With classes all wrapped up for Greg, and after saying good-bye to a lot of friends, it was time to head out on our next adventure – NEW ZEALAND. Also known as– MIDDLE-EARTH! (Yes, I am a big nerd.) We’d taken a lot of little trips, but this was one of our big splurges and I was very excited, not only because I had images of Peter Jackson’s trilogy dancing in my head, but also because I had very little idea of what to expect.
As I’ve mentioned, I haven’t had all that much experience with road trips, and I’ve also only had limited experiences with camping. Now I was about to get ten days of both. We made a decision to forgo a planned tour and to wing it in a camper van – although STA and other companies offer tours that look really great. We didn’t book anything beyond our first night’s stay and I was armed with only my Lonely Planet, South Island.
The South Island is basically one big playground for lovers of the Great Outdoors, and similar to Australia, New Zealand is set-up to make travelling for tourists very easy, so it’s kind of the perfect place to get comfortable with camping and extended road tripping. There are info-sites everywhere and even more books and maps and pamphlets to tell you about tourist attractions, or to help you find campsites, or accommodations, or whatever. If there’s an adventure to be had outside, you can have it here, and at whatever level of intensity you want to have it. If you want to go on a hard-core multi-day hiking trip – or tramping as it’s called here—you can do that. Or, if you want to take leisurely strolls and take in the scenery, that’s cool too. We were definitely somewhere in the middle.
Ten days actually isn’t as much as it seems, so we decided to stick to only one island. It was a bit of tough to choose just one, because while the North Island has more of the cultural centers, the South Island has more of the natural wonders, and we opted on the side of nature. Even having limited ourselves to only one island, up front I would have to say that we could have used a few more days. We covered a lot of ground, but it required a lot of hustling and there were things we felt we missed out on. That said, it was an absolutely MAGICAL ten days.
Our first day was really just a first night. We got in fairly late, but when we arrived at our hotel there was note from Sabina waiting for us to say that she was at a pub next door. She was going to be traveling in NZ as well and arrived earlier the same day. She got into Christchurch, found some hostel-mates to grab a drink with, and set out to find us. A good first night.
Our hotel in Christchurch – our only hotel for the entire trip, was great and affordable. Sadly, it appears that I lost my Lonely Planet guide with all my highlights and notes. This is actually kind of a heartbreaking realization, because that book and I grew very close over these 10 days. Oh well.
It is really surprising how long camping prep takes. If you ever plan on taking campervan trip, be warned that setting yourself up will take like half a day.
After getting up in the morning, we took a brief walking tour of the neighborhood around our hotel and got some breakfast. Then we promptly headed to the Wicked Campervan location to pick up our van at our appointed time. Once we got our van, stocked it with food and supplies, filled it with gas, and got out of town, half the day was gone. Admittedly, we did get kind of lost getting out Christchurch, but it was pretty much the only time we got lost during the whole trip. Eventually, we did get out of the city and headed off towards the northern part of the island.
Since setting up took so long, we got hungry pretty quickly after leaving Christchurch. Luckily, Brew Moon Café was right in our path. This was great little spot with a homey vibe, fresh, tasty food, and even better beer. We opted for the Dark Side of the Moon Stout, which was dark with a rich, chocolate malt flavor. I really enjoyed it. We weren’t planning on eating out all that often, but this meal was a nice start to our voyage.
Now full of good food and beer, we set out to cover some ground in order to get to get to our target destination in the north part of the island. It’s pretty hard to get lost on the New Zealand highways, because . . . well, there aren’t very many of them. However, they also usually have two lanes and wind with the landscape, which is very, very windy. Thus, even though it may not seem like you have a long distance to travel, it might take a lot longer than you’d expect. Luckily, the landscape is also GORGEOUS, which helps a lot.
We didn’t arrive at our destination of Kaikoura until early in the evening. The positive to New Zealand in the summer is that the evenings are very, very long. The sun doesn’t go down until close to 10. The negative is that everything closes at 5, maybe 6. Perfect for getting the most out of outdoor activities, you just better take care of any vendor needs early in the day. So while we got to Kaikoura a bit late, we could still take some advantage of the area.
Kaikoura is known for it’s gorgeous vistas and marine life. These we did not get to see our first evening there, because it was extremely foggy and drizzly. Nonetheless, we took a walk on the gorgeous stony beach. This may not be the beach for lying out on, but it’s covered with these slate grey rocks -- which actually made a pretty scene when set against the grey sky.
We also had the chance to make some friends.
We made some human friends too. One of the funny things about these area where road trips are popular, is that you often start to see the same people along the way. As we were scampering along the rocks on the coast, I recognized a couple that were picking up their van at the same time as we did in Christchurch. We started and they wound camping at our camp ground, which was really nice. Having people to share a drink and conversation with made the cold, wet evening a lot more pleasant.
The weather on day three was considerably better – still too cloudy for whale and dolphin watching (but what’s new, we have terrible luck at spotting these guys) but definitely nice enough to enjoy the views.
After our hike, we all grabbed lunch at a little roadside stand that’s right on the little street that leads up to the coastal track parking lot. This place was hopping. Their special offering is crayfish. It’s pricey, but Greg and I decided to splurge and go for it. I have to say they looked better than they were; however, the green- lipped mussels were fantastic.
After lunch we said good-bye to our friends and continued on our way. Our plan had been to stop at a few wineries on way to the Marlborough region; however, we got caught by the winding roads and ended up only being able to make it one before everything closed at five – Lawson’s Dry Hills Winery.
A great big dog greets you in parking lot at Dry Hills, and pretty soon you meet his cat friend in the tasting room. Not to worry, they’re all friendly, as was the gentleman who gave us our tasting. The Marlborough region is known for its Sauvignon Blanc, and theirs was definitely good, but they also had some very good, not too sweet, Gewurztraminer and Rieslings. I think we cam away with a bottle of the Gewurz and a Pinot. Whites might be the thing here, but it was cold out and red seemed more fitting to drink in the evening.
Armed with our two lone bottles, we headed towards Picton and the Marlborough Sound to find a campsite for the evening. And who should we meet up with in Picton, but Justin and Susan again. We all found a campervan site together again. This one was right on the sound and was extremely pretty. We settled in and enjoyed the view with another campervan meal and a couple drinks.
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Here's a slide show of our time in Kaikura: