Crossing the Cook Strait switching from one gorgeous fjord to another is the preamble of what you will see on the South Island - a big WOW!!!
After having said goodbye to the ferry and a couple of amazing vineyards in the Marlborough Wine Region later, here it is - the Great Coast Road!
It is less known than the Great Ocean Road in Southern Australia but is the same once in a lifetime experience! It meanders along the mighty, incredibly blue Tasman Sea on your right and the majestic snow-capped Southern Alps on your left.
It starts with Westport and its colony of fur seals sunbathing on the rocks or swimming in the waters of Cape Foulwind. They are so cute!
Then the road goes through the amazing Punakaiki pancake rocks, which look like piles of thick pancakes and where at high tide the sea enters the crevasses and the water blows out threateningly through the blowholes.
The sunset at the rocks is breathtaking as it is colouring them in these warming red-golden tinges that make your heart beat in a happy rhythm bewildered by so much beauty!
Along the road there is only one thing that you can see everywhere - the stunning beauty of nature!
Tropical forests and colourful flowers, the sea at every moment of the day and of every nuance of blue, and these unexpected views appearing behind almost every turn which are definitely not in the guide - a turquoise river coming from the glacier, rock arches formed by the sea, a beautiful mount behind a mountain river…
All of a sudden you feel the urgent call of all your senses begging you to stop for lunch or snack to admire the beauty of these spots-surprise at least for an hour...Yes, unfortunately time flies so fast in NZ and there is so much to do and to see! You need to make difficult choices most of the time...
After an amazing hiking through the forest to an endless, completely wild beach with a long swinging bridge and a beautiful lake from where you can see the white glaciers, you will be beyond contentment.
The Three Mile Lagoon really deserves its name!
The best thing about hiking in NZ is that there are no snakes or other venomous animals!
You have instead seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, keas, kiwis, tuataras and of course penguins!
You also have LOTS of sheep (in any shape!!!) - there are only 4 million Kiwis but almost 30 million sheep in NZ, which results in 7 sheep per Kiwi, as well as sheep jams on the road from time to time!
After a hike to Matheson lake by dusk, which is the best moment to see the perfect reflections of the mountains in the smooth like a mirror waters of the lake, you are ready (after a BIG breakfast!) for the heli and the big jump to...the GLACIER!
The heli-hike is the best way to see either of the two glaciers - Franz Josef or Fox.
First from the sky in order to get an idea of its grandeur as it almost reaches the Tasman sea at its end, and then adventuring yourself on the ice with funny shoes through the waterfalls, caves and tunnels of this constantly moving, almost as if it was alive, really old phenomenon.
Walking on the ice dazzled by the sun warming your face, exploring the transparent tunnels and admiring the view of the sea not too far away is a not to be missed experience!
It leaves you speechless and you want to fly, literally!
You almost forget how deadly the glacier could be under its tempting beauty!
In the blink of an eye a tunnel can collapse on you or a crevasse open and this is it! The guides there are incredible and make sure this does not happen but you need to follow very carefully their instructions!
After saying goodbye to the Great Coast Road at the beautiful Haast Beach the only visitor of which was a snow-white cute poney, we headed to the capital of extreme sports - Queenstown.
However, before reaching it, we recharged our batteries with beautiful memories - waterfalls, blue pools, swinging bridges, lakes and glacier rivers!
We also stopped at a vineyard to get plenty of wine, delicious cheese and honey, and bought kilos of seasonal fruits and veggies from the local producers on the road!
The cherries were so juicy and the strawberries had the same taste as those I used to have from my granny’s garden in Bulgaria when I was a child...
After a stop at Arrowtown - a pretty small town which retains many original gold-rush buildings, we set base next to Queenstown, at the shores of a stunning lake in the mountains, in the happy company of ducks and horses grazing around at their leisure...
It was heaven!
Queenstown, the adrenaline-rush capital of NZ which is famous for its bungy jumping (too weird for me…) will display in front of you all the crazy temptations from rafting and climbing to skydiving, hand gliding or paragliding, and of course skiing and snowboarding in winter (well, from August to October…winter in NZ...). You simply cannot get bored!
Rafting there is amazing as it is one of the few places in the world with 5-level rapids, which is the highest level for non-experts (level 6 rapids are described as 'rarely attempted ...the consequences of errors are severe and rescue may be impossible'!). Add to this a heli trip to the starting point of the rafting descent (which can also be reached by driving on one of the most dangerous roads in the world - the Skippers Canyon Road built during the gold rush and the drive on which will definitely not be covered by your rental car insurance!), with some beautiful loops as a courtesy from the pilot, making your adrenaline jump up in a second.
After the craziness of Queenstown, you really deserve your overnight cruise in NZ’s fjords.
A fjord is actually the masterpiece of a glacier which has been U-carving the rocks for centuries and the result of it is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides filled up with sea water. The first country which pops up in your mind for fjords is of course Norway, but there are fjords in many other countries and the NZ’s ones are amongst the most beautiful in the world!
Our overnight cruise was one of the best experiences we had in NZ!
In order to reach Doubtful Sound which is one of the largest NZ’s fjords, you have a bonus - a cruise in Manapouri lake which is as gorgeous as the cruise in the fjord itself!
And then, here it is - the fjord immersed in a mysterious blue mist and merging with the sea somewhere far, far away!
Moving along the majestic cliffs and thundering waterfalls of this wilderness paradise is almost intimidating!
There are so many different ways to experience the fjord!
The only other visitors you will come across are the seals sunbathing lazily on the rocks and the seagulls who are after your dinner and will form a long trail in the air behind the boat! It is so relaxing and senses-awaking...
We fished our own dinner and had an incredibly fresh and delicious 4-course fish and seafood only dinner prepared by the crew, complemented by some crayfish caught by one of the guys who dived especially for it!
At dusk while the sun was setting down in beautiful golden colours, we went for some canoe adventuring next to the shores, penetrating in almost invisible river passages in the dense forest.
The cherry on the cake from the cruise was to do it with two couples of Kiwis who had been doing it for years and were incredibly funny and sweet-as!
After a short stop at Scottish-influenced Victorian Dunedin and its Edwardian Baroque gingerbread-alike railway station, as well as the encounter with a sea lion and her baby next to our motor home, there was another wonder on our way to Christchurch - the Moeraki Boulders Beach!
No, these are not just boulders and this is not just a beach! It seems like some extraterrestrial objects have stranded from an alien spaceship on the planet Earth…
When the only ingredients left in the motor home are apples and sugar and you decide to make some apple crumble out of them, you know that the trip is near its. However, this does not make you sad because your mind is overpowered with amazing memories!
This is what happened when we stopped overnight at Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, which would have become French (together with the rest of NZ, oh my!!!), had the British not decided to send a warship there to claim British sovereignty only 2 days before the French settlers arrived!
The town is charming and has kept a French influence, down to the names of the streets and the local commerce.
Our trip in the Wonder-Land of the Long White Cloud ended in the most English of the NZ’s cities, Christchurch, which moved us to tears. The city center was destroyed by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes which also left more than a hundred people dead. However, it is the perfect proof that wherever there are disasters and hardship, there is also hope - this precious sparkle which makes you hold on and move forward!
What remains from the beautiful Gothic Cathedral built in 1881 in the city center makes you want to weep. We hope that this beautiful and emblematic building will be restored one day!
However, on the other hand, you can still slowly glide on flat-bottomed boats along the tranquil Avon River, as a skilled punter in traditional Edwardian attire gently propels you along the water, and feel like you have been teleported in one of Jane Austin’s novels! You can also walk around the exquisite Botanic Gardens and admire the splendor of the aromatic roses!
The real institution of Christchurch which had just started working again when we visited was the colonial style tramway built in 1927 somewhere in Australia which somehow ended here as a restaurant! We rode around the beautifully enlightened city again and again and would be able to do it for the night if allowed to!
It was like jumping into another age of refined dining and company! The menu cooked on board included the famous NZ’s beef and was delicious. We were listening to the waiter telling us the story of his city, his sorrow after the earthquakes and his happiness that the city was now starting to recover! The tramway strolling leisurly again around the city after many years of inactivity was a huge achievement and made him so proud. We also felt proud of contributing in a very humble way to this recovering while having an amazing evening in wonderland!
To make things even more fairy, the tramway dropped us in a park when we spent our last hours in NZ listening to live movie music and watching fireworks with these sweet-as guys - the Kiwis!
E noho ra (or ‘goodbye’ in maori), sweet-as Aotearoa, a paradise with no cellphones, no emails and no problems!
We will be back!
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