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The Southlands

A Walkabout New Zealand, Part 3

Story by Caleb Heisey February 14th, 2017

THE GATES OF HAAST

The road across the Southern Alps was long and winding: an endless incline of rock and ancient rainforests. Trickling waterfalls gave way to thundering rapids - we were passing through the Gates of Haast. We inched our way across the one lane bridge, making our way eastward towards Wanaka.

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WANAKA

The east side of the island is marred by deep lakes and rugged vegetation - it's a stark contrast to the rainforests of the west coast. The regions of Wanaka and Hawea are known for their wineries and hiking.

We chose the later.

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mOUNT iron. a surprise.

We chose a steep climb to the top of Mt. Iron - a massive hill situated in the middle of the valley. It overlooks both lakes and offers a unique perspective of the town below. We took a rest on a bench. That is when Gus turned to me and asked me to marry him.

Above the rest of the world, on the other side of the planet; I said yes.

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We visited the town's annual crafts festival and celebrated with some well-deserved grub.

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onward through otago

Although the trip to Queenstown was short, the road took us up and down winding ribbons of asphalt. Bikers sped down the inclines at impossible speeds.

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QUEENSTOWN

We could start to feel Fall all around us as we drove into Queenstown. We found our Airbnb and unpacked. The "Remarkables" stood in all their splendor outside our window. Some say this mountain range was named by early settlers at sunset, in awe of their beauty.

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We took the day to indulge: eating, drinking, and enjoying the comforts of Queenstown. After lunch, we took the famous lift to the top of the mountain that overlooks the city. We had coffee and watched the boats come in and out of the harbor. It was a great time to sit back and let our travels sink in; happy to be engaged.

(The rings were made from New Zealand beach gold and crafted in Nelson.)

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We took the afternoon to drive {carefully} through the vineyards of Queenstown, stopping here and there - sampling local wine, cheese, and chocolate pairings.

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TO THE FIORDLANDS

No rest for the weary.. on to the pinnacle of our trip: Milford's Sound.

Gus and I often would say during our drives, "are you getting mountain fatigue, yet?" There was so much beauty everywhere we went, that it seemed as if we started to take it for granted. Then we turned into the Fiordlands and we never thought that again.

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The road from Queenstown to Milford Sound passed through several climates, dramatically changing at every turn.

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This was another moment I felt completely transported into Middle Earth. Mist rolled down the black rock cliffs that surrounded us. Thousands of small waterfalls trickled down and disappeared into the piles of shale. I swear I could see Gollum slinking from boulder to boulder.

We stopped at a redlight... 20 minutes later it turned green. We were waiting for our turn to go through the longest, darkest tunnel I have ever driven. We were almost to Milford Sound.

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MILFORD'S SOUND

Milford Sound is something you can't explain. It is a place you can not capture in pictures or comprehend in words. Scale is nothing here. And we were embarking on an overnight cruise to witness its vastness.

We had been keeping an eye on the weather maps for the past few days (MET service ftw.) The highly variable and unpredictable New Zealand weather finally made up its mind, and it landed on rain. Although we were disappointed in this turn of bad luck, we found out that the Milford landscape was just as beautiful, dramatic, and awe-inspiring in the rain.

We boarded our vessel, the Wanderer, and disembarked for total isolation. We brewed tea and warmed ourselves in the main cabin.

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Waterfalls were engorged and spilled out in huge volumes into the Sound. We were told that the number of waterfalls nearly double during a rainstorm. After a very cozy night in the middle of the Sound, we woke to weakening showers. We were offered the opportunity to swim. Some teenagers from Japan decided it was a good idea to do summersaults into the icy waters. We decided it was not. Brrrrr...

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After another pod of Dolphins came to greet us, we sailed into the dock and made our way ashore. A helicopter dropped off supplies to the isolated caretakers and captains who live there year around.

We turned on the car and cranked the heat. It was time to finish our journey.

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TO TE-ANAU. a rest.

We were officially backtracking to Queenstown to where we would be taking a flight to Auckland, and then the following day, a flight to the US. Our drive back gave us a new perspective of the landscape. We found a few exits a long our way across dense forests, raging rapids and a strange, blue fog coming down the mountain.

We had a night planned in Te-Anau, a rural town with amazing hiking, caves, and adventure sports. The rain followed us and it was relentless. There was nothing to be done about it and we were more than ok with that. We let ourselves this one night to stay in and binge watch movies. Exhaustion started to set in.

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We arrived in Queenstown, ditched our trusty hatchback, and took a short flight back to Auckland.

Auckland: there & back again

And like old Bilbo Baggins, we were back from where we started. Auckland was warm and sunny and it was a welcome change. We dropped our things at the hotel room and decided to go out with a bang: yakitori and cheap beer. We stuffed ourselves with an endless supply of lovely foods on tiny sticks.


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With the sun fading, we walked along the harbor, searching for a place to have one last drink in New Zealand. We reminisced about our favorite parts of this 2 week road trip. There were endless suggestions, but it was decided that the entire thing was the best; that was that.

It was time to go home.

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We drove ~2,200 km from Auckland to Milford Sound. We took 7 planes from 5 airports: Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Fiji, Auckland, and Queenstown. We crossed 2 continents and 3 countries.

It was a trip of a lifetime. Thank you Gus, for always being on this adventure with me.