Kia Ora New Zealand!

7 days in New Zealand and heaps of nature and activities. We’ve met nothing but kind, enthusiastic and helpful people both on the road and locals. Here’s the first blogpost of this country on the other side of the world.

It was really early when I woke up on the 14th of March. I had my alarm set for 5:00 but I woke 3:30 and could no longer sleep. At 5:30 I took the van to Sydney airport to check in on the flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. A very special one because I would no longer be flying or traveling on my own. Siebren had already been traveling for almost 24 hours from Amsterdam to catch the same flight as me. Reuniting felt good, a hug and a kiss and another hug, although Siebren almost didn’t recognize me because I’m so much more blond. Our flight was delayed but otherwise fine (another movie: Queen from Katwe). 

Two tired faces together
East coast of New Zealand

Arriving at the airport and going through customs took a lot of time for me. You’re not allowed to bring any food or drinks or soil or seeds etc. and the checks are thoroughly. I quickly ate the fruit I still had and managed to bring the tea I had just bought at T2 and was happy enough with it.
Our first stop was Spaceships were we rented our camper van. Siebren did most of the planning and organizing of this trip as I had the whole of Asia to plan. I expected something called a camper van to be rather big, but it looks more like an American family car. Nonetheless it suits our needs perfectly well. Our van named Pumbaa has a bed in there (consisting of three parts we build up and break down every evening and morning), blankets and pillows, a foldable table with chairs, storage space, a mini fridge, pans and plates, cutlery and gas cooking pits. The car has the driving wheel on the right side and driving in NZ is on the left side. At the pickup point there is a spot with some free stuff of previous travelers and we picked out two towels, olive oil and muesli. As the nights could be cold we requested an extra blanket and then we were good to go. 

After doing the necessary grocery shopping we drove the first night to Arthur’s pass. That is from east coast to west coast and crossing the alpine ridge. It was a little late to cook a meal so it was just yoghurt and muesli. It was very cold at night but the blankets were good enough to be warm. The next morning it was still cold but a good amount of porridge and tea helped to warm us up. I knew a hike was planned but I thought it would be walking for a couple of hours, instead we went for a 6-8 hour hike, 1100 meters up all the way to Avalanche Peak (1833m). The route was challenging and uphill all the time. It was heavy but we managed to do the return trip in 5,5 hours. The views on the top were alpine like and spectacular.

And we spotted our first mountain parrot, the Kea

The next day we drove towards the south, stopping at the Franz Josef glacier. We wanted to go to lake Paringa and stay overnight but were terrorized by sand flies. Little black flies that sting through two layers of clothing. Spraying deet helps but I was already stung over 70 times when I had it on. In the next days I learned that I am a bit allergic and had to buy some anti histamine to stop the constant itching which was driving me crazy. We drove on and stopped at the seaside (Ship Creek). There we spotted some dolphins swimming along the coastline, very unexpected and very beautiful. 

Franz Josef glacier

The next day was mainly driving over the Haast pass and had multiple stops along the way. So far we have learned a few things about living in the camper van. NZ is a bit more expensive than the Netherlands (groceries like fruit or veggies, yoghurt and bread are usually not cheap). But we almost cook every meal ourselves. The roads are good, with speed limit 100 km/h. We are not self contained (don’t have a toilet in there) so we can’t just park everywhere overnight. There are many different camp sites to chose from and most of them are paid 8-20 NZ dollar per person per night. That’s alright if you’re in a good spot with good facilities. But sometimes we can’t really tell what we are paying for. Most of the times there are no showers and wifi isn’t around much (never at department of conservation camp sites). Toilets are everywhere and there is always toilet paper. Sometimes there is an indoor area where we can cook and sometimes there isn’t and then we do it outside. We’ve become very handy with (un)packing the car. But it remains something close to camping. Undressing when in tight positions, toilets are a walk outside away, a mini fridge. It is much better than sleeping in a tent and I believe the best way to experience the country and I kind of like it (I’m just no fan of camping haha), as long as it is not too cold I won’t complain a lot :). 

Over the next days we are driving towards the south. We stopped at lake Wanaka, surrounded by mountains it gives beautiful views. This was the first spot where Siebren and me could easily imagine living. The nature has so much to offer and the town has a good vibe. We found a bar called Kai Whakapai where we went three times in 24 hours. We did another steep hike up 900 meters to Roys peak, giving amazing views of the lake and surroundings. The muscles are starting to warm up to these hikes but they are not there yet.

It was really chilly at the top

From Wanaka to Queenstown. A bigger city with less allure but more facilities. And from Queenstown towards the Fiordland territory (yes, they misspelled the word “fjord”). This is almost the furthest south we’ll go on this trip, or even have ever been. We booked two tours in the Fiordlands: Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound (which are actually fjords and not sounds, hence the name Fiordland area). With rain 200 days per year and on average 8 meters (in 2016 even 11 meters) the chances of having a sunny day are slim. We got the proper experience on the first day, a continuous drizzle and cloudy foggy wisps throughout our journey. Winds strong enough to lean into, and waves up to two meters high for an eventful ride out into the Tasman Sea. The upside of all that rain was lots of waterfalls because of the rainfall and we were still able to see the stony but green fjord walls.

The Milford Sound tour was much better. It had rained al night so there were still lots of temporary waterfalls but it was dry when we went out on the boat. Some clouds to give it the misty vibe but also blue skies and sunshine. The cliffs are up to 1 mile high and look incredible. We have seen seals lying on a rock in a windy area to avoid those darn sand flies and lots of green vegetation on the cliff sides. This day was so much better! 

I’ll leave it here, and continue in the next blog. Next up is the east coast back up to Christchurch and further north. It has been incredible already to see mountains, glaciers, fjords, lakes, seals, dolphins, rain forests, mountain parrots and the rest of the fine landscape. And the camper van experience has been good!

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