South Island Adventure Part I – The East Coast

As many of you know, I just got back from an amazing 13 day vacation trip on the south island of New Zealand with 7 other friends!  We literally toured the entire south island – as well as we could in only 13 days anyway.  We started by ferrying over from Wellington to Picton, driving down to Kaikora, then over to Lake Tekapo, down to Omaru and Dunedin, across to Queenstown and Te Anau, up to the Milford Sound, then all the way up to Greymouth, and finally through Arthur’s pass to Christchurch (see map).  Whaaaaat?  Trip of a lifetime!!

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Nice collage eh?

I thought long and hard about how to write about this trip here on the blog.  Our gang really was super fortunate, we spent a rather modest amount of money and got to do so much and see so much.  I already miss the south island – it was gorgeous, just awesome raw beauty around every turn.  Anyway, I finally decided to just split the trip into two blog posts.  If you want to know more, please ask!  I’ll be leaving a lot out, but I don’t want to bore you.  This post is dedicated to the east coast bit of our trip.

The ferry trip over was a highlight all on it’s own.  I’ve never been on a ferry quite like this one – it had a playground, a gift shop, a movie theater, a cafeteria, a bar, and seating areas that ranged from living-room style to tables and benches.  But better than all of that was the view over the bow as we neared our destination.  The ferry cuts across the Cook Straight, and then weaves between tiny islands until it reaches Picton.  This first glimpse of the south island was stunning!  Fisheries, interesting vegitation, houses hidden in the hills, bright blue water…  So cool.

When we got to Picton we had to pick up our rental cars straight away.  But instead of going to the company’s office and picking up a car like normal, our cars were parked in the parking lot with the keys hidden behind the license plate and our names on the dashboard.  After dealing with one of our car keys snapping in half, we started driving to Kaikora.

The peninsula walk in Kaikora

The peninsula walk in Kaikora

            Kaikora is a small beach town that is known for it’s marine wildlife.  Dolphins, whales and seals are plenty there, and Kaikora is located near a little peninsula that had magnificent trails up through the hills and beaches.  Our gang bunkered down with our friend, Priyanka, and her husband, Andrew, for 3 days.  The first full day we were in Kaikora was Easter, and we all decided to find a church to attend.  The one we found was a small little 2-room building perched at the foot of cow fields that were surrounded by mountains.  The church itself was built in the Maori meeting-house style.  The service was simple, but we were so glad we went – especially Brittany and I.  The rest of our days in Kaikora were spent hiking the peninsula, almost getting attacked by seals hiding in the bushes, eating “dark chocolate raspberry chili” ice cream, and shopping for souvenirs. 

DSCF0837Well, I thought Kaikora was the most beautiful place on earth until we got to Lake Tekapo!  Let me correct myself, Lake turquiouse-flawless-water-stunning-mountains-cute-city-vintage-church-amazing-nightsky-pebble-beached Tekapo.  With a year round population of  about 300 people, this little town on the edge of Lake Tekapo doesn’t have much to offer except it’s perfect location.  Even the hostel we stayed at was super cool!  We hiked and stargazed and whatnot, but honestly, only pictures can come close to describing this place.  Brittany kept saying it was her dream place; “it exists!  I didn’t think it existed!”

Look at how blue it is!

Look at how blue it is!

Well, I thought we’d seen the coolest wildlife ever until we got to Omaru and Dunedin!  New Zealand has three native species of penguins.  Two of them are major tourist attractions in the Omaru and Dunedin area: the larger Yellow-Eyed Penguin, and the tiny Little Blue Penguin.  Although the Little Blue Penguin colony was monopolized, we did get to see Yellow-Eyed Penguins coming ashore.

Can you see him?

Can you see him?

One of the penguins was swimming and diving through the water before he came ashore and it was fantastic to watch!  He was like a little torpedo jumping through the water.  And besides the penguins, we also got to glimpse Albatross in Dunedin.  Although the Albatross colony was blocked off for those who didn’t want to pay, flying Albatross were free to see.  Albatross, if you are unfamiliar with them, are the largest flying bird alive today.  They are roughly the size of your average penguin, and have a wingspan of 7 feet!  They look a bit like sea gulls, but they are simply massive.

In between all of this sight-seeing we spent a lot of time driving here and there, playing gin rummy, eating PB&J, visiting the Speight’s brewery, and moving in and out of various hostels and motels.  We had a blast on this first half of our vacation!  One evening we were chilling in our hostel when we overheard a (very loud) Dutch girl trying to make pancakes.  I swear she was poking a frying pan filled with goop for about half an hour before she admitted defeat by the pancake!  “Can anyone make pancake?  It’s so hard, I cannot make pancake!”  The thing was like charred to the pan.  Then she added salt and pepper, cause that makes everything better.  We were all cracking up – I don’t think she noticed though because the kitchen/lounge area was not very quiet and she was paying more attention to her friends and here pancake remains.  One of the girls in our group, Katie, was about to make the poor girl a pancake, but Ms. Pancake decided to eat what was left of her charred salt-and-pepper pan-chip.  I’m not sure why I included this in this week’s blog post, but it was pretty funny :)  Needless to say, she did not have pancakes the next morning.

That's Mt. Cook in the background!  Did I forget to mention we went to Mt. Cook?

That’s Mt. Cook in the background! Did I forget to mention we went to Mt. Cook?

Trip stats:

Number of days: 7

Milage driven: approx. 1500 k

Photos taken: 402

Alcoholic beverages consumed: 5

Souvenirs bought: 4

Games of gin rummy played: over 20

Enjoy the week!

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