Two festivals and nine months after our fabulous wedding, Blake and I finally got our honeymoon! We spent 12 days driving around the South Island of New Zealand, and absolutely adored it.
monday. 26 june
We flew Sydney to Christchurch and had the most incredible views of the mountain ranges as we went across. Then straight out to the shuttle bus, picked up our car, and manoeuvred through the worst road works ever to get to our hostel. The work not only out by the airport but the rebuilding still taking place of Christchurch itself meant that getting around in a car was awful. We were also out searching for food in the awkward limbo between lunch and dinner, but ended up finding amazing cookies that got us through.
tuesday. 27 june
Straight on the road and off across the country (an adorable 3.5hr drive) with a very exciting photo op at a large roadside donut in Springfield. We stopped off around halfway through at Arthur’s Pass where a leisurely bush walk turned into 30 minutes of stairs. Thankfully a well-placed family was able to advise us that we were at the highest point, and gave us the will to continue, before we finally reached the pretty views and waterfalls in the national park.
Back on the road and we were in amongst beautiful mountain ranges, then into Greymouth where we toured the Monteith’s brewery, and stayed the night at an airbnb with lovely host Jean.
wednesday. 28 june
Our first big expedition of the trip was the Taniwha Blackwater Cave Rafting & Glow worms ZIP-IN OPTION. Looking at it now, it’s easy to see that there is tube rafting involved, but in my organisation I had entirely failed to mention or note this, so Blake and I were quite surprised when we ended up having to put on layers of thermals, wet suits, gum boots, and abseiling style harnesses when we were getting ready at the home base. Thankfully though, we were the only two booked on the group tour that morning so had not only two guides to ourselves, but free reign of the change rooms, gear, and a practically private tour for the standard price. It made the horrid-looking wetsuits all the more bearable that nobody else was there to see it.
Although it was a bit of a surprise I actually really enjoyed this tour. The zip line was everything I’d hoped for, slowly getting rigged up and lowering yourself down on the edge of the cliff, then swinging down through the trees, and catching the pole on our way back across. The worst part was how freakin’ cold the bar you had to hold on to was while you were being de-rigged, but we were out in NZ in mid-winter, so that’s probably on us. After the zip line we were ushered by our guide down to the river and alternating some lovely floating along with a lot of rolling over, getting up, walking across slippery rocks where the water was too low, then “gracefully” sitting back down on our tubes to float a little more. Our guide was lovely and patient, and it was very appreciated that there were not the 15 other people you might have had on another day. We spent the vast majority of the 3hr tour floating and walking down the river bank, learning a bit about nature and learning that absolutely nothing in New Zealand is even going to try and bite you. Coming from Australia it was an odd but greatly reassuring acknowledgement.
Once we hit the end of the river – and after a brief break as our guide was feeling unwell (we were more than happy to wait as long as he needed!) – we rode down a piece-of-barrel toboggan into some brown still water and were at the mouth of the glow worm cave. Again we tubed along for a little while, slowly heading into the darkness and led by his torchlight, then hit the point that we leaned the tubes against the side of the cave and walked ahead. This part was certainly not for the claustrophobic or nyctophobic (fear of the dark, thanks Google!) as we were guiding with our left hand on the wall and heading straight into darkness for some time. Then we reached the proper point and were directed to look up.
Glowworms aren’t actually a type of worm at all. They’re the larvae of a flying insect similar to a mosquito, and they actually spent 9 months in the lavael state building enough energy to create a cocoon, molecularly change into the flying creature, and need to survive on this energy alone for 2-4 days as they are created with no mouths and thus spend their short life breeding and quickly die. As “glowworms” they catch insects in their sticky webs by appearing like the night sky along the canopy of caves, louring their prey and devouring it. Ironically, the flying insect itself can be tricked and caught in these webs, and they are known to be carnivorous in this way.
After our tour we made a quick pitstop back at Jean’s, to tell her about our tour, but mostly to collect some of her neighbouring farm’s raw milk that she had kindly fed us and offered to collect. We would have done it ourselves but her other neighbour had advised that they were often running out by lunchtime and she didn’t want us missing out, especially when Blake was so keen on it. Then we were back on the road and heading to her highly recommended stop, Hokitika Gorge. An absolutely beautiful stop of that we would never have otherwise seen, the crystal-clear blue water which comes down from the glaciers, was just spectacular. Then we were on to the glacial mountain ranges and at Franz Josef Glacier in time for dinner.
thursday. 29 june
We had a bit of a false start on our Franz Josef Glacial tour. This was one of the first things we’d booked, the big investment that won out over sky-diving because it meant we could walk on a freakin’ glacier. But when we got to check in we discovered a weight limit meant that Blake would be unable to do the climb – understandably of course, as it involved ropes tied to other party members and if someone goes down they need to be supported by the ropes or the rest go down with them. This was obviously not an uncommon issue with visitors, based on the fact at least 3 others were given the same news while we were there, and the process of handling it was perfect. While originally super disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to get up on the glacier, it was explained by both the super helpful front desk woman and the guy responsible for explaining to us (and everyone it seemed) that they were above the limit, we discovered that rather than having to actually hike across the glacier for three hours, we could book any of the scenic helicopter flights and get some time on the top to play in the snow. They were also able to issue a full refund of the original tour and we were able to book onto an alternate scenic cruise for later that morning. So props to Franz Josef Glacier Guides for their great customer service! We even got to keep our complimentary hot pool access which made for a lovely relaxing evening after our helicopter tour. So good!
friday. 30 june
We woke up Friday morning to rain, making us even more pleased that we did the helicopter tour the day before. We were able to just hit the road and take our time driving along to Wanaka, the perfect way to spend a day full of rain. Especially when the natural waterfalls that lined the road were just spectacular. I’ll never get over how much wetter New Zealand is. We had a pit stop at a very interestingly decorated restaurant, continue in more rain for the rest of the 3hrs and hit Wanaka. There we explored Puzzleworld, a winery with the most incredible view, and drove around incredible lakes. The rain did not stop for the entire drive, nor it turned out, for the two days following. But even then it was surprisingly wet. Our Airbnb hosts that night turned out to be some of our favourites. Fran & Frankie (actually caretakers for Gill’s property) told us all about their B&B they’re building, proudly showing plans and details, being known as the ‘tent people’ when they spent 6 months after selling their house living on their land before starting to build, and they were really just excellent people. We are definitely planning to visit their B&B in Luggate one day, maybe for an anniversary.
saturday. 1 july
In the morning we went into the city to visit lovely Fran’s shop Glowing Sky, where I treated myself to a lovely marino cardigan, did a quick explore of the town, then hit the (still wet) road. We stopped off at Cardrona Distillery, a baby at just 2 years old, we were shown the entire process of making their gin, vodka, and their ‘new made alcohol’ – which in 8 more years would grow up to be whiskey. You could even pre-purchase a barrel for just $10k, ready to be opened in 8, 18, or 21 years time. It was an interesting tour and very insightful, ending in a tasting, though unfortunately Blake and I don’t particularly like either vodka or gin so that was a bit wasted on us.
Then back on the road where we stopped off for a little cheese tasting, and headed into Queenstown. As we suspected the abundance of tourists, and the rain ruling out the gondola ride (the only real attraction I was interested in) meant we only stopped off in QUeenstown for a quick lunch before heading back out to our Arrowtown Airbnb. This was our most independent stay, not even meeting our hosts, but with a lovely little room and ensuite, a TV, AND Netflix, it was the perfect little stop off for the night. We also treated ourselves to a fancy dinner (as recommended by our cheese tasting guy) at a tapas restaurant with incredible cocktails. A very nice romantic night out in a beautiful little town. Way better than all those lame tourists in Queenstown.
sunday. 2 july
With yet another day of rain, we were back out into it and driving slightly inland, before heading west to Te Anau. The scenery was, of course, incredible, and we stopped off at a lovely little “beach”, perfect for skipping stones. Then we were in Te Anau in time to dinner at The Ranch and doing some laundry at our YHA. We also had enough time to see what else we should do and ended up booking in an additional tour for the next night, exploring more caves to have a better look at glowworms, as Blake was unsatisfied with what we’d done so far.
monday. 3 july
On Monday we were picked up for our next big tour, Milford Sound. Annoyingly we were waiting out front of our hostel for about 20 minutes, only to be picked up and driven a single block where we were to wait at a cafe for our coach departure. But once we were on the road we had beautiful stop offs at scenic sights, great views of the mountains, went through the first tunnel we’d seen in NZ, and arrived at the harbour of the Sound for our boat cruise. After three full days of rain, it was blue skies and sunshine so we were on the top deck as we learnt all about the Sound – technically a Fiord – and saw the seals, dolphins and birds, not to mention some great waterfalls.
Then we were back in time for some gift shopping, a quick dinner (again at The Ranch which was delicious again) overindulged in dessert, then onto a different boat to head up stream to the caves. This one was a much more exciting and educational glowworms adventure, with some incredible caves on the way. We saw gushing waterfalls and a single eel, plus the tiniest little stalactite in the cave system, before going with our group onto a small row boat, out into the darkness where you would quietly lean back and enjoy the constellations of glowworms. Blake had the prime seat at the back of the boat, so ended up directly below lots of the low rocks as we weren’t taken in and turned around. It was a really incredible journey and definitely satisfied Blake’s bug curiosity.
tuesday. 4 july
This one was literally a travel day. There are no exciting photos, no great stories, we just spent a good few hours driving along in the rain from Te Anau to Dunedin. It was quite boring to be honest, but our adventures so far meant we had plenty to talk about. We also did discover as we approached Dunedin that all the hills we thought were missing, having gone from the flat farmland to the mountainous ranges, were all in fact on the east coast, specifically in Dunedin itself. Once we got there we also checked out the Cadbury Factory. It was okay… but with Blake not liking marshmallows and that being their specialty, plus the much more theatrical than educational focus of the tour, it was less impressive than we’d hoped, especially when the free chocolate didn’t appeal.
When we got to our Airbnb though, it was like coming home to a friends’ place. Our host, Abbie was lovely, and we watch some NZ Survivor, just as it was getting interesting and into the finals. We were also inspired by her cooking magazines and planned to get onto that, planning our weekly meals and maybe subscribing. It was a very pleasant stay and being yet another wet one, we were glad not to have anything major on.
wednesday. 5 july
Following Abbie’s recommendation, we went into town and had breakfast at a very cool little cafe where we played scrabble while we had a great feed. Then we explored Dunedin’s iconic “Tunnel Beach”, which turned out to be not just an incredible tunnel carved through rock into a private little secluded area of rocks and water, but also a bloody steep walk down and, most painfully, back up. But, it was beautiful, and being on the edge of the water like that was pretty impressive. I just nearly died a few times, and had to stops for break, in order to make it back up to the top. This was the second point in our trip where I really wished we’d gotten fit as preparation.
Then we were on the road and out of town, stopping off along the way at some incredible natural wonders, the Moeraki Boulders. These incredibly round concretions which once lined the base of the ocean floor, around 60 million years ago. They were pretty awesome to see up close, and incredibly high. The tide was coming in as we were there which meant Blake was hilariously trapped on top of one he climbed on top of, waiting for the wave to drift back out.
When we hit the small town of Oamaru, where we met our Airbnb host, dumped our bags, and headed down the road for the penguin sanctuary. We learnt a few things, beyond the fact that blue penguins are freakin’ adorable; seals don’t eat them – that’s sea lions; seals smell really bad, and occasionally vomit in their sleep; blue penguins sneak up warily then run leading with their heads, and fight over who gets into the sanctuary first, in the most adorable way. It was everything we wanted and more. Save for the rude tourists in front of us letting their kid stand up (even though she had the front row seat) and occasionally even standing up themselves – rude. But the penguins – awesome. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos because we might frighten the penguins, so we just snapped a few shots of the seals and incredible water views, plus massive waves coming over the barrier. It was a gorgeous, though freezing, night.
thursday. 6 june
After a lazy morning getting to know our host and having a nice breakfast, we checked out the local wonder, Steampunk HQ. Apparently steampunk is a big hit in Oamaru, with annual conventions and a large complex, which turned out to be more of a mixed media museum than actual steampunk gallery, but was entertaining nonetheless. We also checked out some little shops and second hand book stores, then hit the road for the very short drive to our next Airbnb in the tiny town of Ashburton, about halfway between Christchurch and Oamaru.
Unfortunately for us our Ashburton Airbnb was the least equipped at all, and since there’s was nothing much at all in the ‘town’ we ended up having a very relaxed night with no WiFi, TV, or even reception, and got a lot of reading done. It was still an nice night, in a little cabin on a farm, but we were starting to feel a little technology-deprived by the end of our stay. The outdoor toilet got a little rough too, being in the middle of winter and all.
friday. 7 june
For our final day in NZ we did a spontaneous trip to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, their gorgeous zoo featuring native, introduced, and international animals. We even did a special lemur encounter which meant we could feed them their lunch and hang out for about 20 minutes, which was more than enough time for them to eat and get bored of us. The entire park was a pretty quick tour, but the perfect way to kill time before our flight. Some terrible road work and laps around the block later and we returned the car, headed to the airport and said farewell to an incredible holiday. The best part was that just a few short hours later we were back home with a full weekend to recover.