Montevideo – Uruguay


From Colonia, we caught a 3 hour bus along the coast to Montevideo. Though it seemed like a legitimate touristy coach, all the locals kept hopping on and off as we drove along. Fortunately we had reserved seats but the aisle was full of people throughout the whole trip.

The capital, Montevideo, is sort of split in to the old city and the new city. One of the main things to do is walk the beach promenade; La Rambla. It was a lovely walk in the sunshine in what is classed as the ‘new’ area of Montevideo. It must have been considered too cold for Uruguyan’s as no one was swimming (apart from a crazy dog charging around the waves whom everyone was watching). The temperature was in the low-mid twenties with glorious sunshine yet most people were bundled up in winter coats and scarves! Probably the only time in South America so far where we’ve both stuck out as clear tourists wearing our shorts! We walked on further to the lighthouse which is on the southern most point of the city. Though nothing spectacular, it was a nice stroll and we saw a stray cat colony near the lighthouse. A lady who stopped with us said that she and others who live nearby come to drop off cat food here for them.

The rest of our time in Montevideo took us to the old city. We did a walking tour with a company called Curioso which was one of our favourite tours yet. We started in la Plaza Independencia where there’s a big statue and a mausoleum with the ashes of Jose Artigas; Uruguay’s national hero who helped to liberate them from various invaders including the Brits (who didn’t we bloody invade). There are 33 palm trees around the square representing the 33 patriots who fought for independence. Around the square, there was also the same building we saw in Buenos Aires whose architecture is inspired by the Divine Comedy with floors representing hell, ascension and heaven with a lighthouse at the top. Lastly around the square we saw the offices of parliament. The guide mentioned former president Jose Mujica who was very popular with the people and who apparently was often seen without guards and eating at restaurants and cafes round the square with ordinary people.

We carried on to La Plaza de la Constitucion, where Uruguay’s most renowned fountain sits. Apparently it was created by an Italian architect and thus some fundamental words about the constitution are spelt incorrectly with Italian rather than Spanish spellings! We also learned that Uruguay is one of the most agnostic and atheist countries, thus has very few churches. We did however go to one, cathedral metropolitana. The church had the body of one of the first presidents of Uruguay – Fructuoso Rivera (1854). Our tour guide said he was the reason why most Uruguyans have light, European skin compared to the rest of South America. Rivera apparently invited all the indigenous people to a gathering and slaughtered them all. Our guide’s comment on this was that the running joke is that Peruvians are descended from the Incas, Mexicans are descended from the Aztecs and Uruguayan’s are descended from sheep. In keeping with the liberal nature of the country, our guide explained how marijuana is legal for Uruguayan citizens; their ID cards have a chip like a credit card which enables them to go to pharmacies, insert their ID and it states how much weed they are allowed to buy. He said it is usually 40g per month and said it was so amusing for him to watch his parents all of a sudden change their perspective on drugs after they realised it was state owned and now he often goes home to see his parents having a joint together!

Though Uruguay was a country we didn’t really know much about, nor knew anyone who had ever been, we really enjoyed our time there and hope to return one day and explore a few more cities and towns, perhaps not just the ones along the coast but further inland!

Thanks for reading and join us next time as we head to Brazil!

Sophie & Dave

Salta & Córdoba – Argentina


We headed to Argentina with our first long distance bus and border crossing in South America. We booked our bus ticket in San Pedro de Atacama (it took us two attempts as we forgot to take our passports to the station and had to return a second time). All sorted in the end and we opted for the cheapest bus company offering the trip; Gemini for $18,000 Chilean pesos each (£21). It was a 9 hour trip but perfectly bearable given the comfy seats, toilet on board and 2 rounds of snacks they gave out. Getting off the bus and through border control was really smooth too, much more efficient than our Asia land border crossings like Vietnam to Cambodia. It was also throughout the day so we at least got to admire the scenery when we weren’t napping (okay, maybe just me). As we drew closer, we got to see the Cerro de los Siete colores (hill of 7 colours), which is a popular tour excursion though we were content seeing it from the bus (see photos below!). We finally arrived in Salta, a mountain city founded in 1582 in the North West of Argentina. We had anticipated it being quite a small city given its location, turn out its massive!

We had a bit of a nightmare as we got off the bus, our hostel was 5km away and it was getting dark so we wanted to get a taxi. Unfortunately, the ATMs near the bus terminal didn’t work with English credit cards (same happened to all the other Brits on the bus). So we had to walk into the city centre where we eventually found an ATM that worked for us, though by this point, we decided we’d just persevere and walk all the way with our backpacks.  Though slightly out of town, the hostel we stayed in (All Norte), was awesome and one of our favourites from this trip. We met some lovely people and Dave was especially thrilled as he was able to actually speak English with other humans. Fernando, the owner, was also so kind to us and literally helped me practice Spanish in conversations for like 2 hours! The best part though was the two sweetest dogs (one was called Uma Thurman – ha). Turns out they are both former street dogs, and one of them, up until 4 months ago could only crawl until Fernando adopted him and got him surgery to fix his crushed spinal column. Now he’s running around and the transition from the videos we saw of him are insane! We spent a whole day at the hostel where we just chilled and did some proper planning. We discovered a website called Platforma 10, which has been a total life saver helping us work our bus routes and how much the tickets are going to cost us. We originally thought we’d go East in to Paraguay but after our research, we concluded it was best to stay in Argentina and head South.

Anyway, Salta itself we really enjoyed, though it is a city, it didn’t feel too busy and there were some lovely parks, one with a huge fountain and really unique looking ducks. There was a huge supermarket near our hostel so we tried to eat in and make a packed lunch as much as possible though we did have one really good meal out. Of course, given we were in Argentina, it was meat galore. I opted for a steak, where the waiter asked awkwardly ‘definitely this one, it’s 445 grams?’, to which I said that’s fine by me. Dave had a local speciality of llama steak in red wine sauce which sort of tasted like a mix between chicken and a tender red meat. We headed to Cerro San Bernardo, a hill where you can get a cable car or walk the 1000 steps to the summit overlooking the city. We decided to walk (slowly) despite the heat. I also realised I’d forgotten a hair tie so had to make do with shoving sticks in my hair to keep it up, did the job though. The hill boasts 126 species of birds, and it made the walk much more enjoyable for me getting to take photos of a few on the way up. We were really surprised to find a pretty impressive and big fountain/waterfall display at the top of the hill and of course, some great views over Salta.

We went to the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (high altitude archeology), renowned for housing the best preserved mummies. The museum had lots of information (though not everything was translated to English) about Inca rituals and sacrifices. The mummies are of three children who were found 500 years ago at the top of Mount Llullaillaco, at the incredibly high 6700m above sea level! The Incas used to select young children from different tribes, often the most beautiful or intelligent. The children would journey to the main tribe and after a celebration used to strengthen the bond between tribes, would be offered as sacrifice to the mountain. The children were drugged and then taken up the mountain and buried alive, though the Incas didn’t believe they would die, rather join the mountain in Spirit. Due to the altitude (and thus temperatures), the children were preserved and found virtually intact in 1999 (apart from one who had been struck by lightening some time in the last 500 years). We thought we’d see all 3 mummies but there is only 1 on display at a time and are on rotation to help preserve them and allow for more scientific study. Simultaneously horrific and fascinating.

We went to the bus station to book our onwards tickets to Córdoba (we chose it as it broke up our journey to Buenos Aires). Whilst at the station, a little girl with Down syndrome came up to me and said that she’d lost her mum. I’ve never been more grateful or seen the importance more of learning to speak the language of the country we are in than that moment! Fortunately, we were able to take her to a security guard and explain and then she soon found her mum. Anyway, the bus. There’s only one bus company that does the route; Balut and holy sh!t it was incredible. The most ridiculous bus either of us have ever been on. There were only 3 chairs in a row and it was huge leather seats that reclined to a fully horizontal position and basically turned in to a bed. We also got served a hot meal, tea and coffee on board, your own personal tablet with fancy headphones and English films! Dave who notoriously struggles to sleep on night buses said it was the best night sleep in transit he’s had yet! It was an 11 hour trip, $1579 Argentinian pesos (£71) each and definitely worth the money especially when you consider we skip the cost of a night’s accommodation.

Unfortunately, the bus was the best part of Córdoba. Sorry to any Córdobians, but this was the first place on our travels that we unanimously did not like. Perhaps it was in part due to the shite hostel we stayed in, which didn’t even have windows. But it was also the fact that it was a huge city that somehow managed to feel so congested and busy, coming from two Londoners! Córdoba is renowned for being a student city with 10% of the population at university. It’s also where the current Pope Francis is from apparently. We did a free walking tour with a company called La Docta. We’ve done quite a lot of walking tours now, and we can honestly attest that this was the worst tour we’d ever done, both tour guide wise and location wise (avoid if you ever go). It was through the historic part of the city centre. We started at Plaza San Martin, apparently every city in Argentina, Chile & Peru has multiple statues, plazas, squares etc named after him. San Martin was the liberator of the three countries, awarding them independence from the Spanish empire in the early 1800s. Most of tour revolved around visiting various religious monuments; a cathedral, jesuit crypt and church – to be fair, of course the interiors are very impressive but it’s just not either of our cups of tea. The final stop on the tour was to the University of Córdoba where we learned that education is completely free and also available to absolutely anyone which I definitely endorse. The tour guide said the city treats students really well and they enjoy a lot of perks, even subsidised daily steak lunches costing $4 Argentinian pesos = 17p! Our highlight from Córdoba was finding a really quaint cafe called Fellini Cafe where we got an incredible spread when we ordered Brunch for 2!

Thanks for reading, join us next time in the capital; Buenos Aires!

Sophie & Dave

San Pedro de Atacama & Piedras Rojas – Chile


We saved ourselves the 24 hour bus ride from Santiago up to the Atacama desert in the North of Chile and instead decided to fly (because it wasn’t too dissimilar cost-wise). We flew to Calama, the closest airport to San Pedro and then took a shared minivan an hour and a half to the town. Landing in Calama had to be one of the strangest flights we’ve done, we looked out the window and there was just desert for miles and we couldn’t even see the tarmac to land on. The drive to San Pedro as well was very surreal as we just kept driving on and on through this one straight road surrounded by cracked earth, sand, rocks and dust. A desert landscape is one that neither of us have ever seen before (other than the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, though that was quite different).  The Atacama desert is considered the driest place on earth and the landscape is truly jaw-dropping.

We chose a great place to stay, Hostel Ayni, and we arrived too late in the afternoon to do anything properly so we just enjoyed the sun from the hostel’s garden and had a poke around the town which is basically one big strip with all the tour agencies and restaurants. All the tour companies offer similar trips and try and compete for your custom by discounting if you book multiple tours. The tours are all a bit pricey, and though there are loads of things to see and do, we narrowed it down to just one tour which included our top attraction; the flamingos on Lake Chaxa. We opted for the Piedras Rojas tour through the Flamingo Travel Agency (the most legit looking one on the strip). It was initially priced at $45,000 pesos with an additional $5500 pesos entrance fee to the parks but we got it for $35,000 each and entrance was only $2500 pesos; making it about £50pp for a full day (7am -6pm) including breakfast and lunch, a trilingual geologist tour guide and 400km worth of driving to altitudes of 4000m! Not bad really.

Our first stop on the tour was to Lake Chaxa, a salt lake where three types of flamingos live; the Andean flamingo, Chilean flamingo & James flamingo. The lake is surrounded by the salt flats (Salar de Atacama); the third largest salt flats in the world! Lake Chaxa sits at 2300 metres above sea level. We had an amazing geologist tour guide who gave in depth explanations in Spanish, English and French, so it was quite good language practice for me too. He explained that the salt comes from the volcanoes underground and mixes with the underground currents. Though there are multiple volcanoes in the Andes; the Atacama plain only has one active volcano; Lascar and we could see the steam rising from it. As the Atacama basin is surrounded by different mountain ranges, the water has no drainage outlets and is continually evaporating to create the natural salt crystal phenomenon. We absolutely loved seeing the flamingos and that was without a doubt, the highlight for us. Seeing them in person, they are such bizarre creatures with their stilt-like legs. They basically stand in the water and constantly do shuffling 360 degree turns eating the food that they disturb. We weren’t sure whether we’d see any close up but we were thrilled to see a few who were only about 20 metres away. And we did see a huge flock (the collective noun is actually a flamboyance of flamingos) in the distance moving as one and we caught sight of a few actually flying against the backdrop of the Andes. We also saw an Andean Avocet, a white and brown bird with the craziest pointed beak (see below!).

Next up was the main attraction of the tour; las Piedras Rojas or the Red Stones. Situated at 4000m above sea level, there’s lake Miscanti (altiplanicas) which is only 30-40cm deep and was covered in strong ice that you can walk on. Around the lake, there are red rocks that are actually lava stones flung kilometres from the neighbouring volcano Aventura! The reason they are red is due to the oxidised iron within them. I started to get my first ever taste of altitude sickness though, I had such a bad headache it felt like my brain was going to explode out of my head. Also throughout the time in San Pedro, I seem to have started to get a bloody nose which I never normally never have and apparently its a symptom of altitude sickness too. To give you a comparison of how high we were, Machu Pichu is only 2430m! Only 10km further along, we stopped at Laguna Tuyajto, also at 4000m above sea level. It was another salt lake and the aqua colouring reminded us of the glacial lakes of New Zealand.

Throughout the tour, the guide pointed out some wild, desert animals to us. We saw a couple of Vischachas who belong to the chinchilla family except they look like rabbits with long tails and very long whiskers! We also saw quite a few Vicunas which are similar to llamas and alpacas but they are the proper, wild, mountainous versions. Finally, we even saw a Gray fox, native to South America (all photos below!)

We then pulled up to the place that marks the Tropic of Capricorn; the imaginary line parallel to the equator on the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also the start of the Inca trail which goes all the way North to Cusco in Peru. I suppose it was a fun photo op in the middle of the desert that denotes such renowned co-ordinates, but not much else to say on it really. Our last stop was Toconao, a small village where ancient traditions and crafts are kept alive. The town is built with Liparita which is volcanic stone. The town is tiny so there isn’t much to do, we just got an ice cream there and looked at the Bell Tower built in 1750. There were also some giant, phallic cactuses. Apparently the inside of the cactus is used as a type of wood-like material and was used to build the door of the local church.

The next day we had a fairly slow morning after the day before’s jam-packed day. We headed to the town’s French bakery for some great croissants for breakfast. Mine had Manjar in it which is another food that is really popular in Chile. It’s made from condensed milk and it sort of tastes like salted caramel and it is heavenly. We had a few admin bits to do like book our onwards bus journey to Argentina for the following morning and then we went to rent bikes. You can get them for around 3000 pesos for 6 hours or 5000 for a full day. We chose one that cost 4000 for the 6 hours just because it was conveniently located near our hostel. They are supposedly ‘mountain bikes’ though there is no suspension on the back. We planned to cycle to Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) but it was a bit of a disaster really. I’m not the most athletic person anyway, but with the altitude, the mid-day sun of the desert, and crap bikes, it was awful. We followed a view point on our map and ended up pushing our bikes up a gravel/rock/dirt track hill. At the top, there was a giant cross which gave a tiny bit of shade, the only shade for miles – we’ve never been so grateful for a religious structure. Despite the horrific push-bike-up-a-hill-fiasco, the view was amazing and so iconic to Atacama. We then went back down the same disastrous hill and actually cycled through the valley and then back in to town. The loop wasn’t far at all but my god, our arses were so bruised by the end of it.

In the evening, we did perhaps the stupidest thing we’ve done this trip. Atacama is notorious for star gazing and though there are astrology tours that take you out safely in the night with telescopes etc, we decided we’d try and walk out of town where there are no lights to try and see the stars ourselves. We basically took a very dodgy route and were walking in some very sketchy backstreets, not even streets really, just back dirt roads. Just as we were both starting to feel properly on edge, there was this blood-curdling, high pitched yelp from right next to us which was a dog behind a fence. We absolutely shat ourselves. Fortunately, all was ok, but we decided to walk back on the main road instead. Oh, and in terms of stars, we did managed to see them a lot better without the town lights but there still weren’t that many/ that bright. There is a photo below, though not very impressive given that it was taken hand-held without a tripod. We hope we’ll get a couple more chances at stargazing in other parts of South America.

Thanks for reading, join us in Argentina next time!

Sophie & Dave

Valparaiso – Chile


We decided to do a little weekend trip to Valparaiso after our Spanish course. The bus from Santiago was a pleasant surprise; super cheap (£5pp) and quite fancy with the bus company Turbus. Valparaiso is a seaside city, formerly the main port of Chile. Now it is infamous for its coloured houses on steep hills, street art and being a UNESCO heritage site.

We’d been told to only stick to a very small area because Valparaiso is supposedly very sketchy, but we didn’t really stick to that. I was a little cautious and didn’t walk around constantly with my DSLR round my neck but other than that, it was fine for us and we felt quite safe. Even our hostel was a little bit separate from the normal ‘safe zone’ tourist area and it was lovely. The woman who runs it was so kind and helpful and really patient chatting with me in Spanish. We also became best friends with the cat, literally the nicest cat in the world that only wanted to sit on our laps and have cuddles. We were also fairly high on a hill so we had an impressive view of the port and surrounding hills from our window.

We arrived fairly late in the afternoon, so we just pottered around our area, starting to take in the magic of the street art and went for dinner at Cafe del Pintor. It had the most impressive art murals of any cafe/restaurant we’ve ever seen (see photos below). In Chile, most places offer a set menu of starter, main, desert and drink for a fixed price, this is ‘menu’ in Spanish as opposed to ‘Carta’ which would be our version of a menu with all options. Not only the art but the food was great too.

The next day, we headed to the house of Pablo Neruda, a world renowned Chilean poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. We rode the number 612 bus to get there; notorious as an experience in itself because it goes at break-neck speed through the windy hill roads of the residential section of Valparaiso. The bus driver had one hand on the steering wheel and one on the pole to support himself when he turned corners. Pablo Neruda’s house can only be described as quirky. The shape of the house, the rooms, the furniture; everything was quirky. They had an English audio guide which was a little disappointing as I was expecting more information about his actual poetry but the tour focuses on the design of the house, how he chose to decorate it etc. It was still interesting nonetheless and had some of the best views of Valparaiso from its’ different floors. After the house, we walked through ‘the dodgy’ part of town (perfectly fine) to get back to the city centre.

In the afternoon, we did the 3pm walking tour with Tours 4 Tips. Our guide spoke perfect English and was really passionate, one of the best walking tours of this year I think. We hadn’t yet rode any of Valparaiso’s infamous funiculars that take you up to the top of various hills. Throughout the tour, we stayed predominantly on Cerro Alegre (happy hill) & Cerro Concepcion. Just like Santiago, there are so many stray dogs and cats, there were even 2 stray street dogs that followed us for the whole 3 hour walking tour. Our guide led us down some beautiful alleys where every inch was covered in some sort of art. He was knowledeagble about the street artists names though I can’t remember them now. He led us to one of the more recent murals created about a month ago which depicted all the different types of people/professions/influences in Chile – there’s even a Donald Trump in it. What was most interesting though was the firefighters at the top; apparently they are regarded as the most valiant among the Chilean people as in Chile, it is an entirely voluntary service and given that Valparaiso is a city very prone to fires, they are all the more important. He said the firefighters raise funds through raffles and that nearly everyone always donates to it.

We ended our time in Valparaiso with empanadas and tea in hand, sat on the steps of a hill with a view of the sun going down over the port.

Join us next time as we fly from Santiago up to the driest place on earth; the Atacama desert in the North of Chile.

Thanks for reading,

Sophie & Dave

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


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


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

Franz Josef, Fox Glacier, Kaikoura – New Zealand


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


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