New Zealand: Skydiving and Stewart Island

by | Nov 27, 2017

After a busy few months, I thought it might be about time to post a quick update on what we’ve been up to.

For the past year, we’ve been working and living in New Zealand on working holiday visas. These visas ran out at the end of September, however, which meant that we had to leave to country. Lucky for us, we were looking for an excuse to do some travelling to some other countries anyways so it ended being the perfect time. For a long time we looked at places like Fiji and Samoa and other islands that are easiest accessed from New Zealand. After some research, however, it seemed that these island paradises were great for partying, beach holidays, and relaxing getaways, but this wasn’t quite what we were after.

So after some figuring, we decided to head to South East Asia. There is so much to see in this part of the world and neither of us had travelled there yet. Best of all, it’s one of the cheapest places to travel which worked well for our budget!

Our Trip to Asia:

We loaded up our backpacks, sadly left our jobs in New Zealand, left the majority of our belongings with friends, and hopped on a plane bound for Asia. 

Now, like all of the countries that I visit, I’ll be writing full trip reports with photos and write ups on all the places that we visited on the trip. I’ve already got started on them, but with everything going on right now and the holidays fast approaching it might be a few weeks before I get those finished. I want to make sure that they’re as helpful  and detailed as possible after all! Once they start to go live, however, I’ll put up a post letting you know. 🙂 

South East Asia ended up being really really incredible and we saw so many great places, met a lot of people, and had a ton of awesome experiences. Like any trip, there were some difficulties, but that was all part of the adventure. Our trip went like this: 

Singapore – Myanmar – Northern Thailand – Vietnam – Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur)

The entire trip was around 7 weeks and we covered a lot of ground. At times we felt rushed and met lots of people that had spent nearly 7 weeks just in one country or one area of a country, so there weren’t many moments to sit still.

 

Arriving Back in New Zealand for 3 Weeks:

With some travelling out of our system, we arrived back in New Zealand on November 19th to beautiful spring weather. This time, we were on visitor visas so we were back to sightseeing being tourists again for 3 weeks. 

During our 3 weeks back in the country, we have some plans to finish off seeing a few places that we haven’t yet gotten to. We’re a week into it, but we’re crossing things off the list already. You would think that after a year of living in a country and trying to spend every available moment out exploring new things you would be able to rest easy leaving the country knowing that you had seen and done everything, but that is definitely not the case. Around every corner, there is something new to see in New Zealand and even a lifetime or two wouldn’t be enough to do every great walk, stay in every back country hut, ride every mountain bike trail, climb every peak for sunrise, swim in every lake, see every small town, visit all of the pie shops, and explore all of the fjords. Not to mention that there are lots of areas that we visited under bad weather that would be nice to return to and some place that just can’t be justified with a single visit.

So yes, we’ve seen a lot in New Zealand and have loved every minute of it, but there is always more to see and do in a country like this. With our first week done, this is what we’ve been up to:

 

Wanaka Lavender Farm:

Bee in Lavender Field New Zealand

After spending 10 months in Wanaka, we somehow never made it to the lavender farm. We drove past it many times but never took the time to check it out. With a free morning once we had arrived back from Asia, however, we decided to finally give it a look.

It’s only a few minutes from Wanaka and you can look around the gift shop at some really cool soaps, oils, teas, and honeys made with lavender. Everything smells great, you can sample everything, and it’s just one of those places that gives you a good feeling. You can wander around the farm and gardens for one or two dollars as well which is totally worth it.

lavender farm in wanaka new zealand

It’s also a great place to get some photos and starting near the beginning of December, the lavender begins to bloom. It might not quite be like the never ending fields that you could see in France but it’s still awesome and totally worth the price of admission.

 

Sky Diving in Wanaka:

ben and hilary sky diving in wanaka

Before we came to New Zealand, we had made a plan to bungee jump and sky dive while we were here. They’re both something that we’ve always wanted to do, and New Zealand seems like a great place for it.

So with bungy jumping out of the way, we had to squeeze in a quick sky dive before leaving the country. We kept procrastinating on the ordeal, but with our final 3 weeks in the country we knew it was time. One evening we were having a BBQ with some friends and spontaneously decided to book it for the next morning at 7AM. This avoided the prolonged worry and stress leading up to it, and before we knew it we were heading to the air field.

Waiting for sky diving

The good thing about living in Wanaka is that there is a place to skydive 20 minutes away. You can also drive over the hill to Queenstown but from everything that we’ve heard, Wanaka is possibly the best place in the country to go.

Plane ready to take off at Sky Dive Wanaka

I always had this macho idea about myself that I would be able to sky dive without any fears or worries but this wasn’t the case. I got continually more anxious as we were getting suited up and walking to the plane. And by the time the plane was reaching the top of it’s spiralling climb with the earth spread out far below us, my heart was pounding. The look on Hilary’s face beside me told me that hers was as well.

The free fall and the rush of air as you are leaving the plane is an incredible feeling though and I remember it all in brief little snap shots of memory. The first one when my feet were dangling over the edge of the plane looking down, the second as we slowly rolled out of the plane into the full rush of air, the third as we turned upside down and saw the bottom side of the airplane as we fell away, and the last as we were freefalling and slowly turning in circles with the familiar mountains and lakes of Wanaka spread out below.

Luckily for us, our friends decided to join us and were able to get some great photos and video from the ground as we were getting suited up and as we were landing after the sky dive.

Sky diver returning

With that, we have now successfully checked off bungee jumping and sky diving from our never ending list of things to do!

 

Stewart Island and the Rakiura Great Walk:

Stewart Island Visitor Terminal in Oban

Stewart Island sits at the very bottom of New Zealand and is only reachable by boat or plane. We’ve wanted to go there since arriving in New Zealand and have never been able to get around to it until now. It is quite unique compared to the rest of the island and has a fairly small amount of visitors. There is a town on Stewart Island called Oban which takes up roughly 3% of the land, but the rest is protected park with beaches, rocky coastlines, unique birds, a huge variety of forest and vegetation, and a few back country huts.

Coastline of Stewart Island

There are also very few roads on the island besides the ones in Oban, and vehicles aren’t allowed on the island besides the ones owned by locals, so everything must be explored on foot.

To try to make the most of our time on Stewart Island, we decided to do the Rakiura walk which is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, which takes 3 days and two nights.

Day One:

Trail along Rakiura Great Walk

Our first day we drove over 3 hours down from Wanaka to catch the 11:00AM ferry. Getting to the island isn’t cheap and costs $140 return (or $215 return for a flight). After a brief scramble at the ferry terminal where we realized that we had forgotten our stove in Wanaka and had to make several trips back and forth to the vehicle because of other things that we had forgotten, we were finally on board and making our way across.

The crossing is only about an hour, but the Fouveaux Straight can be one of the roughest crossings around and is known for making people seasick. Luckily, the weather and water were quite tame and we made it across unscathed.

Wharf of Stewart Island Oban

With a quick explore around the town of Oban to pick up our hut tickets, rent a stove, and grab some lunch, we made our way to the start of the trail. The trail picks up 5 km’s out of town and along the way there we were able to catch a ride with a local fisherman to save us walking the entire way. 

In a small little sandy bay at the end of the road, we headed off on the start of the Rakiura walk. The first day ended up being quite short and was around 8 kilometres and 2 or 3 hours. You follow the coastline through forests and along beaches and cross bridges over sections of river.

Walking across a bridge in New Zealand

Other times, you have great views across the waters of bays and isolated beaches.

Beach and turquoise water on Stewart Island

Until you eventually arrive at Port William where the first hut is located.

Port William Hut on Rakiura Great Walk  

After a meal, visiting with the few other trampers, exploring the beach, and doing some reading, our first day was complete.

 

Day Two:

The second day of the hike is the longest and takes your from west side of the island to the east. It’s around 13 kilometres and took us just over 4 hours. There are no long climbs or descents on the walk, but the entire length of the trip is a series of ups and downs which are a lot more exhausting than I had expected. Nothing is ever flat so the terrain slowly wears away at you.

Section of Trail with Ben Campbell on Stewart Island

We did get very lucky, however, because Stewart Island is known for being constantly and consistently rainy. We arrived, however, during the middle of several week long dry spell and had warm sunny weather the entire time. There were a few times where the sky would cloud over or we would feel a few spits of rain but it was never much. Because of this climate, however, the track is really muddy. It was less muddy when we did it, but there were still a few sections that took some fancy footwork to navigate.

Mud on Rakiura Track NZ

Because the entire second day is away from the coast, you are in the forest for the entire time. I thought that this would get really boring, but the variety of the forest made things interesting. The island is known for its bird population and you were always surrounded by bird song, and the forest was constantly changing. I’m not well versed in the types of trees and vegetation, or on the different types of birds but there was always something interesting going on around you.

Wind blown trees on Stewart Island

View on Rakiura Track

The difficulty with describing Stewart Island and the Rakiura Track is that much of the experience is defined by the combination of sights, sounds and smells. These are really hard to convey through words and photos, however, so it really is a place that you just have to see for yourself.

After several hours of walking through the forest, we finally emerged on the other coastline and reached the North Arm Hut where we would be spending our second night.

North Arm Hut

My favourite thing about backcountry trips that involve overnighting in tents or huts is the simplicity. You can’t carry many things and you’re usually surrounded by people who have similar interests as you, so your time is spent doing simple things like walking, reading, making dinner, playing cards, visiting, or taking photos. There’s nothing complicated and very few decisions to make.

Inside North Arm Hut Facilities Stewart Island

North Arm hut is built in a really pretty bay with a trail down to the beach so when the tide was low we headed down to the water and explored the rocks and waters along the coast. Then we made some dinner, did some reading and headed to bed once it got dark.

Stewart Island is also one of the best places in New Zealand to spot a kiwi, but unfortunately we weren’t able to during our time there.

 

Day 3:

Our last day on the island we walked from North Arm hut back to Oban where we caught the ferry. We had expected it to be the easiest and flattest part of the trip but it was around 12 km’s and took almost 4 hours to do.

Walking on beach stewart island

Once we arrived back in Oban, we were catching the 5:00PM ferry and had a few hours to wait, so I was walking around taking some photos of the town. An old fisherman stopped me and asked me to sit down on the bench next to him. He was wearing an old wool beanie, a green sweater with a leather vest over top that looked older than him, tan faded pants, and worn leather boots. He had a short salt and pepper beard and was drinking out of a stainless steel mug. His name was Stoney and he told me stories about a photographer that he once knew that had visited New Zealand from Austria. He then told me about his project of building a boat (you can look up the story here), his time living in Bluff, and some crazy ideas about communicating with dolphins and changing the shape of clouds. I asked him about Paua shells and it turned out that his son was a Paua diver so he gave me the address to his house in Bluff to help ourselves to some shells.

 

Even though we only chatted for half an hour, this was probably the highlight from our time on Stewart Island. It seemed to solidify the idea that Stewart Island is a quiet and humble corner in the world filled with unique people with a different perspective. It was completely unexpected, but it was a great way to end our time on the island. 

After catching the ferry back to the town of Bluff on the mainland, we headed up to Riverton to stay the night.

 

Riverton:

Town of Riverton in New Zealand

Once we had finished our walk on Stewart Island we headed for a small town called Riverton. It’s a cool little spot on the southern coast of New Zealand which has beaches, surf spots, and a great atmosphere.

Riverton Rocks

We spent some time walking along the beaches looking for shells, had fish and chips for dinner and some pies from the post office bakery. Hilary’s highlight was finding nice chucks of Paua shells along the beach.

Hilary looking for Sea Shells

The next day we drove half an hour west to a small cove called Cosy Nook which is in Mullet Bay. There isn’t much to see there except a few small houses built along the coast but the names should be more than enough to draw you there.

Cosy Nook in New Zealand South Island

Old Building in New Zealand

Afterwards, we made our way back up to Wanaka to get ready for our next adventures.

 

Our Plans for the Next Two Weeks:

With less than two weeks left in New Zealand, we’re planning to squeeze in as much mountain biking as possible, some camping, the Copland Track and a trip to Nelson. With things wrapping up in New Zealand quickly I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post a final update before leaving the country but I’ll try my best. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!