2 weeks exploring South Island by campervan

Everyone said the only way to see the south island was to take a campervan- and they were right. It’s the only way to see everything as there are many amazing sites outside of towns- in fact if you relied on hotels you would be severely restricted as there often isn’t much- and what little there is is expensive!

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South island New Zealand is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. We have seen some amazing things on this trip but the entire island is breathtaking. Just driving down the road prompted frequent photo breaks and picnics. It’s home to some natural wonders (Fox Flacier and Milford Sound to name a few) and there are so few people here its hard to find a supermarket so there doesn’t appear to have the negative human impact that we’ve seen just about everywhere else.

Our home for 2 weeks- a little old with 140,000 miles but all the comforts of home including shower, toilet, kitchenette and heater. And we bought an external DVD player for the laptop for movie nights:

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We started in Christchurch and did a circle anticlockwise. Here are the top destinations and what we did there.

Kaikoura- Whale watching! We did a whale watching tour which is a must and saw a sperm whale for the first time. We only saw one for about 4 minutes whilst breathing on the surface, then it swam back down.

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Pelorus Bridge- This was a beautiful spot where we camped without power for the first time. We got a quiet site right on the river and enjoyed hiking around the area. On the drive, we stopped at Villa Maria winery and chocolate shop for a few necessities:)

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Panoramic of our campsite on the Pelorus river:

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Hiking the next morning down the river:

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Greymouth- Just passing through on the way to the glaciers but as it’s home to Monteith’s Brewery, we thought it only right that we did a little beer tour.

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Heading out of Greymouth toward the glaciers brought us past the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes- an interesting geological anomoly of rocks that look like stacks of pancakes. It was too calm for any blowhole action but we did enjoy watching a large pod of Hector’s dolphins (the smallest of dolphin species) playing in the sea near the coast.

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Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers- we ended up spending 4 days in as the weather was rainy and we had some flexibility. There are two towns about 20km apart so we spent time in both and visited Lake Matheson, cafe, parks etc. as we waited for the sun which finally came out to deliver glorious weather for our ice climbing day.

Hiking back from Lake Matheson between rain showers- Mt Cook is in the distance but covered with cloud:

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John’s warm up climb on Fox Glacier:

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Hiking between climbs through sometimes narrow spaces!

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Last climb of the day- a real challenge:

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Milford Sound- boat tour and camping. There is only one place to stay- Milford Sound Lodge. It’s in the valley surrounded by 360 degrees of towering mountains. We did a 3 hour boat tour in the morning before all the day tour buses get in- and it was great. Milford Sound boasts great views in every direction, 2 permanent waterfalls, about a million temporary ones, dolphins, penguins, seals and minerals so abundant in the rock you can see it from the boat.

View of the sound from the carpark on the way to the boat:

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Penguins!!

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One of about 35 dolphins that swam with our boat for 20 minutes:

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View from the mouth of the fjord heading back to the dock:

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Seals sunning on the rock:

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Heading out of Milford Sound, we stopped and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the side of the road with this view:

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We managed to fit a couple more hiked in between Milford Sound and Queenstown but as we had spent so much time at the glaciers, we pretty much went straight back to catch out flight back to Auckland. We accomplished everything we wanted to in South Island and was surprised most by the beauty everywhere and how quiet it was- few people, little noise and lots of nature:)

John and mountains- Mt Cook is to the right but not in the photo, it was covered in cloud but still a beautiful hike:

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An unexpected treat driving by Lake Pukaki, glass calm water and snow capped mountains:

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Driving North Island of New Zealand

We had 4 relaxing days in Auckland which gave us time to visit a museum, cook in our full kitchen, do laundry and get together for dinner with our friends, Michael & Sam, whom we met in Philippines. John made moussaka for dinner and we enjoyed catching up with them on their travels, sharing stories and plans for the next few months. Next stop for them is Fiji! Actually, Auckland is a great place for meeting people as it’s the travel hub for anywhere around the South Pacific.

Me, Sam, John and Michael making fun of ourselves as we all ended up wearing the very fashionable zip-off travel trousers!:

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The next day John and I picked up our rental van and we headed north to Paihia to see the Bay of Islands. The weather was sunny but pretty chilly requiring all our normal layers plus our new jackets. We stayed two nights and did a nice morning hike to a view point overlooking the bay and a boat dolphin tour. But what I will remember Paihia most for being the place where we learned that new immigration rules will prevent my spousal visa from being approved so we won’t be able to live in the UK! John spent hours that evening reading up on the changes and drafting letters to Theresa May (MP), the Home Office, the newspapers and anyone else we could think of.

And meanwhile, these dolphins probably have a better chance of getting a work visa in the UK:

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Fourth of July! We head from Paihia south to Cambridge stopping in Auckland briefly for a camera filter and Starbucks:) Not much to do here except enjoy fish’n chips and spend the night before we go to Matamata. The light rain and sun made a beautiful double rainbow on the drive.

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Next day we visited Hobbiton- the set of the Shire in Lord of the Rings. It is really cool and we learned a lot from our guide who worked on the farm during the filming. There are 44 hobbit holes – all newly created for the new Hobbit movies as the hobbit holes from the first movies were made of foam and destroyed. The farm and land is owned by the Alexander family who required Peter Jackson to return the land to its original state after they filmed the first movies. This time they decided to leave it for public tours. There is a large crew responible for maintaining the look of the “set” and match exactly the matching set located elsewhere in New Zealand – and Peter Jackson is a perfectionist for detail so everything from the size and age of trees, the details of the mailboxes (all 44 are different) and the number of logs in a basket are managed. They even cut the middle of the trees out in order so they don’t grow too tall. The objective is to have the shire look exactly the same for our grandchildren as it does now.

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And the heavy fog, whilst annoying in the shire was absolutely beautiful once we drove above it. It was a sea of clouds:

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July 6 we drove to Wellington and met up with some of John’s friends and ex-colleagues from his SQS days. We had a great time chatting over a few beers before heading back to our hostel.

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Saji, Jess, Julie, Me, Andrew & John at Molly Malone’s Pub in Wellington

We spent a leisurely morning in the city the following morning, Starbucks for breakfast then caught the premier of TED which we really enjoyed! Then we headed back north toward Auckland with French Polynesia on our minds!!

Catching Up- a post from Stef even though it says John (it always does that)

We are in Auckland- flew in from Sydney yesterday. We have 4 days here before we head out to explore the North Island. We decided to spend this time catching up on things and planning as we will be unable to do so in French Polynesia. So we have an awesome flat with a full kitchen and plan to cook in and just relax for awhile.

John making one of our favs- beef & walnut risotto and the white wine we randomly bought to cook with (the best deal at the store) turned out to be an outstanding drinking wine:)

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So apologies in advance for some blog entries which are massively out of order. We will move them around in a bit but for now- they are posting as I write them!

July 9 we head to French Polynesia for 5 weeks!! We won’t have internet as some of the islands will be very remote. We still have a mobile phone for emergencies and will be able to check email occassionally but otherwise, we are pretty unplugged from July 9-August 17.

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Hello to my friends in Swindon- I miss you guys and can’t wait to catch up in person in November. I hope you aren’t working too hard:) Plan a BOP day soon and someone get a ham, cheese and egg one for me! They are the best, I swear!

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