2/12/17 – After we take the ferry from the north to the south island, we make the drive along the northern coast to our accommodations. Along the way we make some stops in Nelson to prepare for our three day hike starting tomorrow and a few scenic stops along the coast. The hike is the Able Tasman Coast Track, and is one of the most popular hikes in NZ. Our accommodations is in Maraharou which is the starting point for our hike. For dinner we stop by a local dinner for some amazing pizza and gnochi (carbing up before the hike).
2/13/17 – Wake up to some vicious weather. We slowly get ready as we are attempting to let the storm blow by. Once we gather all our belongings for the hike, we head back to the same local diner to potentially make the go/no go decision. It’s still raining and windy, but we decide to stick to the plan. As soon as we hit the trail, the rain clouds part and we are pleasantly surprised with the weather for the reminder of the day (the forecast called for rain most of the day). For day one of the hike, we complete eight hours of hiking through forests, up and down mountains and along the coast line. In the evening we make it to our hut (sleeping accommodations for us and about 40 other people), eat a cold dinner and call it an early night.
2/14/17 – Wake up at 8am, eat a cold breakfast and prepare for our second day of hiking. We get going and were both struggling. This section of the hike is only 4 hours, but it really takes its toll on us. At the end of this section we are beat up and decide that tomorrow we will take a water taxi back to the start. Our hut for this night is Awaora Bay, and there is a hotel/cafe about 30 min away that we decided to visit. Along the way we find a pizza joint in the middle of nowhere, so obviously we decide to check it out. It was truly a pleasant surprise after two days of strenuous backpacking. After dinner we once again call it an early night.
2/15/17 – Wake up from our second night of sleeping in a hut, pack our backpacks and make our way back to the water taxi to bring us back to our car, but first coffee. We get coffee aand tea at the swanky lodge on the trail. The water taxi picked us up and gave us an ocean side view of the hike we just completed. Once back to the car we begin our drive to our next stay: Wharariki Beach Holiday Park. We take the beautiful drive into Golden Bay and make it to our accommodations in the afternoon. We get everything settled and make the 20 minute walk to the beach. At the beach we see stunning rock formations, miles of beach and surprisingly little seal pups playing in the water pools. We make the hike back and call it a day.
2/16/17 – This is the dreadful day…9 hours of driving to Glacier county. We start early and head over to Farewell Spit for a short hike and then hit the road. Half way into the drive, we unintentionally picked up a hitch hiker and took her on the road with us for a few hours. We made a few scenic stops at Pancake Rocks and Hokitita Gorge. We drop off our new friend and finish our drive late in the evening.
2/17/17 – Today is the day Giovanna has been looking forward to for a long time. We wake, eat a small breakfast and slowly build up the nerves to jump out of a plane today. Our jump is at the base of Fox Glacier, at 9000′ and not a cloud in the sky. From the plane we are able to see beyond Mt Cook and overlooking the Tasman Sea. After the jump we pack up the car and begin the journey through the coast and Haast Pass to get to Wanaka. On the way we stop at Thunder Creek Falls and Blue Pools. Once in Wanaka we pick up more groceries, cook some food and call it a night.
2/18/17 – We take our time getting up this morning and slowly prepare ourselves for a strenuous 6 hour hike up the Roys Peak. We start the hike just after noon and we get up and down in just over five hours. The final destination of the hike was Mount Alpha to get the best view of Lake Wanaka and all the islands. Once we are down to the car, we decide to get some local beers, bring them back to our place and cook dinner. At night we are treated to a fireworks show over the lake and magnificent view of the Milky Way and shooting stars.
2/19/17 – Wake up to a beautiful morning in Wanaka, make breakfast and pack up the car so we can check out. Before we leave town we check out the “one” tree, and walk around the downtown area for a while. Once done walking, we get in the car for a beautiful drive to Queenstown. We get to town and explore their main park which makes up a small peninsula on Lake Wakatipu. We also make lunch and enjoy the scenery before checking into our airbnb. Giovanna is craving Japanese, so we get a recommendation for a restaurant, we check it out and then get ice cream afterwords. To wrap up the evening we walk around downtown for an hour and then return to our accommodations.
2/20/17 – Today we are starting another backpacking trip, so we seek out a proper breakfast and then make the drive to the trail head. The drive is along lake Wakatipu, with the NZ Alps in the background. We get to the trail head, pack up our gear and head out on the track. Routeburn Track will be our home for only one night as we hike 5 hours to the summit of one of the peaks, and turn around and backtrack an hour to get to our hut. This trail starts in the NX rainforest and ends in alpine terrain. We get settled into our hut around 6pm, chat with some different groups from California and Baton Rouge and then call it a night.
2/21/17 – We make the short two hour hike back to our car and drive back into Queenstown to get refreshed (food, gas, purchase more memory cards). After this stop we make the drive to Te Anau which is the gateway into Milford Sound. We make dinner at the holiday park and then fall asleep early.
2/22/17; Wake up at 4:30am so we can make the 2 hour drive into Milford Sound. Here we have a 5 hour guided kayak tour of the sound. Along the trip we get to see bottlenose dolphins, NZ fur seals and a neverending amount of waterfalls. There are only two permanent waterfalls in the sound, but since it rained the night before, they were everywhere. After our kayaking journey, we make the long drive to the Caitlins. When we arrive, the tide was low so we were able to make the hike to the Cathedral Caves. From there we went to Curio Bay to spot some Yellow Eyed Penguins. After watching the penguins for an hour, we get checked into our accommodations for the night.
2/23/17; Get breakfast at the Niagra Cafe and released a sheep that had his head stuck in a wooden fence. We returned back Porpoise Bay to go swimming with Hector Dolphins. After that excitement and freezing cold water we drive out and stop at Mclean Falls and Purakaunui falls. Next stop along the way is Nugget Point Lighthouse and then finally we make it to Dunedin/Sawyer Bay to check into our airbnb. We have dinner at Careys Bay hotel and then head to Aramoana beach to try and spot some penguins with no success.
2/24/17; Wake up and head into Dunedin for breakfast, but first we pickup or tickets to our furst rugby game and schedule our tour of the Cadbury factory. After breakfast we walk around the city and then we drive to and up Baldwin street which is the steepest residential street in the world. Next we make it to the Cadbury factory for our chocolate sensory tour. Next we drive and hike to Tunnel Beach and then St. Clairs Beach. To wrap up the busy day, we grab a pregame beer and then over to Forsyths Stadium to watch the Highlanders vs the Chiefs in the Investec Superugby league.
2/25/17; Wake up late, pack our bags, coffee and tea and head out to Moeraki Beach to see the Moetaki boulders. After some time on the beach we hop in the make and make the boring drive to Queenstown. We relax in the afternoon and walk the town in the evening.
2/26/17; Our short lived time in Queenstown is over and we pack up and drive to our next destination, the NZ Alps. We drive past the city in which we will be sleeping for the night and straight to Lake Pukaki. We check out a few vantage points of the lake and then we continue our drive to Mt Cook. Our first hike at the base of the mountain is Hooker Valley Track to Hooker Lake. We spend 30 minutes at the lake and return for a three hour treck. The next stop is a much short hike to Tasman Lake & Glacier. After many different perspectives of Mt Cook, we head back to Twizel for where we will be staying for the night.
2/27/17; Wake up, finish our laundry from the night before (for free!), pack up and head out of Twizel. We head back to Lake Pukaki for some more photographs and then on to Lake Tekapo. There we check out The Church Of The Good Shephard at the base of the waterfront. After this stop, we say goodbye to the NZ Alps and continue back to the east coast. Late in the afternoon we make it to Banks Peninsula and to Akaroa where we will stay for the evening. We get settled in our room and then walk out to explore the city. In the evening we cook our dinner, watch a movie and then call it a night.
2/28/17 – Get scrambling to check out of our accommodations on time and eat breakfast on the road. We drive through Christchurch and finish our drive in Kaikoura where we will be staying for the next two nights. We get settled in our room and head out for some hiking. In the Kaikoura Peninsula we hike out to see two different seal colonies. After spending an hour watching them fumble around, we head back to our Holiday Park, cook dinner and prepare ourselves for an exciting day tomorrow.
3/1/17 – First day of fall in New Zealand and we get to celebrate by swimming with dolphins. We wake up early, cook breakfast and head to the Dolphin Encounter. They get us suited up, driven to the dock and take us out in the Pacific to find some dolphins. It takes about 25 minutes and we are surrounded by hundreds of dolphins. We get to swim with Dusky and Common Dolphins four different times (as they are constantly changing direction). We end our swim around noon and head back to the Holiday Park to enjoy the rest of the day and relax. We cook a delicious dinner and call it an early night.
3/2/17 – Check out of the best accommodations we’ve had this entire trip and make the two hour trip back to Christchurch. We stop along the way at the Canterbury store to pick up some apparel and then to the YMCA where we will be staying for the next two nights. We unload the entire car and bring it back to the rental shop after driving it around for 28 days. Since we are spending a full day in Christchurch tomorrow, we decide to take it easy for the remainder of the day and grab dinner at the re:start mall. After dinner we head back to the Y and go to sleep.
3/3/17 – Wake up and get breakfast at C-One cafe. Start our walking tour in the morning, making stops at the Cardboard Church, Cathedral Square, Victoria Square and the Christchurch Art Gallery. In the afternoon we continue our walking tour of the Canterbury Museum and the Botanic Gardens. In the evening we head back to Cathedral Square for Friday night eats and then back to the Y as our last day in New Zealand comes to an end.
3/4/17 – Check out of the Y and grab breakfast at a nearby cafe. From there we grab an Uber to the airport. Off to Fiji.
Here are some interesting stats for our entire New Zealand trip:
6598 – Total kilometers driven in NZ
120 – Total kilometres hiked/backpacked
(this does not include all the walking around in the cities)
31 – Total number of days in New Zealand
24 – Number of different accommodations we stayed at
3 – Species of different dolphins we encountered.
2 – Species of penguins we encountered.
1 – Species of whale we encountered.
In the south island, I feel we left no stone untouched. We circled virtually the entire island (with exception of the stretch still closed due to the Nov earthquake). Every major destination was checked off our list and we even made more stops than anticipated. After having a few days of recollection, I have no reluctance saying this was the most beautiful country I have visited. The immense beauty was equaled by the hospitality of the locals and the vibrance of all the wildlife. There were strenuous hikes and long drives, but they led us to some of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am so glad to have shared this trip with Giovanna, and I am confident she received as much fulfilment as I did.
I am cheating on this blog post because it was just too much to put into a paragraph. So below I highlighted some majors places we went but this is in no way all of the places we went. If you are a traveller looking for details on a certain city, sight, etc. feel free to contact us directly with any questions you have 🙂 I will say that we enjoyed the south island much more than the north island. The south island is the most beautiful place I have ever been & full of a huge variety of friendly wild life.
Driving around: different from the north island. A lot of mountains, glaciers & forest. But we did have our first sheep crossing / road block here. There are so many hitchhikers! I had no idea that was a thing. But we picked one up because why not? It was a nice Italian female who is traveling before starting her career as a psychologist. She rode with us for about 3 hours where we shared stories and cultural experiences. It was really nice having another human join us on our longest day of driving so I highly recommend it for anyone driving through NZ because why not make a new friend, experience something new & help a fellow traveler?
The Barn: best campground / backpackers set-up I have ever seen! Literally on McDonald’s farm with so many amenities: outdoor pool table, outdoor fire pits, movie room (where Lord of the Rings was playing the night we were here #notsadaboutit), massive kitchen with grills, playground, etc. We slept in a little wood cabin that was big enough for our bed & our bags. One side of it was glass so we were able to watch the tide roll in & out. They even provided towels, washcloths, hand towels and toiletries! Most hotels dont even provide those kind of luxuries these days.
Abel Tasmin Coast Track: beautiful! The color of the water is absolutely stunning! This track can be done several different ways. You can be adventurous campers who hike and setup tents along the route. You can be slightly less adventurous campers who hike and sleep in huts along the route *sleeping on a platform with 13 other people is possibly the strangest thing I have ever done* You can be glampers who casually walk the track and have your tents & food provided (no backpacks needed). You can take a boat from the start of the route to any major spot along the route that you want to see & sleep at the lodge where your meals arrive at your door every few hours (these people have rolling suitcases).
Wharaiki Beach: to walk here we had to cross a hill covered in cows & sheep *This is when I decided my spirit animal is a sheep. I’m a sheep* The sand here is very soft. The seal pups are very friendly and playful! Most AMAZING sunset!
Takaka: hippie, organic, free spirited town
Fox Glacier: amazing little town! There is no grocery store here but 4 restaurants/cafes. The gas is about 15¢ more a liter here so be sure to fill up on gas and groceries before arriving. We chose to go skydiving here due to the beautiful scenery of coast & mountain tops and I am SO glad we chose to jump here! The view was too perfect for words! Seeing the west coast to my left with mountains covered in snow on my right while livestock run freely under me was the most majestic moment of my life.
Wanaka: cute small town with restaurants that have great views, a grocery store, expensive gas and a lot of free hiking trails. Lake Wanaka is crystal clear & beautiful so I would recommend getting in/on it or having lunch on its shore.
Roys Peak in Wanaka: death. 18km straight up. It took me 4 hours to get up to the overlook which is only 16km straight up & 1.5 hours to get down. I didnt go the extra 2km to the peak like Eric but he said it was super sketchy up top. Basically you slip, trip, fall you die. My body couldn’t physically make it to the peak so I stopped at the overlook which was very beautiful! I wouldn’t do this hike again but if you are a strong hiker I would totally recommend it because the views are amazing!
Routeburn Trail: we didnt do the entire trail but the 1/2 we did was pretty easy to hike. There is 1 hour that is a little steep & rocky but that’s the most difficult part. The hut was so nice! Real toilets, bunk beds & stove tops. The rooms are divided into 10 sleeping areas with 4 beds in it. So we shared our area with an older couple from Northern California who had a lot of similarities to us. It was kind of like visiting with an older version of ourselves which was pretty trippy. I also met another couple at these huts from Baton Rouge who were the same age as us so that was VERY exciting for me. I stayed up talking with them all night *paid for that the next day* They were the first people I have met on our travels who were not only from the South but also B.R. What are the chances?! I will tell you, VERY SLIM! We laughed and talked about the cultural differences, LSU sports & everything in between. I cant even explain how wonderful it is to share experiences with another person who can actually relate & understand the emotions of the experiences #southernersknowmebest
Milford Sound: we did a kayaking trip through the sounds and it was awesome! We had bottlenose dolphins & seals swimming around us while being splashed by waterfalls. Pretty cool experience! Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls is 3 times the height of Niagara Falls & supplies the town of Milford with drinking water as well as power. So that was pretty interesting to see.
Cathedral Caves: it was $5 a person to access the caves & there is a VERY small window of opportunity to visit them due to the tide. So prepare for all of that. I thought they were some of the best caves I have ever seen! There is a lot of history with how the caves were formed which you can see when inside, so I liked all of that but I have a thing for rock formations so my opinion might be biased. They are very tall in some places & the sand is really soft here (I also have a thing for sand). They are easy to access.
Porpoise Bay (at Curio Bay): where Eric swam with one of the world’s smallest & rarest dolphins, Hector’s Dolphin. These dolphins are so cute with their little Mickey Mouse ear dorsal fins. I wasn’t able to get over how cold the water was so I stayed on the shore and watch the dolphins play with Eric & ride the surf (this is a must do but be warned the water is cold and rough).
Fossilised Forest (at Curio Bay): where the Yellow-eyed Penguins live. Enough said.
McLean Falls: tallest in the Catlins. Easy to access. I found the waterfall to be very beautiful & resembling a staircase, I’d recommend it.
Purakaunui Falls: wouldn’t recommend it. Kinda like a boring version of McLean Falls.
Nugget Point Lighthous: must do! This lighthouse was built in 1869 & lots of seals hangout in this area. The drive to it is beautiful along the coast and the views once you get to the lighthouse are spectacular! (Similar to 12 Apostles in Australia but better)
Dunedin: must visit! This was my favorite city in all of NZ we visited (& I dont think there is a town we didnt drive through or stop in). It’s a college town playing some funky music with lots of whiskey drinking, meets hip town with a lot of beautiful historic Victorian style buildings. The Railway Station is the 2nd most photographed building in the Southern hemisphere (Sydney Opera house being #1). The world’s steepest street is here (yes, we drove up it & yes, our little car barely made it up) *so scary* This town is also home to the ONLY Cadbury factory in the world that allows tours (there is Cadbury World in the UK but that’s not a factory) *best experience of my foodie life* Dunedin is also home to the Highlanders superrugby team so we caught the first match of the season where they lost to the Chiefs (a team from the North Island). This was our first rugby experience so we were clueless! *thank goodness for the gentleman sitting next to me whose daughters abandoned him at the match who explained the entire game to me*
Akaroa: a French settlement serving up lots of cheeses and wine. That’s all. Nothing else is going on here, but hey, that’s enough for me to visit again #cheeseislife. The town was so small it took us about 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other (down the 1 street that makes up the entire city).
Kaikoura: home to heaps of marine animals & earthquakes, so definitely a must visit. This is where we swam with a large pod of dolphins, saw hundreds of seals & a few humpback whales. Eric & I have spent a lot of money on whale watching tours & while in Kaikoura we saw them being more active than ever for “free”! (“free” meaning we had paid for a boat to take us out on the water & we just so happen to stumble upon some whales) It was pretty cool! We have never seen whales breech before now, usually they are asleep or occasionally showing a fin/tail (in our experiences). So I thought it was awesome! It’s pretty crazy seeing a HUGE whale get its entire body out of the water & slamming it into the water surface *like, how do they even get their bodies out of the water like that?! #mindblowing* So after seeing the whales we continued on our boat ride where we found a large pod of Dusky Dolphins who were just as curious about us as we were about them. We chose to throw on wetsuits *wetsuits are insane! I appreciate what they do but they are literally the tightest thing I have ever put my body in. I dont understand them! My knee literally popped while putting on the wetsuit and has been hurting since so I will not be putting my body in another wetsuit* and hop in the water to see if the dolphins wanted to hangout. Well they definitely did & I definitely freaked the F out! For anyone who doesn’t know me, I am a beach baby who is deathly terrified of the open waters: ocean, lake, river, creek, spring, anything! If it is deeper than 3 feet & not crystal clear water with a white floor in a very confined space, I aint gettin in! *Yes, I have missed out on doing some really cool things due to this fear which is sad but I get to watch Eric do those things (which stresses me out plenty) & tell me all about it* But for the dolphin swim I thought “Where there are dolphins there are no sharks. There isnt anything in NZ trying to kill me (unlike in Australia) & this fancy wetsuit will keep me warm”. All of those thoughts went right out the window the second I entered the water and saw hundreds of dolphins swimming around/towards me in freezing cold water. I literally had a panic attack and swam quicker than I ever have right back to the boat. The water was so cold it literally took my breath away & I was absolutely terrified not being able to see the ocean floor or another human any where near me *the current was strong & instantly separated all humans from one another*. We were so close to the shore & the water was so blue that I expected the water to not be very deep & transparent? But that certainly was not the case. The dolphins swam within inches of me & dove down under me into the depths of the water where I could no longer see them so how deep the water was, I have no idea but to deep for my comfort! The dolphins were so curious & playful (which I did not expect), it was very overwhelming! After a few minutes of the boat crew trying to comfort me they called the other swimmers in & relocated the boat to give us swimmers another opportunity to swim. I, still being extremely anxious, gave it a second chance #YOLO. The water was just as cold but this time I made Eric hold my hand to “protect” me & I was able to relax a bit more. I was lucky enough to make eye contact with a few dolphins & befriend them. Befriending a dolphin was something I never thought I would add to my bucket list but I feel very blessed to have been able to have this experience. It is hard to explain the experience & definitely no words to explain the emotions but the dolphin and I swam in circles, while maintaining eye contact, as if we were playing a game of tag, that I lost every time, in a small pool with just the 2 of us in it. The moment didnt last long with each dolphin *probably due to me being a much slower swimmer* but the few minutes that it did last will be a memory I cherish forever.
Christchurch: seemed liked it was the smallest of the big cities in NZ. Most of the city is under construction (most sidewalks & streets were blocked off) so there isnt much going on. Not many things are open and if they are open they close at 5pm. There was no “night life” due to the limited options all closing before night fall. I was very surprised by this. I imagined Christchurch to be a poppin’ town full of hipsters but I was completely wrong. I didn’t see many people and the few I did see were all construction workers. The botanical gardens were the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen! The art gallery had 2 really interesting exhibits, that we really enjoyed. C1 Espresso: good music, secret passage ways, a lot of history, great service, surprises around every corner, star wars hidden into the design / theme, I could go on and on about this cafe! Just do yourself a favor and go.
“Dont cry over anything that cant cry over you” –NZ radio station DJ