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New Zealand - The South Island

Adventures in Colin the Campervan continued....

all seasons in one day 23 °C
View World Tour on Curleys's travel map.

Lots of people had advised us to spend more time in the South Island than the North with the promise that there was more to see and do in the South. Having had such an excellent, jam packed week in the North we were curious to see how the South would compare. Our ferry crossing into the South Island was a good indication.

After watching 'Spy Kids' in the TV lounge of the ferry and then napping for some time we awoke to see luscious green covered mountains through the ferry window and went out on deck and take a proper look. We were travelling through the Marlborough Sounds which is truly stunning. If the ferry crossing was this good we were sure not to be disappointed by the rest of the island.


Views from the ferry

The ferry docked in the lovely little town of Picton where we all pottered around separately for the day.


The Department of Conservation (DOC) run campsites all over New Zealand that range from the very basic to fully serviced and most are in gorgeous settings in National Parks and the like. Our first night on the South Island was spent at the DOC run campsite at Mistletoe Bay on the Queen Charlotte Track. Mistletoe Bay is around 45km from Picton and as well as being perfectly situated for the walk along the track that we all planned to do the following day, it meant that we had an opportunity to drive the Queen Charlotte Drive (although the numerous stops to take pictures of the stunning views did slow us down a little).

Mistletoe Bay Campsite

Walks along the Queen Charlotte Track give amazing views of the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru sounds. We walked for around 4 hours, with Gav and I doing a slightly different route to Sylvie as we decided to climb up to a viewpoint which gave us spectacular 360 degree views. After loosing each other and a few "so where are you again?" and "I'm by the grassy hill" calls to mobiles we decided to head back to the campsite for a spot of lunch.


Queen Charlotte Track, Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds

We've just climbed to the top of there...

We had planned to meet up with Sue and Jane for a wine tasting day and so next stop was Watson's Way Backpackers in Renwick which is in the heart of Marlborough wine region. We booked a half-day tour with Marlborough Wine Tours, which was in fact more like a full day tour. It was great as we were able to suggest wineries that we would like to visit and the number of wineries included in the tour seemed to be unlimited. Other than a couple of wineries that we had in mind, we were happy to go with the suggestions of our guide and driver for the day. Believe it or not we visited so many that in the end we asked if we could call it a day and head back. I know, I know....we asked if we could stop drinking!!! Of course we bought a number of the wines we sampled and have spent the last few weeks enjoying them. We are now just stuck with a bottle of desert wine (must have been late on in the day, and after numerous tastings, that we purchased that one).

Marlborough wine tasting tour

Later that day we nipped to the local supermarket for supplies and then on to a pub called the Cork and Keg where you can use the barbeques for free to knock yourself up a bit of dinner whilst having a beer or two. Oddly the manager will let you use the barbeque but wont supply plates or cutlery and suggested we buy these from the local supermarket. Fortunately our campervan comes with everything so Gav ran back to gather up crockery for us to save us having to eat our meal off the beer garden floor.

No more drink for you!

Sadly that was the last we were going to see of Sue and Jane until we get back to the UK. Bye S&J, we love you!

Kaikoura was our destination on Tuesday 15th. About 30km before Kaikoura is the home of the South Island's largest seal colony. Our guide book said that there are usually dozens of them lolling around on the rocks but we found hundreds of them. They have a pretty pungent odour I have to say but none-the-less they are very cute. It's so interesting to see how agile they are in the water and how clumbersum they seem out of it.

Fur Seals

Wednesday 16th saw Gavin and I off on a whale watching trip whilst Sylvie went to swim with dolphins. Sylvie had an amazing experience with around 100 dusky dolphins swimming and playing with her group. Dusky dolphins are exceptionally playful and like to show off so Sylvie was treated to some great dolphin acrobatics. We were lucky enough to see two Sperm Whales, Dusky Dolphins, Fur Seals and Royal Albatross.

Whale watching tour

On that afternoon we all met up to do the Kaikora Peninsular Walk. Already a little tired from our morning activities, the walk felt a little harder than it should of done and so at the end we treated ourselves to fresh crayfish, cooked on a roadside stall along with scallops in a garlic sauce. All devoured at roadside tables along with a glass of our recently purchased Marlborough wine. Aaaah!

Kaikora Peninsular Walk


On we go and Christchurch is our next stop on Thursday 17th. That evening we sampled Christchurch's nightlife with a few drinks in Oxford Terrace or "The Strip" as it's known and then on to Dux de Lux for dinner. I ended up getting my meal and a bottle of wine for free as I had to wait so long for it to come out which I thought was very kind of them.


Next in our tour of NZ was Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and the DOC campsite that was right at the foot of Mount Cook.

During the drive down we were able to see the stunning Tekapo and Pukaki lakes.

En-route to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

On the following morning, Saturday 19th, we had our first introduction to Kea, which are very naughty mountain parrots. We saw them jumping around on people's tents, pulling at rubber seals around car windows and generally being pretty boisterous and noisy.

After brekkie we took ourselves off for a walk along the Hooker Valley Track which is one of the many walks that can be done in the National Park. Just a 2 1/2 hour loop walk from the campsite enabled us to have great views of Mount Cook, the Hooker River and the Hooker Glacier.

Hooker Valley Track, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

That afternoon we were driving south to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. The main reason for heading there was to hopefully spend some time viewing the rare, yellow-eyed penguins. It turned into a bit of an adventure to say the least.


We knew that the best time to view the penguins was at dusk when they travelled back to shore after spending the day feeding and so that evening we set of from our campsite in Dunedin for the 30 minute drive to Sandfly Bay in the Otago Peninsular (fortunately there were no sandflies at Sandfly Bay!). Upon arrival a sign informed us that it was a 40 minute walk (read: scramble and fall) through the sand dunes and along the beach to the DOC hide that had been set up to enable people to view the penguins without disturbing them. The penguins are very shy and if they see people on the beach they simply will not come ashore, even if they have chicks to feed.

Sandfly Bay

We were absolutely delighted that we were lucky enough to spot two New Zealand, or Hooker's, Sea Lions on the beach whilst walking to the hide. They are not the slightest bit intimidated by humans and are much larger than the fur seals we had seen in Kaikoura. Numerous signs warned visitors to keep a safe distance and that's exactly what we did!

Hooker's sea lions

So up to the hide, where we waited....and waited....and waited. Lots of other people had arrived and left again. It was pretty cold and windy but we persevered. Well that is until some animal started searching in the bushes behind us and scared Sylvia and I into the decision that it was time to go. We’ve since learnt that the screeching that we heard was more than likely the penguins as they have a distinctive high pitched call. It sounded like a Yeti to us so we were not taking any chances.

We did manage to see four penguins in all so it was worth the wait.

If you look really closely....

As I mentioned it was a steep climb and scramble through the sand dunes and along the beach to get to the hide. The route was not marked as such, we just followed the people that were in front of us.....ah, and now it was 11pm and absolutely pitch black, no route markers and no people to follow......we were lost. Once we had tip-toed across the beach, terrified of disturbing the shy little penguins, we arrived at the bottom of the sand dunes. Thank God I had packed a little torch in my bag as without it we may had been running around is circles in those sand dunes until daybreak. We aimed for the top and after 30 minutes of thrashing around we found the path back to the car park.

We are still finding sand in our clothes and shoes now.

The worlds steepest street is in Dunedin. Driving the camper van up was a daft idea. The road is so steep that all the fuel went to the back end of the tank causing the engine to cut out.

Sunday 20th and on to Te Anau. I'll have to stop describing how beautiful, gorgeous or stunning each place we went to was - just take it from now on that everywhere was beautiful, gorgeous or stunning! The view from our campsite was straight out over the lake so Gav and I were more than happy to laze around in the sun whilst Sylvie went off for an explore.

Lake Te Anau

A chap that worked at the campsite came over to us with a huge trout that had been freshly caught from the lake that day. Did we want it? He had too many and was more than happy to give it to us as long as we would eat it and not waste it. Excellent! Barbequed trout and salad for dinner it was.


The following morning we drove the very short distance to Manopouri for our tour of the Doubtful Sound. We travelled by boat across Lake Manopouri, then were taken by coach through the Fiordland forest, had a stop off at Manopouri underground hydro power station (more of interest to Gavin than to Sylvie and I), followed by a cruise around Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound

Okay, on we go. After our eight hour tour of Doubtful we jumped back into Colin the Camper and made our way up to Milford. It was at Milford that we had our introduction to Sandflies. Tiny little black flies that our guidebooks had warned us about. There are squillions of them along the West Coast of the South Island. They bite and their bites are itchier than mosquito bites. God they are annoying.

Road block and Mirror Lake en-route to Milford


On Tuesday 22nd Gav and I were being picked up at 7.15am for our kayaking tour of Milford Sound. When we woke that morning it was raining and it did not stop raining for the entire day. Oh well, at least then it didn't matter if we capsized as we would already be soaking wet. Fortunately we didn't capsize and we did manage to stay relatively dry by wearing our own waterproofs. Kayaking through Milford Sound is such a wonderful way to explore it. We saw yellow eyed penguins and had fur seals playing around our kayaks. We were in a small group of around 8 along with our guide, Kelly, and at times it felt like we had the whole of Milford Sound to ourselves. We enjoyed it so much and (apart from the swarms of sandflies and the odd occasion when Gav and I bickered when we were unable to row in time or even get our kayak to travel in the same direction as the rest of the group) had an excellent day.

Back to the campervan to throw some food at our faces and then on to Queenstown. Phew, we were getting a bit tired by now but had just a week left of travelling around the South Island and were determined to fit as much in as possible.

We expected Queenstown to be, well, tacky. We had read all about it being the adventure capital of New Zealand and almost expected neon sign reading "bungee jump here" and the like. In fact it was far from how we'd imagined it and definitely somewhere we all said we could spend a lot more time. It has a very picturesque setting around Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables in the background, with an alpine village feel. Sue and Jane had text us to say how much they thought we would like Queenstown and most importantly had sent us a list of the best bars to visit. Great, we were set!

We spent Wednesday 23rd strolling around the shops and cafes and then heading out to the bars on the evening. How nice to walk into the bars on a freezing cold night and for so many of them to have roaring open fires, some even with outdoor fires. We toured about the bars until about 2am safe in the knowledge that we didn't have too far to drive the next day.



Did I say we didn't have too far to drive the next day? Well that's what we thought.......we'd got it wrong. In fact it was going to be a 10 hour drive to our next destination, Franz Josef Glacier. Copious amounts of coffee for the Curleys please!!!

As we were leaving Queenstown we happened to drive past the site of the worlds first ever bungee jump. There were signs for free viewing and it looked like someone was about to jump so we decided to run over and take a look. Next thing we know, Gavin is throwing himself off the bridge! He let out a kind of guttural roar as he hurled himself of the bridge and fell 43 metres with his hands dipping into the water of the river below.


There is just no stopping him now. I dread to think what extreme sport is going to be next on his list.

En-route to Franz Josef we visited Lake Dunstan, Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is one of the most photographed sights in New Zealand as it has perfect reflections of Mount Cook at times. Unfortunately it was not the case when we visited as there was cloud around the peak of Mount Cook but it was very pretty none-the-less.

Lake Dunstan and Mt Aspiring

Fox Glacier and Lake Matheson

On Friday 25th Gav and I went ice climbing on the Franz Josef Glacier. What an adventure, it was great. We had our ice picks and crampons to enable us to climb through the peaks and valleys and squeeze through the tiniest, claustrophobia inducing cracks. One of the best bits was sitting on the ice to eat lunch. We were saying to ourselves "we're sat on the Franz Josef Glacier eating a ham buttie"....surreal. It does feel pretty amazing when we get to do the things that we started reading about maybe two or more years ago. All the planning and saving and then all of a sudden, we're there.

We walked for hours and after an 8am start got back to the camp site for about 6pm exhausted.

Just....enough....energy....to....lift...a glass....of beer.....

Franz Josef Glacier

Mmm notice our pictures have acquired an odd pink tinge...more on that later.

Nooooooooooo! It was time to start heading back. Colin the Camper had to be back in Auckland on Monday 28th and so the next couple of days were spent on the road getting the van back to the depot. A few days prior we had noticed that the front right indicator unit on the van was loose. The next thing we noticed was that it was gone. Bugger. Britz Rentals take a $5,000 bond for campervans. They don’t just take your credit card details just in case, they actually take the five grand off you. We did not want to loose any part of $5,000 and so during the drive back had a number of phone calls to various Britz bods and eventually they agreed not to charge us. It was a bit dodgy driving all that way with no right indicator and Gav did have to stick his arm out of the window every now and then but we made it in one piece.

And so back in Auckland. We decided to stay in the suburbs of Auckland rather than the city and were a little gutted to see everything we missed out on during our first stay. Ponsonby and Parnell are the two suburbs that we stayed in. Both areas are great and have an entirely different feel to the drab city centre.

Sylvia left us to head back to the UK on Tuesday 29th and after that Gav and I mainly slept, spent time in internet cafes blogging and generally passing time before our flight to Santiago on 5th Feb.

We were thrilled about heading over to South America although a little bit sad that we were not going to be able to get to Brazil for Carnival. It's our own fault, we didn't confirm our flights in time but, hey, everything happens for a reason (that's what we are telling ourselves anyway). We decided to cut Brazil out of our itinerary completely and spend the final two months of our trip in Chile, Peru and Argentina.

South America here we come!

Posted by Curleys 21:08 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking

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