Five…six…seven… the flat stone skips from circle to circle, dancing across an otherwise untouched surface. Rings spin outward like ladies’ dresses, swirling, then subsiding into silence. We had driven down – to the Catlins, a remote stretch of coast on New Zealand’s South Island – to skim stones and sleep in late. Peace is often found in the stillness of reflection.
Once, twice, three times - three different years - I have been here to watch the sun send its rays in a final, flirting gesture towards The Remarkables, That first view I claimed as my own, a 12-month resident in this mountainous enclave. The second glimpse came quickly, a brief stopover on my way to somewhere else. And this, the third period of Queenstown, has been a two-week vacation inadvertently extended into seven. But, no matter how long I stay or how often I leave, always those snowy peaks await my return.
“I’ll be back” is a constant phrase among visitors here. Something about the New Zealand town – it’s energy, it’s friendly locals, it’s reputation for adventure, or, simply, it’s incomparable scenery – strikes a note of nostalgia in everyone.
It is, I think, a reminder that – at least in some places - life can be a constant holiday.
The Te Paki sand dunes, an unexpected stretch of desert environment along the furthest north coast of New Zealand, guard the ocean like a science fiction scene. For a few dollars, travelers can rent an old, styrafoam boogie board and attempt to surf from the summits of these monstrous hills. But even the shortest dune takes 30 minutes or more to climb. My travel companion and I needed to rest after each slide down, knowing the hike back up would be a trip of seemingly endless limit. “Throwim way leg,” I would tell her, as we dug our toes into the sand. Like the scene from a science fiction movie, the Te Paki sand dunes seem to grow out of nowhere. One moment you are driving through the woods, and the next moment, these giant golden mounds block off the horizon. Rent a board from one of the neighboring stores or resident houses, and start climbing. It may take 30 minutes to reach the top — but the sense of isolation and victory, plus the jolt of speed-adrenaline from sliding down these amazing dunes — is worth it.
At the bottom of New Zealand’s south island, the Milford Sound stretches its vast forests and pristine springs from coast to coast. Milford is considered one of the Wonders of the Natural World. The water here is so pure and cold, we could store our Montheith’s beers inside it like a fridge…
A suspension bridge over the Kawarau River marks the world home of bungee (bungy) jumping: the place where, in 1988, adventurists AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch leapt off a platform, attached only with an elastic rope. Now, their enterprise has spanned the globe, with six different bungee experiences in New Zealand alone. Plummet over a ravine from the Nevis, or slide off the Auckland Bridge. AJ Hackett is the oldest and safest name in bungee, and New Zealand provides some stunning scenery to accompany your jump.
Trained guides lead visitors up the Fox and Fran Josef glaciers, safeguarding both the ice field and their climbing groups. Located on the South Island’s western coast, the Fox and Fran Josef glaciers are among the steepest commercially-guided glaciers in the world. With crampons and pick, climbers carve their way along the solid, snowy mountains and consider the glacial movements that shaped the country’s unusual landscape.
Of all the long-distance hiking trails in New Zealand, the track between Sandfly Point and Glade Wharf, in Milford National Park, is touted as the country’s greatest. Milford Sound is considered the eighth natural wonder of the world, so interested hikers should plan and book ahead of time to reserve a spot and beat the crowds. The trail can take several days to walk, but hikers can stay in huts placed strategically along the route by the Department of Conservation. In all this untouched fauna, you might just spot an elusive kiwi bird.
The dusky dolphin is known as an entertainer, performing tricks and flips for the human crowds on Kaikoura Dolphin Encounter boats. But you aren’t limited to watching from the bow; you can strap on flippers and swim with them in their natural habitat. With informative guides, the experience is both a lesson in conservation education, and marine life friendship.