It’s hard to think of where to start when I think about everything that has happened in these past eight months. I’m now at the end of my summer break whilst studying abroad for a year in Wellington, New Zealand which lasted a good three and a half months; and it’s honestly been the best break I could have ever wished for. My summer of a lifetime was filled with swimming in lakes and the sea, hiking through mountains and spending good time with friends, and a lot by myself. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, I am writing this in my little three-bed house in Wellington whilst the rain pours outside and the wind rattles our chimney.
Spending time reflecting on what you’ve been doing and where you’ve been, becomes harder when your constantly on the move. I sometimes forget that even being here, without even thinking about anything that’s happened, is an incredible experience in itself. Living halfway across the world from home sure has its ups and downs but let me tell you the ups make it completely worth it. New Zealand is an incredible country with so much variation in terrain and environment. You can be hiking through glacially carved valleys and the native bush in the morning and lying on a sandy beach with turquoise waters by the afternoon. Here I thought I’d share a few of my personal favourite travel highlights from summer break:
After finishing exams in November I met up with a couple of German friends I had made through University here. We planned a two week road trip around the Coromandel peninsula area in the North Island, and when I say planned, we decided the length of the trip and where we were starting and ending. For this I got to live my camper van dream as they had been living in one during there time here. Three of us piled into a little camper which sure was cosy, but the freedom of driving and parking up for the night wherever you may please was such a refreshing feeling. We spent our days chasing waterfalls, sunrises and exploring the beautiful peninsula and even got involved with a local ecologist doing trap and monitoring work of mammals on a small offshore island. A few favourites spots were New Chums beach, the Peninsula return walk (best to reach the summit for sunrise), and Hot Water Beach which we enjoyed under the stars. The pace and style of this trip was so relaxed yet adventurous and really gave me time to think about how I wanted to live; simply, and in the now.
You may already know that campervan-ing it is one of the best ways to experience New Zealand, if not the best! It gives you the flexibility to go wherever whenever which is made easier through freedom camping. The App campermate (which can also be used in Australia) is amazing for showing things to do, places you can stay and public facilities. So I definitely recommend that if you don’t use it already!
After flying back to the South Island late January I had no fixed plans apart from a couple of nights in Christchurch and a rental car for a week to take down to Queenstown. I was lucky enough that everything worked out, timing-wise, meaning I was able to meet up with friends along the way which as a solo traveller was so great. I did a great two day walk up the Copeland Valley to the Welcome Hut on the West Coast with a couple of friends.
This took us through beautiful native flora, along a glacially fed river, and across slightly unnerving swing bridges. The hut was one of the nicest ones I’ve seen with actual flushing toilets and running water! This may sound simple but compared to other New Zealand huts these are luxuries.
But the real gem was the geothermal pools just a short five-minute walk from the hut. Just imagine sitting in natural hot pools surrounded by mountains then watching the day fade and the stars begin to shine. Although we had the annoyance of sand flies, stargazing in such an amazing location was a definite highlight, and for me, much better than the popular west coast glaciers that have fallen victim to lots of tourists.
I ended my South Island loop with an impromptu camping trip with a friend up the centre of the island with our main place in mind being Mount Cook. We started our trip with a bit of a bang, jumping 12,000ft out of a plane over Wanaka at 9am in the morning after booking it the night before. This was something I had hoped to have the guts to do one day but wasn’t sure if I could face it. But I am so glad that I did. It was one of the most surreal experiences and the biggest high on life moment I could imagine and I will definitely be doing one again when the bank account allows it. It was then onto Mount Cook where we spent a couple of nights at the White Horse Hill Campsite exploring the Hooker, Mueller and Tasman glaciers. I recommend doing the Hooker glacier earlier in the morning with it being a very popular route as the day goes on. But if you have time, facing the 2,200 steps named the ‘stairway to heaven’ to the Sealy tarns and up to the Mueller hut is a definite must for those of us who love those birds-eye views and that mountain feeling. This gave incredible views of Hooker and Mueller glaciers and the Pukaki lake valley. If you plan far enough ahead, a night stay in the hut would be a great option, imagining waking up above the clouds. Sounds pretty epic to me.
There’s been a lot of moments where I’ve been very overwhelmed with how lucky I’ve been to have had these experiences and opportunities, and so I really want to encourage anyone who is eager to travel or study abroad to do it. It’s hard to think past the time where I’ll go home to England to finish my degree as travelling like I do now seems so normal. And the thing is, I love this way of life.
So if you are waiting or thinking of expanding your horizons, you don’t need to wait any longer. Buy that plane ticket and get yourself ready for adventuring like you never have before.
I promise you won’t regret it.