After five fabulous weeks we today left New Zealand and took 2.5 hour flight to Fiji. We felt really quite sad to leave NZ, a country that has really captivated us. With so many amazing places to see and adventurous activities to do it feels like the time flew by.
We spent our last couple of days driving back towards Christchurch where we would drop off our camper van (Toni). After staying overnight in the lovely village of Moeraki we checked out the Moeraki Boulders on the beach a couple of kilometres away. These cluster rocks are lava bubbles that hardened when they came into contact with the sea. They almost look like discarded giant marbles, almost manmade at first glance. Inside they are hollow as we could see from a few that had cracked leaving alien like egg shells. Sadly it was a rainy day (one of the few down points of NZ!) but the boulders were no less impressive.
From the boulders we drove over up to Oamaru for lunch and then headed about 100km down a scenic road where we passed several hydroelectric dams along the expansive Oamaru river. We stopped at the site of some Maori rock art, which was interesting although it was difficult to make out the drawings as they have been tampered with over time and now they are fenced off. We also drove past some lookout points for Mt. Cook, Australasia’s highest mountain (not sure why it isn’t included in the seven summits?), but sadly clouds were shrouding the mountain and we couldn’t see it. We decided instead to stop for a coffee in Twizel, a strange little town that is the gateway to the Mt. Cook national park.
Another 50km up the road we reached Lake Tekapo, which with its bright blue water (caused by minerals in the water) and mountain setting is very scenic. There’s also a tiny church, nicely named the Church of the Good Shepherd, which has a picturesque location right on the shore of the lake. Again the weather wasn’t very helpful, the rain didn’t stop all day, and the view was unfortunately limited.
We had planned to stay in a campsite by the lake, but they were crazily overpriced so we opted instead to drive on and stay at a DOC campsite about 50km away. We had to drive down some gravel roads to right the campsite, which was in the middle of nowhere, and when we got there we found a tree was blocking the entrance to the campsite. With darkness falling we decided to just pull in by the side of the road and sleep there, surrounded by fields of sheep and cows – they make some strange sounds at night! We saw the funny side though, even when we realised we had no wine and only one
bottle of beer between three of us!
It was a cold wet night so we were happy to get on the road early the next day for a three hour drive to the Banks Peninsular, within reach of Christchurch. On the way we stopped at Geraldine, a quaint country town with some nice shops, cafes, and a cheese factory. Not far after turning off the main highway we drove along the coast of the peninsular and stopped for lunch at the stony beach at Birding Flat. A beautiful spot with bright blue water and crashing waves. 🙂
From there the road went over the mountains in a series of long tight bends, not much fun in a bulky camper van but the views at the top down the valley below made it worthwhile.
Although named by Captain Cook the Banks Peninsular was originally settled by the French and the main town of Akaroa has French vibe. The roads are all called Rue something and there are French cafes, flags, and entrepreneurs dressed up as Frenchmen to encourage the tourists who come ashore off the large cruise ships that pull into the picturesque bay to buy their souvenirs!
To be fair Akaroa is a nice town set on a sheltered by in the middle of the peninsular. We stayed at a campsite just above the town, which gave us a nice view around the bay, and we enjoyed some decent Fish & Chips (French Fries!) at a nice cafe by the water where we watched the sun go down – a suitable way to end our South Island trip.
So next day we drove the last 75km, back up and down the windy mountain pass, to Christchurch. After a coffee at an old vicarage on the outskirts of town we dropped off Ute at the airport and said our goodbyes – hopefully she enjoyed her trip with us but I am sure she is looking forward to a bit more space! We then returned Toni to the hire company, he may have been a bit old and rusty, but we were really happy campers with him! Then we returned to the airport and took a short flight back to Auckland where our journey had begun five weeks ago.
We stayed at a hostel in the city centre, where it was nice to have a real bed again! This morning we did a bit of shopping for a few bits and pieces for our onward travels and enjoyed a decent cooked breakfast at the Vulcan Cafe – worth a visit if you are in Auckland. We are now in Fiji, where we are looking forward to some relaxation time (travelling is quite tiring – honest!) in some of the island resorts – it will be nice to be in the same place for more than a couple of nights! First impressions are that the people are very laid back and friendly, and the beer tastes good!
So Haere ra (goodbye in Maori) NZ and kia ora (thank you) for an amazing time, we will remember you fondly and hope that we will meet again one (sunny!) day.
You can find a load of photos taken during our time in NZ here.