Okinawa is hot! It really only has two seasons, much like where I grew up in Florida, hot and slightly less hot. Jason and I got tired of waiting for less hot to arrive so we booked a trip to the snow in Queenstown, New Zealand. It was just what the doctor ordered. The air approach into Queenstown set my pilot excitement senses going. We slowly descended from 36,000ft through a cloud layer to emerge between two snow-capped ridge lines. I had not realized I had been grinning until Jason leaned over and told me that it was contagious. Despite the aches and pains my body was using to remind me of how long our trip there had been, I wanted to get right back in the air immediately after we landed to take in more of the incredible scenery.
Thankfully that was not necessary, nor was it an option, because of the location of our hotel. Camouflaged against the scenery with its dark brown wood exterior, the Hilton politely meets the shores of Lake Wakatipu at the base of a hill not to far from the airport. We opened the door to our warm fifth floor room, where the lit fire place welcomed us, and I rushed out on the deck to see what view would be greeting us every morning. Breath taking. Mountains that seemed to come up out of nowhere, the sapphire blue waters of the glacial lake, miles of fields, and painting-worthy blue sky met my gaze as soon as I had the curtains drawn. I could have taken a picture of that view every single day we were there and still not done it justice and that was just the beginning.
We spent our first day trekking through town appraising the vibe. Everyone we met was friendly, eager to pitch in their two cents on the conditions at any of the ski locations, and seemed as infatuated with the vistas as we were. We had to get a better view so we took the Skyline gondola up to the top of the town. This is the view on just about every post card you find in Queenstown (it is the first pic of this post). Truly stunning. The view was not the only reason we took the ride up...the plethora of adventure options that awaited there had us debating the whole time. "Do we bungy jump from the cliff top or just bungy swing? Maybe a little too cold for that how about paragliding? Still too cold so guess we'll just settle for gravity cart riding and a little hiking!" We planned our second day adventures on the ride back down and set off to find a tour company to book with.
Up the mountain we went on day two. It was a death defying journey both up and down and I am not talking about our rusty snowboarding skills. We rode a full sized charter bus for just over an hour up narrow, switchback, muddy roads with meager hints of guard rails only in select areas. We passed cars along the way that had lost the battle with the mud and ended up in the drainage ditch. Mercifully we arrived at Cardrona ski area without losing our breakfast along the way. I mostly slept but, when I was jolted awake by a sharp turn, I was sure to keep my eyes closed. This ride was definitely not for the faint of heart and the driver said it was a GOOD road day!!!
We boarded the day away and, somehow, safely returned to town. At the suggestion of the gear rental guy, we jumped in line for "the best burger in town" at a place called Fergburger. He did not lie! Neither did the line that formed after us that took an hour to die down. Yes, yes I did have the Sweet Bambi and it was delicious.
Day three was a pampering day to ease our aching legs that were already starting to show signs of being sore from our day on the slopes. Waking up late, going straight to the hotel spa from breakfast, then reading on the deck until dinner was the perfect speed for day three. Dinner was the main event of the day that we had been looking forward to for over a month (when we had to make a reservation). If you did no know any better, you would not guess that Rata is a restaurant with a Michelin star chef at the helm. It is not flashy or boastful in its design or location. Quite the opposite actually. It is a cozy welcoming mix of modern loft style and mid century elements set in the bottom floor of an off-the-main-street commercial building. The food absolutely impressive. From appetizer to dessert we were serenaded with flavor and delicate presentation. One day, I will brave making the goat cheese filled cracker appetizers but I do not think my culinary skills are there just yet.
New Zealand has lent its scenery to many a movie, tv show, and book so we would have been remiss if we did not check out some place that had played host. We chose horse back riding through Isengard on day four! Gleefully bumping along to the theme music in my head, I rode my less than happy horsey (Mav, yes that really was his name and Tom Cruise would be proud of his rebel nature) through an area surrounded by awe inspiring vistas listening to our guide, who was from Virginia oddly enough. She told us all about the various Lord of the Rings scenes filmed there during our hour and a half adventure. She could have been completely lying to us for all I know or cared, I was over the moon to be horse back surrounded by endless beauty.
The final days of our trip seemed to fly by despite our best efforts to slow time. We watched a couple of Winter Games events including para-athletes rocketing down the slopes during the slalom events making it look effortless, half-pipers throwing tricks I will never attempt even in my dreams, and an awesome hockey match between the Australian and New Zealand national teams. **Fun fact, Rod Stewart's son, Liam, plays on the New Zealand national team.** Our seats for the game were next to the friends and family of the New Zealand team (no Rod was not there). One of the family members started talking with us and eventually we found out he has a brother who lives in Vero Beach...the world gets smaller every trip we take! I grabbed a real estate magazine on my way out of town to see if I could find our future vacation home in it because this certainly was not the last time we will be in this beautiful town.
I began reading our next book on the trip, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasing Fulfillment by Martin E. P. Seligman. I do not know that I used my signature strengths in New Zealand but I surely opened my mind to his concepts. The first post on this powerful book will be Sept 27th so order a copy and join the conversation. Until then, check out the links below, by clicking the underlined text, for some of the places we ate at and traveled with. Travel y'all!! The world is so amazing.
Nomads Hostel - they have a tour agency on the first floor that helped us book all of our adventures and gear
Skyline gondola - the view you must see!
Captains - fireside dining that focuses on seafood
J&D Ski & Snowboard Rental - we got helmets from here and this is the place where the guy told us about Fergburger
Cardrona Alpine Resort - probably not the type of mountain "resort" you're accustomed to (certainly wasn't what I expected) but absolutely challenging and fun!
Fergburger - a burger to remember
Rata - a splurge you should absolutely make but be sure to plan well in advance because reservations are highly encouraged
High Country Horses - go meet Mav and Enos (Jason's horsey for the day)!
The Fat Lamb - daily homemade pasta with locally sourced ingredients
Ivy & Lola's - close to the ferry we took every day and seemed to miss often. Cozy with retro interior and very friendly service.
The Hilton - we used the heck out of the spa and restaurants here while taking in a story book view at every window.