We stopped at Arrowtown, a quaint town, built in 1860s when gold was discovered. The town retains more than 60 of its original wooden and stone buildings. Tour bus central, and a good place to shop if you have the funds!
Wanaka was another lovely town we stopped at. It is situated next to a pristine lake with mountain ranges in the background, with good restaurants and bars. If you ever find yourself there, try Kai Whakapai for excellent and beautifully presented breakfasts and great coffee too! We stayed at Lake Outlet Campsite, a really lovely bush campsite, situated in a secluded spot overlooking the lake. We completed two cool walks from the campsite, one to Albertown, five km along the lakeside and the other back to Wanaka town centre, a fourteen km round trip, again following the lakeside round. Both very scenic and peaceful and well-worth doing.
From Wanaka, we took the very scenic road to Fox Glacier. On arrival, as the sun was shining we drove over to Lake Matheson. The lake is known as 'Mirror Lake', as on a clear day it will reflect the mountain range in the water! Unfortunately, theory wasn't being put into practice on that particular day, but it was a nice walk anyway! Early the following morning, we went to the Glacier to do the thirty minute walk from the car park. It was very quiet and the car park devoid of tour buses! A good time to be there. The walk is stunning, with sheer valley walls on either side and a river running along the track. It was eerily quiet, apart from the river flowing and small waterfalls trickling from the mountainside. There are many signs warning of the various dangers, and you can see signs of how parts of the mountain have just crumbled away. A steep incline took us up to the finale, the glacier. Although impressive, it doesn’t compare to the Canadian glaciers, but the walk up to it was spectacular.
Afterwards, we drove to Gillespies Beach. The road there was an unsealed and rather narrow (in parts) twelve km drive. En route, we saw two cheeky keas. The beach is the site of an old mining settlement and it is usually possible to walk to Galway Beach, where you can see seals. We followed a trail through the bush, and found ourselves at a black sand beach, which was deserted and full of drift wood. Sadly the final walk to Galway's Beach was closed due to flooding so we didn’t get to see the seals, however we did get a lovely sandy beach all to ourselves instead. All in all, a good couple of days at Fox Glacier, so much so that we decide to bypass the more commercialised Franz Josef completely!
Next stop was Hokitika, a town that was thriving during the 1860's gold rush, and is now just a cute town by a lovely beach. We decided to stay for a couple of days. We drove to the Hokitika Gorge. We just don't seem to be able to resist turquoise waters! It involved a nice little walk, with glimpses of those turquoise waters through the trees, a swing bridge and some friendly little singing birds (we felt like extras in Snow White!) and the Gorge did not disappoint. Talking of things that did not disappoint to things that did. Ku felt it was important that T witness the phenomenon that are called Glowworms. So after dark we proceeded on foot to the Glowworm Dell, which was quoted as being a two minute drive from the town centre of Hokitika (and the rest!) and viewed in pitch black, New Zealand's native fungus gnat lavae - known as glow worms!
If you are in Hotkitika, go to Fat Pipi Pizza - fantastically good pizza! Thoroughly recommended!
Next stop was Punakaiki - home to the Pancake Rocks and blowholes! Technically, it is something to do with a layer-weathering process which gives them the appearance of layers of pancakes. Add this to caverns and crashing ocean running through them, and it makes great viewing! The whole coastline is very picturesque, rocky mountainous terrain on one side, a driftwood-featured sandy beach the other, with a few rock formations thrown in – it was a stunning place to stay and explore. One walk we completed was the Porari River Track, which took around three hours and followed a spectacular limestone-studded river to a more taxing uphill bush walk. We had some fun banter with a group of older walkers that we kept coming across, and it was one of our favourite hikes so far.
En route to Murchison, we stopped off at Tauranga Bay Seal Colony, 16km from Westport. We saw an abundance of seals, plus lots of pups swimming around in their own baby rock pool. Addictive viewing. We also completed the Cape Foulwind Walkway, finishing at a lighthouse. It was a scenic walk right on the edge of the coast, with lovely views of the sea and various rock formations.
Onto Murchison and the Buller Gorge. Our reason for stopping at the gorge was to experience jetboating. It was far cheaper there than Queenstown! We bought tickets, only to realise that we had to cross Buller Gorge Swingbridge! It is the longest in NZ at 110m. T does not like heights, but attempted to cross it. Being able to see through the bridge and having to pass people coming from the opposite direction, proved too much to cope with and she was forced to turn back. Fortunately, the guys were very accommodating and the funny and very helpful jet boat driver Mark kindly picked us up from a beach on the other side, so T didn't have to cross the bridge! It was an incredible ride through the beautiful gorge at high speed, with loads of turns, through raging rapids. We got completely drenched and absolutely loved it! We definitely recommend this trip with Buller Canyon Jetboats at the Swingbridge!
And then onto Takaka, in Golden Bay. What can one say about Takaka; a mixture of art galleries, nice coffee shops and stores leaning towards a hippy influence. People that know Ku will know that she would be very happy here and yes, it was her idea to visit! There were various cool murals on shop walls too!
Afterwards we drove back to Picton wanting to tackle the 'Snout Track' - a great walk - sadly it was the weekend of the cyclone! Fortunately apart from continuous rain and a little wind, Picton and most of NZ escaped anything too bad. We were forced to stay in our cosy cabin and catch up on writing and reading!
From Picton, we drove to Kaikoura. Instantly the good sunny weather returned and we had a lovely journey there. We stopped off a few times on the way for breath taking views of the ocean and the fabulous seal colony, which we couldn't tear ourselves away from. Again we watched the seal pups practice their swimming in rock pools, enjoying themselves! It was great to be so close to them without infringing on their space.
As it was T's Birthday, we treated ourselves to a motel room for a couple of nights. We decided to do a walk around the Kaikoura peninsula. As we parked up, we were amazed to see some of the seals had come on land and were lounging on the boardwalks and in the bushes. We rushed over to see them at close range (obviously keeping the regulated distance away!) It was so cool. They weren't bothered about us and just carried on doing their own thing, mostly sleeping! We started off on the walk and hugged the coastline, really stunning views. The walk took a couple of hours and was probably one of our favourites so far. We celebrated with pizza and wine later.
As we left Kaikoura en route to Christchurch, we couldn't believe it as we turned into a bay on the coast road and spotted two or three whales!
Finally it was time to return the trusty old Subaru car to the rental company in Christchurch. We had decided to stay a couple of days, and found a good deal to be had at the Southwark Apartments. A cool black and white little studio right in the middle of the city. We checked in went off to explore. The devastation that Christchurch suffered when the earthquake killed 185 people and injured many more in 2011, was apparent as soon as we entered the city centre. Walking around the city brought home how much damage the earthquake had caused and it was really quite emotional. There were still buildings surrounded by rubble, certain roads were still cordoned off and many properties were awaiting demolition. However, what soon became very clear was how the city was quietly and uniquely fighting back in many different ways. We absolutely loved the street art scene that had developed in every area. The main shopping drag now comprised of strikingly colourful shipping containers, housing various chain stores to more arty shops, and a handful of innovative eateries.
We walked around the Botanic gardens and saw visitors being punted along the river. We explored the museum, which was interesting and made more so by the fantastic temporary exhibit on street graffiti. The trams were up and running down the streets, and although the Art Gallery was not yet open, there were plenty of art, graffiti and murals to locate and enjoy, popping up all the around the city. We visited what remained of the cathedral, still cordoned off, but colourfully so. Even the nearby public toilets were painted in vibrant colours!
The following day we went to Quake City, a museum dedicated to the earthquake. It told the story of what happened from photographs, footage from residents and a tribute to the rescue teams. There were even parts of the cathedral, such as the huge fallen spire. The last section detailed plans to rebuild the city. Fascinating, emotional and a real insight on what had happened. Well worth visiting. We also went to the independent cinema,' Alice in Wonderland' to see the French film - The Past - excellent. It was such a shame we were the only ones in the small, cosy cinema watching such an excellent film.
We also stumbled across the Saturday market, packed with local artists work and great eateries, it was buzzing. Again - a must do if you are coming to Christchurch on a Saturday. New Regent Street, full of colourful shops and cafes was an interesting area to have a wander. Nearby are several other art installations, worthy of a look. We loved our stay in Christchurch, instead of finding a ghost town devoid of soul, we found a city fighting back with creativity and imagination, making us smile and able to recommend a visit to the sceptics and to the people who think it might be depressing. Go visit Christchurch!
And so back to Nelson to borrow some camping gear from our friend Steve. It was time for our big walk on the four day Abel Tasman Trail.....