When I applied for a Fulbright, I figured three or four months would be plenty of time to see New Zealand. I didn’t plan on being super-pregnant. I knew pregnancy would put a damper on my adventure travel plans. (Even a laid-back country won’t let me bungee jump.) But I didn’t realize just how short my travel window would be. Between my project, Geoff’s work, Eliza’s school, and a baby due in April, that window is shrinking. Acting fast, we booked a short trip to the South Island.
With only five days to travel, Geoff and I decided to start our trip in Dunedin then explore the southern part of the island. My friend Simon, a New Zealand Fulbright teacher, planned a tour of his school, and some other Dunedin teachers offered to help with my project. We booked places on Airbnb, reserved tickets for a boat tour of Doubtful Sound, and learned more about Denis Henderson, the Southern Man. Michigan friends, think Bob Seger; Canadian friends, think Stompin’ Tom. If you don’t want to think about either of them, watch this video of Mr. Henderson’s popular song/beer commercial, Southern Man.
Just outside the Dunedin airport, we were greeted by the Southern Man statue, confirming that we’d done our homework. The Airbnb in Dunedin was better than we could have hoped. We slept in a bus. Our hosts, Arran and Fiona, purchased it from a Dutch man who converted the interior to resemble a Dutch houseboat. It was cozy and full of clever fixes for a small space. Arran and Fiona had four charming kids, two sheep, a bunch of chickens, and a very friendly dog. Eliza was in heaven. They provided us with homemade bread, jam, fresh eggs, and fruit. Arran, a teacher in Dunedin, was happy to hang out by the fire with us and talk about education, politics, and whatever else. Geoff and I were just as happy as Eliza.
After a great day at Simon’s school, an after-school meeting with a new teacher, and another night at the campfire, we crossed the island to Te Anau for a boat tour of Doubtful Sound. The drive was the perfect mix of beautiful scenery, quirky tourist attractions, and giant roadside statues. Our next Airbnb was called the Hunker Bunker: a comfortable, solar powered house with amazing views. Our hosts, Dave and Joy, were warm and friendly. Dave even took Geoff and Eliza out on his four-wheeler to meet their red deer named Dot. We spent the night hanging out by the fireplace, humming the Southern Man song, and marveling at the stars. The next day would be the boat trip through Doubtful Sound, something I’d looked forward to for months.
Geoff and I have a running joke that every stunning bit of scenery in New Zealand was designed by Peter Jackson. That said, Peter Jackson did a heck of a job on Fjordlands National Park. The Doubtful Sound tour was six hours of fjords, mountains, and waterfalls. I don’t think I have the skills to describe it, but I know that I’m not satisfied with just taking the boat tour. I need to come back here—not pregnant—to camp for a few weeks.
We returned that night to the Hunker Bunker and created a dessert that Eliza named Marshmallow Jambonium: caramelized bananas topped with chocolate and toasted marshmallow.
The next day, we drove to Queenstown. We rode the steepest gondola in the Southern Hemisphere, and Geoff and Eliza took a luge part of the way down (another off-limits activity for pregnant ladies). Our drive back to Dunedin was every bit as pretty as the drive there: mountains, rivers, farm stands, and giant statues. We arrived back in Dunedin for an amazing homecooked dinner with Simon and his family. We spent one last night on the bus, and flew back to Wellington to prepare for the next adventure of having a baby on the other side of the world.