We’re back from our first international trip of 2018, which took us to several places in Asia for lots of different projects including an international Christian school in Thailand, a university ministry in Malaysia, a foreign exchange program in China and more. But before we jumped into those filming projects, we crossed off a few things on our bucket list and visited New Zealand and Australia.
New Zealand is one of those places I think most people want to go, and probably most often because of the beautiful scenery they saw in some blockbuster trilogy. For us, it was definitely about the scenery, but it was also about the adventure. We wanted to see as much of the country as we could, so we booked flights into the North island and out of the South island and rented a minivan to traverse over 1,300 miles. And we only had one week to do it.
We hit the ground running from the Auckland airport, averaging 6 hours of driving each day and an equal amount of time hiking, stopping each night at a different campground cuddled up in the back of a Toyota Previa. One of the biggest surprises for us was the diversity of the landscape and how fast it changed before our eyes as the road passed beneath our wheels. We saw beautiful black sand beaches, green rolling hills, geothermal hot springs, surreal turquoise-blue lakes, glorious glaciers and wide valleys cut by ones that had receded. And that was just on the first day!
The town of Rotorua was one of our stops on our first day in New Zealand, and it’s renowned for its geothermal activity and Maori culture. We enjoyed beautiful gardens in the town center and then soaked in a secluded hot spring that dyed our bathing suits orange from all the natural minerals.
On our second day, we did an 8-hour hike called the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which goes around, up and over volcanoes and crater lakes with views that took our breath away. The highlight of the hike was about halfway, when we came across the three “emerald green lakes”, but really two are emerald green and one is a beautiful turquoise color.
On our third day, we took the 3-hour ferry between the North and South islands, conversing with locals and being entertained by a great folk band that just decided to set up and play some beautiful music.
On our fourth day, we visited some of New Zealand’s most photographed natural landmarks including Lake Matheson, a picture-perfect lake that offers mirror-like reflections of the mountains behind it and Fox Glacier. Then we hiked downstream from the glacier for a plunge in its freezing cold glacial pools and stopped to see the lone tree in Wanaka Lake. These sights on our way to Milford Sound were only a glimpse of the beauty to come. Up until this point in our trip, we’d only been eating camp meals, so after lunch we washed our dishes in crystal clear water so cold that our hands went numb, and then splurged for dinner in Queenstown — a HUGE lamb shank with scalloped potatoes at a take-away shop famous for just that. YUM! For the first time in many days, we were finally FULL!
Our fifth day, we toured Milford Sound by boat, one of the more famously beautiful fjords nestled in the dramatic Fjordlands National Park. When our captain and tour guide gave us the weather report, he told us to enjoy the “liquid sunshine” in the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world (with an average annual rainfall of 252 inches). After the wet boat tour, we headed to the only place where we spent two consecutive nights, at the base of Aoraki (the tribal, Maori name for Mount Cook), the highest mountain in New Zealand at 12,218 feet. We spent many hours hiking around that mountain, waiting for the clouds to lift to catch a glimpse of the elusive peak to no avail. The clouds even blocked our view of a lunar eclipse, despite our seemingly perfect plan to be in the International Dark Sky Reserve for the event.
On our last day, we made a quick pass through Christchurch and jumped on a plane to Australia. Now on to the next adventure!
Immediately when the plane’s wheels touched the tarmac, a huge bucket list item got crossed off – our sixth continent! Then, the next day, another one – scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. What an amazing experience! The reef extended endlessly through the clear blue water, allowing us to see all kinds of magical sea life, including turtles gulping down jellyfish (or “stingers” in Ozzie English), reef sharks cruising swiftly, and stingrays camouflaged in the sand.
The next day it was back on the road – this time in a Hyundai Santa Fe. We had two weeks to cover over 3,500 miles mostly stretching along the east coast of the country, and once again we were surprised by the diversity of the landscape. It wasn’t so much the quickly changing ecosystems like in New Zealand, but more so the contrast of what we were seeing to our preconceptions about what Australia looked like. We barely saw the red-dirt, “outback” bushland that we were expecting, and instead found lush rainforests, green grasslands, granite mountains, and of course paradisiacal beaches. Australia is an outdoorsman’s adventure land, a surfer’s paradise (and there’s even a town named Surfers Paradise to prove it!), and a wildlife enthusiast’s dream. We did so many fun hikes, laid out on (and drove on) the softest and whitest sand beaches in the world, and spotted some of the most unique animals we’ve ever seen.