The Best Weekend Getaway

Christchurch is a rapidly developing city. Being the largest city in the South Island—with a population of 375,000 people—there is plenty of excitement within the city to keep one’s self occupied. However, it is always nice to have a change in scenery every now and then (those with a wandering heart will understand). The best Christchurch-getaway can be reached within half a day and offers a source of relaxation and stunning nature.

Queenstown:

The 480 km journey to Queenstown seems to fly by when driving through some of the most stunning landscape in all of the South Island. The first part of the journey is through Mackenzie Country—which formerly was a sheep farming area and has now turned into a major tourist attraction in New Zealand. Also the largest basin in New Zealand, Mackenzie Country is home to the town of Lake Tekapo. This small town of only 370 residents offers one of New Zealand’s most popular and pure lakes.

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The most popular spot in Lake Tekapo is The Church of the Good Shepherd. The view of the lake and the church offers stunning photo opportunities, so much so that it is extremely rare to capture this scene without getting a herd of tourists in the photo as well.

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After leaving Lake Tekapo, the journey to Queenstown is halfway finished. The rest of the journey is just as stunning, with views of Mount Cook—the tallest mountain in New Zealand, Lake Hawea—which lies in a glacial valley, Lindis Pass—which is an important connecting point between Mackenzie Country and Otago, and numerous waterfalls and rivers.

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Queenstown itself is the adventure capital of the world; it is home to the original bungee jump along with opportunities to jetboat, parasail, zipline, skydive, and mountain bike. But these adventure sports can be quite pricey. Luckily, Queenstown is also home to some of the most scenic walks in the world—and all of them are free.

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The most difficult walk in Queenstown in the Ben Lomand trek, with the peak of the Ben Lomand mountain being the goal destination.

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At 1,748 meters, this climb is no easy feat; at the bottom of the Skyline Access Road to the summit of Ben Lomand, the journey can take well over four hours, not forgetting that it is about another four hours to return to the original starting point. It is also possible to take the Gondola up part of the route, which will save quite a fair bit of time and energy. Stopping at the Gondola view point is necessary no matter what, as the iconic view of Queenstown can be experienced from the observation deck.

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From the Gondola to the summit of Ben Lomand is the most challenging as it is a constant uphill trek from the next 2-3 hours.

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However, the pain from the climb becomes secondary to the breath-taking views that are present the entire way. Once at the Ben Lomand Saddle, it is a steep climb up the ridge of the mountain and in many places requires climbing on all fours to not fall of the edge.

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However, there is no better feeling than reaching the summit of this mountain; instantly a panoramic view of Mounts Earnslaw and Aspiring, along with the famous Lake Wakatipu come into sight. While often faced with sub-zero temperatures at the top, it is difficult to leave this unique view.

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However, Ben Lomand is not the only trek in Queenstown that offers picture-perfect views. Only a ten minute drive from Queenstown, a much flatter and easier walk is present at Lake Hays. This 8km trek offers sightings of Tuis and Pukekos, a reflective lake view of the surrounding hills, and the perfect tire swing to watch the sunset behind the overlooking mountains.

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Another scenic point is found 45km from Queenstown; Glenorchy is a small settlement near the northern end of Lake Wakatipu and offers peace and tranquility from the overwhelming bustle of tourists in the city center of Queenstown.

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The most famous point in Glenorchy is the old red boat shed, which is often the iconic picture associated with the local news broadcasts on television.

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Behind this boat shed lies the most beautiful pier, one in which pictures do not even do it justice.

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With so much diverse adventure available in such close proximity to Christchurch, it is difficult to run out of things to do or see. And for the wandering heart, the journeys always offers new hidden gems to discover each time this scenic path is taken.

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How to Road Trip through the South Island: Part 1

There are not many places in the world where you can visit reflective lakes, world-renowned observatories, desert landscape, rain forests, glaciers, waterfalls, fiords, golden sand beaches, and breath-taking mountain ranges in less than one week. But when visiting the South Island of New Zealand, all of that is possible plus more!

Starting with Christchurch as my base-point, it was a fairly straight and simple route to the first stop of the trip: Lake Tekapo.

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One of the first pictures I had ever really seen of New Zealand was of Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepard with an especially bright star-filled sky as the backdrop. So of course I was over the top ecstatic to finally get to see this place in person! After driving through the foggy and rainy Mackenzie Country for a good two hours, Lake Tekapo appeared out of nowhere.

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Unfortunately the weather was still extremely overcast  when we arrived so the famous mountain backdrop was not visible—but nevertheless it was still incredibly beautiful. Even on a dark and gloomy day the water was still bright blue and the whole area packed with tourists!

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The next morning the weather was much more cooperative, so I decided to go up to the Mt. John Observatory for a 360 degree view of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding Mackenzie Country.

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While there was unfortunately not enough time to stick around until evening and star gaze, the views of the early afternoon were beyond spectacular.

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After an hour of absorbing these remarkable views it was back on the road to hit the next landmark of the trip: Mt. Cook—the highest mountain in New Zealand. On the way out of Tekapo it was mostly the desert landscape of Mackenzie Country.

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Then,as seems to be the pattern when traveling through New Zealand, the scenery drastically changed after turning a corner and Lake Pukaki seemed to have popped out of nowhere!

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I was so taken aback and stunned by the beauty of this alpine lake that a quick pit stop was necessary to take some photos and absorb the beauty of my surroundings.

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Then, it was back in the car to continue the trek to Mt. Cook.  Like most of New Zealand, the drive was full of diverse landscapes.

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And then, just as had happened with Lake Pukaki, Mt. Cook came in to sight from under the layer of clouds. It was massive and it was amazing. With three summits and a glacier on either side, it is no wonder why it is one of the most popular spots for tourists and climbers.

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Wishing there was more time to actually climb Mt. Cook, it was back in the car for third stop of the day: Arrowtown. Once a booming gold mining settlement, this quaint town borders the Arrow River and has a current population of a little over 2,000 people. It is an absolutely charming town, with the Main Street not taking longer than four minutes to walk.

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Arrowtown has done a wonderful job of preserving the history of the town. During the gold rush, many Chinese immigrants came to Arrowtown in search of gold. However, they were shunned from the town and forced to take up camp on the outskirts. The small huts they used to live in are still preserved and it is a humbling experience to walk inside these former homes.

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It was then off to the final stop of the day: Queenstown! I couldn’t really imagine Queenstown surpassing any of the other natural beauties I had seen earlier that day, but when The Remarkables (the name for this mountain range is definitely fitting) came into sight, I actually had to hold back tears because it was so beautiful.

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I don’t think a more perfect setting could have been drawn up for this town, and I fully understood why it was one of the most popular places to visit in New Zealand.  With only 12,500 actual residents, Queenstown sees nearly two million visitors on an annual basis!

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Queenstown is not only popular for the stunning scenery, but also for the nearly 200 adventure activities it has accessible to tourists. One of the most popular, and longest standing activities, is bungee jumping. Opened by AJ Hacket in the 1980’s, Queenstown is home to the first permanent commercial bungee site at the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge.

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So it almost felt mandatory that I take a leap off this bridge. I have always had a fear of heights, but for some reason I jumped off the bridge without any hesitation (with some motivation being that the $190 fee was non-refundable, even if you don’t jump). However, I have never screamed so loud in my entire life. But the adrenaline rush and confidence boost was well worth it and I can honestly say doing that jump has been one of my proudest accomplishments in my life.

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On the way back from bungee jumping I stopped to see the Shotover River. This river is famous for the jet boat you can take up and down the river at full speed. Prince William and Princess Kate have even done it there! But with the rush I had just had from bungee jumping, I was fine sitting this one out.

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I ended the day in Queenstown with a sunset hike and a stunning view of Lake Wakatipu.

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I couldn’t imagine New Zealand getting any more spectacular. Little did I know that the next day would surpass all my expectations.