What a Trip: In New Zealand, agog at every turn


Nikki Magaziner Mills and her husband, Keith Mills, saw this picturesque scene on a hike off the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy. (Nikki Magaziner Mills )
October 24, 2013

Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.

Who: Nikki Magaziner Mills of Washington and her husband, Keith Mills.

Where, when, why: Because we both work in schools, summer means rest, rejuvenation — and travel! This summer we traveled to New Zealand for 15 days and broke the long flight home with a five-day stop in Bora Bora.

Highlights and high points: At least eight times a day, we would look at each other and say: “Wow. What a gorgeous spot!” From our drive through stunning scenery from Queenstown to Glenorchy and Paradise, to our journey to the perfectly silent and wistful Doubtful Sound, to seeing two sperm whales double-dive off the coast of Kaikoura, to listening to the rain howl in the Marlborough Sounds, to sampling wine in Marlborough and Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay — the entire country, South Island and North, was astoundingly spectacular. We ate fresh-caught fish from a food truck near a “Don’t swim with the whales” sign, hiked to waterfalls where baby seals played, saw a snow-covered volcano, climbed peaks for jaw-dropping views, enjoyed the wild turns of the weather. We have traveled a ton, and this was one of our best trips yet.

Cultural connection or disconnect: We knew that Christchurch was still reeling from the effects of the earthquake in 2011, but we weren’t prepared for a city still silenced. The rebuilding is starting — but only just. We stayed downtown in one of the few hotels that were open and ate in two of the few restaurants operating in the city center. But after a morning run in the tranquil Botanic Gardens, we stumbled upon a tea shop in the Re:Start mall that sold a best-ever scone and was full of the city bustle that we’d hoped to see. Hope is the feeling we left with. Christchurch is a beautiful city; it needs tourists, and it needs to be rebuilt!

Biggest laugh or cry: It was winter while we were there, and we spent at least part of every day of our trip monitoring the weather. Rain, wind, snow, perfect blue sky, sun, (little) earthquakes, road closures because of ice, a ferry crossing canceled because of high seas — we had it all. But it wasn’t until the end of our trip, falling asleep to the roar of a rainstorm building in the valley near our little bed-and-breakfast, that we began to be thankful for every iteration of the weather. New Zealand is a “wild and wonderful” place — rain, sun or snow. The weather, even when it was bad, was perfect.

How unexpected: New Zealand was so . . . easy. The driving, even on two-lane roads, was beautiful and easy. Navigating menus was easy. Meeting people and learning about each little town was easy. Finding a good two-hour hike on an hour’s notice was easy. New Zealand is a little England with the scenery of Scotland, Switzerland, Iceland and the American West. Pictures can’t do it justice. You have to see it, to be there, to understand its magic.

Fondest memento or memory: Everyone I have ever met who has been to New Zealand says that they want to live there. We want to live there, too. We brought back three keychains and a few bottles of wine. We didn’t shop in New Zealand. We looked. We talked. We listened. We ate and drank and settled into a lifestyle where the only goal of every hour was finding the next gorgeous spot.

To tell us about your own trip, go to www.washingtonpost.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fondest memories, finest moments and favorite photos.

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