Category: New Zealand


Hanmer Springs: Hanmer Springs wasn’t even on our radar as we headed down through Lewis Pass towards the coast north of Christchurch, but I was starting to really feel the miles we’d logged during the preceding four weeks and was experiencing a serious case of road fatigue. Thus, when I saw the word “Springs” on a a road sign, visions of pampering not experienced since Thailand sprang to mind and I knew we had to stop.  We parked Taranga at the local Top 10 campsite, which sold us on its proximity to the downtown.  What I became most excited about after a short exploratory walk into town, however, was the library, with its siren call of high-speed internet, a bug-free atmosphere and free books for Zara.  Yes, I know most people don’t travel to Middle Earth for its libraries, but long-term travel changes one’s perspectives and priorities.  After our library fix, we headed over to the Hot Springs, where the facilities now include several large waterslides and a lazy river.  Despite making herself as tall as she could, Zara just missed the 1.2 meter cut-off to be allowed a coveted wristband to go on all of the slides, but fortunately, she was allowed to go down the most thrilling one in a tandem inner tube so we avoided tears.  The hot pools were relaxing, but in the bright sun, a bit less appealing than the ones we’d escaped to on a grey rainy day at Franz Josef glacier.

Glow worms: West of Arthur’s Pass we stayed at Jacksons Retreat Campervan Holiday Park after I vetoed returning to Greymouth on the West Coast.  It was a lovely camp site with gorgeous views, but we were back in sandfly territory.  We did manage a 20-minute bush walk before dinner and the onslaught of flies at dusk on Ngarimu Walking Track to a waterfall and after 9pm we braved the elements again for a glow worm expedition.  We stumbled around in the dark for 30 minutes and were about to give up when Jonathan saved the day and we saw our first (and so far only) glow worms.

Swimming with Seals in Kaikura:  This was just really cool.  We’d heard from numerous travelers that swimming with the dolphins is a must as it isn’t one of the manufactured experiences you might have with Dolphin Quest, but the opportunity to swim in the wild with up to hundreds of dolphins. Unfortunately, being at least age 8 is also a must.  So, after some quick research, a came across the swim with seals alternative, which strangely didn’t have the same age limit. We went with Seal Swim Kaikura, a family-operated business, and it was fantastic.  We all donned wetsuits (Zara was given three to put on!) to cope with the 62 degree water and headed out into the choppy sea on a small dive boat.  The first seal colony we visited seemed more intent on sunning than swimming so we went further up the coast for 1/2 hour and I was thankful I had taken a Bonine.  Initially, Zara was less than enthusiastic about jumping into the cold sea with rolling waves, but our patient guide worked miracles and soon Zara was expertly snorkeling around the rough waters and getting up close to the playful seals that did twirling dives around us.  Unfortunately for me, my Bonine didn’t stand up to the challenge of me bobbing up and down in the waves for 45 minutes and I had to exit the water earlier than my 6-year old.  Still, it was a fantastic experience and well worth a lost lunch.
Castle Hill:  A Narnia-like landscape of hundreds of large limestone boulders peppering the hillsides, where we had a fantastic couple of hours scrambling around on a hot day. Fun Fact: The Dalai Lama proclaimed this location a center of the spiritual universe in 2002.  Less Fun Fact: Zara now wants to scramble up any large rock face she comes across.
More aborted caving:  We were all excited to give caving another go a few miles past Castle Hill but the gods were not on our side (despite our proximity to the spiritual center of the universe). After a 20-minute hike down the hill to the cave entrance, which involved a couple of minor stream crossings, we were discomfited to discover that the water at the cave entrance was ICY (despite the day’s heat) and (more disconcertingly) high enough to reach the top of Zara’s chest.  As we weighed up whether we should attempt to give it a go, I kept recalling the words on the sign at the entrance warning of hypothermia risks and cautioning that wetsuits and/or wool layers were a must. We were wearing shorts and cotton t-shirts.  Fortunately, Zara was the voice of “reason” if crying hysterically “It’s too cold! I don’t want to do this!” can be called reasonable.  Next time…
Banks Peninsula/Akora:  This is where we spent our last day in the camper van.  The Banks Peninsula is an easy drive from Christchurch and reminded us a lot of Pt. Reyes, although with slightly more developed towns such as Akaroa and a strong French influence.  We celebrated our last night with a lovely dinner at Ma Maison on the waterfront.
Christchurch:  After dropping off our camper van, we spent two nights in Christchurch luxuriating in having a proper bathroom and private shower.  It was surprisingly difficult to find a hotel room, as the effects of the devastating February 2011 earthquake in the city are still very apparent, but we lucked out with a very well-run motor lodge located near Hagley Park.  To be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Christchurch. We spent some time in the park and visited the Botanic Gardens. We walked by the Red Zone that continues to be cordoned off due to earthquake damage.  Things just seemed really quite, although to be fair, we were there on a Sunday.
Coastal Pacific Train from Christchurch to Picton:  Definitely a highlight.  Our train ticket purchase came with a free hotel pickup to the train station from our hotel (hard to imagine that in SF!) and the train pulled out of the station as dawn was breaking.  We had a bit of bad luck as a mechanical problem with the spiffy new train carriages meant we were stuck with a more dated version. Still, the scenery was stunning as we hugged the coastline for much of the 3 hour journey and the conductor pointed out scenic highlights over the speaker system, his commentary flavored with Kiwi zingers such as “We have beef pie for sale in the dining car, although it might taste a bit odd to Europeans because it’s made only from beef.”  Train travel in New Zealand is definitely worth checking out, especially for those who don’t have the luxury of time for a full country camper van tour.
2013-02-25 14.15.24

Castle Rock

Castle Rock

Our climber

Our climber

Library break

Library break

Suited up for the seals

Suited up for the seals

Freedom camping on Kaikoura Coast

Freedom camping on Kaikoura Coast

Walking to dinner in Akoroa - Banks Peninsula

Walking to dinner in Akoroa – Banks Peninsula

Above Akoroa

Above Akoroa

Akaroa

Akaroa

Loo Art in Botanic Gardens

Loo Art in Botanic Gardens

Christchurch Red Zone

Christchurch Red Zone

Coastal Express

Coastal Express

Okay–so this is turning into a Part II of III.  Just too much to write about on the S. Island!

Milford Sound:   Fun fact. The “sound” is actually a fjord, which means it was created by glacial activity. It was mistakenly named by the early explorers and in the intervening centuries, nobody has seen fit to rectify the misnomer, although the greater region has been aptly named “Fjordland”.

After wrapping up our fantastic Key Summit Track hike, we optimistically headed through the Homer Tunnel around 6pm our first evening in the Sound in the hopes that the single campsite would have availability as freedom camping is strictly verbotten in the Sound.  Unfortunately, this was the first time we found no vacancies so we had to hurry back through the Homer Tunnel, which closes at 7pm, to avoid being forced to freedom camp and risk fines.

The 1.2 km tunnel’s history is fascinating. Work began on it in 1935 with a barebone crew of five men armed only with picks and wheelbarrows, which just blows my mind. It was the midst of the Depression so the relief workers likely were happy to even have the job, but the conditions must have been horrendous, with the incessant sandflies, little sunlight, constant rain,  regular avalanches and frustratingly slow daily progress.   Despite these challenges, they were able to bore through the other side within 5 years, but the actual tunnel didn’t open to the public until 1954 due to the war and another destructive avalanche.

We made it back through before the tunnel closed and ended up staying at the basic campsite at Lake Gunn, which was packed (due to shortage of other options) and a sandfly haven.  The lake view was lovely although I had to cover every inch of exposed skin to enjoy it and after 20 minutes ended up calling it an early night in the van.

The next morning we headed back through the Homer Tunnel (3rd time lucky) and drove straight to the carpark at the road’s end.  Upon exiting the van, SWARMS of sandflies assaulted us within seconds and put paid to any notions of an enjoyable hike. On the positive side, the weather was gorgeous–clear blue skies in all directions.  We ended up taking a Milford Sound nature cruise, which exceeded our expectations with its up close views of kaleidoscope-creating waterfalls,  dolphins leaping beside our boat and towering cliffs.  And with the added bonus of sandflies being too slow to keep up with us!   The nature cruise included a stop at the Milford Sound Discovery Centre, which has an underwater observatory that was cool to check out.

Dunedin:  A charming university town (home to the Univ. of Otago) of approx. 100K that we almost bypassed (but am glad we did not).  It lays claim to the world’s steepest street (although as a SF resident, I think SF has a couple of very close competitors) and more importantly for the chocoholics in my family, a Cadbury factory!  We got to live out our Willy Wonka fantasies for an hour (including the excitement of a chocolate fountain), were gifted a treat bag of chocolates and got to see Jonathan don the required beard cap, which was worth the price of admission alone!

Caving!

Caving!

2013-02-20 17.22.52 2013-02-20 14.53.59

Mt Cook on a perfect day

Mt Cook on a perfect day

Swimming in Lake Pukaki

Swimming in Lake Pukaki

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

Gourmet dinner of pot noodles

Gourmet dinner of pot noodles

Mt Cook

Mt Cook

McKenzie Country

McKenzie Country

Kea eating Taranga

Kea eating Taranga

Clay cliffs

Clay cliffs

Curio Bay

Curio Bay

Fjordland

Fjordland

Dolphins in Milford Sound

Dolphins in Milford Sound

Towards Milford Sound

Towards Milford Sound

Curio Bay: We camped at this gorgeous spot on the southern tip of the island, where we spotted dolphins surfing the waves only 20 feet from shore while we ate ice-creams from the campsite shop and later visited the world’s rarest penguin, the yellow-eyed hoiho.  Unfortunately, as dusk settled in, the sandflies descended.

Clifden Caves:  The first of two aborted caving experiences.  We traveled about 25 feet inside the cave, but turned back as we felt a bit uncomfortable taking Z any further given that we only had 2 headlamps.  Would definitely check the caves out on a return visit though.

Nugget Point Lighthouse:  A vertigo-inducing stroll to the lighthouse, but well worth it for the dramatic views.

Moeraki Boulders:  We wandered on the beach for about an hour as Z & Jonathan climbed these unusually large, spherical boulders that dotted the beach.

Clay Cliffs: Located  west of Omarama down a 10km gravel road (always fun in our rickety Taranga), we had a great time scrambling up the scree paths surrounded by these dramatic pinnacles formed of clay.  The place was blissfully free of other tourists until another car arrived as we were leaving.  Again, I’m struck by just how few people populate the S. Island, even with all of the camper van tourism.

Lake Pukaki: Primo freedom camping location although we were at first reluctant to stay given the gale-strenth winds.  Fortunately, they abated and it turned into a gorgeous evening, warm enough to tempt Jonathan with a swim in the glacial lake.

Fountain of chocolate. Check out Jonathan's beard cap!

Fountain of chocolate. Check out Jonathan’s beard cap!

A couple of weeks have passed since saying goodbye to Taranga, and I’m still trying to sort through and process all of the adventures we had.  Jonathan and I both started off keeping daily journals, but I only made it to Day 12 before I fell hopelessly behind and had to copy and paste chunks of his journal entries into mine (which kind of defeats the purpose). By Day 16, I’d resigned myself to the fact that he’d be the sole chronicler of our camper van days (a critical job when every day brings a new location and new adventures and it soon becomes difficult to remember even where we’d eaten lunch the day before).  Throw into the mix the impossibility of my memory being able to distinguish Maori names like Makarora from Moeraki and I’d be hard-pressed to confidently name destinations other than  “Newton” and “Queenstown” without Jonathan’s journal as my crib-sheet.  So, thank you, Jonathan, for your meticulous I-Pad journaling.

First, some important stats:

  • 33 days, 32 nights.
  • Total mileage: 6255 kilometers, with Jonathan at the wheel for about 2 hours of that (during which time he managed to crash into the truck of the owner of the auto repair shop we visited for a Taranga checkup)!

This translated into some serious road-time, as we rarely stayed in a place for more than one night.  I still have callouses from the steering wheel.

So what moments stand out from the S. Island?

  • Monteith’s brewery: A highlight in an otherwise unexpectedly blah Westport to Greymouth drive (reputed to be one of the finest in the world but don’t believe all the hype). Don’t get me wrong–it’s attractive, but overrated. At one point we pulled off the coastal road (reminiscent of California’s Highway 1) so that we could soak in the view while we had a snack and some coffee.  We immediately realized that we couldn’t keep the van door open for more than a few seconds unless we wanted to invite a serious case of sandfly infestation and keeping the doors closed converted the van into a sauna rather quickly.  It was a short stop.
  • Helicopter tour of the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers:  Zara and I got to sit up front with the pilot and we were one of the last flights before the weather closed in for the day.
  • West coast wildlife center:  For true kiwi fans, the opportunity to see (in simulated night-time conditions) three Rowi, the rarest kiwi in the world with fewer than 400 left.  Pricey but worth it to hear Zara’s impassioned speech later in the afternoon on the importance of protecting endangered animals.
  • Buller Gorge Swing Bridge: The longest swing bridge in NZ (only Jonathan and Zara made it across)
  • Punakaiki Pancake Rocks: Fascinating but Zara was disappointed that they didn’t smell like syrup and we miscalculated timing, so missed the “must see” blowholes triggered by high tide.
  • Hokitika Gorge: Another swing bridge (but much less swingy so even manageable by wimps like me) over turquoise waters.
  • Hokitika Beach: Cool driftwood art on beach.
  • Puzzling World at Wanaka IMPORTANT:  We beat Jonathan at a game!!!  Zara and I paired up to challenge Jonathan to the Great Maze and we won!  As it may be another decade before I beat Jonathan at a logic game, I have to milk this victory for all it’s worth.

 (Stay Tuned for Part II…)

The West Coast lives up to its reputation as the rainiest part of NZ

The West Coast lives up to its reputation as the rainiest part of NZ

Walk to Fox Glacier

Walk to Fox Glacier

On top of Fox Glacier

On top of Fox Glacier

Co-pilots!

Co-pilots!

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

Hokitika Beach

Hokitika Beach

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge

More pancakes

More pancakes

Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks

Westport to Greymouth Drive

Westport to Greymouth Drive

Monteith's in Greymouth

Monteith’s in Greymouth

As far as I made it on the swing bridge

As far as I made it on the swing bridge

Buller Gorge Swing Bridge

Buller Gorge Swing Bridge

World Travel Family

Family Travel Blog

CARROT QUINN

dispatches from the wild

Mike Adamick

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

OurTravelLifestyle-LatestBlogPosts

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Family Travel Blog

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

A King's Life

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

EscapeArtistes

Just another WordPress.com site

Travel With Bender

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Worldschool Adventures

Follow a family of three as we travel the world exploring and learning more about the world, ourselves and our family

Edventure Project

Education and Adventure for Everyone

Lonely Girl Travels

An Oakland Girl in the World