Saturday, December 23, 2017

NZ South Island Campervan trip - Wellington and the East Side

For the third term break, we rented a campervan in New Zealand (yes, I am aware the school year is now over....but to be fair term 4 is the shortest term....9 weeks instead of 10....lol). The real reason I've lagged a bit, I did start working 20ish hours a week at the Embassy....though I don't blog that many hours a week, I have lost that many hours of "free time"....so my "fun things" fall by the wayside (for some reason Richard/the kids have an issue with me opting to blog as oppose to cooking dinner.....lol).  These last few months have been jam packed with birthdays (and associated parties/baking), holidays, and end of school year events, so needless to say we have been super busy. I had hopes of getting the NZ posts knocked out before our Australia trip.....but here I'm rocking on a cruise ship on a fun day at sea between Melbourne and Kangaroo Island. So better late than never....without further ado....here is a recap of our adventures in/around Wellington and the South Island of New Zealand.

Our NZ trip started with the kids and I driving up to Nadi. We had an early flight out of Nadi the following morning and it was more expensive to fly 4 people up there than to drive and stay the night when we booked the tickets. The kids (Clarissa in particular) had been begging to go to Big Bula waterpark in Port Denarau....so by heading up a day early we could also have time to go there.  Normally, we are busy doing other things/heading other places and have never had a chance to go (we had been saying soon for over a year...so it was time we go). Locals tip: if you have a Fijian driver's license...show it you get a discount!! It is/started as an inflatable water park. They are now starting to add some more permanent traditional waterpark rides. They now have an 8 (or so...lost count) flights of stairs tower with slides coming out of the top few levels. One was called the cyclone, that ends with a spiral bath tub spinning drain like thing you fall out of.....uhh, no thank you....but Mason enjoyed it!


Richard ended up working that day and catching a flight after work that was added last minute (or more seats were added at a discounted price....). We stayed at the Tokatoka hotel, in addition to being right across the street from the airport and offering a locals rate, if they are not super full they will let you leave your car parked there (you do have to let them know at booking and when you check in, as well as leave your car keys with the manager in case they need to move your vehicle while you are away). So the next morning, we pulled our rolling duffles across to the airport and checked in.....off to Wellington, NZ we went.


Richard said it was actually a "small" jet we were on...a 737....but it was a relatively short flight - about 3 hours and 45 minutes!


We picked up travel SIM cards at the airport (we thought it wouldn't be the best idea to be way out in the middle of no where with no way to call for help....or instagram sheep photos..lol). We then grabbed some lunch due to the strategically placed Subway and our lack of Subway in Fiji (and by now it was noon and we didn't want hangry kids while we were being shown the 'how to's' of the campervan). We then called for the courtesy shuttle to pick us up. New Zealand has a thriving campervan industry! Searching online which company to rent from was tough, pricing was comparable and when reading reviews - all had good and bad reviews....so since Clarissa likes purple....we decided to go with the one with the pretty purple and green vans....a company called Jucy (which upon picking up our van we learned that they also rent on the west coast of the US!). Apparently, they buy older vans and then gut/retrofit the insides to make them into livable campers.


That photo was from later in the trip, but shows you our home away from home! After we got our van, we navigated over to the apartment of some friends of ours from Fiji, that our now posted in Wellington! They offered us a room for the night and we took them up on it! The kids all played while Richard and I headed down to New World to stock the campervan with 9 days worth of groceries (I pre-planned a menu and had a shopping list....I did not bring that on the laptop on the cruise, but maybe if I'm feeling generous I'll post it on a later blog post...they were definitely kid friendly easy to make meals....nothing gourmet!). After picking up groceries, we shared some of the Fiji rum we'd picked up for our friends for letting us stay with them (and we totally guessed right and got their fave! Coffee Rum!!). Richard pre-cooked some of the meat (i.e. chicken and bacon) in their kitchen too, so then later on we only had to reheat it making my job easier cooking on the petite stove! The next morning, we let them get their kids off to school before we got ready. Our first stop that morning was the Weta Cave....


Did you recognize that troll from the Lord of Rings/Hobbit series?!? Well you know the series was filmed in NZ and if you recall on our last trip to NZ we visited an island near Hahei Beach where the giant Wētā lives...so this is a special effects company based in New Zealand named after the giant cricket that offers tours of workshop/studios.....and as I learned (again) a place you need to pre-book! Luckily there was a cancelation, so we got a basic tour of the studio which included a movie (I had no idea how many movies that had been made in NZ! For example: The BFG, Man of Steel, Hercules with Dwayne Johnson, Avatar, The Legend of Zorro) and then a behind the scenes tour of movie props/artifacts, miniatures, and then our personal favorite room was a hands on room where we could touch/play with props (push buttons to make robotics move, feel fake hair implants on prosthetics, different types of chain-meal, etc). Of course, we couldn't take photos of any of this since it's proprietary/or the producing studio still owns rights. The last room we could take photos, it had another creature from the Hobbit that was taking off Mason's head...lol.


There was also a project where they were making this tree trunk with a special lightweight material that can be moved and sculpted with faces in it.


After leaving the Weta Cave, we had to head over to the ferry landing and got checked in....time to head to the South Island! Yes, we were super dorks and took a picture driving onto the ferry....but hey, it is not something you do everyday!


When we boarded we were directed to park next to a truck full of sheep....we may or may not have been bleating back at the sheep. I think with it being the beginning of the spring, the South Island was starting to warm/green up and the sheep were being transported south for sheering/grazing for the spring/summer season. The little lambs were all on top separated from their momma's and the other big sheep (likely to avoid being squashed).



The ferry ride from Wellington to Picton across the Cook Strait took a little over three hours. We snacked, played cards, zone out on electronic devices, took some pictures, and someone wandered off and took a nap.


When we returned to our campervan to disembark, way before we got back we could smell our neighbors. It appeared someone was annoyed and tried to rid the trailer of the poo....lol. It was torture....we were told we couldn't start our engines until directed to but we could not leave the doors or windows open....ugh!!


So I had booked our first holiday park in Picton, about five minutes from the ferry landing! 


So we checked in, parked and I started making our dinner as the sun was setting and it was after 7:30....so we had some hungry kiddo's! 


As you can see, our first night was all sunshine and rainbows (figuratively speaking). We did discover that "linens included" did not mean towels or pillowcases/sheets. So we were able to rent towels at the holiday parks for the night (which actually worked out nicely because we could drop wet towels in the morning and not worry about trying to dry towels during the day) and we just tried not to think about what was on the pillows when laying our heads down at night.


We got up the next morning....50°F....for our warm weather acclimated Fiji bodies it was cold! (brrrr!). After we got packed up and we hit the road for the long drive Kaikoura (prior to the 2016 earthquake it would have been about a 2.5 hour drive along the coastal highway, but due to road closures it took us closer to 8 hours (with stops).....


Snowy mountains! Something we are not used to seeing!


Lovely wide curvy roads (pothole free), though with a tall campervan if the speed limit sign said go a certain speed it was typically right on...


Yes, we took lots of beautiful scenery photos....it was just so pretty - every time we turned a corner we took photos because it was breathtaking, then you turned another corner and it was even better than before, so you took another photo...(you see where this is going.....I tried to narrow it down to the best of the best but also give you a sampling of what we saw in New Zealand).


We finally stopped for lunch close to 1:00 pm....you'd think we were attempting a new type of torture on the kids....I mean we got on the road around 9:00, stopped for the "toilet" and drinks, had snacks in the vehicle.....but if the clock says noon....one must begin lunch or it is cruel and unusual punishment (or so we were informed), but we were glad we waited! When we did stop, it was a place with a waterfall....Maruia Falls a little past the town of Murchison. So once bellies were happy, we hiked down to the waterfall. 




Richard had brought the new family toy, Drone E. McDronephace, and flew it around a bit.


And the kids watched.



We then walked up to the overlook above the waterfall. Apparently this waterfall has only existed since 1929. It suddenly appeared after an earthquake caused the upthrusting of a plate along the fault that resulted in the waterfall. Erosion has gradually caused the waterfall to get a little higher as well. It current is about 10m high (30 feet). Some real adventurers will take their kayaks and paddle right off the top of the waterfall and then free fall, land, and continue on down the river. We didn't see any kayakers that day. 


Further down the Maruia River valley.


Up until this point, we were making pretty good time. We had hit little tiny pockets of road work, but they hadn't really slowed us down all that much. We did cross many one lane bridges (I lost track of how many times the GPS gave us instructions warning us when we were approaching one and giving us instructions on who has right of way).


This valley was just beautiful! Then the real fun began as we entered the mountains with the roads that had sustained the most damage from the 2016 earthquake. 


The stretch of road between Culverden and Kaikoura was the hardest! We were all antsy to get out of the campervan. The GPS was saying we only had 40 or so kilometers left to go but it was mountainous roads, with lots of 179° turns (or so it seemed)....so you had to take it super slow....which made getting those last 40 km take forever.....but we finally made it!! Somewhere in there we passed both the Upper and Lower Mason Rivers.....he was less excited about the river name.....but it's not everyday you pass a Deborah, Richard or Clarissa River.....so I took a picture!


We got parked and it was super chilly! So I opted to make dinner in the holiday park kitchen, Richard got this lovely shot of our JUCY van while I was making dinner in the twilight hours with the tall mountains off in the distance! 


So the next morning we had booked a whale watching trip. We went out with Whale Watch Kaikoura. We chose them because they guarantee a sperm whale sighting or they give you a 80% refund....so it seemed like a sure thing! A resident population of sperm whales live just off Kaikoura due to a 2 km deep canyon being located close shore where the sperm whales feed. Mason was quite excited (as we all were) at the beginning of the trip.


Every time the boat stopped, this guy would drop if his hydrophone on a stick into the water and listen for the sounds of whales. He would listen on both sides of the boat for a few minutes. If nothing was seen or heard, everyone would go back into the ship and sit down and we would move a few kilometers along the canyon in hopes of finding in whales.



We saw lots of albatross, petrels and other sea birds. Their wing spans are always amazing!


Enthusiasm was starting to wane after a number of stops.


We saw a good number of Kekeno (New Zealand fur seal) doing yoga as I call it....lol.


Clarissa got tired of the in/out and opted to just stay inside in the warm. After about 7 attempts, the boat headed back in (there was always a chance of a sighting on our return trip....we were not that lucky though). So I can confirm their website is correct and they do issue refunds if no whales are sighted....sigh.....


So after the whale watching attempt, we headed down to Christchurch. We lucked out the SH1 (I'm calling it scenic highway 1) is re-opened...somewhat, during daylight hours and I think just on weekends. So we were able to take the quicker and prettier route that day!



We thought we spotted 4 penguins on the beach!! We got so excited, I snapped a whole bunch of photos as we drove by (I think it was actually near one of the one lane road stops due to construction, so we may have been stopped/super slow).


But upon further inspection, when I was going through the photos when we got home I saw one of the birds with its wings outstretched and realized they were not penguins....bummer!




Those were just the favorite photos.....I snapped a whole lot more! Richard was mad that I wasn't driving this stretch as he could not stare out the window. Once we moved away from the coast, we saw so many super cute little fuzzy lambs running.....as Clarissa would say...totally adorbs! I wouldn't even say they run, they more hop/bounce along.


We also travelled through many fields of multiple shades of green.


So our main purposes for going to Christchurch were pretty shallow....to get a Christchurch Starbucks mug for our collection and for the kids to go to the Smiggle/Typo stores (Australian/NZ stationary chains it's probably good aren't stateside....they'd take all your money...lol). We also grabbed some dinner and it was a good mid-point leg stretching stop. Then we headed for Arthur's Pass (we were staying just on the other side of it). The mountain scenery was so beautiful that it was worthy of stopping to take a photo (unlike all the previous scenery (excluding waterfall photos) that had been taken while driving).


Yes, Richard was naughty and took that photo from the middle of the road....here I am in the driver's seat telling him 'tsk tsk' when he ran out of the road when a car was coming.


More drive by photos as we were chasing sunlight to get to our holiday park before it was dark.....but it was exciting in that were seeing caution Kiwi crossing signs. Though we didn't spot any Kiwi birds (we were looking though).


Last gleams of sunlight....after this we came to one of the lovely one lane bridges, on a curve over a huge canyon.....if I recall correctly before the curve there was a sign calling it the widow maker....I didn't dare look down....Richard said he didn't look down, Mason said it was a really far drop down (I may have gone 'aaaahhhh' as I drove over).


After checking in, I started doing some laundry as it was mid trip and we were out of clothes. We ate dinner, Richard and Clarissa went on a walk to look for some glow worms in the woods (they saw some), we got the kids hunkered down, and we waited for the laundry to dry. While doing that I was looking around the main lodge room and noticed the world map on the wall. It was funny to see that the South Pacific was almost dead center in the map.....it was one of those things that made you go hmmmm, I guess there isn't really a rule that says how that map should be centered, I'm just accustomed to the North Atlantic being in the center!


So once our clothes were mostly dry (we ran out of change and the office was closed), we headed to the campervan and hung up the dampest stuff near the little heater on whatever we could. Luckily there were curtains on all the windows so nobody could see our unmentionables hanging from the dish holders....lol. We then headed to bed ourselves.....

Given this is the half way point in our campervan adventure and we are halfway across the South Island I'm going to end this post here and continue our adventure on another day.....

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