We landed in Christchurch in the afternoon, it was throwing it down with rain, but we went straight to pick up the car that we would be driving for the next 24 days, and we weren’t too impressed at what we were given, it was an old Mazda, with over 100k already on the clock, and didn’t even have central locking, it certainly wasn’t what we imagined driving for 5,000 km around New Zealand, and definitely not what we had paid for.
Because of the bad weather, and the fact that the office was about to close, we put up with it for now and headed for our apartment. The apartment was tiny, but nice, they then charged us an extra $10 to park the car which we weren’t too happy with but we just put up with it and walked down to the supermarket, for a bottle of wine, in the pouring rain.
We picked up a bottle of wine and some snacks, but when we got to the checkout, the staff and even the store manager refused to serve us without our passports, which were ten-minutes walk away in the rain. Even though we had multiple other forms of ID on us, and hadn’t needed ID once in the week we spent in Auckland. Christchurch wasn’t going great so far.
We walked back, got the car and the passports, went to a different shop for the wine, then stopped by a modern food-court area for a burger for tea. The burger was fantastic and turned out to be where we ended up for dinner every night in Christchurch 🙂
The next day we checked out of the apartment, and we were going to pick John and Judy up from the airport in the afternoon. First, we went to the hire car place to request they changed the car but they promised they had nothing else available. We left and called the head office, and just like that, two hours later they had a better car for us, a big new-ish Holden Malibu, basically exactly the same as the Insignia we had at home, so we both were much happier, and knew it would suit us all better for the long days of driving.
We checked out the Canterbury Museum, an interesting natural history museum, before going down to the airport to pick up the others.
It’s safe to say that, after 30 hours of flying, and two full days since they left home, John and Judy didn’t think the first thing they would be doing in New Zealand is talking to airport staff about one of their bags that missed the last flight from Sydney, and wouldn’t be making an appearance until the following day.
We met them at the airport, and thankfully the weather had improved, it was definitely great to see family again after so long away, both John and Judy looked like they just needed a bed 🙂
That night we found our AirBnb house that we would have for the next two days and went down to the food court again for dinner, some massive burgers and a few drinks in the house concluded their first day in New Zealand.
Christchurch has a quite substantial Air Force Museum on the site of the former Air Base, we found online that they did free behind-the-scenes tours to see all the aircraft that they are rebuilding, this couldn’t really sound any more perfect for John (until the part where we got to have a go in the Mosquito flight simulator) so we went down and spent a great few hours learning about the old planes and choppers used by the RNZAF and how the museum were restoring them to their former glory.
We picked up a poppy for a very special lady in the museum then went for a walk around the botanic gardens. Another huge tasty burger finished the day.
The next day we set off for the first drive of the huge NZ road trip, from Christchurch, over Arthur’s pass to Hokitika on the west coast. Within an hour of setting off, the rain started, and didn’t stop for a full day, but we still got to see some stunning scenery, the first drive through the mountains of New Zealand, past snow-capped mountains and gushing waterfalls was a dream come true.
That afternoon we found our AirBnB that I’d booked for us, a stunning house, all dark wood and classical features with a beautiful fire in the corner of the living area, seriously, we could have stayed here for a week easily, it was gorgeous. Then we headed off to the local tourist site, Hokitika Gorge, which was, in a word; Amazing.
The rain didn’t slow at all, but it didn’t stop us walking around the forest, admiring the beautiful waterfalls, bouncing on the rope bridge and getting absolutely soaked in the process, it was fantastic. Afterwards, walking back in to the warm house to the still-burning-fire was bliss.
Franz Josef Glacier
We were driving not too far the next day, down to the west side of Mount Cook, on the way we passed by Franz Josef Glacier. We stopped by and did a walk down to the bottom of the Glacier alongside the river, thankfully the rain had stopped, and the views of the Glacier and the mountainside waterfalls were spectacular. I think I’m going to run out of adjectives to describe the NZ scenery in this post aren’t I?
Unfortunately, climactic changes means that the Glacier is retreating, guided walks used to be possible on the Glacier here, but now it is only accessible by helicopter because it has retreated so far up the mountain, multiple factors have contributed to this, but global warming is in action here I think
Mount Cook View and Lake Matheson Walk
That night we stayed in a motel called Mount Cook View, which we assumed meant that you would be able to see Mount Cook, unfortunately the weather had other ideas, the clouds rolled in and the rain returned, meaning that we couldn’t see any of it.
Fortunately, the next day we woke up to beautiful clear sky and a quite amazing view of the New Zealand Southern Alps with Mount Cook looking breathtaking from the front window. The nearby Lake Matheson seemed like the perfect place to admire the views from, so we went and did the circuit walk around the lake, it took around an hour and the views were amazing, I’ll let the pictures do the talking…
Drive to Wanaka
We were heading to Wanaka that afternoon and John fancied taking over and doing some of the driving, now I don’t mean to sound bitter, but I really should have said “no”, because this was one of the best drives we did in NZ. The road is pretty standard until you pass over the mountains through Mount Aspiring Park, but when the road the curves around Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, the views become breathtaking.
The sun was out, the roads were quite, this was a driving road if ever there was one, if me and John could have turned around and drove this road again immediately we would have.
We just stayed one night in Wanaka, in a nice-but-small motel apartment, but this was definitely one of my favourite places we passed by. The lake with its famous tree was a perfect place to sit and relax in the sunshine, the views of the mountains completely surrounding Wanaka are incredible, this place is blessed with an amazing location.
Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki
We drove the following day from Wanaka to Lake Tekapo in the morning, this lake, along with Lake Pukaki are well-known for having a special blue colour to them due to the rock minerals and the lake beds, except, it would appear that this perfect-blue colour only appears when the weather is nice, and of course, it wasn’t nice when we arrived. In fact, it was freezing cold, raining, and the lake just looked grey.
We did stop and have a very nice lunch over-looking the lake, where I had a fantastic steak and everybody else was jealous of my fantastic steak. But lake Tekapo, to us, was exactly what you expect of a tourist attraction, underwhelming and full of tour-bus tourists, you know the type by now, right?
Of course, if Tekapo didn’t appear gem-stone blue, Pukaki wasn’t going to either, and it didn’t. But we did spot a sign for Mount Cook Village and a road running alongside Pukaki for around 50km, we followed the road for the full distance to the top, and found; absolutely nothing. There was nothing there but a few houses and ski-lodges, so we turned around and drove back town to stay in Twizel.
We stayed the night in a beautiful cottage in Twizel, again with a log-burning fire, ate some dinner and relaxed before driving further south.
We drove a few hours south to Cromwell, which is around 45 minutes from Christchurch, we knew there was lots to see and do around here so we decided to spend a few days around here, the problem was that Christchurch is extortionate expensive for accommodation, so we found a balance by staying here in a motel apartment for much less money.
We visited a couple of wineries of the Central Otago region close to Cromwell on the first afternoon, Ceres winery, a boutique winery producing fantastic, but expensive wines, and also Akarua Winery, both were very friendly and the wines very nice, but prices starting at $30-50 a bottle meant it was out of our price range in reality.
Queenstown and Arrowtown
We drove down to Queenstown the next morning, which to others is heaven (we’ve been told by so many people how amazing it is), with a perfect location in the mountains, fantastic bars and restaurants and lots to do nearby.
To me, Queenstown was; far too busy, it took us almost an hour to find a parking space, and when we did we could only park for one hour before we’d have to move again. Secondly, it’s far too busy; the queue for the famous burger place was about 200m up the street and would have taken longer to wait for a burger than the time we had on the parking meter. Also, if I’ve not already mentioned, it’s far too busy, it’s a tourist heaven, we went in to a local shop, and the girl working there was from Glasgow, there’s nobody from New Zealand here.
That’s not to say that this is a bad place, and I imagine if you stay in the centre and take part in all the outdoor activities here you would love it, but it just wasn’t for me.
After our allowed one-hour of parking, we drove to up along the road that hugs lake Wakatipu to the small town of Glenorchy, it could hardly be more different, there was two pubs and one cafe in the entire town, which consisted of two streets and a few houses, so we sat outside the cafe, had a quick-lunch and admired the views and the nice weather.
The next day we went down to Arrowtown, mentioned by a few people but not nearly as busy as Queenstown, in fact, this place was probably mine and Stac’s favourite place in all of NZ, it was a gorgeous quaint little town, with early 20th century buildings kept to original style, a fantastic pie shop & bakery that we all enjoyed, a nice museum showing the history of the area, a former gold mining centre, and a great ice cream and chocolate shop to top it all off.
On the way back, we stopped by Lake Hayes, again admired the views that this part of the world has in abundance, and sat watching the diving ducks for some time, it was beautiful. A great day.
We drove from Cromwell down to Te Anau, pretty much the most southern point of New Zealand we would get to, although, this post might not quite convey it, the distances and driving times in NZ are quite large, by this time we’d already covered many hours of driving, and staying a couple of nights here saved a huge 6-8 hour drive in one day, because the drive to Milford Sound is a couple of hours each way from here.
It’s funny that places that would be on every tourists priorities can sometimes be far greater than you ever imagined, then others can disappoint. Places like Melbourne and Queenstown, we’d heard so many people talk so highly about, we were underwhelmed by, then places like the Great Wall of China, which is universally known for being touristy we had a great experience with hardly anybody there.
Before you arrive, you never know how it’s going to be and that’s most of the fun, the anticipation of these amazing places, then these places still being mind-blowingly amazing when you arrive.
Thankfully Milford Sound fits in to the amazing category for us, we got a great deal to do a cruise with Jucy Cruise, which made it pretty much half the price of the others for the exact same tour. The weather was fantastic (For Milford) which means that it didn’t throw it down with rain the whole time and wasn’t cold to the point of frostbite, we’re still not talking warmth and sunshine.
And the drive there, well, that’s like something out of a movie, the scenery is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the differences in landscape through this two-hour drive are mind-blowing, and the last stretch down a single lane, 1km long tunnel through a mountain at a steep gradient down-hill, with water seeping through the mountains above down in to the tunnel, is a claustrophobic’s (Stac) worst nightmare, but an adventurer’s (both of us) dream. At the other end of the tunnel, the mountain road winds down over 1,000m in a few minutes, past snowy cliff faces. It was incredible, and one of the best days of NZ.
The cruise through the Sound was just as fantastic, and although we didn’t get to see any Penguins, we did see Seals and numerous waterfalls, breathtaking!
The next day I drove us around four hours from Te Anau over to the east coast to Dunedin, we were only stopping here for a day to go to the Rugby stadium to watch the All Blacks play against Australia. We parked up and had a look around the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum discussing the history of the early settlers of this area, before having a nice dinner in a local pub then heading to the match.
We got to the ground, John bought an All Blacks hat, then went to find our seats. Immediately we noticed that these seats had apparently been designed for children or Hobbits, but either way, they were grossly undersized for full-sized humans. With over an hour until kick off, at night, in winter, we didn’t really fancy sitting there in these tiny seats all cramped up, so we just walked around the ground for an hour.
Kick off soon arrived, the Australians dominated the first half and took quite a big lead, before the All Blacks came from behind and snatched victory, it was a good game to get to see, but rugby can be so slow-paced at times. Stac’s summary, is as good a summary as any person can provide for this particular game… “I’m glad they won, but they spend quite a lot of time on the ground cuddling don’t they” 🙂
Seeing the All Blacks perform the Haka, in New Zealand, and beat Australia, was definitely one of those ‘amazing to have done’ moments, even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s an amazing spectacle, and the Haka along with the atmosphere will send shivers down your spine.
After the match, we drove about an hour and a half north to stay in a hostel in Oamaru, we wanted to stay here for a day anyway, because Judy had read online that there was a Penguin colony here, and accommodation in Dunedin was beyond expensive because the rugby was on, so we were forced in to going here that night.
We got up the next morning, with plans to go and see the Penguin Colony before driving further north in the afternoon, at this point we had already used up half of all our time together, and we still about as south in NZ as you’re likely to go.
We did go down to see the Penguins, but unfortunately, none of us actually did our research on when is best to see them, and it turns out you only see them all at night when they all come back in from the ocean after a long day of fishing. So what we got to see, was the colony where all the Penguins would be, if they weren’t all in the ocean.
Luckily one lonely Penguin had stayed behind that day in its nest, so we did get to see one, and in all honestly, one was enough, it was great to know that people were working hard to look after these creatures and provide them a safe place to nest and breed.
All around the colony were huge lazy fur Seals relaxing on the rocks, they were fun to see, but the guy from the colony told us that almost daily, these Seals jump the fences in to the colony and climb in to the compound looking for food.
That same afternoon, we drove up to Christchurch, we were just staying one night to break up the drive from the south to Nelson in the north of the south island. Because we had been here before, we messaged the same AirBnb as last time and they offered us a cheaper rate because they wouldn’t need to pay the service fee to AirBnb.
Here’s a tip, don’t do that, because it seems if you don’t pay the service or cleaning fee, they don’t clean it, and we got in bed that night, to find disgusting dirty bed sheets not changed since the previous occupants, so at midnight we were changing the sheets ourselves.
Needless to say, we were in Christchurch, so we returned to the burger place again. I think I now own shares in this place 🙂
Nelson had appeared in many destination guides on guide books as a nice place to stop off, a couple of sources even calling it the sunniest place in New Zealand, it was always on the plan to go there, but we only had enough time for one night, and unfortunately that meant it would be after a five-hour drive from Christchurch.
The drive was quite boring, pouring rain for almost all of it, not much visibility to see the scenery around us, and we arrived in Nelson, to torrential rain that didn’t stop until after dark. We were all pretty disappointed that we weren’t going to get to see any of the town, which supposedly has an abundance of wineries, a brewery and some pretty decent sights, but that’s just how travelling goes sometimes.
Instead we stayed in, had a few drinks, played cards and waited for the next day.
We woke up bright and early the next day to head off to Marlborough, when the best friends came to NZ a few years ago they told us about their best times and one of them was the cycling and wine tasting around the Marlborough area, we couldn’t wait to do the same.
We called by the information centre, got some vital winery information and booked to hire some bicycles the following day to cycle around the wineries whilst John and Judy went to the Air Museum. The weather was gorgeous so I drove us down to one of the more famous wineries, Brancott Estate, which supposedly had a very nice terrace and view.
They weren’t wrong, the location of the winery and restaurant was stunning, on a hilltop overlooking all the vines below, unfortunately the wines weren’t amazing, and they were quite expensive, but Me, Stac and Judy all had some tastings and bought a bottle of our favourite whilst John sat out on the terrace enjoying the view.
Afterwards, John now driving, we called by another winery, Giesen Wines, which we had been told did nice lunches. The lunch wasn’t just nice, it was fantastic, one of the best of the trip so far for the value. Large two-person sharing boards of Mussels, Smoked Fish, Hams, Cheeses, Olives, Pate, Fruits, Pickles and Breads, with a glass of wine each, followed by desert and another glass of wine.
We knew we had two days in Marlborough and already we all agreed we were returning here for lunch the following day. In the afternoon we checked in to our gorgeous AirBnB house, to find a nice garden out back, with glorious weather and a bottle of local wine in the fridge compliments of the owner, it went down like a dream. They had also left us some local artisan chocolate, this place was the definition of the perfect AirBnb home.
The next day, John drove us down to the bike hire place to drop us two off, they headed off for a day of museums and shopping whilst we rode through the countryside of Marlborough tasting (too) many wines.
Unfortunately, the weather had turned, it wasn’t raining, but quite cold and overcast, that did mean that after cycling in the cold, the wineries all had log fires burning inside in beautiful tasting rooms with mostly fantastic wines, all free to taste, life doesn’t really get much better does it. The first couple of wineries were great and we already had our eye on buying a few bottles, but we thought we better try some others first before buying at 10am 🙂
We ended up at six different wineries overall, including meeting up with John and Judy at Giesen for lunch again, which again was fantastic, and bought four bottles of our favourites to drink before we left NZ, it was great, we laughed all day long, apart from the part where my bike tried to kill me and ripped my jeans, then went back to the house for some food and all watched some films.
We knew it was one of our favourite parts of New Zealand that we’d done, we had such a great time, and it was great to hear that John and Judy felt the same, they’d loved it here too. Now, if only we could have stayed more time, but we all had to leave nine days from now and we needed to get a boat to the North Island.
That ferry to the North Island, well, let’s just say it wasn’t all plain sailing, but I’ll get to that next time.