The grand New Zealand roadtrip
On December 2nd we left Stella Polaris in Sydney and flew to Christchurch in New Zealand for 4 weeks of road-tripping fun. If you’re feeling lazy, watch this video with some of the highlights, but if you want the inside scoop, keep reading after the video:
Hopefully the video conveyed a bit of how much fun we had.
When we landed in New Zealand our plan was simple: To see as much of the country as possible, before we flew home. Margrethe was flying out in time to celebrate Christmas at home in Norway and I would come home in time for New Years. While Margrethe would spend Christmas with her family in Norway, I would spend it with my brother and his family, living together with them in their RV.
It seems like most people buy or rent an RV/mobile home when they get to NZ and/or Australia and use it to see the country. Margrethe and I had debated whether to go down that road, but after some deliberation opted to get a comfy SUV with the aim of finding a bed to sleep in every night along the road. It’s a choice we didn’t regret, because it was cheaper and allowed us to zip around both faster and in comfort. We picked up a red Hyundai Santa Fe at the airport and drove to the first of many memorable hostels.
We spent our first night in New Zealand in a converted jail. Luckily our cell had a double bed, instead of a bunk bed, but the door and atmosphere inside our cell made us feel like we were in prison. We made sure we got our mug-shots taken.
Christchurch got hit by a gigantic earthquake in 2011 where 185 people had died. The downtown area still showed huge signs of the damage that had been wrought. It was chilling to see and felt surreal that it was like a tourist attraction now.
The following day, the roadtrip started in earnest. New Zealand really put on a good show, because the temperatures were high and the weather amazing. Everything was set for an epic trip. We har hardly gotten into the hills before we passed huge areas filled with beautiful colors. Naturally we stopped to snap a few shots.
Our goal of the day was to hike in the area surrounding Mount Cook. On the drive there, we passed the turquoise lake Tekapo, where we lunched at the Mount John observatory.
When we got to Mount Cook National Park, we decided to hike into the Hooker Valley, because it came highly recommended as a day trip.
The 2,5 hour hike took us over three suspension bridges and offered excellent views of the 3721 meter tall Mount Cook.
Instead of staying in the mountains, we jumped back into the car and headed back to the coast, where we stopped in Oamaru. We knew absolutely nothing about the place, but it was getting dark. The first hostel we tried was full, but Agra at Swaggers Backpackers took us in. She has converted her house into a hostel and is a fantastic host. She even took us for a spin in her car, so that she could show us the town and most importantly where to see the Blue-eyed penguins, the World’s smallest penguin. The males spend the day hunting fish and after nightfall, they return to feed their families. They have their nests in the cellars of the houses in town and it was the shuffle from the beach to the houses we got to witness when it was dark. It was pure magic.
The following day we continued our trip soutwards and snapped some pictures at the Moeraki Boulders. They looked like giant cannonballs, stuck in the sand.
Next, we headed into Dunedin, to check out the city my brother had studied in for 1,5 years. It was a nice town, bigger than I expected and with a few attractions we had to see, chief amongst them the World’s steepest residential street. I’m happy they don’t have too many days with ice on the road, because that would have been lethal … sledging on the other hand would have been a lot of fun.
We had lunch at the Emerson brewery, checked out the historic train station and dropped by the Cadbury factory. Our last stop was on St. Kilda Beach, a favored surfing spot for my brother.
We ended the day at our second, somewhat strange hostel: A converted hospital. The beds were comfortable and the area was quiet, so we were happy. The following day we stopped by Purakaunui, one of the most photographed waterfalls in New Zealand, on our way to Te Anau. The waterfall wasn’t big, but it was nice.
From Te Anau, we hiked to Shallow Bay on the beautiful Lake Manapouri, which was the first part of a 4-day hike called Keplers Track. I was very excited, because the hike took us over the river where Aragorn floated down after falling off the warg in Lord of the Rings.
Speaking of Lord of the Rings: Margrethe had never seen the trilogy, so I “persuaded” her to watch all three of them while we were on the road trip … I think it’s safe to say that she won’t be re-watching them, but I’d like to think that she’s happy to have seen them. It was fun to go to many of the places seen in the movies.
The next morning we were on our way at the crack of dawn, in order to be in Milford Sound in time to go on a 07:15 kayak tour. We donned some stylish wool, before we hit the water. The Milford Sound area is beautiful and definitely reminded us of Norway. We were lucky, because the weather was excellent and we were fortunate enough to see both penguins and seals.
Our next stop was Queenstown, the adventure tourism capital of New Zealand. We stayed in a little hut they call a bach in Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park. From there we explored Queenstown and the surrounding area. We rented a pair of downhill bikes and took the Skyline Gondola to the top of the mountain a bunch of times, allowing us to try many of the different grades of trails and paths. Our skills were adequate for the “easy” trails and we only had to cast one look at the black trails to know that they would have killed us. It was a ton of fun, though surprisingly hard work.
Margrethe had bungy jumped in South Africa, but I hadn’t tried it, so I gave it a shot here, with the guys that invented bungy jumping. It was scary, but true adrenaline fun.
The last adventure style tourist stuff we did was to go whitewater rafting on Shotover River. While it was fun, it wasn’t amazing, so it’ll probably be a while before we do that again. After the rafting, we dug into a Ferburger each. These burgers are a staple in Queenstown and people, like us, line up for over 40 minutes to sink their teeth into them. By the time we got them we were so hungry that they didn’t disappoint… A smart way to do it!
After Queenstown we were planning to take on the Franz Josef Glacier, but torrential downpours put an end to that plan. Instead we met up for dinner with Iris and Martin from Kalea (friends that sailed across the Pacific at the same time as us), before we continued up the coast to much better weather in Able Tasman National Park. We had booked a hut at the Barn Backpackers and enjoyed a beautiful day-hike into the National Park.
When we left Able Tasman, we set course for Nelson, but stopped in Kaiteriteri and met Marc and Lillian from Lucia (again friends that sailed across the Pacific at the same time as us). When we hit Nelson we found a nice B&B where we stayed for two days, catching our breath, eating good food and enjoying some quiet time after 10 days on the road. In Nelson we took a look at the actual Ring used in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Fully recovered and ready for more adventure, we drove to Blenheim for a taste of the famous Savignon Blanc, or Sav as the locals call it. We hung out with Sam and Sina, friends of Margrethe. They took us wine tasting at Wither Hills, where sampled a selection of 4 wines, before we headed over to their uncle’s vineyard, for a proper tour and history of both the land and of wine making. We also got to do some skeet shooting. We were supposed to go to another wine tasting, but ended up sampling beer at a pub instead, because the food there was great. All good fun. In the evening we got to take part in a birthday party, so we lucked out with our timing.
When we left Blenheim, we drove to Picton and took the 3,5 hour ferry ride over to Wellington on the North Island. As soon as we got into town, Margrethe dropped me off, because I was going to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the cinema, while she headed up to our hostel, fittingly named Dwellington. She got to relax, while I got to immerse myself in the Star Wars universe. We were both happy.
The following day we got up early and drove to Putangirua Pinnacles, made famous as the Valley of the Dead in Lord of the Rings. We went for a nice and slightly scary hike.
We now put the pedal to the metal and drove to Tongariro National Park, where we met up with my brother Martin, his wife Emma and their son Hakon. We were really stoked to meet them, especially Hakon, because he was born while we were sailing to Easter Island and had now become 9 months old. We became instant buddies.
The next morning we were off early to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which gives you excellent views of Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies. It was a lovely hike, taking us up to 1800 meters in very dry terrain. Oddly enough it proved to be a lot easier for us than it had been for Frodo and Sam.
Martin & co drove to Raglan, while we drove to Waitomo and went inner tubing in the subterranean caves. It was awesome and a bit eerie to drift around in the caves. We got to see glowworms and learn that it’s their poop that glows and the reason they only live 5-7 days is that they have no mouths.
After a wet day of tubing, we drove to Solscape in Raglan and met up with Martin & co again. We now moved into their campervan: Martin, Emma and Hakon slept in the roof tent, while Margrethe and I slept inside the van. It worked surprisingly well.
Margrethe and I were nearing the end of our trip. She was flying home to celebrate Christmas in Norway, while I was staying an extra week with the gang in New Zealand and would fly home for New Years. She drove to Auckland, where she flew home from, while I stayed with Martin, Emma and Hakon in their RV. We were joined by my brother’s buddy Joachim, who had flown down with Tonje and their two daughters Oda and Idunn, and rented a massive RV. We were rolling around in style, with a big crew. Everyone was into surfing, but since I’m more comfortable below the waves, I became a natural babysitter for Hakon. It was a win-win situation. Hakon and I became best buddies and they got time to surf.
We drove down past New Plymouth and spent Christmas in Oakura Beach Holiday Park. It was sensational. We were camped on the beach with sensational views of the surf. Key words: Beers, BBQ, driftwood Christmas Tree, surfing and good times. We were having such a great time that the local newspaper interviewed us.
The surf wasn’t awesome every day, so on one of the off days, we hiked Mt. Teranaki. It was a bit foggy, but the trip was excellent.
The days flew by and before I knew it I was boarding a bus and heading for Auckland where I was flying out from. The month in New Zealand had flown and I was blown away by everything we had seen and experienced there. New Zealand is an amazing country, and I look forward to returning … There’s a number of spots that need revisiting!