Kia Ora (Welcome) to our New Zealand blog installment and our experience with a campervan rental.
Sitting only 1,900km to the east of Australia, New Zealand couldn't be a bigger contrast in landscape appearance. The landscape is phenomenal, created by New Zealand's position at the highly volatile boundary of the Australian and the Pacific Tectonic Plates.
Our camper journey began in Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand's, South Island. We picked up our campervan hire from the company Campervan Finder, which was to be our home for the next 3 weeks and set off on our journey. Having our own means of transport was a great feeling, we could wake up when we wanted and move at our own pace for the duration of our stay.
Christchurch is often referred to as the most English place outside of England, and is a charming historic city with a calm and tranquil atmosphere, set on the banks of the River Avon. With temperatures of 16 degree celcius, we were freezing after months in the heat in Australia!
We arrived in New Zealand’s autumn, a notoriously wet time of year. A stunning drive in our campervan through valleys, over rolling hills and round huge alpine blue lakes took us to Aoraki Mount Cook, the countries highest mountain. Our aim being to walk the Hooker Valley trek to the Hooker Glacier terminal lake, due to heavy rain and therefore zero visibility we had to cancel our plans, it really can rain in New Zealand!
Next up was Queenstown, the adventure sports capital of the southern hemisphere. Tucked into the shores of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by jagged snow capped peaks of the Remarkables mountain range, you couldn't wish for a more stunning setting. Arriving on day 6 of some immense rainfall, Queenstown was on flood alert and a dangerous time to be driving in a campervan or motorhome. The lake was overflowing, the ground saturated and the rivers ferocious with all the extra water. We awoke the next morning to sunshine and took the opportunity to trek to a viewpoint above Queenstown, the views back down over the town were incredible.
From Queenstown we then made our way north along the western side of the Southern Alps to Franz Josef Glacier for a day of ice trekking It was tiny compared to everything else! Franz Josef is one of the most accessible temperate-zone glaciers in the world, it cascades down to just 250 meters above sea level. We joined an organised tour and were supplied with a full set of waterproofs including coats, trousers, boots and crampons which allow for excellent traction on the ice. The day on the ice was truly amazing, we navigated through huge crevasses, down holes and around the dramatic glacier terrain. At the end of the day we were soaked (great waterproofs!) through and very cold however enjoyed every second of it, you don´t get to walk on a glacier every day!
As we drove, more beautiful scenery and picturesque towns followed us round the island as we made our way to Kaikoura, our plan being to park our campervan and go whale watching. The deep under water trench just off the coast near Kaikoura makes it an ideal feeding location for male Sperm Whales. These huge mammals can measure up to 18m in length and are the deepest diving creatures alive, they´ve been recorded at depths of 3,200m (3.2km or 2 miles). The whales are only at the surface for 5-10 minutes whilst re-oxygenating their bodies before diving back under the surface for another 45 minute feed, we had to be quick in our pursuit. Fortunately our three hour trip brought us into contact with two Sperm Whales and a pod of very playful Dusky Dolphins, a very very successful trip and well worth the $145NZD investment. Kaikoura is also host to colonies of Fur Seals, the seal pups are incredibly cute and mischievous, while the adults on the other hand are much more sedate unless you encroach on their territory when they can become aggressive.
A three hour ferry ride with our trust camper on board, then took us across the Cook Straight to Wellington, New Zealand's capital city situated at the south end of the North Island. Wellington is much like any other city, albeit the smallest capital city we've been to with a population under 500,000 people. We enjoyed a great day looking around Te Papa Tangarewa (Museum of New Zealand) where we learned a great amount about New Zealand´s origins and how the Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The treaty is an agreement between Maori Chiefs and the British Crown, this established British Law to help govern the British settlers whilst guaranteeing Maori authority of their land and culture.
Heading north from Wellington we visited Lake Taupo, a huge freshwater lake formed by a series of volcanic eruptions and then to Rotorua a city most notable for it´s rich Maori culture and geothermal activity with geysers and bubbling mud pools.
The final stop on our 2,000 mile campervan hire adventure was Auckland, known as the City of Sails because it has more yachts per capita than any other city in the world (another dull stat for you all!). We enjoyed a couple of relaxed days in the sunshine while organising ourselves for life back off the road. Living in a camper van for three weeks was a huge amount of fun and a new experience for us both, however we really did start to grow tired of spending too much time in the confines of such a small vehicle. In our opinion, there´s definitely a lifespan for that kind of living, although it´ll be an experience we both look back on.
What a fantastic country, New Zealand surpassed anything we could have hoped for. The landscape is unrivaled, so beautiful, lusciously green and immaculately preserved. There´s something for everyone, from world class treks that are booked up 12 months in advance to adrenalin pumping adventure sports. Our only regret was not being around in summer (Dec - Feb) when the weather would have been much more favourable, so we´ll certainly be heading back with or without a campervan hire!