Sunday, May 1, 2016

NZ South Island Roadtrip 2016

Between April 16th to 30th 2016, Kate and I embarked on an amazing road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. The journey is as follows - Photos to come.
The downward leg.

The upward leg.(For some reason the Kaka Point to Invercargil bit is displaying wrong. We took the Caitlins Coast Scenic route, not inland :-)

Sat 16th. Clooney was booked in for a few weeks of pampering at a boutique doggy retreat, so after dropping him off at Waglands, we headed back to Wellington to have a coffee and snack before the ferry. I have to note that the second Clooney saw the other dogs he totally forgot about us, and proceeded to piss in each corner of the yard he had been added two (with two labs, one young and the other slightly older).

Once downtown Kate and I lazed in the sun by the Wellington lagoon at Frank Kits Park, and strolled the waterfront and markets. This was killing time for the ferry departure.

The ferry trip was uneventful. Not enough seats and bloody cold on the deck! We did however see an albatross following the ship for sometime, amazing birds. The views of Queen Charlotte Sound were amazing from the boat.
Marlborough Sounds
We arrived in Picton at 5ish and checked into our accom (Broadway Motel)! My first motel for some time, and it was super nice with a really nice host. Dinner was a bit lackluster, but it was made up for with an amazing gourmet muesli bar for dessert from Le Cafe.

Sun 17th. This was our really big driving day. We planned to head to the base of the South Island as fast as possible and then spend more time heading back up. So today we headed Picton to Fairle, setting us up for hitting Mt Cook on Monday.

We stopped at a few places between Blenheim and Kaikoura as the coastline was beautiful, but our first real stop was in Kaikoura for coffee and checking out some seals at the marine park at the point of Kaikoura . 

From here we headed to Christchurch. We last saw Christchurch when we visited the city in 2009 and the high rise building we stayed in has now been leveled. This was eye opening. The city is desolate and clearly taking a long time to rebuild. We found a cool little cafe and got a burger for lunch. We deliberated our route, and figured for the extra half hour, driving through Methven would be far more scenic. This took us past the beautiful Rakia Gorge, Methven and then onto Fairlie via a few other quaint towns. We arrived in Fairle in the early evening checked into our motel and then had just enough light for a bit of a wander-it is a small town and we saw it all. Dinner followed at just about the only place in town; which thankfully made amazing Pizza.
Nearish Kaikoura

Mon 18th. We woke early and headed to Lake Tekapo. We had heard Lake Tekapo was beautiful, however the last two times we had seen it, the lake was shrouded by fog. Today however there was no wind and clear skies. After a brief stop here we headed to Mt Cook and drove along Lake Hawea for 50kms until we hit the Akaroi Village. Wow, the view of Mt Cook and all the surrounding glaciers  is amazing. You just can't stop looking at it.

We chose a day hike which ended up being a brutally steep trail (Mullers Trail), leaving us with sore calves for the coming days. The views from the upper parts of the trail were amazing though. We didn't quite make Mullers Hut, but it was well worth it non the less. Next time we tackle a 8hr return hike with 1500m elevation gain we'll know it'll be hard ;-) Following this we checked into our accom at the Hermitage and discovered that the promised room with a view did not dissappoint. Full balcony view over Mt Cook.
Mullers Track, Mt Cook
Mullers Track, Mt Cook

That evening we ate at Chamois bar, the less pretentious eatery in the village and then headed for an evening of stargazing. 4 telescopes were set up to view numerous constellations. I always find the globular clusters to be the most interesting, but it was super cool to see Saturn and her rings! By the time this tour ended I was near hypothermic! I had totally underestimated the temperature drop, and even with thermals and layers I was struggling. So toasty shower and bed were priorities! BTW the food was meh, but at least they did a salad. So it was veggie burger, salad and a big assed Monteithes chocolate stout.

Tues 19th. I woke early and although I felt a bit crap, headed out for a run along the trail that we didn't do the day before. It was bloody cold and the timber boardwalks were icing over. This trail was called the Hooker Valley trail. Man it was beautiful. I ran to a lake that was filled with ice bergs. This trail followed glacier fed rivers and traversed high alpine tundra. Meanwhile the sun was hitting Mt Cook for the first time that day, painting the jagged pink in blood red hues. On the run back I met a fellow runner that had spent the evening camping. Sounded bloody freezing and glad we didn't choose to do so! 1.5hrs later I returned to the room for a quick brekky, shower and then we hit the road.

First stop was the Tasman Glacier lake! Another amazing glacial fed lake filled with ice bergs that had broken off the glacier. The rest of this day was devoted to getting to Dunedin. En route we went to a rad little cafe in Twizel for a coffee, scone and picked up a little beanie for bubs that was knitted by the owners mum :-) it filled me with joy to buy that little toque!
Mt Cook
Next stop was a dam between Twizel and Omarau, it was bloody windy, and then Omaru where I visited the Omaru Whiskey Shop and picked up a bottle of 16yo NZ Whiskey. I also got a flight of whiskey, which was 4 drams. Needless to say I felt drunk and shit all afternoon thereafter. It was a long day, I think this part was the most boring bit of driving for the whole trip.
We finally arrived in Dunedin and headed straight to Cadburys as Kate was so looking forward to the tour! Please if you visit Dunedin, don't waste your 5$ on this tour. The tour is shit, and the candy bag you get is full of all their shithouse candy that they probably couldn't sell anyways cos it's so shit! The creepy automated puppets that "dance" to some eerie music makes it feel more like a creepy horror side show, it's just that the punchline that makes it a horror never occurs, you're just left with an iccy feeling :-/

So that disappointment aside we headed to our accom! Thankfully this was far better that Cadburys! We set a clothes wash going and embarked on a wander of the city, which turned into an epic trek, leaving us drained and pooched, wondering what to do for dinner. In the end we were already sick of eating out so popped into the supermarket and created an awesome antipasto plate to share back at out accom. Due to our Suits addiction, a few episodes of season 5 were viewed before zonking out!

Wed 20th. Today we were heading from Dunedin to Kaka Point, the start of the Catlins Coast. As the drive is quite short we had plenty of time to look around Dunedin. The morning was spent wandering the university district and poking around Dunedins shopping district. We soon realised that Dunedin doesn't need a lot of time to see, and headed to the Otago Peninsula to see the Albatross Colony. The drive out here was amazing offering beautiful views of both Dunedin and the Pacific ocean. There were two different roads to take so we drove one on the way out and the other on the way in. One hugged the coast and the other the mountain tops, giving two unique perspectives of the same area.
Otago Peninsula
The albatross colony didn't offer many albatross, however we did get close to some young sea lions that were more than happy to show off!

Next we headed to St Claire, Dunedin's seaside suburb with a great surf beach and some cool cafe culture. We finally found a cafe that offered good vegetarian food and a cool setting! We were content.
St Clair, Dunedin
From here a hour of driving would get us to our next location, with a quick stop by a supermarket to stock up on supplies. Kaka point and the Catlins in general doesn't have many supplies, so seeming we wouldn't get to a larger town for another day or so we stocked up.

By the time we got to Kaka Point it had started raining a  didn't stop us going to see the Yellow Eyed Penguins returning from a day at sea. Every day at about 4pm they will return to their nests at Roaring Bay. This penguin is endemic to only NZ and is endangered, so seeing them was quite special. We then walked around Nugget Point headland. An impressive series of rock formations with distinct vertical grain sit in the ocean just out from the point, while the headland itseld juts a huge distance straight out of the ocean. We were also able to see seals and penguins from our high vantage point. This is truly a beautiful marine environment.
Catlins Coast
Home made tacos with black bean chilli worked a treat to warm us up!

Thurs 21st. We woke to thick fog! Thankfully this was almost the only crap weather we had for the whole two weeks, which for this time of year in NZ is almost unheard of.

We hit the road early knowing we had a lot to get through, so by probably 9 we were at our first viewpoint (Cannibal Bay), and the fog had burnt off leaving us with a crystal clear wind free day. A 8km dirt road to a remote beach upon which we saw some huge sea lions. We were able to get pretty close (to the 10m that the park authorities allow) which was close enough! They have some big ass teeth. It was so nice being here so early, before crowds of tourists started arriving. From this point we followed the Catlins Coast (Southern Scenic Route) stopping in at numerous sights including a few waterfalls (Purakaunui and McLean Falls) We had a slight delay due to a rockfall and then a large diversion 8km up one side of a river and then the whole way back down due to a WIP bridge. Our final stop on this coast was Curio Bay for lunch. It was beautiful with amazing rugged coastline and beautiful blue water. The swell was quite large so seeing some of the large waves smash the headland was pretty impressive. We drove through the curio bay campground which i think is a must to go back to. All of the campsites were nestled in between a native flax forest. The flax stood about 2m high and was so thick you couldn't walk between it. It just made for a unique looking campground.
Catlins Coast
Catlins Coast
Catlins Coast
Following this we decided seeming we were so close we'd check out Invercargill. We hadn't heard great things and wanted to make our own judgement. We pretty much drove straight through town, dashed into kathmandu, saw the big water tower, got some gas and headed on to Te Anu. The town looked pretty dull.

Driving to Te Anu was just a few hours of driving, not much stopping so not much to comment on. We got in by 4ish and checked into our motel, once again it was a really nice little motel. Finally 2 nights somewhere. 

I got out for a run around lake Te Anu at sunset and then we headed to a pizza joint for dinner. It was OK; packet pasta though. Booo.

Fri 22nd. Milford Sound. Today we rose early to avoid the tea,s of tourists that would flock to Milford Sound. We made a great call as the road was clear the whole way in. It is a pretty epic drive from Te Anu, at almost 2 hrs. We decided to drive the whole way to the end and then cruise slowly back to see the sights.

When we got to Milford we discovered a 49$ cruise that included breakfast, sweet as. We hadn't planned on a cruise as we expected it to be way too expensive. The cruise was beautiful! Slightly cloudy and moody, but not so foggy that you couldn't see the peaks. 
These had also been some rain so lots of waterfalls were flowing.
Milford Sound

From here we drove back along Milford Road stopping at recommended sights. The Chasm was a viewing platform over a narrowly chiseled chasm that water had cut over years. It was quite beautiful and the water crystal clear.
Milford Road
Next we went for a walk to Lake Marian. Unfortunately the weather went to crap. It totally fogged in with intermittent showers and the track got pretty technical so we decided at a hour and a bit in to turn around when a fellow hiker on his return leg told us you couldn't see a thing at the top. Regardless the views of the amazing waterfalls at the base of the hike were amazing! I even taught kate how to do some long exposure photography.
Milford Road

By the time we got back to the car we were pretty pooched, so we decided to jam home, stopping only at mirror lakes (which were beautiful).

We got in by late afternoon, had some chill time and then went out to the shittest restaurant for dinner! Oh well, that's what you get in small resort towns right. By now we were starting to get pretty over expensive crap food so were looking forward to the next few days with our own kitchen.

Sat 23rd. What a rad day today was. We didn't have too far to drive so didn't rush out the door. First stop was coffee at a little cafe in town. The coffee took for ever haha, but was well worth it :-) then onto Queenstown! This drive really pretty. Lots of autumn colors and beautiful farmland. The last part of the drive is spend hugging lake Wakatipu. It is quite beautiful with huge mountains jutting right out of the lake sides.

We stopped into Queenstown for a quick wander to see how it had changed since we were last there. It is a beautiful little town, but nothing really for us that we needed to do so we headed onto Glenorchy. Glenorchy sits about 40km north west of Queenstown along a beautiful road that hugs Lake Wakatipu as well. Some friends who worked for tourism NZ had recommended it just for the drive. It was a classic NZ road, taking way longer than expected, but once arriving it was well worth it. Rugged mountains surrounded the town and a glacial river fed the lake, giving it the most amazing blue color. I didn't realise then but the mountains that were directly behind Glenorchy were called the Forbes Range and there is a multi day tramp through them. Might have to do that one day.
Next stop was Arrowtown. We fell in love with this town last time we visited really wanted to visit again. It turns out the autumn festival was on. The town was buzzing. There were crafty stalls to poke around and all sorts of food on offer. The fall colors were unbelievable. I think the nicest fall colors you could see without being somewhere like Colorado for fall. But the coolest thing was the parade. A whole lot of classic cars were lined up to drive through town. There were some beautiful old vehicles with the holy grail being a fully functional steam engine. It was an amazing sight to see it working, and it had been beautifully restored.
The parade signed the end of the festival, so we headed onto Wanaka. I have always loved Wanaka-Queenstown road. It is beautiful and this time didn't disappoint with beautiful autumn colors.

Once in Wanaka we checked in, then had a bit of time to poke around town before heading to the local cinema (Cinema Paradiso) that had been recommended to us. What is rad about this cinema is that they bake their own amazing cookies and cook delicious food that you can order for intermission, yes they do intermissions, or you can take in to the cinema with you. So we saw Jungle Book, and also had dinner out at the same time :-) I have to say Jungle Book was amazing. It was just a really nice fun film and the VFX work from my fellow colleagues at Weta looked amazing!
Sun 24th. I arose early for a large run. I ran around lake wanaka, total of 2 hrs. It's amazing how far you can go by foot in that time. By the time I returned Kate was ready to head out for brunch at the local health food store, Soul Food Cafe. I got buckwheat pancakes with coconut yogurt and the most amazing apple sauce, while kate got an amazing raw granola, and then we shared :-)

We stocked up on groceries for the following few days and then headed to the hotel to rent some bikes. Wanaka has an amazing trail system so we chose a nice green run that followed the Clutha River, NZ's highest volume river. Kate killed it, never having really ridden a mtb before, she smashed the green single track, and by the return journey had no hiccups at all! In the end we rode for a good two hours so were pretty sore and tired by the time we returned.

We cooked amazing bean chilli baked enchiladas, with a good amount of leftovers for lunch :-) looking at the length of the post from this day it seems that we didn't do too much, but the soreness in the muscles said otherwise :-) it was nice to do no driving thats for sure!

Mon 25th. Today we drove from Wanaka to Fox Glacier. We had organized some amazing accom in Fox. A couple had bought the old church and totally redone the interior to be luxury accom. They had done it beautifully and it provided an amazing nights accom-more later. So we started earlyish from Wanaka and drove towards Haast pass. On route we saw the infamous blue pools, fantail and thunder falls and then the amazing scenery that is along this piece of road. The amazing thing about this drive is that you leave the otago district which is dry and grassy, almost like it is in a rain shadow. You then enter the most amazing rain forest along Haast pass and then next thing you are on the coast where rugged mountains drop straight into the ocean. This change in scenery happens over a hour and a half of driving. 
Blue Pools

Haast Pass

Once hitting the coast we drove North...not that there is a choice. We didn't stop for a while while on this part of the road, it is quite spectacular to view as driving and there aren't a lot of safe areas to pull off the road. So first stop was Bruce Bay, where a local pulled up to us after having been out of the car for a few minutes and let us know that there was free lunch at a locals bar for everyone who turned up due to anzac day celebrations. Hells yeah, we hit it! We never found that bar! Oh well. Next stop was Fox Glacier. This was eye opening. We last saw the glacier in 2009 and had heard it had retreated a fair bit. We didn't expect this much though. It was significantly smaller and less impressive which was really sad to see.

Fox Glacier
From here we headed to Lake Matherson for a small walk and got some beautiful views of Mt Cook amidst the clouds. This small hike led us to check in time so we headed to our accom.
Fox Glacier
As I said earlier it was luxury accom in an old church. The owners had spared no expense kitting the place out with beautiful cook ware and finishings. The space had beautiful lighting and it just made for a really enjoyable evening. Being sick of shitty food we cooked up another meal, making a delicious dragon bowl of roasted veg, spiced chickpeas and quinoa. We used a nice Moroccan style dip and yogurt as sauce. Delish :-) once again leaving epic leftovers for lunch :-)
Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier
Tues 26th. Continuing up the west coast we were now reversing our steps from our roadtrip in 2009 so the first few hours of driving we got done pretty quickly, just stopping at a few key locations and stops for lunch and driver swaps. The first being Franz Joseph glacier which we had walked on in 2009. We didn't do a big hike this time but just stopped for a shots 20min hike and a look see. From where we got to we couldn't actually see the termination point of the glacier, but that aside, this glacier is far nicer than Fox as there are some nice hikes and vantage points even if you don't go to the glacier.
Franz Joseph Glacier
One spot we did diverge on was Okarito to see the wetlands there. It was a beautiful drive in and added something new to this stretch of the drive.

We had lunch and switched drivers at Lake Mahinapau where we saw a Kiwi, at least we thought we did. Later we were advised that it was a Kaka. Suckers!
West Coast
We jammed past Greymouth laughing our asses off at a angry assed hitch hiker with tats all over his face. I hope no one was dumb enough to give that dude a lift! Anyways next stop was tourist town at Punakaki Rocks. Beautiful but teeming with annoying tourists. The light was amazing as dark rain clouds were passing through and creating amazing lighting in contrast with the beautiful bright evening light, making for some nice photography. There was also some decent swell and we saw a good couple of bursts from the blowhole. The other amazing thing about these rocks, if you don't already know, is that they are stacked in layers, like pancakes. I hear it is a geological uncertainty as to how it has occurred.

Ok, tourists and pancake rocks over, we were ready for chill time so we jammed to our next evenings stop. We were booked into a nice little lodge/home stay called birst ferry lodge. Kate stumbled accross this little gem. Pretty much the hosts have designed their house around the premis of having a b & b setup. The room was beautiful, the view amazing and they had a hot tub on the deck overlooking the valley. There was a well appointed living area where we could read a book or magazine in front of the open fire, while chatting with the hosts as they cooked an amazing dinner.
Punakaki Rocks

Birds Ferry Lodge
We had let them know in advance that I was vego and kate pregnant, so they cooked up a meal specifically for us which they enjoyed as it presented them with something different to do. It was a feast finished with chocolate panna cotta! By the time this feast was over we were well and truly ready to zonk.

Wed 27th. Today started with an epic breakfast thanks to our hosts at birds ferry lodge. Fresh baked croissants, museli and yoghurt, home grown scrambled eggs and loads of coffee!
Birds Ferry Lodge
The drive today took us from birds ferry to Marahau, Able Tasman National Park via the Buller gorge. This drive was absolutely stunning. The Buller river was beautiful and we stopped at a recommended point for a quick walk to a little cemetery dating to the 1800s. The drive wasn't too long and after the gorge saw us driving through beautiful farmland and amongst some of NZs hop plantations.
Buller Gorge
Marahau was beautiful. A little bit of paradise. Warm, no wind and beautiful blue waters. We chilled for the afternoon and went to a local burger bar, the Fat Tui for an epic burger each for dinner. Once again today was pretty chilled with mostly driving and organising tomorrows activities and stocking up on groceries. After much deliberation we decided on a aqua taxi to the top of the National Park to see the whole coast line, and then to get dropped of at Onehatuti beach, so we could walk to Barks Bay and get picked up. However at this point I would run and Kate boat back. More to come.

Thurs 28th. We woke to beautiful blue skies and no wind again. The aqua taxi departed at 9am and took us on a scenic journey up the coast. It was nice as we saw a lot of coastline that we just could not have covered in the time we had otherwise. By 11:30 we had been dropped at our beach and started hiking. Due to tide we had been dropped a bit closer to our end point and thus, reached our destination waaaay earlier than expected. So much so that by the time we had lunch Kate had 3 hours to spare until the taxi she booked arrived. Luckily the earlier one at 12:45 had room and whisked her off, leaving me on a beach 23kms away from my hotel with no way out other than my feet. 
Marahau, Able Tasman Nat Pk

Marahau, Able Tasman Nat Pk

Marahau, Able Tasman Nat Pk

Marahau, Able Tasman Nat Pk
So I started running. It was a beautiful run winding in and out of the little valleys, crossing beautifully clear rivers and seeing the most amazing blue ocean and golden sand. It was hot, mid 20's, and due to the shape of the land all of the climbing was in full sun and all the descents in shade. My trail shoes were a bit damp and I had been wearing them all day. This had caused my feet to soften up and blisters on my left foot ensued. Thankfully this didn't get too bad until the end and just when I was starting to dig deep I met Kate a few kms out of Marahaw and called it quits for a nice dip in the ocean and painful stroll back to the hotel. The run taught me a lot and was well needed prep for my up coming ultra. I needed some good foot pain and to start building some calluses. This run did just that.

That evening we cooked up some simple pasta dishes and just chilled out. It was a big day and i especially was feeling pretty sore.

Fri 29th. We had done some research into where to stay for our last night and had settled on a little town called Anakiwa. Anakiwa is in the Marlborough Sounds and is a quaint little village. We found a beautiful little guest house called Anakiwa 401. So this morning we drove from Marahau to Nelson, checked out nelson for a bit and then headed to Anakiwa via Havelock for lunch. Havelock was a nice little town, priding itself on the green lipped mussel industry. We stocked up on some groceries and headed on our way.



Our accom at Anakiwa provided free kayak hire which was nice as kate really wanted to kayak. Within minutes of being out on the sound we were right next to a seal that was feeding on a large school of fish. It was amazing watching the seal up close frolicking around. We spent a hour or so paddling and then returned to our accom.

The afternoon was chilled, hanging on the balcony listening to the birds until the sun set. By 6:30 it was pitch black with no moon, so we went for a recommended walk to see some local glow worms. I have never seen these before so was unsure as to what to expect. They were really cool, with our headlamps turned off and our eyes adjusted to the dark, we could see the, everywhere; little LED like pin pricks all over this specific part of forest. 

Returning from this walk we visited a clearing to watch the night sky. With no moon the milky way was out in force. I don't think i have seen such a night sky, except maybe Boston bar in BC, Canada.

A nice evening cooking a nice meal followed. Omelette with all our odd bits and pieces :-) Delish!

Sat 30th. Our final day. I am writing this now on the ferry crossing from the south island to the north island. Almost home. Today was a great way to wrap up the trip. There was very little driving but we filled the day with fun activities. First was a nice walk along the queen Charlotte track and then a drive to Blenheim and the Marlborough wine region. The Marlborough region is super close to Picton so we figured while there we may as well head to Cloudy Bay vineyard and taste some wine; at least I did, trying to find a bottle for Kate to celebrate post pregnancy. The vineyard was really nice and the wines were good. But nothing special enough for celebration of bubs. I will continue looking. 
Marlborough Wine Region

We drove around the region a bit more and then ended up in Picton for our last hike of the trip along a trail from Picton that headed out along the sound that the town sits on. As per usual, this walk took way longer than expected. 

Following this a trip to the supermarket to pick up food for the ferry and then to the line up for the ferry, ensuring an early position in line up to get some good seats on board. From the trip over we realised there weren't enough seats with tables so we wanted to secure something quick smart.

I can now see the lights of Wellington, and a stiff breeze has picked up outside. The crossing was pretty good bar a bit of swell for the mid section of the journey that had some stomachs feeling a bit woozy.

I'll sign off here. No doubt we'll be called to the cars soon. Sorry for the super long post, but I guess we really fit a lot into two weeks. A fitting vacation for our last holiday with only kate and me. We find it hard to relax and always cram as much in as we can, so of all holidays i guess this was the most important to cram to the brim with fun stuff :-)

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