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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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
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...
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.
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.
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.
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!