We had high expectations for New Zealand, and we were still blown away. California is neat in that it has oceans, deserts, snow-covered mountains and forests, but in New Zealand, all of the extremes are right next to each other.
On the west coast, driving south, you'll have snow-covered southern Alps on your left, tropical jungle around you and beaches to your right. It's magical. No wonder they filmed the Lord of the Rings trilogy there.
We flew into Christchurch, known for its English influence. Here's the Avon River and a few other shots of the city:
We stayed in a former prison, called (appropriately) Jailhouse accommodation.
We took the TranzAlpine across the south island to Greymouth. It's supposed to be one of the best train rides on the planet, and it lives up to its reputation, starting with bucolic meadows and farmland that transform into endless ranges of towering snowcapped mountains and finally into rolling hills and forests before arriving in Greymouth.
At one point, high in the southern Alps, we stopped and saw the kea, a mountain parrot. Like Australia's desert parrot, I didn't even know mountain parrots existed.
The water in the rivers was a beautiful milky green color (we learned it was glacial water). It's a little hard to tell in these photos, but that's just another excuse for you to go and see it all in person.
We were pleasantly surprised to find this rainbow-colored house in the middle of the mountains:
And it seemed like before we knew it, we'd arrived at our destination.
From the tiny town of Greymouth, we took a bus down to Fox Glacier, where we actually got to tramp around (a lovely Kiwi expression) on the ice.