New Zealand is primarily made up by two large islands. Our past New Zealand posts followed us through the north island and down two-thirds of the south island.This post continues down the south island to the southern point and back up to the city of Christchurch. You can find our first two New Zealand posts here: Part One, Part Two.
Funny Things we Noticed:
- Farms – We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the land of endless farms and beautiful scenery. In fact, by about the third week in New Zealand it certainly seemed as though there are more hooved animals than people that call this country home. These cows, bulls, sheep, and occasionally deer and llamas can be seen in farms all over this beautiful country side.
- Bare Feet – We actually noticed this in the north island (and Australia), but it seemed to be even more true in the south; Kiwis have an unusual tendency towards going about life barefoot. We observed this to be true on hiking trails, city sidewalks, and in various stores/restaurants (we never saw “no shirt, no shoes, no service sign” like in the states).
- Christmas – Being in New Zealand during October and November was a bit strange for us since it was spring time here in the southern hemisphere. This was especially strange when we started hearing winter wonder land Christmas songs while shopping in the grocery stores to then walk outside and see the blooming flowers. We have been told that many people have barbecues for Christmas in this part of the world!
The Run Down:
- Queenstown – This city is near the bottom of the southern island, and is one of the most popular destinations in the south. It promotes itself as a Mecca for adrenaline junkies, and from what we saw it certainly lives up to the claim. In town billboards, flyers, and various other advertisements can constantly be found promoting one adventure activity or another – such as bungee jumping, sky diving, hiking, various water sports, etc. We decided to forego most of the more intense activities and settled for climbing Queenstown Hill which is one of the smaller mountains flanking the city. It took about 4 hours round trip, but the views made it absolutely worth it as we could near see nearly the entire city from the summit. One other must-do for us while in town was to visit the famous Fergburger. Fergburger is a local fast food restaurant that has achieved cult like status, but despite its popularity there are still only a few locations in the whole of NZ and Australia. We both thought the burgers were excellent (well worth stopping by for a bite).
- Milford Sound (Fiord) – Milford Sound was one of the stops we were most anticipating before visiting New Zealand. It is almost as far south as you can get in the country, and is essentially a large fiord with massive mountains and lots of wildlife. The drive in was pretty intense, even as NZ roads go; it included the usual one lane bridges, SUPER steep roads, and winding roads, but also included a Loonggggg one lane tunnel that went Straight down. There are a few ways to see the sound, and we decided to go on a cruise. Our cruise lasted about 2 hours; all the while the views from the boat were nothing short of spectacular! We also got to see various wildlife including yellow-eyed penguins, seals, dolphins, and a number of local birds. This is absolutely a MUST DO for anyone visiting NZ!
- Demolition World – Demolition World was easily one of the most unique places we visited this year. It is essentially a collection of torn down store fronts/other buildings, various bits of old farm equipment, and antiques of every kind. It has been assembled to create a sort of fake town – complete with barbershop, church, various residences, shops, shopping districts, hospital, and more. Walking around this place was fascinating, but parts were certainly a bit spooky. We both got the feeling we were wandering around some ghost town from a zombie or other horror movie. If you are ever in Invercargill, definitely stop in to check it out! We loved quirky things like this that you can find throughout New Zealand!
- The Bluff Region – The Bluff Region has several fun things to offer. Including a beautiful coastline as well as stunning overlooks. We drove up quite a steep hill, and wondered if our camper-van would make it. But the lookout point at the top gave us a breath taking 360 degree of the surrounding cities and coast.
- Nugget Point Lighthouse (Otago region) – The Nugget Point Lighthouse is located along the Otago coast in southeastern New Zealand. It is a quick hike from the car-park to the lighthouse, and the views all along are spectacular. We were several hundred feet above the ocean below, but due to the sheer drop off we could see almost straight down. The lighthouse itself is fairly picturesque and added a bit of eye candy to our photos, but it is the “nuggets” that truly make this place unique. The nuggets are essentially a chain of rocky hills that jut out of the water. You find a perfect view of these from the lighthouse. What also made this place even more special is that seals can regularly be seen (we probably saw 20+) frolicking in the sea, catching food, or just lazing about the beach below.
- Curio Bay (Penguin Colony and Petrified Forest) – One of our favorite campsites during our trip was right along the coast at Curio Bay. The campground was on a thin strip of land that was probably only 100-200 meters wide; on one side was a docile bay with a long stretch of beautiful beach, and the other side was an almost sheer drop off onto jagged rocks which was constantly being pounded by the tumultuous Tasman Sea. (such an amazing contrast!) From the campground there were two major attractions within walking distance. The first was a colony of yellow-eyed penguins that can SOMETIMES be spotted at sunset coming out of the water. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to see them here. The other attraction was a series of Jurassic petrified trees that are actually embedded within a rocky proportion of the coast. While we did not get to see the penguins, we loved walking around the petrified forest right on the coast.
- The Lost Gypsy Gallery – The Lost Gypsy Gallery probably makes the list of quirkiest/most unique places we have visited. It is hard to describe this place, but it is essentially a place full of oddities that have been created. We probably spent a good hour here pressing all the buttons, flipping all the levers, and turning all the cranks; always with child like anticipation to see to see what would happen!
- Moeraki Boulders – The Moeraki Boulders were a really quick stop off the main highway for us. We only stayed a few minutes, but it certainly is worth the quick detour. Essentially they are a group of mysteriously round boulders scattered along a kilometer or so of beach… so cool to see!
- Katiki Point – We saw a number of reviews online raving about Katiki Point, so we had to make the stop. This was one of our best wildlife encounters in New Zealand. The scenery (as always) was amazing; there was a light house overlooking the turbulent cliffs along the coast, and lush green fields covering the otherwise rocky peninsula. The main reason we wanted to make the stop was that we read reviews of yellow-eyed penguins being here (we saw a few from afar in Milford Sound, but were hoping to get up close). We thought we had not lucked out, but while hiking back we spotted 2 penguins nesting under a bush right off the trail….and a third a bit further up the trail. We also saw scores of seals in this area.
- Aorkai (Mount Cook) – Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand at over 12,200 feet. We arrived in the area late in the afternoon, and setup camp a few miles away. The following morning we trekked to the base of the mountain. The hike was truly amazing, as Mount Cook was perfectly framed between a series of surrounding mountains. The trail ends at a lake right at the base of Mount Cook, where we had lunch and spent a an hour or so just taking in this beautiful mountain.
- Lake Tekapo – Lake Tekapo is about half way back up the Southern Island, and about an hours drive from Mount Cook. The view here was stunning even as New Zealand goes. The lake has a beautiful turquoise hue, and is surrounded by snow capped peaks and huge fields of blooming flowers. While we passed through relatively quick, we were definitely aw-struck!
- Albatross – Both of us had always heard about these ginormous birds who spend the majority of there lives on their own out on the Arctic sea. It just so happens that there is one breeding ground for these HUGE birds in New Zealand! We were able to spend a couple hours here one morning, and got to see the Albatrosses up-close!
- Steepest Street in the World – All we have to say is WOW was it steep!
- Christchurch – Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island with a population of around 400,000. Since New Zealand is primarily about the great outdoors, we only spent a day exploring this city. This area was hit by a huge earthquake in 2011 which has totally changed the city over the last couple years. There is a huge amount of construction that is still going on in the town from this disaster. While here you can visit the 185 Empty Chairs (a memorial to those who died in the 2011 earthquake), Christchurch Cathedral which was severely damaged, and a shopping center created out of shipping containers (originally intended to be temporary structures following the earthquake, but they have since become a more permanent fixture of the downtown area). There are also newer attractions that can be visited such as a Cardboard Cathedral, and a museum about Antarctica.
- More LOTR places! – We also visited a number of other places that were in the LOTR films. The most notable of these was “Argonath” which was in the epic scene in the Fellowship of the Ring near the end of the move where the fellowship is canoeing down a river and pass by two massive statues in the river. We saw this exact spot…minus the CGI statues of course.
We spent approximately 5 weeks in New Zealand total. While we were sad to be leaving, we were DEFINITELY ready to be out of our tiny camper-van and back in some more traditional accommodations. From New Zealand we plan to travel back up to Asia, where we will start this new chapter of our adventure in Taiwan!