When we first started discussing CNY 2012, we were considering either India or Australia. We ruled India out just in case we were expecting a Hamish by the time the trip arrived (and we are!), so I did a fair amount of research on Australia. Turns out, Australia is large. Larger even than a CNY holiday. By August or so, Kyle suggested New Zealand and it was perfect.
Months ago when I was finalizing the big picture plans (dates, car rental, rough route) I knew Kyle was going to love it. We were going to rent a car that he would drive wherever his little heart desired all over the country. What I didn't realize was that the country would be so stunningly gorgeous!
We flew into Christchurch, one of the largest cities on the South Island (a whopping 344,000 people). Sadly, we arrived without our luggage. After a particularly nasty thunderstorm in Singapore as we left, our flight was seriously delayed arriving in Sydney. We (and several others) got a personal escort to our connection to Christchurch, but our luggage did not. We really weren't surprised when we arrived in New Zealand without bags, but we were pleasantly surprised at the comfort kit Qantas Airlines gave us and the promise to deliver our bags to us the next day, even though we'd be several hundred kilometers away by then.
With that promise in mind, we headed out immediately for the greater Canterbury region and the Southern Alps that run like a spine down the South Island. We got great open spaces, rolling hills, blue skies, mountains in the distance, and lots of very friendly cows and more skittish sheep.
These guys were totally crowding the fence, so Kyle held court for a bit.
Our trusty Hyundai Getz:
We made it to the Alps our first night, and spent the night at Lake Tekapo, a little town at the Southern end of one of several lakes at the base of the mountains. The approach to the town was beautiful. Tekapo and the other Alpine lakes in this region are a gorgeous turquoise blue thanks to the "rock flour" that is ground down by the glaciers and washed into the lakes below. This is SOOC (straight out of the camera) folks:
On our first evening we realized an unintended but exceptional byproduct of vacationing during summer in the Southern Hemisphere: the sun set at nearly 10 pm. There was so much day to enjoy! We could take our time soaking in scenery on the road for several hours and still have time to wander around when we got to our destination.
We spent the evening walking around town, visiting the tiny stone Church of the Good Shepherd (1935) and collie dog statue, a tribute to the sheepdogs that helped develop the region. We had dinner and considered a trip up to the observatory on Mt. John, but it had gotten cloudy (not good for star gazing) and it had been about 36 hours since we'd slept in a bed at that point, so instead we got cozy in our own little cabin with a view of the water and the Alps beyond.
Lake Tekapo lies at the base of the mountains, particularly Mount Cook or Aoraki, the tallest peak in Australasia (3755m), so we decided to head in that direction on Monday morning. The Mount Cook road approaches the mountain and the national park for 30 or so kilometers after winding around Tekapo and the other lakes.
But sadly, the closer we got the more apparent it became that the clouds covering Mt Cook's summit would not be lifting any time soon. We stopped for a picnic of raspberries we'd bought from a farmer in Canterbury, and then turned South to Otago.