I left New Zealand with a little bit of sadness - it was such a great trip. I think I would have only done one thing different tour wise - sign up for a guided day hike on either Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier. I think it would have been cool to hike around on a glacier and enter an ice cave. On the other hand, it would have meant skipping one of the glaciers to make time. Since we were able to do plenty of exploration at Franz Josef, including walking right up to touch the glacier, I don't think I missed that much. Seeing both glaciers made up for an extended tour on just one.
We met a lot of people who were traveling on year-long breaks. I chatted with a friendly Irish woman (I never did ask for her name...) I met on the Rangitata rapids trip, and found out she had been traveling all of 2004, and was headed to Singapore and Thailand after New Zealand. Two Israeli women, also on that trip, had just finished their two year military service and were traveling for a year. Ross, along on the blackwater rafting tour with Krisanne and I, was a few weeks into a nine month trip to various locations. Timo, a German I met on the Haggas Honking Holes trip in Waitomo, was traveling for a year. There are probably others I just can't think of right now, all taking advantage of the opportunity to travel the world.
It made me think back to when I was in college. I spent my summers working, which probably wasn't a bad choice, but perhaps I should have taken a few weeks at the start or end of the summer to travel. Heck, I could have taken one winter break to travel to the southern hemisphere! I am lucky and had a chance to live in Germany for three years (1981-1983) and did quite a bit of traveling then, so perhaps I felt I had seen a lot of the world and didn't have the travel bug as much. Now I kind of wish I had taken a few trips. Well, I can try to make up for it now, every other year.
New Zealand is nearly ideal for travel. The tourist infrastucture is top notch. Every city has an information center where you can book local tours, and find accomodations. Travel is easy, with airlines, buses, trains, ferries, car rentals, etc. New Zealand is setup for backpacker trips: several companies run buslines that just circulate around - you buy a multi-week ticket, and hop-on and hop-off wherever you want. It is a very popular destination for other travelers. There is so much to do, from adventurous tours and activities to scenic beauty. A huge bonus: they speak English. (And Maori). I think aspiring backpack travelers should try New Zealand first, because it won't be easier or better than anywhere else in the world.
This trip left me excited to travel more! There are many places I'd like to see, and I'll probably be lazy and sign up for a guided tour for my next trip. I just need to save up money and more vacation... :)
The trip also made me realize my own home state of Washington offers many of the activites in New Zealand: hiking, backpacking, white water rafting, sea kayaking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, whale watching, etc. So while it might not be as exotic, it is more convenient to take advantage of what my area offers. We have some beautiful scenery here also!
At least I did get to see the Southern Cross this trip - very clearly in the Queenstown night sky.
* Aotearoa - "Land of the Long White Cloud", the Maori name for New Zealand.