I can't believe it, but today is our last full day in New Zealand. : ( These past few weeks have gone by so quickly! We've seen cities and natural wonders, and we've had the luckiest weather imaginable - SUNSHINE.
Since my last post, we've been bicycling on the South Island. We started on the west coast, following highway 6 along the Tasman Sea (which is the water separating NZ from Australia). After a couple days, we headed slightly inward to see what makes this part of New Zealand unique: the geography and the plant life.
Because New Zealand's southern mountains rise out of the sea only a short distance from the coastline, that stretch of land between the water and mountains gets A LOT of rain. Think about it, all the moisture that builds up over the sea moves toward land and, as it hits the mountains, the clouds move up and dump all their moisture in the same place, over and over again. This leads to rainforest growth and some awesome species of trees and ferns.
We spent two nights in the very remote Moeraki Wilderness Lodge learning about the trees and landscape. Much of this land is protected by the government now and it is original growth! That means it was never cut down or messed with by humans. So cool. We saw Rimu trees and Kahikatea trees which were probably over a thousand years old. We saw river eels and herons. And we became snacks for the pesky sand flies that thrive here --- we've still got bug bites! OH WELL.
New Zealand packs a lot of diverse landscapes into a small country. Once we traveled up over the mountains away from the coast, everything changed. No more lush green, now we were in drier mountain country. This is where the dramatic lakes and mountains are, and this is wine country. We stayed for two days at Wanaka, a charming small town on a lake, and then headed into the larger, "adventure capital" city of Queenstown.
Along the way, the biking was spectacular! Hills (but not too many), sunshine, and even a tail wind -- we were seriously lucky.
We said goodbye to our biking group here in Queenstown and hung around for an extra couple of days. There are a dozen ways to get an adrenaline rush in Queenstown (bungee jumping, anyone?), but that's not my speed. Instead, we hiked, wandered the shops, and relaxed with coffee and tea.
Our final big NZ adventure was taking a day trip yesterday out to Milford Sound. Milford is the northern-most sound (but it's really a fiord) in the Fiordland National Park and it was beautiful. It's the most visited because it's got a road (!) and a lodge. We bussed there, driving around the mountains for hours, then got on a boat to cruise the sound, and then hopped in a tiny 10-person airplane to fly over the mountains and back to Queenstown.
It was really spectacular. Beyond what I can explain. And what a treat to see the area from the ground, the water, and the air, all in brilliant sunshine. It helped create a cohesive picture of this natural wonder!
I took like a bajillion pictures of our Milford Sound day, it was so hard to narrow it down to these!!
So now we say goodbye to this beautiful and welcoming country and head on to country number two on our trip: Australia!