Surreal South Island

Trip Start Apr 16, 2013
Trip End Dec 20, 2013

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Wednesday, October 9, 2013

We boarded the Cook straight ferry from the amazing North island and have now completed nearly 4 weeks in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand.  Cruising around the ever-changing landscapes in Douglas (our camper), we've walked in golden sands,  trekked inside glaciers, found tranquil sounds, led dolphins around a fiord, gazed upon a glow worm sky and had a stand off with a Penguin! We washed this down with Sauvignon blanc wherever possible....  

Our first stop was cold and lovely Picton where we had a tripple around the Marlborough vineyards sampling some of the world's finest wines.  We got into the tasting a bit too much and refused to waste any.  Next thing we knew we were happily counting logging trucks and eating fish and chips. A fine day, except for the lack of mushy peas. In the words of Peter Kay we found ourselves asking the chip shop lady, "as tha nowt moist?"

Douglas drove us along the the gorgeous Queen Charlotte Sound where we found sunshine, peace and after a walk, a view of the sound that took our (hangover) breath away. Descending into the green mussel capital of the world, Havelock we had a lunch of 'fisherman's mussels,' beards included. Jim ate a beard and thought fondly of his fine Asian beard. Staying a night by the pelorous river, we discovered it was the film location for the 'dwarves in barrels escape' scene of The Hobbit.  We're excited about the upcoming films! 

Next up, Abel Tasman National Park in the north west where a water taxi took us right up the coast passed split apple rock and cottage loaf rock before dropping us off on golden iron rich beaches. We were alone in the middle of a gorgeous untouched beach and after Laura played on a swing we walked through this epic landscape, across a swing bridge and through gorgeous lush bushland.  After 4 hours exploring we got a water taxi back to Douglas where a rainbow greeted us. 

Next up we drove through torrential rain to Punakaiki where we hunted in a pitch black cavern for glow worms with no luck, explored the gorgeous layered cliffs that make up 'Pancake Rocks' and their thundering blow holes.  We spotted a Weka (weird kiwi type bird) and her chick in the car park which was cool.

Yet more rain followed us down the west coast to NZ's glacier country.  Staying in Franz Josef township our site was in a tunnel of lush rainforest which was overlooked by massive peaks.  Wow! The weather seemed to finally be turning so we took the opportunity to walk up the valley to Franz Josef glacier.  The whole landscape was just stunning and the glacier magnificent.  Geography Jim made an excited appearance, explaining moraines and roche moutonees to Laura. What a place.  We couldn't walk on this glacier though without taking an expensive helicopter ride due to a recent rockfall, so we booked onto a glacier hike on neighbouring Fox glacier.  Up early we were given boots, crampons and walking poles for our expedition.  The weather was clear blue skies and hot sunshine as we tramped up the valley and onto the debris rich icey beast.  After a short walk we were led inside the glacier, through a beautiful ice tunnel and up the other side. We couldn't believe it. After further exploration we found a nice sunny spot for lunch.  We were eating our lunch in hot sunshine on a huge fast moving force of nature that descends from snowy mountains into lush rainforest, incredible. Afterwards we went deep into a huge 20 metre crevasse where some ice fell on us. Scary. What a fantastic day. We celebrated with NZ lamb and wine whilst chatting to a fellow English couple sat out in the rainforest. 

We needed to get across the mountains and so we headed to Haast pass which was intermittently closed as the road has been demolished by rock falls! We got through safely and we're glad as it has been closed again since by more rock falls. Nature in NZ is like Avatar combined with Lord of the Rings multiplied by BBC's 'Planet Earth.' Sleeping under the bright stars of the southern sky, once again surrounded by snow capped peaks in a beautiful location we dodged the sandfly swarms and then headed on to Queenstown.  Wow what a beautiful drive! Lakes and mountains and huge open spaces that constantly amazed us. 

We stopped just short of Queenstown at the original site of the bungy jump, Kawarau bridge. We did a flying fox zipline together and Jim plucked up the courage for a bungy jump. He was nervous but always thought he could fly and so lept 43 metres down towards the raging river. To celebrate our day of adrenaline we went to the best burger outlet we have discovered, Fergburger. They were huge and soooo tasty....  .....mmmmm! Queenstown was gorgeous, home to every outdoor activity you desire and in a stunning area.  We loved it.  We spent one night up in the hills along a 4WD track that Douglas easily conquered. Then after yet another failed fishing trip we whizzed on to Milford Sound, in Fiordland. 

The drive was spectacular enough, winding roads lined by huge mountains with ever threatening alavanches.  After cutting through the heart of a mountain via the Homer Tunnel we eventually made it to our cruise out into the famous wonder.  We had pretty good weather considering the amount of rainfall this area gets and were lucky enough to have bottlenose and dusky dolphins follow our boat, we also saw rare Milford Sound penguins and sea lions.  The epic mountains rose out the deep sea trench to tremendous heights.  Some of their hanging valley waterfalls, so high that they turned to mist before reaching the sea.  It was magical and yet again surreal.  What an experience! We then drove to Te Anue where we went into a glow worm cave and in a pitch black pool on a boat, in silence looked up at a mosaic of glow worms successfully mimicking the stars to catch their prey. Beautiful. The next day Jim once again failed to catch a fish in some of the best trout fishing waters of the world before Douglas took us to sunny Wanaka. 
Like Queenstown's smaller brother, Wanaka has a lakeside setting and huge mountains but is smaller and quieter.  Here we went to the quirky cinema, which had sofas to sit on.  It was the first time we had been to the cinema in 6 months! We also rented bikes and cycled some of the routeburn track.  This was beautiful and became quite technical with roots, singletrack, dropoffs and wooden platforms to challenge us.  Laura nailed all the sections and said "sweet as..." As she wheelied past Jim.  We were pretty Wanakered afterwards.  

Douglas drove us to Mount Cook next where we stayed in the wilderness and rain.  The following day the cloud lifted to reveal the incredible surroundings we were in.  We took a couple of walks in the shadows of the peaks.  Stopping now and again to watch avalanches and hear their booming thunderous threat.  What a dynamic place.  The lakes were turquoise blue and simply stunning.   The next morning Jim took his last fishing trip hooked a massive Trout that snapped his 6 pound line. Unfortunately we were not destined to taste the famous NZ trout but had fun on 'the hunt' all the same.

We got back on the road and headed to Oamaru, a beautiful 'whitestone' town full of Victorian charm edged with steam punk. We camped in the little fishing port of Moeraki and took a drive out to a DOC penguin hide by the lighthouse. We were overjoyed when we spotted some yellow eyed penguins coming in to nest through the bush and then one rock up on the beach below after a day's fishing. On our way back to the van we spotted another penguin across the field and walked over to see him, he came right up to us along the path, gave us a little warning dance and then scooted under the fence to his missus. What an incredible experience - a penguin in a field, who'd have thought it?! We celebrated our David Attenborough moment with more fish 'n' chips - yummy!

We also visited the famous Moeraki boulders - perfectly spherical born from the cliffs and completely natural. They were stunning and more than a little alien like. After checking out the lovely craft shops and galleries in Oamaru we drove up to Christchurch and stayed in a super busy campsite.

The next day was an absolute scorcher and donning our shorts we drove out on the banks peninsular to the gorgeous little town of Akaroa. We wandered along the seafront and ate some delicious frozen yoghurt before making our way a little further to Onuku Farm Hostel which also has an amazing van site overlooking the bay. Spectacular. We loved this little place and it's friendly people and spent our evening trekking up the ridge to a breathtaking, and slightly dangerous, lookout and securing Glastonbury tickets with the limited wifi. Woop!

Unfortunately the sun only lasted for 24 hours, so back in our layers we took Douglas on his final long run up to Kaikoura where we had booked in a whale watching tour. Unfortunately the weather got worse and boarding our 7:30am whale watch boat we rocked out on stormy seas to see many albatross, a seal but no whales. Gutted. On the plus side we were the only ones on the boat not to get sick and were proud of our well travelled strong stomachs. The next 24 Kaikoura hours gave us constant torrential rain so we settled down in the van, ate scones, drank our wine tour wine and enjoyed our last night in our beloved Dougie.

Before we knew it, it was time to drop off our van. The drive back to Christchurch from Kaikoura was windy, wet and even a little snowy. A huge tree slid down the bank on to the road infront of us, only just missing the car infront . . . more than a little scary! But we got Douglas home safe and dry(ish) and, for the first time in 5 weeks, hauled our rucksacks back on and headed into Christchurch city for our last few days in NZ. We had a lovely day in Christchurch yesterday, exploring the botanical gardens, cardboard catherdral, restart mall and all the street art demonstrating how this inspiring city is starting to bounce back from the devastating 2010/11 earthquakes. Despite this, there is still so much destruction around and it is almost unrecognisable from the city Laura visited in 2009. Another example of the immense power of nature, something that has really struck us over our 6 weeks exploring this beautiful country.

Tonight we are going to a traditional Mauri cultural performance and to eat a Hangi (meal cooked in the ground) as a farewell to NZ before boarding our plane to Santiago on Sunday. We cannot believe how quickly our time here has gone and have loved every minute but are ready for our final South America chapter.

Til then . . . xxx

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Amazing xx

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