It’s our final two weeks travelling around New Zealand and I’m feeling pretty sad but also very excited to be heading to Australia, a brand new country, to see what their culture has to offer.
During the last couple of weeks, we have a number of long bus journeys to get to our final destinations. We’ll be visiting the Deep South, Lake Tekapo, Kaikoura and Christchurch. Then our travels will lead us back up to Auckland and we’re re-visiting Wellington and Taupo along the way. Some of the activities we’ve planned include a whale watching trip in Kaikoura and an island wine tour at Waiheke Island— super exciting!
The Kiwi Experience pass that we purchased includes the Deep South section of New Zealand. Many people do not include this in their trip as there are long bus journeys involved, however we wanted to go around the entire country! Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to spend here and didn’t add on any extra nights which meant we were arriving to the destinations in the evening and leaving first thing in the morning, so we didn’t have a lot of time to explore independently— this was quite disappointing.
First, we travelled to Dunedin which is supposedly the Edinburgh of New Zealand, but it certainly didn’t live up to this, in my opinion. We spent the whole day on the bus to get here with a few photo and refreshment stops, one being a beach which looked similar to the Northumberland coast. When we reached Dunedin, we stopped at the world’s steepest street to walk up and take some pictures— it was very steep, but it wasn’t the most attractive street I’ve ever seen and considering this is one of the town’s main attractions is was a bit of an anti-climax. By the time we got to Dunedin we didn’t have much time to explore the town ourselves and we were all pretty tired from the long day on a bus so our evening consisted of a short wander around to stretch our legs followed by Nando’s.
The next day we got up early and mentally prepared ourselves for another long day travelling to Invercargill. We passed through The Catlins along the southeast coast of the South Island where we stopped at a lighthouse and a beach to see the Southern-most point of the South Island. It’s pretty cool because we have now seen the north of the North Island and the south of the South Island. There are lots of seals and sea lion colonies here which we were able to stop and observe as we walked around the beaches and coastlines.
Our bus guided us around Invercargill which doesn’t really have much to get excited about, it’s a bit of a ‘deadman’s’town! We again arrived quite late to our hostel just outside of Invercargill so we didn’t get chance to explore and had an early night in preparation for a 5:45a.m. start for our Milford Sounds trip the next day.
If we’d planned it better we should have spent an extra night in Dunedin to make this part of our trip worthwhile.
Up not so ‘bright’ but certainly early we started our drive towards Milford Sounds— supposedly the 8th wonder of the world! Our weather was really bad with torrential rain, thick grey clouds and we were so cold that we thought our trip was going to be ruined. However, our tour guide assured us that Milford Sounds is much better in weather like this as you get to see thousands of waterfalls which you don’t in full sunshine, in fact within two hours of the rain stopping the waterfalls dry up!
What is Milford Sounds?
Milford Sounds is a fjord in the Southwest of the South Island. It is known for its towering mountains, rainforests and waterfalls which cascade down the sheer rock faces of the mountains. Our trip included a boat tour around Milford Sounds which is the best way to explore the area.
We arrived at a meeting point to join the main kiwi bus who had day trippers going to Milford Sounds. The views on the journey as we got into Fiordland National Park were stunning, we increasingly saw more and more waterfalls, the mountains were covered in mist and low- lying cloud, it did look picturesque, even in the crap weather!
The boat journey around Milford Sounds was about an hour and a half long. We saw the beautiful mountains and waterfalls up close and got some great pictures— all whilst getting pretty wet from the rain, very glad I packed a waterproof now!
On our way to Lake Tekapo we stopped at Lake Pukaki for a picnic lunch which overlooks the beautiful blue water of the lake. We were lucky on the day because the sky was pretty clear of clouds and in full sunshine which meant we could see some of Mt Cook in the distance.
Not long after we arrived at Lake Tekapo and checked into our hostel right on the lake side. It really is a beautiful area. We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach, soaking up the sun, which we hadn’t had much of recently and chatting to our friends. In the early evening we went to the Lake Tekapo hot pools which were nice to sit and relax in plus not too expensive. Our night ended with a few card games in the kitchen followed by an early night.
Our next stop was Christchurch for two nights. We stayed in the YHA hostel which had recently been rebuilt and was very modern. We were allocated a three bed (single beds, no bunk beds!) dorm, it was so nice, much to the envy of our fellow travellers!
In 2011 Christchurch was hit by a really bad earthquake which destroyed 80% of the buildings in the city, and a lot of the city is still in the process of being re- built. We visited the Christchurch Cathedral which is still under construction and this gave us a good insight into how devastating the earthquake was. The only thing to come out of this destruction is that there seems to be a great future for the city and the next generation. The buildings are modern with great architecture and there are so many really nice bars, restaurants etc which gives the City a really nice appeal.
During our time in Christchurch we spent our days relaxing and wandering around the city. Christchurch has a lovely Botanical garden (I would call it a park). There is a cute small river that goes through part of the town and is pedestrianised, so it’s a good area to relax, close to the hustle and bustle of the bars and restaurants.
We were in Christchurch during the Chinese New Year and there was a delicious food market so we treated ourselves to a few tasty dishes and looked around all of the lantern displays, it was great!
The next day we moved onto Kaikoura where we spent two nights. Kaikoura is known for its amazing sea life with resident Sperm whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions plus many different species of whales visit and migrate through the waters here.
We signed up for the whale watching trip which I had been looking forward to since the day I landed in New Zealand! We knew that bad weather was heading to Kaikoura, but we made it in time for the trip to go ahead. As expected, there is no guarantee of seeing any whales which we were nervous about but as we were one of the trips later in the day and they’d had full success all day, our whale watching guides took us straight to the point where there had last been successful sightings. Of course, the whales can travel and move away from these areas, but the driver and crew are very good at spotting them and taking educational guesses for when they will surface.
Thankfully it didn’t take long before we spotted our first giant sperm whale! It was amazing, we watched as the whale sprayed out water from its blowhole and sitting at the top while it took in the oxygen. You only see about 10% of the sperm whale while it’s re-oxygenising and they already seem so big, the other 90% under the surface seems too big to fathom and I’m glad the boat kept its distance, so we were safe, although part of me wanted to dive in to get a proper look! Our guide warned us before the whale dove down so we could take pictures of the famous tale flick dive and it was as amazing as you’d imagine. Definitely, David Attenborough stuff going on here!
The whales stay down for about an hour and as our trip was only a couple hours long, we revved up the engines and headed to another spot where they thought a whale may be heading back up to the surface. They have a few devices which help them find the whales, the most impressive being a sound device which they place in the water and they can detect how far away the whale is. With the whale-noises and the sound waves which detect the distance from the boat , as well as the length of time they spend underwater, the crews are pretty good at guessing when and where the whales will be surfacing.
We were so lucky to see four whales during our trip and we even ran out of time which meant we couldn’t see the final whale dive down before we had to head back to the land. It was so amazing and another one ticked off my bucket list! We arrived back just in time for the torrential rain to start, which didn’t stop for a few days— the following days trips were cancelled so we felt super lucky to see so many whales!
The next day we only left the hostel to go to the shop as the weather was so awful. Our day consisted of card games and monopoly, it wasn’t so bad and quite nice to have a chilled day.
Kaikoura was our final ‘new’ destination in New Zealand before we headed on our way back up to Auckland.
We stayed in Wellington for a couple of nights and one day. The weather picked up for us here and we took the cable car up to the botanical gardens which we walked through to get back down to the city.
We stopped at a Cowboy bar on our way back to the hostel where we played musical bingo and won quite a few free drinks— it was a lot of fun.
Next, we revisited Taupo which was a stopover to break the long drive back to Auckland. It was beautiful sunshine here but with quite a cool breeze so sitting on the beach was not as enjoyable as we had hoped. It is a beautiful small town though and is looking over Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.
We finally made it back to Auckland where we spent a few nights catching up with friends and saying bye as everyone was either heading home or travelling to their next destinations around the world.
We spent one of our days here on Waiheke Island doing a wine tour. Waiheke Island is packed with gorgeous vineyards and the wine that they produce is really delicious. I’ve never done a wine tour before but I would now consider myself an expert… also how do you get a job here? We sampled wine from three different vineyards and had a drive around the island where our tour guide filled us with information. It’s such a beautiful island but it costs a lot to live here, even for a small house.
Goodbye New Zealand!
I’ve had a great time in New Zealand and I really love this country. It has such a peaceful, homely, friendly vibe to it and the surroundings are just stunning.
My highlights of the trip have to be the Helicopter Hike up to Franz Josef Glacier, the AJ Hackett Canyon Swing, the wine tour in Waiheke Island and of course the whale watching in Kaikoura.
I would recommend travelling around New Zealand to everyone. The Kiwi Experience was great but of course came with a few annoying factors, as would any trip— if I did it again, I would most likely travel around in a campervan, but I loved the fact that I could meet so many great people on the bus tour.
We’re now moving on to Australia where we travel up the East Coast from Melbourne to Cairns, then flying from Cairns to Perth. I’m so excited and particularly looking forward to a bit more of a hotter climate.
Thanks for reading my New Zealand travels!