When we left Christchurch after the earthquake, neither Marina nor I had any doubt that we wanted to come back to see what was left of the city. Before going back to the North Island, we decided to spend 5 days in Christchurch.

We were incredibly lucky when we contacted Matt from Couchsurfing: he has been amazing!! His house (soon known as Mattpackers) is crowed, busy, funny, happy. One of those places where you can never be bored or feel lonely. They made us feel like home. And believe me, it wasn’t easy in a city that still shakes several times per day. Matt, thanks!!!

The sad part was that coming back to Christchurch was way more traumatic than we expected. The city center is still closed by the army, there is still danger of buildings to collapse, there are thousands of families still without water or electricity. Everywhere you look there are signs of the strongest earthquake ever. Everyone has lost either someone, or a house, or a business.

Matt took us by car to see whats remaining of the city. I have the feeling that Christchurch had to be amazing. Unfortunately, I will never know. Again, I just want to wish the best to the families of all the victims.

Judge it yourself:

 

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floor crack in a supermarket

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bridge

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another crack in the floor

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random building in Christchurch

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rocks destroying a building

 

This is just a sample of what we have seen. Besides the buildings, we have also met a lot of people from Christchurch, whose strength facing the destruction was shocking at the beginning, but taught us a lot.

Matt, again, thanks for taking care of us.

South Island, we’ll miss you! Definitely, the best scenery ever!

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This was the last week with “La Fea”. And the weather didn’t help!

We stayed a couple of nights in the Malbourough Region, all full of vinyards. And no, we didn’t try any. Come one, we can’t start drinking wine at 11 in the morning when Marina has to drive!! So we went to visit the Marlbourough Sounds. That was beautiful although the road had the sharpest curves ever!

We stayed a couple of nights with Sam and Sonya. Who invited us to an amazing pizza (thanks Justin!) and with whom we had a lot of fun.

And then we headed south towards Christchurch.

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way to Kaikoura

In our way to Kaikoura the weather was awful, and it was a shame because the scenery seemed just incredible.

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crayfish

Kaikoura it’s famous for its crayfish, fur seals, dolphins and whales. We could only see fur seals (again!) but we definitely enjoyed a delicious crayfish.

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Kaikoura Peninsula

 

After that, we took the highway to Christchurch. We had been 25 days traveling with our dear van, and we had to come back to the city that we will never be able to visit.

Our dear Fea! Our poor and ugly van! It’s been so many days with you!

Finally back in summer.

I had lots of expectations about Golden Bay, and it is truly beautiful. Here the scenery is all about low and high tide, something surprising for me, as the Mediterranean Sea doesn’t have any of them. In Golden Bay everything changes in a matter of a few hours: from brown sand to blue water. All stunning!

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Low tide

So last week we visited as much as the weather allowed us of the Golden Bay (we had been too lucky, so I’m not going to complain for a bit of rain). Wainui Falls, Pupu Springs and towns like Motueka or Takaka. This whole area has to be really touristic in summer, but now it was quite and peaceful. Perfect time to enjoy it!

We also went to visit the Abel Tasman Memorial. For those you don’t know it, Abel Tasman was the first European to reach New Zealand. So we were expecting a quite impressive memorial. But no, it was just a block of concrete. No carvings, nothing. Just a block. A white block. I didn’t even take a picture of it.

We went as far as we could (you can only reach the actual Spit in a guided tour) to Farewell Spit. An amazing track that took us through unexpected views:

 

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walking next to sheeps

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facing the Farwell Spit

For those you thought I wouldn’t dare bringing my dresses to my trip: I didn’t, but I bought new ones here. I thought I could do it without nice dresses, but I couldn’t. Living without a closet is not that easy.

Anyway, I’m not going to start a dissertation about how my luggage is increasing every week, so let’s stick to the traveling topic.

In Collingwood we found an incredible chocolate shop. Hidden in the middle of nowhere, but totally worth a visit if you’re in the area. This was almond cake and white chocolate cake. And it was as delicious as it looks!

 

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Rosy Glow Chocolates in Collingwood

And after so much driving, we decided to stay in Nelson for some days as soon as we saw how alive the city is. Nelson has people walking in the streets and has an actual city center, not just one street. It’s still not a European city, but hey, compared to the hundreds of kilometers we have driven in the last weeks, Nelson is pretty crowded.

So we visited the market on Saturday and enjoyed cheap and yummy blackberries, we ate chicken satay pie, we drank local beers and well, definitely, enjoyed the city for the whole weekend before going to the Marborough Region.

 

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Nelson

 

After the impressive Sounds, it was really hard for us to think about anything else. All the mountains looked the same, all the rivers looked the same, all the highways were nice but not as amazing as the Milford one. After the Sounds, all the NZ scenery looked just “fine” to us. So we decided that the best we could do was going up north to the coast, to change completely the views.

On Saturday 12th we headed to Queenstown again through a nice highway with views to The Remarkables (known as “Middle earth” in Lord of the Rings, not that I have seen the movie or care about it at all, but just to make you all jealous! hahahaha). We slept in Cromwell, a city famous for two things: the old town with views to the lake and the fruit monument. I won’t say anything, just judge it yourself.

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Cromwell lake

 

We and the fruit

The day after we took the road to Haast. The highway from Wanaka to Haast is also really impressive. Nice mountains, falls, creeks, walks all around and amazing views that blow your mind. And finally: BEACH! So to celebrate it we went to Jackson Bay to try its famous whitebait sandwich. It isn’t whitebait season, but the drive there was beautiful, and the sandwich, well, was ok. By the way, the penguins had already left.

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Penguins don't exist

 

So we finally were in the West Coast. And what everybody has to do there is go to visit the Fox and Franz Josef Glacier. Yes, when we thought we could enjoy nice weather again, we went to visit ice chunks. But it was amazing! I never thought the ice could be that blue!! Both glaciers have stunning walks that lead you really close to the glacier terminal, so, a few meters before it starts. As all the country, this is also a really safe area (sarcasm on).

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Fox Glacier

 

After that we kept going up north until Greymouth, where we slept. On the way there, if you ever go, don’t forget to stop in Pukekura, population two, to see the Bushmans center. The tackiest place ever, with a cafe where you can have charming snacks like possum pie or possum pâté. Disgusting. They also have a restaurand specialized in road kills. Their motto: “you kill ’em, we grill ’em”. I have no words.

So, on Tuesday we took the Coast Road SH6 from Greymouth to Westport. Beautiful landscape, of course. We stoped in Punakaiki to visit the Pancake rocks, and also in Tauranga Bay, to visit some seals, lighthouse and have a nice walk around.

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Pancake rocks

 

In that area we learned about a new bird: weka. Or, familiarly known for us: Pukiwi Second. Why? First we learned about the Kiwi, the cutest animal on earth, then we found out about the Pukeko, hilarious, then we met the Takahe, a perfect combination of Kiwi and Pukeko, so we decided to call it Pukiwi (obvious). Unfortuntately, Pukiwi (aka Takahe) and Kiwi are almost extinct. So it really surprised us when we found this animal on the middle of the road, because it also looked like a Kiwi, but slightly different (there was a lot of people taking pictures thinking that it was an actual Kiwi). There are heaps of them! So we thought it deserved the name Pukiwi too, because it is also a perfect mixure between a Kiwi and a Pukeko. And this is the story of how Weka became Pukiwi Second. Totally reasonable, I know.

We are working on a diagram of the whole explanation, but meanwhile you have the following summary:

kiwi + pukeko = pukiwi (or takahe, or takeshi according to Ina) (unreal animal)

kiwi + pukeko = pukiwi second (real animal)

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Pukiwi second, also known as Weka

 

We finally left the West Coast going inland to Murchison, in our way to the Golden Bay, from where I am writing now. So, the story goes on.

On Wednesday, then, we arrived to Te Anau, and as the NZ dollar is so low, we decided that we could afford not only visiting one of the Sounds but also the Glowworm Caves. So we went to Real Journeys and booked both things: the caves and the visit to Doubtful Sound.

1. Glowworm caves

First you take a cruise through Lake Te Anau, and after half an hour you arrive to the caves, where after walking some minutes you arrive to a dark cave to take a boat inside the cave. Once there we couldn’t take pictures there, but you’ll have to believe my word: is just spectacular. Hundreds of glowworms that looked like stars above us!

On the cruise, as it was dusk, all the couples were taking romantic cheesy pictures of themselves. And well, we had to do it too.

 

Love Picture in the cruise

2. Milford Sound

We decided to do the cruise through Doubtful Sound instead Milford, because is three times bigger and everybody said it is more spectacular. But anyway we wanted to see it, so we took the Milford Highway on Thursday.

The highway is 120 kms from Te Anau to Milford, but it took us more than 4 hours just to go there. We had to stop at almost every corner. It was so spectacular that I run out of adjectives. Just a couple of examples:

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Way to Milford Sound

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Milford Sound

And well, I can’t explain it with words. Is something you have to see by yourself to believe it. It seemed that all that scenary was drawn, it seemed unreal. But the fact is that it was totally real, in front of my eyes.

 

3. Doubtful Sound

And when we thought we couldn’t see more beauty, on Friday we took the cruise to Doubtful Sound. One hour cruise through Lake Manapouri, one hour couch through the Wilmot Pass (with a visit to the Underground Power Station), three hour cruise through the sound and back again. I still can’t understand how some people felt asleep in the second cruise, we couldn’t even switch off our cameras!!

Definitely, I have no words, just pictures.

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Lake Manapouri

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Wilmot's pass

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Doubtful Sound

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Fur Seals in Doubtful Sound

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and yes, I was there too!

 

The route from Dunedin to Queenstown is called Southern Scenic Route. On Monday we did from Dunedin to Invercargill (pronounced “invercago” by the kiwis. Like “chicago” or “avocado”). The route is amazing, truly beautiful.

It was less than 250 kms and it took us around 8 hours to do it, because we had to stop every half an hour to admire some of the amazing places of this country. Nugget Point, Kaka Point, Matai Falls, Lake Wilkie, McLean Falls… And we only did a small part of all the scenery stops! But it was easy to get carried away by the nice walks along the route.

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Nugget Point

We also stopped in Curio Bay, where there are supposed to be penguins. We arrived there with no hope at all after the last three days trying to spot them in different places without luck. But this time it was different. We stepped at the beach and we started seeing those weird yellow-eyed penguins all around! It was so magic! We arrived there around dusk, when there are more penguins. They are so funny! So cute! (just for your information: I’m quite obsessed with those animals since I was a child)

 

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Yellow-eyed penguins in Curio Bay

In Invercargill we had contacted some Couchsurfers to stay with, but we arrived really late and we thought it was too late to contact them. Then another miracle happened: a guy wrote us saying that he had even prepared us dinner, that we had his house waiting for us. We couldn’t believe it. This can only happen in New Zealand, where hospitality is beyond what you can imagine. Dory took care of us for two nights. He is just amazing, pure energy!

So on Tuesday he took us with his car to visit Bluff, the very far south of the country. Actually we were as close to the South Pole as we will ever be. Just 4810 kms!!!

 

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Bluff sign

 

Bluff is famous for its oysters. So, even though I find raw pacific oysters disgusting, we had to try them here. Unbelievable, but they were yummy! And compared to Spain, really cheap! A dozen of cooked oysters was 16 €! So, I like Bluff’s cooked oysters. Hell yeah! We also tried Paua fritter. And well, I’m not really sure if I like it.

 

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Oysters and Paua fritter in Bluff

 

We also did an impressive walk up to Bluff Hill, with stunning views of Stewart Island and other Islands which names I can’t remember.

 

 

Bluff Hill

And on Wednesday it was time to hit the road again. So we continued the Southern Scenic Route until Te Anau (Fiordland), from where I am writing now. On the way to Te Anau we didn’t forget to try Tuatapere’s famous sausages, truly delicious.

Te Anau and it’s surroundings deserve another post. Today I run out of adjectives while we were driving around. So I don’t even know how to start talking about it. Fiordland just blows your mind. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, and probably I’ll never see anything like this again.

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La Fea

We finally did it! After a long week in Christchurch and then in Queenstown, we were finally able to rent a camper van to travel through the south island of New Zealand. The cheapest option was Wicked Campervans, and guys, let me introduce you our dear “La Fea” (the ugly one, name due to obvious reasons).

So on Monday we started our road trip after buying everything we needed: a wire to plug the ipod to the car, food supplies, water and lots of winter clothing (here is FREEZING!). Our first night was in Omarama, a really small town with nothing special, actually.

On Tuesday we headed to Twitzel with the idea of going to Mount Cook, but it was so cloudy that we decided to go on to the coast. The road there is just impressive, you follow the most amazing lakes I’ve ever seen with a weird milky water. Lake Tekapo, a lake and also a town, was a perfect stop for lunch. We slept in Geraldine, a really nice town with some nice walks to do in the forest.

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Lake Tekapo

 

On Wednesday we went down South to Timaru, the windiest town ever. And then back to Omarama and Twitzel, we were determined to see Mount Cook. So after the coldest night ever, we went there. And it was totally worth it. Is so impressive! All the road there is amazing, because the only thing you see in front of you is Mount Cook. After arriving to the town, we took a walk to the Kea Point, a 2 hour return walk that allowed us to enjoy the views of this stunning mountain, emblem of New Zealand.

 

Windy Timaru

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Mount Cook

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Me at the Kea Point

After that we went to Oamaru, famous colony of blue and yellow-eyed penguins. We waited one hour and a half, but we couldn’t see them. But the cheese of the area (Whitestone cheese) is delicious! Anyway, Oamaru turned out to be a really beautiful town with a Victorian city center filled with the cutest shops ever.

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Oamaru Victorian Town

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Book shop in the Oamaru Victorian Town

On Friday we arrived to Dunedin. We were really excited about it because it is considered “the city” in the South Island after Christchurch. And we are city girls after all. Our expectations were accomplished. Dunedin welcomed us with cold weather but with really warm and nice couchsurfers. So we were there three nights, every night in a different house.  A crazy and funny artist, the cutest and most lovable couple ever and a girl with an amazing family (we even met a catalan guy!!). Besides that experience, we also visited around, so we saw the cathedral, the shops in the city center, the Art Gallery, the Botanical Gardens, Baldwin Street (the steepest Street in the world) and, of course, the Otago Peninsula. In the Peninsula you can see an Albatros Colony and also the blue penguin colony and the yellow-eyed one. Ok, the Albatros are huge and scary, we couldn’t see any blue penguin and we just saw a nest of a yellow-eyed one with a ball of feathers and a couple of eyes looking at us inside it. I guess we saw penguins, but it’s hard to tell.

All in all, Dunedin is fun, cool and we had an amazing weekend here. Lots of new people, lots of new stories for our grandchildren. The first week with our camper van. Still two more weeks to go!

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Don Driver, Yellow Tentacle Pram, 1980 (Dunedin Art Gallery)