Here’s Part 2 of our road trip around South Island, New Zealand, a trip brimming with deserted beaches, penguins, snow-capped mountains and glaciers!
We stopped at Arrowtown in South Island, a quaint little town which was built in the 1860s when gold was discovered in the area. The town retains more than sixty of its original wooden and stone buildings. It’s a popular stop for bus tours and tempting shopping opportunities abound.
The Winding Road to Lake Wanaka
Wanaka was our next destination and it was accessed by narrow mountainous roads, with switchbacks aplenty. However, the drizzly, misty conditions made driving challenging for T. Situated next to a pristine lake, with mountain ranges in the background, Wanaka is home to a range of good restaurants and bars.
Kai Whakapai Cafe
On arrival we managed to get a seat at the popular Kai Whakapai Cafe and Bar, where the food was excellent and beautifully presented. In fact, it’s one of the best places in town to go for breakfasts and great coffee, and we returned a couple of times while we were in Wanaka.
We stayed at Lake Outlet Campsite a lovely bush campsite situated in a secluded spot overlooking the lake. From there, we did two walks from the campsite. The first was to Albertown, 5 km along the lakeside. The other was a 14km walk back to Wanaka town centre. They were both very scenic and peaceful trails. Additionally, there were a range of other trails in the area. Indeed, it was a great spot for hiking and we made the most of it while we were there.
From Wanaka, we took the beautiful road to Fox Glacier. When we arrived, the sun was shining. Because we were too early to check in to our cabin, we drove to Lake Matheson. The lake is known as ‘Mirror Lake’ – on a clear day the mountain range is reflected in the water. Unfortunately, despite the sunshine, the lake wasn’t living up to its reputation on that particular day, but we enjoyed a walk along the trail which surrounded it .
An Early Morning Hike at Fox Glacier
Early the following morning, we headed to the glacier to do the thirty-minute walk from the car park. Thankfully, it was very quiet and there wasn’t a tour bus in sight! As a matter of fact, we made a habit of arriving at popular tourist attractions early to avoid the crowds and it had definitely worked out for us this time!
A Hazardous Hike
The walk was stunning with sheer valley walls on either side and a river running along the track. It was eerily quiet apart from the flowing river and small waterfalls trickling from the mountainside. There were many signs warning of the various dangers, along with information explaining how sections of the mountain had just crumbled away. A steep incline took us up to the finale, the glacier. In all honesty, the walk was as spectacular as the glacier itself and the lack of crowds made it even more special.
A Stroll on Gillespies Beach
Afterwards we drove to Gillespies Beach. The road was an unsealed and rather narrow (in parts) twelve km drive. On the way we saw two cheeky Kea birds who were crossing the road in front of us. The beach is the site of an old mining settlement and it’s usually possible to walk to Galway Beach, from where you can see seals.
We followed a trail through the bush, and found ourselves at a deserted black sand beach which was full of driftwood. Sadly, the final walk to Galway’s Beach was closed due to flooding, so we didn’t get to see the seals. However we did get a lovely sandy beach all to ourselves instead. We had a good couple of days at Fox Glacier and decided to bypass the more commercialised Franz Josef, which was a little further along the road.
Our next stop was Hokitika, a town which thrived during the 1860’s gold rush and is now simply a cute town with a lovely beach. We decided to stay for a couple of days and checked in at a hotel in the centre of town. We drove to the turquoise waters of Hokitika Gorge, which was located a few miles out of town. It was a nice little walk, offering glimpses of those turquoise waters through the trees. We crossed a swing bridge and were followed by some friendly little tweeting birds (we felt like extras in Snow White!) The Gorge didn’t disappoint and was incredibly scenic.
A Visit to a Glow Worm Cave
Ku, who had been to NZ previously, felt it was important for T to witness the extraordinary phenomenon of a glow worm cave. After dark, we proceeded on foot to Glow Worm Dell. After walking for twenty minutes along a dimly-lit road, we arrived at the cave where we were treated to an extraordinary display by New Zealand’s native fungus gnat larvae.
Beautiful Beaches of Hotitika
The beaches of Hotitika are great for walking. Wild and full of driftwood, we walked for miles along the windswept beach without seeing another soul. Perfect. Swimming wasn’t an option and it’s not everyone’s idea of an idyllic beach, but we loved it.
Fat Pipi – The Best Pizza on South Island!
If you ever find yourself in Hokitika, don’t miss Fat Pipi Pizzas – seriously some of the best pizza we have ever had. The menu goes beyond the usual choices and the toppings are very generous. It wasn’t cheap, but it really hit the spot and to this day, we still talk about the delicious pizza we enjoyed in Hokitika.
Our next destination was Punakaiki – home to the Pancake Rocks and a spectacular blowhole. The weathering process gives the rocks the appearance of layers of pancakes. The blowholes, caverns and crashing ocean running through the rocks, makes Pancake Rocks compelling viewing and we spent over an hour watching the spectacle.
The whole coastline is very picturesque. With a mountainous terrain on one side and a driftwood-strewn sandy beach with rock stacks on the other, it was a beautiful place to explore.
We stayed in a very basic beach shack which was located a stone’s throw from the beach and we undertook a number of hikes in the surrounding area. Our favourite was the Porari River Track, which took around three hours. It followed a stunning limestone-studded river and continued uphill through a rain forest, eventually opening out onto a wide open space close to the beach. We had some fun banter with a group of older walkers who we repeatedly bumped into on the trail.
On our way to Murchison, we stopped off at Tauranga Bay Seal Colony, sixteen kilometres from Westport. We saw lots of seals and also pups swimming around in their own baby rock pools. It was wonderful to watch. We also completed the Cape Foul Wind Walkway, which came to a conclusion at a lighthouse. It was a scenic walk, right on the edge of the coast, with lovely views of the sea and various rock formations.
Jetboating at Buller Gorge
Onto Murchison and the Buller Gorge, where we were planning to go jetboating – it was far cheaper at Buller Gorge than in Queenstown. We bought tickets, only to realise that we had to cross Buller Gorge Swing Bridge – the longest in NZ at hundred and ten metres and also extremely high. Although T has a fear of heights, she attempted to cross the bridge. Unfortunately, being able to see through the bridge and having to pass people coming from the opposite direction proved too much to cope with, and she was forced to turn back.
A Thrilling Ride through the Gorge
Fortunately, the guys who ran the outfit were very accommodating. The very helpful jet boat driver, Mark, kindly picked us up from a beach on the other side so that T didn’t have to cross the bridge! It was an incredible ride at high speed through the magnificent gorge. There were lots of twists, turns and raging rapids – we got completely drenched and absolutely loved it! For anyone out there who would like to experience jetboating, we can highly recommend Buller Canyon Jetboats
Takaka, Golden Bay
And then onto Takaka in Golden Bay. Takaka consists of a main road brimming with art galleries, funky coffee shops gift shops. There is a heavy hippie influence and lots of cool murals scattered along the road.
Afterwards we drove back to Picton, hoping to tackle the Snout Track – apparently an excellent walk. Sadly it was the weekend of the cyclone! Fortunately, apart from continuous rain and some high winds, Picton and most of NZ escaped the worst of it. However, were forced to stay in our cosy cabin and catch up on writing and reading!
From Picton, we drove to Kaikoura. Instantly the sunny weather returned and we had a lovely drive to the town. We stopped off a few times on the way for breath-taking views of the ocean and also at a seal colony, which we couldn’t tear ourselves away from. Again, we watched the seal pups practice their swimming in rock pools. It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat.
A Birthday Hike on Kaikoura Peninsula
As it was T’s Birthday, we treated ourselves to a motel room for a couple of nights. We decided to do a walk around the Kaikoura peninsula on the big day. As we parked up, we were amazed to see some of the seals were lounging on the boardwalks and in the bushes. We rushed over to observe them at close range (obviously keeping the regulated distance away!) It was so exciting. They ignored us and carried on doing their own thing, mostly sleeping! We started off on the coast-hugging walk enjoying the sweeping views of the ocean. The hike took around two hours – another fantastic trail! We celebrated with pizza and wine later.
A Whale of a Surprise!
As we left Kaikoura on our way to Christchurch, we couldn’t believe it as we turned into a bay on the coast road and spotted two or three whales! Finally, it was time to return the trusty old Subaru car to the rental company in Christchurch. We had decided to stay a couple of days, and clinched a good deal at the Soutwark Apartments – a cool, black and white little studio right in the middle of the city. After checking in, we went off to explore.
The Aftermath of an Earthquake
The devastation that Christchurch suffered when the 2011 earthquake killed 185 people and injured many more, was very apparent as soon as we entered the city centre. Walking around the city brought home how much damage the earthquake had caused and we both found it quite an emotional experience. There were still buildings surrounded by rubble, certain roads remained cordoned off and many properties were awaiting demolition.
A New Start for Christchurch
However, what soon became very clear was how the city was quietly and uniquely fighting back in many different ways. We absolutely loved the street art scene that had developed in every area. The main shopping area now comprised of striking colourful shipping containers, housing various chain stores as well as arty shops and a handful of innovative eateries.
An Abundance of Art
We strolled around the Botanical Gardens and watched visitors being punted along the river. We explored the Canterbury museum, which was interesting and made more so by the fantastic temporary exhibit on street art. The shiny trams were up and running down the streets, and although the art gallery was not yet open, there was plenty of art, graffiti and murals to enjoy in the streets. We visited what remained of the colourfully cordoned-off cathedral and even the nearby public toilets were painted in vibrant colours!
The following day we went to Quake City, a museum dedicated to the earthquake. It told the story in the form of photographs and footage featuring city residents, and also paid tribute to the rescue teams. There were even relics from the cathedral, such as the huge fallen spire. The last section detailed plans to rebuild the city. Fascinating, moving and a real insight, it was well worth visiting.
We paid a visit to the independent cinema,’ Alice in Wonderland’ to see the French film – The Past. An excellent movie, it seemed a shame that we were the only ones watching it. New Zealand’s small indie cinemas were so cool and such a great environment to relax for a couple of hours and take a break from exploring the city.
A Creative Re-Emergence
We also stumbled across the vibrant Saturday market, packed with the work of local artists and great eateries, it was buzzing. Definitely ‘a must’ if you find yourself in Christchurch on a Saturday. New Regent Street, which is full of colourful shops and cafes is also an interesting area to have a wander and it’s near a group of art installations.
We loved our stay in Christchurch. Instead of finding a ghost town devoid of soul, we found a city fighting back with creativity and imagination, making us smile. We whole-heartedly recommend a visit to the sceptics, and to the people who think it might be depressing after the earthquake. Go visit Christchurch!
Back to Nelson….
It was time to head back to Nelson to borrow some camping gear from our friend Steve. Our four-day walk on the Abel Tasman Trail was approaching….