It has been quiet for a long time on our website! The last weeks we changed the South American scenery for something totally different: Down Under! But before we arrived here we had some lovely weeks in The Netherlands and Denmark catching up with family and friends.
During our trip Down Under we are visiting both New Zealand and Australia. The trip started off great with a weekend in Melbourne catching up with friends and family, before we made our way to Christchurch, New Zealand.
First some facts of our 25 Days in New Zealand!
- Total Kilometers driven: 5703
- Number of nights camping ‘wild’ (not as wild as we are used to though…): 15
- Nights camped on our own: 0 (you are never really alone in New Zealand)
- Number of Kiwi’s spotted (the bird that is): 0
- Rainy days: 7
- Number of Earthquakes felt: 0
- Total kilometers hiked: 74,4
- Different craft beers tasted: 36
- Number of gold flakes found: 3
We started our New Zealand road trip in Christchurch. We first had a day in the city before picking up our camper van. It really surprised us how much is still evident from the big earthquakes that struck the city in 2010/11. The whole inner city is still a large building site. Luckily the city has a lot of initiatives to make the city lively again, like Re:Start, a mall made of containers with shops and food places which reminded us of Papirøen in Copenhagen.
The next day we picked up our camper at Britz. We were positively surprised about the space in the Hiace van, perfect for chilly autumn nights! We left for Banks Peninsula just out of Christchurch for our first night and spent the evening planning the rest of the trip. This trip is definitely different from what we are used to the last couple of months. Having ‘only’ 3,5 weeks to spend in the whole country, some planning is needed to be able to see the places you want to see :).
We decided to first head off towards Mount Cook and Hooker Valley. We were treated by very beautiful views over the lakes and mountains in inland South Island. In Hooker valley we made the hike towards the lake at the base of Mount Cook to have a good view on New Zealand’s highest mountain.
Then we headed towards the city of Dunedin on the East Coast. A really enjoyable drive because there is loads to see along the way. We enjoyed our stops at the Clay Cliffs, Moeraki Boulders, Kapiti lighthouse and Shag Point. We spotted lots of seals and it is the right season for seeing their cubs as well. The highlight was when we went to Sandfly beach at the Otago Peninsula. This area is one of the areas where you can spot yellow-eyed penguins, of which only about 4000 remain. We were very lucky to see 3 penguins coming ashore in the afternoon. In Dunedin we visited Sebastiaan. He once studied together with Ralph in Amsterdam but calls New Zealand home for quite a while now. We were impressed by the view from his house over the bay of Dunedin!
One of New Zealand’s most famous sights was next: Milford sound. Before we went here we had a nice detour through the Catlins. This area has very pretty beaches, forests and waterfalls to explore. It was a shame we did not have more time to do that. We were lucky in Milford sound to have a very beautiful and sunny (but freezing) day. The drive up to Milford sound is really pretty, especially early in the morning when there are not a lot of other people on the road. We booked ourselves on a cruise in the fjord when we arrived and enjoyed the views. Milford Sound is said to be the 8th world nature wonder. It is really pretty, but calling it the 8th natural wonder of he world is probably a bit too much credit for the fjord. Guess the whole of Norway can be called a Nature Wonder then :). We enjoyed a hike to Lake Marian on the way back, just in time to catch the sunset at the lake.
After Milford we made our way towards Queenstown and Wanaka. Queenstown is a major tourist hub mainly because of all the extreme activities you can do like bungee jumping and jet boating. We decided to skip all of that, and went to look for some gold instead :). A bit of gold panning made us 3 gold flakes richer. Although those were found in the first two pans we tried, and we never found anything again… Just beginners luck I guess!
Next on the list was to go and see some glaciers at the West Coast. The weather changed pretty drastically driving to that side of the mountain range, which meant a lot of rain.. Luckily we found a clear spell in the day to go and see Lake Matheson. This lake is famous for it’s reflection of the snow-topped mountains when the day is good and makes a classic New Zealand sight. We were lucky to have the conditions right for that perfect picture as well :). A big thing to do at Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers is to do a helicopter flight and hike on the glacier. We’ve been on glaciers before, although none that is shrinking as fast as this one… We were pretty shocked by the prices though (in fact in general about the tour prices in New Zealand) so we decided to do a hike in the area instead. Robert’s Track is actually quite a technical hike with some very interesting swing bridges. It ends at a beautiful view point on Franz Joseph Glacier though! We actually heard they might close this hike because it is a pretty dangerous one if you are inexperienced or do not have the right gear.
One thing that we were really looking forward to do was swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura. Because of a recent major earthquake in November 2016 the main access highways both north and south of Kaikoura are closed, which means quite some dedication is required to actually reach this town. We are very happy that we did though! But to actually swim with the dolphins we needed to go out on the tour twice! Our first try was on a day with very low dolphin action. Even though we were navigating for about 3 hours we only spotted a couple of Dusky dolphins, but the group was too small to go swimming with. It was still a very nice morning at sea by spotting also some Hector dolphins and lots of Albatrosses, seals and other wildlife. The company we went with, Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura, is luckily very generous with their refund policy when you can’t swim with dolphins. Therefore we were able to go out again the morning after for only about 35 NZD per person extra :). And wow! That was amazing! Different from the day before we were able to go into the water and have the first swim after only 15min cruising. We were encouraged to make noises and try to act as dolphin-like as possible by for example swim in circles. A lot of fun! Soon we were surrounded by lots of dolphins who were very interested in playing with those humans! And after the first swim we went in three times more. The water was around 14 degrees, but we had a thick 10mm wetsuit on, including cap, shoes and gloves, so the cold was not an issue at all. And to be honest, as soon as you are playing with those cute dolphins you totally forget about the cold :). The group we were swimming with was a group of at least 100 dolphins. After the swim we changed into some warmer clothes and on the way back to the harbour we enjoyed the show of the dolphins, who were jumping and making salto’s out of the water.
To make our visit to the Southern Island complete we left for Abel Tasman National Park all the way in the north. Unfortunately the weather started to change, and a lot of rain was expected. But we still had a very nice day hiking in the park and enjoying the pretty and totally deserted campsite in the park. But the next day we had to leave because it started raining and it would rain all day long non-stop… Good thing we were close to Nelson. This area is close to the wineries of the Marlborough region, famous for the New Zealand white wines. But we were more interested in the craft beer trail! We ended up in the Stoke brewery for lunch and a tour, followed by an extensive tasting. Because Ralph still needed to drive this was mainly hard work for Manon ;). The change in weather also made us decide to leave to the Northern Island earlier than expected, so the following day we took the ferry to Wellington.
Going to Wellington meant catching up with Maiwenn! After having worked for Maersk together for some years she and Manon were let go on the same day. Maiwenn decided to move to New Zealand to try her luck there. We had some lovely days trying out some of the nice bars Wellington has and a day trip to Cape Palliser Lighthouse. It will be interesting to see in which country we will meet next! :).
We had two things high on our wish list for the Northern Island: Hiking Tongariro Alpine Crossing and visiting White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano. Since the weather changed a lot we were not sure what we would get on the day that we hiked Tongariro. Unfortunately half of the hike, which is in total about 20km, was in fog and rain and freezing cold. But when we crossed to the other side we did have some clear spells so we could actually enjoy the beautiful views from the track.
Unfortunately the weather was not good enough to visit White Island. As the name tells, you have to go by boat to reach the island, and the seas were too rough. Guess you always need to leave something should you once come back here :).
Rotorua was the next stop, famous for its volcanic and geothermal activity. It’s pretty impressive to drive around here since everywhere you look you can see steam coming out of the earth. Because the day started really foggy we decided to find some hot pools to relax and warm up our sore legs from the hike of the day before. We also made some stops in the area to see boiling mud pools, crater lakes and natural springs. Unfortunately most of the sights are very commercialised and you need to pay a high entrance fee to see them, which we did not do. I guess we are already spoiled by what we have seen on Iceland :).
The weather did not really clear up, so our last days were real rainy days. We decided to give the Waitomo, Aranui and Ruakuri caves a try. Normally, again, pretty expensive to visit (95 NZD pp for the three different caves). Good thing we had a deal with the rental company that the driver could go in free which made it a more fair price. The caves were pretty, and the glow worms cool to see, but we would never pay the full price to visit these caves. The last night before heading to Australia we camped at the west coast of Auckland and visited the pretty beaches Karekare and Lions Rock.
In general we really enjoyed our time in New Zealand. It is a beautiful country that is easy to travel through and where very nice people live. The fact that we had such a comfortable camper really helped, since the weather can get a bit chilly in autumn, and days are short so a lot of time is spent inside the van. We made sure to get up early (6 am!) every day to ensure we got the most out of the short days. And even though we have driven a lot, we made time to do longer hikes to really enjoy the areas we visited. We were also happy to be here in the low season. It is already pretty busy with other tourists travelling around in camper vans, and we can only imagine it gets crazy busy in the high season. But when we are honest; we were not as blown away by New Zealand’s scenery as we expected we would be. Ultimately we are already really spoiled by what we have seen and experienced in South America!
Now we are ready for some warmth and sun (hopefully) and time at the beaches of Australia!
Hasta luego! (we have to try to keep up with our Spanish.. 😉