Our honeymoon began on October 4th, just three short days after having an amazing wedding on October 1st, 2011 in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Because our wedding included a couples’ race and a polar plunge the morning of our wedding day, we knew our honeymoon would have to be eventful as well. All of the most important people in our lives would take part in the adventures on the wedding day, but how could they help with the fun during the honeymoon? Finding Traveler's Joy was the perfect answer for us because our friends and family could help us decide what to do, where to go and how to explore. Because Shane is a survival instructor with the Marine Corps, Stacey is a two-time ironman finisher and both are avid crossfitters, we could challenge our guests to give us a honeymoon we would never forget -- and that they certainly did!
We decided that the perfect place for us to start our life together would be somewhere far away, a place where we could exert considerable energies seeing a beautiful wilderness. You all know it as New Zealand, a dream place for both of us to visit! It was also a perfect place for us to experience levels of adrenaline that assuredly tested our fitness and teamwork capabilities.
We began our trip by flying into Auckland, renting a car, and working our way down the North Island for a few days and then ferrying over to the South Island for the bulk of our trip. One of the highlights was a backcountry trip, where Stacey trusted Shane's survivalist skills as he led us into and out of the Routeburn. We promised to provide our guests with amazing photos and hysterical stories and we believe we delivered. While we tried to give our guests a satellite connection to our daily movements around the country, we unfortunately couldn’t get it working, so we substituted with Shane keeping detailed notes on our experiences and we shared them via email with our families and gift givers throughout the trip.
The North Island experience was short but beautiful. Our first goal was to overcome the jet lag which we did by just staying awake. We then had to remind ourselves how to drive a stick shift on the left side of the road. After only one stop, and as Shane described “I have counted seven times I have turned on the wipers instead of the blinker as I intended“, we were on our way. Perhaps our best lesson on the North Island was after our first hike up what native New Zealanders (or Kiwis) call an “easy” day hike. We certainly reminded ourselves that, although we have lived a very athletic life, an “easy” hike to a Kiwi, perhaps due to their perpetual and contagious optimism, is actually a “moderately difficult” hike for an American.
Staying in Wellington before we ferried over to the South Island proved too expensive since the Rugby World Cup happened to be playing during the month we were there. We quickly became “All Blacks” fans, although if we had thought about it beforehand we might have chosen a different honeymoon location since it’s rumored that refraining from marital relations brings good luck to the team. Luckily, we didn’t have an effect, as the All Blacks took the cup on the day we flew back home! It was truly exhilarating to be in a country where everyone is on the same team!
Once on the South Island, after a ferry ride through some of the most gorgeous waters we have seen, we made it to the Marlborough region, and as Shane described, “it was a beautiful sunny day and perfect weather for me to drive Stacey to several wine tasting locations” (Shane doesn’t drink). This is true love! Shane stuck it out with Stacey as she enjoyed a variety of tastings and he even took a turn attempting to make a rugby goal and winning a bottle of wine upon success. Unfortunately, Shane is not a natural born Rugby player.
Moving down the island, we were able to mark off several things from Shane’s “bucket list”, first making our very own hand-crafted knives and secondly, swinging on a 20-foot swing. The blades came out quite nicely, but the true experience was spending a day with an amazing couple in Barrytown, who shared their craft and their daily life with us. Just hearing all about the different people they’ve met while teaching them to make knives was as exciting as forging a blade in the kiln! As for the porch swing, well, this is New Zealand and they don't do swings the same as us. This swing hangs from 20-foot telephone poles and you are propelled as your fellow knife makers haul you backwards until you are almost parallel to the ground at about 15 feet up. Then they let you go. What a rush!
We eventually made it half-way down the South Island to Arthur's Pass, which is the highest settlement on the island (some 900m above sea level). We also did a little bit of day hiking, drove around Death's Corner, saw some friendly alpine parrots who like to come right up and beg for food and grog, and we marveled at a 131 meter waterfall. The driving views on the South Island are simply amazing and jaw dropping. Shane reminded everyone in our e-mail of the day that “Good news is that the marriage is off and running to a good start. Stacey is picking up her duties as an ever-present companion and grammar corrector, and I have been carrying all of the luggage.”
The next day brought us to Class V whitewater rafting with Rangitata Rafts. The rafting was amazing, the rapids were flowing, the sun was shining, and the water was that outstanding New Zealand blue that we can't even attempt to describe. We then had the opportunity to jump in from the 15-foot cliff, followed quickly by another 30-foot cliff and the water was invigorating (read: FREEZING!). After rafting we headed to Lake Tekapo which was easily the bluest lake we have ever set our eyes upon. We relaxed in the hot pools just down the road and slept the slumber of victorious adventurers.
The next day we made it to Queenstown where we went ziplining in the rain. It was fantastic as we were encouraged with fast lines and good company all in an eco-friendly environment and we even finished with the steepest line in the world, running at an amazing speed of 40-50 mph. Shane advised our guests that “Fortunately I took some good videos, but unfortunately, Stacey still has the imprint from the helmet pads on her forehead (she looks somewhat like a Klingon from Star Trek).”
The next morning we drove south to Fiordland for the prep day of our backcountry hike. While we had initially thought that we might try the Milford Track, the avalanche risk was extremely high as the track passed 56 different avalanche routes, so we decided instead to hike part of the Routeburn Track as an out and back, again because the Department of Conservation advised that that even the Routeburn Track as well had some high avalanche risk zones as well, but what we gained in safety, we surely did not lose in experience!
We carried 40-60 pounds of gear each which included such items as a flask of white wine and fire starting devices (guess who picked what). The terrain was rough with high mountain rain forests which turned out to be very wet and cold with lots and lots of rain and, at times, a blazing sun. It was easily the best hike either of us had ever done. Our adventures included passage over several snow fields that coincidentally were also dangerous avalanche paths (we carried a beacon), several dozen waterfalls ranging from a gigantic one that towered 173 meters above us to small ones only a few feet high, through alpine rainforests to just under the tree line along high alpine pastures. We ended the hike at our overnight location along McKenzie Lake which was at 1000m in elevation and just below the tree line. All of the peaks surrounding us were snow covered. It was truly a pristine wilderness.
After our hike, the finale of our honeymoon was an encounter with the Milford Sound. Our drive there was easily the most favored and scenic drive of the entire trip. The route takes you through a valley that has towering mountains on pretty much all sides and waterfalls virtually everywhere you look! Shane thought Stacey might have gotten mild whiplash as she was turning from side to side to catch a glimpse of them all.
Once we arrived, Shane described our next move perfectly:
“When we got here, Stacey was fed up with me looking in wanderlust at the helicopter flying around for scenic tours. Since I was small I have always had a fascination with the amazing machines. She knew I wanted a ride more than I realized it myself, I just didn't think that it was ever even a choice for us, but she had calculated that the flight would cost just about the same as our missed hang gliding trip. So we got an amazing helicopter ride around the Sound and up the nearby mountain ranges where we were even dropped off for a few minutes on a mountain top glacier. It was freaking awesome!! <-- note the use of two exclamation points.”
Our last day in Milford Sound we spent sea kayaking, in double kayaks that our guides kindly nick-named “divorce boats” due to the fact that a couple is stuck together in the boat, each with his or her own idea of which way to row. We thought this to be an apt final test for us. So we conveniently began our trip at “Bridal Veil Falls” and after five glorious hours together in one boat, Stacey in the front and Shane in the back, we made it back with our marriage unscathed and a few more unforgettable views and even some run-ins with local seals and penguins.
A few more highlights to our story come with Shane’s final email to our loved ones before we arrived back home which included a list of things observed and learned while we were gone. Please keep in mind this is from Shane’s perspective:
– The wife is always right...until she is proven wrong (try not to always prove her wrong, makes her mad). – All of the worlds’ worst drivers follow Shane wherever we are. – The wife will always criticize my driving… even when I’m being a good driver (at least in my own opinion). – In New Zealand, pedestrians do NOT have the right of way… even by law, so you might want to run when crossing the street. – Less is more. The less time you spend in a vehicle on your honeymoon the better chance you won’t be divorced by the end of said honeymoon, and the less time in said vehicle the better your chances of honeymoon nookie. – A fed wife is a happy wife. – My wife is a coffee snob. – No honeymoon is complete without a 10-12 mile death march around San Francisco during your 14 hour layover back to Boston. – A 14-hour layover is 12.5 hours too long. – When you are mistaken for a homeless couple and offered a free meal you have been death marching too long. – No matter how much you spend on a hotel room, no bed with compare to the one at home.
Yes, we were indeed mistaken for homeless couple as we finished our on-foot tour of San Francisco during our 14-hour layover, after our overnight flight from Auckland and no sleep. Someone offered us his leftovers as we were making our way on to BART to get back to our airport. It was a hilarious end to our unforgettable trip!
The total cost of our trip was approximately $6,600 and $3,600 alone was spent on airfare. The rest of the cost was covered by the various gifts of our amazing friends and family. We found many of our overnight accommodations from Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor and tried to alternate between hostels and a nice hotel to save on costs.
Overwhelmingly we would recommend our trip to others as it was an experience like no other! New Zealand is a place that will reside in your heart forever. Money is best spent on memories in our view and this is one that you will be able to live over and over again, one that will bring a knowing smile to each of your faces.