This is the story of a young hobbit named Frodo and a special ring. Wait! Wrong story, however, both are set in Middle Earth or other words New Zealand. Thanks to Kiwi Peter Jackson New Zealand is now one huge movie set. Everywhere you go you can visualize hobbits, elves, and goblins. I kept waiting for Galdolf to appear galloping on his horse wielding his magic staff. No such luck, but we did see one of the most beautiful countries on the face of the earth. New Zealand is a tale of two islands. The North Island is the hub of the country with three quarters of its population in cities like Auckland and Wellington.
The South island is the place where sheep out number men 8 to 1. Amy and I joked that no matter where we stood we could see a sheep. This was virtually true.
We flew into Christchurch after a horrendously long plane flight from Chile. We spent a couple days in Chile in cities of Pucon and Santiago.
Other than getting our truck stuck on a snowy back road on the side of an active volcano everything went pretty smooth. The crazy thing about the flight from Chile is that we crossed the international dateline and actually lost a day. November the 16th never existed for us. Amy was disappointed that is wasn’t her birthday.
After finally arriving in early in the morning in Christchurch we picked up our camper van from KEA rentals. Our first stop was the grocery store to pick up provisions for our 3-½ week trek around NZ. Problem was someone moved the steering wheel to the wrong side. Excited to finally be in an English speaking country they had to screw things up by driving on the wrong side of the road. Not only did I have to drive on the left side, but steer on the right side with a manual transmission in a huge RV. Good luck! All I have to say is watch out sheep! After my visit it might be down to 7 to 1.
Our itinerary entailed driving down the East Coast of the South Island and then heading North up the West coast to the ferry that would take us to the North Island and a visit with Amy’s parents. That was our rough draft of what we were planning but we left it open to stop and camp where and for how long that we wanted.
A small town called Akaroa was our first destination. Two minutes into our stop I made my first boneheaded mistake by tearing the power cord to the camper in half. Rule of thumb to all travels and that is ALWAYS carry duct tape.
Once the problem was solved we enjoyed our time there by taking a boat out of the harbour to site see on the coastline, which included a visit from a pod of Hector dolphins. This is one of the only places in the world to see Hector dolphins, which are the smallest dolphins on the planet.
We spent Amy’s birthday at place called Lake Tekapo.
The boys got a kick out of the name for some odd reason. The night we arrived Alex and I enjoyed a spectacular sunset while skipping rocks on the shoreline. The birthday the next day was celebrated with a beautiful hike and constant fighting. Always can count on the boys to make those special occasions memorable.
We headed into the mountains for our next stop. Our site was the foot of Mt. Cook. It was cold and stormy, but we were warm and cozy in our KEA. The next day it was pouring down rain.
We decided to take the hike up to Hooker Lake anyway. Granted we got soaked, but it was still a fun hike.
We made it too our next stop, which was Omaru, just in time to visit a site where you can witness Blue Penguins come to shore in groups of more than 50 and scramble up the beach and rocks to their homes. This species of penguin is the smallest in the world and only found in New Zealand and Australia. We didn’t camp in Omaru and pushed through to Denedin.
In Denedin we visited the local aquarium, a really cool museum (free), local yellow-eyed penguin beaches, and the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. At the hall we learned a lot about rugby and cricket. Go AllBlacks! To let you know how important sheep are to the culture there is a section in the hall for sheep shearing.
We made it to Curio Bay by nightfall.
Curio Bay stretched a couple of miles with empty beaches and a left to right break. Next door to Curio Bay was an interesting area, which is a Petrified Forest and yellow-eyed penguin nesting ground. The night we stayed happened to be the night of a full moon and we were lucky enough to enjoy a clear night with the moon over the bay. Sights like this are memorable.
Next stop for us was Milford Sound in the Fjordland National Park. I love saying the word fjordland. It just feels so good on the mouth. Try it and you won’t stop saying it all day.
Milford Sound was a beautiful place to visit but I think the drive to get there was even more spectacular. Every bend in the road led to more ohhhs and awwws. To make things more interesting we did a bunch of geocahes on route to the sound. This is always a fun distraction for the kids.
Adrenaline was on the menu at our next destination. Queenstown is the home of adventure sports and we were ready to tackle a few. Our biggest dilemma came in the form of when to celebrate Thanksgiving seeing that we were one day ahead of the United States. We settled on a date and named it ‘Adrenaline Day’. First, we headed to the boat launch to take a jet boat ride down the Shotover River. High speeds and many 360-degree spins later we were back in town and headed to the Kawarau Bridge for the big thrill. Standing 43 meters above the river is the first bungee jumping platform in the world.
Alex, Tyler, Amy, and myself accepted the challenge and took the leap. I even went for the head-dunking version. What a rush! It was one of the coolest things I have ever done. That night we eat Thanksgiving out of the camper with stuffing, potatoes, chicken (no turkey available), deviled eggs, and rolls. All I have to say is that Amy is awesome!
The next day we drove over the hills and came to Lake Wanaka. The kids were excited because we stayed at a park with a pool, trampolines, and a DVD collection. Outside of Lake Wanaka we went on one of the best hikes I have ever been on to a place called Rob Roy Glacier. At the glacier it was almost a surrealistic atmosphere. There were tons of waterfalls and a huge glacier coming off the mountain.
The best part was that nobody was around. Back at camp we jumped and swam for a couple days before boarding what the kids had now dubbed the “Rolling Turd” and hit the road for the North Island. However, first we stopped in Abel Tasman to enjoy some beach time. To get to Abel Tasman we had to pass through Greymouth. If anyone were following the news they would be aware of the unfortunate tragedy that took the lives of 29 miners. May their friends and families be in our prayers.
We proclaimed Abel Tasman the Birch Bay of the South.
It reminded us of our family cabin and we wanted to stay for an extended period, but we had a ferry to catch.
Before we met up with the in-laws however, we stopped for a hike around a volcano that might be familiar to Lord of the Ring fans, Mt. Doom.
This was near the location of my second bonehead move where I ripped the stair off of the camper van, but we won’t speak of that.
We met Amy’s parents near the Glow Worm Caves in Watimo. The kids were so excited to see their grandparents!
We visited the caves the next morning. It was like a ride at Disneyland. The “worms” are actually the larva of a knat, but it does make for a brilliant viewing.
We drove the next day to Rotarua, which I found to be overrated and smelling of rotten eggs. This is due to the many hot springs and geysers. The boys and I did Zorbing before heading out of town. Rolling down a hill inside of a giant clear ball is great fun.
The Bay of Islands was the next destination we had in mind. First we decided to stop at Goat Island. This turned into a pleasant side trip. Alex and I got a chance to get in a couple of dives and we stayed an extra night at the “hippie commune”.
The Bay of Islands ended up being a disappointment to us, so we headed south the next day in search of a beach and some sun. We made it to Wapito Cove and it was perfect. Miles and miles of empty beach, plenty of sun, and time with family. A great way to wrap up our time in land of the Kiwi.