On January 6th 2012, I touched down in New Zealand for the first time. At the time I was tired from the flight and the jump in time zone (I only lived through 2hrs of that day), but I think deep down, I knew that I would want to stay here. Four years on, I’m still in love with the country, and I’m working hard at seeing as much of it as possible, but still some areas remain unexplored
It was a long time coming, but on Christmas day, myself and my partner headed north from Christchurch, and inland towards our destination. Just north of the city, a lorry heading the other way, threw up a large rock which hit my windscreen leaving a large chip and crack. A couple of hours later, deep in the winding roads of the heartland, a speeding twat overtook me then proceeded to nearly crash in front of me. It was not the start to the holiday I had planned. But it was a gorgeous sunny day, and just south of Murchison we stopped for lunch at Maruia Falls. We’d driven this road a few times before but never noticed this place, but I’d read about it somewhere and made a point to look for it. It was worth the stop to sit at the base of the falls and watch the river flow over it and head on down the river beyond.
We pulled into the sleepy village of St Arnaud, nestled within Nelson Lakes National Park in the late afternoon. The clouds had drawn in, but we headed first to the shore of Lake Rotoiti before checking into our hostel. It was, after all Christmas day, and I had made sure to bring provisions to cook a delicious Christmas dinner. Satiated, we took a wander through the sleepy village before having an early night.
The next morning, I convinced my partner that hiking Mt Robert would be a good idea. It was a gorgeous day, and an excellent way to get a different view on the expanse of Lake Rotoiti, one of two large lakes in the National Park. From the car park at the start of the hike, a short track leads to a lookout where a different view of the lake is given as well as rolling hills for miles on end in the opposite direction.
I’m not normally one for sitting still on holiday. I usually like to make sure I’m seeing and doing as much as possible in a new place, but it was so easy to just wind down and chill here. Growing up in Scotland, swimming is generally restricted to heated pools, with only the foolhardy taking a dip in the sea (which I had been known to do in my childhood). In New Zealand, summer is all about outdoors and this generally means that most Kiwis are water confident. They swim in the sea, in rivers and in lakes. They dive bomb and belly flop and jump from rocks without a care in the world. So following the hike, my partner went into the lake for a swim. It hadn’t even entered my head to bring bathers with me as this just wasn’t the done thing back in Scotland, but watching all the families playing in and around the water, I soon regretted it. But sitting on a bench in the shade, slapping away sandflies, it was an incredible feeling to just breath and be present. There was no wishing to be anywhere, no wishing for something to happen, no thinking about the past or the future, just simply staring out at the beautiful landscape and enjoying it. Eventually though, hunger took over, and we went to the main eatery in town, the Alpine Lodge for pizza. Their outdoor beer garden overlooks a river and the nearby mountains, and it was a gorgeous spot to enjoy a cold drink.
The next day we had a bit of time to kill. There are a lot of options for walks in the area, from short local explorations, to mountains to climb, to multi-day tramps. Whilst my partner relaxed at the main bay, I headed off on a nature walk round the peninsula. There wasn’t a lot of fauna to see, but plenty of flora, and although the lake was hidden from view for the majority of it, there were some breaks in the trees which afforded a differing view of the lake and Mt Robert. Reaching almost the whole distance round to West Bay, I cut back inland and back to the pier. We had arranged for a private boat tour up the lake to see Whiskey Falls. It was another gloriously sunny day, and it was perfect conditions for a cruise around the lake. Near the far end of the lake, he berthed and took us on a short walk through the forest to the 40m tall pencil waterfall that was visible in a small clearing in the trees. The waterfall can also be reached on a long walk along the west shore of the lake, but it was nice to get out on the water.
I was still keen to have fun on the water when we returned to St Arnaud, so I hired a kayak for an hour and happily paddled about from one bank to the other, listening to the birds, and watching the ducks float around. My partner had another swim, and although quiet compared to New Zealand tourism standards, it was a busy little place, buzzing with happy people, families and excited children. With fewer foreign tourists, and mainly Kiwi visitors, it was nice to embrace and feel part of the Kiwi summer culture. Unfortunately, this also included sandflies. Around many waterways in the country, these persistent creatures vie for your blood, and using insect repellent is a must. After a delicious BBQ buffet at the Alpine Lodge, I had envisioned sitting by the lakeside as the sun set, watching the colours change as dusk took over, but instead, I was hounded by swarms of the pesky flies that danced around my face. After a short time, I was forced to abandon my desire, and head indoors.
Heading back to Christchurch, we took a detour to another large lake in the National Park, Lake Rotoroa. Being on a no-through road, it sees less traffic than Lake Rotoiti, and as such is less developed and feels more secluded. I loved Lake Rotoiti, but I adored Lake Rotoroa. It was quiet and simple yet staggeringly beautiful, and again there are many walks in the area. We would have gone for another cruise on this lake had there been someone around to organise it, but the boat lay moored up with no-one in attendance. Instead, we followed the river away from the lake for a short distance before heading back. I could have happily stayed here for days.
We stopped for lunch on the west side of the Lewis Pass, and sat at a picnic bench surrounded by mountains. On the other side, we were also able to stop at a large rock formation by the side of the road that I have driven past repeatedly but never been able to explore. I felt like a kid reaching the top of the giant rock and surveying the land around me. Being another gloriously sunny day, it was a fantastic end to our Christmas mini-break.