It's a country that is synonymous with wide-open and majestic landscapes, snow-capped mountains and (thanks to Peter Jackson) the Lord of the Rings.
I had first been to New Zealand in the Summer of 2015, where, as a sort of gift to myself, I traveled following the completion of my Masters degree in Engineering following 5 years at University. I traveled around both the North and South Islands for almost one whole month doing things like bungee jumping and multi-day hikes through the amazing national parks that they had there. However this time I wanted to return to New Zealand in the Winter, primarily to go snowboarding and to properly experience the spectacular mountain ranges in their true glory.
I picked up a cheap flight from Melbourne to Queenstown that left Melbourne at 6am and eventually touched down in Queenstown at around 11am. The last half an hour or so of the flight was amazing as we were flying over the untouched snow capped mountain ranges of the South Island. Unfortunately I didn't have a window seat, so I could only see it in glimpses but by the way everyone was glued to the windows you could see that it was amazing.
Whilst I based myself in Queenstown I spent each day catching a bus up to a different mountain to ensure that I went to as many as I could in the short time that I had there. I hit the four big mountains when I was over there, and my preferences (starting with the best) are: Treble Cone, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Cardrona. In addition to these ski resorts I also spend one day heliboarding on the untouched mountains beyond Coronet Peak, which was one of the most amazing experiences. Coming down the mountain and carving through pure powder is just the greatest feeling.
After spending 6 days up at the snow, I hired a car and drove from Queenstown to Aoraki/Mt Cook. I had inadvertently skipped this landmark location on my previous trip and wanted to make sure that I went there this time. The drive to Aoraki/Mt Cook off the main highway is one of the greatest drives that I've ever done, and upon arrival to Mt Cook Village you are surrounded by snow capped mountains in every single direction. I spend the next day and a half walking various trails within the National Park and have to say that it is one of the most beautiful places that I have been to, despite being bitterly cold in the early morning and late evening (the thermometer in my car got down to -6°C at one stage). For those who are wishing to head there one day I definitely recommend the Hooker Valley Track and Tasman Lake trail, both of which are mind blowingly beautiful.
From there I also drove down into the deep south of New Zealand, making the 4 hour drive overnight from Aorkai/Mt Cook to Nugget Point to be there at sunrise. The coastline within this area is really stunning, and from someone who has lived in Australia their whole life and goes to the beach a fair bit, that's saying something. After photographing Nugget Point at sunrise I went chasing waterfalls and spent the rest of the day visiting Purakanui Falls, Matai Falls and McLean Falls. Easily the largest and best in my opinion was McLean Falls, a huge tiered waterfall that was flowing very strongly when I arrived there due to recent rains.
From there I made the 3 hour drive back to Queenstown, with the last hour of the drive being through heavy rain. Upon arriving at the airport and checking in and onto the plane, after sitting for about half an hour, the plane was unable to take off due to there being high winds and too much people on the flight. So I ended up staying an extra night (put up in a hotel by the airline) before leaving the next afternoon.
All in all it was an absolutely amazing experience and one that I might consider doing annually given the close proximity and amazing conditions up in the mountains.