Touring the South Island
15th, 16th Nov - Arrived into Christchurch and was immediately hit by a massive temperature drop compared to Oz. The southerly wind from Antarctica is vicious (or maybe we aren't used to cooler weather after such a long time in the sun) Christchurch is known as one of the most English towns in NZ - you can punt on the River Avon and the churches/buildings are very UK. All the souvenir shops have a distinct 'sheep and woollen scarf' theme - think Scotland! Our main priority was to sort out some wheels for the six weeks touring about and we eventually settled on a 'spaceship'. It is a Toyota people carrier which has been converted so it sleeps 2, has a 2 ring gas hob and storage for food etc. They are bright orange so you can't miss others on the road and they all have their own names. Ours for the duration is called CHEWY (after Chewbacca, Star Wars).
The next few days may sound boring/repetitive as it all involves driving, fields of sheep, deserted lakes, rugged mountains and dead possums by the side of the road. Feel free to skip it but for those who are interested in our route so far, read on...
Thurs 17th - We collected Chewy in the afternoon and set off to our first stop, the supermarket to fill up on food for our expedition. We then headed North to a small town called Kaikoura on the E.coast. We parked up on a nature reserve, overlooking a colony of seals, snowy capped mtns as a back drop. Not bad!!
Fri 18th - After a cooked breakfast with the seals and a few strange stares we went whale watching for 3 hours. We saw about 6 sperm whales, some dusky dolphins and lots of seabirds - very enjoyable Then drove inland to Hanmer Hot Springs and spent the afternoon basking in hot pools which were 36 degrees. Spent the night at a campsite in the woods and got bitten to death by sandflies but we didn't know what they were at the time so weren't bothered by them. We suffered a few days later !
Sat 19th - Drove to Greymouth on the West Coast via Lewis pass. Lots of great views of mountains, sheep, deer, lakes - all very deserted. Hardly any traffic on the roads and most of that are people in campervans. Saw a Kea parrot at Arthur's pass which had been biting rubber on car windows and ended the day's drive in Lake Tekapo. We stayed in the campsite by the lake. The colour of the water is bright blue as it is fed by a glacier. The fields surrounding the lake were also full of lupins, all colours, so very picture postcard.
Sun 20th - After a night of stargazing (no air pollution out here) we had a 2 hr hike to the top of the mtn by the lake - great views etc. Then drove to Lake Pukaki which was another glacial lake, the blue of the water was really bright turquoise. Unfortunately, we couldn't see Mt Cook which is the back drop as it was covered in cloud. Had a tour of some Lord of the Rings scenery - Plains of Rohan (for you saddos who remember) and then we stayed in a campsite at the base of Mt Cook. It rained and rained so we surrendered to the outdoors and had a great pub meal and some beer.
Mon 21st - Mt Cook to Dunedin via Otago peninsula. Dunedin is lovely and was founded by a Scot so it v.similar to Edinburgh etc. Otago peninsula is home to a large colony of albatross but they were nesting so we couldn't see any. Stayed in a caravan park.
Tues 22nd - Started the day off with a tour round Cadbury's World in Dunedin. We were shown round the chocolate factory Willy Wonka style with an almost real life oompa loompa. We had lots of tastes of different chocolate that you can't get in the UK - Perky nanas (banana filled choc bar), Pinky's (marshmellow, caramel), Moro (like mars bars). The honeycomb in crunchies is called hoky poky! We had fun anyway and came away with too much chocolate from the factory shop (which lasted about 2 days). The afternoon was spent driving south through an area called the Catlins. The coast line is very rugged and lots of lovely beaches. Had a walk to a waterfall through some native bush, it was like being in an enchanted forest! Lots of tree ferns - see pics. We found a great campsite at Curio Bay - had a view over the sea and walked to a penguin colony in the eve, to see some yellow eyed penguins (rarest in the world) There isn't much else to do here except enjoy wildlife and scenery!
Weds 23rd Made our way south to Invercargill. At one of the beaches, you could see golddust in the sand - area very rich in goldmining (or was in the 1860s) Stopped off by a lake to cook dinner which could have been better without the sandflies and decided to move on for the night as the lake was supposedly called the lake of the dead by Maoris so felt a bit spooked. Also visited Slope Point - most southerly point of NZ. We stayed in the middle of nowhere off the side of the road. This may sound strange but it is the done thing out here and perfectly safe (don't panic mother!)
Thurs 24th - Next stop, Te Anau, gateway to fiordlands.. Booked our trips, checked into a great campsite and spent the afternoon on a trip to glowworm caves. This was a great experience, we got on a small boat in some caves and travelled past underground waterfalls and rock pools to complete darkness where the glow worms did their glowing for us. It was pitch black in there, no good for claustraphobics..
Fri 25th - Trip to Doubtful Sound, one of the quieter fiords. We were lucky enough to have cloudless skies in an area that usually rains two days out of every three. We started off in a boat over Manapuri Lake, to get to bus drive over a pass and then we could get the boat to Doubtful Sound. You can't get there in a car yourself otherwise we would have gone in Chewy. It was very peaceful in the sound and had a definite wilderness feel to it. We spotted fiordland crested penguins (second rarest in the world - could now become a penguin expert) and NZ fur seals. Drove to another campsite in the eve by another lake (lots of lakes in South island)..
Sat 26th - Boat trip on Milford Sound, another fiord - and another cloudless sky ! How lucky were we! Hard to describe but the mountains are very dramatic and rise straight out of the sea, covered in vegetation, lots of waterfalls, water is very dark. Saw some more penguins (getting boring now!) and seals. In afternoon we headed towards Queenstown and drove up to a ski field in the Remarkables (mtn range) for a great view of the area. As it was late we stopped there for the night with 3 inquisitive cows . More stargazing. Bit surreal staying half way up a mountain, but with Chewy you can stay anywhere!!
Sun 27th - Checked into a campsite in Q'town centre and explored. This is the adrenalin/adventure capital of the world and every other shop advertises bungy jumps, skydiving, white water rafting etc The town is small and compact and sits on Lake Wakatipu. It is such an outdoorsy place! We decided to get an adrenalin rush and had a go on a shotover jet boat in the afternoon. The boats are designed like large jet skis and hover over the water - we did a few 360 degree turns and had a good laugh. Adrenalin rush? well, maybe we need to do a skydive as it wasn't as bad as we thought!
Mon 28th - drove to a bridge outside of town to watch some people bungy jumping off it - decided against it!
Tue 29th - Drove to the West Coast and enjoyed more fish and chips - lovely coast very quiet and tree ferns everywhere. Stayed on a beach and didn't see anyone for hours!
Weds 30th - Had a walk round Fox Glacier - an advancing glacier that you can get quite close too, if you stay around for half an hour you are likely to see huge chunks of ice falling off. We decided to miss the guided hike on the ice after seeing people's faces who had done it!
Thurs 1st Dec - Another glacier down the road - Franz Josef - just as impressive. Weather bad though so a heli hike was out of the question (damn shame). Drove north to Hokitika.
Fri 2nd - Nice little town with lots of arty shops and a good beach with jade pebbles which we collected. Drove to a Shantytown and panned for gold - managed to get some and have it in a bottle to keep. Won't pay off the visa bill though..
Sat 3rd - Pancake Rocks - a park on the coast with strange layered rock formations. Heavy rain so didn't hang around and drove upto Motueka in the Nelson/Marlborough region. Treated ourselves to a YHA and a bed.
Sun 4th - Wandered round a local market, bought a bag of kiwis (fruit, not people) and went to a local air show. Lots of logging, trucks, tractors and farming types. Paul went in a Pitster open air plane for a 15 min ride doing loops and spins - no photos though as camera decided to break just at that moment. I got persuaded to fill a small plane sightseeing for 10 mins over the coast which was great. Drove to Kaiteriteri in Abel Tasman National Park and stayed in a campsite next to a German couple who we keep bumping into!
Mon 5th - Went on a kayak trip with a guide and paddled for 16km up and down the coast spotting seals and penguins.
Tues 6th - To Nelson, stayed in Blenheim and planned a wine tour
Weds 7th - Visited 6 wineries and tasted lots! Had lunch in a vineyard - all v. good.
Thurs 8th - Had a drive round Queen Charlotte Sounds - gorgeous scenery