We flew out of Rotorua – the smallest airport I’ve ever been to. It is so small that they actually don’t even have security, you can check yourself in and put your luggage on the belt without an attendant. We flew to Christchurch and picked up our camper van for the next 9 nights. We were all a bit nervous about this as we have never camped for that long before and we got used to some pretty sweet Airbnb houses with our own bedrooms and 2 baths. Things did not go as well as planned at first.
We rented a JUCY condo, a small “RV” with a bed up top, a kitchen that folds into a bed and a portable toilet. We watched the video of the features of the camper many times before we arrived. What we got was the same as the video but 10 years older and beat up. The fridge had not been cleaned and had old milk and crumbs in it, the passenger seat had lost all of it’s springs on one side so we had to prop up our left butt cheek with a towel, the pocket wifi and several of the USB chargers did not work. We arrived late and had planned to camp close to the airport just to get used to the camper and leave the next morning.
We found a campsite that had space and we were shocked to have to pay $70 to park it in a muddy grass field directly next to a bunch of other camper vans. It was raining and muddy and our suitcases took up all of the free floor space. I was not a happy camper but I held it together and decided to just sleep in my clothes because I didn’t want to shuffle around everyone’s suitcase just to get my pajamas out of my bag. I swore I would just wear the same thing for the next 9 days. Christian was sure we would be sleeping at hotels instead.
The forecast called for rain in Christchurch and most parts of the south island, but we decided to follow the path of less rain in the south. And that’s when our luck started changing. We ended up barely avoiding rain for the rest of our trip. We travelled all the way to the southern tip of the south island along the coast stopping at beaches and watching penguins come in from the water each night.
One night in Curio Bay, we hiked down a large cliff staircase to the beach where we spent over an hour watching this yellow eyed penguin. It jumped out of the ocean and just stood there for a few minutes. It made a call and then waited to hear it’s baby call back. We listened to this exchange for some time, back and forth. Then it slowly hopped along the petrified forest (think volcano erupting on a forest and fossilizing it) occasionally calling and listening and then it disappeared into the steep hill bush. It was so hard to stop watching even though it took forever! Finally, as Jaida and I were walking back to the camper at the top of the hill, we saw the same penguin sneaking through a small tunnel that we were walking over. It was perfect timing, we got to see this guy ducking to be shorter through the grass trying to get home. Then we watched as it fed it’s baby. Penguins are so cool. So cool.
We also had the amazing experience of swimming at a beautiful beach that has dolphins. Hector’s dolphins are the world’s smallest dolphin and there were loads of them. The beach was stunning, the water was cold and the waves dumped down but we got in just far enough to see the incredible dolphins up close. They are curious so they swim up to people – especially the people in deeper water. We didn’t go too deep but we got pretty close to a group of four dolphins that were riding the waves right next to us.
The rains started to pour in the south so we headed up to Wanaka – another favourite spot on our adventure. The drive from Queenstown to Wanaka was jaw dropping-ly beautiful, sort of like the highway to Whistler mixed with Osoyoos. And still, these steep hilly mountains are filled with grass and sheep.
We loved Wanaka so much that we stayed at the same campground for 4 nights. The kids made friends playing on the trampoline and they both learned to do front flips. The stars at night were wonderful – right away Jaida and I spotted Orion but it was upside down. We also saw the Southern Cross, the upside down big dipper and the spectacular milky way.
When Christian rented a bike to check out Wanaka’s sticky forest, the kids and I went on a Via Ferrata. Our path took us up the side of a very tall water fall across a bridge up the other side across a rope, up the other side… and so on. It was Blake’s first via ferrata and he killed it. We all confidently hung from our harness over a bridge 150 ft high.
The next day we all hiked to the top of the Diamond Lake trail and had a wicked view of Lake Wanaka. We happened to be there on the same day as a Redbull adventure race and we saw some athletes transition between running and abseiling down the mountain. After we left the mountain we drove to the a lake to swim and saw the racers finish in a kayak.
Finally we ended our camping trip in Queenstown. We were sad to return the camper as we really grew to love it but we are happy to be in an apartment with full time beds. Once again, the scenery is spectacular. Christian and the kids went parasailing on the giant clear blue lake Wakatipu. Blake and Christian hiked up to the top of the Queenstown mountain and went luging while Jaida and I went to a bird sanctuary to finally see kiwi. We are finished in New Zealand for now – although there is so much more we could do we ready to go back to Australia for our last few days on this trip in the Great Barrier Reef.