New Zealand South Island Road Trip: Part 2 Canterbury

Time for part two of our South Island trip so without further adieu (because there’ll be enough to read below without me rambling on) here is what we did in Canterbury!

Kaikoura

Where we stayed: Thank you New Zealand for the wonders that are I-Sites. While we called in here to ask about a walk, we ended up being told about a local Irish hotel where self-contained campers can stay in unpowered sites for free. Not that I’m biased at all but what a gem of a spot! Donegal House Hotel has dozens of rooms you can stay in, free camping in unpowered sites (no tents sadly as its all gravel) or $20 powered sites. You can get free cold showers or $4/4min hot showers in such nice clean bathrooms. There’s a great restaurant onsite as well as a bar (although if I never hear Foster and Allen sing again it’ll be too soon) all surrounded by immaculately maintained gardens and a duck pond. It’s a 5 minute drive to the town center and we ended up staying here for four nights all for free!

What we did: I loved Kaikoura although I am probably biased given that we were there in summer. There’s so much to do here no matter what you’re interested in. We completed the Kaikoura Peninsula walk which is a lovely 3 hour loop all around the waterfront and up the surrounding hills where you can get views of the entire township and bay.

We did a 3 hour (½ day) kayak with Kaikoura Kayaks. This was $110 pp and was one of the most amazing experiences we had. We were in a small group of six and headed out to the sea where we kayaked in the center of a mega pod of over 100 dolphins. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible this was! The dolphins were so inquisitive and friendly coming right up to us, jumping and diving all around us. We also got to get up close to the famous Kaikoura seals who spend their day lounging around the harbour sunning themselves on the rocks. This is probably one of my favourite things we’ve done in the South Island.

We headed out to Phui Phui on one wet day to complete a short walk around the scenic reserve there. One thing we also did was complete the Mt Fyffe hike.

Richie loved this hike, whereas I think I still have PTSD about climbing uphill (4 straight hours continuously uphill). I’ve done a separate post on this hike which I’ve linked here if you want to experience it first-hand.

Hanmer Springs

Where we stayed: We stayed in Hanmer Field and Base Picnic Area which was a great free DOC site a 10 minute walk from the town center. It was a fairly basic site with room for about 15 other campers complete with running water and clean flushable toilets. It’s right beside the woods and there are plenty of walking and biking trails to do nearby.

What we did: This was actually an unexpected stop on our trip. Richie wanted to do the Mt Isobel hike so we decided to stay here for 2 nights. It was a lovely little town and somewhere you come for complete rest and relaxation. The first day here we completed the Dog Stream Waterfall Hike which was a 2 hour round trip walk to (you guessed it) a waterfall.

The next day we headed up to the summit of Mt Isobel which took about 3.5 hours round trip. This was a really nice hike which was pretty easy going until the very top along the ridge. Up here the gradient got steeper and more uneven and the wind also picked up which made it harder. I’ve linked separate posts on both hikes above.

To be honest our legs were still pretty exhausted after completing Mt Fyffe without doing the other two hikes so we got a two day pass to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Park. We were probably one of the only people here not over 65 or with kids but it was bliss. There are a number of different naturally heated thermal pools which range from 30 to 42 degrees. There are separate adult only pools so you can completely relax as well as a wave pool and slides for the kids…and us big kids. Tickets are pricey costing $25 for the one day entry or $43 for the two day ticket. This doesn’t include any steam rooms or saunas which are extra but after three days of hiking this was exactly what our muscles needed.

Christchurch

Where we stayed: We hopped on HelpX which is a site that links volunteers with host families who need help around their farm or property. We stayed with a lovely couple who ran a hazelnut farm helping out on their property. For 4 hours work a day we got three meals, free Wi-Fi and accommodation in their beautiful home. The couple completely welcomed us into their home and even brought us along to our first netball game.

What we did: There is so much to see and do in Christchurch and the surrounding area from the Botanic Gardens to the Christchurch Gondola.

An absolute must see is Quake City which a museum that remembers the earthquake that devastated the city in February 2011 claiming 185 lives. It’s an incredible exhibition that offers first-hand accounts of the day and gives you an insight into how the disaster changed the community’s lives forever. While we were in the city we also checked out the Wall of Remembrance and the Remembrance Bridge which are two fantastic memorials. During our stay here the Festival of Lanterns hosted by the Christchurch Chinese community was on which included free sculptures, music and entertainment in the city centre. If you’re coming here make sure to head out to nearby Sumner Beach and New Brighton Beach as well as the surrounding towns of Lyttleton and Akaroa.

Honestly there is too much to cover in one post so for a complete overview of Christchurch check out my post here.

Methven

Where we stayed: We found a handy free site at Bowyers Stream Scenic Reserve. This was nothing special as it had no water and just a (questionable) drop toilet but it was big, spacious, quiet and most importantly – free. As you’re near the ski area’s here it can get very cold at night so have plenty of blankets ready.

What we did: We got to Methven late in the evening so we did nothing the first day. The next day we spent completing the Washpen Falls hike and the Rakaia Gorge Walkway. The Washpen Falls is a 1.5 hour walk through private farmland where you get to see caves, forest and incredible views of the area.

Due to the fact this is on private land there is an honesty box in the office and a suggested donation of $10 per adult ($5 for a child). Honestly I think paying $10 each is far too steep although i do appreciate the owners have to maintain the site and deal with people coming and going all day. It was a really nice short walk (about 1.5 hours) and really popular for families.

After Washpen Falls we headed to Rakaia Gorge. This is a popular lookout point and it’s easy to see why – the water is spectacular but don’t be fooled it is ice cold!

There are a couple of different duration walks you can do around here however we opted for the Rakaia Gorge Walkway which was about 3 hours return. It was a nice easy walk with not much climbing. Despite the good weather the trail was really muddy so be prepared to get your shoes dirty. The walk itself was nothing special but the view of the gorge at the end was beautiful.

Geraldine

Where we stayed: Due to the fact that the Bowyers Stream Scenic Reserve was halfway between Methven and Geraldine we decided to stay there a second night rather than finding somewhere in Geraldine.

What we did: We were pretty tired from the previous day of hiking in Methven so just did the 30 minute Big Tree Walk in the Peel Forest Scenic Reserve. This was a really easy trail however there are a number of other walks lasting up to four hours that you can complete here. There is also a paid DOC site beside the forest if you want to stay the night and complete a few different hikes.

Lake Tekapo

Where we stayed: Lake Tekapo Motel and Holiday Park was one of the most expensive holiday parks we stayed in at $52 for one night. Unfortunately despite Lake Tekapo’s popularity there is very limited accommodation in the area which gives this site a monopoly. It’s in a great location about 10 min walk from the village center and is a huge area with laundry rooms, tv rooms, multiple bathrooms/ showers and kitchens. It doesn’t provide any free wifi and you only get about a 4min hot shower which, considering the cost per night, is pretty poor.

What we did: Not only was our most expensive accommodation here, but so was one of our most expensive activities – The St John’s Observatory Night Time Walk. I had wanted to do this for ages and we ended up going with the company Earth and Sky. This is very very expensive costing $175 per adult. For this we got picked up at the holiday park at 12:35am and brought on a 3 hour tour. You are driven up to the St Johns Observatory which cannot be accessed by the public at night and once here the guides will talk you through the different stars, constellations and planets using lasers and multiple different telescopes. You’ll be provided with special torches (no white lights are used anywhere in the town to prevent polluting the night sky), hot chocolate and antarctic grade jackets. We were lucky and got a warm night without a single cloud in the sky.

If the weather is poor there is an alternative tour more reliant on telescopes that you’ll be brought on. Was it worth it? After paying $350 for both of us I really want to say yes but I really don’t know. The guides are knowledgeable, the telescopes are no doubt incredibly expensive and this is an active research site where astronomers from around the world are working each night so there’s always a risk of some visitors ruining hours of work by shining a phone light around. I’m glad we did it but I’m not sure I can justify the money. Now if I had gotten to keep that incredible Antarctica jacket that’d be another story…

Lake Pukaki

Where we stayed: After dropping a small fortune at Lake Tekapo we were definitely happy to stay in Lake Pukaki Overnight Campsite which was a great free DOC site. This place was massive and there was over 100 other campers there the night we stayed. It is right by the waterfront so you get spectacular views of the lake and has really clean drop toilets. It doesn’t have any fresh water though so stock up beforehand.  

Now THAT is a sunset!

What we did: There isn’t much in Pukaki aside from a couple of walks. We drove out to Lindis Pass which is an alpine area that links the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago. There’s a short little walk up to the viewing area and it’s a nice place to stop and stretch your legs. We also did a quick 20 min round trip walk to the Pukaki Boulders and the Kettle Hole Track which was an easy flat 1.5 hour return walk right across from the campsite we stayed in.

Mount Cook

Where we stayed: There is a hotel, a couple of hostels but only one campsite – The White Horse Campsite. This is a DOC site that costs $13 per adult per night. There are clean flushable bathrooms and a shelter to cook and eat in. Its right at the start of the Hooker Valley track which is one of the most popular walks. It gets very very busy but you’ll get a spot no matter what time you show up. You can camp here if you have a tent and there are $2 showers in the village at another public shelter which were perfect.

What we did: Ok first off, there is no shop in Mount Cook Village. Nothing. Nada, and it is a 50 min (one way) drive to Twizel which is the nearest town. We did not know that and as a result we ended up being completely caught out and had to eat out while we were here which ended up making it far more expensive than it needed to be. So stock the F up before you go here. Despite this I adored Mount Cook. The place is utterly breathtaking and one of my absolute favourite stops on the trip. The walks are beautiful, the drive into the national park is incredible and you wake up each morning in the shadow of snow capped mountains, lakes and glaciers – honestly what more could you possibly want.

There are some great hikes around here. Make sure to do the Hooker Valley Track which is an easy and relatively flat 3 hour loop. There are some short walks around the Tasman Glacier which give some great views however, if you want to climb the glacier itself you’ll need to do a heli-hike which costs $585 per adult and last 3 hours. We also completed the Governors Bush 45 min loop and the Red Tarns Track which was a 1.5 hour (return) hike up 1271 (yes, Richie counted) steps. Up here you’ll get incredible views of the entire basin.

I swear my hair is this wild because of the wind….

Timerau

Where we stayed: We stayed in a freedom camping site right beside Caroline Bay Beach. On the one hand this was a great location because it was free, had a dump station, clean bathrooms and drinking water. On the other hand it was just a car park so it was really tight for space getting in and out of the campers. Also it’s beside the dock and there was a fair bit of noise from the ships loading and unloading.

What we did: To be honest there isn’t a whole lot to see or do here. We relaxed by Caroline Bay beach one afternoon. Also approx 150 penguins come into nest right on this beach each night (come down around 9:30-10pm). The weather was miserable while we were here so we just headed to the library and made the most of the free wi-fi and the opportunity to recharge all of our devices. This is one of those handy pit stops between Christchurch and Dunedin to break up the journey for a night.

Arthurs Pass

Where we stayed: We ended up in Arthur’s Pass a lot sooner than we expected. Due to severe rain and flooding a bridge between Haast and Fox Glacier collapsed which meant that we had to do a nice 8 hour diversion back through Wanaka, Tekapo and into Arthur’s Pass in order to get up the west coast. There is no shortage of DOC campsites in this national park however there is only one free campsite, all others have an $8pp fee that must be paid. You can pay with cash or in the I-Site in the village center. We stayed in the Klondyke Camp which just had a drop toilet. It was near the road but quiet at night. Be prepared though because this was the worst place we came across for sandflies. There is a shop, cafe and several hostels here you can also stay in.

What we did: After two long days of driving we were pretty exhausted so we just did the Devils Punchbowl Falls walk which is a 1 hour return walk to the 131m waterfall. It is an easy walk across boardwalks and up several flights of stairs. We had intended to do the Mt Bealey track which is a 3-4 hour uphill walk. This is one of the most popular day hikes in the park as it’s the most gradual climb and the most worn track – many of the other tracks require a compass or homing beacon.

Arthurs Pass is beautiful and even if you don’t stay the night or do any of the walks I would absolutely recommend driving through it and stopping off at some of the lookouts. I can imagine in the winter when the snow falls that the views are even more incredible.

Be sure to check out Part Three: Otago here next week!

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