New Zealand captivated me beyond my expectations. My only regret is that we didn’t have a great camera. Dave’s iPhone 6 certainly did a better job than my iPhone 5 considering some overcast days.
It’s a country I delayed visiting for years because I imagined it was too slow and just for old people, with not much going for it other than scenery. I felt there was so much more in the world to see…… Dave visited New Zealand back in a previous life and has always been keen to take me there.
New Zealand is so much more than spectacular snow-capped mountains, ridiculously beautiful waterways and rolling green hills with lots of sheep. I still can’t get over the friendliness of the Kiwis, the lack of aggression and their easygoing approach to pretty much everything.
47 days traveling around the South Island gave us great opportunities for meeting and observing Kiwis in their natural environment.
The most common topics of conversation and on the tellie were the referendum to change the national flag and the Rugby World Cup in London (they think they’ll win, ha).
These are the flag choices they have.
Popular opinion is that they’ll stick to the current flag, not that they feel a particularly British allegiance, more that the designs aren’t that brilliant. Great controversy to keep the news and lifestyle presenters in a tizz. Lots of fun talking with Kiwis about the flag and the Rugby. They seemed to like us despite being Aussies, but took great delight in pointing out our sporting losses and revolving door Prime Ministers.
Looking back on our time on our South Island journey it feels like we flew through it all, but we really did take it slowly with spurts of hasty activity.
So, for a brief recap from nose to tail:
A week in Christchurch at this great airbnb just out of town. Loved this place for many reasons – easy access to the city bus, pub on the corner, great flat and great hosts. Robyn and Peter were wonderful and treated us as friends. If you go to Christchurch you should stay here with Robyn & Peter. You won’t be disappointed. Peter steered us towards a really cheap car hire place – Snap Car Rentals. Cost us $10.20 a day for a Nissan Sunny. Oldie but a goodie. Will do that again.
TranzAlpine rail across Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth. Fantastic, though not as spectacular as I expected because of the overcast weather. Nonetheless, we love train travel and we had been really keen to do this one for some time. The lovely ladies in the Christchurch tourist info office put us on to a great train/accommodation deal over in Punakaiki, just north of Greymouth. Their iSite office is next to the museum, very helpful, worth a visit and a chat.
Punakaiki & the Pancake Rocks. We picked up a Thrifty hire car in Greymouth and headed about 45 minutes north to Punakaiki. Interesting rock formations, like stacks of pancakes as the name suggests. Can you see the faces?
The most wonderful coast road trip down to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, with ridiculous long steep walks to get up to see the glaciers. Dave says that when he was at Franz Josef 40 years ago you could drive right up to the glacier. Now its an hour walk from the car park and the glacier has retreated about 4 kilometers. Stayed at this nice airbnb in Franz Josef with a lovely young family.
Queenstown. What can I say, other than this is what our friends have been telling us for ages. No skiing for us (not ticked in our travel insurance policy), but great to get up in the snow. A busy town full of young extreme adventure seekers, and us. Our biggest adventure was taking the Skyline Gondola up to Bob’s Peak for lunch. Our great Budget motel was cozy and had everything we could possibly want, including a small kitchen so we could cook our locally produced sausages and veges.
Te Anau. An unexpected surprise and here we found our favourite motel with wonderful hosts Irene and Dave. We were welcomed with home-made apple cake and brilliant hospitality. Happy bonus – the best shower of the trip!
Milford Sound. Luckily no rain, but an overcast day didn’t give us the best photo opportunities. However the experience of being within this magnificent space was precious and no pics required. Wild dolphins played along with us on the boat and we watched seals lazing and sparring on the rocks. On Irene’s recommendation we took a Jucy bus/boat from Te Anau to Milford Sound and back to the motel. Fantastic driver & guide, would highly recommend this tour.
Invercargill. Just an overnight motel stop on the way to Dunedin. We really only got to drive through the main streets and it didn’t leave a great impression with me but Dave though it was a nice town. Bluff is a quaint port town just outside of town, the “Oyster Capital” of New Zealand and the gateway to Stewart Island. This is where Highway 1 starts in the southern most point of NZ, then heads up to the tip of the North Island. We’ll come back for a visit to Stewart Island on our next trip.
Dunedin. Our first house sitting gig with kiwihousesitters. 2 really enjoyable weeks looking after Missy and getting to really know this fine town.
Was icy cold for much of the stay and we loved it that way. Even had a couple of light snows. Each morning we’d go to the same cafe for coffee, right on St Clair beach. Missy, Dave and I loved our brisk walks in the sea air and we were all relaxed. Dave got to play with fire every night, Missy had games, we played dominoes in the parlour and all was good with the world.
We took a day tour on the Taieri Gorge railway which was really quaint and interesting, with great scenery (of course).
I talked a bit more about this Dunedin visit, here in this post.
Twizel. A less expensive and more interesting alternative to staying up at a lodge on Mt Cook. Again we lucked in with our motel choice with friendly hosts. The town was formed in the 1960’s to accommodate workers on the nearby hydro-electric station, and then when the project was finished the people loved it so much they lobbied to have the locality retained. Glad they did, has a very friendly and inclusive vibe.
Mt Cook. Mt Awesome! A great drive up to the lodges and pub. We looked at staying in one of Lodges for a couple of nights but the costs were high, as would be expected, unless we chose to stay in a backpackers which didn’t appeal. Its a spectacular sight up there, despite the heavy cloud cover.
Cromwell. Really liked it here and we we very lucky to find accommodation, as the national Squash championships were happening and the place was pretty much booked out. The Lonely Planet guide recommended the Mt Disappointment winery for lunch, so that’s just what we did and we were far from disappointed. Fabulous food plus we got to try their signature Pinot.
Back to Dunedin, just for an overnighter ahead of our next house sit at Lawrence. This time downtown so had the opportunity to check out the beautiful botanic gardens. Helen and Dot very kindly offered to pick us up from Dunedin in the morning and drive us the 100km trip to their home. The drive was a wonderful way for us to chat and get to know each other.
Lawrence. Ah Lawrence. Our spiritual home. This place will always be special for us. We spent the week in the company of 2 beautiful souls, Baxter & Harry. Plus their rather cute but elusive kitty sister Ripley. We really were blessed here because we’ve also made lovely friends with Dot and Helen, having spent a couple of extra nights with them over dinner and wine. We feel enriched by this experience as we spent a lot of time getting to know the local shopkeepers and the daily rhythm of the tiny town. Would go back to Lawrence in a heartbeat. This previous post covered a bit more of Lawrence and the people we met.
Kaikoura. Another lovely surprise, recommended by Helen and Dot, as an overnight stop on the way to our next house-sit in Richmond. It’s not often you get to see snow-covered mountains and the beautiful sea at the same time. There were penguin and seal colonies all along the coast.
Picton. We took the long way towards Nelson via Picton and stopped for coffee and a look around the area. I thought it was nice and Dave really loved it here and thought it was Paradise. Watched the ferries and sea planes come over from Wellington for a while as we relaxed over a pretty good coffee.
Nelson. The drive hugging the coastline along Queen Charlotte Rd was worth the extra few hours detour. Good road and spectacular views over the Marlborough Sounds and towards the North Island. Overnight in a nice Nelson motel in the heart of town, ahead of the Richmond house sit the following day. Great town with a young vibe.
Richmond is a small town just outside Nelson, a bit like a satellite suburb I guess. The home owners Nicki and Owen told us that Max was really old and couldn’t walk far, just to the corner and back. Well he took us on several long expeditions and never missed a beat. Bella, the cute cuddly cat was a treat. Happy friendly animals and a lovely home. Owen left a puzzle for us, a “wasgij” which is a back to front jigsaw. The last picture is what the characters are actually looking at, not what is on the box. We managed to get into it and whiled away a few cold evenings.
We had our final overnight stay in Christchurch at the Sudima airport hotel. Brilliant hotel to stay if you need to be near the airport. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff, although the buffet dinner was very average and a bit disappointing. Free shuttle bus to the airport at stupid o’clock the next morning for our transit to London via Sydney and Singapore.
New Zealand. Dave and I loved it so much we feel we could live there and we can’t wait to get back.
Kiwi Housesitters is a fantastic house sitting resource and we think we could travel around NZ looking after lovely animals, meeting interesting people and seeing amazing sights, for a long time.