Most people assume I’m exaggerating when I say that it’s impossible to spend too much time in New Zealand. But, it’s true, and I learned it again myself when I returned in October. Over the past 15 years I’ve made more than a dozen trips to New Zealand, and I look forward to every one, but this time I was somehow unprepared for the pure awesome that is New Zealand.
Over ten days, from the Marlborough Sounds and wine country to Wanaka, I fell deeply in love with the country all over again. It was peak springtime and the tulips, lavender and gorse were in full bloom, and new leaves were just starting to burst on trees and vines.
I started my trip with 2 nights in the Marlborough Sounds and 2 in the heart of wine country. Marlborough was the perfect area to relax into my trip, and Bay of Many Coves Lodge is a destination unto itself. Great hiking, boating, biking and more are available, but it’s equally important to leave time to relax. Birdsong is the predominant sound, and the aquatic life is amazing; I would sit on the deck each morning with a flat white, watching seals, sea lions and dolphins whip huge schools of fish into a frenzy as they worked together for their meal. In the evening, after the day’s activities, it was more of the same, only this time with a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc as the water calmed into a perfect mirror while the sun set.
In addition to sampling delicious wines and finding new favorites, I feasted on a bounty of fresh seasonal food: greenshell mussels out of the water for only a few minutes before they were cooked for me, rhubarb that was pulled and immediately cooked into a delicious compote to stir, still warm, into my yogurt, asparagus so freshly cut that it didn’t need any cooking at all, spring lamb so tender I didn’t need a knife…I could go on and on.
From Marlborough, I continued down to Wanaka – one of those places so special that I hesitate to even write about it, lest the secret gets out.
When I arrived in Wanaka, it felt like I’d stepped right into a postcard. It’s the best of New Zealand in a perfect capsule – snowcapped mountains leading to lush emerald green fields that run right down to deep lakes that are hundreds of feet deep. All this yet still close to a major airport, on the edge of a wine region, and bordering a handful of national parks, conservation lands, and mountain ranges. I had to remind myself to blink, as I promptly filled up the memory card on my camera.
This little town has something to offer everyone. There’s a variety of accommodation and enough good restaurants that it’s difficult to choose. Activities abound, and the major challenge is figuring out which ones to leave out. I settled on doing a 4WD trip and a boat trip on Lake Wanaka with one of my favorite guides, and I loved them both.
I also ended up with a perfectly clear afternoon for a helicopter flight! I’ve been lucky enough to fly a lot in New Zealand, but this flight was my favorite. Landing at a hidden alpine lake with waterfalls roaring all around you? No problem! How about flying the length of Milford Sound out to the wild West Coast? Stopping on a deserted beach, and again at a seal nursery to check out the new babies? Why not! What about approaching from below a hanging glacier, then hovering there for as long as you want in order to get a perfect photo of blue ice from your aircraft? Easy! Oh, and then afternoon tea and a snowball fight at a private mountain chalet where you’re so close to Mount Aspiring that it feels like you can reach out and touch it? Done!
I flew home still abuzz from a magical trip, and I absolutely cannot wait to return to my favorite place in the world.
All photos taken by Kit Schultze