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A Post-Covid Kiwi Escape

by Paul Lyons

Level Two was announced, travel between regions could be resumed and domestic flight schedules returned around New Zealand. My partner Estelle and I were keen to escape the house after a 6-week lockdown and jumped on the Air New Zealand ‘Grab a Seat’ website after hearing about some amazing flight deals to Queenstown.

It was very apparent how hard Covid-19 had hit the tourism industry here in NZ and both the government and companies are encouraging tourism within New Zealand. It was good to see amazing deals helping Kiwis travel and see their own country. We jumped on the bandwagon. Flights were booked, a rental car was organised and Estelle even started packing her bags two weeks in advance, partially in excitement and partially in fear of the winter weather; she had never been to the South Island before and never seen the snow.

We couldn’t have timed the trip better, the weekend before we flew out there had been a huge snow fall, Estelle panicked and packed even more warm clothing into an even bigger suitcase. However, when we landed we were met with clear blue skies, no wind and no threat of the miserable winter weather we were warned about. The clear skies followed us around for our full 6 days down south.

The first thing we did after picking up the rental car was head straight to the top of the Queenstown Gondola. The fresh snowfall had left the mountains capped with snow as low down as the luge tracks which made for the most stunning views over lake Wakatipu and an interesting luge ride back down in the snow. We got talking to some of the staff who said it was great to see more Kiwi’s down in Queenstown and they were happy to be back at work after a lockdown that threatened their industry so much. With views like that on the job I could see the appeal.

Our plan was to spend the first couple of days in the Queenstown / Wanaka area before hitting the road to Tekapo, I was looking forward to the road trip, which again offered totally different scenery to the roads in the North Island. The crown range road was lined with snow and was a far more enjoyable drive than the last time I was down that way. The roads were quiet and there wasn’t the constant string of rental campers crawling along at 60kmph that you usually get stuck behind, which made for an awesome drive to Tekapo.

We arrived just on sunset and headed down to the Church of the Good Shepherd. There was an empty car park and endless amazing photo opportunities as we were the only people there, hard to believe in a place often lined with tour busses and flooded with tourists. We went back the next morning with a coffee for sunrise and it was the same. Just us, a stunning clear day breaking over the mountains and a warm coffee in our hands. The caretaker turned up to unlock the gates and we had a bit of a chat, he said it was good to do some landscaping and maintenance around the church over lockdown to better control the crowds when they inevitably return.

The next part of the road trip took us toward the coast to Dunedin for a quick one night stop over. I didn’t want to leave the snow-capped alps behind us, but we had the chance to visit the Royal Albatross Centre where there are currently four chicks nesting at the Taiaroa head. It was pretty special to see the adult birds flying around the cliffs to feed their chicks after so long at sea. We called by Larnach Castle on the way past for a walk through the castle grounds which was exhilarating as I’d seen the pictures and an article on Larnach Castle in a past edition of elocal Magazine but never been there. We will have to go back to Dunedin, we didn’t get to spend as much time there as we liked as we had to drive back to Queenstown the next day to catch our return flight home.

It was tough boarding the plane home after our short escape and we were really lucky to have seen that part of our country when we did. The weather was perfect, and it was good to check out part of our country without swarms of tourists everywhere. If you are in the position to grab a seat and explore, I highly recommend it.

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