Arriving at the airport in Sydney we were cutting it a little fine after queuing on the motorway for longer than expected. Luckily, our flight was delayed by 45 minutes and we got talking to the guy at the check in desk who kindly upgraded us to business class. It was quite an experience, with free champagne/wine flowing for the entire flight, reclinable chairs and food/wine menu for lunch. We made sure to stock up on the free toothbrushes, ear plugs and sleep masks.
The first night we stayed with Sophie’s family friend, Megan, who lives and works in Auckland. We had a really nice evening chatting with a few beers, we also picked up a few tips for places to visit. In the morning we travelled to pick up the car, which we had downgraded to save money following an expensive road trip in Australia! It looked reasonably old, but I’m used driving my old corsa around so I thought it would do the job. The radio didn’t work and when we got onto the motorway we heard a loud ripping noise and saw a big sheet of plastic fly off from around the front wheel. We later found out that this protects the engine from water getting in, but I’ll get to that later…
We were trying to get to the South Island quite quickly as our friends from Vietnam (Amy and Tom) were doing a similar route and we wanted to join them. They had kindly given us their itinerary for places to visit on the way down the West Coast.
Camping started out very interestingly as we had heard so many good things about New Zealand, and having just camped in Australia we were feeling confident about dealing with the heat too. Needless to say it was freezing cold, and the extension we had hired for the car was used once on the first night which was a big mistake given how cold it was! The driving was stunning, New Zealand has every type of landscape you can imagine. Where Scotland will have one beautiful mountain/lake, New Zealand will give you seven and a waterfall. They’re hoarding natural beauty.
We took the ferry to the South Island and drove through the wine orchards, stopping at Nelson Lakes for lunch. We encountered some huge fresh water eels and some very persistent ducks. They were after our lunch – couscous, nut-meat (tasted like stuffing) and avocado salad. It was delicious and easy to make as we made the couscous with cold water. I had also managed to grab a few sachets of salt and pepper on the ferry when buying a coffee – what a difference that made to our camping meals!
We took a beautiful if not terrifying road around the side of a cliff to get to a natural formation of rocks appropriately labelled ‘pancake rocks’. They were formed over the last 30 million years by the sea levels changing.
It was a national holiday around this time in New Zealand so it was reasonably busy at the attractions we were heading to. As a result we drove into a police check point where I was breathalysed – it’s the damn farmers getting drunk and driving back in their tractors. We camped by a beautiful lake that afternoon in Hokitika. There were signs for a waterfall near us so I decided to go for a little run to find it, not realising it was over 5km uphill to reach. In the morning I had seen someone jumping in the lake so asked Sophie if she fancied it before our drive – of course she said yes and I made sure to film it, if only to make sure I didn’t change my mind. It was very cold that morning but strangely jumping in was really refreshing, despite me immediately jumping back out.
After we had got out I jumped in one more time and tried not to freak out this time. After drying off we drove up to the waterfall that I ran to the day before, Dorothy falls, and had a walk in the beautiful moss covered Forrest surrounding it.
Hokitika gorge was the stop we picked for lunch and what a stunning place it was. We walked up to where the rope bridge was situated behind two girls from New Zealand, maybe 10 years old, talking to each other about how this was their favourite place in the world and how beautiful it is. We’ve seen a lot of colours that you would define as ‘blue’, but New Zealand added several variations to that. I’ll let the pictures below show you.
We were then heading towards the Franz Josef glacier and stopped a night at Okarito. After a long drive we spent 3 hours walking along the black-sand beach looking at shells and the damage left by the last earthquake. These walks up the beach will always remind me of my Nan and Mum and I always pride myself on finding good shells. I then present them to Sophie like a grateful Crow. Exhausted after the long walk we made some dinner and went to sleep – only to be woken at 2am by an hour of fireworks. It was Chinese New Year so there were a few tourists in New Zealand celebrating. I must be turning into my Dad as I didn’t appreciate the early wake up call!
The hike up to the glacier the following morning wasn’t too bad, about an hour on rocky terrain. I’d never seen a glacier before and it was immense. Then looking over the valley and realising this whole area was constructed by moving glaciers over thousands of years is really something quite surreal. Unfortunately the glacier is receding every year due to global temperatures rising and much like most of our trip, we felt very lucky to be there.
Until the next time…