We had just spent a decadent fortnight in Italy, drinking too-many litres of red wine from the region, ‘snacking’ on the best cheeses I’d ever tasted and staring slack-jawed at the perfect, rolling green hills of Tuscany. It felt like I had lived in a dream whilst there. A wonderful foggy dream of happy delirium.
Returning to a corporate grind after that would’ve been the rudest awakening, but good planning meant we only had a day stopover at home before flying off again, this time to Christchurch, New Zealand.
Once in Christchurch we picked up our ride… and home for the next month… sweet Cherry Bomb, a red VW Kombi born in 1966. She had just the right amount of quirks to be interesting & drove with elegant (noisy) purpose that demanded attention wherever she went.
It was love at first sight.
We had no outlined route. No tick box bucket list. But where we lacked research, we were abundant in our eagerness. The only thing we knew for sure was that we’d circumnavigate the entire South Island during our time. ‘A month is plenty of time’ we were told over and again before we left. Lies. Ha! If I had a do-over (which I hope I get real soon) I’d spend 3 months driving, hiking, swimming and flying across that incredible island… what we did, scratching the surface like that, has left a yearning in my heart for more.
Despite this, we did see a lot without rushing, so I’ll use this blog post to share our itinerary, a few lessons learned and hopefully you will get a sense of how the South Island took a hold of me and may never let go…
Itinerary. Note that this wasn’t mapped out prior to us getting on the road, and other than booking flights and the kombi… the rest we flew by the seat of our pants. My favourite way to do most things.
We arrived in Christchurch super early on April 9th and killed time at the airport until we could go pick up the van. We excitedly did a shop for food-stuff-n-things and chatted to the little queue of people waiting for us in the car park. This was our first encounter of the irresistible lure Cherry had on passers-by. She had a way of taking people back to their young, care-free hippy road tripping days and others of fun summers camping with their baby-boomer parents. I couldn’t even tell you the number of people who approached us because of her. Offered us a space on their properties to camp, and a hot shower in their homes. Our mobile ‘community’ was a sweet, happy one and it was a huge part of what was enjoyable about this trip. Hashtag van life 🙂
Hamner Springs, and Kaikoura. We spent almost an entire day veg’d out in hot springs, watching & rescuing giant, fluffy bumble bees from drowning. It was a perfect opportunity for us to finally regenerate after many hours flying from Sicily, to Rome, to Perth, to NZ. Our lazy day ended in the perfect way with a wine at the local Irish pub O’Flynns.
A sunrise hike at Hamner is a must – we checked out Conical Hill. The cool mist, dewy foliage and beautiful views are straight out of a fairytale.
Kaikoura had road closures due to earthquake, but in a true down-to-earth fashion, we were allowed to exchange beer for passage. We then made our way to Nelson Bay and Oh My…that long exhale that happens whenever I catch sight of the ocean after a little while away from it.
Next up was an impromptu Abel Tasman coastal hike. We took a water taxi from Motueka / Kaiteriteri to Anchorage and then walked through lush coastal native bush and golden sand beaches for about 13km to Marahau. We took our time and explored, but this delayed our arrival and we missed the coach back to the car. Walking to Motueka from Marahau is a big no-no. The roads are dark, narrow, windy with steep drop-offs. We are not people to dwell on unfortunate circumstances, so we decided to try a delicious Fat Tui burger instead. They come highly recommended by locals and it ended up being our silver lining. We had no shortage of trip offerings from families dining alongside us, to waiters. We got a lift to the car and then drove it back to Marahau because we heard the Park Cafe in Marahau would be pumping with live music… and it sure was.
We took my irritated ITB / knee (from hiking, not dancing) back on the road to see the breathtaking Wharariki Beach where Caleb had a sweet, little novelty surf. If you make it up here, head to the Archway Cafe. It’s a quaint mini-log-hut setup in the trees that feels like you are on another planet, great for a juice or booch.
We passed through a couple of towns (Punakaiki, Hokitika) on our way to Franz Josef glacier. Here we did the Heli flight and hike which is a must do, but be prepared for cancellations due to weather. Another must do is mulled wine in town. I had plenty of those.
Haast. Most locals will tell you not to go there unless you like being eaten alive by sandflies – they are no joke. Caleb had an adventure with Blair Hoult (Knights Point Air) seeking waves in his Piper whilst I chilled out for a day. Jackson Bay is a dream, and I regret not having nicer weather or patience for sand flies to do some hiking. Despite being mostly confined to the van, I did have a beautiful view of dolphins swimming by ALL DAY and not another soul besides us. In the late afternoon Blair took me up in the air too, and we searched for Kiwis as part of the country’s wildlife conservation program. So much fun!
Arrowtown. I don’t even think I can find the words to describe how this town affected us. Trees, Autumn colours, quaint streets, EPIC warm welcoming pub. So much so, we stayed a day here on the way through to head back North. It was too incredible a place not to. We only went to Queenstown long enough to do a (coach & cruise) tour to Milford Sound. We are not the ‘tour’ type of traveller but, I insisted on this because our beautiful cherry bomb may not have travelled too safely and so that Caleb could photograph along the way. Milford Sound Road is non-stop, in-your-face, blow-your-mind scenery. It is little wonder that film directors love this spot (Wolverine, Jurassic Park, LOTR trilogy & Alien).
Lake Wanaka – everyone told us it was beautiful but we arrived exhausted to zero visibility and sub-zero temperatures. The kombi was an icebox and neither of us had the gusto to persevere. We spent the entire day in the pub, boots off to warm our toes in front of the fire. Boy were we in for a surprise in the morning – what a picturesque lake! We raved about it for hours afterward. From here we stared making our way back to Christchurch, via Mount Hutt.
Our last night in Nw Zealand 😦 I said a sad, tear-filled goodbye to Cherry and then spent the rest of the evening drinking potent gin cocktails in dark, hipster small bars.
So it’s not ALL here, we have some secret spots & we saw more beauty then I could ever write a blog about but I’m sure you get the gist – it was a cracker of a vacay. You look, see and tell yourself what you’re looking at is the most beautiful sight you could ever behold, but NZ delivers a different, and equally stunning view around every corner.
There is no free camping in NZ, we didn’t know this before we got there and campsites aren’t cheap. Make sure you factor that into your NZ travel budget.
Here is a video of the trip, put together by Caleb Salty Davenport.