It was just a week after my grandmother passed away when my father made the long trek to visit.
Well to be exact, it was only six days. A six-day-old wound still raw, still bringing a tear to the eye.
It was exactly what we both needed.
When my father stepped onto the tarmac of the New Plymouth airport, I smiled larger than life. To see his face.. here.. in another country.. it was indescribable. I was overjoyed.
I knew our trip would fly by. I had packed our 10 day schedule with more than 50 hours of driving and a list of adventures including one of the most popular hikes in the country.
February 1 – Day One:
We kept it easy.
A walk around town, a nice meal and a wander through the Festival of Lights at Pukekura Park.
February 2 – Day Two:
We jumped in our temporary home, a Toyota Hiace campervan, and headed to Rotorua for the first leg of our trip.
That evening, we toured the Mitai Maori village. While this was a tourist attraction, it far exceeded my expectations. My father was in awe. He made friends with one of the hosts (naturally, as he loves chatting with anyone he deems as “cool”) and we feasted on a hangi – traditional meal cooked underground.
It was hands down, one of the coolest experiences. It was genuine, not too crowded or overdone and worth every bit of money.
To top off the night, we walked through red wood trees on suspended bridges. The night walk offered large lanterns in the trees that made the wander feel that much more enchanting.
February 3 – Day Three:
We took a kayak trip across Lake Rotoiti. At one point we briefly stopping in a cave, which was more like a crack in a rock, and had a peek at glowworms.
The highlight of the paddle was on the other side of the lake – a hot springs.
Not only did the natural warm water comfort our muscles but also made jumping in the cold river a conceivable option. There was even a slide off the end of one of the three docks, which made for some extra fun.
While this was an impeccably photographic journey, it did lead to the damage of my phone. This does not need to be detailed but basically made things a bit difficult and resulted in the purchase of a crap, temporary phone.
That night, we camped close to the Tongariro Crossing and admired the incredible night sky.
February 4 – Day Four:
It was an early start to Saturday. We were at the trail head just after 6am for what would be the most miserable hike of my father’s life.
But we did it.
We conquered the world renowned trek of volcanic landscape – one of which is still active. Red and black rocks, blue pools, valleys of nothingness, natural bush, a rushing river..
Strong gusts of bone-chilling wind, sunburnt faces and sweat of hard work…
My dad hated it.
…And it was his favourite part of the trip.
February 5 – Day Five:
Sunday, we took the Interislander ferry across the Cook Straight to arrive in the glorious sounds of the South Island.
Once in Picton, I allowed my father to drive us to Nelson. We figured he should at least try out what it’s like to drive on the left side of the road. And, it was only a two hour drive.
I laughed every time he swiped the window wipers instead of the indicators.
Unfortunately, we did not explore Nelson. We probably could have but there was no need to push ourselves and we were in for a full day of driving the next morning, so we packed it in early and got some shut-eye.
February 6 – Day Six:
We had the option to drive 6hrs and 20 or 7hrs, with a stop in Punakaiki to see the pancake rocks.
We opted for the latter.
A few hours after checking out these perplexing rock formations, we were in Franz Josef Glacier.
But the entire west coast was engulfed in aggressive clouds that dumped an insane amount of rain. So my dad and I decided to check out the West Coast Wildlife Centre and see some kiwi birds.
How cute they were! There were just three but one had been sectioned off as they readied him for release into the wild. This was a little sad as he had apparently made friends with another little fuzzy chick and the pair were running wild trying to get to one another.
Obviously this would be impossible because, let’s face it, the bird is useless. Cute, but absolutely useless.
February 7 – Day Seven:
Before heading further south and then back up toward the centre of the South Island, my father and I did a couple quick hikes to check out the glaciers.
While it was incredibly beautiful, they were fairly far and difficult to get a decent photo of. It would be great if I had money to burn and could buy a guided tour, but I am a broke human being and could not afford such luxuries.
It didn’t matter though. We were outside, seeing New Zealand, together.
That night, we were 5.5 hrs away in Lake Tekapo. The 471 km, or 293 mile, drive brought us in the thick of the mountains and in the International Dark Night Reserve.
This was the most anticipated part of the trip, for me. I couldn’t wait to show my father how incredible the skies were in New Zealand. And with the added bonus of being in the Dark Night Reserve? I was antsy to see the Milky Way in detail never before imagined.
But by the time it was dark enough to see stars, the clouds had rolled in and blanketed the prime sight. Such is life.
February 8 – Day Eight:
We woke at an incredibly early hour on Wednesday so we could make our 10am swim with dolphins in Akaroa.
I have visited this little French village once before and saw the incredibly cute, tiny Hector’s dolphin, which are only found in New Zealand.
But this time, we were to slip on stylish wetsuits and swim with them in their natural habitat.
It didn’t turn out as expected.
We were the lucky few to not have the friendly creature swim around us. Though, we were close a couple of times and we were fortunate enough to have them poke up at the side of the boat.
A nice lunch later, we were back in the van and headed to Hanmer Springs for the night.
Because of the devastating earthquake that destroyed Kaikoura, the main road between Christchurch (near Akaroa) and Picton (for the ferry) was closed and we had to cut through the centre of the South Island before heading north. Hence, the stop in Hanmer Springs.
Unfortunately I had misread my father’s flight details which resulted in a rushed drive back to New Plymouth the next day.
February 9 – Day Nine:
Once across the Cook Straight, we drove the four hours from Wellington to Taranaki so my dad wouldn’t miss his afternoon flight the following day.
It was somewhat a silent drive as we admired the landscape changes and exhaustion ultimately took hold.
February 10 – Day Ten:
When I waved goodbye and watched him board his plane that afternoon, I bawled like a child.
What a strange feeling it is to watch your parent leave to head back across the globe to their life in another country. What an odd emotion to climb in a car you lived in close quarters to your father with for more than a week, alone. I sat in silence and absorbed all that I had seen, and all that I had felt.
Our incredible adventure saw us swoop the country in one epic, fast-paced tour of 3700 km (2299 miles) of ever-fascinating landscapes.
It was the trip of a lifetime that, oddly enough, celebrated a lifetime.
Until next time