Friday February 24th – Saturday February 25th | Dunedin 🇳🇿 – LAX 🇺🇸 – CANADA 🇨🇦 | a whole shit-tonne of kilometres 🚙✈️✈️💤🛏✈️✈️🍷🚙🍫 🙃
On our last day of the road trip I walked up the world’s steepest residential street: Baldwin Street. I’d already packed my hiking shoes and didn’t think it would be easy in my Birks so I did it barefoot – true kiwi style. Baldwin street has a slope of 19 degrees (we drove up a hill in Arthur’s Pass that was 16). In 1988 a guy named Iain Clark roller skated up it (yes I did say up. Crazy!)
After that we drove out to Signal Hill for a sweet view of the city then had lunch at Ratbags before Val dropped me off at the airport.
I left at 3pm, had a short internal flight to Auckland, a few hour layover there, departed at 11pm, survived a 12 hour overnighter to LA, another short layover, then finally made it in to Vancouver around 9:30pm Friday night (gained back time coming from Dunedin to Vancouver). Originally I was just going to crash in the airport until I remembered I’m not 18 anymore and a hundred bucks for a 6 hour sleep is more than worth it.
This morning I caught the red eye to Calgary and then on to Brandon. Our plane landed at the international departures terminal which is almost as far away as you can get from the domestic departures so myself and four other passengers had 15 minutes to book it over there while the plane waited on us. Someone was already in my seat so I got upgraded to 1A: preferred. Score! A glass of wine and a couple chapters of my book later we touched down in frigid Brandon. Mike took me for lunch and we picked up our groceries from Superstore – thank god for click and collect! Now I’m finally relaxing at home trying not to eat all the delicious chocolate I brought home!
I took seven flights (6 to travel, 1 for skydiving), two ferries and one train on this trip. We drove around 5000km in a tiny sky-blue Mazda Demio and visited so many places I’ve lost track. We saw glaciers, oceans, mountains and national parks. I crossed a couple things off the bucket list and added more than I removed. It was a whirlwind three weeks but it was awesome and I’m glad I took the time for the adventure.
We left Tekapo on Wednesday morning and made our way south. Around 75km before you reach Dunedin you’ll find the Moeraki Boulders. These are large, spherical rock concretions that were formed 60 million years ago. They’re pretty interesting to look at and definitely worth the stop. Some of them are up to 3 meters tall and estimated to weight several tonnes.
Don’t be fooled by the Dunedin city limits sign – you’ve still got half an hour before you actually reach the city! Have no fear, though, as you will pass the Evansdale Cheese Factory where you can stop for some tasty samples. Cheese in New Zealand is a thousand times better than Canadian cheese (sorry dairy farmers but the shelf cheese in the store is bland compared to that in NZ). Evansdale is a small factory that was started in 1977 making it the oldest artisan cheese maker in New Zealand.
We finally reached our hostel late afternoon, checked in then drove down to the Octagon (this is the high street/city centre area). Dunedin is a beautiful city with lots of history. It was named after Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, and is known as Little Edinburgh. It was New Zealand’s first city and can lay claim to many other “firsts” including: first telephone call made in New Zealand, first gas streetlight ever burnt, first medical and dental school in New Zealand as well as the first newspaper published in the country. There are a lot of really stunning old buildings in Dunedin ncluding St Joseph’s Cathedral, Otago Girls High School, Dunedin Railway Station and Larnach Castle. Full list of historic buildings here. There is also a statue of Robert Burns (Famous Scottish poet. He wrote Auld Lang Syne. You’re welcome) at the head of the Octagon. His nephew, Thomas Burns, was one of the original founders of Dunedin.
One of the things I miss most from Scotland is fish & chips. Not the crap they serve at North American seafood restaurants. The fresh-from-the-ocean, good old fashioned, chippy supper. I have been waiting all three weeks for a blue-cod supper and my time arrived. I checked out Trip Advisor and discovered that the best fish supper could be found at a restaurant called The Best Cafe. How fitting. It’s a short walk down Stuart Street near the Railway Station.
When we walked in I was instantly reminded of the old fish and chip shops we used to eat at in Scotland. The old-school decor, the deep-fryer smell and the plate of bread and butter brought immediately to your table. Val and I each ordered the two piece fish & chip dinner: one piece famous blue cod, one piece elephant fish (a type of shark). The elephant fish was a more firm white type and the blue cod was flaky. Both were good but I definitely would recommend the blue cod: it’s worth the money.
After supper we parked the car at the hostel and walked down to Speights Brewery. We literally walked down – everything is on a hill in Dunedin. The brewery tour started at 7pm and lasted around an hour. We learned about the history of beer, the brewery, how it was made then versus how it is made now, and finished off the tour with an unlimited sampling of their one cider and five on-tap beers. Hell yeah.
No matter how long Google maps tells you it will take to reach your destination, when in New Zealand you should add at least an extra half hour. For example it will calculate for you that place X is 160km and will take you 2 hours 10 minutes. You know that roads are different in New Zealand and that seems realistic so you figure 2.5 hours to be safe. Wrong. It will be closer to 3 hours especially if there’s roadworks and slow tourist traffic.
While we have never been late for anything yet (that’s surprising for those of you that know me!) we have definitely been pushing the limit. We arrived at Kahu Kayaks at 11:25am for an 11:30 guided sea venture. It was a stunning day in the Abel Tasman National Park: the weather really couldn’t have been better. Blue skies and a hot sun made for the perfect afternoon.
Our water taxi took us out to Watering Cove where we relaxed and then started our voyage at 1pm. There were ten of us, including our guide Tyler, in five double kayaks. We were suited up with a neoprene skirt to prevent water getting into the kayak and a life jacket to prevent drowning, obviously.
After a quick safety briefing we paddled towards Adele Island. A French explorer named it such because he thought it looked like his pregnant wife (I think he just had too many rums). It is predator free though they do still trap for any vermin that may decide to swim over. (Think rats. Those pricks are really good swimmers).
The island is designated as a bird sanctuary. Historically the sounds of bird calls on the island was almost deafening but over time the birds, defenceless due to their inability to fly, have been hunted to low levels by hungry predators. Even though there are less birds than the past, the ones that are there sing beautiful music. It is so peaceful on the sea and the melodic bird songs make it even more idyllic. The other noise you hear a LOT in New Zealand is the cicada. I don’t know what type of cicadas they are but if they’re periodic cicadas they spend most of their lives as underground as nymphs and after a decade or more they emerge in huge numbers
We made our way around the south side of the island to a fur seal colony. Fur seals used to be very abundant in New Zealand until they were over hunted and their numbers declined substantiallyfrom 2 million to 200,000. They became fully protected in 1978 and you are forbidden from going within 20 meters of a colony. Their numbers have increased substantially since then. Normally you can see a lot of the seals sunbathing on the rocks but Tyler told us that at this time of year the males are nowhere to be found (baby comes and bu-bye dadio!) and the females will go hunting for three days at a time before returning to feed their cubs. We did see a few babies frolicking playfully in the water and they were pretty cute.
For the remainder of the afternoon we slowly paddled back towards the main beach where we were picked up at 4pm. I can’t wait to go back there some day. The beaches and coves are only accessible by water or hiking trails. I would love to hike in and camp for a couple of days then kayak out. The company offers all sorts of tours and are willing to work with you to make whatever you like happen so they could drop the kayaks off at the beach for us and then take our backpacks back on the water taxi.
Since this is my last week in New Zealand we have to start making our way back down to Dunedin (I fly out of there Friday afternoon). We decided to drive all the way to Moana and camp at Lake Brunner Country Motel & Holiday Park for the night. We arrived around 10:30pm, pitched our tent and called it a night.
Tuesday February 21st | Moana 🏕 – Lake Tekapo ⛪️ | 625km
The second National Park we drove through was Arthur’s Pass. It was a very scenic drive and we had a great day to see it. We drove through the town of Springfield which had, you guessed it, a doughnut for a roadside attraction.
We arrived in Tekapo late afternoon. Wow. What a stunning place. After setting up our tent (yay for sun and finally being able to use it again!) we headed off to check out the Church of the Good Shepherd. Both Val and I assumed it was in the middle of nowhere but it is actually just on the shore of Lake Tekapo.
My Cook was the third and final National Park we visited. Unfortunately the visitor centre was closed when we got there but I think the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centrewould be a really neat place to cheat out sometime.
After supper (venison sausages and lamb sausages: venison won) we played cards until dark. Lake Tekapo is one of the best places for stargazing due to the very low light pollution in the area. The night sky was spectacular. It was a perfect ink blue pierced with so many different constellations. It was so cool to see stars in the Southern Hemisphere as they’re different to what we have at home. I couldn’t take any pictures as I’m not a photographer but here’s a cool shot of the Church (it’s not mine it’s from Fraser Gunn I believe: Astrophotography NZ)
Friday February 17th – Sunday February 19th | Palmerston North 🏉 – Porirua 🐮🐮🐸🐸🦁🦁 – Picton ⚓️ – Blenheim 🍷| … Km 🚙 + 90km 🛳
Palmerston North is home to the New Zealand Rugby Museum. We spent an hour here learning about the history of the game from the early 1800’s to present day. Charles Monro of Palmerston North is the man who brought rugby to New Zealand in 1870. You are welcomed by a statue of him outside the building.
The museum is set up so that each section represents a decade in the history of the sport. There’s lots of interesting information and artifacts in the museum including uniforms, literature and photographs. Did you know a pigs bladder was the first “ball” used?
“The Originals” refers to the New Zealand team that toured the Northern Hemisphere in 1905-06. They won 34 out of 35 games and set the standard that every All Black team has tried to emulate since.
We could’ve spent a lot longer here but decided to continue on to our ark for the night: Camp Elsdon in Porirua near Wellington. The most exciting stop on the way was a bird and wildlife park in Shannon called Owlcatraz. Unfortunately for us the rainy weather prevented any tours from taking place but we did get to see the stuffed and preserved head of Big Red, one of the worlds largest cattle beasts. At 1.83 metres tall Big Red tipped the scales at 2060kg which is apparently the equivalent of 18,162 quarter-pounder burgers.
Camp Elsdon is probably as close to an ark as we will get on this trip. It is a Christian youth camp that rents rooms and campsites to community groups and tourists. We booked here for two reasons. 1. we are cheap. 2. nowhere else in Wellington had any rooms available and we didn’t want to tent in the rain. We arrived around supper time and the place soon filled up with people who had missed the ferry to Picton (we think possibly due to an accident on the motorway). The group was a mixture of adults, children and babies and was very loud. Due to being a Christian facility, no alcohol was permitted on site so, obviously, we ventured off to find a bar.
Google maps suggested The Roundabout Bar which created a prime opportunity for Val to pull out another dad joke. I asked where where exactly it was and she replied “around about”. Jesus Christ. In all reality we did have to navigate six or seven roundabouts before reaching the bar which, you guessed it, was located right beside another one. Since we’d already eaten supper we ordered wine and dessert: because we’re on holiday and can do whatever we want to. I chose the rhubarb and apple crumble and a glass of Roaring Meg wine. The waitress brought an extra-full glass for me because she just finished the bottle right into it. Excellent.
There’s a really cool museum in Wellington called Te Papa. It’s free to visit and there are many different exhibits spread out over six floors including Māori history and culture, the flora and fauna of New Zealand and, my favourite, Blood, Earth and Fire: The Transformation of Aotearoa New Zealand.
I also found out that kiwifruit came from China and were originally called Chinese gooseberries. In 1959 they were renamed. One suggestion was “melonettes” but kiwifruit won. Those grown in New Zealand were branded as Zespri in 1996 to distinguish them from the same fruit produced elsewhere.
We killed time in Wellington until the ferry took us back to Picton that evening. Our hostel for Saturday night, Sequoia Lodge and Backpackers, was really neat. It was very clean with a large kitchen and common area and comfortable beds.
Sunday morning was relaxed as we slowly made our way down to Blenheim and our next accommodation: Spring Creek Holiday Park. The weather was perfect: beautiful blue skies, fluffy white clouds and a slight breeze to move the hot 25 degree air. After lunch we were picked up and escorted to the first winery in our afternoon tour arranged by Sounds Connection. For $69 each we got to visit five cellar doors and a chocolate boutique.
Makana Confections Chocolate Factory
In the Marlborough region, 80% of the wine produced is sauvignon blanc and 15% is pinot noir. There are 170 winery’s but only 35 tasting rooms. Despite the number of vineyards, winemakers can’t produce enough Sauvignon blanc to meet world demand. We were able to taste four or five different wines at each stop and it was a great way to spend an afternoon.
The winery with the most interesting name was Huia. It is named after the huia bird which, now extinct, was native to New Zealand. The male birds has short, strong bills perfect for boring into trees for insects and bugs. The female bird has long, slender beaks which were able to extract the food that the male found. Because of this unique reliance on one another the huia birds partnered for life.
The most beautiful location was Framingham. The garden has many beautiful rose bushes and arbors as well as some cute sayings painted on tiles throughout the walkway. It’s not surprise that this place is a favourite wedding venue.
The winery with the most expensive wine we tried was Nautilus Estate. The Four Barriques Pinot Noir is $75 a bottle due to the fact that only four barrels are made each year. It was good but a cheaper $20 bottle will suffice for me.
Whakarewarewa is the shortened name for the thermal village of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao and means “The uprising of the war armies of Wahiao”. The village is located near Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand: 86% of the Māori population lives on the North Island.
The Māori language was never originally written but now Te Reo is recognized as an official language of New Zealand. The alphabet consists of only 13 letters, 5 vowels and 2 diagraphs (a diagraph is the combination of two letters to make one sound like when PH = F in English). Knowing this helps to pronounce Whakarewarewa: fak-a-ray-wa-ray-wa.
Māori culture is full of fascinating myths and legends. According to these tales, Whakarewarewa was created when the goddesses of fire, Te Hoata and and Te Pupu, traveled from Hawaiki to relieve their brothers chills creating mud pools, volcanoes and hot springs along the way.
We planned our time in the village strategically. At 10am there would be a one hour tour followed by a thirty minute cultural performance starting at 11:15 and the morning would conclude with a traditional hangi lunch at noon.
Upon entering the thermal village it’s hard not to scrunch your nose up at the offensive sulphur smell omitted from the pools. Although unpleasant, the odour is harmless and is only noticed in the city of Rotorua when there is a lot of cloud cover and the steam can’t escape.
Our guide had a great sense of humour and very easy-going personality. He, like most of the guides, lives in Whaka alongside 21 families. The families are of the Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao people who have inhabited Whaka since 1325. Each home has a kitchen and bathroom but many of the residents prefer to continue the cultural practises of their ancestors by cooking and bathing communally.
Whaka contains a lot of hot spring pools. The pools are at a constant temperature of 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit). Water is diverted from these pools to the communal bathing area where washing takes place twice daily. The last person out pulls the plug, the vats are cleaned and fresh water is allowed to flow back in and cool before the next bathing time.
Because of the consistent boiling temperature, vegetables and seafood can be cooked in the pools in mere minutes. Another form of cooking is hangi. These are pits or boxes with hot stones in them. The slowest cooking food is placed on the bottom and the quickest cooking food on top. Ten chickens could be cooked from frozen in one hour (I think it was 10?!) it was definitely a lot.
We opted to try the hangi lunch which was all prepared using traditional methods. Everything was cooked perfectly and tasted delicious: beef, chicken, potato, kumara, carrots, cabbage, corn and steamed pudding for dessert. The hangi method of cooking leaves everything very tender and the sulphur doesn’t impact the taste at all.
The Maori have sacred Ancestral Meeting Houses where the entire village gathers for all kinds of occasions, celebrations and some religious ceremonies (the meeting places are not religious buildings, churches are also found in the village). The carvings outside represent men: there to protect the building. The carvings inside are meant to symbolize women. It is easy to tell the difference as the male carvings have tongues whereas the females do not.
The main pole in the middle is very significant. The point of the gable represents the head. The diagonal boards represent arms. The backbone is represented by the ridges and the rafters are the ribs.
The body, specifically the head, is very sacred to the Māori. When performing any type of dance, all body parts must be engaged. This is why you will see enlarged eyes and protruding tongues during the haka (war dance). After our tour we watched a half hour cultural performance which included singing, dancing and a haka.
If you’re ever in Rotorua, the Thermal Village is a must-see. You get to learn about the culture from a Māori guide whilst visiting their home. Nothing could be more authentic.
Saturday February 11th | Franz Josef 🚂 – Hokitika 🍕 – Greymouth 🛏 | 279 km 🌳🌿🍃
The first time I woke up on Saturday was to some douchebag incessantly knocking on a dorm room door next to us. He carried on for what felt like an eternity before Val jumped out of bed and told him to shut the F up and go sleep in the lounge. She lay back down in bed for a few minutes before getting up to re-lock the door. Thank god she did that because I was already planning the best way to execute a wicked spider-monkey elbow-drop move on the son-of-a-bitch from my top bunk … you never know if someone might bust into the room because they’re mad…
The second time I woke up was around 3:30am and it sounded like a freight train was running through the middle of our room. I almost tried my earlier-planned death-move on the snoring lady in the bed next to us but instead I just yelled “HEY!” and she quit sawing logs (or woke up … either way I was happy she was now quiet).
The third and final time I woke up was to my alarm clock at 6am. We got ready, ate and made our way to Hokitika. Hokitika is a town situated on west coast of New Zealand on the Tasman Sea. It is famous for its jade. Jade, aka pounamu, is a beautiful greenstone prized for its strength and durability. There are a lot of jade carvers and stores in town all selling beautiful handmade carvings, necklaces and other jewellery.
Some stores offer 1-2 hour carving experiences that offer the opportunity for you to carve a small, basic piece of jewellery for a nominal fee. The best one we found online, Bonz n Stonz, allow you to design and carve your own unique piece, approximately 7cm x 7cm, for the same price as it would cost to buy a similar item.
I had seen a fern necklace in another store and decided that I wanted to make one for myself. I’m not artistic at all so I was glad I took a picture so I could try to replicate it on paper.
Once you cut our your design you can select your piece of jade and draw around the basic shape. The owner, Steve, cuts around the outline but after that you do most of the process yourself with the guidance of one of the carvers. Andrew helped us out with ours.
From there the basic steps I did were:
Buff off the excess jade and start to shape the piece
Cut around the centre line of the frond and remove the jade on either side of it with a small, flat bit (almost looked like a metal thumbtack/pin with the pointy end held in the tool)
Make the notches and corresponding lines of the fern leaf
Buff away all the scratches using sandstone and progressively finer sandpaper to create a nice, glossy finish
Wash with warm, soapy water to get rid of the white dust you create when sanding
Dry and then shine with baby oil
It took around five hours to complete and now I have an awesome, unique, necklace that I can say I made (mostly) myself.
We were done our carving earlier than we thought so went to the nocturnal kiwi house where we saw (kind of – it was really dark) the male kiwi being fed. The kiwi is a flightless bird that is native to New Zealand and is also their national symbol. From here we drove out to Hokitika Gorge. The milky, turquoise water was absolutely stunning and I highly recommend taking the time to check it out.
Every year Hokitika hosts a Driftwood and Sand beach Sculpture Festival which allows anyone to enter their driftwood stick creations. Here are some of the coolest entries still left on the beach when we got there and a picture of a pizza because pizza is life.
After an amazing pizza at Fat Pipi’s we drove on to Greymouth where we had splurged on a twin room at the backpackers hostel. Best. Decision. Ever. No snorers. No door-bangers. No problem. Just a really nice Danish owner who shared with us those really good buttery Danish biscuits in a blue tin and used to work in Swan River…small world.
Thursday Feb 9th | Alexandra 🍒 – Wanaka 🤷🏻♀️ | 188 km 🚘
Friday February 10th | Wanaka ☀️ – Frank Josef 🏔 | 328 km 🚙
Sarah fed us croissants for breakfast and off we went to Wanaka. We couldn’t leave stone-fruit country without stopping at a roadside stand for some cherries and peaches! Next we stopped to see the Clyde hydro damn. It’s the biggest concrete gravity damn in New Zealand. Although it is important for supplying power to the central Otago region it is very controversial. In 1992, 13 years after construction began, Lake Dunstan was created behind the damn and flooded much of the neighbouring town Cromwell. The town saved some of the old buildings and created a heritage street right on the waterfront which was interesting to see.
Just before you get to Wanaka there is a beautiful lavender farm. There are rows and rows of the sweet-smelling flower as well as a colourful garden to visit. It wasn’t lunchtime yet so we didn’t eat in the cafe but we did browse the gift shop and I sampled their delicious honey.
The town of Wanaka is situated on Lake Wanaka. We browsed the shops and I found a pair of thick merino-possum slipper-socks to keep my feet warm during the rest of the cold nights on our camping trip. After lunch we headed out to the family-run Cardrona Distillery that is the only distillery in New Zealand. It began production last year and now has single malt vodka (The Reid), gin (The Source) and orange liqueur (Rose Rabbit) for sale. They’re all delicious … ask me how I know. Their single malt whiskey (The Cardrona) was put into oak casks in 2015 and will be ready in just over eight years – that seems like a good time for a return visit!
Beside the Distillery is “Bradrona”: a fence covered with bras and a donation box for breast cancer. Random but interesting. No, we didn’t contribute to the fence.
The last thing on our must-do list for Wanaka was Puzzleworld. They have a very difficult and frustrating maze (tip: always keep left in a maze and you’ll get out eventually … saw that tidbit on TV once), an optical illusion room, and a room of games. The best part was the sloping room but I really enjoyed the whole place. My new merino-possum socks are so warm I woke up halfway through the night and had to take them off! We left Wanaka early and headed North stopping at a couple waterfalls on our way. There are so many Falls with crystal clear water everywhere here.
The west coast of New Zealand is a temperate rainforest and it rained off and on the whole way to Fox Glacier. Luckily for us it cleared once we reached the car park and began the hour return walk to the glacier. It was amazing to see what such a large mass of ice can create and how much it has retreated over the last century (there are signs indicating where it’s face was during specific years). The only safe way to get onto the glacier is via helicopter so we just admired it from afar.
We wanted to stop at Lake Matheson as it is a mirror Lake and on a clear day you can see Mt Cook reflected perfectly in the water but the weather wasn’t cooperating and we decided it was too cloudy. We did, however, see a pukeko! Pukekos are blue birds with a red beak and legs that prefer to run rather than fly.
Finally we ended our day in Franz Josef at the Franz Josef Montrose Hostel with a chicken stir fry for supper and a trip to the hot springs pools.