Travel: New Zealand – South Island

In February, my husband and I took a trip of a lifetime to New Zealand! We explored both islands and had an absolutely amazing adventure!! The main reason for the trip was to capture the incredible elopement of our friends, Paige and Josh. We took the opportunity to stay as long as possible – 23 days, in fact! We rented a camper van and took it all across the country! Below is our escapade of the South Island. HUGE thanks to Planit NZ for helping us map our route – to say the least, it was a bit overwhelming trying to navigate and plan a path in an unknown country. The Planit crew was an enormous help and we had such a grand time!

We started our journey in Christchurch for a day and a half before making our way to Lake Tekapo (where the elopement was held). While in Christchurch we explored record stores (found a coveted album by The Clean, a Nancy and Lee album, XTC EP, and various 45s) and a few food places. Since we didn’t have a ton of time there, we used about 12 hours to catch up on sleep before embarking on The Journey.

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We arrived in Lake Tekapo around 3pm and checked into our accommodation (an awesome cabin overlooking the teal waters of the lake). There is a tiny town strip that we explored and enjoyed a delicious Thai dinner. The following day was Paige & Josh’s ceremony – which was BREATHTAKING! Holy cow! The next day we stocked up on groceries for the camper van before starting our 5.5 hour drive to the Catlins via Dunedin.

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The drive to the Catlins was amazing – an art deco hotel, the Moreaki Boulders, Yellow Eyed Penguins (YEPs), seals, sheep, and scenery! We passed through Dunedin late afternoon and explored a record shop before trying to locate a late lunch spot. Apparently, we arrived on a holiday (and on a Sunday) so a lot of places were closed. We ate a quick bite before continuing the drive 2.5 hours to the Catlins Kiwi Holiday Park. It was around 8:30pm when we arrived, right on the cusp of the night sky. The holiday park was SO COOL! We had a delicious dinner, enjoyed the live music, and relaxed before turning in for the night. There was a unique whistling frog in that part of the island that was such a welcoming sound to awake to the next morning! We had a delicious breakfast and did a bit of sightseeing around the area before making our way to Te Anau. Along the way, we stopped at Curio Bay, which was a beautiful beach and petrified forest!

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The drive to Te Anau was so pleasant! We arrived to the Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park around 6:30pm and settled into our campsite before exploring the town. Dinner was a DELICIOUS Italian meal that transported us right back to our Italy trip. Afterwards, we explored the lake front before heading back to camp. The following day was an early rise to catch a bus to the Milford Sound cruise. Simon, our driver, was extremely knowledgeable and filled our brains with so many interesting facts about the Fiordland! It was about a 2 hour bus ride and he stopped several places along the way for photo-ops (yay)! The cruise took us by several waterfalls and in between gigantic mountain peaks. We arrived back in Ten Anau just in time for dinner and a sunset walk by the lake front.

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Sleeping in a camper van definitely makes for early mornings, which is nice – no time to waste! We made our way to Queenstown, which was such a lovely and quick drive! Upon arrival, we made our way to Creeksyde to check into our campsite. I need to take a moment and gush about this particular holiday park – it was SO NICE! Extremely environmentally friendly, incredibly clean, a nice staff, really cool campsites and decor around the park. It was also conveniently located to the central center of Queenstown, which we spent the day and evening exploring. The next day was a little rough as I woke up with an ear infection (boo hiss)…eventually the pain got to me and I called Linda Lucas at Creative Healing (thank goodness the time change lined up) and she listed off natural remedies to find (Vitamin C, bamboo extract, and goldenseal) that would help me. After locating everything, we took it easy that day and drove up to Glenorchy – a gorgeous day trip! I woke up the next day with ZERO pain and thanked my stars for Linda’s knowledge and help! After breakfast, we started the drive to Wanaka!

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On the way to Wanaka we stopped by the cute little town of Arrowtown, where we mailed our family (and Linda) postcards. After twisting and turning through the mountains we arrived at Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park. We settled into the campsite before heading into town and eventually finding That Wanaka Tree (the most famous tree in NZ). The next day we enjoyed the beaches of the lake before checking out Zoolander 2 at Cinema Paradiso – which was easily the best theater I’ve ever been to – they have intermissions and BAKE FRESH COOKIES for you to enjoy! Huntsville theaters, take note!

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After a few days in Wanaka, we headed to Franz Josef Glacier, which was about 5 hours away. The drive had several areas of interest for us to stop along the way, including a beach of rock sculptures, small hikes, and HUGE waterfalls! We arrived in FJG late afternoon and checked into the Rainforest Holiday Park. There is a delicacy (of sorts) that is popular in this region called Whitebait Fritters. We split one…it had a nice flavor, but eventually the eyeballs got to me and I didn’t finish my portion. There wasn’t much of a “town”, however, we did explore the area before heading back to camp to relax in the hot tub! After a delicious dinner at sunset, we split a lovely dessert while overlooking the last rays of light illuminate the glacier.

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Before starting our next drive, we stocked up on more groceries for the camper van and ate breakfast. On the way to Punakaki we made a stop at the Hokitika Gorge, which was absolutely stunning! The swinging bridge led us across the gorge of TEAL water! We hiked to the water’s edge and enjoyed the scenery for a bit before making our way to the Punakaki Pancake Rocks…which are SO surreal! Since the holiday park that we planned on staying in was full, we opted for a super cute accommodation two blocks from the beach! There was an awesome tavern on the property with delicious food and cold beer. After dinner, we walked down to the beach to enjoy the sunset – which put on quite the show!

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We started the day at the beaches of Punakaki before heading to Picton. The drive to Picton was about 4 hours and we stopped a few times to take in the scenery and visit any shops that looked neat. We arrived in Picton late afternoon and checked into the Top Ten Holiday Park, and snagged the LAST campsite available – wahoo! After getting settled, we walked to the ferry terminal to purchase our tickets for the next day. We explored the tiny town before getting dinner at a delicious restaurant. Before heading back to camp, we re-upped our grocery supplies. Since the sun set around 9 each night (Summer season), we spent the sunset walking along the bay seeing all sorts of marine life – eels, HUGE sting rays, snails, fish, starfish, and loads more! We decided on a nightcap on the patio of a local bar before heading back to camp for the night.

The next day we spent time meandering through the town visiting the shops that were closed the previous night. Lunch was kinda rushed in order to make it to the ferry terminal in time for departure. This was my first experience driving a car onto a ferry, so that was fun! The day was completely overcast and cloudy, so we tried to enjoy the outer decks of the ferry before settling in a cozy spot to catch up on reading. It was a rather relaxing 3 hour journey to Wellington. I continue the journey to the North Island on a separate post, which can be accessed here!

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