Contiki Holidays for 18 to 35’s
Who wouldn’t want to head to New Zealand? In its own little peaceful corner of the Pacific, pretty much every imaginable natural landscape can be found on these two little islands. Often referred as Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, it is a prime example of big things coming in little packages.
Wanting to make the most out of my short trip to kiwi land, I signed up for a tour with Contiki. Opting for the more picturesque South Island, I boarded the “Sweet As South Island” tour along with a couple dozen other young backpackers. We were all first time visitors to this tiny country and excited to see what all the hype is about. Starting out in Christchurch, after the notorious quakes, we had the day free to explore for ourselves. It was heartbreaking to see the level destruction that the earthquakes inflicted on this charming city. Lifeless streets and boarded up buildings gave it a gloomy feeling. However, wandering around aimlessly, I stumbled upon a little oasis amidst the devastation.
Colorful storage containers and flowers to match staked out a claim spanning a few blocks in the middle of the city. Street performers played their music and put on a show with their colorful personalities. People were smiling and clapping along to the tunes, tossing their spare change to the show stoppers. Shopkeepers (or should I say container-keepers?) greeted everyone with over-the-top friendliness so typical of New Zealanders. My broken heart was warmed once again when I saw the hope, joy and determination in these locals’ faces.
Heading back to Bealeys Hotel to meet up with the group and our guide,
I took the scenic route through the beautiful gardens for which Christchurch was once notorious, prior to the earthquakes earning it a spot on the international grid. We went through the itinerary with our lively guide, as well as some icebreakers to help get to know our new travel companions. After dinner, I succumbed to my jetlag and passed the hell out.
The next morning, we headed to Lake Ohau. The color of the water is like something out of a cartoon. It was the most pure turquoise color I have ever seen. Neighboring Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki matched Lake Ohau in beauty and color. Apparently the water from the surrounding glaciers runs down the mountains into these lakes, creating this unbelievable hue. Some of the other backpackers opted for the glacier flight over New Zealand’s highest point, Mt. Cook.
I decided to head to the ski lodge’s outdoor hot tub and indulge in a local beer to try and soak in the astonishing beauty. A few beers later, it was time for bed in this rustic ski lodge.
Dunedin was our next stop. I had high hopes for this college town, notorious for its party atmosphere.
En route, we stopped at the Benmore Dam and the historic town of Oamaru. While both were unique and memorable, they were just the appetizers to the stunning Moeraki boulders. These rocks have been grinded into near perfect spheres by natural elements. We subconsciously competed to make the best pose and picture with this natural phenomenon before making the final leg to Dunedin. Appropriately enough, we headed straight to Speight’s Brewery to see how local brew is made (and drunk!) After taste testing, we headed to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street.
As if we needed any help stumbling after all that beer! Our tour guide told us all the great spots to party that night, and we headed out as a group (and trickled in late that night back to the hotel).
After enjoying the local cuisine (and by cuisine, I mean beer) the night before, waking up was a bit of a challenge for us all. Somehow we all made it to breakfast and the bus for our journey to Queenstown. We had a stop at the little town of Alexandra on the way, a quaint little village so characteristic of the sparsely populated South Island. As soon as we got to Queenstown, our jaws dropped. It is so picture perfect, nestled in the mountains right on Lake Wakatipu. A quick stop at Fergburger (best burgers EVER!) rejuvenated us all from the night before and got us ready to party once again. Contiki supplied us with VIP entry into one of the many bars in town. The rest of the night is a bit blurry, but also a ton of fun!
Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of New Zealand. Any blood pumping sport you can think of, Queenstown has got it. Our tour guide took us over to the Shotover jet. The jet boat was invented in New Zealand, and this is the most famous spot to experience the thrilling ride. Floating on a turquoise river in the middle of a narrow canyon, the boat sped around and twirled us until I thought I would vomit from last night’s festivities. Life flashing before my eyes, I tried to convince myself I wouldn’t die and enjoy the spins and swirls of the ride.
Over the next couple of days, we pretty much were free to enjoy Queenstown as we wanted. I opted for a sky dive with a few of the other backpackers. Holy cow. Being scared of the Shotover jet was nothing. Puttering up into the sky in a dinky little airplane strapped to a stranger, I now knew that I was really pushing my luck. Stomach in knots, my partner dangled me out the side of the airplane. We began freefalling and tumbling around before steadying ourselves into a belly flop position.The views were absolutely insane! We were floating above the tops of the snowy mountains and the deep blue lake below. Screams and spit flew out of my mouth until I found myself landing on my bum on the grassy field below.
After that experience, we knew we earned a few beers. Before heading to the bar, we got some famous Pat’s Pies to fill our empty stomachs.Another night of partying and bonding ensued! After treating (or torturing?) myself with all the blood pumping fun the previous two days, I decided to take it easy and enjoy a nice and easy cruise on the lake with the TSS Earnslaw steamboat. I followed that up with a gondola ride to the top of the mountain and a hike before heading back to my room and resting up for our early journey the next day.
Our next stop was Franz Josef, one of the two most famous glaciers in New Zealand. Our Contiki bus took us through Haast Pass to reach the wild West Coast. We rolled through the mountainous tundra to rainforests and finally to glacier country. A stop at Thunder Creek Falls gave us all the opportunity to stretch our legs and see some more natural beauty of the South Island. For such a small place, it sure does take a while to get around! We had various options on how to experience the glacier: helicopter tours or guided hiking on the ice itself. Not having fulfilled my hiking fix in Queenstown, I decided to do the hiking on the ice, complete with ice picks! Contiki organized the tour for those of us who chose to do it. After the icy day was finished, our tour guide treated us to a theme party! Drinking ensued, followed by exhaustion and sleep. Hanmer Springs was next on our list of places to go.
The bus took us up the West Coast, somehow avoiding skidding off the cliffs on which the roads were paved, and led us to Hokitika, a small town famous for the gold that is prevalent in the area. We were treated to a Maori greenstone carving demonstration, and after lunch we boarded the bus again through Arthur’s Pass and the Southern Alps. Arriving at Hanmer Springs, my body was achy and weary from all the hiking, adrenaline and drinking. A dip in the hot springs rejuvenated us all. I took a break from the partying and headed to bed early to get ready for the next day.
En route to Wellington, we stopped in Kaikoura, the most fabulous little seaside town.
The aqua color of the sea was such a contrast to the grey mountains in the backdrop, it looked surreal.
We stopped at a seal colony and watched the lazy beasts sunbathe and bark at each other. After that, we headed up to Picton to board our ferry, which was already organized for us, to get to Wellington. The three-hour ferry ride moseyed along through the Marlborough Sounds, complete with lush green mountainous islands poking out of the waters. After we arrived in Wellington, we were taken to our hotel for the night and then to Mt. Victoria. After some group bonding, we decided to go out with a bang and party our last night away. A few of us had opted to spend a few extra days in New Zealand at the end, and our tour guide was so helpful to us when we were planning our final itinerary ourselves.
Contiki tours was so awesome. The whole trip went without a hitch, I met so many great people, and we were taken to the most notorious spots with a fun and knowledgeable guide. The stress was taken out of my travels, and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. I couldn’t have asked for more!
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