From the first time I set foot on New Zealand’s wild South Island, I fell in love.
And since that day in November 2012, I’ve kept going back. Since then, I’ve crawled through blue ice tunnels on Franz Josef glacier and sailed along the misty waters of Milford Sound. I think that’s when I lost my heart here.
Perhaps it was the winding drive to the port town of Akaroa, or maybe the blow of the mighty Sperm whale, just metres in front of me in Kaikoura. The day I saw my first endemic Yellow-Eyed penguin on the Otago Peninsula will always stick in my mind, as will the moment two young and playful Hooker sea lion males chased our little ‘tinnie’ across the Otago waters.
The afternoon I found myself nearly blown over the cliffs at wintery, windy Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost point, was probably not the most comfortable visit – but still memorable. The Trans-alpine train ride across rugged Arthur’s Pass was equally as wintery but a whole lot less windy.
But it was the breathtaking drive from Queenstown to Wanaka that brought the tears to my eyes – and I will never forget rounding that corner on top of the hill and having to pull over, while a cobalt blue slowly inked across my windscreen. At first I thought I was facing a cloudless sky. But I was looking at a lake. Lake Wanaka. And I couldn’t find where the skyline ended and the glassy lake began. When I looked a little harder, I saw the snow-capped mountains line the horizon. Planet Earth’s raw beauty. Three years later, I went skydiving over this very scene. It is just as stunning from 15,000ft above.