It’s been a bit of an adjustment to switch gears from South America to New Zealand. To begin with there is a 16 hour time difference, but also, the pace is different, the language is different (it’s really nice to speak English again, but for the first few days, I still answered questions with “Si!”) and we had to remember that most of the world actually eats dinner before midnight! We arrived in Auckland at 4 am on a Tuesday (actually completely lost the Monday following Easter due to time change and travel) and picked up our rental car around sunrise. Our “Silver Surfer” is a Subaru Outback 4WD with plenty of room for our bags but with one tiny problem – the driver’s side is on the right and they drive on the wrong side of the road! Ha! Okay, it was only a problem for the first few minutes each of drove. Raj adjusted faster than I did of course since he learned that way, but it was a first for me. Not as hard as I expected but it took me a few days to get comfortable with roundabouts and to stop squealing every time we approached one.
Instead of staying in Auckland, we decided to save it for the end of our month, so we began driving southwest so that we could get to the coast before we ran out of steam and find a place to stay. After several hours of challenging the 4WD capacity of our Silver Surfer on windy, gravel roads, seeing our first NZ waterfall and exploring the beautiful coast, we made it to a town called Waitomo which is famous for its extensive network of caves. We decided to stay at a nice B & B for our first night because I had a horrible cold (not pig flu) and combined with jetlag, was feeling simply awful. So we checked in around 3, showered and fell asleep around 4. We didn’t wake up again until 6 the next morning! Considering we had been partying in BA until 6 in the morning, I suppose our bodies needed a bit more rest! So, we checked out and headed to our first NZ adventure – The Glowworm Cave and another cave with a Maori name meaning Two Dogs.
We continued south quickly, stopping often to take in the crashing waves on the coast or the autumn colors, because we wanted to get travel the south island first as winter is approaching rapidly here. We only stayed a night in each place, but we have seen quite a lot. In an effort not to bore you, here is a condensed version of what we did and saw:
Wellington – on the south end of the north island. It is a big city by NZ standards but very pedestrian friendly. We didn’t do much besides go for walks, have a few drinks and check out the marina. The next morning we to the ferry across the strait to the south island.
Nelson – we arrived after dark and got lucky with great place to stay. In the morning we walked around the cute downtown area and strolled through their weekend market that had a very bohemian feel. Then we drove to Abel Tasman, a National Park and explored for a few hours. We could have spent more time there but were feeling pressure to cut over to the west side of the south island to begin working our way down to Queenstown.
Cape Foulwind was fantastic. It is barely on the map but such an amazing find. We checked into one of the two motels about 10 minutes before sundown and ran down the one block to the beach. Once there we found a fantastic blowhole and we had a blast timing the surf so we could play on the rocks. It was absolutely stunning. Then we went to the only tavern and made friends with Derek, the bartender, who in turn introduced to us the rest of the patrons. We had a great time closing the place down chatting with Derek and a couple of his close friends. In the morning we went for a long walk by the lighthouse and down to a secluded and fantastic surf. We could have spent days exploring, watching seals, or simply gazing at the waves break on the rocks.
Franz Josef Glacier – we had a good time in Franz Josef, although it has become a touristy little town. In an effort to get away from the biggest crowds and to get our adrenaline pumping, we chose the heli-hike and had good fun on a short helicopter ride that landed high up on the glacier. We then locked on crampons and spent about 2 hours with a guide and several other tourists exploring the glacier and ice-caves! Sometimes we could walk through a cave, sometimes we had to crouch way down, and other times we had to climb our way back out! It wasn’t nearly as cold as you would expect and the crampons help you feel secure as you walk on ice.
Wanaka – on our way to Queenstown we stopped in this picturesque town on Lake Wanaka and overlooking the Eyre Mountains. Though a bustling ski village in the winter, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the beautiful autumn.
It’s been absolutely beautiful to simply drive through this country. The roads are incredibly windy and often take you through mountain passes and close to the coast. In a single day we pass , forests, spectacular coastlines, wineries, single-lane bridges, horse pastures, tiny towns and thousands of sheep. There is no better way to see this place, but we still feel that there is so much more to see and we wish we could stay in each place longer.
Sorry we are bit behind on our blogs! Will post another soon to let you know how Queenstown, Milford Sound, Dunedin and The Catlins were! Miss you all!