The long white cloud - from North to South

Now the New Zealand adventure is coming to an end. And the second road trip was definitely not a repetition of the first one. Some places I went twice, but always discovering new things to do and taking more time to enjoy than in the previous marathon.

Day 1
The first day, we decided to enjoy Auckland before heading south, so we went to the Auckland Museum, which was kind of a rip-off compared to Te Papa, as it is 20$ for a much smaller museum, made of bits and pieces of everything. And at the end of the day, we tried the Angus Steak House, which serves absolutely fabulous pieces of meat, that was a treat!

Day 2
On our way to the Coromandel peninsula, we went through Paeroa, birthplace of L&P, the "good lemonish stuff, worldwide famous in New Zealand", but I was disappointed in the L&P café to see that the L&P Fish&Chips doesn't involve any cooking with actual L&P...

We then passed through Karangahake Gorge, offering some vestiges of the Gold Rush, before heading to Waihi Gold Mine, which was impressive.

After that, we took a detour to Waihi Beach, which is a nice long beach with good surf, but the weather was not that good for us to take more than our feet in the water...

Day 3
Our stop for the night was at Te Aroha, a nice little town which has apparently seduced the Lonely Planet with its name (the Love in Maori), and which is the proud owner of a Truck dragging contest! While my friends went to Hobbiton from Matamata, I explored Wairere falls, which are I think the highest falls on the Northern Island.

We then arrived in Rotorua and while my friends visited Te Puia, I walked around Kuirau Park, to see some cool geothermic features for free!

At the end of the day, we went for a drink, and I tasted the Waikato draught, which was just like any other draught in this part of the world, a bit tasteless.

Day 4
We actually managed to arrive in Wai-o-tapu just in time to see Lady Knox erupting - that is to say, before 10 am, but unlike the Old Faithful in Yellowstone, Lady Knox erupts every day at the same time because it is triggered by the people managing the park, which was a bit disappointing, but the shower at the end of the show (see what I did there?) was cool.
Then, while my friends went on to visit the rest of the park, I myself went to Waimangu volcanic valley, which is around the same price as Wai-o-Tapu, and offers some nice volcanic features.
like this one

or that one

We then hit the road to arrive at Tongariro in the middle of the afternoon. I must say, driving on the same road but toward Tongariro was really worth doing, because the first view you have is superb. And we also enjoyed a bit of Lake Taupo
where black swans are not schizophrenics

Day 5
After an energetic dinner and breakkie, we started the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at around 8 am, a little bit after the main groups, and enjoyed the beautiful morning while walking in Mordor. It's incredible the difference a week of good weather can make up there, and while the snow had made it pretty the first time, it was really enjoyable to walk in the sun.

And in the middle of the track, I did what I wanted to do the first time: I left my friends to finish the longest part of the track, the descending part, while I went down the same way I came up, and I must say, it makes it shorter and a bit more enjoyable, especially since you almost have the track to yourself.
also, a nice picnic area

You cross the path of the Northern Circuit trampers, and of some late sleepers who didn't want to pay for the shuttle, but most of the time, you're on your own, with only the few sounds of the Nature surrounding you.

At the end of the day, I picked my friends up and, too exhausted to even cook dinner, we ate plenty at the Schnapps pub, and even enjoyed a Kiwi Pavlova. While my friends drank a fruity Bramble's cider, I tasted the Ruapehu lager, and what can I say, except that my palate isn't quite accustomed to such drinks... I still have a soft spot for belgium beers...

Day 6
Having time to spare and legs to rest, we took off rather late the next day, enjoying SH4 to New Plymouth,  which gets incredible when approaching the coast. We stopped to see the Three Sisters, a nice rock formation

Then, finally, Taranaki revealed itself.
it's true that aesthetics come in geometric forms

We spent the rest of the day walking around New Plymouth, which is a lovely little coastal town, living from the little oil&gas industry in the region, and from its beautiful surroundings.

Day 7
In the morning, we started the beginning of the 3-day track around Taranaki to enjoy a view of the summit.
but it was shy and hid from us...

We then headed to Wellington via SH45, the "Surfing Highway" that drives around the peninsula, especially since I wanted a picture with the Cape Egmont Lighthouse.

Day 8
Arriving in windy Wellington the previous afternoon, we leisurely enjoyed a whole day in the capital city. We walked on the Oriental Parade, discovered the statues spread along the wharf,
including this tripod

then headed to the hipster ambiance of Cuba St. If Auckland is Sydney's rival, then Wellington is definitely Melbourne's, especially on the caffeine part. But I enjoyed Wellington better, because there's also a "little town" vibe to it, and it doesn't take itself seriously. Beside, the wharf is a really nice walk, and Te Papa being free really adds to the whole picture.

Day 9
The next day, we took the ferry to Picton, and here I must point out that I really prefer Bluebridge to Interislander to cross Cook Strait, as there is free wifi and reclinable seats on the former.
We then hit the road to Motueka, going through different wine tasting along the way. We tasted a nice Pinot Gris in a little "boutique" vineyard, some sugary dessert wine and even drove through Tasman, a little city not far from the highway, to enjoy the view from the cliffs.

Day 10
That day was for me a real experience, a I did my first skydive!
you're supposed to read "over 9000 (ft)"
(One more thing crossed on my Impossible List)
I won't get too lyrical, because it's really indescribable, you need to experience it and see the world from up there with your own eyes, so I'll just concentrate on two things:
The first one: location, location, location. I wanted to do this one because I knew that Abel Tasman was worth seeing from the sky. But I had no idea how much that was true. Especially since we could also see Taranaki above the clouds, that was really amazing.
The other thing is that I was really surprised to see so many couples doing it, as for me it is something that you purely experience on your own. I mean, apart from your Tandem Master, there's just you jumping out of an airplane, flying, enjoying the scenery, and being aware that the ground is getting closer.
No need to say it but I'm going to anyway: I loved it! I loved it so much that I didn't do anything the rest of the day, because I didn't want to spoil the feelings I had in the morning. But The Laughing Kiwi, the YHA we stayed in Motueka, is a really cosy place to chill out.

Day 11
Before hitting the road to Hokitika, we tasted some more wines not far from Richmond, especially a light Blanc de Noir and a fantastic dessert wine that just made me long for some french cheese (my only Frenchy weakness).
Arriving at Hokitika in the middle of the afternoon, we enjoyed the beach before feasting at Fat Pipi Pizza, where I took the white bait pizza, that I highly recommend.

Day 12
We went on SH6 in the morning, to enjoy Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, and as I didn't have time to enjoy it the first time, it was really nice to really see Franz Josef.

We then headed to Wanaka via Haast Pass.

Wanaka is a great little town, enjoyable as much during the summer than during winter. I can imagine that in winter, it gets less busy than Queenstown, but the sensation of skiing with a lake at your feet must be the same, that is to say quite nice. At the periphery of the town is a golf course, and I mention this one out of the gazillion courses there is in New Zealand, because the view is simply fantastic.

I must also mention the YHA there, because some 6-bed mix shared dorms have ensuite bathroom AND a private kitchen for less than 30$ a night. A never-seen-before for me.

Day 13
The next day, we took the road to Te Anau, crossing the path of several vineyards, and one particular cheesery where I just couldn't hold myself anymore and bought some nice New Zealand cheeses. We arrived at Te Anau for lunch, not even stopping in Queenstown, and enjoyed simply walking along the second largest lake in New Zealand.

Day 14
That day we woke up early, and it was really worth the effort. The light was sublime, there was no wind so good reflections on the lake and the clouds formed like collars around the mountains.

Otherwise, the sky was spotless blue, and while my friends went for a cruise on Milford Sound - where they enjoyed watching some seldom seen whales, I walked the rather easier than expected Key Summit track, where I could enjoy 360° of awesome views.
view of the beginning of the track

One of the best picnic areas on the whole trip
In the middle of the afternoon, we headed off to Queenstown, where there too we walked along the lake, for a drink at the Pub on Wharf, with good cider and nice live music.
Wakatipu at sunset

Day 15
Our goal for the day was Mount Cook, but we decided to take a small detour through the Alpine Scenic Route, offering some nice stops along the way to Cardrona.

Then, we went through Lindis Pass, which was for me totally unexepected in terms of landscapes. New Zealand was for me either hilly green, or snowy white or volcanic dark, but not that weird desert landscape.

Then, approaching Mt Cook, we stopped at the Salmon Farm (which contrary to what Lonely Planet says, was not the freshest), then enjoyed the surreal color of Lake Pukaki,

before arriving at our YHA in Mount Cook village. As we were short on time, we did the easy Kea Point track, which led us at the feet of the Mueller Glacier.

It was amazing because twice we heard it roar as some ice and rocks were falling in the valley. The sound it makes, echoed through the mountains, is really powerful.

Day 16
The last day, finally, started with one stop at the Pukaki Visitor Center Lookout, then Lake Tekapo's,

before driving through Burke's Pass and the Inland scenic route SH72. The theory is that they chose this road as scenic to prevent more people on SH1, because there's only one thing to see, some gorges I can't remember the name of, and it's probably not worth the detour.

Then we continued on SH77/73 to Christchurch. When I first came to this town, I didn't realize how damaged it was from the 2010/2011 series of earthquakes. But then we went to Cathedral Square, which is one big open wound in the city center.

On our search for dinner, we found out that some restaurants still listed on Google don't exist anymore, and after 3 attempts at restaurants that were all fully booked, we discovered the genuine gem called Astro Lounge. It was simply perfect and I was glad our other attempts failed: geeky atmosphere, live music, good food.
the entrance puts you directly in the right mood
At this point, I would have loved to put a picture of their fun menu, but that wouldn't be fair, as I think you ought to discover it by yourself and count all the references.
So, what more could we need?

I must write an addendum just to mention the road around Kaikoura that is really spectacular. I did it on an Intercity bus from Chrischurch, so it was frustrating that I couldn't take any pictures (and it was raining anyway), but I really recommend the road both entering and exiting the little whale city.

Well, that's it for New Zealand... for now... Haere Ra!


The Long White Cloud - from South to North

After my first road trip, I can only say: "I want to see more!" 16 days are clearly not enough to really enjoy and take in all the beauty of New Zealand, but it's enough to realize how beautiful this country is. I said it previously, because I expected as much, but now I know.

Day 1
After arriving in Christchurch, we took possession of our self contained camper van and, as we only had the afternoon left, we drove to Akaroa, the so called french town of New Zealand. First of all, there's nothing remotely french in the little town, except that some streets and shops are in french, but definitely nothing french in the landscape. You have two ways of accessing Akaroa: one with the state highway, the other with the scenic route that goes up the edge of the crater forming Akaroa, and gives the best sights as it is higher than see level. The peninsula is formed by two craters, one of them being connected to the ocean, and since it was our first view of a totally different feature of Nature, we were quite amazed
kodak moment
Day 2
Next day was the Tranzalpine, from Christchurch railway station to Greymouth and back. We were lucky that the weather was quite good on both side, so we gorged ourselves of our first sighting of the New Zealand Alps. The ride itself is very comfortable, and there is a wagon in the open air to enjoy the views to their fullest (unfortunately, it's positioned too close to the head of the train, and the fuel smokes can get to your head). Usually, at Arthur's Pass, the train is supposed to go through a tunnel, but as there had been a mining incident, we were lucky enough to see a bit more on the buses getting us to the other side.
snowy summits on both sides
Greymouth itself is so small that one hour is more than enough to see it. You can walk on the beach and eat at a local café before going back on the train.

Day 3
After the Tranzalpine, we tried to drive as far south as possible because we knew we had a long road ahead to go to Invercargill, so we ended up in Timaru with our first freedom camping in the middle of nowhere
So on day three we went on with the SH to Invercargill. on our way, we stopped at the Mauraki Boulders, weird round natural formations that ended up on the beach
But right after that, the famous wet weather of New Zealand took over us, and the sunset we wanted to see in Bluff happened to be grey clouds and pouring rain.

Day 4
As the weather started to clear up, we went on to Maupouri, where we arrived just in time to decide on the spot to do an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound. The weather promised to be nice before a week of rain, so we didn't hesitate long and we were glad for it. Doubtful sound is not accessible by road, and only Real Journeys organize either day tours or overnight cruises. I personally really recommend the overnight cruise, because for "just" 205$ on specials, you explore a magnificent Sound, can do some kayaking, even swim in it (very cold, I tell you), and gorge yourself with delicious food. You first need to take the boat on the Maupouri lake, then a bus to the Sound...
...with a stop in this Pass
And finally you arrive at your comfy boat
Needless to say that Doubtful Sound is really worth it, and not only for its spectacular fiords, but also for the aquatic fauna: we saw seals, penguins, dolphins, and on board you have a very interesting Nature Guide that explains everything you need to know about the Nature around in an entertaining way.

Day 5
On the morning of the cruise, we were delighted with a pink sunrise clear of clouds, except photogenic ones
Something I found very interesting was that at one point, the Nature Guide asked the crew to stop all the engines of the boat, and all the passenger for silence and electronic equipments powered off. It was just us and Nature, and in a way it was very humbling, a small human in this amazing natural structure...
At midday, with our eyes filled with Fiords, we went back to Maupouri and took the road to Te Anau and the fabulous Te Anau to Milford Sound highway. We were lucky enough to see the Sound just before the rain started, 
with an up closed view of the falls in the cruise we took at the end of the day. 
But unfortunately, rain did start, and we left with grey clouds stopping us from seeing the summits.

Day 6
The rain did not stop the next day, but we still stayed the day driving around on the Te Anau to Milford highway, because even though the thick fog prevented us from seeing anything about the Sound itself, it did wonders transforming the spectacular mountain formations with a thousand temporary falls

Day 7
As the rain still didn't stop the next day, we went back to Te Anau, to watch the movie Shadowland, a 30-min movie featuring the Sounds from the air, really worth seeing. Then we took the road to Queenstown. On our way, we took a detour to lunch at Lake Mavora.
worth it
And we went on SH6, with fabulous views of Lake Wakatipu before arriving in Queenstown, where we were lucky enough to have a wee bit of sunshine.

Day 8
Day 8 was battery problem day, as any road trip should have. But that's ok, because the rain was still going wild and everything there was to see was above cloud level. We still drove to Glenorchy, which must be really nice in the sun

Day 9
Next day we took off towards Fox Glacier, still on SH6, via Cromwell, with astounding views of Lakes Hawea and Wanaka. We went through Haast, Knights Point and Mount Aspiring NP (which probably deserves more than just a drive through), before stopping for the night at Bruce Bay, on the waterfront.

Day 10
Finally the day we were waiting for arrived, and with it, a perfect clear blue sky! We spent the full day on Fox Glacier, exploring all the ice features that this Ice-Age old formation could offer. Really worth the price compared to the half day, as you can really see it up close
As the day ended around 4 PM, we still had time to see Franz Josef at sunset, but then again, this massive Glacier probably deserves more than 2h to explore.

Day 11
Our goal the next day was Abel Tasman NP, but we soon realized that 1. we would be short on time for the Northern Island, and 2. that Abel Tasman is mostly explored by foot, as there are no sealed roads on the coast. We first drove through Ross (with some Gold Rush features), Hokitika (where I bought a nephrite stone), stopped a long time at the amazing Pancake Rocks and their impressive blowholes.
We stopped an even longer time at the beach down the Truman Track, then drove on through Perfect Strangers Beach, the Hope Saddle lookout, just in time for a sunset at the edge of Abel Tasman
We then drove on to Picton, and stopped for the night at Rarangi Beach

Day 12
Again, Rarangi Beach and its surroundings probably deserve more than an overnight stay
but we needed to catch the first Bluebridge ferry from Picton to Wellington at 8 AM. Arriving at Wellington just before noon, we took the time to go to Te Papa for some much needed and very interesting insights on Maori culture.
We then drove on to Turangi, where bad weather awaited us...

Day 13
And indeed, the next day, the day we wanted to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the visibility was just horrible, so we decided to drive on up north before going back to Tongariro on a nicer day. We then arrived to Rotorua via Lake Taupo, where we were ripped off at Te Puia to see the "World famous" Pohutu Geyser, and paid a little less to be amazed by Wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland, and Champagne Pool.

Day 14
The next day, we drove on to Matamata and the Hobbiton movie set. At first, I wanted to see it just because I could, but I wasn't convinced that I would enjoy it, scared as I was that it would seem too fake. But how wrong I was! The weather was lovely, which did help, but even then, the place is more of a life sized real hobbit village than a movie set per say. Flowers were blooming, and the complimentary drink at the Green Dragon at the end of the 2h visit is very tasty. I recommend this tour to every one, it's very informative. Did you know for instant that one of the most expensive set accessories was the tree above Bag's End? It's artificial, costs 1.8 millions $, has 450 000 leaves assembles in more than 2 years, and is a nice piece of engineering: made of steel, carbon fiber and expanding foam, it can withstand any weather and is lightening proof.

We then headed to the Waitomo Caves, literally Water Hole Caves, to see the Waitomo glowworms and explore Ruakuri cave. The latter is very nice to see, but the former is much more impressive, especially when the guide shuts up and drive the boat silently in the cave for us to admire the worms glowing and reflecting on the water. Just like in Doubtful Sound, it was one of these moments when it's just you and Nature, face to face.

Day 15
As the weather promised to be clear, we went back to Tongariro NP, fully prepared. We took one of the shuttle to the beginning of the Alpine Crossing Track, at 7 AM, and went our way on the 19.4 km long track. I must say, this is one of the most amazing day track I've done, especially the first half, where you walk among desolate volcanic landscapes that still manage to amaze your eyes with wonderful colors.

The ascending part of the track is hard, but it's well worth it, and you feel proud when those magnificent views underneath unfolds in front of your eyes thanks to your efforts.
The other half of the track, the descending part, is a bit less interesting, and it gets longer and longer as you pass the Hut towards the Car Park when the shuttle picks you up. Apart from the fact that you cross an active volcano area, and you can see it all around you, one of the most interesting parts of it is that suddenly, you find yourself in the middle of the rain forest.
Still pretty cool, but you finish the day exhausted.

Day 16
Our last day had to arrive at one point, but as the weather was still pretty nice, we lingered in Tongariro, to enjoy the views from the then closed Whakapapa Ski station
and the lovely spot of Tawhai Falls
before hitting the road on to Auckland, being gratified with a beautiful sunset on Rangitoto

Aaand that's it for my first road trip. It evidently shows not much of the beauties of New Zealand, and this article impossibly achieves being both too long and too telegraphic... But I really hope the second road trip will enable me to enjoy this country even more!