Deep in Southland

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Saturday, December 31, 2011

After landing in Auckland tired and dazed after a night of flying, an
hour stop over in Brisbane and losing 6 hours in time difference we were
a little dazed to say the least. But it was New Years Eve so we checked
into our hotel (Christmas prezzie J) had a snooze and then headed out
to the waterfront.  We had an awesome meal of stone-grilled lamb and
beef (you have a hot stone plate and cook the meat yourself to your
taste) and a really nice bottle of New Zealand Sav Blanc (my fave)
followed by bubbles and tiramisu then headed up into town and watched
the fireworks from Auckland Skytower.  It was a perfect way to start our
stint back in relative normality and we instantly started to feel that
New Zealand was our home from home. 

New Year hangovers slept
off and we went were collected by Jono and Leanne and taken on a tiki
tour of the outskirts of Auckland, stopping for some beers and fish n
chips, with Watties ketchup of course (Heinz aint the choice here). On
our last day in Auks before our flight to Christchurch Marcus and Nyssa
(who we met in Kuching) picked us up and we went on another tiki tour –
this time to the top of Mount Eden, via a coffee shop and some amazing
dumplings before they kindly dropped us at the airport.

As soon
as we got into our hire car at Christchurch airport it started to shake
from side to side.  I thought it was the wind at first until Will
rightly pointed out that there was none and it must be an earthquake. 
There had been further big quakes in CC just before Christmas larger
than the usual aftershocks which occur on a daily basis.  We were to
feel at another one morning while lying in bed – the second lasted
longer than the first.  As the whole of the city centre is pretty much a
no go zone we stayed in Riccarton on the outskirts which is where most
of the businesses have now moved to.  The Thistle Guest House was
definitely one of the best places we have stayed to date just like an
English B&B and really reminded us of home. 

While in
Christchurch we took a day trip up to Kaikoura and walked around the
beautiful peninsular walkway there where you can see tonnes of seals
chilling out in the sun.  Marcus and Jenny arrived the following day for
the end of their honeymoon so we went out for some drinks and dinner
and it was really nice to catch up with friendly faces from home.  We
also took a long walk around the perimeter of the 'red-zone', the area
worst affected by the quake and now designated unsafe until they rebuild
(if they ever can!).  The area is fenced off but it encompasses the
whole of the centre, including all the offices, hotels, shops and
restaurants, the whole thing.  It’s like a war zone or something out of
28 days later to see a city deserted like that.  I’m told it was one of
New Zealand’s most beautiful too and you can see remnants of the old
cathedral and other historic buildings through the fencing, it was
really sad to see.  Before leaving CC we stocked up on all the supplies
we needed and then hit the open road.

Our Journey took us south
from Christchurch past Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd
and Lake Pukaiki, up to Mount Cook.  Words can’t even describe and the
pictures just can’t do justice to the scenery in the South Island and
what an introduction this was.  Beautiful wild flowers sway amid the
native grasses and the snow capped mountains soar upwards in the
distance.  The glacial lakes which formed thousands of years ago when
the glaciers dominated the landscape and then retreated, shimmer a
turquoise that I never thought possible for an inland body of water.  It
truly is beautiful.  As you wind up into the mountains you turn a
corner and suddenly Lake Pukaiki appears in front of you sprawling out
as far as you can see.  It’s epic.  Too many epic picture postcard
moments for you to take them all in or even begin to photograph them

We then drove back towards the East Coast to the Victorian
town of Oamaru.  Here we visited the yellow eye penguin colony and saw a
couple of the penguins coming in after their day at sea.  After that,
we went to visit the blue penguin colony.  The blue penguins are the
smallest penguins in the world only growing up to 30 cms and they really
are blue and white not black and white.  We sat and watched over 100 of
them come to shore in rafts after their day at sea.  They were so
cute!  Standing on the rocks shaking their tails to release oils to cool
their body down and then heading back up the rocks into the colony in
what looked to be little organised groups with one at the top shouting
the all clear down the group below, soo cute!

From Oamaru we
drove along the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins, farmland and
rolling hills, and along the coastal road with epic views out to sea. 
We camped at Lake Te Anau for a couple of nights which enabled us to
drive down the mountain road to Milford Sound and take a cruise along
the sound out to the sea and back, checking out the fur seals chilling
out on the rocks and the plethora of waterfalls cascading down the huge
rock faces which tower above on either side showing the scars of the ice
glacier that once passed through.

Next stop Queenstown, where on
checking into the campsite we were asked what we wanted to jump off or
throw ourselves out of.  Sorry to disappoint though we didn’t fancy
leaping off bridges with elastic around our ankles (have you seen the
clip in Africa?) and skydiving proved to be an expense we had to pass
on.  We caught up with Vanessa for drinks, who was volunteering at the
old school in Cambodia when we were there.  We also happened to be in
Queenstown when Will’s old lodgers Mitzi and Stewart were there at her
Dad’s amazing house built on the hill with views out over Queenstown and
Lake Wakatipu and we were invited around for a BBQ which was cool and
nice to catch up with more friendly faces. 

We also took a ride
up the sky gondola, took in a Maori show, ate a Ferg Burger (undoubtedly
the best burger ever, little lamby and cock-a-doodle oink for the win),
saw some Kiwi’s at the nocturnal house in the bird park and drove out
to Glenorchy to visit the possum shop (it is actively encouraged to buy
possum products as they are a pest that is endangering NZ’s native
trees) and have lunch.  At the top of the skyline gondola we actually
got some free rides on the luge, free wine and were driven back down the
mountain in a 4wd as the gondola stopped working – little bit of
excitement for our day :).

On route out of Queenstown we stopped
for some infamous New Zealand pie in quaint little Arrowtown.  An old
mining town which looks still to be out of an old western movie or
something.  We wished we could have stopped longer but we bought far too
many souvenirs in the lovely shops there and then dragged ourselves

Having been really lucky with the weather so far
(apparently it was New Zealand’s worst summer in 50 years or something)
the weather caught up with us just before we left Queenstown and
followed us until we got to Franz Josef.  In between we stopped for the
night in Haast having driven along the Haast Pass, another drive of epic
scenery I believe but not on this day.  On this day the clouds were so
low you could almost reach up and touch them.  The following morning we
drove back down the pass for 10 mins and caught a glimpse of what the
drive should have been like as the clouds had lifted slightly showing
the valley which the road navigated with huge mountains skirting one
side of the road and snow capped peaks in the distance.  Waterfalls
cascaded down the steep slopes after all the previous day’s heavy rain. 

At Franz Josef we did a hele-hike onto the glacier.  Neither of
us had been in a helicopter before, nor on a glacier.... which is like
walking on a giant mint according to Will :-) We got front seats as the
chopper took us up over the glacier and over the ridge where all you can
see is the white expanse in-front of you, it was totally epic (sorry to
repeat myself but epic is a word that came up A LOT).

Next stop
Punakaiki where we camped next to the beach and watched the sunset over
the roaring ocean.  We also visited the pancake rock formations there
which are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago,
when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the
seabed and have created some funky layered pancake effect and with blow
holes there too.

Our penultimate stop in the South Island was
Kaiteriteri, in campsite suburbia by the sea.  Only suburbia because it
was one full campsite mainly with people from Christchurch who
apparently come here year after year with their families and friends for
their 2 week holiday.  Boy do they come prepared too!  Boats, kayaks
uber awnings, massive BBQ’s, satellite receivers and fancy tents and
caravans galore, so our little 2 man tent looked quite comical slotted
in amongst them.  Our kind neighbours took pity on our feeble ensemble
and lent us some chairs and offered us booze.   The busy campsite didn’t
however impact at all on Kaiteriteri’s charm, surrounded by green and a
beautiful beach with crystal clear (if not slightly chilly) water.  We
were there to explore Abel Tasman National Park which is a series of
white sand bays and tiny islands amid the turquoise sea frequently
visited by dolphins, seals, penguins and orcas.  Abel Tasman is one of
New Zealand’s great walks but alas we didn’t have time to embark on a
3-4 day trek so we opted for the more relaxed option of a catamaran
sailing day. What can I say, it was a perfect day of blue sky and blue
sea, stopping in a bay to collect muscles which were then cooked and
served on deck and Will even got to have a go at sailing the boat.

final stop before the Interislander and by no means least was Renwick, a
small town set amid the famous Marlborough wineries.  We had an awesome
day cycling around the wineries sampling the various Sav Blancs, Pino
Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pino Noir, Riesling, Malbec .... hic hic ;-) 
Bought far too many bottles for a backpacker budget and then stumbled
back to our tent before our onward journey to North Island.
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