One of the things that I realised while travelling through Asia and Europe was that, comparatively, I hadn’t seen enough of my own country, namely, the South Island. When talking abroad about New Zealand and what it has to offer from a tourist’s perspective, most of what makes up the attraction for foreigners is the scenery the south has to offer.
So when my other half nabbed a couple of weeks off work and booked flights to pop over to this hemisphere, it was a great reason to plan two weeks in which to try and cover as much of New Zealand as we could while trying to tick off as many things from the ‘tourist’ list as possible!
One thing quickly became apparent as I began filling in the spreadsheet: it was going to be a busy fortnight. We had a list of things we wanted to see and do, and didn’t really want to forego any of them if we could. It was going to be a game of balance; trying to find the perfect mix of sightseeing, activities and variety, whilst having enough chill time and not spending half the day driving. There were three min ‘areas’ we wanted to tick off,
- South Island scenery
- Marine Life
…and we had two weeks in which to do it. First stop, Northland!
We wanted to try and see some Dolphins, and due to a road closure in the south island going to Kaikoura to see them wasn’t going to be an option due to the time required to make a detour. So instead, we drove up to Paihia and set up camp for a couple of nights and enjoyed what the Bay of Plenty has to offer while we were at it.
As well as seeing Dolphins, we also made some time to go on a fishing charter. Heading out on a boat to go and catch some fish amongst beautiful scenery isn’t something that is able to be done in many parts of the world, so we went out in the morning and tried our best to catch a monster. Unfortunately, we ended up trading monster-catching for a few hours of fish feeding but still got a bit of action.
Once we reached shore we got off that boat we switched the rods for cameras and pretty much jumped straight on to a purpose built dolphin watching vessel with Fullers.
With a dolphin watching cruise, it’s never guaranteed that you’re going to see loads of Dolphins. This was made clear at the outset. Dolphin watching companies also have to follow strict rules set by the government regarding how much time you’re allowed to spend around a pod, and when you’re allowed to jump in with them, if possible (not when they have little baby dolphins around).
We set out, and it wasn’t long before we came across a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. There are two types that we could possibly see, Bottlenose and the Common Dolphin. These ones were chilled.
After hanging around these guys for a while, we got more than we bargained for when we continued on and came across a huge pod of Common Dolphins! There were hundreds of them, and they were super enthusiastic, swimming next to boat and jumping around and shit. This was super cool to see, and is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in New Zealand. The pictures speak for themselves!
The boat is a twin hull jet powered boat which means there is no propeller to injure the dolphins, and also has a space up the front for you to lie down and pop your head over the front to get up really close to the. They match the speed of the boat and swim on their side and have a look at you, it’s super fucking rad. Check out this video I made:
We also managed to see a penguin or two.
After seeing our fair share of Dolphins, we crashed out in our tent and got up in time to drive back to Auckland the next morning. We re-packed, smashed back a coffee then made our way to the airport, where we boarded a flight down to Christchurch. Scenic time!
The Jetstar flight wasn’t late, surprisingly, and we spent the evening catching up with the lads in Christchurch (thanks again to JP and James for rides / accommodation)! The next morning we got up on time and collected what would be our house on wheels for the next few days.
Check out this marvellous stallion! I had done a bit of research into available campers, but my size eliminated several other options from the list and we went with Jucy. The one we got was a fair price for the standard of the vehicle, the condition and facilities. The back of it converts from seats and a table to a bed very easily and fitted our needs perfectly. We stood out as tourists, but we kind of were, so that’s OK.
When planning the south island route to take, I had to take into consideration travel time. You can look at the map and think it isn’t too far to get somewhere, but the road can be very windy and you’ll be going through it at 30 Km/H. There’s also a lot of mountains down there which you have to drive around, not through.
We had two options. Either take Arthur’s Pass through to the west coast and take the road south past the Franz and Fox glacier, or head south west through to Tekapo and go past the eastern side of Mount cook towards Queenstown. After speaking to my friend Daniel and taking on board some advice, we opted for the latter.
We filled our purple and green beast with some supplies and hit the road. On our travels we passed an alpaca farm, which we had to stop at. Alpacas are fuckin’ cool.
Our mascots that we got from the Alpaca farm 😉
We carried on through to our first stop, Tekapo. The scenery coming out of Christchurch is fairly bland until you hit the mountains, at which point things get a lot better. The skies were clouded for most of the trip but thankfully the clouds subsided as we got to the lake, and after we checked in to a campground we went for a drive around the place and checked out the sights.
The main reason we stopped in Tekapo for the night was to go on a stargazing tour at the observatory. There are a couple around the place as the area is well renowned for being a great place to become an astronomer for the night. We were super lucky on the night, especially considering how cloudy it was during the day, to have 95% visibility.
You go on a bus with a few other people and as you get closer to the place where the telescopes are, the bus dims its lights. No white light is allowed, not from your cellphone or anything. The tour guide spends some time with a green laser telling you about the stars and constellations and you have a look through the telescope at them. I’ve never seen the sky that clear, it was awesome. I don’t have any photos from it as white light is banned, plus you wouldn’t get much with an LG phone anyway..
We got up the next day and cooked some eggs and made some coffee in the back of the camper, then hit the road in the direction of Mt Cook. We had an outing booked with Glacier Explorers (thanks for the recommendation Dan), where they take you out in boats on the actual glacier lake which we were really looking forward to. On the way there we realised that we had to check in thirty minutes prior to departure, and we were going to be cutting it fine. We put the Jucy beast to the test and got there very late but still in time to make the departure.
Unfortunately the clouds were in full force that day and we didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of Mt Cook other than a small bit of snow through a peep hole in the fog. Shit happens. That’s alright, though, we were there to check out some glacier action. They took us on a bus ride to a point at which we walked down to the lake.
Our guide split us into boats, and we spent a little over an hour on the water. Firstly they cruise to a few of the icebergs which have split off the glacier, where they tell you about them and you can have a close look at them and touch them (they’re cold).
We then got quite close to the glacier itself. One thing that was highlighted by the guide is that due to the rate the thing melts, future generations won’t have the opportunity to see stuff like this. While we were there, a huge chunk of the glacier actually broke off, which was super lucky; the guide himself had only seen that happen once or twice. It makes a bloody loud noise!
After that we headed back down the road at a more legal pace. On the way we stopped at a viewing point, where a dude had set up a piano. Never seen that before, it was pretty rad.
We also stopped off near Tiwzel at a salmon farm. Have you ever had a salmon pie? I hadn’t. Not until that day. I would definitely have another one. It was bloody delicious. I’d also recommend doing what Tirza did and throwing all the food into the pool at once for the salmon to contend over. It creates a bit of a ruckus, they jump quite high out of the water.
We stayed that in Wanaka, where we got ourselves another site at a campground. You can try to freedom camp around the place, but if you don’t have a self contained camper with the appropriate sticker on it, you can get fined heavily if caught. Once you take into consideration the kitchen and bathroom facilities that a campground provides, it’s worth paying the $20.
Some great pancakes were cooked in the back of that van.
The next morning, we woke up early, because we had a skydive booked! Fuck yeah. Only, the problem was there was a heavy rain session going on, which meant our dive was cancelled. Back to sleep we went. When we woke, the rain had subsided but the clouds were still present so after having a look around the lakeside and getting the camper stuck in some sand (not my finest moment) we headed down the road for a beer at the famous Cardrona Pub.
Following a couple of pints, I thought I’d give Skydive Wanaka a call to see if they were jumping again. They were. Bloody awesome, because I weigh too much to jump at Queenstown. We hightailed it back, and managed to jump out of a plane just as the rain took force again. We didn’t get the best views because of the weather, but it was still a lot of fun!
I’m going to cut this post off before it gets too big and get started on part 2. Thanks for reading!