Angela and I began our trip in Christchurch, New Zealand. We arrived late, but had booked a room at a place called Jucy Snooze, which is a 24-hour hotel. We had rented a camper van from Jucy as well, which is a road-tripper company that rents out campers, cars and even hotel rooms for a very reasonable price. They shuttled us from the Jucy Snooze in the morning so that we could pick up our accommodations for our trip around New Zealand.
We spent the day driving around Christchurch, enjoying the city and practicing driving on the left side of the road. The city has been recovering from a terrible earthquake a number of years ago, and is doing a great job by creating artwork around the community.
There is a well-known area in Christchurch called Church Square, where several famous churches received devastating damage during the earthquakes. It was sad to see such a beautiful church in ruins.
After attempting to drive around Christchurch on the left side of the road (roundabouts were the worst), we checked into our holiday park. New Zealand is fantastically set up to accommodate road trippers and campers. They have campgrounds all over the country that are set up for camper vans, RVs and tents that are called holiday parks. These parks have great bathroom facilities and full kitchens, along with pots and pans for guests to use. Our camper van came equipped with a bed in the middle of the van, and a kitchen sink, refrigerator, and frying stove in the back. We were able to make breakfast wherever we were camping.
After our first night camping in our van, we decided to cut across to the west coast of the south island through Arthur’s Pass. As we were driving, we had our first meat pie, which would become a favorite of ours throughout the trip. Right out of Christchurch, we drove through the town of Sheffield which has a famous pie shop. We stopped, along with several vans full of a local school’s orienteering club.
Along our drive to Arthur’s Pass we stumbled across a rock formation called Castle Hill. Castle Hill is an interesting formation of limestone rocks with a hiking trail up to and around it.
We spent an hour hiking around Castle Hill, and then we hit the road again in our Jucy minivan. Our goal was to do a hike in Arthur’s Pass on our way to the west coast.
Arthur’s Pass was not too far from Castle Hill, and was a lot bigger than we thought it was.
We drove quite a ways into Arthur’s Pass before we found the visitor center. One of the rangers was very helpful, and recommended that we do the Bealey Spur Track instead of trying any other hikes in the area. He said that it was a nice hike up to a great view of Arthur’s Pass, and due to the rain it was not advisable to do the official Arthur’s Pass hike. We are not ones to ignore safety advice, so we doubled back a few miles to find the Bealey Spur Track. It was about a 3 hour hike, and it was fantastic.
We are not hardcore, and so it was just challenging enough without being totally demoralizing. The view was hard to beat, too.
After our hike, we jumped in the Jucy and continued to Hokitika. We had booked a place at a holiday park on the coast, and were able to walk along the beach into the actual town of Hokitika.
We enjoyed what Hokitika had to offer, and then went back to our campsite. The highlight of Hokitika for me was the glowworm dell. There was a dell just across the road from our campsite, and so we were able to walk there around 10:00 PM. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before as the glowworms produce a magnificent light when they are in their larvae stage. They are fascinating insects, as they use their glow to attract other insects, which they eat. They feed for around 9 months (I think) and then are completely unable to eat once they turn into an adult fly. They just reproduce and then die, so all of their energy is built up when they are glowworms. Here is a sweet video to get an idea about what they look like.
The next day, we woke up and utilized our Jucy camper stove for breakfast before driving to Hokitika Gorge.
The water was a beautiful shade of blue due to the glacial activity that formed the gorge, and I enjoyed the suspension bridge (though Angela did not). We hiked around and made an attempt at taking some artsy photos on the fancy camera our friend lent us for our vacation. The drive to and from Hokitika Gorge went through pasteur and fields, which was very pleasant.
We went back to Hokitika and enjoyed the restaurants and shops it had to offer. There was a famous place on the water called Dulcie’s Takeaway that specialized in fish and chips. We definitely had to stop, and enjoyed the fact that it came wrapped in newspaper (and was delicious). Angela and I also enjoyed the soft drinks that New Zealand had to offer, including L&P and other assorted ginger flavored sodas.
I went back to the glowworm dells a second time as I was so blown away the first time, and then we hit the hay.
We woke up early so that we could drive from Hokitika to the Franz Josef Glacier. Angela and I had booked a helicopter tour and glacier hike on the Franz Josef Glaicer. We arrived, and by the time we were supposed to check in the weather had turned against us. The helicopter place told us they had cancelled fights for the rest of the day, but said we could either get a full refund or use our voucher for a tour at another location. We decided to hang onto the voucher and see what happened later in our trip. We opted for the free glacier walk up to Franz Josef, but due to the fog could not see it.
After our walk, we decided to book it towards Lake Wanaka. We had originally planned on staying near Franz Josef, but with extra time on our hands we thought we would try and cover a little extra ground. The drive from Franz Josef to Lake Hawea was winding and long, and when we arrived to Lake Hawea it was late and raining. We had decided to stop there for the night, and had a soggy dinner.
The next day we only had a short drive to Lake Wanaka, which is a beautiful part of New Zealand. We stayed at a really nice holiday park, and rented bicycles from the park on our first day. We rode around park of the lake, and then enjoyed walking around the town of Wanaka.
We decided to ride our bikes to the nearby Rippon Vineyard, which was an easy ride just past our holiday park.
We stumbled upon a tasting and joined in. Tastings at Rippon are completely free, though they do set out a donation box. We decided to donate by buying a nice bottle of wine and having some on their property, which had pretty decent views.
After enjoying the views around Wanaka, we drove towards Queenstown. We stopped at the Gibbston Valley Cheesery and Winery on the way, which was fantastic. We enjoyed some homemade cheese, and Angela participated in the wine flight.
Before heading to Queenstown, we decided to stay one night in Arrowtown. This was on the recommendation that Arrowtown was a delightful town, but was filled to the brim with tourists from Queenstown during the day, and cleared out at night. We checked in and immediately went to Lake Hayes for a quick hike, and the proceeded to go to Queenstown for a few hours. We took the Skyline Gondola and enjoyed a couple of luge rides while at the top. They required you to do the easy track once, and then you could do the more difficult track. I found both to be difficult as there were people stopped all along the track, which made it difficult for people like me who wanted to see where the little plastic carts would top out at, but had to slow and veer too many times to max out. We headed back to our campsite in Arrowtown and enjoyed the small town after all of the day trippers had left. We ate at the Fork and Tap, and enjoyed the great pub feel while sitting outside. When we returned to our campsite, we chatted with an elderly German man who was camping next to us. He was bicycling across the south island, which made us feel slightly shameful in our fancy camper van.
The next morning we walked around Arrowtown. There are two famous Lord of the Rings filming locations in Arrowtown. The first if the Gladden Fields, where Isildur loses the ring and is killed in a scene in the Fellowship. The second is the Ford of Bruinen, where the water rushes down and sweeps away the ring wraiths. We found both locations and Angela let me nerd out for a few hours.
After spending the morning in Arrowtown, we drove back to Queenstown to stay for the day and night. We started our afternoon by hiking up the Queenstown Hill, which was a little more intense than we were bargaining for, but still fun.
There were a lot of small rocks stacked on top of each other around Queenstown, and especially on the Queenstown Hill. I thought these must have some sort of spiritual significance.
The top of Queenstown Hill had an interesting sculpture. We had heard that there was an additional peak that could be hiked after the sculpture, and after a little coercing, I talked Angela into it.
There was an alternative route back down from the top, so we could enjoy new scenery on our way back. On the way up, we had great views of Queenstown and lots of beautiful flowers. The alternative route was creepy, and through a forest which no views.
We enjoyed walking around the streets of Queenstown, and waiting in line for a Fergburger hamburger. It was supposed to be a famous place to go, but it was probably the most overrated burger I have ever eaten. I can recommend highly that any potential Queenstown visitors skip Fergburger, and go to the Fergburger Bakery next door for a delicious minced meat pie.
After our time in Queenstown, we continued to Te Anau, New Zealand. This is the last stop before the famous Milford Sound, so we only stopped here so that we didn’t drive too far in one day. We found that Te Anau actually has a lot more to offer than just a stopping point before driving to the Milford Sound.
We enjoyed the beautiful lake, and booked a glowworm cave tour. I had deeply enjoyed spotting the glowworms in Hokitika, so I was eager to see them inside a cave. We took a boat trip to the caves, and then entered in small groups. Once inside the cave, we had a boat ride in total darkness to view the glowworms. It was pretty spectacular as the amount of light they put out was unbelievable.
We stopped at a few places along the route, including the Mirror Lakes, which casts an excellent reflection of the mountains behind it.
Our journey was well rewarded as the Milford Sound was breathtaking. After we checked into the only holiday park in the Milford Sound, we went on a guided kayak tour. We had booked the ‘Twilight Classic’ trip, and when we arrived to the tour we realized that it was actually called the ‘Twilight Wind and Waves‘, and was listed as a difficult trip. We then took an extremely bumpy water taxi out into the middle of the sound, and then kayaked back. It was terrifying at first, especially when we had to do a “sea crossing” and kayak through the middle of the Milford Sound where the waves were the largest, but we survived and had a great time. We even saw seals resting along the rocks where we were kayaking.
After our kayak trip, it starting to rain, and continued through the morning. We felt lucky that we had caught one sunny day, but the next day started miserably. We had booked a boat cruise through the Milford Sound, and at first it seemed like a waste as we had already had breathtaking views from our kayaks, and were now unable to see much due to the rain. Before our trip had finished, however, the rain let up, revealing hundreds of thousands of newly formed waterfalls that had started up because of the rain. It was fantastic. Our boat trip also included a stop at the underwater observatory which was unique, and a little freaky.
After the Milford Sound, we started working our way up north. We stopped for a good view of a hydroelectric plant on the Roaring Meg River before spending one night in Cromwell.
Our next goal was to see Mt. Cook, and we started to glimpse views of the mountain long before we arrived.
Angela and I were really lucky, because we were allowed to use our cancelled helicopter tour to rebook a trip in Mt. Cook, which was more than twice as expensive as the Franz Josef trip that we were going to take. The company honored our voucher without charging us any extra, so we had an amazing helicopter ride up to the Tasman Glacier, followed by a couple of hours hiking around the glacier with a guide.
The walk on the glacier was not strenuous, but we did get to climb through an ice tunnel.
After our glacier walk, we drove to the base of Mt. Cook and enjoyed a beer.
We had to backtrack to get to the holiday park, but we were allowed to park anywhere we wanted to once inside the park. We chose a spot with a view of Mt. Cook, and enjoyed our amazing view over dinner.
The next morning, we drove back to the base of Mt. Cook to walk the Hooker Valley Track. It took us about 3 hours, and we had some excellent views of the surrounding mountains and glacier.
We worked our way back up to Christchurch to return our Jucy camper van, and met up with a couple of friends who were also in Christchurch at the time. Our south island road trip had come to an end, but we still had the north island to look forward to.