The world around me and the people who live in it. These are the two things I find myself constantly appreciating more and more as I travel. And the Central Otago region of New Zealand has the perfect example of both.

Carolina and I explored this gorgeous region from our campsite on Lake Dunstan.

Eventually, we got an offer from a connection I had made on the North Island to stay with a local for a couple of nights.

A bit of miscommunication about our arrival time led us to seeing even more stunning scenery en route to a new campsite and meeting some unexpected, hobbit-sized locals! :)

Beautiful landscapes

While in Rotorua on the North Island, Erin and I had met a mountain biker named Jimmy. He is from Queenstown which is just outside the Central Otago region. When I contacted him, he couldn’t host us but he had an idea.

His Dad in Alexandra might be available.

As we waited to hear back, Carolina and I had the chance to camp around and explore the whole area of Central Otago.

Lake Dunstan

When you find a free campsite that is as good as Lake Dunstan—you stay. At least this is how Carolina and I felt about the location.

There were few other campers there and we found a really nice flat spot down by the water to put up our tent. The water was clean and refreshing for a quick bath.

Every morning we would wake up to the beautiful site of the lake with rolling mountains in the background. Serene and perfect.

But we had a 3 night limit on our stay. Eventually we’d have to find another spot to set up camp.

Clyde

One afternoon, we met a couchsurfer named Anne for tea in the nearby town of Clyde. She couldn’t host us because she already had guests staying with her. But she did suggest we drive up the hills behind her small town to the Lookout.

Taking Frogger up the steep dirt road was so worth it. The view looked down over Central Otago with the Clutha River running through it. A gorgeous sight.

What made it really special, though, was the huge rock formations. Climbing on top of them and posing between them like at Castle Hill was a must!

Alexandra

Another small town in the area, Alexandra is unique for its artistic 11m clock face built onto the Cliffside of Knobbies Range. It first began ticking at Noon on December 14, 1968.

Alexandra is popular for its wine country and horseback riding treks.

We were content to relax and soak in the Manuherikia River for a while.

Rte 85 & St. Bathans

After a few nights on Lake Dunstan, and no word on when Jimmy’s dad would be receiving us, we had to move locations. Another free campsite (thanks to Wikicamps!) took us up along Rte. 85 out of Alexandra.

We drove along as the sun was setting and becoming that perfect time of day for photography.

The hills ahead were shadowed and golden. The Alps in the distance, including Mount St. Bathans, were beckoning to us.

Our destined campsite was named after the mountain that forms its backdrop: St. Bathan’s Domain camp. Supposedly, we would find it after barreling down a dirt farm road for nearly 20 km.

Although we were racing the sun, trying to get to camp before we were left to setting up and cooking dinner by moonlight, we couldn’t help but stop the car to photograph the land.

This place was epic.

Unfortunately, we never made it to the campsite but our photography dilly dallying was not the cause. Runoff from previous rains had flooded the road a kilometer or so before the camp marker.

There was no going any further without risking damage to Frogger.

With the sun ducking behind St. Bathans, we gave in and set up to wild camp for the night.

 
 

Wild camping here for the night wasn’t ideal, but I’m always up for an adventure!

The flooded road provided a convenient water source. And the moon did happen to provide a great amount of light for setting up and cooking. It was definitely a different night from our Lake Dunstan setup. Fun, nevertheless, and worth it for those views!

Friendly people

In addition to Anne’s lovely hospitality over tea and her great advice on the Clyde lookout, Carolina and I met a few other people during our stay in the Central Otago region whose friendliness is imprinted in my memory of this place.

The children of Alex

After splashing around in the waterways of Alexandra, Carolina and I went to nearby Pioneer Park to dry off.

We were just minding our own business when suddenly a young girl playing on the playground behind us started asking us questions.

She and her 2 friends realized we were foreign from our American and Swedish accents. This made us even more interesting.

All at around 8 years old, these girls instantly took a liking to us. They came over the fence and started taking photos with our phones, playing with our hair, and acting all sorts of silly.

 
 

They were so intelligent and funny. We got a huge kick out of them.

They also happened to be incredibly gifted photographers! It’s so interesting to look back at the photos they took with my camera and see “through the eyes of a child.”

Here are some of my favorites:

Jimmy’s Dad

Soon we had to say goodbye to the children. They got picked up by their adults and we had to be on our way to Jimmy’s dad’s house!

Turns out, he was expecting us the night before!

Our miscommunication had led to a night of gorgeous sunset scenery and wild camping. But now Jimmy’s dad was ready to accept us into his home for two nights.

And we were about to experience some exceptional hospitality.

He had a huge, beautiful home in which we had our own guest room and bed. We were shown the laundry room where he encouraged us to use what we needed. Thank goodness for laundry because we had some pretty dirty clothes after 4 nights of camping!

To show my appreciation for such kindness from a total stranger, I always like to try to do something nice in return. Usually I’ll at least bring over a bottle of wine, a pastry or other treat. In some cases, I’ll even cook something!

Carolina was really the star in this, though. She makes awesome Swedish style meals where the most important ingredient is the sauce!

Delicious sauce.

So I got to work as her sous chef while she made Jimmy’s dad a creamy lamb stew.

I’m not a huge fan of lamb, but I am a huge fan of Carolina’s cooking.

After dinner, he prepared a delectable dessert with fresh local fruit and this insanely delicious “divine berries” yogurt from Puhoi Valley. It was AMAZING.

I’m forever damaged by my experience of eating that yogurt—no yogurt-based dessert has ever come close to as good!

During the daytime, Jimmy’s dad trusted us enough to leave us home while he went to work. This was helpful since we had so much laundry to look after. But when we were finished we did do some sight-seeing.

Jimmy’s dad asked us what we got up to while he was at work all day. Carolina and I had visited the Poolburn Reservoir to check out a Lord of the Rings film location there. After we told him this, he had something to show us.

He pulled out and unrolled a long photograph. “Oh! That’s the reservoir!”

Seeing this crisp photo of the reservoir beneath a blue sky was a real treat after being there on a day when it was cloudy.

He told us he wanted to put it on a wall but wasn’t quite sure how because of its awkward shape. We gave him some suggestions, but I wonder now if he ever decided what to do with it?

Jimmy’s dad was such an amazingly warm and trusting person. We had such a wonderful time getting to know him. It was as if he weren’t a stranger at all!

After seeing so much stunning scenery (and more on its way), Anne, Jimmy’s dad and those children emphasized the true beauty of New Zealand:

Its people.