People visit Rotorua New Zealand for a couple reasons but one of the big ones is to witness the geothermal activity. Driving into the area you will notice small clouds of smoke coming from the ground and the distinct smell of sulfur. The smell is almost everywhere but I get lucky when my chosen campsite doesn’t seem to have the strong scent. There are other disadvantages to camping there, which I will talk about later, but the smell is not one of them.
First on the agenda in town is to visit the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland which at the time of this post is currently closed for renovations. Luckily it is open while I am in town.
I arrive in time to see the geyser, Lady Knox Geyser, which is made to erupt daily at 10.15am.
A ranger puts a concoction in to stimulate an eruption. It can erupt on its own but to get a determined showtime they force it along. The size of the eruption can vary due to different weather conditions. Luckily today it put on a good show for us.
After the show it takes a while to get out of the parking lot since everyone is leaving at once.
Once inside the geothermal park I walk along a path and witnesses little areas of smoke and colored rocks due to all the different minerals.
I walk by some mud pools. Too hot to swim in but I bet that mud will make me look beautiful.
Finally I start reaching the pools with all the different colors such as this large Champagne pool.
I wander further and see some art along the trail.
While walking around I notice little bubbling pools of mud. They gurgle and I am sure they will burn to touch.
I come across a lake. It is nice and peaceful to rest there for a little while.
The yellow sign is not scary at all <sarcasm>.
I love the patterns on the ground.
There is a bright green pool … almost looks toxic.
At the end I end up a shopping fool at the gift shop. I buy everything mud and stock up on the moisturizing sunscreen that I love.
The visit is nice but it is time to head over to Whakarewarewa to learn about Maori culture. More on that later….
Today I am heading further north. I am getting closer to ending my time on the south island of New Zealand. As I reach closer to the end I realize, as I have read in my planning, that I could have spent a month or more on just the south island alone. If I ever get a chance to return to this beautiful country then I still have so much more to see on my list.
But today I am spending the night in Punakaiki, famous for its blow holes and pancake rocks.
It was nice to sleep in a regular bed last night but tonight I am back at a campsite.
The campsite I am staying at, Punakaiki Beach Camp, is right off the beach. I don’t have a view of the beach but it is a short walk to the water. There are also great views of an interesting rock formation above.
After I arrive I am hungry so I walk a couple blocks away and treat myself to a nice steak at Punakaiki Tavern outside at a cute patio.
After lunch I head up the road to see the famous rocks.
On my way I come across a cavern. I come to a crevice that seems like I would need to do some crawling to get access to the cave. Being by myself and no one else seemingly around I am too scared to explore further. Instead I just view the cave from the entrance. I wish I would have done research ahead of time because it looks pretty safe from the pictures online.
I continue up the hill toward the pancake rocks.
I have arrived at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Track, a 1 km loop that lets you view some interesting vegetation, flat stacked limestone rocks and water blowholes. The blowholes occur at high tide when the water enters caverns and the compressed air causes a pop when the waves come in. I have arrived just in time for some of the blowing to occur.
Origins of the pancake rocks are uncertain but they are seemed to be formed by organizisms many millions of years ago.
Walk back down to camp.
As I walk back to camp I watch the sun start setting.
I climb over some rocks and watch the waves crash up against them for a while before I walk along the beach back to the campsite.
I am back at the campsite and go to the very busy camp kitchen to prepare my dinner. Most of the tables near the kitchen are occupied by families so I find an empty spot on the nearby lawn. It isn’t long before the blackflies start ruthlessly attacking me. It is a beautiful evening and I would love to sit outside with a glass of wine but the bites are too much. I try a little bug spray but it doesn’t do much to help. I head back to my van to hang out “indoors”. There are flies that have made their way in the van and they buzz around me, threatening to bite me throughout the night. I am hoping I can hide under a blanket and they die of starvation.
Before I head to sleep it does get pitch dark. Without the light pollution I can actually see many stars outside. It is almost as good as my time in Wadi Rum when I got to lay on my back and admire the skies. I would spend more time outside except I want a piece of my body left that hasn’t been attacked by bugs.
Today I am going on a day cruise of the famous Milford Sound in New Zealand. Milford Sound is a fiord – a slither of sea between high cliffs. The weather today is beautiful as can be but I am told it is hard to have a bad cruise….even if it is raining the resulting waterfalls are magical. I take lots of photos but unfortunately they don’t do justice. It is impossible to capture what I see, feel, and think while I am there.
In the morning I head down to the car park at Milford Sound area where the day cruises launch. There is a self pay machine for parking. There is free parking but further away so today I just pay. As I pay I am attacked by sandflies. There is a little shop in the visitors center where I pick up some bug spray. I hope it helps.
I have a little while before my cruise begins so I walk along the water. The views are amazing just from the short alone.
I head down to the pier to board for the cruise. Today’s cruise is a two and half hour cruise. It seems pretty short so I hope it is worth the overnight trip down here. Many come down here from Queenstown by coach for just a short day cruise. It seems like a super long day.
As the cruise starts we are already are greeted with a nearby waterfall.
As we head further and further the views keep getting better.
I admire the sides of the cliffs.
We catch some seals in the sun. I am loving the colors on these rocks as well.
We start to see all the waterfalls along the sides. It is beautiful. Apparently when it rains you will see even more. I’ve been told it is magical.
The boat cruises up to the cliff and the waterfall pours onto the boat and into glasses. They let us taste the fresh waterfall water.
We reach the end of the fiord. Beyond this point is the vast sea. We turn around at this point and head back.
We arrive back at the port. I walk around a bit more to take some more pictures before I head off to Queenstown.
I am not sure the pictures capture the feeling of the cruise but perhaps this short video will….
My drive to Queenstown has many stops so I’ll post more on that later.
This morning I am heading to Te Anau. Te Anau is just an overnight stop on my way to Milford Sound. I could drive straight to Milford Sound in a day but it is a long drive so I choose to break it up with an overnight in Te Anau instead.
From Moeraki the drive takes about 4 hours or so. I don’t stop too much on the way except a time or two for health breaks and great views.
I am running low on gas so I am happy when I find a rest stop Alpine Centre Cafe & Bar – almost at Te Anau – where I see a newly sheared alpaca who wants some snacks.
I am pleased that my holiday park for the night is right around the corner from the rest stop.
The glow worm tour is a cruise across a lake to a cave where they can be observed. I drive down to the port to catch my boat after I settle in at the campsite (settle in = put my perishables in the refrigerator).
We start off with a breezy boat ride ride on the lake. I take in the breathtaking views as we cross the lake.
Once on shore they split us to two groups. My group tours the area around the cave while the tour guide talks about wildlife and the vegetation.
Then we enter into the cavern house where we learn about the glow worms and are given special safety instructions for the viewing. Glow worms are actually fungus gnats in their larvae stage. They glow to attract prey that they feed on and appear in the darkness. Tour guides do not let us take pictures or video inside so I’ll try to best describe the experience: First we walk into a cave along a series of platforms. It gets progressively darker inside. I can start to see little bits of the worms in the moist parts of the cave above and beside us. We eventually get to a set of stairs that lead to a platform where there is a little boat. There are two long benches where our group splits along facing outwards the boat to the sides. There is a boat guide who has a light as we board but after we are safely boarded turns off this light and guides the boat only by grabbing a chain above and pulling us down a water tunnel. At first it isn’t very impressive. Just faint glows but eventually we float to areas with more densely populated worms. Our guide tells us to look up and he glides us by and turns the boat around so all have a great view of the glowing above. We go through a couple sections of these before we return to the start to walk back out the tunnel.
There are multiple scheduled times of the viewings so we wait for our boat to return with another group by the shore.
Soon we take the boat ride back to our starting location. The temperature has dropped and the wind is strong. Only a few of us brave the ride on the top. I spent so much of my travels hot so I take advantage of this moment of coldness; although I regret it later in the evening when I cannot get warm in my van.
Once back to the campsite I prepare my dinner and head to bed. It is late but still light out. It is January but I have to remember this is their summer and the sun sets later.
That evening the campervan is so cold so it makes me want buy another blanket. I have a hard time getting comfortable to get a restorative sleep. I don’t see any stores on my way to my next location so I hope I’ll be ok for the next few days.
Next morning drive to Milford Sound
In the morning I am driving to my next campsite in Milford Sound. I’ve been warned about the narrow, curvy roads and tunnels of this part of the drive. I am nervous but I’ll take it slow and drive during the day.
It is on this drive that my GPS starts to crap out on me. Luckily I have backup systems like google and maps.me and the drive route seems pretty straight forward.
There are a couple stops along the way as well as some walking tracks. I unfortunately do not schedule time for any walking tracks, New Zealand is too big of a country! I do make a couple photo stops though.
Cascade Creek Road
The drive takes somewhere between 3 to 4 hours. I stop along way many times and drive slower than the speed limit just to be safe. Most of the ride is pretty easy but the last probably 45 minutes is the most challenging part: narrow and curvy roads, inclines and declines, and the famous tunnel everyone talks about. The tunnel goes through a mountain and only allows for traffic in one direction but a light outside each side lets the traffic flow in.
It is really interesting driving through the tunnel but don’t get me wrong I’d probably feel different if I was driving through at night or in inclement weather. I am lucky because the weather is spectacular.
So I have arrived at my campsite which happens to be the smallest I’ve had so far but the facilities are nice. The real annoying part of the stay is the sandflies. They are eating me alive here. It is my first real run-in with them in New Zealand. I’ve been keeping score with all my run-ins with wildlife and I’ll add this to the list of my enemies: geckos, monkeys, fur seals and now sandflies.
I check into the campsite and look at the list of all the great walking tracks I probably won’t get to do while I am here.
I empty out the icebox of my van and take the goods to the refrigerator of the campsite in order to keep things cold since the chill box only works when the van is on. I am tempted to eat dinner at the fancy restaurant at Milford Lodge tonight but I must finish my perishables since they probably won’t keep for my upcoming daytime activities. I contemplate leaving my groceries in the lodge fridge while I am out on my cruise tomorrow; you are supposed to date your goods with your checkout date but how will they know if I fudge the date a bit?
The sandflies are ruthlessly attacking me. I hide out in the van with the windows shut and nap. The nap is well needed. I didn’t quite sleep well last night because it was much cooler than I expected; I was kept awake because I could not get warm enough. I wake up from my nap but still too tired to do any walking around or exploring right now so I purchase a gigabyte of data to surf the web (15 NZD in these parts!). Best to save my energy for the Milford Sound cruise tomorrow and the drive to Queenstown afterwards.
I head to the kitchen and lounge and prepare my dinner.
I am actually lucky to get into this campsite, Rainforest Campervan Park, since it is the only one near Milford Sound and limited in space. It isn’t cheap though. There are posh cabins that can be reserved as well. They have a spectacular view.
I’m jealous of the great views of the cabins. At least I don’t have a long drive in the morning to make my Milford Sound cruise.
Yesterday we took the train from Kaikoura back to Christchurch. According to the maps it seems like our bed and breakfast is in walking distance to the train station. We set off with our luggage but unfortunately it seems in the wrong direction. We hike over an overpass and seemingly going out of our way. We walk past some office buildings and then finally we see our lodging, Addington Bed and Breakfast.
We booked the cheapest room, the twin room. It is tight for the two of us with all our luggage but the home is nice. The breakfast is quite good and the house is clean. I am happy there is a washer and dryer available so I can do some laundry while I am here. Space is tight but we don’t plan on spending too much time in the room; besides I’ll have the whole room to myself for the third night anyway.
Today we visit Arthurs Pass National Park and seemingly the best way to visit is by train, a couple hours from Christchurch. Accommodation and amenities are limited at the national park so we visit as most do as a day trip by train. There is also an option to rent a car and drive to the pass; in the interest of time we didn’t take this option.
The weather is quite uncertain as it often is. We hope to get some time to look around before the rain sets in.
We start off with a walking tour provided by a park ranger. We meet at the temporary visitor center.
Learn about animals introduced that became pests. New Zealand is very strict about people bringing in foreign plants and animals, even checking our hiking boots on the way into the country. Unfortunately they weren’t always as strict and now they are paying the price with foreign introduced animals wreaking havoc on their ecosystem.
Our guide takes us past a waterfall, a church with a great view and some other notable landmarks.
Only about 30 people actually live at Arthur’s Pass. As far as visitors go I think many who stay the night do tramping (similar to backpacking, the recreational activity of going for long-distance walks in rough country).
After our tour ends we take the hike up to view some waterfalls.
Devil’s Punchbowl Falls (Māori name is Hinekakai) is up and down a good amount of stairs (2.2 mile hike). I may have cursed and whined a little on the stairs but it is worth it.
After the water fall hike I’m hungry so we head to lunch at one the two restaurants at Arthur’s Pass.
After lunch we go for a short nature hike. At this point I am focused on seeing a live kiwi but from what we’ve been told it is more likely to see them at dusk. My ears are actively listening but we are unsuccessful in the quest. However we do happen upon some beautiful lichen lined paths that are other worldly.
After our hike we head over to the general store and watch a very naughty Kea bird try to steal everything.
We walk back to the station to await the train. It starts raining but fortunately the rain was not able to ruin our day.
While we wait for the train we start chatting with the guys next to us. We find out they are in Christchurch for a quick stop back home (California I believe). They are scientists that work in Antarctica. They are responsible for fixing and setting up important scientific equipment. They are fascinating to speak with.
Our ride back to Christchurch begins and the rain stops to open up some beautiful views.
Once we are back in Christchurch we head to dinner before walking back to our bed and breakfast. My aunt leaves me tomorrow and I am once again alone for at least another month. It is nice to have a companion while it lasts.