Road Trip (New Zealand South Island)

01.10.16 – 17.10.16

When we were planning where to go after being back in Australia, New Zealand seemed the perfect choice. It’s close to Brisbane and Bianca had never been before. We decided to spend 4 weeks with clear intentions to do a road trip and spend time WOOFing. We flew to Christchurch (via Auckland) first, to start our road trip.

Deciding on how to get around the South Island, ended up being pretty straight forward. Many travellers have and still do hire campervans and make their way around. Previously, New Zealand was full of free camping sights catering for this style of travel, but the free camping no longer exists except for a very small number of sights with tight restrictions. By the time we priced the daily rate for a campervan and added food and cost of staying in caravan parks or national parks, it became very expensive!

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Our solution……hire a Toyota Corolla for $30/day and spend $200 on camping essentials. This left us plenty of money on our budget to spend on food and accommodation. Generally, we stayed in AirBnB places, which makes it cheaper again (AirBnB’s still cost an average of $60/night). On our first morning in Christchurch we went to Smith City and bought a single-burner cooker for $50 and a cooler bag for $35, then walked accross the road to Countdown (Woolworths) to buy a few essentials (water, salt and pepper, oil, paper towels, bin bags, dishwashing liquid and chux) and finished at The Warehouse to buy some cheap cutlery and crockery ($1 plates!), plus a knife, chopping board, frying pan, tongs and a plastic tub to keep everything in.

We learnt lots from our Australian road trip and we would highly recommend travelling like this in New Zealand as it gives you a greater freedom when moving about and you meet some great people along the way. This way we could cook whenever and wherever we want and allowed us to use fresh, local produce all the time.

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Below is our trip broken down by place, days spent and key things we did or would recommend. In a nutshell, our road trip was a Christchurch loop, that went as far south as Queenstown, up the west coast, across the top of the island and then down the east coast back to Christchurch. We must say at this point that is road trip was done on a budget and we had to miss or skip A LOT of places or activities, you just can’t do everything. It just means we’ll have to come back again.

Christchurch (2 nights)

Due to flying in late we spent just one full day here, which included getting everything for our trip, and that was plenty. The city is still recovering from the earthquakes of recent years. There is some cool architecture and new places opening up, but definitely check out Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens. The city centre provides a nice day of walking.

Lake Hawea (3 nights)

Travelling to Lake Hawea (6 hours from Christchurch) we picked up Jeremy, a Canadian hitchhiker, and dropped him off in Wanaka, before heading to our accommodation. On the way we stopped at Lake Tekapo and got a clear view of Mount Cook. A very rare occurrence! Our AirBnB hosts were American ex-pats who had a yellow caravan in their front yard called Buttercup! We went to a Yoga class with Jennifer, our host, and learnt lots about kombucha.

3 days here was perfect, we were able to explore Wanaka town, climb Mount Iron  and we hiked most of the Isthmus Pass, which is on the western side of Lake Hawea and gives you incredible views of the lake. Staying by the lake allowed us to cook dinner and eat in some of the most scenic places on the planet.

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Queenstown (2 nights)

Queenstown is not far from the Wanaka area at all, an hour and a half if you take the long way! Queenstown is the home of adventure travel and we were so spoilt for choice we chose to do none of it. High-octane adventure is not really our ‘thing’ but more than that, it is extremely expensive. The cost of getting around New Zealand is expensive enough without paying hundreds more. We skipped Milford Sound for a similar reason.

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The famed Fergburger in town is an icon worth visiting, however we learnt of the deep-fried kiwi on our Walking Tour. The free walking tour of Queenstown was really good and highly recommended. Our guide gave us a great history lesson from the Maori’s to the gold rush, until today. Surrounding Queenstown are a few small towns like Arrowtown or Glenorchy and even some wineries. We visited both the aforementioned towns. Glenorchy is quiet and worth a visit if not to get the iconic photo, but Arrowtown has a bit more happening – shops, cafes and walking trails. The bakery here sells the best pies. A must try.

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Franz Josef Glacier (1 night)

The 4-hour drive from Lake Hawea to the Glaciers is extremely windy and you get no respite from the turns and there is simply no other way to get between the two! While in the area we walked to and saw both glaciers. Totally uninspiring sights and could be missed. Glaciers are powerful and unique and I’m sure that the $800 helicopter ride over the top of the ever diminishing piece of ice is slightly better, but the view from the lookout is…..bland. Franz Josef Glacier is definitely bigger and gives a better photo of the two.

Greymouth (2 nights)

Greymouth as a town is totally dull, except for Monteith’s Brewery. It’s the towns around the make it worth visiting here. Hokitika (south of town) is nice and the Hokitika Gorge is not to be missed, its blue colour is something to behold. The Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki (north of town) are a unique sight. We were really fortunate to stay with family friends of Bianca’s when we were in Greymouth. Niki and Taylor are lovely people and were really kind to us during our stay.

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Nelson (2 nights)

A small hill in Nelson claims to be the geographical centre of New Zealand and at the bottom of the hill is the park where the first ever game of rugby was played in New Zealand. That’s about as interesting as Nelson got. Abel Nelson National Park is to the north-west of town and looked beautiful, but we didn’t get the chance/didn’t want to pay for the water taxi to get there (and it was pouring with rain).

Blenheim (3 nights)

Between Nelson and Blenheim is the picturesque town of Picton. So glad we stopped here for lunch. You can walk the headland, watch the ferries come in and it’s just a beautiful place to be. Blenheim itself is situated right next to the Marlborough Wine Region – the home of the Sauvignon Blanc. We drove to a few wineries and chocolate factory and a brewery on one day and then spent the final day on bicycle winding our way around the smaller, local vineyards and local stores. Our second day was dictated by the weather; it rained all day. Which was fine by us, we went and saw ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ at the movies and relaxed. Something of a must as a long term traveller is taking time to chill out.

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Christchurch (1 night)

Our final stretch took us down the east coast from Blenheim to Leithfield via Kaikoura. A beautiful coastal drive and Kaikoura is well worth a stop. For our last night on the island we were fortunate to stay in an AirBnB where the host owned a Kennel and Cattery next door. Bianca was in heaven. We were able to help walk the dogs and meet them all. Leithfield is about 30 minutes north of Christchurch which was perfect for us as we were able to easily get to the airport the next morning to catch our flight back to Auckland.

Apologies for the long post, but this was an awesome road trip. We hope you enjoyed reading.

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