Note: Hover/click on headings to follow links to read more information and reviews for the various sites and locations we visited.
Our adventures in New Zealand continued once we landed in the South Island.
Day 6: Christchurch – Mt. Sunday
After we got through the airport we sat on the designated curb waiting for the shuttle to pick us up to drive us to the rental car location. The shuttle came and filled up. Unfortunately, due to the lack of queueing system, the shuttle filled up with people (some waiting less time than us) and we weren’t on it. So we had to wait for the shuttle to make a return trip before we finally made it to the rental car location. Due to the popularity of the place, all of the associates working for the rental company were busy, so we ended up being the one family that was left waiting. Once we were finally attended to, we received our car. The first one we’ve had in almost 3 years: a Corolla! woot. Or not. They were supposed to have given us a vehicle that was able to hold more than a Corolla. However, since I was tired of dealing with a toddler who was tired of waiting for things to happen… well I didn’t have the energy to deal with it nor the sense to tell Andrew to complain to the company. Oh well. We got out our GPS and told it to take us to the grocery store. Come to find out, the GPS wasn’t exactly accurate. Instead of doing grocery shopping at the wrong location, we saw a Subway right across the street and made a bee line for the comfort food of a Sub and a Salad. That’s when I realize my mistake… We never picked up our camping gear. We had a car, but no “home.”
I had booked camping gear that would be conveniently dropped off at the rental car location. However, I had inconveniently forgotten to remember to pick the gear up. So we headed back to the place we had just been. This time, we picked up all our gear.
Eager to leave our series of frustrating events behind us, we headed out of Christchurch and to our next location:
Andrew asked me (the planner/coordinator) where we were headed for the night. I had the sense, to say, I had it worked out, and he would see. After a beautiful drive in the country side and a ford across a river (more on that later) – we arrived at our destination.
The closer smaller “hill” is Mt. Sunday.
We stopped the car, and I turned to Andrew and proudly said, “Welcome to Rohan.” [Rohan: the kingdom and lands of the horse people in Lord of the Rings / Middle-Earth.] Andrew turned back to me with the incredulous, “Really!?”
I pointed out the small mountain and explained how that was indeed the location where the famous set had been previously built (and taken down) all for the iconic Lord of the Rings movie. He was impressed because 1) I was able to pull of a surprise. (He makes it hard!) and 2) That it was a location that we were allowed/able to get to!
That night we set up camp. This was in itself an adventure, because we had yet to delve into the camping gear that we had rented. The good news was we had everything we needed and it was self explanatory. The bad news… the tent was huge. I had requested for the next size up from a 2 person tent to make sure there was room to accommodate the little guy. What I didn’t realize was that the next size available was quite large. I’m sure we looked a little funny attempting to raise a 5-pole tent with the hands of two adults, but it went up fine. 🙂
Day 7: Mt. Sunday – Lake Tekapo – Mt. Cook – Twizel
The first night of camping was a success! We were all a little cold, but then we’re used to Singapore weather. Success or not, it seemed like Gideon was just ready to get going.
Uh, bud, that’s not where you sit.
So we packed up our tent (easier to take 5 poles down at once than to put them up simultaneously) and headed down to Mt. Sunday for a hike.
As we got out of the car, Andrew chatted for a few moments with a small group that had just completed the walk alongside Mt. Sunday. They piped that it would be better with waterproof shoes, but still was a good hike. Eager to see the “Mt.” up close, we headed off. It quickly became apparent why waterproof shoes were mentioned. Most of the path/road was flooded. We attempted to find the shallow and skinny part of the “stream” to cross so we could continue on with the hike. Those optimistic crossing points ended with two adults with quite wet shoes and cold feet. Gideon had the advantage of riding on Daddy’s back. Not wanting to hike with cold feet that were prone to blisters from wet shoes, we aborted the hike.
A failed hike. But still a beautiful sight!
We were so disappointed to have come so close but so far. Lesson learned: bring waterproof shoes. Trying to make the most of it, we snapped a few shots before heading out. Gideon was ready for a nap anyways.
Disclaimer: for closer pictures, bring waterproof shoes.
Lake Tekapo & Lake Pukaki
Our disappointment of not getting to go on the desired hike was consoled by beautiful scenery alongside the road. We were particularly struck by the prolific wildflowers!
Pinks and purples galore!
As we were distracted by the wildflowers, we were stunned when out of nowhere Lake Tekapo came into view!
Lake Tekapo – Turquoise!
We stopped for a few quick snapshots, eager to keep going as Gideon was still napping. However, the stop got him waking up. So as we came upon the second turquoise lake of Lake Pukaki, we decided it was time for all of us to stop and get out of the car.
Gideon was thrilled to get out of the car, as you can see by his cheeky grin.
After walking around for a little bit and getting some delicious Salmon sashimi from the little shop, we were ready for a few family photos.
I love this shot! (Andrew wore the perfect shirt too!)
We weren’t the only ones who thought it was a great place to take pictures, either. The stranger who snapped our shots took one that included the couple having their wedding shots being taken too!
The Randles… and The Newlyweds
The unimaginably bright turquoise of these lakes was stunning to say the least. It certainly goes on my list of favorites from New Zealand!
Beautiful sites aside, it was a bit nippy. Rather than eat lunch bundled up, we just sat down in our warm car where we could admire Lake Pukaki, and eat some PB&J.
White short sans bib + PB&J = bad idea.
Mt. Cook … or Tasman Glacier
If you look closely in the shots above you’ll see that their are mountains in the background of Lake Pukaki. But those mountains, namely the famed Mt. Cook, are shrouded in clouds. Regardless of the cloud cover, we drove up alongside Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook. I’m glad we did, for it was the most splendid ride to drive alongside the turquoise waters. When we got to the visitor center at Mt. Cook, it was all rainy – not good for a hike at all, much less visibility of the peak. But it cleared up just long enough for us to be willing to risk a shorter hike to see the Tasman Glacier.
Right in the middle of the picture you can see the Tasman glacier.
Though a bit unimpressive, it was neat to be able to see a glacier, even if we couldn’t see Mt. Cook. And the views around us were still great, even if we couldn’t see all of the snow capped peaks that were all around us!
Great views though!
We set up camp in nearby Twizel for the night. Since we hadn’t done but one load of laundry since we arrived in New Zealand, Adrielle set about using the laundry facilities at the campgrounds to get all our clothes cleaned.
Day 8: Wanaka – Haast
The next morning we chatted with our camping neighbors. They had a boy just a few days older than Gideon who was born in the same hospital as Gideon! They lived in Singapore for a few years before moving to Australia, and now were visiting New Zealand just as we were. Small world.
Gideon wasn’t much for small talk though and demonstrated that he was ready to go!
Um, pal, that’s not your seat either!
After Gideon got a good nap, and the parents had driven for a while, we arrived at Wanaka. Picking up some information brochures at the visitor center we realized that there were some options of bike rentals that included child seats. Gideon and Adrielle decided we couldn’t leave all the bike riding to Andrew, so we voted for a bike ride to see the area.
Gideon loved the special handles that were just for him!
(Did we mention we lugged his helmet all the way from Singapore just in case we found a good place to bicycle as a family? The bike rental lady was quite impressed with his get-up.)
All set to go, we headed off on our bike ride.
Andrew’s second bike ride in New Zealand.
Much different than our typical Singapore bike riding scenery!
Due to riding with a little guy (okay, and a Mommy that wasn’t as fit as Daddy), we stopped for breaks along the way.
Bike riding is fun. Breaks are fun too.
After about 45 minutes of riding Gideon decided that the last 15 minutes of bumpy/hilly/off-roading bicycling was enough. He protested from his back seat until he fell asleep on a smooth road. Mommy was a little jealous because sleeping was a lot less work than bike riding against the wind up hills. But thankfully, going up hill mean down hill later! 🙂
Once we were finished our bike ride, Daddy rewarded his companions with ice cream, kiwi and chocolate flavors to be precise. A perfect way to cool down after a bike ride.
We had originally planned to stay the night in Wanaka, but since Gideon was ready for a nap (and by now we had learned that nap = prime driving time), we decided to make for Haast past.
We stopped right off the high way, and Andrew stayed in the car while I did a quick jaunt to see a waterfall.
We stopped at Haast for the night at a near campground that had converted an old airplane hangar into pristine camping facilities (kitchen, bathrooms, etc.)
Probably one of the coolest (and CLEAN!) facilities we stayed at!
Day 9: Fox Glacier – Hokitika
The next morning after a short bit of driving we sighted the West Coast of New Zealand!
We made it to the West Coast!
We had to choose between two of the most famous glaciers, Franz Josef Glacier or Fox Glacier. Knowing that we weren’t going to attempt a long guided hike (expensive and not Gideon friendly) nor a fancier option (such as helicoptering up to the glacier), we decided to go for the simpler and less popular, Fox Glacier. Besides, the forecast wasn’t calling for weather that would be favorable for viewing the glaciers anyways, so we didn’t have high expectations.
One of the perks of visiting Fox Glacier, was that we were able to do the hike around nearby Lake Matheson. It was a nice quiet lake and very peaceful to walk around. The weather and view were quite agreeable as well.
A beautiful lake reflecting the sky above.
Even Gideon enjoyed admiring the view of the lake.
Mommy & son sharing the view.
While the view was nice, it wasn’t till we were leaving and we stopped at the gift shot that we realized what we were missing. Although it had been clear above us, it hadn’t been clear over the mountains. In fact the whole time, the clouds we had admired were shrouding the famed mountain peaks of New Zealand! Again, we missed “seeing” Mt. Cook. (See here.)
After the nice hike, we headed to Fox Glacier. The visibility of the glacier was predicted to be pretty limited, so we weren’t optimistic, but we decided we would try going for a short hike to see if we could see it anyways. We had come all this way, right?
We didn’t stop along the hike to take many pictures, as there were multiple signs warning “NO STOPPING” due to the risk of land/rock slides. The view of sheer mounds of boulders right next to you encouraged that you keep up the pace. Eventually we hopped over a stream, rounded a corner, and:
The ice and rock of Fox Glacier, roughly 1km from where we were standing.
I’m sure that it looked far less impressive than it would’ve had the visibility been great or had we been seeing the glacier from the top rather than the bottom. However, it is still cool to have gotten so close to such a glacier! Adrielle was worried about the stream we had just hopped over becoming impassible (without waterproof shoes anyways) as the time wore on, so we all headed back content to have sighted the glacier.
We camped at Hokitika for night, thankful for a town that had a fully stocked grocery store as we were in need of
supplies food. As a bonus, our campground was right across from The Glow Worm Dell. So, after sunset we walked across the road and into the grove of trees waiting to spot the little bioluminescent creatures. Sure, enough, the “worms” were there! Not quite as impressive as the Glow Worm Caves, but still neat to be able witness these incredible creatures once again. Oh, and did I mention this little gem was free too?
Day 10: Hokitika – Punakaiki
In the morning we set about completing our morning routine, which included taking apart our house and packing it up.
Gideon helping Daddy pack up. Awesome Daddy multitasks.
After packing up, we spent the morning leisurely strolling through the main street of this little tourist town. We mailed some post cards and picked up some souvenirs. Our favorite stop was the glass studio in town. It was filled with beautiful figurines hand crafted from blown glass. We were only sorry that we were there on a Sunday when the glass blowers weren’t in, so it was more of a gallery. But still cool.
The road between Hokitika and Punakaiki, our next destination, was never very far from the coast. And at times we were right upon it, being flanked with the beautiful sea water.
The West Coast in its splendor!
After a stop for lunch in Greymouth we finished the trip to Punakaiki. We knew we had missed the high tide “show,” but were still eager to see the famed Pancake Rocks. We weren’t disappointed.
One of my favorite things about this place was a plaque that talked about how “science” fell short of adequately explaining how these rocks came to exist… I just smiled imagining how much fun the Creator had stacking these rocks together 🙂
Enjoying stack after stack of “pancakes”
The guys enjoying themselves too.
One of my favorite moments was turning into a stack of rocks and looking up to see the shape rock formation echoed in the clouds behind it!
Matching rocks and clouds.
Supposedly, the best show that Punakaiki had to offer was when the water would burst through the openings in the rocks at high tide. Since we were ahead of schedule on our itinerary, we decided to stay at Punakaiki through the night till the next high tide in the late morning.
So we set up camp… with Gideon’s help.
Proudly helping out.
(But Andrew did most of the work.)
Andrew proudly showing off the home he built 😉
And then we went down to check out the beach. Despite not being dressed for playing in the sand, we figured why not?
Gideon had so much fun with the sensation of sand in his fingers and toes.
Day 11: Punakaiki – Christchurch
The next morning we made sure to pack up with enough time to get to the pancake rocks for the high tide “blow holes” as they called it. The name became a reality a few minutes later when we saw puffs of mist coming out of holes in the ground!
The sea water get’s trapped in the rocks, and comes out of “blow holes.”
Although the skies were much drearier than the previous visit to the rocks, the whole scene was alive as water sprayed and roared as it crashed into the rock formations.
If only I could attach the soundtrack to this sight!
It was quite the site to behold, and well worth staying the night.
The water and rocks collided is such a grand and majestic manner!
Needing to get back to Christchurch which was back on the East side of the islands, we had to get through the mountain range to do so. We chose the route through Arthur’s Pass to do so. I’m so glad we had the privilege of driving through the wonderful world of New Zealand. Such an experience to drive right through the mountains!
Over the mountains and through the woods…
We even spotted some Keas while we were stopped eating our lunch.
Don’t feed them… okay by me! Rather intimidating looking bird!
As we continued to close the gap between us and Christchurch the landscape continued to change. Various grounds reminded us of the terrain of Lord of the Rings (go figure). Some majestic. Some just bizarre.
The grass was dotted with rocks, great and small.
Curious, we pulled over into a small parking lot and got out to explore.
More than happy to be Daddy’s little explorer.
With such a backdrop, how could we not pause and impose on a stranger to practice his photo taking skills?
The whole happy explorer clan.
The sites of rocks toppled on top of each other breaking up the grassy hills was quite something!
Castle Hill, also known as Kura Tawhiti.
Eventually though we made it back to Christchurch and set up “home” again.
Day 12: Christchurch
The last morning of camping was also the most miserable. We woke up to rainy weather and gloomy skies. Andrew graciously did the dismal task of packing up a wet tent while getting soaked himself. (It’s not exactly practical to hold an umbrella and pack up a tent at the same time.) We gladly got out of our last campsite and headed to some warm shops. Although not very “touristy” we spent the better part of the day doing some shopping for things (like shoes – we bought 6 pairs for the family) that we thought might be a bit easier/cheaper to find in New Zealand. Once we were shopped out we checked into our motel for the night. While I stayed behind to do some packing (and napping), Andrew did a quick trip to the nearby Air Force Museum.
I’m glad he took some pictures to show me.
After he got back we headed out to downtown Christchurch to a pizzeria that I had picked out for dinner. What greeted us was a downtown that was still struggling to recover from previous earthquakes.
Buildings and roads still in a half-worked-on stage.
Unfortunately the pizzeria had already closed by the time we arrived, but we were glad to have seen the downtown area, even if it was a bit sad. We found a Nando’s within walking distance from our motel, and settled for a dinner of some spicy chicken.
Day 13: CHC – SYD – SIN
The next morning we woke up at 3:30 to leave in time to catch our flight(s) home.
At the airport early enough to see the moon set in the dawn.
Gideon did exceptionally well for having gotten shortchanged on his night’s sleep. He was perky enough to make full use of the great play ground indoors a few gates down from our departure gate.
Using up his energy.
The flights went well, but the layover of 7 hours was a bit long and seemed to drag on.
But we were glad to have spotted a Christmas Koala in the Sydney Airport.
(If ever again we go to Sydney, I don’t think we’ll spend much time at the airport since we’ve walked it a few times over!)
We finally arrived home in Singapore late Wednesday night (early Thursday in NZ) with tired bodies but content and happy hearts. I am oh so thankful that the Lord granted the dream of visiting New Zealand!