The South Island of New Zealand, WOW.
Snowy mountains, bright blue aqua lakes, hundreds of seal pups in cascading waterfalls and home to one of the seven wonders of the world. The South Island really has that ‘wow’ factor. Especially the Cookietime factory in Christchurch, BEST COOKIES EVER, and you’ll only find them in New Zealand, so stock up whilst you can because you will get withdrawals! But enough about cookies, however delicious they are…
Welcome to the South Island.
From Wellington you all aboard the ferry, a four and half hour journey from north to south. Jerym had never ventured this far before, which is typical of most people really when you make a place your home you often forget to travel it and find yourself travelling everywhere else first! Another example being that I’ve still not explored Ireland or Scotland, yet I’ve seen just about everything in New Zealand. It’s funny how that works.
We made our way west, heading to Nelson. A super cute little beach town. We arrived in the early hours of the morning and most places were closed, so what better way to pass time and acquaint ourselves with the town than to wonder to the beach and draw a massive self-portrait in the sand?
We continued driving north of Nelson following the coast. We found ourselves in Motueka. Nothing fancy here at all, just one of those small towns you pass through in the south island as a brief reminder that people do inhabit the island. Our hunt for a free campsite fell short, and the idea of camping in the school car park was far from appealing. So we ventured into the middle of nowhere, until we found a DOC campsite (Department of Conservation). To say it was eery would be an under statement as we pulled into an opening in what seemed like a never-ending forest, circled with mountains peering in on us. The stars however, oh the sky in the south island is honestly the most beautiful thing you will ever see. Most often we’d find ourselves with our heads dangling our the van window trying to get a glimpse at the shooting stars. It’s definitely one of those ‘is this real’ moments.
I found the South Island the most liberating because it was so easy to get of the beaten track, really explore and be okay with the fact that most of the time we were entirely lost. We woke up to a cold dewy morning, with only some tinned fruit and some instant coffee left from our rationing. And as inviting as it was to cosy up in layers and sip on hot coffee in the van, the outdoors was too beautiful to pass. This was the day we went on what felt like the steepest inclined climb (not hike, CLIMB) ever. Top tip, when a hiking route says ‘experienced only, rated hard’ they are not lying. It was a 2 hour clamber up a non-existent path, going straight up the mountain. I felt the burn, and just about rolled back down on the descent. But a hike in New Zealand is always worth it, and its my favourite part being able to stumble across so many tracks to explore, whichever way you turn.
Next stop was Harwoods hole. We’d heard a lot about the place from various sources so we knew we just had to tick it off the bucket list and go check it out. We turned off the main road and was met but a very bumpy beginning to our trip to the infamous hole. Honestly as if the Forgotten Highway wasn’t bad enough (read my previous blog post to find out about that adventure) we were taken up a skinny, crumbling and rocky ‘road’ if you could even call it that for at least an hour. Lets just say I’m glad Jerym is a quick leaner and learnt to drive the manual early on in the trip…After the sketchy road trip round mountains, up mountains, and through mountains often questioning if we were even going the right way (generally the anger was directed at me, as i possessed the maps… anyone who’s been on a road trip know’s how the communication between passenger and driver can get a little tense at times haha) WE MADE IT. So strongly advise anyone going to explore the Harwoods Hole, perceiver you will eventually get there unless the road crumbles…which it won’t you’ll be fine, promise, kinda.
‘Proceed at your own risk’ i feel like they should have had that sign at the turn off. However with Jerym and I being the adrenaline junkies that we are we just couldn’t wait to check this dangerous place out. It was a wonderful walk through the forest, the path melting away untill we found ourselves clambering over boulders and tree roots. When we made it to the hole it wasn’t quite how i expected it, again there was another ‘danger’ sign, but all that lay in front of us were hundreds of large (loose!) rocks. As if someone had emptied their pockets, rocks were everywhere just loosely linked to one another, balancing on each other for support. Totally risky, we continued our clamber, most of the time I’d be hauling myself up from rock to rock, whilst Jerym swiftly flew from one side to another. He’s a kiwi, their home is the outdoors. I mean he once did a 3 hour walk over a very pebbly path completely bare foot, I found myself having to pick up a light jog to keep up. Wild Boy. Anyway, so the treasure was close, we’d made it up the pile of rocks to be met with a huge sensation of vertigo. There it was, in all its glory a 357m deep vertical drop. Theres no barriers to stop you from plummeting to your death so here’s were the danger come in. It was pretty terrifying. Now the view isn’t as good as the view you’d get if you considered doing the long rope descent caving at Harwood’s Hole, but as the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand I was pretty chuffed to say I’d been there. P.s it doesn’t echo from the outside looking in, sad times for Jerym.
EEK onto my favourite part of the trip. The Kaikoura coastal drive. One of the most beautiful roads, winding around the mountains, whilst the ocean crashes inches from the car, and seals bask in the sun. We were lucky, the sun was shining creating a glittering ocean as it tumbled and turned, it was a magical part of the journey. Kaikoura itself is a cute little beach town a base spot for those going whale or dolphin watching. Unfortunately our budget didn’t stretch far enough to enable us to go see some whales, but we drove up to one of the lookout points and eagerly scanned the ocean for any fin’s or jumping whales. Unfortunately we were out of luck. However we did strike luck when we went on a short walk to a waterfall. SEAL PUPS EVERYWHERE. On the footpath, rolling around in the streams, and hundreds playing in the waterfall. It was freaking awesome. What was even better was when Jerym insisted on a photo with a seal pup curled up on a large rock catching some Z’s, only to wake up to the paparazzi and cause Jerym to jump in fright tripping over his feet and doing a banana slip. Very funny. My gopro of course ran out of battery at the most inconvenient times, but i did manage to catch this blurry photo of a little pup sat on a rock staring at us strange humans.
It was then onto the next city, we hadn’t seen one of those in a while. Christchurch. It’s not exactly the most hustling and bustling place. They had an incredibly intense earthquake seven years ago, and it just hasn’t been quite the same since. Many of the roads have been left imprinted with the reminder of the natural disaster and buildings are partly crumbled with scaffolding wrapped around of what is left. It’s especially eery, not many people around and everything so spread out. However the RE:Start Mall is a super cool concept, in efforts to get Christchurch back to feeling normal. It’s just a series of colourful ship containers with boutique fashions, gift and food stalls. Definitely worth having a wander around!
Go visit C1 Expresso, a super cool coffee shop like nowhere you have ever been before. A sewing machine which spins out water, the bathroom behind a bookcase playing harry potter audio books on repeat and finally the best thing ever: curly fries delivered to you by tubes in the ceiling right to your table.
But now for the most exciting part you’ve all been waiting for. The Cookie Time Factory, in Christchurch. The cookies which make your eyes literally turn into love hearts. It’s love in a cookie. Totally recommend the 1kg of broken cookies, you will go to cookie heaven. Promise. It’s also the cheapest place you’ve be able to buy them, as the next cookie time destination to put on your bucket list is the Cookie Bar in Queenstown. Have I said cookie enough times yet?
The street art, and public art displays. It’s hidden everywhere all over Christchurch. Little artistic gems to bring colour back into the city. You have to also visit the 185 empty chairs. It just puts into perspective the horror that the city and it’s people endured seven years ago. Each chair unique to the person who lost their lives in the earthquake. It’s a beautiful exhibit in memory of those who passed.
The South Island is riddled with the most beautiful lakes, so vast you do really feel like your standing by the sea. That’s also what I loved, the constant surprise of what view we’d be able to goggle at and where the roads would take us, what treats did we have awaiting. Lake Tekapo was out next spot. An iridescent lake, rolling waves just as magnificent and powerful as the sea. They also have the hot springs here, overlooking the lake, a picturesque place to relax and unwind in natures arms.
Driving inland was we were greeted with yet more beautiful places, and being able to turn the corner and be met by one of the bluest lakes, shining proudly in the sun was truly incredible. Lake Pukaki.
Our trip was nearly over, our last destination before Queenstown, was Wanaka. The sweetest town nestled in-between mountains, overlooking the lake. Perfect spot for bike rides, hikes, kayaking and all things out doors. We stayed here for a couple of nights extra we loved it so much. Just a lovely town to explore. You most certainly have to go to Paradismo Cinema. For starters, the cinema is decked out in all things American diner, with old school movie posters everywhere, the cinema arenas have anything but normal seating from dentist chairs, lazyboy swing outs and of course half a mini protruding from the walls. And as if that’s not enough to tickle your fancy, they also have half time, cookie time (cookies are a thing in NZ). You get freshly baked melt in your mouth cookies to enjoy half way through the film. How awesome is that?!
I remember so distinctly driving through Lindes pass and then over and up the crown range, both incredibly scenic drives. We parked up at the lookout point, a view of what was soon to be our new home. Queenstown. A small dusting of lights of the busy little town beneath, nestled by the lake towered over by endless mountains. We both sat there for a while soaking in every moment we’d spent over the last 3 weeks travelling down from the top of north island to the bottom of the south. We’d made it. It was on to a new beginning.
Queenstown, it’s nice to meet you.
Lookout for our post on the season we spent down south..
Laura & Jerym
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