Ten favourite photos

I could have agonised over this selection for much longer, but I’ve given myself the length of the train journey from Newcastle to Grantham to choose my ten favourite photos from our year away.

There were a few points where I wondered whether we should have bought a fancy camera but our pocket Kodak served us pretty well.

Our stops in China and the (rainy, rainy) Cook islands did not make the cut, but NZ, USA and Oz are represented.

So, in no particular order (but with some logic applied)…

1. The Robs by the Lake

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A couple of our friends came over from the UK to tour around the south island with us. Halfway through our time away it was lovely to see some familiar faces and we had a fantastic time together.

This was taken at one of many scenic photo stops, I think around the lakes in Otago. It’s one of the most stunning parts of NZ, with its combination of mountains and light blue water. Right after this we were attacked by vicious sand flies.

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Lake Tekapo: A Dream Stop Over

Before we leave NZ we had to have a final whiz around the spectacular South Island. We spent a week revisiting Christchurch and Queenstown, taking a different route to our summer trip and stopping over in Lake Tekapo on the way.

Conveniently located half way between the two cities, this small township in the Mackenzie Country has only 300 permanent residents. Similar to the Fox and Franz Glacier settlements, it serves the tourism brought by the geographical beauty. The town overlooks an azure glacier lake against a backdrop of tussock land and snow-capped mountains – not a bad place for a stop over.

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Rarotonga: A Rainy Stay in Paradise

I expect most people have had a holiday marred by relentless rain. A wet English seaside or a flooded tent in France can really dampen your holiday spirit. It’s certainly not what we expected from our break in Rarotonga. In their dry season.

The island is the largest of the Cook Islands and usually has a South Pacific climate similar to Tahiti or Fiji. I had been warned by a colleague that Rarotonga has showers almost every day – it must be how the mountainous rainforest covering the centre of the island stays so lush. So when I saw the forecast for rain every day of our stay, I was sure it’d be nothing more than the odd shower to clear the air. In fact, it was daily monsoon-like downpours, in which my waterproofs and more substantial shoes would have been the jewels of my suitcase.

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Adventures in Queenstown

With only one night in the adventure capital of NZ we managed to squeeze in luging, white water sledging and a bungy jump.

We arrived on Saturday lunchtime and were captivated by the combination of the clear blue Lake Wakitipu against the backdrop of the Remarkables mountains. We headed straight to the Skyline gondola to get a better view. From the hilltop we went luging. Rob and I had done it before in Rotorua but it was great fun to have another go with friends. We also saw a wedding party at the track! The bride and her bridesmaids were posing for photos against the stunning view while the groomsmen had their shots taken while luging.

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Up close with a Kiwi

kiwi road sign

Before we went out on our kiwi night walk in Okarito I could not have been less in the mood.

My body felt tired, ravaged by sand fly bites and aching from river rafting the day before. During the intro the guide told our group of ten that effort equals reward and we would only get out of the walk what we put into it. So I shook off my bad mood as we headed into the bush at dusk.

Okarito is one of five species of Kiwi in NZ and there are only 385 inhabiting 10-11,000 hectares. Pretty tricky to find then.

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Whaleless in Kaikoura

Every other article or blog post you’ll read about Kaikoura will be about whale watching. But not this one. We didn’t see any.

We took a 2 day detour to the town on the east coast of the south island before our sailing across to Wellington. The weather on the evening that we arrived was wet & wild. We stayed in another Air bnb place, just out of the centre and were cursing dropping off the hire car as we battled our way along the coast with our bags in tow.

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South island tour: Abel Tasman – Kaikoura

For our stop at Abel Tasman national park we stayed in the small town of Kaiteriteri. Just a short strip of accommodation and shops along a beautiful beach.

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Kaiteriteri – proudly displaying their inclusion in  Guardian Travel top 5 along the seafront.

The park is accessible by water taxi from here but we drove up the winding roads to the next township of Motueka to hire kayaks. There are various different guided tours you can take from half a day to 4 days but we decided to brave it alone for a half day around the park’s azure waters.

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Cycling around wineries in Marlborough

We only spent one day in Marlborough and it was a pretty glorious one.

We were surprised to learn that this famous NZ wine-growing region has only become established in the last 20 years. Through Air bnb, we actually stayed on a vineyard near Renwick with a lovely couple. We arrived from Nelson late morning and borrowed bikes to tour the local wineries. The sun shone in the cloudless sky and cycling through the vines & olive trees it felt very Mediterranean.

Our first stop was down the road at Clos Henri. After taking a wrong turn down a bumpy track and ending up in the vines, we were redirected to a quaint church building for a tasting. Clos Henri is the only vineyard outside France owned by prolific winemaker Domaine Henri. We tested the difference between grapes grown on clay and stone soil and the young woman gave us great tips on where to visit for the rest of the day.

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Back on our bikes, we cycled past a winegrower for Oyster Bay on our way to Seresin Estate. We had another tasting here and also sampled their zesty olive oil, flavoured with oranges, lemons and limes. Our third stop was at Bladen. This winery was one of our favourites and after sampling about 6 wines, we bought a bottle of their Riesling. As well as all the tastings, it was very enjoyable to chat to the growers themselves. Bladen was the risky venture of a young couple who moved from Wellington when there were only a handful of vineyards in the region. It continues to be a family business and their risk has paid off.

By this point we were becoming considerably less steady on our bikes and were in need of some lunch. We stopped at Giesen’s and devoured a fantastic platter in their courtyard. I had a glass of their Viognier and Rob sampled their ‘Brother’s’ Sauvignon Blanc. Once sated, we made a final stop at No 1 Family Estate where they make champagne and tried a selection of their finest fizz.

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After wine-tasting on Waiheke, we expected it to be an expensive day, but it wasn’t at all. Clos Henri charged $5 for a tasting and the others were all complimentary. I’m sure they’d hoped we’d been in a car and could have carried more bottles but the hosts made us feel very welcome and we never felt under pressure to buy.

We cycled into Renwick for supplies and ended the day with a BBQ on the deck, overlooking the vines with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that had been produced from them the year before.

South island tour: Christchurch – Abel Tasman

We began our south island trip with a brief (10 hour) overnight stay in Christchurch. We stayed in a hostel converted from a jail building. It was comfortable and the cells were cosy!

The next morning we boarded the Transalpine express to Greymouth. Crossing from east to west coast through the southern alps, it is rightly described as one of the world’s most scenic train journeys. The morning sky was cloudy in Christchurch but luckily cleared for the train photos (that we managed to get when wrestling through other tourists on the viewing deck) before the clouds returned on our arrival in Greymouth. The train runs once a day and is the only passenger train to use the town’s station.

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Off down south

The time has come to bid Auckland farewell and head out on the road to NZ’s south island.

We had originally sort of been planning to save this until the end of our trip, but had a rethink as sleeping in a camper van will surely be more fun during summer!

We’re spending 2.5 weeks and splitting the island into 2 loops: north and south.

North loop:

  • Starting in Christchurch – we’ve heard and read so much about this city and its rebuilding, looking forward to seeing it for ourselves.
  • Transalpine train to Greymouth – apparently one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world.
  • Pick up a car and head to Hokitika for some gorge walking
  • Up to Abel Tasman national park for walking and kayaking – staying in Kaiteriteri and we’ve also had bays around Farewell Spit recommended

    Abel Tasman - photo by Wilsons Abel Tasman

    Abel Tasman – photo by Wilsons Abel Tasman

  • Nelson and Blenheim for winetasting – we’re staying on a vineyard in Blenheim found through Airbnb
  • Kaikoura – for whale and seal watching
  • Ferry from Picton to Wellington – spending a few days in our prospective home city to get a feel for it
  • Fly back to Christchurch

South loop:

  • Meet friends from home and pick up campervans
  • Down to Dunedin via Timaru – hoping to visit Tunnel beach after seeing this pic yesterday
  • Onto Te Anau – Milford Sound trip
  • Across to Queenstown – to bungy or not to bungy?!
  • Onto Wanaka and its beautiful lake by the Crown Range route – the highest main road in NZ
  • Fox Glacier and Mount Cook – glacier walking and I’d love a helicopter ride here if the budget allows
  • Back to Christchurch
  • Fly to Wellington to try and find temporary homes and jobs!

I’ll try to share updates when I can, you can follow me @misslucy_p on Twitter and Instagram.

This is a well-traveled route and if you have any tips for us, please share!