In search of snow, surf and sunshine in friendly New Zealand
As we settled into our seats on Quantas Airlines, the flight attendant announced our destination would be just three meals, two movies and a short nap away. I couldn’t help wondering if any country could be worth the effort. After 17 hours of travel we finally landed in Aukland, New Zealand exhausted but excited to start our first international adventure.
“Good Day! Welcome.” The greeting from a friendly local ‘kiwi’ filled us with hope. The following two weeks far exceeded our expectations for what went into my book as a wonderfully perfect winter holiday.
After a refreshing shower at the airport, we picked up our rented camper van and set off across this two-island country to discover, ski and explore the sites and amazing experiences that New Zealand has to offer. It took a bit to get the hang of driving (or in my case riding) on the opposite side of the road, but soon we were on our way and gaining confidence with every mile, every bridge, and every “give way” sign.
Starting on the north end of the north island at the Kauri Forest, we found some of the hardest wood on the planet, sampled delicious local foods, and ended up at a beautiful beach for our first night.
The rest of the week found us exploring other highlights on the north island like hot water beaches, venturing through underground black water caves, and climbing mountains for spectacular, postcard worthy views.
It was late September and the days were growing longer and warmer as spring began to arrive. At one local ski area on the north island, the snow was a melting memory and the resort had transitioned from skiing down the slopes to bobsledding down a twisting, winding concrete track. We decided to give it a try. A quick chairlift ride up was rewarded with a fast, furious and fun zoom down. After several runs we bid the hospitable locals farewell and headed on to find real snow.
Boarding a ferry for the South Island, we met another couple from Germany and listened to their tale of hardship and caution about the importance of being ever watchful while traveling.
While we had been alert from our first moment in this country, their first day in Aukland had not gone so well. Like us, they had gone to check out the sites but left all of their bags visible in the back of their van when they hiked up to take a photo at a popular tourist destination. They returned to find a window broken and all of their luggage stolen. They lost everything except the few things they carried with them that day. Lucky for them, that included their credit cards and passports.
I had often accused my husband of being paranoid because he was so careful about keeping our gear hidden and secure. After hearing this couple’s story, I thanked him for his vigilance and have become far more watchful myself.
When the ferry docked a short time later, we found ourselves in Able Tasmin National Park where we rented kayaks for the day. We were rewarded with empty beaches of white sand, trails to hike, and fresh seafood to sample. At a provisional park that night, we were treated with a long, hot soak and the fascination of watching the water swirl down the drain in the opposite direction from the U.S. Funny the things you notice when you cross the equator.
The next morning we continued further south toward Queensland and one of our most Remarkable finds of this international excursion.
This day was bright and sunny as we followed a narrow, twisting road up the side of a mountain with no guardrails to The Remarkables ski area. As we wound up the side of the mountain I imagined what it must be like to do this during a serious winter storm. The views were spectacular but the treacherous drop off made the hair on my neck stand up at the thought.
Although taking this vacation in mid-September proved not the best for winter skiing, we did get in a few days of warm, spring skiing and were rewarded with amazing memories, and remarkable finds that included Treble Cone, Coronet Peak, the Remarkables, Mount Hutt and Mount Olympus.
If you go to New Zealand during the U.S. summer, you’ll get to experience their real winter and have the opportunity to explore more than 15 different ski areas. The South Island has nine commercial ski areas with easy access from Queenstown or Christchurch. Here you can expect to find dramatic scenery, great snow and diverse runs. The North Island’s Mount Ruapehu, with its two commercial fields, is the country’s only skiable volcano. View more stories by Debra, http://www.urocksafety.com.
WHERE: Resurrection Pass Trail, Hope to Cooper Landing
WHEN: late July to mid-August
A glorious 38-mile end-to-end ride on the Kenai Peninsula that offers U.S. Forest Service cabins along its well-marked path. Explore miles of trail marked by lakes, open valleys and sweeping mountain views. It may not be Switzerland, but a few days on this trail (most people overnight, but making it a three-day trip gives you time to explore on foot, too) will remind you why Alaska is so special.
INSIDER TIP: Book cabins early; the weekends fill up fast. .
INFO: https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/chugach/recreation/camping-cabins/?recid=4832&actid=101 takes you to the cabin listings. Recreation.gov (1-877-444-6777) is where you go to make reservations.