New Zealand South Island
Since I was a kid, I dreamed of traveling to New Zealand and hunting the Red Stag. It always seemed to be a dream and beyond my financial abilities. Over the years, I have learned to work hard and as the famous Cameron Haines would say “Keep Hammering”. Little by little those dreams didn’t appear to be just dreams anymore, but something I could make a reality. Sarah and I began talking about it and when I was 37, we decided it could be my 40th birthday present. There was one stipulation and that was she was coming along. I started research on guides and trying to determine the best possible place to go.
I flew down to Salt Lake with my 9-month-old son to watch the 49ers play in the super bowl with my family. I brought all the brochures and details with me to discuss with my buddy Beaver. He was serious about doing it and we decided to book it! He had a company called South Pacific Safaris that appeared like a great place. We booked with them for April 2020.
Well… COVID19 ramped up and it changed the world we once knew. Everything was shut down, everyone was quarantining in their home, no school was going, and our trip was postponed to 2021. Quarantining went on for much longer than everyone anticipated. April 2021 quickly approached, and we were in the same situation with no international flights allowed in New Zealand. We had to push our trip to 2022. Ironically, this was my 40th birthday present that was going to be early, now I would be 40 for our trip. Schools figured things out where they were back attending in person and things were shifting to somewhat normal with travel. However, New Zealand was still the strictest country with travel and shut down. We booked our trip in May. May is the beginning of New Zealand’s winter. I wanted to also hunt a Himalayan Tahr and their coats would be longer during that time. Ealy March rolled around, and New Zealand announced they would open their boarders in July. We were crushed and accepted the fact that we would have to push out another year.
Sarah and I were in Dominican Republic on a work/vacation and Beaver hit me up saying New Zealand changed their mind and are now opening boarders May 1. It was back on! We quickly got flights arranged and I began planning the trip. We decided to do the week hunt then travel the South Island for another week.
Getting my new 300 Weatherby Backcountry Ti 2.0 to New Zealand, going through Canada and Australia, with several different airlines became a nightmare. So, I decided to take my bow and get my first animal with a bow. I had practiced shooting my bow on a regular basis and ramped up my dedication. I practiced for hours every night for two weeks and felt confident up to 60 yards.
Leading up to our departure date I was very cautious and strict with the kids. COVID began to flair up in the area and if we got COVID the trip wouldn’t happen. Our family had been healthy and great for several years and of course the week before we were to depart Ethan got sick. His preschool also shut down due to another kid having COVID and exposure. We were getting weekly emails from the girl’s school saying someone in your kids class had COVID and your student has been exposed. I was paranoid. Then 3 days before departure I got a bad cold and felt sick. I was giving myself daily COVID tests, and we were in the clear so far, but they say those test are only so accurate.
My mom flew in to stay with the kids for 17 days. Without her this trip wouldn’t be possible. We had to get an official COVID test the day of our departure. I’m not going to lie, I was thinking 60/40 on odds I was going to come back positive. When I got the negative COVID test it was such a relief. I had honestly been a basket case for about 2 weeks and truly fearing the outcome of the official COVID test. Our bags were packed, and we were off for an adventure of a lifetime. Going through security took us a bit and checking on my bow was easy. I asked several times and made sure it was crystal clear my luggage would go all the way to Christchurch, NZ. Our first light was delayed to Vancouver, and we had a short layover there to catch the plane to Sydney. Luckily, Our Sydney flight was delayed a little as well. When I was on the first flight to Vancouver looking out the window, as dusk was setting on Seattle, I had a major feeling of relief, excitement, and accomplishment. Beaver was boarding in LA for his flight, and we were texting back and forth with so much excitement. I was on my way with Sarah to New Zealand for 17 days to hunt Red Stag and Tahr.
I ended up getting the Red Stag I always dreamed of and was able to get a mature Tahr from a helicopter! Once the hunting week was over, we were dropped off at the airport and on our own for a week. We got our rental car loaded up and I was off driving on the opposite side of the road. We went through the first round-a-bout which was fine. The second had 3 lanes. I was going slow and talking myself through it, all while following the GPS to Lake Tapeko. I looked out my window and I felt like Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber on his scooter about to crash. I had a car coming right at me and not enough time to get out of the way, SMASH! They slammed our front end of our Rav4 and I lasted a whopping 90 seconds driving on the wrong side of the road. I was frustrated at myself where my lane was supposed to exit, and I went out of my lane. The other car was driving like they knew what was up and going fast smashing into me. We drove back to the rental place to swap out the car. I asked the guy if that happens often. He said “not usually that fast”. Once we got home I finally got my out of pocket cost for everything and it ended up costing me $3200. We ended up trading the banged up Rav4 for a Subaru. The rental guy started to explain insurance packages. One was a large deductible but cheaper and another was full coverage for $30 a day. I told him I lasted 90 seconds… I will be taking the full insurance this time. I was a bit shaken up after that fender fight. We loaded back up and tried it again. I drove about 3 hours to our destination in the dark on crazy windy roads. It was a hotel by Lake Tapeko. Our room was the smallest room I’ve been in. It made NY rooms look big. We had the bed and about 2 feet around it for our entire room. We went out and got wings for dinner and then went to bed.
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the Greedy Cow. Sarah had French toast with caramelized bananas and whip cream. She said it was the best breakfast she’s ever had. I had a hashbrown and egg pie. We drove to Mount Cook and did the Hooker Valley Track. Mount Cook was covered in clouds and we got soaked on our hike. We heard the rumble of the glacier falling on our hike. It sounded like a rolling thunder crashing down the mountain. For dinner we had a wonderful view and amazing buffet. It was nice where tourism hasn’t returned since COVID and we had everything to ourselves.
We got up and drove to Queenstown making a stop at Arrowtown. Sarah found a necklace for the girls and a sheep skin. It was a nice little town with little shops. The town felt like a 1980’s Park City, Utah. We made our way to Queenstown and walked around downtown. I found some sweaters and Rodd and Gunn then we ate at Fergburger. It was rated the 2nd best burger in the world. It was a great burger. It was a beautiful sunny day. Our room was the best view from a hotel I’ve ever had of the big lake and town. And yes, our room was much larger and what we were used to having at a hotel. Queenstown was my favorite town we visited. We sat in the hot tub… that wasn’t so hot, then went to bed.
Alarm went off at 8. I looked out the window excited where it was cloudy, but still pretty. I thought to myself, our tour to Milford Sound should be good to go with our flight. We got dressed and received a call saying it was canceled due to the weather at Milford. I was not happy. They said if we left now we could possibly make it for our cruise in the sound at 1. So, we jumped in the car and off we went for a 3.5 hour windy drive to the Milford Sound. It was cool when we got to the national park. The amount of waterfalls was unreal. Some mountains had 7+ waterfalls streaming down them with heavy clouds and rain. We came to a tunnel, Homer Tunnel, that went through a huge mountain. It was over half mile long and took 19 years to build back in 1940’s. It was amazing to go through. Sarah and I both looked at each other about halfway through the tunnel thinking how crazy it was. I can’t imagine digging that tunnel out in the 1940’s. We made our ship and set out on a rainy day. We went out on top to get a view and lasted about 5 minutes before the wind and rain sent us back under the boat. Once we got out deeper into the Sound, we decided to venture in the storm. At times the wind was blowing so hard the rain felt like sharp needles against our face. The waterfalls were breath taking and we saw tons because of the rain. There were times the wind about blew us off the ship. We would hunker down at the front of the boat to get out of the wind and pop up for pictures. It was a good time and well worth the drive. We drove back and had a nice filet mignon steak dinner with 1 scallop each (LOL) and potatoes fried in duck fat. It was our fancy romantic dinner for the trip.
After Queenstown we were off to Franz Josef. We stopped at Lake Wanaka, the blue pools (that were not so blue), Thunder falls, and a few other places along the way. An unplanned stop was a spot along the coast. We climbed up into a tower that looked over the area. It was fun to see the waves crashing into the shore. The bugs were bad, so we had to keep moving. It was a pretty drive. Sarah booked a place at the rain forest retreat which was a fun little place. We had seafood chowder, fish and chips, and chocolate cake for desert by a fire at the lodge. The next morning, we had a helicopter flight to the glacier. It was bumped to noon, so we had breakfast at the Snake Bite and the whole town was without power. They operated off a generator. We had time to go tour the Kiwi Bird Museum which was cool. They had two Kiwi birds in an enclosure where it was barely light because they come out at night. They would chase each other around and poke the other in the butt with their long beaks. Sarah snuck a quick little pet of one. The helicopter ride was on, and it was the first time in 8 days they had done flights because of the weather. Rebecca was our pilot and it was cool to have a women as a pilot. Our helicopter was a 5-seater that was previously used by the Florida police department due to its speed. It was Sarah’s first ride and my second. It was fun to fly over the glaciers and be so close to the mountains. We stopped at the top and got some fun pictures. It was an amazing experience and a great way to see Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. That night we ate dinner at Alice May restaurant. She was famous for killing her husband and her trial. Her great granddaughter owned the place and had it very well designed.
Our 5 am alarm went off so we could drive 5 hours to Christchurch for our COVID Test at 11:30. We completed the test and then had lunch at an Amazon place. After we walked over and watched Top Gun Maverik which was awesome. The theater had reclining leather chairs that would rumble with the jet. We went back to our hotel and had a chicken dinner and prepared to come home.
We woke up at 3 am to catch our first flight from New Zealand to Sydney. I’m actually typing this up while on our 15-hour flight to Vancouver. It has been an incredible trip and I did just fine driving on the wrong side of the road if you remove the first 90 seconds!
Some funny things while in New Zealand
• They call a cooler a Chilly Bin
• I liked the phrase muckin around
• They say “How ya goin” with the best accent ever
• They call roads and trails tracks
• Tramping instead of hiking
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