Welcome to South Island folks. The land of never ending natural wonder. It starts the very moment you catch your first glimpses from the Cook Strait ferry, and it hasn’t let up yet. As we disembarked in Picton, we were giddy with excitement to explore this land.
Whilst they are one nation, South Island is subtly different from North Island in many respects. Things are a lot further apart, there’s even more wildlife and farmland, petrol prices are higher, it’s not as easy to freedom camp, there seems to be less Maori culture and a generally less diverse population. Oh, and sandflies! So many, very hungry sandflies! Keep reading to see what else we discovered.
Seals, Pancake Rocks and Mirror Lakes
We began our journey with a very slow drive from Picton to Nelson. Our progress was slowed not by the winding road but the countless stops we made to admire views of the intricate waterways and make friends with roadside goats. We highly recommend that you take this scenic route over the faster highway. Keep and eye out for the alpacas!
After making the difficult decision to by-pass both the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks we arrived at Westport for the night. A short drive south from this town is Cape Foulwind and a super cute fur seal colony. A party of cheeky weka welcomed us on arrival at Tauranga Bay as they climbed in the car in search of crumbs. The seal colony was larger than expected and you can spot the pups playing in the rock pools.
Every guide book recommends a trip to the pancake rocks. These strange limestone structures, are certainly worth a look and the walk around them is surprisingly peaceful despite the hordes of tourists. However, our favourite spot of the first two days was Lake Brunner. At dawn and dusk, its dark still waters mirror the neighbouring Mount Te Kinga. Who could ask for a better view to wake up to?
Our first taste of glacier spoils came in the form of the powder blue waters at Hokitika Gorge. Turned milky by glacial flour, this water has to be seen to be believed. On the way down we were treated to a personal dance from a particularly friendly Fantail (Piwakawaka). We ended the day at the Okarito Campground, a lovely spot right on the shores of a peaceful, black sand beach. The area is famous for its kiwi population, but this fluffy native still evades us!
Just 18km from the sea, you will find the Franz Josef Glacier juxtaposed against a resplendent podocarp forest. Terminating at a mere 300m above sea-level, it is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. Unfortunately, that thriving forest comes at the price of high rainfall as we discovered during our three days in the region. It rained and then, despite the promise of sunshine, it rained some more, with no end in sight. Coming from London, we weren’t going to let a bit of falling water deter us, so we hiked up to the glacier terminal anyway. Even in the downpour, with the mists obscuring much of the views, the valley walk was spectacular. You’ll find it difficult to believe that you are awake and not in a lucid dreamscape as you walk across mossy boulders towards an actual river of ice.
I’d be lying if I said the rain didn’t eventually kill our buzz. It turns out our waterproof jackets aren’t very effective and there’s only so much time you can kill, relaxing in the information centre, before you start to get butt-sore and sick of everything being wet and cold. We eventually decided to cut our losses, leaving without seeing Fox Glacier or Matherson Lake and headed south, away from the cold front. It was along this hasty escape that we bumped into Lucas on the banks of Lake Paringa. His positivity was infectious even after spending three days alone in a wet tent. Unfortunately we forgot to take a photo with him, but you can check out his epic adventure on Instagram @PeloMundoDeMagrela.
As we head into the southern reaches of New Zealand, we find ourselves delighted by endless vistas of the snow capped Southern Alps and the first glimpses of the vibrant shades of autumn. Tune in next time to see what we discover in Queenstown and beyond.