Country #19: New Zealand (the south island)

Our next stop is a new country for Go With Daddy…New Zealand!  But first some necessary preparations, aka wash all our clothes!  The Prins were gracious enough to let us stay at their apartment, while they’re away, to wash away.  We’re heading even further south which means colder weather but we’re trying to pack in only 2 suitcases which is hard when four people have three different layers of coats and boots for all… but we did it!  Luckily, we could drop off a suitcase and stroller at the Marriott as we’ll be back there for one night before flying home after a couple weeks.  Being able to utilize these extra conveniences are huge!

At the airport, we went through customs as we’re leaving Australia and this time it was computerized.  We found this interesting that small children could go through here as it meant they went through on their own.  Bea and Teddy did great though!  We had given ourselves extra time so Cory wouldn’t be rushed as he’s just a little slower moving than normal right now.  It was a quick three-hour flight to Christchurch.  Upon landing, customs had to check my boots for seeds and stink bugs as they’re very particular about not bringing any outside contaminates into their country.  We stayed at the Sudima Hotel which was nice, clean and very close to the hotel.  We all went straight to bed as it was past midnight in NZ; we lost two hours in the time zone change.

Saturday morning we waked up to the no-work, family vacation portion of our trip and we were all so excited as it included a campervan for the next twelve days.  After a quick stop for breakfast and supplies, we had one last errand to buy a new boosters/car seats bag as the zippers (that were on the brink upon arriving in Australia) broke.  On each long trip we have taken, we have bought a bag of some sort.  Luckily, we found one that would fit both boosters with no problem; thanks Baby on the Move.

Now on to Willowbank Wildlife Park; I bet you couldn’t have guessed a zoo stop, huh?  It was a cool wildlife park and proudly showing the big five NZ animals.  The one most recognizable is the kiwi; it’s a nocturnal, flightless bird that we saw inside a darkened area to simulate night.  We were able to see a few kiwis rustling around in the bush and digging around with their long beaks, which have their nostril at the end.  The other four are: kea, who has a very loud call and sharp looking beak; tuatara, which is said to be the last living dinosaur; takahe and kaka.  They don’t include it in the top five but we (Teddy mostly) were excited to see a weka, another native, flightless NZ bird.  New Zealand has no native four-legged animals; they have all been imported.  Other highlights to this wildlife park included eels, capuchin monkeys, siamang gibbons, capybara and llamas.

We couldn’t stay all day as we needed to head north to Kaikoura for the night.  For supper, we stopped in a town that only had one restaurant open and it was takeaway food only.  Luckily, we could eat in the campervan then got settled in and put kids in pjs as it will be past bedtime when we arrive in Kaikoura.  We have a nice set up and much bigger than when we rented a campervan in Oz when the kids were 3 and 1.  We’ve gotten a bit wiser from that experience!  The kids will sleep above the cab and the adults in the back where a couch converts to a bed.  We also have a table (that could convert to a bed) so we do not have to take down any bedding each morning…upgrade!  After some windy, two-lane roads, we made it to Kaikoura to the *Pier Hotel where we parked for the night.

When we waked the next morning, we had an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean!  A quick stop at Why Not Cafe for a hearty brekky before it’s Whale Watching Kaikoura time.  Fortunately, we could go as the past few days had been cancelled due to rough water.  Unfortunately, the captain said it was a “very high seasick possibilities” day so Cory found us seasick medicine to take.  Bea and I both felt rough but no one got sick.  We were able to see two male sperm whales just hanging out on the top of the water (there are no females here in the winter as they go further north for warmer waters with their calfs).  The whales stay at the surface for about 15 minutes before they dive back into the deep for 45-60 minutes!  Again, seeing these massive, majestic creatures took my breath away and I cried.  Whales must be my favorite animal of all time!  Being in the wild, you never know what you’ll get to see but we also saw three fur seals swimming.  Each fur seal had one fin up soaking in the sun’s heat to warm their bodies.  Many albatross and other birds flew by us just above the water’s surface; so amazing to watch them glide by.  After this breathtaking experience, we came back to the Pier Hotel for lunch where I had the best seafood chowder.  Sorry New England, New Zealand has you beat!

We have twelve days to cover as much ground as possible on New Zealand’s South Island so on to the next town we drove!  The seasickness meds made us all drowsy so coffees were much needed this afternoon.  Since it’s winter, it gets dark early so we rolled into Blenheim at 6pm to complete darkness.  We checked into Blenheim Top 10 Holiday Park before a quick, delicious and very friend meal at Eat Thai.  Sweet Teddy had fallen asleep and that’s never the easiest waking someone that close to bedtime to have supper.

Even though we picked a larger campervan, the bathroom section is still pretty small with the toilet taking up the majority of the space.  So we utilize the holiday parks for showers.  Thank goodness we can each take a kid to speed up the process.  Another benefit of a holiday park is they usually have a playground which the kids took advantage of and enjoyed while we got ready to hit the road again.  Today is wine day…Cloud Bay to be specific!  This winery put NZ on the map for Sauvignon Blanc and our tasting did not disappoint!  It was a beautiful, sunny day so the kids played outside among the vines.  Due to NZ regulations, we could not tour the facility.  We continued wine day at The Vines Village for lunch where we also soaked in the sun while eating outside and the kids played on the playground.  Win, win for all!  We have driven past many vineyards and some even with sheep grazing amongst the vines!

We were told traveling from place to place will take longer in NZ and that is accurate.  The highways are two lanes and have many one-way bridges.  These bridges have signs showing who has the right of way or a stop light.  However, we found one with neither of these which was nerve racking especially since it was dark and we had to go around a corner.  Lots of honking was done then!  On our drives, it’s fun to hear the kids playing with their toys.  They each have a small, Skip Hop backpack of toys.  A good handful of the items come from the Family Dollar since you get a good price and don’t have to worry if you break or lose something.  I also love to hear their imaginations!  We mix in some movie time too.  This specific day seemed like the most desolate of roads we’ve been on, so we made sure to stock up on groceries before leaving town.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better before night fall.  The holiday park we planned to stay in was closed so we had to backtrack a bit in the little town of Charleston to Mitchell’s Gully Mine.  It used to be a huge mining town but is now almost non-existent.  We parked but couldn’t find anywhere to check in.  Then out of nowhere a gentleman, Valentine Mitchell, came out with his flashlight.  He confirmed we could park here then proceeded to show us the many glow worms on his property.  He had dug tunnels and the glow worms came to make homes here…so cool!

We waked to find Mr. Valentine waiting to show us around his gold mine.  He told us all about the history of NZ’s gold rush starting in the 1880s when his great grandfather immigrated from Scotland.  He was very proud of his heritage!  We strolled through the tunnels where the miners would have dug for gold; there were a lot of tunnels!  We saw a new bird which we found out was called a fantail.  His name perfectly describes him with his fan being as big as his body.

The drive south down the West Coast was beautiful as it was mostly along the coast of the Tasman Sea.  A quick cup of coffee at Rusty Cup Coffee (his set up was portable and energy efficient using propane and solar panels to power it all) before stopping to see Pancake Rocks.  They’re giant stacked rocks that no one can figure out how they got this way, as well as Blow Holes where we witnessed geysers produced by the forceful waves coming into the inlets.  We weren’t expecting to see geysers as it wasn’t high tide so that was a fun surprise!  Lunch was at Pancake Rocks Cafe for another yummy edition of fish and chips.  Driving on south we saw stunning views of very diverse landscape…giant fern leaves, palm trees and fur trees, mostly dry riverbeds (as they won’t fill completely until the snow melts in the springtime), one-lane bridges, cows and sheep, llamas, mountains and oceans!

Tonight’s stop is in Fox Glacier at Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park which turned out to be the nicest holiday park we stayed at during our whole trip!  Every other night we have made sure to get a powered site for power and showers.  This one even had heated bathroom floors…bonus!  We grabbed dinner at Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon then showers for all.

Happy Birthday to Cory from New Zealand!  We were all so excited for this day, especially the birthday boy, as we were getting to take a heli (the Aussies and Kiwis love to shorten words) ride to a glacier; however, the rain saw otherwise.  So, we soaked our sorrows in an amazing brekky (with birthday candles for Cory to blow out) and coffee from Cafe Neve then on to Wanaka.  Sweet Cory has done all the driving and I know it’s not easy.  It was a hard, full day of driving today as it poured, and the wind was quite strong!  We made a few stops along the way for lunch, to see Thundering Creek Falls (a magnificent waterfall right off the road), and not one, two but three amazing rainbows among the mountains and lake.

Upon arriving in Wanaka, we went straight to Rippon Vineyard (just before they closed) for a tasting and an amazing view of the vines and Lake Wanaka.  Tonight, we met a colleague of Cory’s (Simon), his son and their friends for supper at Lake Bar.  This colleague, among others, has been so hospitable and thoughtful especially with Cory’s medical issues.  They didn’t know they were joining us for birthday dinner and celebrating Cory made it even more fun!  Cory doesn’t have any colleagues in our hometown so it’s always a treat for the kids and I to meet people he works with.  It helped even more that tonight there were two kids the same ages as Bea and Teddy to play with.

Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park worked great for our evening’s accommodations too.  The next morning, Cory snuck off and booked us on a glacier helicopter ride!  Boy, were we all excited!  Wanaka Helicopters, a boutique, family business, provided an amazing experience with Pilot Pete (son of the owner) piloting our flight.  The kids and I had never been in a helicopter and they sat in the front seats giggling as we took off.  I, on the other hand, was teary eyed as we took off.  Did I forget to mention, it was just the five of us…our family of four and the pilot.  It was such an amazing feeling and could not believe I was getting to do this!  We flew over Lake Wanaka to Mount Aspiring (featured in Lord of the Rings) seeing beautiful snow-capped mountains.  New Zealand has some of the most breathtaking views including amazing waterfalls that we flew right beside and blue ice, which is highly compressed snow that free of any air inside.  We did not realize the best was yet to come; that would be when we landed the helicopter on a glacier!  Yes, that’s what I said and in one meter of snow.  The kids played and played in the snow; they were covered in snow when it was time to get back in the helicopter.  What a magical, unbelievable experience we had!  I sat up front on the way back and soaked in the landscaping beauty.  I’m still pinching myself!

Wanaka is an adorable lake and mountain town with boutiques and heaps of restaurants including Francesca’s Italian Restaurant where we ate for lunch.  I had an amazing mushroom, truffle oil pizza while Cory enjoyed a braised lamb pasta.  So yummy!  Back on the road and onto Queenstown now.  The kids and I fell asleep for the whole hour and a half drive…sorry Cory!  Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park was our pick of parks for the next few days while we enjoy the adventure sports capitol of the world.  Even in winter, Queenstown is more crowded than any place we’ve been in NZ.  Sometimes you need some downtime, so Cory gave me a little while he took the kids to the playground; then, we watched a movie and heated up leftovers.  These times are needed sometimes on long trips.

We woke to a day of mostly rain, so we took the morning to give the kids another break while Cory did the “not so fun” campervan duties.  I took the kids to (an indoor) Chipmunks Playland and Cafe and they had a blast!  We met Cory for lunch at a quaint little hole in the wall, Red Rock Bar and Cafe before a true Queenstown experience and NZ originated jetboat ride.  Shotover Jet has it down to a science as they pack in 28 people in a boat every fifteen minutes for their ride of a lifetime.  First, they outfit us with jackets to block some of the water, glasses to keep the water out of our eyes and life vests for safety.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was way better!  Cory and I bookended the kids in the back of the boat and heard Bea’s giggle and saw Teddy’s perma-grin the whole ride.  Our captain drove the boat 90 kph in only 10 inches (in some spots) of water zooming up and down river currents, through a canyon and almost missing many giant boulders.  We also did many 360s where I came off my seat every time while holding tight to Teddy.  Boy, what a rush!  Another bonus were the heated handrails, so no one was even cold.

Saturday morning we were up at 5:30am (which is way earlier than the 8am we’ve been getting up on this vacation).  Sweet Cory fixed us breakfast, as he always likes everyone to be well fed, before our 6:30am cab ride.  Today’s adventure with Real Journeys took us on three buses and two boats.  We had seven people (low numbers in the off-season) on a coach bus that took us to Manapouri.  However, we wouldn’t be in NZ if they didn’t stop for coffee on the way which consequently had a playground for the kids ten minutes of wiggles out.  Why not, right!  Once in Manapouri, we took our first boat ride in a relaxing catamaran on Lake Manapouri to our second bus which was a 20 km scenic ride full of vegetation (many beech trees and moss) and the beginning of all the waterfalls.  The main event was a three hour boat ride (yes, we did make it back!) touring Doubtful Sound.  It’s been a warm winter so far in NZ as it was only 8 degrees Celsius instead of typical negative temperatures.  Doubtful Sound is a cove of water ways viewing one amazing waterfall after another amazing water.  It started raining (actually storming) on us which normally would’ve been a bummer, but the rain emphasized the hundreds of waterfalls we saw!  Crazy wind made the waterfalls even cooler as some of the water from the falls don’t hit the lake before being swept back north.  Wild!  The boat captain got us up so close to some of the waterfalls that we could almost touch the water.  I have never seen anything like it!  The kids loved being so close, standing in the rain and wind.

After all the beauty, we still have two more buses and another boat ride to get back to Queenstown but Doubtful Sound’s beauty was worth the whole day of traveling.  It was a late evening with the kids getting to bed at 9pm but not before a delicious Indian dinner at Boliwood.

Sunday morning, we hit the road again to see the animals of NZ’s South Island.  However, we stopped at Macca’s first which we have done once on each of our international trips.  On our three-hour drive, we saw elk farms (who knew they farmed elk and deer), bungee jumping (I have no desire to try this) and lots and lots of sheep and cattle.  Our first animal destination was a hidden gem Cory found on Backpackers Guide Magazine to Matakae Scenic Reserve at Shag Point.  It’s a New Zealand Fur Seal colony and today it also had a full and stunning rainbow!  We were the only ones there watching the seals sleep, waddle into the water and stare back at us.  We got pretty close to one who seemed to be checking us out as much as we were him.  We love seeing animals; but, when they’re in the wild, it’s even cooler!

Tonight’s activity might be the kids’ favorite thing we did.  We drove on to Oamaru, checked into Harbour Tourist Park, right on the Pacific Ocean, before grabbing our premium seats for the Blue Penguin Colony viewing.  Around 300 of these adorable little (1 kilo) blue penguins come into their colony each night after swimming approximately 50 kilometers each day to fish.  They travel home in “rafts” to protect themselves then waddle up onto the rocks to their burrows.  This evening they had to navigate a couple of NZ fur seals in their way.  The seals aren’t predators, but they do make the penguins nervous.  Blue penguins are the neatest little creatures to see and hear; they have a very distinct sound!  As we left, we walked past many blue penguins (already out of the water) heading to their burrows.  I cannot believe we were so close to them!

The next morning, I waked to hear the blue penguins heading out to the ocean for the day…so amazing!!!  Breakfast was next at the cutest Tees Street Cafe; it had a super cool vibe, delicious food and even Corkcicles for sale behind the counter.  Since it was a beautiful sunny day, we took the kids to Friendly Bay Playground right off the ocean for the kids to play and us to enjoy the amazing views.  Oamaru is another adorable town with a cute boulevard of shops, coastal cafes, breweries and more.  We drove back into the mountains today to Mount Cook; and, even though a campervan isn’t the most comfortable to ride or sleep in, it sure is convenient.  We stopped on the side of the road to make sandwiches in our kitchen.  Close to our hotel (yes, tonight’s bed is in a hotel!) we stopped at Mt Cook Alpine Salmon shop for some fresh salmon sashimi.  They have salmon farms here as they can make the water so cold for the salmon from glacier and snow melt.  It’s so blue!  Now up the mountain to the Hermitage Hotel and the kids went straight to jumping on beds and wrestling with the extra space in a hotel room.  The first item on the agenda was for all to shower without having to wear flip flops; it felt grand!  Sometimes you need to experience a rustic lifestyle to appreciate the luxuries we think are normal.  Mount Cook Village is a small village, so we ate supper at one of the only places open that evening, The Chamois.

We waked the next morning to find six inches of snow on the ground!  Whoo hoo!!!  After a buffet breakfast in the hotel, we put on all the layers for a walk/hike to Tazman Glacier; however, the road was closed to get to the head of the trail due to possible avalanches.  So, we decided to try Kea Point walk instead.  It was quite a slushy hike but beautiful to see all the snow on the mountains.  The sun was bright and felt amazing, so it wasn’t that cold after we got going.  Since we brought three weighted layers for all the different temperature ranges, we had many layers to play with.  The kids had rain pants, which didn’t cover their ankles; so unfortunately, they got snow inside their boots from walking in the snow.  Even more unfortunate for Teddy was that he didn’t step lightly in the snow, so both his wool socks were soaking wet making his feet red and burning.  Oh mercy!  We hustled him back to the hotel to avoid frost bite.  After we dried out and grabbed a quick bite of lunch, we took required naps as we have an evening of stargazing scheduled.  The naps were so nice!  We had an amazing dinner of ceviche and salmon at Panorama Room.  The sky was cloudy, so the stargazing took place in the planetarium.  We heard a stargazing talk in the Middle East in February; so, it was nice to hear from the southern hemisphere (even if the presenter was subpar) and Bea connected things that were said at both presentations.  It was fun to hear her recount facts!

We waked early on our last morning in New Zealand to hit the road as we have an almost five-hour drive ahead of us to Christchurch…on NZ roads.  We left plenty of snow in Mt Cook but knew it’d probably be gone soon after we got out of the mountains.  Upon driving through Lake Tekapo, the snow started back up again; boy, was I glad we had time to drive a little slower for safety.  We stopped in Fairlie for coffee at the cutest, clean cafe called Eat.  It also had a fun, little play area for kids.

We arrived back where our New Zealand adventures began in Christchurch at the same shopping area for a quick bite to eat at a delicious Chinese restaurant, Tai Chi Restaurant, before heading home.  Our flight back to Sydney was on Emirates which is always a treat especially for the kids as they give great toys, stuffed animals, mini-backpacks, etc. on flights.

Back in Sydney, we head to our usual Marriott hotel for a quick sleep before our long flight home the next day.  It sure was an amazing adventure and it’s always bittersweet to head home!  We may be a little more excited than usual to get home after Cory’s medical issues.  Regardless, I’m so glad we added New Zealand to our trip as it was unbelievable to see!

Good morning, Kaikoura!

Sheep among the vines in the Marlborough region

Pancake Rocks

One of three beautiful rainbows that day

Rippon Vineyard with Lake Wanaka in the background

“Heli” ride to Mount Aspiring and landing on a glacier

Doubtful Sound in the Fiordlands

New Zealand fur seal (we were so close!)

Mount Cook

Snow Fun!

2 thoughts on “Country #19: New Zealand (the south island)

  1. Kay Smith

    I enjoy your trips. Your writing is superb (wish I could say I taught you how to be so descriptive, but not true). I am amazed at all you and your family are experiencing on these trips. What wonderful memories you are making, not to mention the education your children are getting. Hoping Cory is fully recovered by now. So proud of you. ❤️❤️❤️❤️


    1. Millie

      Thank you, Mrs. Kay! It was such a fun experience as well as getting to relive it again while writing. Thanks for following along on our journey!


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