New Zealand Highlights: Part 4

It’s been a while since I posted the first 3 parts of my New Zealand vlog, but I finally got back to working on it! Part 4 includes our bike tour of the Gibbston Valley, heli-hiking Fox Glacier, and our 3 day kayak trip in Abel Tasman National Park.

Link here for Part 1 to start from the beginning.


Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

Now that I’ve finally finished my 6-part mini-series about the North Coast Trail, I’m thrilled to write about something else! I feel like it was a bit of a slow start to summer this year. I didn’t get to go on my annual May Long weekend camping trip as BC Parks didn’t open until June, and it took forever for the weather to finally get nice, but I ended up having a pretty epic July and August. Despite all the restrictions from Covid, I was still able to get out hiking several times and did something I’ve been meaning to do since I moved to BC 6 years ago.

I finally went to the Rockies! It’s not my first time in the Rockies, but Seth and I have been intending to make a road trip to the Rockies for years. Since we had to cancel our plans to go home to Newfoundland, we decided it was the perfect time to finally do our own little BC road trip. We took a week off work, spending 3 nights in the Okanagan and 4 nights in Banff. Emily joined us and of course we took Sadie, so it made for an interesting packing experience. We’d been planning to get roof rails and a rack for the car, but of course, they were all sold out at our local store because everyone is road tripping this year, so we just had to get creative with the packing. We managed to fit all our camping gear for 3 people and a dog for a week in the car, though there was limited space in the backseat, so Emily and Sadie had to get pretty cozy.


We took off right after work on Friday evening and drove straight to Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, where we’d be camping for 3 nights. We powered through the drive, stopping only once for gas and dinner, arriving with enough daylight to set up the tents. However, we couldn’t believe how hot it was when we stepped out of the car. We knew it was going to be hot – the temperatures in Penticton over the weekend were in the high 30’s! But we weren’t prepared for just how hot it would be overnight as well. We had a short campfire, but even that was too hot and we were all tired from the journey, so we decided to make it an early night.

The first night of the trip was by far the worst. Sadie had been camping with me twice before and both times had gone well, but the first night in the Okanagan was rough on everyone. We decided to sleep with the fly off because it’s like a sauna in the tent with it on, but that proved to be too challenging for Sadie. She’s a bit of a high strung dog most of the time, but usually settles down in the tent, but being able to see out of the tent was just too much stimulation and she barked at anything that passed our campsite throughout the night.

The campsites at Okanagan Lake North Campground are absolutely gorgeous. They’re massive sites with large green spaces between each site. It makes for a spacious and pretty site, but doesn’t provide much privacy, so Sadie was able to see into all our neighbouring campsites. She drove us nuts with the barking, and I’m sure the neighbours didn’t love it either. It probably didn’t help that she’d spent the last 4 hours in a car without a proper walk and she did a lot better on subsequent nights because she was tired from the day. I’m sure the heat didn’t help either. I slept the entire night in shorts and t-shirt ON TOP of my sleeping bag. I seriously didn’t put a blanket over me the entire night, which is something I’ve never experienced sleeping in a tent.


The trip improved from there though. The main plan for the okanagan was to relax. We hadn’t planned any hikes (it was too hot) and the main goal was to just take it easy by the lake. On Saturday we drove into Penticton to hang out at the beach for the day. I was a little disappointed because it is a huge lake and beachfront, but the dog beach is really tiny. We hung around there for a few hours and Sadie finally went swimming for the first time. I think she liked it and it was a good way to cool down, but she won’t usually go swimming unless you are swimming too. I was surprised by how warm the water was though. Me and Seth visited Okanagan Lake once before during labour day weekend and I remembered the water being really cold, but it was heavenly on the super hot days we visited.

Eventually we moved on from the dog beach and decided to go for a little walk through the town. We got ice cream and iced tea, checking out one of the local bookstores. Then we found a patio at Slackwater Brewing and decided to hang out for a bit with some beers. It was nice, but the heat eventually drove us onwards and we returned to the campsite to go swimming in the lake again. We found a little beach near our campsite and went for another soak in the water before supper. It was a chill evening – we had a BBQ and relaxed by the campfire. We left the fly on this time, which was hot, but a lot better for Sadie and we all got a better night’s sleep.


The next morning Emily made pancakes for breakfast and we decided to stay around the campground for the morning. We discovered a dog beach further up on the lake which was a lot nicer and decided to hang out there for a few hours. That was probably my favourite part of our stay in the Okanagan. We lounged around on the beach and had a great time chilling in our floaties in the water.

The afternoon was devoted to wineries. Of course, the Okanagan is famous for its wineries and you can’t go there without stopping by a few. Covid did make this a little more challenging. Normally you can just stop in where ever you want and sample some wines, but most of the wineries now have a reservation system even for tastings. I’d made reservations at 3 vineyards that were dog friendly and Emily agreed to be our DD since she doesn’t really like wine. Our first stop was Tightrope Winery, which had beautiful views of the lake and even let Sadie into the tasting room. Our second stop was Lakebreeze, which ended up being my favourite. They have an outdoor patio restaurant and I had pre-ordered meals for us. The venue was gorgeous, the food was delicious, and in my opinion they had the best wine as well. I regret not buying any wine from there. I’d already spent a lot on lunch, so we only sampled the wines, but they ended up being my favourite of the day. The last stop was Bench 1775. I think Bench had the best view of all three, a 180 degree view down to the lake, but it wasn’t my favourite atmosphere. I think they had overbooked themselves and there was a lot of waiting.


The best part of the day was the evening. Emily had sent a snapchat to our cousin, Olivia, who lives in Edmonton earlier in the day. Liv’s fiance’s family lives in Kelowna and we couldn’t believe it when she responded to say she was also in the Okanagan! It’s been a year since we last saw her and didn’t expect to see her for a while, so we were thrilled that she was able to drive over to our campsite in the evening with her dog Avery. Sadie’s not great with other dogs because we weren’t able to socialize her properly in the pandemic, but after the initial shock she got on pretty well with Avery. We took them for a swim in the lake and then settled in for another campfire. It was only for a few hours, but it was so nice to see family.

Monday was our final day in the Okanagan and time to pack up the campsite. The showerhouse was open so we were all able to shower before leaving (foreshadowing) and took off around 10am to head towards Banff. It was a long drive and Sadie would definitely be needing breaks, so we knew it would take most of the day. It felt like it took forever to get out of Kelowna though. Traffic was really busy and we pushed through heading North. Because of Covid, we were cooking most of our meals, aside from the one at the winery. We had falafel in the cooler for lunch and decided to stop at a rest stop whenever we got hungry. We ended up stopping at this nice provincial park on Mara Lake. I’d never heard of it before, but it had picnic tables and lake views, so it made for a nice break.


After that we drove through Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park. Those were both firsts for me. We didn’t stop in Revelstoke, but we did make a stop in Glacier to take Sadie on a short walk. Glacier seems like a really cool park and I would definitely love to explore more. We only did a short 1km walk in the park, but the scenery was so quintessentially Canadian. I don’t know what it is about National Parks, but they just have this really wholesome feel to them. I love how the signage is the same in all parks and something about the rangers and the park programs just triggers memories of family camping in Terra Nova and Gros Morne National Parks growing up. We hiked along through the trees along this raging river with the glacier capped mountains towering around us. I just felt like I was in the middle of a tourism ad.

The drive continued through Roger Pass and the rest of the park, which had jaw dropping views, before finally heading into the Rocky Mountains. We drove through Field, passing Lake Louise before finally arriving in Banff. It was around 7pm when we arrived and we were dismayed to see a long line of cars waiting to get into the park. We were also dismayed to remembered that we were now in Alberta and had lost an hour, meaning it was actually 8pm. It’s definitely lighter later in Banff, but it was a bit of a rush to set the tents up and get dinner on the go that evening. The campsite was also a bit of a disappointment after the gorgeous sites in the Okanagan. It was a tiny site and there was so much garbage and litter around, we had to clean before we could really settle in.

But we ended up having an AWESOME time in Banff, so more about that in my next post! I’m optimistic this series will be limited to just two posts, but I guess we’ll see!


Queenstown and Beyond

Well done if you made it through my last post! Apparently I had a lot to say about the Milford Track, so I’ll try and be less wordy on this post.

After our 4 day adventure on the track, we decided it was time for some well earned lazy days in Queenstown. We decided to shell out for a nice hotel in Queenstown (though it was still cheaper than our bunkbeds on the track) with a hot tub, BBQ, and gorgeous city views. We checked in with our families to wish them a belated Merry Christmas and caught up on our laundry. We wondered into Queenstown for a few hours and did a little bit of shopping along the waterfront then stopped into Speight’s Ale House for a flight.

We’ve gotten pretty into craft beer since moving to Vancouver and love trying out flights of different beers. But this was a lot harder in New Zealand. Domestic beer is definitely more expensive, but craft beer is just crazy expensive, selling for $10+ a can in stores and $12 for 350ml in bars! So we were shocked when our little flight came out to $25 (they usually go for ~$7 in Vancouver), but I guess that’s just the price you have to pay in New Zealand. We did still take the opportunity to drink local as much as possible.

Wine on the other hand is comparable or cheaper to BC and there’s a lot of great wine in New Zealand. We decided to book a biking wine tour out of Queenstown and spent a full day biking to the different wineries in the Gibbston Valley. It’s a self guided tour that starts in the historic town of Arrowtown, which is this cute little “wild west” style town. We biked along the river out of Arrowtown until we reached the Gibbston Valley, where we biked to as many wineries as we could!

Before we hit any of the wineries though, we had to stop along the Kawarau River for a little Lord of the Rings viewpoint. The scenes where the Fellowship is boating along the river after leaving Lothlorien were filmed in the Gibbston Valley, not too far from where we were biking, so we popped up to one of the river viewpoints for a little look. While we were checking out the landscape, a bus pulled up to the edge of the road and a bunch of people jumped out on what turned out to be a “Lord of the Rings film locations” tour!

They all crowded in front of our view, so we stuck around to hear some of the tour guides interesting tidbits of information about the location. Apparently they had to shrink the fellowship in their boats to make the river look bigger and the location where we were standing was actually where the two kings of Argonath had been digitally added in (although replicas were still constructed for the filming – not to size obviously). We also learned that apparently Peter Jackson wanted to have orcs shooting at the fellowship while they were in the water and have Legolas shoot back, hopping from boat to boat. But just before filming, the entire river flooded and they lost all the filming equipment, so they abandoned the shoot. Peter Jackson got the opportunity to try again though when he shot The Hobbit, if anyone remembers the scene with the dwarves in the barrels!

The wineries are all gorgeous and it was fun to cycle between them trying out different wines. What I found really interesting is that there was really only 4 wines you could get at any of the wineries because of the soil and weather conditions in that region. Pinot Noir is the only red wine you can really find and is by far the most popular; the other three are Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Rose. I’m a white wine drinker, so I had no complaints! My favourite wine of the day was Peregrine Wines Rastaburn Riesling and my favourite winery overall was probably Mt. Rosa. Mt. Rosa is the last winery we did and is located at the top of a hill. The hill really didn’t look like much, but it was really hot out and we were pretty wine-weary at this point, so it felt like quite the strenuous bike ride to reach the top! We did also stop at Cargo Brewery for a flight, which is located in this old converted church. It has a really nice vibe and you can sit outside on the lawn, but I did feel like a heathen buying beer from a church on a Sunday…

After our few days in Queenstown though, it was back on the road! Our plan was to drive from Queenstown to Fox Glacier, but we didn’t have much planned for in between. Probably for the best because it was another gorgeous drive. We drove over the Crown Road to get to Wanaka and were constantly pulling over to snap photos of the view looking back towards Queenstown. I also had the delight of discovering that there is such a thing as yellow lupins!

We stopped for lunch in Wanaka and went for a little walk to see the famous Wanaka tree (#thatwanakatree). Seth didn’t really believe me when I told him we were going to see a famous tree, but he had to admit I was right when he saw the crowd of people snapping photos of it down along the beach front. I’m a little bit sad we didn’t have time to do the Roy’s Peak hike in Wanaka. For some reason I seem to have missed that hike in my research, but upon discovering it I was really aching to climb it, but sometimes you just can’t fit everything in and we decided to skip it.

The drive through the Lake District after Wanaka was probably one of my favourite stretches of road on the trip. You leave Wanaka and drive along Lake Hawea, before returning back to Lake Wanaka again. Both lakes are incredibly scenic and make for the most gorgeous viewpoints as you drive along between them. The mountains get bigger as you approach Mount Aspiring National Park and we decided to do a short walk to the Blue Pools.

I’m not sure “blue pools” is the best name for the hike, it’s really just a blue river, but admittedly very pretty. There was a lot of people enjoying the beautiful weather there, so I decided to go for a swim, but it was all glacier and snow melt (just like the Milford Track) and freezing cold. In retrospect, most of the rivers are freezing and the ocean seems to be the warmest place we swam!

The highway continued on to Fox Glacier where we were planning to ring in the new year and go on a heli hike. It ended up being quite the adventure, so more on that in my next post!