New Zealand - Our South Island Adventure

New Zealand - Our South Island Adventure

Thursday 22nd February 2018

By Nikki

Thursday 4th January 2017:
Sydney - Christchurch

We flew into Christchurch from Sydney with Qantas. We had used Qantas for all of our internal flights around Australia and we were very impressed with the level of service that they gave us.

We landed in Christchurch on a late flight that got in just before midnight so we decided to crash as close to the airport as possible so had booked at Jucy Snooze for the night. Jucy are a big company down under famous for rental campers so we weren't sure what to expect at their "pod" hotel. By the time we had got our baggage, left the airport and collected our hire car we didn't arrive at Jucy until well after 1am and in need of some sleep! And the "pod hotel" turned out to be great!

Friday 5th January:

We woke up to a very miserable, wet and windy morning, grabbed some breakfast at a nearby coffee house before making our way to our Airbnb accommodation which we would be staying in for three nights. As my Mum and nephew (Bayley) were joining us for our South Island adventure we needed a larger property then usual and it did feel weird being in a spacious four-bedroom bungalow, as a lot of the time during our trip we have been in accommodation where we're all in the same room together! It really is amazing how we can quickly adapt to whatever surroundings present themselves to us as before the trip the thought of all of us sharing one bedroom actually made me fell quite uneasy and nauseous! Fortunately the actual experience has been better then my initial thoughts and it has (in my opinion) brought us closer as a family. With Mum and Bayley arriving the following day it gave us the opportunity to do some food shopping, wash clothes and generally have a chilled out day as we knew once they arrived and we hit the road, a very busy couple of weeks were in front of us exploring the South Island.

Saturday 6th January:

We arrived back at Christchurch airport to collect Mum and Bayley bright and early at 7am, it was nice to see Mum as I had not seen her since a week or so before we departed on our world adventure back in August. The girls were so happy and excited to give Granny a cuddle as she came through arrivals and they have always had a great relationship with their cousin Bayley (who is 13) so they were made up to have them with us for this part of the trip.

We took them back to the bungalow so they could freshen up after their mammoth flight to reach New Zealand from the UK, we had some lunch and then decided the best thing would be to go out and get some fresh air so that they did not just crumple in a heap and fall asleep. We went for a nice walk around the harbour and then by chance drove past an Ice Skating rink and Darcy had been desperate to get the skates on for a while so the children went out on the Ice whilst the grown ups stayed in the warm with a hot chocolate and plotted the final pieces of the South Island road trip.

Sunday 7th January:

Our last day in Christchurch was spent visiting the Antarctic Centre located near Christchurch Airport.

It really was a very informative and beneficial place to go as we all learnt so much new information regarding Antarctica. The highlight of the day for all of us was the ride on the Hagglund snow truck that took us around a specially designed obstacle circuit that showed the full range of its manoeuvrability and sturdiness, although a very bumpy ride it was good fun and not something you get to do everyday. There were also 4D cinema shows and an Antarctic Storm demonstration whereby everyone went into a room full of ice and snow and then they proceeded to drop the temperature to a windchill of -20° and created a strong wind to experience what it would be like to be in the middle of an Artic Storm. Other attractions included the feeding of rescued penguins and various interactive displays. We arrived at 11am and were pretty much the last to leave when it closed at 5pm so a good day enjoyed by everyone! Definitely worth a visit if you are staying in Christchurch.

Monday 8th January:
Christchurch - Hokitika

Monday morning was moving day, the car was locked and loaded and the road trip had officially begun! Our aim was to get to Hokitika for early afternoon - however we had greatly underestimated the sights, views and stunning scenery that has you pulling the car over every 10-15 minutes to either stop and take pictures, climb something or jump into a gorge, creek, cave, river or stream!

There are so many things to see and do it is a full sensory overload. It really was a taste of what was to come, it was only our first day in the road yet we had already climbed rocks at Castle Hill, been intonthe Stream Cave, stopped for tea and cake at Arthur's Pass and skimmed stones on Hokitika beach. The full beauty of the landscape can only be fully appreciated by those that have seen it with their eyes.

We finally arrived in Hokitika around 8pm - very hungry and tired. Our accommodation was in the form of a really old fashioned Bed & Breakfast run by a fine gentleman called Glenville, although it was like stepping back in time 50 years (at least!) its quirkiness was something that we will always remember. Unfortunately one of these quirks was that Glenville only opened the kitchen for dinner on Thursday through until Sunday and seeing as it was only Monday we were bang out of luck and all had to make do with a Subway which we all ate whilst trying to keep our eyes open! The children fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Before I turned in for the night I went to use the bathroom (it was a shared bathroom area for the four bedrooms in the motel) and heard a strange scratching noise on the door which was followed by a few calls of "hello" in a voice that I recognised - it was Mum who had been locked in the bathroom for half an hour having accidentally snapped the lock on the door! After several attempts with a range of different implements I finally broke Mum free and went to bed.

Tuesday 9th January:
Hokitika - Queenstown

We had planned to leave Hokitika at 9.30am to visit Hokitika Gorge before making our way down the west coast to Queenstown which was a monster drive and in hindsight not something that should ever be attempted in one day!
The 9.30am departure time went up in smoke the moment Mum said she wanted to pop into the town to buy a memento! The previous day we had all commented on how lovely the town was with all its old antique, glass and bric-a-brac shops and Mum being Mum couldn't resist returning when it all opened the next day. This delay actually turned into a nice little treat for me and Rebekah as when Granny is in town Mum and Dad suddenly lose there appeal and as the children went off shopping with Granny it left me and Rebekah the rare opportunity to have some alone time 😉which we used to the absolute maximum........................ ..........by having eggs benedict and a latte together in a local cafe! We sure know how to live life to the full!

Mum returned with the children, her mementos and of course French bread! Wherever Mum is in the world no matter what time of day or year she will always buy French bread at every available opportunity and it became a running joke throughout her stay with us, even the girls towards the end of her stay would ask Granny where the French bread was if she wasn't holding any!

Our journey finally began with a stop at Hokitika Gorge which we were told was a lush river full of crystal clear blue water; unfortunately for us it was a grey, bleak and hammering down with rain! So no sign of the crystal clear water - the children loved it all the same as they got to walk across a suspension bridge over the river; despite the weather the only thing stopping us from jumping in was the length of the journey ahead of us and we had to get going.

Our second scheduled stop was the Franz Josef Glacier but with New Zealand being New Zealand I think the Glacier was actually stop number 6 or 7 of the day 🙈.
The return walk to see the Glacier was around 2 hours but very much worth it. We stopped at so many different beauty spots that is hard sometimes to look back at pictures and remember exactly where it was taken. The highlight of the day for me was when we found an isolated part of beach called Ship Creek, we were already in awe standing there watching the waves when we suddenly all spotted a small pod of dolphins right in front of us jumping as if to welcome us. I quickly dashed back to the car to get my drone and luckily I managed to film them on camera.

With all the stop offs and excitements that the West Coast has to offer we didn't get round to eating dinner until 10pm in a lovely town called Wanaka which was still over an hour's drive away from Queenstown, with it being 10pm all the nice restaurants had finished serving food so instead we demolished a couple of large pizzas from Domino's. We finally reached Queenstown at just after midnight - over 13 hours after we had left Hokitika. A marathon day but a day in which we did and saw so much.

Wednesday 10th January:

Not surprisingly after the previous busy day we all enjoyed a nice lie in. We had rented a house for three nights whilst in Queenstown which had stunning views over Lake Wakatipu. Over breakfast we discussed plans for the day and top of the list for Mum was a tattoo (yes you did read that right!) she had mentioned it a few times already in the few days she had been with us but I didn't ever think that she would go through with it - how wrong I was! So we went into Queenstown and found two tattoo shops located across the road from each other, whilst I took the children to pick up various tickets that we had booked for various trips, tours and excursions Rebekah went with Mum as she went ahead and got her tattoo - she wanted something to remind her of the trip so she had the outline of a Kiwi (not the fruit, the animal) tattooed on her wrist.

We all then got the cable car up to the top of Bobs Peak so that we could take in the amazing views and more importantly go crazy on the Luge Track! It's hard to describe what a Luge actually is, it's a cross between a cart, toboggan, go kart and everything in between; it has no engine or gears you just go down hill and use the handle bars to steer and brake. We all had a brief demonstration and were then encouraged to go down the slow track first before tackling the faster "pro" track - we all took the advice on board except Mum who opted for the fast track straight away!

The slogan they use at the Luge is "once is never enough" but for me no amount of times is ever enough! Bayley, Darcy and I used up the rides that Mum, Kitty and Rebekah didn't take so we ended up having about eight rides each!

That night we made use of BBQ at the house and had a lovely dinner out on the decking complete with the standard sticks of French bread.

Thursday 11th January:
Te Anau

Thursday was the trip to Te Anau which was around an hour and a half drive from Queenstown to go and experience the Glow Worm caves - something that the children were very excited about.
We arrived in Te Anau and to get to the Caves we had to first board a ferry boat that would take us on a 30 minute ride across Lake Te Anau.

There is always something mysterious and magical about entering any cave but this cave is one that I will never ever forget. Learning about how and why the glow worms illuminate was fascinating enough but nothing can prepare you for that moment when you see for the first time the pitch black cave brought to life and into the light. After the cave experience a presentation is put on along with a Q&A session which was very well done and educational. The Glow Worm Caves in Te Anau is something that anyone visiting New Zealand should not miss out on.

Friday 12th January:
Milford Sound
Queenstown - Geraldine

We had to be up bright and early as we were being picked up at 7am and taken to Queenstown Airport to catch a flight to Milford Sound. The drive to Milford Sound from Queenstown is around 4 hours each way and having had already done a lot of driving with a lot more to come we decided to take a 35 minute scenic flight to Milford Sound on our own light aircraft. People that know me are aware that I am not good with heights and that I have always maintained that there are enough ways to die in life without taking needless risks flying in light aircrafts or helicopters (as I write this I am seeing on the news a helicopter that has crashed into Grand Canyon and only a few weeks before whilst we were in Sydney a British family had all been killed on a light aircraft whilst sightseeing so you can understand my fears). However due to our time constraints and desire to see the Milford Sound everything about this short trip made perfect sense (except the cost and my fears!). We were welcomed by our pilot Nadia and the six of us took off on our Scenic Flight through the mountains. The views were great and it was scenery that was totally untouched or ruined by human interference but the overwhelming feeling I had throughout the flight both there and back was that I had never felt so vulnerable in all of my life - travelling through mountains at 10,000ft I could see zero emergency landing areas and any slight turbulence had me holding on to the seat in front of me for dear life! As good as the views and experience were I am not going to lie - I was mightily relieved to be back on the ground at the end of each flight.

It is easy to see why Rudyard Kipling labelled Milford Sound as the eighth wonder of the world - we took a two hour ferry boat ride across the lake and through the Fiordlands where we encountered waterfalls, mountains and a seal colony. The landscape and its surroundings have not been polluted or corrupted by human invasion or development it remains almost untouched and is a truly beautiful place.

We were dropped back at our property in Queenstown by 11am so in terms of making the most of the time available it was job done; we had been on two planes, flown up in the mountains, been on a ferry and seen unrivalled scenery and it still wasn't even lunchtime! The car was already packed with our stuff and it was time to say goodbye to Queenstown.

We needed to get to the other end of South Island to be in Kaikoura for the January 15th as we had Dolphin swimming booked for early on the 16th but apart from that we were flexible and decided to drive the inland route back towards Christchurch and then just stop off and stay wherever we felt looked good.

After leaving Queenstown we decided to pop into Wanaka so the children could go to Puzzle Land. Puzzle Land itself did exactly what it said on the tin and kept the children amused and entertained for a few hours with various mazes, mind games & problems to solve.

We hit the road late afternoon and stopped for what we thought would be just one night in a small town called Geraldine. We had found a lovely cottage on Airbnb that was on a farm and the owners were an amazing couple called Drew & Sally who gave us a warm welcome and really made us feel at home. They offered the children the opportunity to go and help them with their cattle the following day and everyone fell in love with the place so we decided there and then to extend our stay to three nights which turned out to be a really good decision.

Saturday 13th January:

Unsurprisingly after the previous day's activities and early start we all enjoyed a lazy morning, the children went off with Drew & Sally around the farm to see the cows and check various traps which they enjoyed immensely. They also saw their amazing fruit and vegetables growing, and came home with armfuls of carrots, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes and berries! Mum was itching to get into Geraldine town as the night before whilst driving through she had eyed up a few shops to purchase the obligatory "memento"!

We headed into Geraldine and came across an old-fashioned cinema theatre which we assumed was now closed or some kind of museum but it was actually still operating and we took the opportunity to book tickets to come back in the evening and watch "The Greatest Showman". We had already watched it in Australia but all loved it so much we only thought it fair that Mum and Bayley got to watch it as well.

The rest of the day was spent mooching around the shops and taking in the beauty of Geraldine and all of its friendly people.

The actual experience of going into the cinema that evening was bizarre - the decor was as old as the building and the seats in the entire theatre were old ripped sofas all placed next to each other in rows! Despite these oddities nothing could ruin the film itself and Mum had ordered the soundtrack before we even got back to the cottage!

Sunday 14th January:

Sunday was all about swimming, jumping and diving into the various gorges, rivers and creeks around the Geraldine area and taking full advantage of the blue skies. At one particular place before I could even work out if it was safe or not Mum had jumped off the top rock into the river! She was certainly making the most of her holiday and it was good to be reminded of just how much good fun my Mum is, despite being all these years later Mum was still the same fun outgoing person as she was when me and my three brothers were young many moons ago. It also made me realise that when I get home from the trip I need to make time to see my Mum more then I currently do. The sun was shining and everyone was having a lovely day splashing about and it was a nice way to spend our last full day in Geraldine.

Monday 15th January:
Geraldine - Kaikoura

We were up early with the car loaded ready to start the drive to Kaikoura, the only thing left to do was to say goodbye to Drew & Sally and thank them for a wonderful stay and the amazing hospitality that they showed us. I could have sat and listened to them all day talking about their own travels around the world and what brought them to buy a farm in Geraldine, they were two of the nicest people that I have ever met in my life and we will forever and always remember Drew & Sally from the farm in Geraldine.

Like dozens of times previous on our travels we felt sad moving on and leaving behind newly made friends but as always the show must go on!

We arrived in Kaikoura early that evening and as we took a walk down the high street it was the first time during our stay in New Zealand that it truly hit home the impact that earthquakes have on every aspect of life. The earthquake that hit Kaikoura happened on November 14th 2016 yet 14 months on so many shops, business premises and properties were still boarded up and the roads leading in and out had only just been fully reopened. The financial implications on a place like Kaikoura that relies heavily on tourism for its economy were catastrophic and it will take many years to fully recover and rebuild.

Everyone that we had spoken to recommended that we went to Coopers fish and chip shop for dinner and we were not disappointed!

We walked back to our Motel with full tummies looking forward to our date with the Dusky Dolphins the following day!

Tuesday 16th January:
Kaikoura - Christchurch

Swimming with wild dolphins in the ocean is something that everyone must try to do at some point in their life - I am sure many of you like I have in the past have done it at various water parks with captive dolphins but to experience it in the wild with dolphins that are truly free whilst being in the open ocean is something that cannot be replicated.

Although we had already swam with wild dolphins in Zanzibar it was something that my Mum had always wanted to do so to arrange it for her whilst she was in New Zealand was really good.

We all got into our wetsuits (which is always the hardest part of any dive) watched the safety briefing and then we were good to board the boat and depart the dock. Within 10 minutes of leaving the shore we could already spot Dusky dolphins jumping and playing in the distance, we soon had a pod of dolphins following the boat and the captain made the signal that we would be stopping and prepare to enter the water.

No matter how many times I jump into the open ocean out to sea it always fills me with a little bit of trepidation about sharks and anything else sinister that might be lurking around! No matter how hard I try not to the "Jaws" music always manages to enter my head! It hasn't helped on this trip that Darcy is animal crazy and knows every animal and where they live anywhere on the planet and on the boat had just told me that this part of New Zealand has been known to have both Great White sharks and Orcas (Killer Whales)!

Our instructions were to interact with the dolphins as much as possible without touching them by making noises and trying to swim along with them as the more interaction you show them the more they will stay with you and play. I thought this was just "waffle" but it was totally true those that chose just to float in water were just passed by the dolphins yet those like me that went under and tried to swim with them had a constant surrounding of dolphins looking to play. Unfortunately the time went far too quickly and before we knew it we were back on the boat heading back into the harbour. The experience was wonderful and another reminder as to how cruel it is to keep these animals locked up in small tanks around the world.

We got showered had lunch and hit the road again back to Christchurch. We had managed to do almost a complete lap of the South Island and taken in so many of its wonders. Mum and Bayley were leaving us on the 18th January and flying back to the UK so we had to make our way back to where we began....Christchurch.

Wednesday 17th January:

It was Mum and Bayley's last day in New Zealand so we decided to go into town and have a look around, we were all pretty exhausted from all of the travelling and excursions so we just wanted a quiet day. We went to pay our respects at the Memorial which honoured the 185 people that died in the 2010 Earthquake and after a walk around the town Mum couldn't resit purchasing a few more mementos!

We spent our last night together with a takeaway Nando's and a game of UNO.

Thursday 18th January:

So it was time to say goodbye to Mum and Bayley and drop them back at Christchurch airport, it's always sad saying goodbye but we had all had such a wonderful time together and shared so many great memories that we will never forget, the time that they were with us went so quickly but we managed to squeeze so much into a short space of time. As we left the airport it seemed strange just being the four of us again as we had got so used to having them around but like we always say "the show must go on".

Before our trip people that had travelled told us that the "Garden Route" in South Africa was the nicest drive on the planet others recommended the "Gold Coast" in Australia; having been fortunate to do them all for me the West Coast drive on the South Island in New Zealand is comfortably the best drive/road trip that I have ever experienced and doubt that anywhere else in the world could better it.

Our South Island adventure had come to an end and it was time to head North where many more adventures and experiences lay ahead of us.