Ok, so it turns out that my bulldog determination to keep my blog semi-updated over the past few weeks has utterly failed. But, a lot has happened over the past month, and I’d love to share it with you! So here are the highlights of the second half of our South Island journey….
When J, Max and I arrived in Queenstown after our West Coast road trip, we decided that we miraculously weren’t sick of each other. In fact, we didn’t want to leave each other… like, at all. So we decided to extend our road trip and head down south to see what we could find!
First order of business: finding a vehicle. After being sandwiched together like sardines in the back of a station wagon for a week, we weren’t all too keen on renting another tiny car. But we also weren’t necessarily interested in becoming one of ‘those’ tourists that rent the obnoxious, lime-green, moving billboards that are Jucy campervans…. that is, until we found out the price. For less than what we paid for our tiny Subaru, we could rent a huge (and I mean, HUGE) campervan complete with kitchen, sink, stove, television, DVD player, table, chairs, and two (count ’em, TWO) full beds. AND they even provided all of the bed linens. They even gave us towels! Turns out we weren’t so opposed to looking like ridiculous tourists after all…
We took a long trip and did a lot of stuff, so to spare you the gory details here’s a list of our favorite things from along the way:
We started our trip going as far south as we could into the area known as the Catlins. The rugged coastline and immense power of the ocean at those latitudes was nothing less than breathtaking, and it has quite a few cool attractions as well! One of those was Slope Point, the southernmost point of New Zealand. A twenty minute walk from the road leads you to a little yellow sign on a cliff that marks its exact geographic location, and a lighthouse stands nearby to warn off oncoming ships. The most amazing part of the area was the ocean – colossal waves crashed against the cliffs below us, and you could feel the power of the water as it literally made the ground rumble beneath you. Max, ever the climber, found his way down to the shore and I had a ‘Mommy Moment’ of worry (“Be careful, it’s not safe!”), but eventually all three of us found our way down to the water. I don’t regret a thing.
We also went to Curio Bay, where there are the fossilized remains of a 180 million year old forest. Yeah, that’s right. 180 million years. We walked out among the rocks and fossils and despite what I tried, I couldn’t even begin to fathom an ancient forest of podocarp trees standing there where the ocean was now. Only in New Zealand…
And, as if seeing the edge of the world and an ancient, fossilized forest weren’t enough, we even saw NZ’s greatest national treasure: Niagara Falls!
The Bluff Oyster Festival
Even further south along the coast, we ended up in Bluff at exactly the right moment to attend their famous Bluff Oyster Festival. (We may or may not have timed our trip perfectly to match up with it…) Despite their rather amateur-looking website and terrible publicity, the festival itself is actually very large and was great fun – we stuffed ourselves silly with three dozen raw mussels, fresh mixed seafood chowder, prawn skewers with lime caper aioli, a half dozen battered oysters, vinegar, onion, parsley and capsicum marinated blue cod, and smoked salmon on rye, and spent the afternoon drinking white wine and listening to the musicians on stage. As if the seafood wasn’t enough, they also had two music stages, and even an indoor stage for a raucous oyster-opening and eating contest! We also got to enjoy the antics of the hilariously drunk (or possibly not?!) Mayor of Invercargill, who was also apparently a member of a NZ biker gang, had a bit part in “The World’s Fastest Indian”, and holds the record for the World’s Longest Television Interview (26 hours!). Who knew?!
Fiordland and Milford Sound
From Bluff we headed up north a bit to appreciate the immensity and drama of Fiordland, one of New Zealand’s most famous destinations (which should really tell you something). The weather in the fiords is notoriously fickle – all cars are required by law to carry snow chains during the winter – and we witnessed this first hand on our drive into the National Park. During the first half hour we found ourselves driving straight into a scene from a ‘Winter Wonderland’ postcard, complete with falling snow, white mountains, slippery roads and freezing temperatures:
and then, five minutes later, it looked like this:
We weren’t really in a state to complain, though. We pretty much felt like this:
We spent the night in our van at Milford Sound, and took advantage of our ‘Jucy Deal(s)’ to take a ‘Jucy Cruise’ through the Sound the next day (yes, it was obnoxious, and no, we didn’t care). The best part of the cruise was seeing the huge pod of dolphins that swam alongside/under/around our boat for nearly half an hour, and of course the spectacular scenery too. Plus, I learned the difference between a fiord (a glacier-carved valley) and a sound (a river-carved one). Thanks, Jucy!
At the end of our trip we found ourselves in Skippers Canyon right outside of Queenstown, trying to ignore the ‘Rental Cars Forbidden’ signs and brave the 4WD-only road through the gorge. We didn’t actually make it more than half a kilometer into the canyon before we turned back, but we did climb a (slightly dangerous) peak to sit and watch the descending sun. Truly an amazing piece of scenery:
The night of our trip to Skippers Canyon we found ourselves at a campground outside of Glenorchy. Not only was our parking space right next to a lake, with a stunning view of the mountains right behind and long deserted road behind us, but there was even a huge tree house to lounge in! We treated ourselves a late night apéro and enjoyed the beauty.