The South Island
We made it to the southern island of New Zealand after taking a ferry from Wellington (the capital of New Zealand). Everyone that we talked to told us the south island was soooo much better than the north, and for that reason we could not have been more excited to arrive. (Click here to see our post on the north island.) Our intention was to write about the entire south island in one post; however, after realizing the sheer number of amazing things we saw, we realized that there was just too much to fit into one post.
The north island was absolutely amazing and should not be missed, but if you do not have much time the south island is the place to be. We took the ferry through the Cook Straight at sunset and landed in the small town of Picton on the south island where we spent our first night. This small town gave us a better understanding of the population that can be found on the south island and the number of gas stations and grocery stores that we would actually find as we traveled through out. Our route on the Southern island started at the top, and then followed the west coast down. Once we reached the bottom we circled back up the east side and ended in the city of Christchurch. You can follow the first half of our adventure through the southern island below along with a couple quirky things that we noticed..
Driving (The Fun, the scary, and the RAIN!) :
There are countless billboards in New Zealand telling you to drive cautiously since driving in NZ is different than driving in other countries. We found this to be quite true. Very often the roads in New Zealand were gravel, comically windy, treacherously thin, had no guardrails, sheer drop offs, or abruptly came to one lane bridges. Needless to say this required driver attentiveness at all times. On top of this, we encountered many INCREDBILY steep hills that genuinely made us wonder if our poor camper-van would make the climb. While the scenery was always gorgeous, the roads were definitely some of the most crazy we have driven (on the left side too!). We Love New Zealand.. but it would not have been such an epic adventure without this.
Birds Of New Zealand (We are just as surprised as you that this is a header):
As we moved through New Zealand, we noticed that there were soooooooooo many unique birds! We were unsure why this was at first, but later found out that New Zealand did not have many (any??) mammals during most of its ancient history. This meant that birds took the place of mammals on the island which led to its unusual diversity.
The birds we encountered quickly became one of our favorite parts of the country as they either looked wildly different from what we were used to, or because they seemed to have a lot more personality than we expected (or both). It also seems that Andy had finally learned his lesson about the birds after the incidents in South African and Finland. No matter how crazy these birds seemed, I am happy to say that they did not get his food! Some examples of the bird’s quirks can be found below:
- Ducks – NZs ducks look almost identical to the USA’s. However, on a regular basis they acted more like dogs than birds. At every campground, tourist attraction, or rest stop we pulled into there were a hand full of ducks wandering around…literally begging for food. Typically we were greeted by these guys in the first 2-3 minutes of shutting off our car; they would quack at us for a few minutes trying to get some food before finally deciding that we were not worth the effort and moving on to the next target. (on some occasions Andy did give-in and feed them our left over bread though…)
- Black Swans – In some parts of the country, black swans were everywhere. There were many random lakes through out the country where there were soooo many these guys just swimming around, and they acted exactly like the ducks.
- Kiwis – So as you are probably aware, kiwis are the most iconic bird of NZ. They are flightless, furry-looking, long beaked, and unfortunately very elusive (mostly due to the fact that they are nocturnal). SADLY we never actually got to see one of these in the wild, but we did see the next best thing…WECAS!.
- Wecas – Neither of us had heard of Wecas before visiting NZ, but these birds definitely are one of the funniest animals that we have ever met! While Andy was sad he did not see a Kiwi at first, he did fall pretty hard for these little guys. Similar to the kiwi, wecas are flightless and stand about a foot tall. We could not have asked for a better introduction to these animals. It occurred directly after finishing a hike when we were sitting in the car and eating a snack before continuing down the road. Andy’s door was open, and Andy screamed: “AHHHHH KIWI”(he thought it was a kiwi at first). The weca was standing inside the car door and staring at him! Later we found out that a defining trait of the weca is its “inquisitiveness”; pretty spot on from our introduction. Our second (of many) encounters with these birds was when one darted onto the road right in-front of our van, to which Andy screamed “NOOOOO WECAAAAA NOOOO!!!”….a catchphrase Andy would not live down for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, the Weca made it to the other side of the road safely.
The Run Down:
When we woke up in Picton for our first day on the South island, it was pouring rain, but that did not deter us!
- Pebble Beaches – We spent the next two nights at a campgrounds on the beaches of the Tasman Bay. This also happened to fall on Guy Fawkes Day which is a holiday that England and many of its former colonies still celebrate. We heard fireworks going off all night (a bit like 4th of July), and had a fun time exploring the beaches during the day! From the Tasman Bay we traveled north for the day to visit the northern most part of the Southern island including many of its beaches and pass through the mountains.
- Te Waikoropupū – Te Waikoropupū is the largest freshwater spring in New Zealand, and boasts to have some of the clearest water ever measured (at least that’s what the signs said!). Indeed we could not believe how transparent the water was. From the bordering catwalks we could see all the way to bottom (a good 30-40 feet down). The bottom was lush with all sorts of unique vegetation. We highly suggest checking this out if you are ever in the area, especially since you can make it to the springs and back with just a 20-30 minute hike.
- Most Northern Tip of south island – Our last stop before starting south was to see the northern most tip of the southern island. Geographically, it is quite amazing (seriously, check it out on a map); the tip is essentially a roughly 12 mile peninsula that shoots way out the top of the island. It is also only about a quarter mile wide which makes it truly unique. There is no road here, but the truly adventurous can hike quite a ways out. Unfortunately, we arrived late in the day and only did the first few miles before turning back. All the same, we absolutely loved hiking this amazing terrain! We also got to see a couple sheep along the way!
- Lake Rotoroa – Countless tourists make stop here for the stunning views, and to see the unique wildlife. When we visited, the lake was smooth as glass and the surrounding mountains were still snow capped from winter. Our favorite part of the stop; however, was the countless lake eels that could be seen here. There is a wooden pier that goes about 50 feet into the lake from which tourists throw various food scraps into the water to feed the eels. As a result, the they can be spotted here reliably as they return daily for a meal. We loved watching the feeding frenzy that took place as soon as a big piece of food would hit the water. They would form a giant underwater ball as they all slithered over each-other, fighting for as close a spot to the food as they could manage….truly gross to see, but mesmerizing to watch!
- Denniston Coal Mine – Denniston was a main township that serviced a series of nearby coal mines during the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s. In its glory days Denniston had a population of around 1,500, but today it is nothing more than a ghost town. Rusted out mine carts can be found over turned or partially buried, remnants of ancient railroad tracks lead to nowhere, and the various houses and shops of the village have been reduced to just foundations. We spent about 45 minutes exploring the last vestiges of this town and admiring the views of the coast from afar, but we opted not to explore any longer as the weather was not favorable during our visit (we even ducked into a shelter for a few minutes to wait out a hail storm) and we had to continue our drive south..
- Cape Foulwind Seal Colony – While the weather was not in our favor, this was the first of many seal colonies that we had the chance to visit on the south island. The scenery was breath taking, but we had no idea what was yet to come!
- Rough Seas – the couple days that we headed down the western coast were amazing, and the sea can only be described as constant chaos. We stopped in numerous places to just watch the ocean since we had never seen anything of this magnitude before. At each location waves were constantly rushing in, crashing upon various rock faces, shooting far into the air, and leaving the water in a constant froth giving an appearance of never ending cycle of rocky seas.
- Punakaiki Rocks – Paparoa national park is comprised of a series of “pancake rocks” which are essentially rocks along the coast that have been sculpted from seawater and now look akin to a stack of pancakes with large openings and blow holes that surround them. This was an amazing place to stop for an hour and admire a bit more of the stunning coastline!
- Mountains – As we traveled further down the coast we began to spot multiple snow caped mountains. As the days went on we realized that this was a regular occurrence in this part of the world and something the locals are probably just use to seeing. While we spent only about a week our so in the area, we already started to take for granted the A-Ma-Zing views from our campsites! These mountains should not be missed!!!!
- Glaciers! – While the weather was not the best as we made our way towards Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, we were lucky enough to be able to see each glacier without too much difficulty! However, the pictures do not do this place justice. The online reviews often tell about the enormous glaciers that cling to the side of the mountains, but they usually omit the multitude of waterfalls, the low-lying Rain Forest, and/or snow covered peaks that surrounding these glaciers. We have only seen such picturesque landscapes in our dreams, and can only hope to see something like this again at some-point in our life time. We state this while only being lucky enough to witness the glacier valleys through the thick mist and one of the worst down pours we ever witnessed in our camper-van, but we still want you to know that they were amazing! (Seriously!… go see them!)
- Soooooo Many Waterfalls – While we saw so many waterfalls around the glaciers that would lure people to them in there own right, there are also sooo many more that you can find as you drive south through the mountains. Each is extremely impressive, although our adventures within Iceland, Zambia, and New Zealand itself may have made us a bit jaded. With that said, they are most definitely worth a stop just like the one seen below.
While we loved what we had already seen on the South Island, there was most definitely even more to come!