Quite possibly the most beautiful country on earth!
Places: Auckland-Hahei-Rotorura-Napier-Te Horo-Wellington-Nelson-Motueka-Punakaika-Hakitika-Franz Josef-Glenorchy-Queenstown-Mossburn-Manapouri-Brighton-Dunedin-Lake Pukaki-Peel Forest-Akaroa-Kaikoura-Christchurch
Where do we start with this amazing country..?
We flew from the Cook Islands straight to Auckland (a day late due to overseeing the date line) and met my mummy and daddy!! They had both flown over to travel NZ with us – poor Jamie!! We wasted no time hanging around as early the next day our new home on wheels arrived – a new Mercedes motorhome complete with 2 double bedrooms, kitchen, shower and toilet. We were travelling in style in NZ! Once we’d managed to get rid of the friendly, yet very boring, salesman Jeff we hit the road!
So where were we going? Umm.. Anyone? We’d heard Cathedral Cove in The Coromandel Peninsula – a good few hours north of Auckland – was nice so that’s where we headed! And it was beautiful! Accessed only by foot or boat this beach is famous for the gigantic arch that joins two secluded coves. After spending 2 weeks in the Cooks, the NZ Ocean wasn’t exactly appealing.. Although Jamie and dad claimed it was very ‘refreshing’.. That night we experienced our first freedom camp in NZ – basically free, legal places to camp with very minimal if not non-existed facilities. And mum learnt for the first time what a long drop toilet was! The best thing about these freedom camps were that they were always situated in the most picturesque of places and we always got the most incredible views from our bedroom windows each morning. Our first night in the motorhome was kicked off by a barbie and a few gins overlooking the ocean with a superb sunset.
Our next destination was Rotoura, filled with Maori culture, hot-springs and mud pools. And it stank!! The whole town smelt like rotten eggs! Due to the Sulphur. Although we’d all been told that this was a ‘must-see place’, we were all largely disappointed. Our first stop was a traditional Maori Village which included lots of mud pools, hot-springs and a huge gieser. After we’d paid a large sum of money to enter the village we were met by our Maori guide. After rubbing noses with her (a traditional Maori greeting) we discovered that she was the rudest, most scariest women we’d ever met! The whole experience felt like boot camp rather than a guided tour and after shouting at dad down following a simple question, no one in the group dared to speak for the whole tour! Following this we decided we needed some fun! So we all took the gondola to the top of a ‘mountain’ and after persuading mum we all raced down the luge track – on a go-kart type buggy. It was so much fun we did it 3 times!
Reliving our noses from the eggy smell, we made tracks for Napier to meet up with family friends, Bev and Gav. On the way out Satnav decided to take us off road, through windy country tracks. This was a little hairy it times in our motorhome but we got to see some beautiful countryside. Stopping for a picnic lunch at Lake Tapou – the largest lake in the North Island, we made it to Napier. That evening we met up with family friends from Kiwi and also had a motorhome and camped in Napier for the night.
The following day was Waitangi Day (Independence Day) and the weather completely turned! It was cold, damp and miserable. After watching the participants of Waitangi Day parade freeze, we went to see what this region had to offer… Vineyards! And Te Mata peak where we nearly got blown off the top as it was so windy! Bev and Gav’s business is buying antiques and furniture from the UK and France and then shipping it all over to NZ to restore and sell in their shop so that evening we stopped off in Sandson to see their shop. It was incredible and mum and I could have bought a lot! After a good browse we headed to Bev and Gav’s beach house in Te Horo. What a place! The house was huge with stunning views of the sea and the mountains surrounding it. It was lovely to get wined and dined to and sleep in a real bed for a couple of nights!
Once recharged, we left Bev and Gav and drove on to Wellington (also known as the Windy City) and briefly met up with some more family friends, Lisa and Mark. Although it did live up to it’s nickname, we all loved Wellington. Eager to see as much of the South Island as possible, we booked onto the next available ferry which was at 6.30 the following day. The closest place we could camp to the ferry terminal was in the ferry terminal car park itself. So at around 11pm we parked up in our motorhome and attempted to get a few hours kip in – surrounded by a busy port and a railway track.. 5am the next day and we were all rudely awoken by a member of staff telling us to get up and start moving to the check-in queue. The 3.5 hour ferry ride across the Cook Strait is said to be one of the most beautiful crossing in the world and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
We arrived in sunny Picton mid-morning and took the scenic route to Nelson along a very windy, costal road. The scenery was so beautiful that we found ourselves stopping at every view point to take in the splendour of this amazing country. We arrived in Nelson some hours later and enjoyed a picnic on the river and following by a wonder around the town. At our freedom camp that evening, out of nowhere came a heavy downpour of rain. We could fully emphasize with everyone who was huddled up in their campervans whilst we were happily playing cards in our motorhome. We used to hate those people!!
It was dad that was the adrenalin junky that week as he persuaded all of us to go on a jet boat on the Buller Gorge. A tin boat with a engine attached, driven at incredible speeds along the gorge through white waters and rapids and every now and then doing 360 degree spins. It was an exhilarating experience, topped off by the zip line back to our motorhome.
Our next adventure was hiking on a glacier at Franz Josef. All suited and booted with our crampons on. As the glacier has retreated so much recent years we had to get a helicopter to drop us to the glacier. What hardship! Somehow we managed to get our own chopper so we felt quite the celebs! The whole experience was incredible from start to finish. We had a bit of a wacky guide who found hiking on the open glacier pretty boring so with his pic-ax he manage to create caves just big enough for us to clamber through – on our bums mainly! It was an experience we’ll never forget!!
We then made it to Queenstown where we soaked up the sun and tried the famous Fergburger. After queuing in the street for a good 40 mins, we were all given the biggest, most delicious burger ever! We needn’t of eaten for a week afterwards. We then caught a boat to some glow-worm caves in Te Anue where we explored beautiful caves and took a rowing boat into pitch darkness and saw the glow-worms in all their glory. Mum’s still convinced they were glow in the dark lights..
Rumour had it that the Doubtful Sound was better than the famous Milford Sound Fiordland so off we went on a day trip to Doubtful Sound. It took a boat trip and a coach journey (with a very funny driver) to get to the Sound and there we took a 3 hour scenic boat trip up and down the Sound. The scenery was spectacular abielt the persistent drizzle but we couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.. Perhaps it was because we were becoming so acclimatised to NZ’s natural beauty.
We then meandered onto Christchurch stopping at Mount Cook, beautiful lakes and pretty little towns. We made it to Christchurch some days later and it was devastating.
We spent ages looking for the town centre, to find some shops and somewhere for lunch. But there was nothing. A crumbling cathedral, a mass of concrete parking space, tons of rubble and a tram line. Eventually we stopped and asked someone where the hubbub of the city was and his reply: ‘this is it, or at least it was it before the earthquake’. We later learnt that 60% of the city had to be pulled down following the earthquake and the city was only into it’s 5th year of regeneration of the estimated 50-100 year re-build plan. A continuing disaster we were largely ignorant too (at least to it’s ongoing effect). While the rebuilding continues, Christchurch have made a small city centre out of storage containers which house restaurants, cafés and shops and actually create a pretty cool vibe to the city.
After learning about this devastated city, it was time to say good bye to mum and dad :'( 3 weeks had come and gone in a flash but we had the most amazing adventure with them and were sad to wave them off. It felt strange to be on our own again but to cheer ourselves up, we booked a swim with dolphins early the next day in Kaikoura, north of Christchurch.
It appeared NZ was sad to see mum and dad leave too as it rained and poured the whole time they left. So at 4.30am(!!) in the miserable weather, we geared up to swim with wild dolphins. The whole experience was out of this world!! We swam with up to 200 wild dolphins in the sea, with them whizzing past us, doing somersaults and generally showing off right underneath, above and around us. An experience we’ll never forget, although it didn’t ever feel real.
It was then that time again to say goodbye to our home on wheels, and it was another sad goodbye and a short time later we found ourselves back at Christchurch airport but this time it was our time to leave. Words cannot sum up how incredible a country NZ is.
Positive lessons: New Zealand, well worth a visit!
Next stop: India…! (via Bangkok).
Love Charlotte & Jamie x x
Lots of photos, if you get bored, scroll faster 😉
Our night stop before the ferry from north to south