through my curtains, and had heard enough about the West Coast to be further excited for the day ahead of me. As I exited the national park, it was true to my luck that the weather only got better. And hence in this beautiful and bright day I entered the glacier country. Oh my. As with everything else, this part of the island was as stunning as ever. Surrounded by mountains, and glaciers, and greenery, and turquoise lakes! Scenic sights at every turn.
This time, Mother Nature was on my side. I was warmly greeted at the Lake Matheson Motel, who provided me with full recommendations and explanations as to where I should go and what I should do on that day, full of excitement as well at the sight of sunshine. And hence I went to straight to Lake Matheson first; this was a much-needed suggestion I wanted to take upon further. And let me tell you this my dear reader; it’s a place to not miss. The still waters and that are a clear reflection (provided good weather of course) is tranquillity in itself. I simply sat amongst other professional photographers and basked in this solitude within the crowd, savouring the spectacular view. Trust me, if you plan on heading to the West Coast, this is a must-visit place!
But sunny days do end, and starry nights in the chill of a breezy end-of-summer brings in such comfort! I was all set for the next day – where Wanaka awaited me!
Another gorgeous drive down the West Coast, despite the slight dull in the weather, as I headed down south to Central Otago and the much awaited Wanaka. I should also mention that the advantage of traveling alone (or even in small groups) is that it’s easy to make quick decisions if you want to visit an extra place. Thunder Creek Falls was one of the many last minute decisions I made, on this now drizzling day that turned out to be well worth the visit.
When I’d visited Wanaka earlier this year, I had fallen in love with this small town; with its lake, its people, and its simplicity. So I had planned to stay for three days and then to proceed back home, so that I could truly relax and also get my hiking shoes back on!
Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. A 30-minute drive from each other, and both beautiful in its own way. At a temporary signal, I caught the first sight of the former lake; an azure blue against the sunny sky. Impatience pushed at me to keep moving, to see more sights, to take more photographs, and to get some rest too! Driving along the lakes, through the town of Lake Hawea, Albert Town and finally into Wanaka was filled with lookout points and more unforgettable views. Yet I pressed on as one particular hike which I had read much about was awaiting for me, and I couldn’t quite contain my excitement to start that.
Being a vegetarian, I had struggled a little with food on this trip, mostly managing with sandwiches and some dairy items (cereal for the most part). So Wanaka was where I could finally dig back into my Indian roots and gain some spicy and flavoursome food for myself, with one very famous restaurant known as The Spice Room. If you’re in Wanaka and looking for Indian food, this place is simply the best. Their service and their food is simply fantastic! A full stomach and tired body allowed me to sleep comfortably well at the Fairway Motel, where I’d booked myself in, resting for yet another exhilarating day.
Isthmus Peak. An 8 kilometre trek one-way, expected to take about 2.5-3 hours to go up. Views of both Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka from the top as well. This is what several blogs had told me about the hike, and although I’d completed several short hikes on other days and prior to this, this was a challenging one that I was ready to take on. It was also my first long hike that I’d decided to attempt, and for me personally, it was a challenge, but I did it and I’m so glad I did! My blisters are proof that it was completed, and perhaps somewhat worth it. No pain no gain right? 😉
Let me begin by enlightening you a little bit. Imagine those fairy-tale movies that show lambs skipping across green hills, and mini waterfalls on the side, with views of shining lakes on one side. I promise you, this describes a lot of my hike up to the peak. As the rocks come out and the dirt track comes into view, it also gets a lot colder and windier, so be prepared for that too! I also got fooled into thinking I’d almost reached (about twice actually) so I had to keep trudging and pushing myself to make it. But I suppose the one advantage of doing it alone is that you can really go at your own pace, no pressure involved. And so roughly 3 hours later, I reached the top of Isthmus Peak. A view that was worth the sores, the heat, and the tiredness. A view that is now engraved in my memories, with snow-capped mountains against the shining lakes I had mentioned earlier. One hike that will be truly the beginning of many more to come.
This hike was also the reason I cut my trip short by a day (given I couldn’t wear any shoes and forgot my slippers at home; didn’t plan enough perhaps?). I was meant to proceed on to Queenstown or do another hike, but my body gave in and headed back to Dunedin, exhausted, but so invigorated too!
This was one trip that I had been eagerly waiting to begin, and it almost ended too soon. Almost. But I will do this again; the travel, the photography, the solitude. A friend once told me it becomes addictive, and there is no doubt in my mind that she is right. 🙂 If you’re curious to see more pictures by the way, feel free to check out my Instagram – I didn’t want to overload this blog with too many photographs – and at the same time I honestly did try to keep this short, but had very little luck, clearly!