|The second time we've had to wait for cows to cross the road before continuing along the highway|
|One of our campgrounds|
|View from the beach at Gillepsies Beach campground|
We stopped at some points of interest along the road that involved short walks, two of which were Thunder Creek Falls and the Blue Pools. We marveled at the amazing blue colour and the crystal clear purity of the water in the Pools - I've never seen such clear water in my life. It was incredible to look deep down into the depths of the water and see every single last stone and pebble. There were no fish today, but according to the signs, when they are there you can see every last fish all the way down, and they look suspended in mid-air.
We got off the bridge above the pools and walked down a small trail that led to their shore, and spent a short while skipping stones over the incredible clear water. I love the meditative quality of stone-skipping, and the simple but captivating enjoyment it gives. It always makes me feel like a small child that is enjoying the pureness of play.
|Thunder Creek Falls|
As we continued on our drive, we encountered two beautiful and famed lakes - Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Both offer incredible blues that reflect the mountains that surround them. I simply can't put this kind of beauty into words. I feel as if I'm running out of words to describe how in love I am with this country. Looking back at my photographs, it's even hard to believe I was there. The experience of actually BE-ing in the presence of these beautiful, pure blue sights surrounded by towering, impossibly large mountains is something that can only be fully understood by being there yourself.
At one point, we were stopped on the highway on the side of a mountain for about 15 minutes as a helicopter flew back and forth across the lake bringing construction materials to workers high up on the mountain doing emergency repair work to put up a guard fence to prevent rock fall. Everyone just stopped their cars, got out, and enjoyed the astounding beauty of being stopped next to this lake and mountains.
A few days ago, J had picked up a flyer for me. It was a sight-seeing/fly-your-own-plane company based in Wanaka. I have always had a dream of flying a small plane. I don't exactly know where this desire came from, but she remembered I had mentioned it to her and there the flyer sat in my backpack. As we approached Wanaka, I couldn't help but consider the idea, even though I am generally not a fan of heights or flying. A short phone call confirmed that it was quite an easy thing to do, and so I just jumped in. You're in New Zealand, J told me. What better time than now?
Besides taking off and landing, the pilot let me steer the rest of the 20 minute flight myself, while he took care of the rest of the controls. It was so cool. I don't know how else to describe it. That feeling of being in control of flying this tiny aircraft over the gorgeous Wanaka river and hills was exactly like what I dreamed it would be. I felt like a small child - I couldn't stop smiling and saying "this is so cool!". J took photos and videos of me from the passenger's spot behind me while I flew a plane. Over New Zealand.
I must say, it was a bit addicting, and something I know I will definitely do again. The cool thing is that the 20 minutes of flight time counts towards my total number of flying-hours if I ever wanted to get my pilot's license one day, and is valid in any country. I'm not saying this is a goal in the foreseeable future, but it's kind of a neat certificate to have tucked away...
That evening, we drove the rest of the windy, steep, and incredibly scenic road the rest of the way into Queenstown and checked into our first hostel of the trip, for a break from the campervan. It felt a little strange to leave our home just parked on the street while we went into a building to sleep for the first time in almost three weeks.
The next day, J was all set to go sky-diving in this adrenaline-junkie capital, but a last minute change of weather/high winds made it unsafe to go out, so her adventure was canceled last minute. We hopped back in our sleepervan and headed back on the road towards Te Anau, the last stopping point to pick up gas and supplies before heading to the remote Milford Sound. We camped in a small Department of Conservation site a little north of Te Anau. These sites are generally $6/person or free, and this particular one was small and very quiet and serenely nestled alongside the mountains and a valley. We settled in for the night, excited for our long-awaited journey to Milford Sound the next day.