One for the Bucket List – NZ Tour at Mt. Aspiring National Park
While in New Zealand last month I had one of the most amazing and spectacular tours EVER.
I was on the South Island just north of Wanaka in a little town with a funny name called Makarora. This sleepy one-gas-station-town didn’t seem like a place from which I would have an amazing day, but in fact was.
I introduced myself at the front office and was shown a wall-sized map of the area, surrounding national park, mountain peaks of significance and rivers. The lady behind the counter, Danielle, was very enthusiastic about and excited about this particular trip, but squiggles on the map that depicted tall mountains or valleys could never prepare for what was to come.
This adventure starts with a helicopter ride from Makarora. This in of itself is amazing. This was my first helicopter trip and was able to sit shotgun. The bird lifted up and away we went to the nearby mountain range that only seemed like background scenery when I was driving up for the tour. Now it was this same scenery that was enveloping me as we saw forests, rivers and other natural features as we made our way into Mt. Aspiring National Park.
This flight took us around mountain peaks, down into river gullies and over glacial-fed lakes that looked inviting. On my flight was a lovely couple from the U.K. visiting New Zealand for their 3rd time in 5 years. This was the second time doing this particular tour.
After soaring with the birds for 30 minutes or so, our guide pointed to a little patch of grass by the river and said that was our landing zone. We landed and followed proper helicopter exiting protocol. Our guide came over, took some requisite pictures of us with his chopper in the back ground and pointed his finger towards the mountains. He said, “Head in that direction for about 3 hours and you will come up to a river. Your jet boat will be waiting there for you at 2pm… have fun!”
After that he got back in his ride and proceeded to fly away. As all the wind and hubbub of the noise died down, it was slowly replaced by the sounds of nature: wind blowing in the trees, the river next us winding down the valley and a distant waterfall. It was beautiful.
I let my heli-companions start off and I walked in the completely opposite direction. Danielle had told me about a great little spot where I could find a waterfall that not a lot of people know about. I found this “little” waterfall that was an ideal place to just sit, and that’s exactly what I did, for about 45 minutes. I didn’t have a care in the world, anywhere to be (for a few hours at least) and just the warmth of the sun to soak up.
I eventually got up and started a very VERY leisurely pace as I found the trail I was supposed to be on and started making my way along the river, over little streams and eventually into the shaded forest on the mountain. This was the most serene and beautiful walk I’ve ever taken. You feel completely isolated by wild beauty and the fact that I knew there was no one else around made it that much more special.
As time was getting close I picked up my pace a bit until I saw a sign that said I was getting close to my pickup point. When I had a sense of how far away I was I sat down, opened up a Tupperware container whose contents were my lunch. Again, I just sat, took my time and enjoyed every moment.
When I finally got to the river I finally caught up with the other couple and we shared stories about the magnificence of our recently completed hike/stroll. A few minutes later we look down the river to see this tiny speck start getting bigger before we heard the roar of the V8 engines of our jet boat.
We all got on put our life vests on and zoomed away in water that was only a foot or two deep as we careened around corners, did little 360 turns and enjoyed the fresh wind in our face. It wasn’t too scary, but a great way to finish an already fabulous day in the wilds of New Zealand.
In any case, this was just one of my tours and one that is uniquely NZ and one that I will do again when I know I will return with in the next few years.
Warm regards and happy holidays!