Text by Angel Rivero
Photos by Jakob Kurc

WHERE’S the farthest South you’ve ever been?

My answer to this question is New Zealand’s South Island — officially named “Te Waipounamu” — home to some of the most pristine natural wonders left on the planet. Picturesque mountains, aptly called The Remarkables, greeted us as soon as we disembarked from the plane. Immaculate lakes, primeval-looking forests, and mighty glaciers abound. It is totally easy to figure out why this island was chosen as one of the major shooting sites for one of the best fantasy-novels-ever-written-turned-full-feature-films: the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Our port of entry to the South Island was none other than the picture-perfect, adventure capital of world, Queenstown. The resort town fares especially high in many an adventurer’s bucket list, and that is because it is the birthplace of bungee jumping, is an amazing place to go skydiving, is the place where speedboats are specially engineered so that they could still speed through insanely shallow water, and is home to the highest cliff-jump swing in the world! I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Queenstown is a place of doing. And while you’re at it, you get to enjoy the amenities of an impressively well-equipped town that is gloriously uncrowded.

It’s almost too good to be true.

And you might already know, New Zealand’s South Island is a paradise for driving (in fact, it’s a necessity here if you plan to visit any of the breathtaking national parks). My choice of wheels for this holiday of adventure was the handsome, Ford Escape AWD Titanium 2.0-liter turbodiesel in Ruby Red. Its size was in a sweet spot for my taste — comfortable and commodious, but not gas-guzzling large. I was really happy that it didn’t carry a sharp-angled rear because it offered better storage space this way, without inhibiting rear visibility. My elevated sitting position also lent me an excellent command of the road — with the settings customizable via a 10-way, power adjustable driver’s seat.

The vehicle came with satellite navigation (extremely helpful when driving through the wilderness), an eight-inch display screen, and was equipped with Ford’s Sync3 hands-free media system that is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We also had the luxury of a premium Sony audio system with nine speakers. Best of all, the beautiful drives were ever more immersive, thanks to the Escape’s panoramic sunroof that constantly bathed us in sunlight and sky.

One thing important for visitors to understand about New Zealand, is that there is an earnest and sophisticated hiking culture there. The locals would rather refer to it as “tramping” — and boy, do they set the bar far and high! It is no surprise then that the country is consistently listed as among the best places to visit for hikes of a lifetime. In case you haven’t heard, there is such a thing as the “Nine Great Walks of New Zealand” — lasting anywhere from hour-long hikes to multi-day treks – and most of them are found within the national parks of South Island.

Every trek seduces the frisky hiker with incredible vistas en route, and most certainly at the very end, which often opens up to a breathtaking viewpoint unlike anywhere else. Having said that, getting to these remarkable trails requires driving to the trailhead in the heart of nature. And from my experience, driving the Ford Escape — and in tricky right-hand drive, mind you — never delivered a twinge of doubt, despite having to venture into some rough roads, bumpy surfaces, and an array of ever-changing terrain. There were no squeaks or rattles, and never did I ever feel a shortage in power.

When evening came, the Escape did not fail to please with its delightful driving aids, which includes adaptive lights go into automatic high beam when necessary, and some really cool automatic leveling of its active, bi-xenon headlights. Other generous safety features included are adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping aids, forward collision alert, and autonomous emergency braking. The vehicle is also equipped with intelligent AWD that adjusts the torque delivery to each wheel every 16 milliseconds.

To date, Ford has remained one of New Zealand’s most dominant vehicle brands — and for good reason! In my experience alone, it was a reliable and, very importantly, comfortable vessel that took me right into the middle of the South Island’s beautiful nature, which included the raw grandeur of Fjordland National Park — home to the storied allure of world-famous Milford Sound.

So, no matter its remoteness — a country ever the victim of being forgotten from the world map (yes, it’s true!) — a visit to New Zealand should definitely be up there in one’s bucket list. There are so many rich experiences to take home from this distant land. And as a Maori proverb goes: “Mai i te kopae ki te urupa, tatou ako tonu ai,” which translates to: “From the cradle to the grave, we are forever learning.” So, rattle ya dags… and let’s head to the wop-wops!