today, I will tell you a bit about my first days in New Zealand.
The trip from Cambodia was looong: almost 40h spent on 4 differents flights: Phnom Pehn-Bangkok-Singapour-Sydney-Christchurch. The longest stop is in Bangkok, where I make a short visit to my friends Mr JC and Stephanie.
The most crazy one is in Singapour. At the Flyscoot transit counter, I arrive just after 4 groups of 15/20 chinese each. As you can imagine, the groups can’t wait calmly in line and instead people keep pushing each other to be served first.
After 1/2 an hour of pure chaos, only the group responsibles are allowed to stay at the counter and after another 30 mins, one of the Flyscoot employee realises that they mixed up all the passport of the 4 different groups and due to the pressure of the other passengers waiting to check in, sends the chinese away to sort their papers first 🙂
I finally arrive in Christchurch from Sydney at around 02:00am local time, with 2 hours delay (but I think it’s always the same with the last plane of the day of any company).
After I pick up my backpack, I take the taxi with another young german traveler met in the queue of the NZ customs to arrive at around 03:00am at the Guesthouse where I booked a bed.
My travel buddy didn’t reserve anything and unfortunately the guesthouse is full. Luckily for him, as the night is cold, the guy at the reception allows him to spend in his car.
I needed a good night to recover from the trip and so I wake up only shortly after noon. After a nice warm shower, I decide to walk a bit to explore Christchurch city center.
Christchurch is not a very big city and the afternoon is quite pleasant as I follow a street art circuit presenting urban art galleries, sculptures or paintings on buildings.
However, a lot of contructions are here to remember that Christchurch was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 2011. There are still a lot of building being repaired or rebuilt.
Day 2 (daily kms 0, cumulated kms 0)
Day 2 in New Zealand is actually the starting day of my road trip!
Indeed, after having done my laundry and checked out at the guesthouse, I take the bus back to the airport to pick up my camper van, which will be my home and my mean of transport for the next 4 weeks.
The vehicule includes a mini kitchen in the back, and back seats can be rearranged in a double bed for the night.
This way of travelling is very popular in New Zealand as the bus network is not very developed. For me it is easier to have my own vehicule to have the freedom to move wherever I want whenever I want.
Moreover, having a camper van allows me to spare accomodation costs. I still need to pay fees in some campings, but there are also a lot of freedom camping places where you can stay for a few nights for free.
Those places only offer the minimum (toilet and water supply) but it is more than enough for people with a real backpacker spirit.
I planned my trip based on the recommandations of some friends (thanks again Laure, Hayden and Nicolas) and for the hikes on the book NZ frenzy.
The first stop is a hike starting from a beach a few kilometers in the East of Christchurch called Taylor’s Mistake.
This hike is a nice easy 2 hours walk along the coast with a short ascent to a 150m high summit. This summit is a site with remains of the 2nd WW. We can find guns emplacements, bunkers and barracks.
It is a good first hike to warm me up for the rest of the trip 🙂
After that, I spend my first evening and night on a free camping place nearby with a nice view on the sea. As the place is free and small, it is quite full and I was quite lucky to arrive early to find a place.
Travelling in a camper van is very good to know people as it is easy to discuss with the neighbours in the small campings. In this one, my neighbours are 2 nice german surfers that I will meet again a few days later.
Day 3 (daily kms 38, cumulated kms 38)
I wake up around 08:00am to see that all my neighbours are already gone. In the rest of my trip I will learn that this is quite usual. People starts their day very early as it is necessary to stop the day at around 4/5pm to arrive early and find a place in the free or cheap campings.
After a quick breakfast, I hit the road to a mountain in the West called Mt Sunday.
/geek mode on
This mountain is quite famous as it was a filming location for the second part of Lord of the Ring The Two Towers.
There are many books listing all the locations used by Peter Jackson and his crew, but for my trip, the list provided by the NZ DOC (NZ Department of Conservation) is more than enough.
Here is the description given for Mt Sunday:
Mount Sunday: The capital of Rohan and home to Meduseld, the hall of King Theoden.
/geek mode off
The drive to Mt Sunday is epic as the landscape is simply beautifual and the end of the track is a nice 25kms gravel road 🙂
Arrived at Mt Sunday, the track to the top is quite easy and from there, I can enjoy a 360° view on the mountains around.
The second stop of the day is at Lake Tekapo. It is very famous for its very pure and blue water coming from the glacier. On the postcards, we can often see a small church called “Church of the Good Sheperd”. The view from the church is stunning but on the day I was there, it was packed with many tourists group.
At the end of he day, I will park my camper van a bit further in the south near Lake Poaka.
Day 4 (daily kms 416, cumulated kms 454)
Day 4 is reserved for a very famous and wonderful mountain: Mount Cook.
Mt Cook is a must for every traveler in the NZ South Island. The drive to get there along Lake Pukaki offers a lot of nice colorful postcard landscape during the first hours after sunrise.
There are 2 standard hikes to do to explore the area:
The first one is the Hooker Valley Track and is a quite easy 5kms walk that offers a lot of see: a blue river, waterfalls, fun bridges, mini lakes and ends with a beautiful view on a glacier.
The second one is the Tasman Glacier View Track. This hike is not so long but very steep and ends on the top of a hill with a super view on a glacier and its river transporting many icebergs.
After all those nice walks, it’s time to drive South East to come closer to Oamaru. I spend the evening and the night in a very nice free camping that is used during the day as parking for surfers. The location is incredible, and particularly the direct view on the beach.
Day 5 (daily kms 397, cumulated kms 851)
On day 5, I drive down along the East coast to come closer to the Catlins region. The drive is very pleasant as there is 90% of the time a view on the sea and many lookouts to stop and enjoy the scenery.
On my way, I stop at 2 interesting points.
The first one is the Moeraki Boulders. This is a beach with ball shaped rocks whose origins is not very sure.
Further down in the South, I am stopping at a location called Katiki Point. This location is quite famous as it is one of a few where it is quite easy to see pinguins. The observation is usually done from small wooden cabins, not to disturbed the animals, but this time I could see 2 on my way to the lighthouse.
In the afternoon, I make a quick stop in Dunedin and on the Otago Peninsula. I then spend the night camping on the parking of a horse race stadium.
Day 6 (daily kms 197, cumulated kms 1048)
This day will be spent on the exploration of the Catlins region.
The first stop is at Nugget Point. It is quite famous for its Lighthouse and for its bay called Roaring bay, where pinguins can be observed.
As I arrive there around noon, I can’t see any, as they are still looking for food in the ocean at that time.
After that, I drive further West to and stop at 3 nice Waterfalls, Purakaunui, McLean,and Matam. Each of them is easy to reach and I spent some time at each time to practise the shutter mode of my camera.
.The road along the coast between the waterfalls is also scenic.
My last stop is also the highlight of the day: Curio Bay.
This bay is famous was many reasons. First you can see a petrified forest on the beach. Second you can swim in the sea to meet Dolphins and finally it is a great spot in summer to sea pinguins coming back from the sea at sunset.
On that day, there was nobody in the water, maybe because of the low temperature of the water.
However, after 2 hours waiting on the beach at 06pm with many other tourists, we were lucky to see 2 pinguins coming back from the sea and walking in front of us to their hide.
Day 7 (daily kms 278, cumulated kms 1326)
Day 7 is quite light as I am a bit exhausted by all the kms driven so far and so I need a small breaak.
The only touristic stop I will do is the place called Waipapa where there s a nice walk to a lighthouse and good spots to observe sea lions.
For lunch I stop in Invercargill where I will also spend an hour swimming in the indoor pool of the splash palace swimming pool.
In the evening I drive a bit further West to arrive in the Fiordland region. I find a place in a free camping next to Lake Monowai.