Twelve Nights In A Tin Can, NZ South Island (Part 2)

The first half of our New Zealand road-trip took us from Christchurch to Te Anau, including an amazing visit to see penguins on the Otago Peninsula.

The weather has been very kind to us so far, despite the fact that we are heading into late Autumn and snow is visible on higher peaks. What’s more, after a week trapped in a moving vehicle, we’re all still talking to each other and keen to push on to our next destination.

Day 7 – Te Anau to Milford Sound (70 miles / 2-4 hours driving)

I have been looking forward to seeing Milford Sound since I first started planning our round the world trip. We set aside a whole day to get there, even though you could complete the miles in a couple of hours if you didn’t feel the need to stop.

There are no shops in Milford, or petrol stations for that matter, so after a re-supply in Te Anau we set off at a leisurely pace down the dead-end road. We were in absolutely no hurry. I barely got the camper above 60 kmph.

The road wasn’t busy and it was nice to be travelling at such a relaxed pace. The slower speed also suited the camper better, as the bone shacking vibrations calmed down a little and fewer pieces of crockery were flying around than usual.

The weather forecast for the day ahead was for some rain, followed by some really torrential rain, with a few showers thrown in for good measure. Milford Sound is renowned for being wet, and I kept telling everyone that rain was good because it would top up all the waterfalls.

Pretty sure my constant optimism can be somewhat annoying, but I feel it’s my job to keep up morale when the kids are wondering why on earth we are “going on holiday to somewhere rainy”.

Driving along the road to Milford Sound, nearly every bend seems to reveals a stunning panorama. The approaching clouds seem to make it even more atmospheric, and it feels as though you are approaching a hidden world.

Family travel blog - drive to Milford Sound

To get into Milford Sound requires driving through the 1.2km long, Homer Tunnel. Only opened in 1953, this is a one-way access route, with traffic lights at either end to control entry. The tunnel literally looks as though it has just been blasted out of the rock, with no cement lining and water dripping from the roof.

Travelling through the Homer Tunnel, on a steep downwards incline, we emerged into a world of waterfalls.

Family travel blog NZ

A bunch of Kea birds were gathered at the side of the road, clearly used to posing for photos. One of them jumped onto a nearby car and started to eat some plastic roof trim, so we decided to move on.

We got out to stretch our legs at the Chasm, which is around 10km before the end of the road. Kiera decided to sport a little off the shoulder arm-sling, following some over exuberant trampolining the day before. Luckily this didn’t impair either her ability to walk or her ability to complain about having to walk.

Family travel blog - driving to Milford Sound

There is a ten minute loop walk to reach the Chasm, which is a spectacular series of carved rocks, formed by torrents of water flowing through a narrow gully. The water was so powerful that you could hear it long before it became visible. Even the kids were impressed once we got there, which is saying something given that there was no gift shop for miles around.

Family travel blog

We stayed the night at Milford Sound Lodge, which has powered RV sites set amidst lush rainforest. The idea was to catch a morning cruise tomorrow, thus avoiding the crush of tour buses from Queenstown that disgorge people onto the lunchtime sailings.

Family travel blog at Milford Sound

The rainforest setting didn’t disappoint, as the heavens opened nearly all night. In theory this was excellent news, making for even more spectacular waterfalls along Milford Sound tomorrow. In practice, it also made it quite tricky to sleep, given that it sounded as though the rain was about to come through the campervan roof at any moment.

Day 8 – Milford Sound Cruise / Drive to Queenstown (180 miles / 4 hours driving)

We were booked onto the 10.30am nature cruise with Real Journeys, which would take us down Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea. And hopefully back again.

We were at the quay by 9.40am, keeping up my track record of always arriving way too early to catch any sort of transport connection. The kids are already fond of spending at least 3 hours in every airport we visit, on the basis that I refuse to arrive “late”.

As hoped, there weren’t any tour buses in the harbour when we set sail, so we had the boat nearly all to ourselves.

Family travel blog

The scale of Milford Sound is difficult to comprehend, because on all sides you’re surrounded by mountains rising vertically from the water, up to peaks reaching a mile high.

500 foot tall waterfalls appeared relatively small set against the surrounding vastness. It was only when the boat pulled over for a closer look that you could get some sense of perspective.

Family travel blog Milford Sound

We got incredibly lucky today. The overnight rain had died down, leaving in its place an amazing series of waterfalls.

Family travel blog at Milford Sound

We also spotted some fur seals relaxing on the rocks, which was a real bonus.

Family travel blog

The two-hour cruise was over too quickly and we could have happily stayed on the water all day.

Family travel blog at Milford Sound

Once back on dry land, we weaved our way past the newly arrived gaggle of tour buses, and hit the road to Queenstown.

Queenstown came as something of a shock to the system. After a serene morning in Milford Sound, I wasn’t prepared for the bright lights of town. I’ve got used to arriving into places with one high street and a small handful of people. This has suited me fine.

Queenstown seemed too busy for my liking. There were traffic lights, which hadn’t been necessary for the last few hundred miles of our trip, and an over abundance of stores selling bungee jumps.

It was dark by the time we arrived, but we set-off for a short walk around town to get our bearings and find some food. The town seemed more manageable once we had ditched the campervan and we were looking forward to exploring further in the day light.

Day 9 – Queenstown

Queenstown was much quieter at 9am than 9pm.

We spent the morning catching up on some laundry. Not spectacularly interesting I’ll admit, but after more than a week of camping, perfectly necessary.

Kiera had spotted a leaflet for the Queenstown luge ride back in Te Anau, which she had been faithfully carrying around ever since. She wasn’t quite so sure about the idea when she saw the gondola ride that was necessary to reach the top of the mountain, from where the luge ride descended.

At these moments, we’ve found that the best course of action is to move quickly. So we bundled her into the gondola before she had too much time to over think the health and safety implications of riding in a plastic box, attached to a bit of string, up a very steep hill.

Family travel blog

The luge ride was great fun. There was a beginners track suitable for the whole family, and a steeper track that meant I got to go really fast and pretend to be a racing driver.

Family travel blog Queenstown luge

The views back across Queenstown from the top of the gondola were also pretty special.

Family travel blog

After exhausting our driving skills, it was time to ease off the adrenaline and so we made our way back down the mountain for a few beers in Queenstown.

There were plenty of bars that we could have spent hours exploring in more detail, but bellies were starting to rumble. We headed for the long queue of people snaking out of Ferg’s Burgers to see what all the fuss was about. We had a very tasty burger and sat talking with a family from Canada who were also travelling around.

We learned that there were two potential routes to reach Wanaka, our destination for tomorrow, and our friends from Canada recommended taking the scenic drive across the Crown range. This turned out to be very good advice.

Day 10 – Queenstown to Wanaka (75 miles / 1.5 hours driving)

The scenic route between Queenstown and Wanaka involves winding up to an altitude of 1,100 metres across the Crown range. The road was open, which was a good start, but it makes you think twice that somebody has to decide whether the road is dangerous enough to be closed.

The drive rewarded us with some gorgeous views back to Queenstown and the surrounding mountains.

Family travel blog Crown Range

Puzzling World awaited us at Wanaka, with a giant outdoor maze and a series of indoor illusion rooms. We tackled the maze and appeared to be making good progress, until a highly irritating final corner kept us walking around in circles for what felt like days.

The illusion rooms provided some good photo opportunities, but I was keen to get back into the fresh air after an hour.

Family travel blog

Wanaka proved to be another lovely spot, with a high street of cafes and bars fronting onto a crystal clear lakefront. Situated around 300 metres above sea level, the town is close to some good ski fields, but for now the only snow was on nearby mountain tops.

Day 11 – Wanaka

With a whole day to explore Wanaka, we decided to hire some bikes and cycle around the lakefront.

What was supposed to be a gentle meander along a flat cycle path, soon turned into a five-hour expedition, involving more hills than I’d have preferred. The views were so amazing around each new corner, that we kept pressing ahead when we sensibly ought to have turned back.

Family travel blog

Feeling reinvigorated, but also a little exhausted, we hobbled back into town for some very late lunch at the Big Fig.

The remainder of our afternoon was spent recovering, before we hunkered down for a chilly night in the tin can.

Day 12 – Wanaka to Geraldine (180 miles / 4 hours driving)

It was time to start making some progress back towards Christchurch, as we have a date with a warm hotel bed.

We opted to take the inland route via Lake Tekapo and through MacKenzie country. This was New Zealand as I will remember it, with endless rolling hills and farmland, interspersed with unbelievable mountain views.

Most of the route was covered in low cloud, which meant we didn’t catch a good glimpse of Mt Cook, but the clouds lifted just enough at Lake Tekapo to afford us our last close-up view of the southern alps.

Family travel blog in New Zealand

We decided to stay the night in Geraldine. A quiet country town, named after an Irishman, James FitzGerald. We treated ourselves to some typical Irish fare, with a curry at the Royal India, which made up for several nights of beans on toast in the campervan.

Day 13 – Geraldine to Christchurch (80 miles / 2 hours driving)

A short final drive today, to give ourselves a chance to condense all of our belongings back into two suitcases. To make the job less stressful, we headed straight into Christchurch and parked up opposite the Margaret Mahy playground. While we should have been supervising the kids, we instead made short work of the packing.

Twelve nights in the campervan felt about right for our first attempt at living in the wild. We had an amazing trip and the van was the best way for us to get around so many places in a relatively short space of time.

Compared to the rest of our time in NZ, we also spent a little less money on day-to-day living costs, because we always had a fridge on hand to meet the kids’ voracious feeding time requirements.

We had one final night in Christchurch, staying in a hotel near the airport, ready for an early morning flight to Perth. It felt strange to be living back indoors, but it was nice to have a long shower in our own private bathroom.

Next Time

We’ve come to the end of our time in New Zealand. I have been looking forward to this visit for so long that I am sad to be leaving, but already thinking about how we can plan a return visit.

We’re heading to Australia next, starting with a week in Perth, before heading down to the southern coast of Western Australia.

Twelve Nights In A Tin Can, NZ South Island (Part 1)

Rather than skirting around the details, I intend to give you a full rundown of our twelve days in a campervan at the bottom of New Zealand. This may be useful if you’re ever thinking of planning a drive around the lower half of the South Island. Or tedious if you are not.

The driving distances are my approximations. Some of the driving times may seem surprisingly long, but our campervan wasn’t built for speed. Also, some of the roads around here can be a little interesting, with the odd one-way bridge thrown in to make sure you’re paying attention.

In total we covered around 1,100 miles, in a loop down from Christchurch to Dunedin, across to Milford Sound and then back to Christchurch via Queenstown and Wanaka.

We got the chance to experience some amazing wildlife on the Otago Peninsula, topped up on some adrenaline in Queenstown, and witnessed the majesty of Milford Sound.

We also drank plenty of cups of tea in roadside picnic areas, ate beans on toast in a few car parks, and enjoyed the delights of nightly visits to the toilet block.

Day 1 – Christchurch to Akaroa (60 miles / 1.5 hours driving)

I was nervous when we woke early to get our campervan on day one. Not entirely sure why, but I think the prospect of spending nearly two weeks trapped in a tin can may have had something to do it.

We’re not natural campers. Our sole family camping trip in the last ten years was one weekend, in a giant tent, near Cheddar caves. We had a lovely weekend, but needed a proper wash afterwards.

The reason for choosing to travel in an RV wasn’t particularly because we liked the idea of camping, but mainly because it would help us cover more ground. Without the need to plan daily accommodation, we could also be very flexible with our plans. As we were travelling outside of the peak summer season, we didn’t need to pre-book any campsites and were able to move freely whenever we wanted.

In terms of cost, the campervan was slightly more expensive per night than most of the real houses we have stayed in so far. However, I was hoping that the extra accommodation cost would be offset by lower daily food costs, as we could prepare all of our meals on the road.

We opted to rent a 6-berth van from Star RV and were happy with our choice when we picked up our van, bright and early on day 1. It only had 10,000km on the clock and seemed practically brand new. After 30 minutes in the car park finding out how everything worked, we were off.

We didn’t get too far initially, as we headed back into Christchurch to load up on supplies. At this point we discovered that the power point in the van didn’t seem to be working. We were only ten minutes from the depot, so returned to Star RV, aiming to work out whether we were being stupid or whether there was something that needed fixing.

It turns out that the power sockets would only work if we were hooked up to a mains power supply. Reasonably obvious with hindsight, but I did’t mind asking the question. With one little mystery solved, we finally hit the big road.

Our destination for day 1 was Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsula, not far from Christchurch. We’d heard that Akaroa was worth a visit, and we also wanted a relatively short journey to get to grips with driving our new home and setting it up in daylight.

Whilst not a long drive, the road to Akaroa does pass up and over some pretty spectacular hills, so we were soon crawling along, trying to keep at least three wheels on the tarmac. As we reached the top of the last climb, the views down to Akaroa were incredible.

Family travel blog - Akaroa

We arrived in late April, so the summer crowds had gone but the afternoon sun was still warm enough to warrant a few cold beers in our new garden. The kids went off to explore the playground.

As we were keen to stay flexible with our plans, we decided to exercise our freedom almost immediately by deciding that we’d stay for two nights in Akaroa rather than heading off tomorrow. The view was too good, the weather forecast suggested more sun, and the kids were nowhere to be seen, playing with some new friends.

Day 2 – Akaroa / Okains Bay

I went for an early morning wander around Akaroa while the rest of the family caught up on some sleep. Akaroa is the only former French settlement in NZ, but I was still surprised to see the gendarmerie in this part of the world.

Family travel blog - Akaroa

Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate any French patisseries to make the walking worthwhile, so instead I settled for a coffee from a newly opened café down the main street.

We packed up the campervan for a short drive to Okains Bay, on the other side of the Banks Peninsula. This gave me some more practice at manoeuvring around the mountains, and we wanted to make the most of some last warmth, before our journey headed south into less predictable weather.

Okains Bay was at least two miles of sand, in a picture perfect blue bay, with no signs of humanity. The most hectic scene all day was when we encountered some sheep on their way to fresh grass.

Family travel blog

Our first taste of campsite life was a blessing. We got a lovely pitch, with harbour views of Akaroa. The facilities were all spotless. The kids made several new friends and were off playing until it got too dark. I’d even managed to change over our water without breaking anything.

Day 3 – Akaroa to Oamaru (190 miles / 4 hours driving)

Our plan was to head down to Dunedin, before turning west towards Milford Sound. During a visit to a barbers in Nelson, somebody had recommended that we stop off in Oamaru on our drive down SH1.

SH1 is the main state highway in New Zealand, which runs all the way from Auckland to Wellington in the North Island, and then continues down to Invercargill at the bottom of the South Island. While it isn’t exactly a motorway, it’s the quickest route between Christchurch and Dunedin, and so we opted to get some miles under our belt rather than taking potentially more scenic options.

Oamaru was briefly a big town in the 1890’s following a gold boom. At the time, it was as large as Los Angeles. The boom didn’t last very long and the town become too poor to replace its Victorian infrastructure with more modern buildings.

The town now seems to rely quite heavily on tourism, with its relative abundance of Victorian architecture being a selling point. Oamaru also happens to be the birthplace of All Blacks legend Richie McCaw, but I didn’t see any signs of them cashing in on this yet.

Compared to most small towns in NZ, Oamaru does have some lovely examples of Victorian architecture. We’re probably not the target market for Oamaru given that we’re surrounded by Victorian buildings back home, but the town did have a nice quirky feel to it.

Family travel blog - Oamaru

What we don’t have back home though is penguins. At least not any wild ones that I know about. Oamaru does have a small blue penguin colony, and we were told that the penguins have been known to wander into our campsite at night.

Quite a few visits out in the dark, torch at the ready, proved that we weren’t going to be so lucky as to spot penguins this easily.

The penguins spend all day at sea, fishing, only returning to the shore each evening if they have young to feed. We could have paid for a grandstand seat at the main colony in Oamaru, but we decided to save our cash because we were planning to visit the colony on the Otago Peninsula tomorrow.

Day 4 – Oamaru to Otago Peninsula (75 miles / 2 hours driving)

A spit of land just off from Dunedin, the Otago Peninsula was on my “must see” list for this trip, on the basis that it sounded beautiful and we had a fair chance of spotting some wildlife.

On the way we stopped off for an obligatory photo shoot at the Moeraki boulders, although Alexandra refused to budge from her nice warm seat just for my benefit.

Family travel blog - NZ campervan

The sat nav was set for the Royal Albatross centre, which also happens to be home to a large penguin colony.

As the penguins only come back to shore at dusk, the daily tour was set for 6pm, so we had plenty of time to edge our way around Otago’s narrow and winding shoreline.

Family travel blog - Otago Peninsula

We caught a glimpse of a sea-lion during our drive, as several other cars had stopped ahead of us to take photos. I wasn’t quick enough on this occasion to get the camera ready as the sea-lion poked its head back under water and disappeared while I was juggling the camera case.

The penguins proved much easier to spot, as we were firmly encamped on a wooden platform above their nests as dusk fell. During the breeding season, this colony can have over 200 birds returning home each evening, but we knew the numbers would be lower because we’d missed peak season by a few weeks.

Family travel blog

The kids were becoming impatient after several seconds of waiting in the cold and dark, to spot some birds they’d already seen before at Bristol Zoo. But their mood improved rapidly as the first little creatures waddled up out of the sea. At first there were around ten penguins in a little group, looking slightly surprised to be surrounded by a group of tourists pointing cameras in their direction.

In total, we saw around forty penguins emerge from the darkness, and each new arrival on the shore was greeted with the same fascination. As we’d missed peak penguin season, we also missed peak tourist season, so we had nearly free rein of the penguin lookout and could follow each new set of arrivals back to their nest.

One particular bird got separated from the herd (I’m sure that’s not the correct technical term for a group of penguins, but you get the idea), and we watched it scramble around on the rocks for a few minutes. We were hoping the kids weren’t about to witness one of those David Attenborough documentary moments, when the lone penguin gets swallowed whole by a killer whale. At one point a group of seagulls flew overhead and the poor little bird raced for cover, presumably frightened by the size of the wings overhead and not worrying so much about the particular variety of bird that might be about to eat him. Fortunately for the penguin, everything turned out just fine, and after some final acrobatics on the rocks, he made it back home safe and sound.

As we were now pros on the campervan hook-up routine, we confidently sauntered into our Portobello road campsite in the pitch black. Everybody in New Zealand appears to go to bed by 9pm, so our only worry was keeping the noise down while the kids recovered from their all their wildlife excitement.

Day 5 – Otago Peninsula to Te Anau (180 miles / 4 hours driving)

I believe that the weather in Dunedin isn’t exactly renowned for blue skies, but it still came as something of a shock to wake up in the middle of a monsoon. After some decent weather in New Zealand, we were scratching our heads as to what to do on a rainy day in Dunedin.

I quickly generated an exciting list of indoor attractions, including a sprinkling of interesting sounding museums, but I couldn’t rally the family on this occasion. The kids decided that it was their turn to pick the day’s amusements. It was no great surprise when they decided we should go swimming as it had been at least a week since they’d properly got their heads underwater.

To soften the blow of another trip to the swimming pool, I managed to find a lovely pool that just happened to be bang in the middle of our route across to Te Anau.

The approach into Gore didn’t scream tourist stopover, but the local aquatic centre (some kiwi terminology for you), put our local swimming baths to shame. There was an indoor ice-rink attached for one thing, and the pool was perfectly set-up for families, with some inflatables thrown in for free. You’re lucky at our local pool if they let you in, and even if they do you have to work around whatever aqua-aerobic lessons happen to be taking place at the same time.

Even with some swimming to break up the journey, it felt like a long drive today. We opted for the quickest route again because we were keen to spend a few days around Te Anau and the Milford Sound, but there wasn’t too much to see on the way apart from farmland. A more scenic driving route would have taken us through the Catlins, but we’ll save that for our next trip.

Day 6 – Te Anau

A zero-mile day was welcome today, and the furthest we went was for a walk along the lake to the Fjordland National Park information centre. There wasn’t a huge amount to see here, but Alexandra managed to locate a short video on Milford Sound, which wetted our appetite for tomorrow.

Te Anau was a nice place to spend a quiet day, with a peaceful lake front and snow capped mountains.

Family travel blog - Te Anau

Our campsite was next door to a large kids’ playground, just off the main street, which kept the little ones happy while we caught up on some lounging.

A local pie shop, Miles Better Pies, provided a nice change from cheese sandwiches at lunch, but it’s still proving hard to beat the pies at Te Papa in Wellington.

Next Time

Part 2 of our journey around the south island. Very excited about cruising Milford Sound and then taking it easy around Queenstown and Wanaka.

Family Walkabout Christchurch, NZ

The coast road from Nelson to Christchurch is currently closed, due to a combination of last year’s earthquake and this year’s recent cyclones. So instead of stopping off at Kaikoura, as originally planned, we diverted onto the Lewis Pass and headed for Hanmer Springs.

The drive over Lewis Pass was stunning, with seemingly endless mountain wilderness and forests that went on past the horizon.

Round the world with my family at Hanmer Springs

We had been warned that the diversion around Lewis Pass could get quite busy, given that it’s currently the only available road into Christchurch from the Nelson area. Perhaps the road was busy by its usual standards, but it seemed eerily quiet to us, with just the odd lorry and camper van to keep us company.

Buller River Swing Bridge

Alongside some spectacular scenery, we also stopped off at NZ’s longest swing bridge, just outside of Murchison. Spanning the Buller river, the 110m wide swing bridge is part of a former gold mining settlement.

I’m not a huge fan of precarious looking heights. So my photos of the crossing were hastily constructed, while I clung for dear life onto the wobbly bridge that was allegedly going to transport us over the raging river far below.

The kids had no concerns, practically running across the bridge, calling for me to hurry up.

Round the world with my family at Buller River Swingbridge

A short walk through the bush bought us down to the Buller river and some pristine looking water. Pristine except for the presence of sand flies, which we are avoiding like the plague after suffering from the nuisance of itchy bites for several days after our last encounter in Kaiteri.

Round the world with my family at Buller river

At the kids request, we then decided to strap ourselves into a harness and fly back across the river to safety. As it turned out, this was a much more pleasant crossing than the rickety swing bridge.

Round the world with my family at Buller River

Anja took a little convincing on this one, but it was great fun and we would all have gone again if they’d let us.

Round the world with my family at Buller River zip wire

Stop Over In Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs is billed as NZ’a alpine resort, and the air did have a distinct alpine chill by the time we arrived in the late afternoon.

There is a ski area in the winter, but the main draw of Hanmer Springs, as the name might suggest, is some hot water springs.

We’ve already had our fair share of hot water pools after a week in Waikite Valley, but the kids never willingly turn down the chance of swimming. Chuck in some water slides and we’re there for the day.

Christchurch

Firstly, I need to make a confession. Despite lots of pre-trip planning, my Airbnb booking for Christchurch really wasn’t very good. The pictures looked nice and the reviews were all good, but as soon as we arrived something just didn’t feel quite right.

It may have been the broken front gate (first impressions?), or the damp in the bedrooms (not visible, but smell-able), or the freshly peeling paint in the front room (we’re being too fussy now).

Nobody said anything at the time, so we settled into our first night, with an unspoken determination to make the best of what we found.

Our first night didn’t exactly help matters, as we awoke to find a fresh covering of insect bites. I’m no expert on insect bites and we didn’t call in forensics, but we jumped to the conclusion that this place probably had bed bugs to complement the peeling paint, the damp and the broken gate.

The kids were happy because there were a variety of board games in place, but this wasn’t quite enough to induce us to stay any longer. Most of our Airbnb homes have been extremely nice and we managed to change our booking to an alternative house in Christchurch, which immediately improved our outlook on the town.

Earthquake Centre

It’s hard to walk around Christchurch without feeling that you’re in the middle of a post-earthquake building site. Which effectively you are.

One of the most shocking sights was Christchurch cathedral, in a state of near collapse and surrounded by hoardings to keep any overly curious tourists away from the now precarious lean-to structure.

Round the world with my family at Christchurch Cathedral

But it’s only when you stop and look around the cathedral, that you can see what has been lost. In the empty spaces that now fill what used to be the old town centre.

All around town are abandoned shops and office blocks, with concrete towers halfway through construction or in the process of being demolished. It’s sometimes hard to tell which.

Occasionally you stumble upon a new building that has emerged from the debris. Like the Christchurch art gallery, all shiny and new, looking a little lost amidst the quiet streets of Christchurch.

Other parts of town have a temporary feel to them, like the re-start mall. Hastily constructed from shipping containers, it’s become a tourist destination now, so perhaps it will outlive its intended purpose of providing a temporary home for shops displaced by the last quake.

The transitional cathedral, constructed partly from cardboard, is another temporary installation that feels too good to discard whatever happens to the original.

Round the world with my family in Christchurch, NZ

As a visitor to Christchurch, it’s inspiring to see how resilient people can be in the face of disaster. Creating new spaces to replace what has been lost. But I’m sure the reality is much harder than it appears on the surface.

Quake City

In the centre of town, next to the re-start mall, is this little museum that shares some of the stories from the last big earthquake.

In late 2010 there was a magnitude 7.1 quake, located 40km from the centre of town. But real disaster struck in February 2011, with a magnitude 6.8 quake just 10km from the centre of Christchurch. 185 people were killed in this second quake.

The museum contains some important artefacts that were recovered from the wreckage, but the heart of the place is a video playing on loop, where ordinary people tell their stories of the quake and its aftermath. Some people had stories of lucky escapes and close shaves. Some of the stories were harder to watch.

Margaret Mahy Playground

Located along Armagh street and next to the River Avon, the good people of Christchurch have built a new playground out of the rubble of their 2011 earthquake.

Unlike the new art gallery, this place was constantly busy in the late autumn sunshine and felt really alive.

Round the world with my family in Christchurch, NZ

It was free and had good coffee, so the kids were allowed to visit as often as they liked, which was most days. With a water play area, sand pit, climbing nets and a roundabout, what more can you ask for if you’re 6 and 9 years old. Perhaps an ice-cream or two, but apart from that, not much to argue with.

Governor’s Bay & Corsair Bay

A 30 minute drive from central Christchurch, Governor’s Bay was a great spot for some lunch.

We stumbled upon my favourite type of cafe, in the shape of She Universe, which had the perfect combination of great views and lots of chocolate. Anja and I opted for a sharing platter, with a selection of meats, cheeses and chocolate. Some of the combinations sounded a little unusual, but it all went down very well.

Corsair Bay was a perfect little spot to cool off after lunch. A small sandy beach and a sheltered harbour for swimming.

Kiera managed to track down a jetty that she could launch herself from, much to the surprise of most people on the beach given the sea temperature was less than tropical.

Round the world with my family at Corsair Bay

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Apart from some seriously creepy eel creatures, which the kids mysteriously loved feeding, this place was lovely.

A small slice of bush has been carved out of a Christchurch suburb and filled with a collection of native wildlife, along with a few more recently imported breeds.

Not to mention our first sighting of a real-life kiwi bird, although you couldn’t take photos in their nocturnal enclosure.

We went for an hour and ended up spending most of the day, with the kids liberally sharing their collection of bird and animal feed.

Round the world with my family in Christchurch, NZ

Come On The Crusaders

Our newly adopted rugby team is the Canterbury Crusaders, who were playing in town while we were there.

For the uninitiated, rugby is quite a big deal in New Zealand. Every school playing field has a set of posts up, and we’ve seen countless practice sessions and local games taking place as we’ve been driving around.

The Crusaders were playing against a team from South Africa, the Stormers, as part of a tri-nation league that also includes teams from Australia. I think it’s fair to say that the kiwis currently have the upper hand in this arrangement, and the Crusaders handed out a lesson to the Stormers.

The kids cheered every try and waved their Crusader flags, which they’d been given by some of the players on a walkabout in the Margaret Mahy playground the day before the game.

Round the world with my family at Crusaders Rugby

Hopefully the kids now have a new found appreciation of live sport and I can sneak in a few more games from around the globe as we continue our travels.

Next Time

Twelve nights in a campervan. Our first introduction to the delights of sleeping in a tin can. Hopefully we’ll love it, so I can then look for some really cheap re-location deals in Australia. If not, at least we’ll have tried.

Wellington to Nelson

The 5-hour drive along SH1 from Waikite Valley to Wellington was reasonably uneventful, mostly passing through a series of open plains and dairy farms.

We did manage to find another amazing NZ playground for the kids at Levin, which made a good pit-stop towards the end of the journey when the kids were starting to flag.

Wellington Waterfront

Round the world with my family in Wellington

Stretching all the way around Wellington, it’s hard to miss the waterfront. We walked or cycled along the waterfront most days, stopping at playgrounds and coffee shops along the way.

Round the world with my family in Wellington

The kids managed to uncover an indoor climbing centre at Fergs Kayaks, where I somehow managed to get roped into belaying.

Round the world with my family at Fergs Kayaks, Wellington

 

Te Papa 

I don’t need much excuse to drag the kids around a museum, but in the case of Te Papa we’d already had so many recommendations to visit that we simply had to go.

In the heart Wellington harbour, Te Papa is open 364 days of the year and is free to enter. Because it was free to come and go, we decided to spread our visit over two days to avoid burn out.

Te Papa is currently hosting a Gallipoli exhibition, which absorbed most of our first visit. It was so good that the kids wanted to go around again on our second day.

The Gallipoli exhibition tells the story of New Zealand’s contribution to this first world war battle. The aim was to push back Turkish troops from the Dardanelles strait, to secure allied control of this important link to the Russian Empire.

After landing on 25th April 1915 (ANZAC day), a series of battles proved hugely costly in terms of human life, but little ground was ultimately gained and troops were eventually withdrawn in December 1915.

The Te Papa exhibition tells the story of Gallipoli through a series of rooms, with some excellent interactive maps of the battlefield. But what makes the story so compelling is the individual examples of heroism, told through readings of letters sent home.

Round the world with my family at Te Papa

The fact that any acts of insubordination would likely have resulted in being shot by your own side, probably helped with motivation. But it is still hard to comprehend the bravery involved in charging up a Turkish hill, miles from home, to almost certain death or injury.

Knowing little of NZ history before our visit, Te Papa was also a good chance to brush up on our local knowledge. We learned about the initial settlement of New Zealand around 800 years ago, by people from the Polynesian Islands, followed by stories of European settlement from the 1840’s onward.

Te Papa also turned out to be a good place to grab some lunch, which was a nice benefit. I would highly recommend trying one of the meat pies.

Wellington Saturday Night Market

Having been slightly over-awed by the night markets in Kuala Lumpur, we decided to give the Wellington version a try. Centered around Cuba Street, a short stroll from the waterfront, was a delicious array of food stalls.

An eclectic, but tasty option for Saturday night dinner. We managed to eat from all corners of the world. Malaysian noodles, Spanish paella, Indian curry, all topped off with some Kiwi made waffles.

Scorching Bay

We managed to time our arrival into the windy city perfectly. There was no real wind and some late autumn sunshine.

Scorching Bay was only a 30-minute drive from our base in Lower Hutt, so we headed there to test out the water. It was freezing.

The beach was very lovely, and not particularly busy given it was a gorgeous sunny weekend.

At home, I’d expect hour-long queues just to get into the car park on a sunny Sunday at the seaside. But one of the benefits of being in a country larger than the UK but with only 4.5 million people living here, is that you don’t often need to queue because there’s not often many other people around.

One of the things I’m liking most about NZ is this glorious combination of amazing places to visit, without the usual crowds that you tend to get whenever there are nice things to do. Call me anti-social, but it’s just nice to turn up somewhere and know you can park the car and walk around without needing to pre-book anything.

Kiwi Playgrounds

Another thing that we’re all enjoying about being in NZ, is the quality of the playgrounds for kids. These may not be top of every traveller’s itinerary, but when you’re dotting around places with a 6 and 9-year old, then it’s very helpful to have a sprinkling of free amusements to smooth the day.

Wellington managed to have a good little playground in the middle of the waterfront, at Frank Kitts Park, plus another mega-complex of climbing nets and slides at Avalon Park, which was near our house in Lower Hutt.

Round the world with my family in Wellington

Nelson

Given our lack of seafaring capabilities, we opted to catch the 45-minute plane ride to Nelson rather than the more scenic ferry route.

The kids thought it was amazing to sail through an airport without any security checks whatsoever, and they were even more amazed when we arrived into Nelson airport and were through the other side in around thirty seconds, waiting for our luggage to be deposited in the car park.

Cyclone Cook was supposedly heading in our direction and the weather forecast for much of NZ was covered in apocalyptic warnings of flooding and tsunamis.

It was lucky that I’d booked us into a beach house, in the sunshine capital of Nelson.

After a couple of wet days, where we managed to explore most of Nelson’s indoor attractions and swimming pools, we finally got a glimpse of the beach at Tuahanui.

Nelson’s Saturday morning market was a fun-filled collection of local food and craft stalls. We managed to emerge with full bellies and a couple of takeaway items, including a delicious local chocolate spread called Chocoyo.

Nelson is also well placed for day trips to the Abel Tasman national park, around an hour’s drive away. We made a visit to Kaiteri, on the southern tip of the park, which contained a brilliant turquoise sea and was just about warm enough to enjoy a swim.

Round the world with my family at Kaiteri Beach

Kaiteri is the launch point for multiple cruises up the Abel Tasman coast, but we were happy enough to enjoy a day splashing in the shallows.

Next Time

A pit stop in Hanmer Springs (“NZ’s Alpine Retreat”), followed by a few days in Christchurch.

A Week With The Cows In Waikite Valley, NZ

After some fun on the beach in the Coromandel, our next stop was a dairy farm in the Waikite valley, just south of Rotorua.

I thought the girls might be disappointed leaving the beach behind. As it turned out, this was their favourite week of the trip so far.

Waikite Valley

Our new surroundings reminded me slightly of Ireland, except with more sunshine and fewer pubs.

Family-Travel-Blog-Waikite Valley

Ireland also doesn’t generally have boiling hot river water. Whereas we managed to spend quite a bit of time floating around in some pretty hot water, at our new favourite thermal pool.

Round the world with my family at Waikite valley thermal pool

This region of the north island is famed for its geothermal activity, which seems to boil down to having a particularly thin layer of earth standing between it and some extremely warm volcanic material.

At the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, you can walk to the spring that is producing a constant stream of fresh water at 98c. This is cooled down in a series of separate pools, before you enter it in a healthier temperature range of 38-40c.

Unlike Rotorua, the air here does not have a sulphur smell, so we were all extremely comfortable spending a few hours in the healing waters. The pools are open until 9pm, so we particularly enjoyed coming down after dark, to enjoy the cooler air and to catch some stars.

Milking the Cows

Another good find through Airbnb, our cottage in the Waikite valley came fully equipped with a herd of cows and an especially nice family.

By 7.30am on day 1, the kids were both fully dressed, welly boots at the ready, awaiting the arrival of their new best friend, Stephanie.

We went to meet some of the younger cows first, but even the babies seemed fairly large up close, and the kids were wary of getting licked to death.

Each new day arrived with the same unfamiliar eagerness to get dressed and have breakfast, before the cows needed fresh pasture. It was very sweet to the see kids so excited each morning, and literally waiting at the door for the sound of the farm jeep approaching.

Round the world with my family dairy farming

After requiring a chaperone on their first day, my services were no longer required. As soon as they spied Stephanie approaching, they were both bounding down the drive. Gone for the next hour, apparently in heaven, come rain or shine. Helping to move fences around so that the cows could access their next dose of fresh grass.

Our amazing hosts then made us all get up early one morning, to go and visit the main herd for milking time.

Round the world with my family milking the cows

These cows were altogether bigger than the kids had got used to, and you could immediately tell that Lexi wasn’t quite as keen as her sister. This may have been because she’d been woken up too early, or perhaps she wasn’t altogether happy about the distinct aroma that filled the air.

Round the world with my family milking cows

By this stage of the week, Kiera had all but decided that her future lay in farming. She’s pretty determined once she sets her mind on something, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see her back on a dairy farm at some point in the future.

Stephanie, along with her husband Steve, let the kids get right into the action, and they had a go at placing the milking tubes onto one of the herd.

We then got to have a little try of the fresh milk, at which point Lexi let it be known that she’d be happier getting her milk from the fridge. She did give it a go eventually, but she wasn’t converted.

The kids were sad to leave “their” cows behind. We had all been made to feel very welcome, and it was nice being back in some country air.

Waikite valley was a perfect spot for us, and it was also handily placed for day trips into Rotorua and Taupo.

Whakarewarewa Maori Village

Aside from geothermal activity, a strong Maori presence is one of the other notable features of visiting Rotorua.

We opted to visit the Maori village at Whakarewarewa, rather than the government run set-up at Te Puia. Both sites have viewing points to the Pohutu geyser and we preferred to visit a real community rather than a museum.

Our visit started with a cultural show, which was going well until they invited some audience participation.

Round the world with my family in Maori village

We were then taken on a tour of the village by one of the local guides. It did feel slightly odd to be taking a tour while people were busy going about their daily lives, but we discovered that this has been happening in the village for the last hundred years. Even the Queen has done a tour, so I guess it must be ok.

Despite watching for an hour, we couldn’t seem to get the Pohutu geyser to spray more than a few feet of water, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Redwoods Treetop Walk

One evening we did manage to drag ourselves away from the thermal pools to visit the Redwoods treetop walk in Rotorua. A 500-metre walkway, suspended up to 12 metres off the ground, held up by bits of rope.

We visited in the evening, just before sunset, so managed to glimpse the forest in daylight and see the night lights being switched on.

Huka Falls at Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo looks spectacular in most photos, but we decided to visit on a day of grey skies and torrential rain.

I wanted to see Huka Falls, and the kids were eventually impressed by the sheer force of water cascading down in front of them.

Round the world with my family at Huka falls

Seeking shelter, we spent most of the afternoon at a glass making studio. Whilst initially being an excuse to get indoors, Lava Glass turned out to be an unexpected diamond.

It was fascinating to watch the glass blowers at work, creating elaborate and beautiful sculptures from fragments of sand.

If we hadn’t been travelling on a budget, I may have been tempted to spend some money in the gallery. Instead we limited ourselves to a hot drink and cake.

Next Time

We’re off to see the bright lights of Wellington, which will be our last stop in the North Island.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: