The Unbelieveable Scenery of New Zealand’s South Island: Part 1
Days 270-274 (April 24-28, 2017):
We spent ten wonderful days on the south island of New Zealand. After intensive research we decided that the best way to explore the natural beauty of the south island was to rent a camper van and hit the road. Our trip route for the first half of it was as follows:
We basically made a huge circle from Christchurch and back. We were sad to skip some of the sights in the northern part of the south island, but we had limited time. We focused on free activities and did a mix of freedom camping and full-service pay-sites.
Our first stop was at Mount Sunday, also known as Edoras, capital of the kingdom of Rohan in Lord of the Rings. It is a small rocky hill that sits in a beautiful valley surrounded by high mountain peaks. Although the trip out there was a bit of a bear with over 26 km of gravel road that made everything in the camper rattle and shake like mad, it was well worth the effort. It looks EXACTLY like the movie (except without the castle and village CGIed on top) and a small
Next we headed for Mount Cook Village where we did some hiking. We did the Hooker Valley Track that had views of the Mueller Glacier, Hooker Glacier, Mount Cook, and a large glacier lake. The hike took us about three hours, with a stop for lunch along the way. Boy was it windy though! After the hike we headed further south and made a quick stop at a sight called the Elephant Rocks. They are neat rock formations in a locals sheep and cow pasture that they allow people to come in and climb around on. The four of us split a bottle of wine, played euchre, and basked in the solitude as the sun set over the surrounding hills.
The next day was jam-packed. We went to see Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach near on New Zealand’s Otago coast. These sphereical boulders are actually concretions that have been exposed through shoreline erosion from coastal cliffs that back the beach. We snapped some pics and hopped back in the RV headed for Sandfly Bay. After a steep walk down the dunes and across the beach, we found what we came for: a large colony of Hooker’s Sea Lions. They blended in extraordinarily well with the brown rocks surrounding them, hiding their numbers. We spent some time watching them laze about or wander out into the water before making our way back to the camper. Our last stop of the day was the lighthouse at Nugget Point. We enjoyed the sunset over the water and watched the seals below swimming and playing in the shallows around the outcroppings of rocks.
The next morning, we got up early and headed for Cathedral Caves. They are located in cliffs at the northern end of pristine Waipati Beach and have attracted international interest for their length – (the two sea-formed passages together measure just on 200 meters) and their impressive height (up to 30 meters). We enjoyed the hike through the woods down to the beach and got some amazing shots out of the caves and one the mirror-like beach. We spent the rest of the day doing an AMAZING drive up to Milford Sound, passing through valleys, up and down mountains, and over rivers and streams. I swear just driving around staring out the window in this country is entertainment enough. We even saw the New Zealand Kea Parrot, who has become notorious for stealing things from unsuspecting tourists. We spent the night at an upscale campsite right in Fiordland National Park, just two minutes from Milford Sound.
The next morning, we arranged a boat ride out into the fiords of the sound. We floated along the steep cliffs, staring in awe at the innumerable waterfall and lush vegetation. We took the boat all the way out to where the fiord opens up to the Tasman Sea. Although it was rainy and misty, it kept the crowd small and allowed us a very unique experience. We deboarded the boat, climbed back in the RV and headed for the city of Queenstown, and the second half of our adventure around the south island.