Ep.18 – South Island, New Zealand Pt.2

Hello!

This is our video from the rest of our time exploring the South Island of New Zealand. We admired beautiful Lake Tekapo, hiked to the Tasman Glacier in Mount Cook national park, climbed up to see spectacular views over Wanaka, went luging at Queenstown’s Skyline & saw the iconic boulders of Moeraki!

Thanks for watching (don’t forget to set it to 1080p)!

Sophie & Dave

 

Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Wanaka & Queenstown – New Zealand

Hello!

We continued our road trip in the South Island heading first to Lake Tekapo, a 3 hour drive from Christchurch. One of the main things to do in Lake Tekapo is stargazing. Unfortunately however, the weather was incredibly overcast; and given you could hardly see the moon, we decided against forking out for the very expensive tour. We settled for a short walk around the lake towards the town itself and warmed up in the cafes. We did have a crazy small-world-moment when we looked up in the kitchen of our hostel to see a guy that we had shared a dorm with in Agra, India 5 months ago!

Our next destination was Mount Cook national park which was a short 1 hour, scenic drive along Lake Pukaki. Mount Cook is well renowned for it’s unpredictable weather, and it certainly held true for us as it chucked it down the day we arrived. Given the weather, and the fact I had the flu, we decided to have a lazy day and managed to find The Hobbit on DVD. All hostels in New Zealand seem to have at least one of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films – no complaints! The following day the weather had cleared up and it was really sunny so we decided to attempt the Tasman glacier lake walk. Mount Cook national park is without a doubt, one of the most picturesque landscapes we’ve seen so far. The walk was a short, but steep, half hour ascent to the viewpoint overlooking the Tasman glacier lake. The blue glacial lake was partially frozen over and there were huge shards of ice cracked on the surface. You could also see the actual Tasman glacier at the other end of the lake. Unfortunately, due to cloudy conditions we still hadn’t seen Mount Cook. After lunch we decided to attempt the Hooker Valley walk and take advantage of the good weather. This was a longer, 10km return walk and shortly after setting off, the weather took a turn for the worse with high winds, rain and foggy conditions. After much deliberation we decided to turn back and perhaps attempt it the following morning.

The following day, sadly the weather conditions hadn’t dramatically improved, so we opted for the shorter Kea Point track where we hoped to get our first sighting of Mount Cook. This walk gently winds through subalpine grasslands until you reach the viewpoint overlooking the stunning Mueller Glacier lake and Mount Cook. We only have running shoes rather than hiking boots and there was a fair bit of snow and ice on the track so it we took it very slowly. Thankfully, the cloud had finally cleared when we got to the viewpoint and we were able to see Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in the park at 3,724 metres.

After lunch we set off 2.5 hours south for Wanaka, a small picturesque town situated next to the stunning Lake Wanaka popular with hikers. We decided to spend a cloudy morning at Puzzling World. It’s full of optical illusions and things to trick your mind, they even have an outdoor maze where we had fun competing against each other to find the 4 corner towers. There are two mountain ranges overlooking Wanaka and we decided to attempt the smaller of the two, Mount Iron. As we began to walk up, a dense fog began descending over the mountain but we were determined to head for the top and hope by then it had lifted. Unfortunately, it appeared the opposite happened and you could probably only see a short distance ahead, maybe 10 metres at best. Luckily, by the time we’d had a little sit down and break, the fog had partially disappeared and we got to see what all the hype was about, the view over Lake Wanaka with the snowy mountain tops surrounding it, was beautiful.

Dave was really set on attempting Roy’s Peak, a much longer and steeper 16km hike which is suppose to take between 6-7 hours. I was still poorly with the flu and thought it would be too much for me so Dave went on his own. He said the views at the top were stunning and provided a different angle to Mount Iron, overlooking Lake Hawea and the national park beyond and he would highly recommend this hike for anyone visiting, but make sure it is a clear day because its a long one!

From Lake Wanaka, we headed further south to the neighbouring town, Queenstown. Queenstown is the number one location in NZ to attempt adrenaline seeking activities like bungee jumping, para-gliding etc. As we had already blown our budget for New Zealand, and didn’t want to tempt fate before South America, we compromised on heading up to the Skyline and having a go at Luging. At the top of the Gondola you had amazing views across the valley and overlooking Lake Wakatipu. We opted for 5 luge rides as there wasn’t much difference in price between the packages. You have to go on the ‘scenic’ track first while you master the art of luging before they let you loose on the main track, so we were glad we had 5 goes. You also get a chairlift back up to the top of the track, so it was double the fun. We had a couple of near misses of hitting the barriers but overall, I beat Dave around the track and somehow managed to get some awesome GoPro footage despite only having it loosely resting in the inside of my jacket pocket. It was something very different to our usual travel exploits but great fun!

Our next stop was Dunedin, probably one of the larger towns we visited in New Zealand. Dunedin’s claim to fame is that it is home to the steepest residential road in the world. The first day we arrived, Dave finally plucked up the courage to get his haircut after 4 months of growth (which if you know Dave at all, is a very long time!). We also went to the arts museum, although the work on display wasn’t to either of our tastes so it was a rather brief visit. We were there over the weekend and decided to venture down to the local farmers market which is hosted every Saturday.

We then began making our way back along the coastline to Christchurch, where we were due to catch a flight back to Auckland before heading onwards for South America. We had a fleeting visit to Moeraki, a small fisherman village, famous for its unusually large, spherical boulders lying along the beach (see photo below). A couple we met in Fiji had also highly recommended a local seafood restaurant called Fleur’s Place, so we decided to stop there for lunch. We tried potted eels for starters and a trio of fish and mussels for main and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was definitely one of the best meals we’ve had since we left, so be sure to visit if you are passing through!

Our final destination before Christchurch was Oamaru, a seaside town which is home to two species of Penguins. In order to see the Blue penguin’s, the smallest species of Penguins in the world, you have to pay a hefty admission fee of $30 or $45 for premium seats. We decided to head over the headland to Bushy beach where, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of the endangered yellow eyed penguin for free. We were told they are incredibly weary of other mammals and won’t come onto the beach if they catch sight of you. As a result, the local council has constructed viewing huts high up on the cliff line and visiting the beach is prohibited after 3pm. After a short wait, one came waddling up the beach but it was so far away you were unable to see it with your naked eye. Thankfully, we managed to see him through the zoom of our video camera. By this point, the high winds and freezing temperature had got the better of us and we decided to call it a night, happy with the fact we had seen just one!

We had an evening flight before heading back to Auckland and were so impressed with Bacon Brothers, a restaurant in Christchurch, we decided to head back for round 2 (don’t judge). As we had already visited Auckland, we opted to stay close to the airport and rest ahead of our 11 hour flight to Santiago, Chile.

Catch us next time where we begin our South American adventure.

Thanks for reading,

Sophie and Dave

Ep.17 – South Island, New Zealand Pt.1

Hello!

Our video from the first part of our trip in the South Island of New Zealand. We watched seal pups play in Westport, walked to the Fox glacier view point, flew in a helicopter and then hiked the Franz Josef glacier in crampons and went Sperm whale and dolphin watching in Kaikoura! This video has some of our favourite clips yet!

Thanks for watching and don’t forget to watch in 1080p!

Sophie & Dave

Franz Josef, Fox Glacier, Kaikoura – New Zealand

Hello!

We got the four hour ferry from Wellington to Picton, the main port on the South Island of New Zealand. There isn’t much to see in Picton, so despite arriving as the sun was setting, we decided to head three hours south to Westport, a little sea side town, to break up our longer upcoming journey. En route, we saw a sign for a nearby seal colony so we decided to check it out the following morning. We were so glad we did, as it was amazing! Firstly, it made for a rather interesting drive. A farmer was herding 100s of cows down the road and it was quite the spectacle meandering through them. There must have been close to a 100 seals at the main lookout point and due to the season, it was predominately female seals with their young pups! It was lovely to see some of the younger ones playing in the rock pools and trying to ride the waves or nursing from their mothers. None of us had seen seals in the wild before and I was so taken with how much we could see their individual personalities. It was made even better by the fact we we were the only ones there! The viewing platform is probably 50m away, however on our way back to the car park we saw some playing on the rocks on the beach so we walked down to the water’s edge where we managed to quietly sneak up to about 10-15 metres away from a group of 7.

We pressed on towards Franz Josef. The drive from Westport to Greymouth is ranked in the Top 10 drives in the world, and rightly so! We got our first peak of the Southern alps, the mighty Tasman sea and dense rainforest all within a couple of hours. It is also one of the wettest parts of New Zealand as the sea breeze gets trapped on the mountain range. We stopped off for lunch in Greymouth and stumbled across the best cafe ever – Maggie’s Kitchen. The women that work there were so friendly and the food was some of our favourite we’ve had on our travels. It is also one of the last big towns, so we stocked up on essentials (food, drink, petrol etc).

We arrived in Franz Josef, a small village in the Southern Alps, famous for its glacier. There are various ways to view both the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers; plane, helicopter, hiking or a combination of both. We opted for the heli-hike experience offered by Franz Josef Glacier guides as we’d met other travellers who’d recommended it. We went and booked for the following day though unfortunately when we arrived for check-in on a beautiful sunny day, we were told that the winds were too strong higher up to fly the helicopter so we rescheduled for the next day. We later found out that they hadn’t taken anyone up to the glacier in the last 5 days! Instead, we drove to Fox Glacier. As we were coming up to the parking lot, we could see signs with different years saying ‘in 1975, the glacier was all the way here!’ It was very surreal. The conditions change every day, but for us, it was only an hour return walk to the view point. It was beautiful but perhaps even more impressive was the surrounding valley where the glacier would have ran through years before.

The next day, we went back to the Glacier Guides with our fingers crossed and we were able to go up! We got suited and booted at the base with the equipment they provide. While it is pricey at $449pp (£250), it was all of our first times in a helicopter and we had a full three hours on the ice. The flight is quite short (5 mins-ish) but sufficient to get some stunning views over the mountain ranges and our first glimpse of the icy blue glacier. How the pilots land so effortlessly onto the glacier is beyond me. Once dismounted, we assembled the ice crampons to our boots and began our hike. I was a little apprehensive about how hard it would be but was pleasantly surprised that it was a nice and slow walk with plenty of time to snap photos. The glacier was spectacular and we could even still see the Tasman sea beyond the mountain ranges. It’s also one of the fastest moving valley glaciers; about 10 times faster than most! We saw 2 little avalanches whilst we were on the ice. The guide also asked if anyone was claustrophobic to which I gingerly put my hand up, but fortunately, walking through tight crevices was fine for me. Dave had the Gopro tied around his chest so he still captured us squeezing through when it was too tight/slippy to get the camera out. Overall, well worth the money and one of our favourite experiences to date! Oh, and also included within the package is free entry into their thermal baths which was the perfect way to unwind and relax in the 40 degree water after the day.

After Franz Josef, we faced a long drive across the South Island through Lewis Pass to Kaikoura. Kaikoura was my number one destination in New Zealand because of the wildlife, specifically whales. Seeing a whale in the wild was the top of my list of life dreams.  We joined Whale Watch Tours and set out in the hope of spotting a Sperm whale. We were lucky enough to have four sperm whales sightings! The whales will come up to the surface to breath for periods of up to 15 minutes before diving back down. Whilst they are relatively static on the surface, it was so awesome to see such a large, gentle mammal against the spectacular snowy mountain landscape. They are also the only specie of whale that has a blowhole located at 45 degrees on their left side. We got to see the actual holes with water spurting out of them, incredible! We were also extra lucky to spot a few seals, albatrosses and a huge pod of dusky dolphins. I’d guess that there were probably somewhere between 150-200 dolphins. They were so playful, swimming under the boat and some even did flips out the water (see photo below!). It was certainly a highlight for me and a must if you are visiting NZ! In Kaikoura, we also visited another seal colony where we got even closer to what we’d seen in Westport. There was even a massive male, fast asleep on the main boardwalk near the viewing place. Our final excursion was walking the Peninsula walkway with beautiful scenery, though I won’t go too much in to it because I twisted my ankle and it was a bit of a disaster!

We spent our final couple of days in Christchurch with Rachel and James. The city was badly hit by an earthquake in 2011 and is still recovering to this day. As a result,, there isn’t a huge amount to do and you’ll probably only need a day or two to explore the whole city. We did go to a little burger place called Bacon Brothers, where I’d go as far as saying it was one of the nicest burgers I’ve ever had and they are pretty unique in their service style. As it was Rachel & James last night and it was almost our 6 months travel anniversary we decided to treat ourselves to a fancy steak dinner out. Thanks to Rachel & James for putting up with us for 3 weeks and we’ll miss them lots! We still have 12 days left on the South Island by ourselves and intend to explore further south so check out our next blog for the rest of our exploration of the South Island

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave

Ep.16 – North Island, New Zealand

Hello!

Here’s our video from our time on the North Island of New Zealand. It’s a short one but one of our favourites so far! We were joined by Dave’s sister Rachel and her husband James as we made our way to Auckland, Paihai, Waitangi, Rotorua, Hobbiton, Matamata, Lake Taupo and Wellington!

Thanks for watching and don’t forget to watch in 1080p!

Sophie & Dave

North Island – New Zealand

We flew from mainland Fiji and arrived in Auckland on the North island of New Zealand. Getting from the airport to our apartment was nice and straight forward and we were greeted by our other NZ party who’d already checked in. Dave’s sister Rachel and her husband James flew out to join us for 3 weeks, though we’ll be staying in New Zealand for an extra 12 days afterwards. We were very excited to have company that we knew! We didn’t do much in Auckland, James and Rachel recovered from jet lag and Dave and I recovered from our Fijian food poisoning. We just had a potter around the city centre and down to the port though the best view we had of the city was just from our high rise balcony!

We got a car for the three weeks with James as our main driver. Our first stop on the road trip was further North to the Bay of Islands where we spent a couple of nights in Paihai, a picturesque beachside town where we skimmed stones on the waters. We had a great cultural start to New Zealand visiting Waitangi where the treaty between Maoris and Brits was signed. The tour guide was great and really educational. The treaty was signed in 1840 and the problems from the treaty arose predominantly due to two versions of it being circulated; one in English and one in Maori which were worded differently. I couldn’t help but feel ashamed to have a British passport when their treatment towards the indigenous population was so clearly underhanded. The tour ended with a traditional Maori cultural performance at the meeting house. Both the men and women were amazing singers and we even got to watch an intense Haka. We then headed just outside Paihai to Kerikeri where we visited the Rainbow falls. Whilst it was quite a beautiful, tall waterfall, it absolutely pissed it down and we got soaked. Funnily enough no one else was at the falls due to the rain, but it made it nice for us to have the falls to ourselves. We stopped off at the town chocolate factory to warm up with a hot drink/ scoff free samples.

Our next drive was to Matamata, a tiny town of little interest but centrally located for the next few places we wanted to visit. The afternoon we arrived, we headed to the Waitomo caves, underground caves illuminated by glow worms! I was a little apprehensive as I don’t like caves and the first part of the tour was less than enjoyable for me personally. We descended in to a tall cave lined with stalagtites and stalagmites and spotted our first few glow worms. The tour guide explained how they eat, shining a torch on these minute dangling thin threads, similar to that of a spider’s web, from their nests that they use to attract insects. We went down further to a lake and boarded a small boat. We saw hundreds of thousands of glow worms radiating a blue-ish hue, it was like gazing up at the most intensely star studded sky you’ve ever seen. It was quite spectacular though unfortunately, no photography was allowed – I did buy a post card though, see below! The next day, the other three headed to the Coromandel peninsula whilst I had a relaxing day staying in and video calling my family. They visited the hot water beach where you dig your own small pool in the sand and the water is heated geothermically by underlaying hot springs. They also stopped off at cathedral cove, a rock formation that looks like a cathedral overlooking the beach, though they said the grey skies made it less picturesque than anticipated.

We’d had some unfortunate rainy weather but thankfully, the skies cleared for our day trip to Hobbiton. This was perhaps the ‘tourist attraction’ I was most excited for being a big fan of the Lord of the Rings. My sister and I have done multiple LOTR marathons and even went to a Hobbit Q&A with Sir Ian McKellen. Anyway, we arrived at Hobbiton and were instantly captivated by the landscape of rolling green hills unhampered by any telephone wires or signs of modern day life. The tour took us round all the Hobbit holes, though you could only actually enter one of them, and we were shown the difference between those built to scale of 60% and 90% to aid the perspective on film with the respective actors. The tour ended at the Green Dragon where I broke my alcohol ban for a cider in Merry and Pippin’s regular [LOTR reference, duh].

Our next day took us to nearby Rotorua to visit the Redwood forest. The trees are not native to New Zealand but were first planted in 1901. As the name would suggest, Redwoods have a reddish trunk and are massive, towering trees reaching around 100 metres tall.  You can do different walking tracks through the forest, but we chose only a short 1.5 hour walk. The forest also had a sulphur lake that smelt absolutely vile but was beautiful to look at the electric blue water and how anything living, wilted and died around it. We drove on to Taupo lake that afternoon where our hostel had a gorgeous little bull dog.  We went to see the Huka rapids, a different kind of water fall than what we’ve seen on our travels so far. This was just huge volumes of water plummeting through at a crazy pace. We also came back the next day to a different viewpoint along the river for the opening of the dam that happens at 10am. It wasn’t perhaps as immediate as we were all anticipating, but the river filled up very quickly and was soon cascading very fast.

Our final stop of New Zealand’s North Island was the capital, Wellington. Rachel and James went to the Weta Caves film studio whilst Dave and I did some shopping around the town centre buying thrilling things such as water proof trousers and a rucksack… We all went together to the Te Papa museum which has something for everyone; a rugby 7’s exhibition for Dave and a refugees in New Zealand stories exhibition for me. They also had an earthquake simulator which intrigued us all but was very anticlimactic in the end. Our last place was Mount Victoria where you can either walk or drive up to the top view point to overlook the city, mountains and surrounding waters, a beautiful end to the North Island!

Thanks for reading, join us next time as we get the ferry across to the South Island.

Sophie & Dave