After a surprisingly calm and pleasant ferry crossing over the Cook Strait we arrived in Picton and drove out to Nelson on the north coast of the south island as our base for a couple of nights.
We started our first day by visiting the Te Mania and Richmond Plains vineyards, after a few tastings and couple of purchases we continued onto the the Abel Tasman National Park.
It was beautiful day for a coastal walk, but maybe a little cold for swimming – much to Claire’s disappointment. However, that didn’t stop Ryan who had a quick dip and then afterwards as we walked back around the coast we spotted a little blue penguin on a rock (it was that cold!)
From Nelson we drove the famously scenic road down Queen Charlotte’s Drive and on down the pacific coast to Kaikoura.
After driving past numerous seal colonies by the side of the road we reached our destination.
Kaikoura was high up on each of our wish lists and it didn’t disappoint. The town is strategically placed on the pacific coast close to the famous ‘Kaikoura Canyon’. Just 800 meters off the coast is the 60km wide and over 1200km deep canyon which creates a thriving and unique ecosystem of ocean wildlife, including the chance to whale watch all year around. Hooray!
However it turns out there is lots to admire on the land too with stunning landscapes and walks positioned between the ocean and the mountains.
Of course, the other obvious reason to visit the area is to sample their amazing seafood – especially crayfish! This was delicious, however I enjoyed the cheap seafood chowder and scallop sandwich at the Kaikoura Seafood Barbecue shack by the seashore just as much!
However, the main reason we were there was to get the chance to see whales – an experience none of us had experienced before. Male sperm whales visit the canyon all year around and we were keen to try and spot them!
In total we managed to see three sperm whales, two albatross and a pod of dusky dolphins thrown in for good measure too. Luck was definitely on our side!
After the excitement of Kaikoura we headed further down the coast to Christchurch. Christchurch’s location on several major fault lines make it particularly vulnerable to earthquakes and sadly there have been several huge ones in the city’s recent history. Walking around the streets feel a little eerie at times with few people, even fewer tourists and a building site on every corner.
However, we were all struck by what a nice vibe the city had and how strong their plans for regeneration were, with some original temporary structures such as the ‘cardboard cathedral’ and shipping container shopping district ‘re-start’ all married together with some beautiful graffiti art. We spent our time there taking in the sites of the city, visiting the ‘Quake City’ exhibit and boating (yes, boating!) in the botanical gardens.
Frustratingly, we had to say goodbye to Claire at Christchurch airport who then flew back to the UK. Although we had all done so much together it never quite feels like enough time.
Mum, Ryan and I continued on our tour of the south island, which started by crossing over to the rugged west coast to the town of Hokitika, via the high ‘Arthurs Pass’ crossing (passing yet more Lord of the Rings film landscapes!). Here we had a beautiful evening walk in a glowworm dell before indulging in some fish and chips.
The following morning we had a quick walk on the beach, looking for the famous green gemstones you can find here, and then even had time to visit the sock making museum before moving on!
We then pressed on down the stunning west coast to the ‘Lakes District’ (not to be confused with England’s Lake District!)
On the way we stopped at both the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers and marvelled at how much they had receded in recent years.
For the next few nights we were staying in and around the central Otago region (Wanaka and Queenstown) and northern Fiordlands (Te Anau). We spent our time visiting the towns here are making excursion to nearby places such as Arrowtown, centre of the old gold mining industry and witnessed their Anzac Day parade there.
Our main reason for going to Fiordland was to visit Milford Sound. We were pretty nervous about the weather because it is supposed to be one of the wettest places on the planet! However, we were very smug about the weather we did have….
The 2 hour drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is worth it in itself. It is a beautiful drive with many beautiful short walks and landscapes to stop at along the way.
We felt the most beautiful and usual stop was ‘The Chasm’, a waterfall that has blasted down through the rocks creating bizarre and beautiful rock formations, creating what seems like optical illusions wherever you look.
We were very excited to arrive at Milford Sound itself and joined our (fortunately) uncrowded boat tour and soaked in the scenery of the fiord.
We were lucky enough to spot some interesting wildlife too, including a rare white heron, bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and albatross.
Driving back we stopped at ‘mirror lakes’ and other viewpoints for a last look at the incredible landscapes before returning to Te Anau.
The following day we started our journey back towards Christchurch, first stopping for the night in Queenstown – adventure capital of the south island!
The next day we drive further north to Fairlie stopping for a walk in the foothills of Mount Cook and to see the church at Tekapo Lake.
Our final stop of the trip was Fairlie where we had a lovely birthday meal at The Red Stag Restaurant!
We all agreed that New Zealand had surpassed our expectations – considering none of us ever thought we would be able to come on holiday here and our plans to all meet here only manifested a month or two ago!
The road trip itself was ambitious in the time we had and even the woman at the car hire company marvelled at how far we had come. It was definitely worth it though!
So it was time to say our goodbyes yet again (sob) and mum got on a plane back to the UK and Ryan and I continued on our travels.
This time onto a new continent again – South America here we come!