My latest and biggest adventure was a 10 day road trip in the South Island with my friend Diana. This was the trip that I had been anticipating since before I even came to New Zealand and it finally happened! Our goal was to see as many things as we could during our short time which didn’t really allow us to spend much time in any one location but we decided we would rather see just the highlights of the whole island than spend a lot of time in a few places.
We rented a campervan which was just a minivan with a bed in the back through Spaceship Rentals in Christchurch. They had great prices at just $19/day minus the extra costs of their optional insurance packages. The only major downside of renting a campervan is the high costs of petrol which we definitely underestimated going into the trip.
To start our journey, I took a bus to Wellington to spend the weekend there celebrating birthdays with friends. On Monday, Diana and I flew down to Christchurch. We had originally planned on staying in a hostel but decided we would give couch surfing a try since it’s free and gives the chance to meet new locals. We ended up staying with a couple originally from Canada and their 3 daughters. They welcomed us in even though it was late and they all had work and school in the morning and gave us great tips on our upcoming road trip. In the morning, the wife even offered to drive us to the rental place to pick up our campervan. Thus began our journey…
It didn’t take long to get used to driving on the left side of the road. In fact it didn’t feel weird at all other than repeatedly turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker.
We didn’t waste any time getting our trip started. Our first destination was Lake Tekapo. In case you ever wonder how to pronounce any of the places I mention, usually the first vowel (“e” in Tekapo) is emphasized whereas most Americans would emphasize the second or middle vowel (“a” in Tekapo). It was just as beautiful as I expected it to be with clear waters surrounded by snow capped mountains. We visited the famous Church of the Good Shepherd. It didn’t have the colorful flowers making it even more picturesque like what you would find on Pinterest but still beautiful nonetheless.
Our next stop was Lake Pukaki. It was pretty similar to Lake Tekapo except we were the only ones there and we could see Mt. Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand on the other side.
With a few hours of daylight left, we went up to Mount Cook National Park to try and get a short hike with a good view of Mt Cook in before the sun went down. The drive there was amazing with nothing else around us besides lakes and mountains… and the multiple rabbits that ran in front of us (only 1 was hit). We did about half of the hike to save daylight but ended up seeing a beautiful sunset over Lake Pukaki. Instead of staying at the campsite there, we drove to Omarama where we would visit the Clay Cliffs in the morning.
The first night sleeping in the van was probably the coldest of the whole trip. I was layered up and even wore gloves and hid my head under the covers the whole night it was so cold. That made it even harder to get out of bed in the morning… we were really struggling. We eventually got going on the road to the clay cliffs of Omarama. These were on someone’s private property with a little gravel road leading to them in the middle of nowhere. I liked them because they aren’t something that everyone hears about and would expect to go to but were still worth a visit. We even made friends with a few sheep!
We were Dunedin bound for the night but made a quick stop to see the Moeraki Boulders. I was amazed at how large and perfectly round they were!
After seeing the boulders, we finally made in to Dunedin! I loved that city with all of it’s beautiful architecture and coastal landscape. There was a lot to do and see just within and around the Octagon (city centre) such as the historic railway station, the Cadbury chocolate factory, old churches, and cafes. We spent some time in the less appealing side of town in search of a laundromat but it was still cool to explore the area outside of the main attraction. Looking for a place to park for the night, we headed out on the Otago Peninsula. The roads were scary at night because they were windy with no guardrails right on the water’s edge. We ended up parking at a tiny beach parking lot and were happy to have toilets in an actual building to get ready in rather than the outhouse from the night before.
We partly planned to sleep on the peninsula so that we would be close to Larnarch Castle and see it first thing in the morning. Even though we had to get off the peninsula to get gas cause we were of course very low, we got to the castle right after it opened. There was an entry fee just to walk around the outside but we deemed it worth the cost. Apparently it’s New Zealand’s only castle but even so it seemed more like a nice house, not quite as grand as say a European castle. It was still pretty though; I enjoyed walking around the gardens and taking in the views of the bay.
After the castle we went to see the world’s steepest street, Baldwin St. It was a pretty intense trek up to the top but we made it! There were stairs built into the street because it’s too steep to walk for the average person.
From there we headed to one of my favorite places of the trip, Tunnel Beach. It was a cool feeling standing on the edge of high peninsular rock with mighty waves crashing below my feet. We could also go down a tunnel (hence “Tunnel” beach) to get closer to the water and explore more little tunnels for the more adventurous ones.
We were on the hunt for the world’s smallest penguins in Curio Bay. On the way there we stopped at Nugget Point and Parakaunui Falls to see more of the Catlins before sunset. Apparently Parakaunui Falls are the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand. The looked like a very mini version of Chittenango Falls from back home in New York. Nugget Point was another coastal view with a possibility of seeing penguins but we didn’t see any there.
The best time to see penguins at Curio Bay is just before sunset which just happened to time out perfectly for us. With a little spare time before sunset we walked around the cliffs of the bay and checked out Porpoise Bay where you can supposedly swim with wild dolphins… totally would have been worth getting in the freezing water! We saw some other touristy looking people on a deck so we assumed that was the best penguin viewing spot and sure enough there was one there! Only one penguin showed up while we were there and he didn’t get very close but I can still say I saw a yellow-eyed penguin, the rarest in the world!
We were so close the very bottom of New Zealand so even though it was dark we tried getting to slope point which is marked the southernmost point in NZ. The gravel roads getting there were rough but we eventually ran into a sign for a trail to get to the point. It said to follow the yellow markers but we couldn’t find any kind of trail so we just tramped along the fence line toward the water’s edge but didn’t see any sign or anything so we just said “ehh close enough”. It was slightly sketchy in the dark so we didn’t bother trying to find it.
Our ultimate goal was to make it to Te Anau that night to give us plenty of time to get to Milford Sound in the morning but we were still hours away. We made a pit stop in Invercargill to get make dinner in the Burger King parking lot and use their wifi and toilets to get ready for bed… the relied heavily on Burger King and McDonald’s for their toilets. That was our latest night not getting to Te Anau until 12:30 which was about 3-4 hours past our normal bed time… yes we went to bed that early.
Since we just parked in front of some random person’s house for the night we got up nice and early to head to Milford Sound. There’s only one road leading to Milford Sound and it’s about a 2 hour stretch each way. It’s also pretty rough the second half of the way there. At one point we noticed the road seemed to just end right at a snowy mountain then realized there was a little tunnel we had to drive through with a stoplight at each end since it’s only one lane wide. Surprisingly there weren’t many people there when we arrived even for being off season. But hey, I’m not complaining! The only way to get really close was an expensive cruise that we didn’t want to spend money on so we just walked around the edge and still got some good views! I heard it rains more at Milford Sound than anywhere in New Zealand but with our luck of the sun following us it was a beautiful day!
After some time at Milford we made the trek to Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world! I loved this little city despite it being filled with other tourists and the difficulty we initially had navigating through it. We walked around the downtown area and the lake for a while then went to the world famous Furgburger for dinner. I’ve had my fair share of tasty burgers but this was probably the best I’ve ever had! We walked around town some more, made our nightly pit stop at BK then headed toward Glenorchy to camp for the night.
Just past Glenorchy is a little place called Paradise where many scenes from Lord of the Rings are filmed. I was excited to see the sites but our good luck with weather had left us as it was raining all morning. Just before we got to the “town” sign for Paradise we had to stop because there was a stream flowing through the road that we just knew Baby wouldn’t be able to make it through…. so we walked… in the cold rain. All we saw were a few farm houses but I’m sure there was probably more further down the road that we just didn’t venture to.
The next stop was Wanaka. Just before getting into town we stopped at Landsborough’s Puzzling World. The inside exhibit was filled with tons of cool illusions and mind games then there was a big maze outside that took us over an hour to get through! By the end of it I was so hot and frustrated that I was just ready to get out. It was a nice change from the other sight seeing things we had been doing before. We spent a little longer than we expected there but we finally got into town. This was like a mini Queenstown which was perfect for me cause I tend to like the smaller towns anyway. Lake Wanaka was just as beautiful as all the other lakes we had gone to with blue waters surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
After sunset we started to make our way toward the West Coast. Unfortunately that meant driving through Hasst Pass AT NIGHT which was scary to drive through at times. I wish we could’ve driven through it during the day because not only would I feel better about driving it but I could tell it was a beautiful drive in daylight. Eventually we safely made it to the little town Haast for the night.
We were on the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park which has many hiking trails to chose from and we chose to do a trek to the Blue Pools Hut. The description mentioned light blue pools and a big swinging bridge but we never found either. We also thought it was a 2 hour roundtrip hike but it ended up being each way. The whole trail was difficult to navigate around the mud from all the recent rain. Even though there wasn’t much to see or do on it we still made the best of it!
From there we headed to Fox Glacier. We weren’t too thrilled about seeing a dirty block of ice but we went for it anyway since it was just a short hike. As expected, once we saw it that was about all there was to it so we were in and out pretty quick.
On our way to Arthur’s Pass we stopped in my favorite little beach town, Hokitika. It was just a quick stop to walk around the beach, feeling the freezing cold water and got some gas.
We accidentally detoured to Greymouth (my bad navigation skills) for dinner and to see the sunset on the beach but it wasn’t as pretty as we thought it would be. We drove out to Arthur’s Pass for the night so we could explore the area in the morning.
Arthur’s Pass was a bit of a detour for our trip route but heard wonderful things about it so we went out of our way to go there. I’m not sure if either of us knew exactly what we were looking for there other than to see the Devil’s Punchbowl. Honestly we probably could’ve saved a lot of time and gas money by skipping out on Arthur’s Pass because by the end of it I realized the scenic drive through it really wasn’t any different than what we had already seen.
After driving back through Arthur’s Pass we stopped in Greymouth again for showers and a salvo trip and kept on going toward Punakaiki. Here we got to see the Pancake Rocks and blowholes. They were pretty neat how they were stacked so intricately.
The next day was the adventure I had been anticipating the most, kayaking in Abel Tasman! We drove up to Moteuka for the night so we could start first thing in the morning.
Unfortunately it was raining when we woke up so we tried waiting it out a little but looked like it had been raining for a while and wasn’t going to let up anytime soon. We went into town to get wifi and check the weather and sure enough it was supposed to rain all day… that’s exactly what happened too. I was so bummed because I knew we wouldn’t have time to stay an extra day to kayak the next day so with great disappointment we decided to just head to Kaikoura early and try there.
On our way we stopped in Nelson to see if there were any fun things to do indoors but there wasn’t really besides to see “the ring” which we did but didn’t stay long. We made it to Kaikoura with plenty of time to see town before the sun went down and everything closed. The town is known for their great seafood especially crayfish so we asked for recommendations on where to eat (that was cheap of course). When we were checking out one of the recommendations I noticed someone who looked familiar and it was my friend Chandler who had been travelling with her mom! We hung out with them for a bit then went to the end of the peninsula to see all the baby seals that hang out there. It was so comical to watch them pose for pictures then run/waddle away!
We ended up eating at a little takeaway place called Cooper’s Catch and it was mighty fine! Chandler and her mom happened to come in while we were there too so we chilled with them for a little again.
We were determined to kayak at some point in our trip so we booked a fur seal kayak tour with Kaikoura Kayaks in the morning. We weren’t originally planning on doing a guided tour but I’m glad we ended up doing it because the water was pretty choppy and we got to see lots of seals and even penguins swimming around us! Although I’m stilled bummed we couldn’t kayak in Abel Tasman it was still beautiful in Kaikoura with blue waters, snow capped mountains and playful seals.
Shortly after we were done kayaking we made our way back to Christchurch to end our trip. I was actually glad we had that extra day to explore some of Christchurch. It seems like it was a beautiful city before the earthquake and I enjoyed seeing the ways in which they use their resources to rebuild the city. For example, the new mall is call Re:Start and it’s a collection of shipping containers. There were shipping containers all over the city used as mini restaurants, stores, or anything really.
We had no idea where to stay for the night so we contacted our couch surfing family again and they welcomed us back into their home at the last minute even though the wife had just had surgery a few days earlier and was still in recovery. I’m so grateful for their generous hospitality!
Our last day of the journey had come and I could not bear the thought of going back to campus to catch up on all my homework and projects. We still tried to make the best of our last half-day by going to the Canterbury Museum and later on the pier in New Brighton. The museum was awesome with all of its displays big and life-like! It took us a long time to get to the pier because of all the construction and closed roads… it was really frustrating after a while.
We had to clean Baby out good before returning her and had to wait for a while to get a turn but once we got a turn we cleaned super fast! Our flight was at 4:30 and we didn’t leave the car rentals till 3:30 but we had to walk 1.5 miles. It seemed very doable to get there in 20 minutes but between carrying my suitcase on the rough sidewalks and the large roundabout we had to cross it took a little longer than we expected. On top of getting there with only a few minutes to spare, my suitcase wasn’t checked in all the way and I had to check in all over again as the plane was boarding. I was kinda a nervous wreck but somehow made it to the plane on time! From there it was just a short flight back to Wellington and a bus to Palmy.
I had such a great time on this trip! Although it was constant moving around I still feel as though I saw almost everything I could in just 10 days. It was a great bonding time with Diana in which we have so many unforgetable memories.
Sorry this post is so long but I hope y’all enjoy it, I know I sure did!