New Zealand: Seals, Sunrises, and Syracuse

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but no amount of pictures can accurately depict my experiences with the beauty of New Zealand. From waking up for sunrise on the northernmost point of the island to cruising through Milford Sound and everywhere in between, this was a trip that I will never forget.

The morning after a Sweet 16 win by Syracuse and a late Saturday evening flight from Sydney to Christchurch, we picked up our car and headed out for the start of our south island adventure.

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We made our way into the city of Christchurch, which despite being the third largest city in all of New Zealand was extremely quiet as it was Easter Sunday. We took some time in the morning to explore the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, which were quite beautiful though not comparable to the botanic gardens I have so close to home in Sydney. We were fortunate to be allowed into some of the greenhouses before opening hours by one of the gardeners, and we took our time walking through the rose house, and different gardens featuring plants and flowers from specific regions of the world.

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After stopping at one of the few places that were open for brunch on the way out of the city, we were on the road for one of our longest drives, to Abel Tasman National Park, the first destination of our trip. One thing I was looking forward to about driving on our own, as opposed to being on a large tour bus, was being able to stop wherever and whenever we wanted to take advantage of the many lookouts to check out the view and different landscapes and geographical features along the way. Our first drive did not disappoint, and we experienced the best of both worlds that New Zealand has to offer: the ocean and the mountains.

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The long drive was also nice to catch up on some sleep that was missed out on the night before, and we eventually arrived at the campsite where we would be spending the night. Arriving to a new location in the dark is interesting because you are almost always up for a surprise when you wake up the next day and are able to fully observe the landscape and development around you. After a night that was quite a bit more comfortable than I was expecting, we were able to walk just a few hundred meters from our campsite for views that exceeded expectations, from sunrise over the extremely low tides on the beach to the mountains behind us.

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We didn’t have long to take in the view from shore, as it was time to gather up the campsite and prepare for our first adventure of the trip, kayaking in the National Park. Our nearly five hours of kayaking took us to beaches accessible only from the water, as well as around Adele Island where seals swam around us and we kayaked right up to others sunbathing on the rocks. From what I was able to experience in such a relatively short amount of time, Abel Tasman is clearly a special place and is a location I would have loved to have more time to explore, just as with nearly every other place we traveled throughout our time in New Zealand.

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One thing to take note of if you are planning a road trip around the south island of New Zealand and trying to go to a variety of places as we did is even if two locations look close on a map, you will probably have to drive a much more indirect, roundabout route than you might expect. Our next location was just a short distance to the west, also in the most northern region of the island, but would take a fairly long drive as we had to go all the way around Abel Tasman on our way to our campsite at Wharariki Beach. The drive to the northernmost part of the island took us through what seemed like the middle of nowhere, and under the cover of dark we eventually arrived at our campsite which was easily the furthest away from any large population center than we would be in for the rest of our trip.

The following morning I woke up early for a sunrise run to check out some of the sights and scenery around our campsite. This included Cape Farewell, the northernmost point on the island, and Wharariki Beach, which might be familiar as it is featured in one of the Windows 10 wallpapers. Both of these locations were easily accessible and took me through one of the most memorable landscapes I have ever run among, with no people in sight and rolling hills and fields of sheep and cows all around.

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After capturing a few photos I headed back to the campsite for a quick breakfast before going back to these locations for a bit more exploring with the rest of the group. With more time we were able to get better views of the famous Archway Islands of Wharariki Beach, as well as the cliffs and fields surrounding Cape Farewell. On the beach we were also fortunate enough to have an up close and personal encounter with the seal pups that play in the pools on the beach, with the curious seals coming right up to our cameras, close enough to easily touch them if we wanted to.

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After spending the morning exploring this beautiful location, it was time to start heading south along the west coast, which meant we could soon trade our sleeping bags for beds as we would be spending the next two nights in a hostel in the small town of Franz Josef. Upon arriving to town in the evening, we took advantage of our first access to WiFi since the airport at the beginning of our trip and headed to bed to rest for the hike we had chosen for the next morning, and the next part of our adventure.

New Zealand: Part 2

New Zealand: Part 3

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