DAY 1Nov 29 2016
Picked up our 2003 white Nissan Sunny in Christchurch. Drove to our YHA in center of town. Walked around to take in the sites, including the amazing colorful murals, and the impact of the 2010/2011 earthquakes. Really quaint town. You can tell there is a spirit of rebuilding in the air. Lots of art came out of it. Had dinner at delicious Mexican restaurant. Hostess gave us great recommendations of where to explore in the Banks Peninsula(Godley Head and Taylor's Mistake walks).
DAY 2Nov 30 2016
Had 3 coffees before noon and wandered through the botanical garden (swing tree and huge eucalyptus). And then stopped at the canterbury museum. Decent Maori exhibit. Walked around the city ruins and murals again. Cool outdoor memorial (white chairs) for those who died during the earthquake. Bought our trusty camping gear that would come in very handy over the next three weeks.
Drove to the banks and did a walk around Godley Head cliffs and really took in my first vibe of the NZ beauty just south of Christchurch . The turquoise ocean, green hills, cliffs and tons of sheep. Spotted some Hector's dolphins, found only in NZ waters. Then we drove down towards Akaroa to the Banks Peninsula and slept at Half Moon cottage at Barry's Bay. The drive along Summit Road was beautiful. Had a nice large room near the gardens. Wandered to Duvauchelle for dinner. In the morning we took a walk around a small peninsula across the street from the cottage. Spotted a huge jellyfish and the views were awesome. Then we drove to Akaroa and stopped for lunch. It didn't feel as French as the guide book described but still good. Then headed down south along the coast to Oamaru to find Steampunk HQ. Very burning man-esque. And loved the immersive light room. Then headed south to Moeraki borders. Very out of this world boulders in the shape of perfect spheres. I credit the aliens but it's supposedly a natural phenomenon. Then further south to Otago Peninsula and the Larnach Castle, near Dunedin. We arrived after the gates closed but managed to settle into our horse stable. Yes horse stable. Dinner in Portobello (fish and chips).
DAY 3Dec 01 2016
Woke up to a glorious morning at the castle in our stable. Headed down to breakfast with the others and a fake horse. We decided it was best to do a walking tour early in the AM to avoid the tourists like ourselves. The views were spectacular. It was the prettiest garden I've ever seen with views out to Otago Peninsula. The tour itself was decent. The guy who lived there ended up killing himself after his wife ran off with their son. Who also killed himself. Liked the wrap around porch and crazy good view from the roof tower. And a lot of effort had been made to restore the place. The yellow flower tunnel in the front was impressive as well. We then headed to the beaches of Otago. The first one off Allans Road (Allans Beach) is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The yellow flowers are blooming everywhere, the green hills were vibrant and the beach itself was beautiful. Hill of flowers. Albatross in the cliffs. Sunning sea lion. Rock scramble to kelp and tide pools. Utterly gorgeous. Then we wandered to a second beach, did a little jog, passing the pyramids hills, climbed up them and then onto the beach. Great dunes with flowers. Sea lion and penguin colony. From there, drove to Queenstown and set up our first DOC campsite at Moke Lake. Very beautiful, serene DOC campsite 20 min from town but felt miles away. Found a nook in the brambles by the lake. Mountains surrounding us on all sides. The reflection of the sky and green hills on the lake was memorable! Tons of sheep with bubble butts sent us off in the morning.
DAY 4Dec 02 2016
We decided to get adventurous given we were in Queenstown and sought out a tourist info center who signed us up for Shotover Canyon, a super fast and wet jet boating experience. These boats float right on top of the water and the driver then zips around the Canyon walls, 360 turns, and overall adrenaline inducing fun. Hans had done this 14 years ago but was ready to get back at it. I ended up in the front row, so had the best views. Hans could bring his GoPro which was an added plus and we had a blast. When we got back, we wanted to go biking. Hans was hoping to go up the gondola and hit up a mountain biking track but it cost an arm and a leg so we went on a normal bike ride around one side of Waikomo Lake. We rode through lakeside neighborhoods, across a few bridges, a golf course that merges with our trail, tall pines and overall gorg Lake views. In total, we rode about 3 hours/ 20 miles. Before we left town for the day, we signed up for a crazy plan the following day: 8am Sky diving out of Glenorchy and 1pm Bungee Jumping with Nevis. When in Rome! We slept in another Queenstown camp site that night along the water. Set up closer to dusk but found a good secluded spot. There were a few frisky field mice who kept wanting to join us for dinner. While they could climb trees, they never got in our tent.
DAY 5Dec 03 2016
Extreme madness day! Woke up early to meet up with our Paradise Skydiving guide. It was just Hans and I vs the 15 people who got picked up with Nzone next door. Loved how personal and small our group was. We drove about an hour to Glenorchy, a town right outside of Queenstown, where the views are breathtaking. There was a volcano at the one end that had some connection to Lord of the Rings - Isegards stronghold? After the safety video and putting on our sexy jumpsuits, we got into an itty-bitty prop plane with just Hans, his tandem dude, me and my guy. He was filming us because I got up sold on the video. The views on our way up to 12,000 feet were so spectacular. While I was nervous, the views of the surrounding clouds, crisp blue sky, and vibrant green hills were so good. All surrounding a lake. When it was time to jump, the light within the prop plane turned from red to green. No choice, we just went. Hans jumped after me. The free fall was terrifying as I've never felt so reckless with speed before but thankfully there was a dude on my back and parachutes. I screamed the entire time but loved it all the same. Once I calmed down I could take in the views. But it really makes you realize how massive the earth is vs our tiny selves. Once the parachute opened (after 45 sec of free fall) we could float and enjoy. I didn't like it when we spun in circles since I get dizzy but then he let me steer which was super cool. We landed very smoothly. My heart was racing and I just couldn't wait to run over to Hans to hold him, squealing for joy. We watched our video (it was worth it it!) and then headed back to Queenstown for lunch before part 2: the Nevis Bungy.
Ourselves and about 20 other people got bused to the Nevis location, a deep Canyon about an hour away. I was feeling pretty apprehensive and the adrenaline from that morning had worn off. When it was our turn, they put 6 of us on a small gondola to get taken out to the platform. People a head of us were struggling to jump. Hans went before me and had a perfect dive. He did get pulled up by him legs since he didn't pull the cord properly. Slick. The biggest thing is not to delay the jump. So I didn't and instead pretend to be on a diving board. And didn't look down. The feeling was so smooth at the base of the jump! No whiplash just a huge dive down and up a few times. I surprised myself and loved it!
If anyone is contemplating Sky Diving or Bungy jumping while in NZ. Do it. No question.
DAY 6Dec 04 2016
Then it was time to head off to Fiordland and the Milford Sound. We decided to go with a Kayak operator called Rosco's and pretty sure we went with the Stirling Sunriser tour which allowed us to get right up in Stirling Falls waterfall. When Hans went years prior, he was on one of the large ships so this time around, we wanted to get up close and personal. Kayaking is the way to do it. Our tour group was small and our guide was awesome. We spent 3-4 hours on the water. We lucked out when it came to weather. The sun was shining and the waves were calm in the AM. We saw seals, gorgeous gorges, and the views were breathtaking. We were literally dwarfed by the cliffs -- I felt very small compared to our surroundings but love that humbling nature feeling.
Then we drove to find a watering hole and chasm (The Chasm walk), which is about 10 Km from Milford. The best part about the Chasm is that our kayak guide told us about a secret watering whole that most tourists just missed. Yes the Chasm was cool, but touristy. The only way to find the watering hole was the along the trail, entering the chasm trail, there was a small donation box on the right side of the trail. Behind it was an unmarked path down in the woods which took us to a stream and glorious turquoise blue watering hole. I could barely dip my feed it due to the cold but Hans was feeling adventurous and he scaled the rock wall with the help of a vine or rope and maneuvered up to jump on in. Great cliff jump! I then went ahead to explore the rocks along the river. The views were obviously grand. Then we decided to make our day even more extreme and did a few hours of the Routeburn track within Fiordland National Park. Our destination was the Key Summit trail and nature walk. Boy was this beautiful. The trail was super well marked and had a decent flow of foot traffic. Before we knew it we were above the clouds in a tussock forests and bonsai looking dwarf trees. The hike was steep but manageable. We reached the start of Key Summit Alpine Nature walk and that did not disappoint. We followed wooden plank trails above the marsh land and through forests, looking out for Kia birds. This was definitely one of my favorite days and walks. Somewhere in here we stayed at a local camp site, with our test nestled in the woods, protected from most of the RV traffic. Next stop: Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph area along the South Island West Coast.
DAY 7Dec 05 2016
It was pouring on our way to Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph. We stopped at Fox Glacier very briefly given it's really hard to get up close to the glaciers in this era given how much they have receded. We found the car park and did the River Walk Lookout Track which was only 20 min total and allowed us to get a peak. To be honest, I'm never that impressed by glaciers but that's probably because the only way I would be would be to land on them by heli. We then got settled into our Franz Joseph YHA and chilled out (sauna, 4 hours of laundry, rainforest window, dinner in town) until it was time to go visit Franz Joseph. The rain was pretty relentless but we decided to risk it.
DAY 8Dec 06 2016
We woke up early and ventured to Franz Joseph glacier. The rain had not let up and there were little mud slides and water rivets every where. We crossed a small bridge to reach the glacier viewing point and the water underneath was way above where it should be and honestly, we were counting the minutes that it would overwhelm the foot bridge. We continued on with a ton of great waterfalls to our left and right and then got to the main area to see the glacier. Again, I was pretty underwhelmed but glad we did it. The most exhilarating (and scary part) was that as we where leaving, the park rangers were checking for mudslides. Rocks kept falling from the weight and displacement of the rain....but thankfully nothing major happened while we where there. Then we hit the road to Punakaiki's Pancake rocks in Paparoa National Park. It was a short, touristy stop but really cool. The limstone has formed into what look like pancakes stacked together. There is also an eye and ear catching Tea Pot blowhole where when the water rushes in, a big puff of air and water blows through a small opening and sounds/looks like a tea pot losing it's top!
DAY 9Dec 07 2016
(Note unsure if this is still part of prior day). Then we were off to Karamea in order to spend the night close to the trail head of the Heaphy track: Our Great Walk! On the way to our hotel for the night (Last Resort) we did a detour to the Oparara Valley (based on a DON'T MISS blue box page within Lonely Planet). Here we were within the Kahurangi National Park and specifically the Oparara Basin.
DAY 10Dec 08 2016
Day 1 Heaphy: