What a busy week it was! With rain every single day, our coats and shoes are soaked all the way through, our van smells musty, and I’ve swept and mopped our camper van floor at least one hundred times. We’re all hoping for one sunny day to air ourselves and our belongings out, but regardless we’ve had such an adventurous and exciting week. Even in the pouring rain, I kept looking over at Michael as we drove through along, feeling so carefree and just so happy to be adventuring around New Zealand with my favourite people. I guess there is an extra closeness that comes with pouring rain and life in a van. ; )
We’ve all taken to the campervan life. It is tight quarters in the van, but it’s also cosy and has everything we need. We love the feeling that no matter where we pull up, we are always home, with a bed to sleep in, food in the pantry and coffee for the morning. Here’s a recap of the week:
Days 1 & 2: We spent our first two nights in a little town outside of Christchurch called Akaroa. The town was originally settled by the French and retains a strong Franco influence with many street names and buildings in French. Our first day we did a big shop at the local grocery store, settled into the campsite and spent time learning the way around our camper van. The kids played at the campsite playground all evening while Michael made dinner and I prepared the beds. The next day was pouring rain, but we still managed to go for a walk into town, visit the small farmers market, eat crepes from the crepe stand, and go for a drive around the area. Akaroa is located on the beautiful and mountainous, Banks Peninsula. The area was formed by volcanic activity and is strikingly different to the flat lands surrounding it. There are lots of little bays facing the Pacific and we heard some had good surf. However, we soon learned that most roads leading to them are not accessible to camper vans and those that are, often end in private property with restricted access. Needless to say, the boys were disappointed.
Day 3: We drove down the coast to Moeraki, making a lunch stop aside a beach in Timaru, where we ate sandwiches while the pouring rain and roaring winds buffeted our van. We made it to Moeraki in the early evening, put on our woollen hats and went for a long walk along the coast. We tried to grab a table at Fleur’s Place because we had heard so many great things (and it indeed looked so lovely and cosy – with live guitar music and a roaring fire inside!), but sadly it was fully booked. We sullenly made our way back to our campsite and cooked up vegetarian burritos instead.
Day 4: We woke up early, made breakfast, and spent the next couple hours home-schooling. We then headed over to the famous and mysterious Moeraki Boulders on the beach. The rain was still pouring and the wind howling, so we donned our raincoats and made a mad dash onto the beach. The boulders were indeed impressive, our favourite thing being the cracked-open one revealing the layers of rock inside. We picked up postcards and coffee from the café, hopped back in the van and drove south to the Catlins. We drove via Dunedin and made a diversion to the beautiful Otago Peninsula. We had hoped to see the giant Albatrosses or Blue Penguins but the weather put an end to that idea (you couldn’t see beyond 10 feet of your car!). We settled instead for the gift shop/museum at the Royal Albatross Centre and picked up some woollen hats and socks to keep warm. We then drove further south, arriving to a campsite in Pounawea around 6pm. We went for a walk through the surrounding forest and estuary and came back for dinner and warm, dry clothes.
Day 5: We again woke early and started with home schooling, focusing on maps of New Zealand and learning about the areas we’d visited. We then packed up the van and drove 20 minutes to a charming beach, the starting point for the walk to Jack’s Blowhole. We put on our rain jackets and made the 30-minute walk along the beautiful coast to the giant blowhole, located 200 meters inland from the coast. The walk had incredible views along the south coast, and the blowhole was so cool!
We returned from our walk just in time to see a sea lion make his (or her) way out of the water, onto the beach and then into a neighbouring lawn. He sauntered on up like he owned the joint, not bothered in the least by the half-dozen curious tourists with smart phones aimed in his direction.
We drove further west along the south coast, stopping at McLean Falls for another short walk through thick forest ending in an impressive waterfall. After this walk, we hopped back into the car and drove a bit further to Curio Bay where we settled into a rough and ready campsite on the water. From here we could walk to see the 170 million-year-old petrified forest (so cool!) and nesting yellow-eyed penguins (we only saw one, which disappointed the kids), before returning to our van to do a journal entry about this busy day.
Day 6: We woke up to blue skies, our first in days! We were conveniently parked next to a surf break called Porpoise Bay, which meant Michael and Easton had their wetsuits on before I could clean up breakfast! This was a day we will no doubt remember forever. It was sunny until around 2pm, and the kids and Michael spent the entire time in the water alongside the rare Hector dolphins that call the area home. The playful dolphins swam alongside them, surfing the same waves, darting under their boards and jumping out for an occasional acrobatic display. It was the most wonderful sight and the children are still talking about it.
Late that afternoon, satisfied that we could not possibly extract more fun out of the day, we packed up our van and made a longish drive to Te Anau to camp for the night. We visited the local grocery store, restocked the van (it’s crazy how quickly we go through groceries!) and made dinner while the rain came down in sheets (again!). We all went to bed early with visions of dolphins dancing in our heads.
Day 7: Another day we will all remember forever! After a slow start (I spent the morning doing laundry), we loaded up and headed to Milford Sound. We had heard so many wonderful things about the sound, but nothing could have prepared us for the day we were about to experience. The 2-hour drive through Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound is breath-taking, with myriad pretty stops and nature walks along the way, that only get better and better as you go. We arrived just in time to catch the last cruise of the sound—which was the icing on the cake. I will write a separate post with more photos from this day (I couldn’t stop clicking). Milford Sound certainly deserves its own.