If we had to describe New Zealand in one word, it would be spectacular. Even then as a word spectacular just doesn’t quite cut it! The mere thought of this wonderful island now makes us sigh and shake our heads as we think of just how amazing this country is. Where else in the world can you experience breathtaking glacial scenery, majestic mountains and spectacular beaches one day then shockingly turquoise lakes, alpine forests and coastal wildlife the next. Add to this a chance encounter with friends from London and our three-week road trip around the South Islands in a hired Mitsubishi Lancer was truly unforgettable!
Made up of the North and South islands, New Zealand is located in the South-Western Pacific Ocean. One of the last lands to be populated by humans, it is graced by a small population. For us that meant our road trip was a breeze. We drove through miles and miles of vast landscape on roads that were as close to perfect as you could get and with hardly another car on the road for company. Plus we covered great distances in record-breaking time. In fact, one thing we loved about New Zealand was that it was so accessible and virtually set up for road trips. There were numerous camper van sites catering for campers to park overnight – have access to power, wi-fi, cook food and use their facilities. We stayed in holiday parks and backpacker accommodation in all the major sites. All of good quality. Even remote areas had facilities where you could frequently stop off to freshen up or have a bite to eat. It was amazing! And they had the cleanest toilets we had ever seen!
The short version of a long trip
Christchurch – Mount Cook via Lake Tekapo, Twizel and Lake Pukaki
Mount Cook stands at a 3724 metres and is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Its imposing presence towers over sweeping golden plains, gushing rivers and stunning valleys. Here we hiked through the Hooker Valley taking in the sights of the Mueller Glacier Lake and Hooker Valley Lake.
Mount Cook – Queenstown (via Omarama and Lake Wanaka)
Queenstown was one of the highlights of our trip and what an amazing time we had in such a stunning place. It was particularly beautiful during the month of March and April when autumnal shades of gold and red-painted the landscape. Here we quenched our appetite for adventure with our friends from London Tim and Jen, who by chance had descended on Queenstown at the same time. This resulted in what can only be described as an adrenaline fuelled, action packed three days of fun! From luging and jet boating to skydiving, zip-wiring and parasailing! I was too chicken to skydive (peer pressure at this point was off the scale) and opted for the parasailing! Asad on the other hand had always wanted to skydive and took the plunge! I still can’t quite believe he did it!
Queenstown packs a punch with its list of things to do. It’s a pretty town embraced by the phenomenal Remarkables mountain range which were well – remarkable! Packed with adventure sport activities, great restaurants and a view to die for, we envied the well – heeled crowd that lived there. Plus meeting our friends in such a fabulous location was a great bonus, lifting our spirits no end after having only each other for company all this time. All this was followed by well-earned beers, a BBQ and of course a Fergburger – delicious gourmet burgers from the Fergburger restaurant that has quite a reputation internationally! The portions were huge and the chips amazing!
Queenstown – Te Anau – Exploring the fiords of Doubtful Sound
After the craziness of Queenstown, cruising through the fiords of Doubtful Sound was a more serene experience. We learned about the story of Captain Cook – who in 1770 named it Doubtful Harbour as he was “doubtful” whether this inlet was navigable under sail. Ok. Not much substance to that story then! Well how about we also found out that it is technically not a sound but a fiord. (I’ll leave you to find out the difference)! The new Zealanders being a laid back bunch didn’t quite get round to making the name change! Nevertheless – the scenery was stunning in this vast and isolated wilderness. We were lucky to spot a colony of seals, saw bottle nosed dolphins and glimpsed the rare Fiordland crested penguin.
Te Anau – Franz Josef Glacier (via Queenstown and the Haast Pass through Mount Aspiring National Park)
Keeping a close eye on our pocket after splurging in Queenstown with the adventure activities, we decided to forego the actual climb to the Franz Josef Glacier. Instead we spent two days taking a few recommended hikes around the area. The drive to Franz Josef in itself was amazing. We stopped off in Ross – a quaint historic gold – mining town where Asad tested out the local Jail and where I took my time releasing him from the stocks!
Franz Josef – Westport (via Lake Mapourika, Hokitika Gorge and Punakaiki Rocks)
Accommodation was expensive in Punakaiki, so we managed to stay in a Kiwi Holiday Park in Westport, closer to our next destination. On the way we visited the picturesque and rugged Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. These heavily eroded limestone rocks are an area where during high tide the sea bursts through several vertical blowholes. Unfortunately it was low tide when we arrived so we never saw this! Nevertheless, the dramatic scenery gave us a taste of how varied and distinct the coast of New Zealand is.
Westport to Collingwood (via Abel Tasman National Park)
Part of the Golden Bay area in the Nelson region, we spent three blissful days relaxing and taking in the idyllic sights. We stayed in a fabulous place called The Innlet Backpackers and Cottages – a calm oasis where we had a cottage all to ourselves. It was luxury! Our days were spent walking along the beautiful coastline of Wharariki Beach, taking in the amazing rural scenery and spotting wildlife wherever we went. It was almost dreamlike!
Collingwood – Picton (via Rai Valley and a detour to the unmissable French Pass)
What was the highlight of Picton? Well not much really! Apart from a flat tyre, a pleasant walk around the very pretty town and some really tasty doughnuts, the real adventure was the journey to Picton. Driving through the stunning Rai Valley we decided to take a curious detour to the French Pass as we had heard the drive was out of this world – it was! Imagine pristine rolling hills bathed in golden sun, shockingly golden. Sheep grazing on impossibly vertical mountains and views that literally took your breath away! The pictures say it all!
Picton – Kaikoura via Blenheim past the stunning Kaikoura Range
We came to Kaikoura and it rained! It rained for the whole two days we were here! Mind you, we had been lucky with the weather throughout our whole trip here, so we weren’t too disappointed and it only added to the drama of the scenery. The Tasman sea thrashed against the shore, waves high and fierce. Our drive along the coast to Kaikoura revealed seals, some asleep on the rocks, others diving in and out of the surf. It was captivating. A privilege to experience. Luckily we were fortunate to meet up with Tim and Jen again, before they left New Zealand to embark on their next trip to South America. Oh the joys of travelling hey! We had come to Kaikoura for a reason – whale watching. Famous for having an abundance of marine life in this area, we were so excited to get a chance to do this. Luckily I held down my breakfast on the very rough sea and we were lucky enough to spot a sperm whale and endless schools of dolphins that playfully swam alongside the boat. A wonderful way to end a magical and enlightening trip to New Zealand!
Kaikoura – Christchurch!
So that was the end of the road trip! Looking back, we are lucky to have experienced all of what New Zealand offers. Three weeks was not enough, but it gave us a chance for it to creep into our psyche. Being amongst the mountains and walking through golden fields touched our hearts. Every time we drove to our next destination, we asked ourselves if the beauty of this place could get better and better.
It did! Without fail. In abundance and with breathtaking sincerity!