It was supposed to be a very short stop-over only – we ended up staying a total 7 nights. On the way to Milford Sound we stopped at a campground 60 km away from Te Anau. Basically it is in the middle of nowhere, you won’t find much more than a petrol station and a minimarket. But the campground we found is a true travelers-gem. As it turned out, it should be the best campground on our whole trip. Our stay at Mossburn Country Park was pleasant right from the start: everything was well organized and very clean. Stuart and Colleen (owners of the campground) had a pet lamb (abandoned by its mother), a few sheep, alpaca, chicken, a cow, a dog (called Andrew), a pie choc and a pie hen. As Niels needed to work on his presentation for his PhD defense, the true free Wi-Fi was much appreciated. Most camp groups offering “free Wifi” hand out a voucher for 25-45 MB of data!! We liked the place a lot and extended our stay for one more night, the day after we extended it by another night.
Becoming friends with Stuart and Colleen is every easy. They are lovely and welcoming people. We got invited for dinner as well as coffee and Eva went with them to a “festival” in “town”. We (especially Niels) truly enjoyed the time in our camper without any driving. After 3 days we decided to drive to Milford Sound but the weather conditions didn’t allow us to. The road was closed for 1,5 days due to snow and fallen trees therefore we enjoyed 2 more days on the campground – chatting with our neighbors, Coleen and Stuart and playing with Andrew.
Finally with a delay of 4 days (without any regret) we headed to Milford.
Curious lamb exploring the surrounding
Unfortunately we have to admit: it is true the South Island is more spectacular than the North Island.
The planning for the total kms to be driven was 3.500. After leaving the North Island we already drove 2.500 km. Therefore, a decision was made: to make our journey more enjoyable we skip some parts on the South Island. Starting off on the east coast, going down south through the Catlins and the Fjordlands we finally made a turn West to our final destination Queenstown.
Surprisingly Evas birthday came up on our way from North to South. It would have been the best birthday ever… The day started with a perfect breakfast: croissants, a birthday cake and a great latte macchiato while enjoying the view of the snow-capped mountains. At noon we were booked-in a whale watching tour in Kaikoura, where marine animals (e.g. whales, dolphins) are plentiful and year around to be seen. But as it turned out the day was only almost perfect. The amazingly sunny day without any clouds turned out to be too stormy for our tour so that they canceled the trip only 1 hour prior to departure. After receiving the bad news we did not burry our heads in the sand: we drove towards the south along the beautiful coast with some nice stops for short walks. In the evening Niels tried to make-up for the canceled trip by building Eva her own private cinema in the camper including homemade popcorn. Although the whale-watching tour would have been nice, it was one of the best birthdays Eva ever had.
Next stop Christchurch. The city is impressive – we did know about the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 but had no idea about the destruction it caused (70% of the buildings in the CBD have been torn downby now). Although it’s been nearly 4 years by now you still see a huge amount of empty spaces and ruins. In the first place it gave us the impression of a depressive place but as we found out the city has a vibrant and livingly atmosphere. Ever since the vision how the city will be rebuild was introduced a lot changed.
The Catlins are a combination of farmland, waterfalls, roaring waves, large beaches and steep cliffs. Especially, the walk along the Surat Bay where sunbathing Sea Llions lay around everywhere was great.
Birthday view from our campground
As far as the eye can see: “Kerrygold Land”. The most common landscape while driving around the North Island are atomic green fields with happy cows and sheep. The whole scenery seems to be a reminiscent of the Kerrygold Butter…
Our first stop were the Waitomo Caves. They are famous for their huge number of glow-worms. First the tour led us through stalactites and stalagmites into a large cavern from where we took a boat into the pitch black. After a while the whole cave ceiling started to glow – looking like the Milky Way. By producing light Glow-worms attract mosquitos or flies which follow the river into the cave. With their sticky fishing-rods their prey gets caught.
Next stop Hollywood. Most of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movie scenes were not shot in some film-studios but in different places around New Zealand. Hobbiton is one of them. If you like the movies we’d highly recommend going there. You’ll feel like being in the movies themselves. The whole scenery is very beautiful with a love for detail some might call sick. The tour guide gave us some insights of director Peter Jacksons work. He must be a crazy perfectionist. For example, he made the workers built a tree with 10th of thousands of leafs. After the tree was built he didn’t like the color, so every single leaf had to be recolored by hand.
The next few days we met Dimi and René (see section “People”), who were also travelling in New Zealand. While chatting and eating a lot, time flew by. Due to the very good and plentiful food we needed some activities after saying goodbye. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing which is supposed to be the best day walk in New Zealand was the solution to our growing bellies. The whole track is 19,4 km with an altitude between 900 and 1.800 meters above sea level. The views of the volcanos and the beautiful green colored lakes were amazing – worth every single step. After staying near Wellington for the night, we gave the city a short visit before finally saying good-bye to the north island. The Ferry ride to Picton through the Cook Strait offered nice views of the Marlborough Sounds.
Kerrygold land everywhere
The grass is greener on the other side (of the world)…. The day has come: Picking-up our new home for the next 5 weeks. We got an “upgrade” straight away to the premium brand. Right from the start Eva wasn’t satisfied with the “upgrade” because it wasn’t cozy. Everything in the camper seemed to be alright but nothing was well thought-through. The two employees convinced us (mainly Niels) give it a try. The camper was new, a German brand and a diesel, so we gave it a try.
The journey started. Heading north to the black sands of Piha at the west coast of “Norckland” (north of Auckland). The view of the coast as you drive down is great as well as the beaches themselves. On the way we hardly saw any cars and the beach was completely empty. Not fare from the beach we stayed on a shabby D.o.C. (Department of Conservation) “campground” with dumping toilets.
The first night came and we soon should find out why noone else wanted our premium brand camper van: it wasn’t possible to sleep in the camper (neither in the top bed nor in the bottom one). The top bed was designed like a hammock, which is nice for 2 hrs but not for more. The bottom one is even more of a disaster: you basically sleep on a metal frame. The next morning our choice was easy: the camper needs to be returned. It took us only 1 hour to drive back and after some discussions and waiting time we were happy to received the camper we booked.
It was love at first sight and everything changed. This time the journey started with a great feeling. The next 6 days we explored Norckland. Starting on the east coast with a cruising tour to the famous Bay of Island, where the dolphins played around our boat on a perfect sunny day. Then we headed further up north to Cape Reinga the place where the Tasmania Sea and the Pacific ocean meet. We walked in the sand dunes at the 90 Mile Beach, wandered around the Waipoua Kauri Forest with its gigantic trees, and were enjoying our camper. Only the windy roads were a bit of a downturn. The 1.000 km from and to Auckland with an average speed of 40 km/h took us about 25 hours, which is insane (in European measures).
People walk, talk and work slow! during the week most shops close at 5 pm (apart from grocery stores, restaurants and bars) and after 7 pm the city is deserted. Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand with around 1,2 Million people. But it feels more like a small town. Everything is unbelievable relaxed. The busiest Café-restaurant and bar district of Auckland (Ponsonby) which is supposed to be “damn cool” is still too quite for us: On a beautiful and sunny Saturday afternoon in spring only a few people were sitting in the Cafés and bars. Besides a crazy group who are having a “pub golf” it was disappointing empty. After the last month in South America, where most things are exciting as well as exhausting it’s a complete change and it seems we need to get used to it.
Walking through the CBD feels like being in Asia. The high number of Asian people is unexpected. In the streets you mainly hear mandarin. Chinese grocery stores and restaurants are on every corner with products, we have never seen before.
Everything in Auckland is very nice – but nothing is stunning although the environment is beautiful. Auckland has two lovely harbors, a lot of water, great parks and its close to gorgeous beaches which makes it a perfectly situated city. But still we didn’t fall in love with it. Sorry Auckland!
Crazy group having a pub golf in fashionable Ponsonby
Last but not least Fakarava was scheduled. When we arrived our welcome committee – Charlot and Florian – were already awaiting us. We met them a few days ago we on Tikehau. Going for a 9km bike ride to see the lagoons in the north without seeing anyone is normal on Fakarava. The way was gesäumt by palm trees. Unfortunately the snorkeling at the northern tip of the Motu wasn’t as nice as expected (bad visibility) but the beach totally made up for it.
Last day we got entertained by huge nurse sharks, black tips and sting rays eating fish directly on the shore next to Relais Marama (our lodge). While snorkeling Niels (my beloved boyfriend) wanted to kill me. Standing in the water with a perfect sight of what was going on he directed me straight to one of the huge nurse sharks. Thus the shark and I met eye in eye only 30 centimeters apart in the shallow water (I could see all of his teeth). Luckily the shark seem to be even more scared of me than I was of him: he immediately turned and swam of to the open water.
Lagoon at the northern tip of the Motu (next 6)