This was it: the last leg of my trip. After exploring Queenstown for a week at a more relaxed pace, it was time to turn around and start driving north. This time I would be driving on the opposite side of the Southern Alps mountain range, eventually finding my way to Christchurch where I had my return flight in a few days.
I left Queenstown around noon to begin the three hour drive to the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The peaceful drive would take me past the stunning Lindis Pass with its flowing hillslopes and past the bright blue Lake Pukaki.
This was by far one of the most scenic drives I have ever done. The landscapes became increasingly more dramatic as I drove. What should have been a three hour drive took four hours or more.
It was the late afternoon by the time I made it to my hotel, the stunning Hermitage Hotel nestled between the mountains.
The view from my room was stellar so I took out my tripod and 70-200mm to capture a short timelapse before making my way out to dinner.
While the weather driving to Mount Cook had been great, things changed quickly. I tried to capture some shots of the stars at night but it had become too overcast. This weather continued through the morning along with some rainfall.
I didn't plan on doing much in the Mount Cook area but ended up hiking a short part of the Hooker Valley Track before getting back on the road.
After a brief 100km drive in the rain I arrived at my hotel in Lake Tekapo. I was looking forward to this for one main reason: the area is designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve, making it one of the best places in the world to stargaze. In particular, I wanted to capture some long exposures of the Church of the Good Shepherd with stars behind it.
That, however, did not pan out. The weather was still overcast and rainy. After trekking around the area for a while, I found a nearby restaurant for a beer and pizza before retreating to my room as night fell.
I was told many times to avoid Christchurch. That it wasn't worth my time. That the 2011 earthquake and subsequent 2016 earthquake had devastated the city and it was in the midst of a massive rebuilding. I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
After a rainy yet scenic three hour drive I arrived at the Novotel Cathedral Square hotel at around 1pm. When the rain let up I walked around the city for a few hours.
There was a reminder of the earthquakes everywhere I went. Coming soon signs, construction zones and temporary art installations in razed areas permeated every facet of the city.
But they had found a way to make the best of it. In one part of the city extravagant shopping malls were made from dozens of shipping containers.
I felt I had seen enough of Christchurch and wanted to find some sun for my last full day in New Zealand. I found a charming local cafe for breakfast in the morning before getting back on the road.
Even this cafe had a reminder of the earthquakes with a short story included in the menu.
I found Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula after a two hour drive past Christchurch and Lyttelton Harbour. Marked by volcanic craters and bays, the area provides a pleasant backdrop for the tiny town of Akaroa comprised of only 600 residents.
The next day I grabbed a quick bite in the morning, returned my rental car and flew home to San Francisco from Christchurch via Auckland, concluding my long solo trip around New Zealand.
I had an amazing experience exploring New Zealand on my own. On the journey across both islands, I slept in 16 different hotels/B&Bs/boats, drove 3,867 kilometers, hiked/walked 204 kilometers and captured 11,610 photos and videos totaling 847 GB.