day one: september 30, 2015: christchurch
We landed in Christchurch after what seemed like a short flight from SFO to Auckland, then onto Christchurch. It honestly felt like we boarded the plane, ate, watched a few movies, slept, ate, then arrived in New Zealand -- almost like a dream.
Once we landed in Christchurch, we headed over to Wilderness NZ to pick up our camper for our next 30+ days. With a quick overview and signing of some paperwork, we were given our home for the next month. It was pretty nerve-racking for both Jonathan and me --- not only did he have to drive this massive camper, he had to drive on the other side of the road, with the wheel on the other side too. As the passenger, it felt like he was going to hit everything coming on the left side. He quickly got comfortable and we made our way to a nearby park to stay the night.
For the rest of the day, we headed into Christchurch to do a bit of exploring and to grab some lunch. A couple people had mentioned how much construction there was in town because of the "earthquake" but Jonathan and I didn't pay too much attention...until we got to town...and was surprised by how much construction there actually was, and how many abandoned buildings there were. It felt like we were on a movie set...when something crazy happens in the world and everyone disappears and everything is abandoned. But, it was awesome to see how much street art popped up in every corner that we turned and if you know me, you know I had found my heaven. We learned that there was a massive 6.3 magnitude earthquake in 2011 and the effects are still strongly felt in the city today.
day two: october 1, 2015: castle hill, cave stream, and lake tekapo
We drove about 35 miles outside of Christchurch and stopped at Castle Hill which is a ridge consisting of limestone boulders -- kinda sorta like Goblin Valley but not. There was something almost eerie about the boulders, like if you stepped in the wrong place you would awaken a really angry dragon. We explored for about 30 minutes then raced to the car as rain started to come down pretty heavily.
Next, we drove about a mile down the road to Cave Stream, where a stream basically carved its way through a hillside to form a underground cave. For the adventurous type, you can go through the cave and come out on the other side...but that would involve being in waist deep, freezing cold water, in the dark. NO THANKS. we did, however, hike to the cave's entrance and exit just to check it out.
Next, we drove about 3 hours to our stop for the day at Lake Tekapo. I had my turn at driving...and as scared as I was to drive, I actually found it much easier than being the passenger. Jonathan admitted later that he woke up nervous a few times...and decided not to say anything because he knew I would be more nervous. As we wound through amazing prairies and hills, we were immediately caught by the turquoise hue of Lake Tekapo...so beautiful! We decided to freedom camp along the lake...and enjoyed a beautiful view with not a person or home in sight.
day three: october 2, 2015: white bluffs and lake pukaki
We decided to go on a hike close to where we stayed to check out the white bluffs featured in one of our guidebooks. We made our way down a somewhat steep gully expecting astonishing white bluffs and saw white walls that stood about 15 feet, not astonishing at all. We kept on walking along the shore, almost convincing ourselves that maybe these were it...but we pushed on a little more and THANK GOD, we did...because as we turned the corner, we were met with pretty awesome white bluffs just as described in the book. We also took in amazing views of Lake Tekapo...catching a few glimpses of turquoise waters at the right angle. We continued on the Peninsula Track and made our way back to the camper. It was pretty crazy to be walking along the track and realize that people could walk there everyday and have no idea what is just below. So cool!
We took a short drive up to the top of Mt. John...to take in 360 degree views of the area and a quick bite for lunch. It was pretty interesting to see how diverse the terrain was in all the surrounding areas -- or even scope out Lake Alexandria and see its blue hue in comparison to Lake Tekapo.
We decided to push on about 30 minutes away to Lake Pukaki, where we stayed the night. Again, unbelievable turquoise waters with a beautiful view of snowy peaks of Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps. We made a short stop at the visitor centre and picked up some fresh salmon sashimi...guessing it's locally caught, but oooohhhh so yummy!
day four: october 3, 2015: aoraki/mount cook national park
We drove to Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and stayed at the only campsite in the area, which was in pretty decent viewing of the Mueller Glacier just above. We opted to do the Sealy Tarns hike that boasted amazing views of the glacier, Mt. Cook, and Hooker Valley. I forgot to mention that there were 2200 stair-steps involved for this view. I was pooped even before we got to the stairs! then...we hit the stairs...and holy cow, I was dying the entire way...taking a rest after every 10 steps. I'm sure I was frustrating Jonathan but my legs felt like they were going to give at any moment! But yes, every so often you would turn around and the view would just get better and better of the valley below and off the mountain range to the right. Just when I thought we were at the top, I found out we were just halfway up, oof! We did make it to the top and the view was worth it.
day five: october 4, 2015: aoraki/mount cook national park + omarama
Since it was forecasted to rain the whole day, we decided to take a quick look at the Tasman glacier to see if it was worth one more night in the area. We hiked in a little bit of rain, more stairs and up to a viewing area of the glacier. Unfortunately, the clouds came in and it was a little hard to see...but what we could see was not all that great. and it wasn't the white/blue that one would imagine a glacier to look like.
A good portion of the drive we were caught in some crazy wind storms and would come across areas of dust storms where visibility was really poor. Luckily, it didn't last too long and we were able to push on, without any harm.
On our way south, we made a quick stop at the Clay Cliffs, which were okay. Amazing that these structures come out of nowhere but they don't compare to the Badlands or Bryce Canyon in the U.S.
After checking in at a holiday park, we visited the nearby Moeraki Boulders and headed a little down the way to the Katiki lighthouse to see the rarest penguins in the world, the yellow eyed penguin...which we did spot, 3 of them.