The Final Few Weeks
After a few mad weeks of hiking through Fiordland it was time to chill out. We drove North towards Lake Tekapo, just outside Mount Cook National Park. For the next few days we did nothing other than sleep and lie by the lake. Neither of us were feeling well so a little rest was welcomed. A mandatory visit to the Church of the Good Shepherd at night was all we had energy for. Tekapo is part of a Dark Sky Reserve and is one of the best places to stargaze. Despite the crowds this was unbelievable!
Nothing but lupins all along the coast of Lake Tekapo.
The Milky Way rises above The Church of The Good Shepherd
4 days later, still not feeling 100% but not wanting to waste the good weather we continued into Mount Cook National Park. We had planned to hike up to Mueller Hut on Mt. Olivier to stay the night but with high winds forecast overnight it was not recommended by the DOC. Although we were disappointed we were relieved not to have to hike with heavy backpacks again! Still we decided to torture ourselves by hiking up 2200 steps to the Sealy Tarns. These are small alpine lakes with views over the Hooker Valley and Mt. Cook. We got lucky as it was such a clear day we could see for miles. That afternoon Gavin decided to rest up some more so I took a solo walk up the Hooker Valley towards the Hooker Glacier. This crossed 3 swing bridges and followed a boardwalk until you reach the lake at the base of the glacier. Sadly the rain came in as I got close to the lake so I couldn't see Mt. Cook anymore! Both of us decided that we would have to come back and visit here again someday because we really didn't get to explore what we wanted to - all of the travel had finally wore us out!
Sunset on the shore of Lake Pukaki.
Another few chill out days later, we were feeling so much better! That's when we decided to do the Hump Ridge Track near Tuatapere on a whim! This is currently a private track but it is being upgraded to a Great Walk so will become a lot busier once that happens. Doing this walk meant venturing back into Fiordland for potentially more rain and certainly more sandflies but this time we would be on the south coast of the island. The first day of the walk starts on Bluecliffs Beach then starts to climb steadily towards Okaka Lodge. The weather was beautiful but this meant that the humidity inside the rain forest was crazy. 7 hours of walking and sweat later we arrived at the Lodge. Because this is a private track we would not be staying at your average backcountry hut. In Okaka we had proper mattresses and pillows provided (it's the small things that bring joy), a small shop that sold beer, food and chocolate and the Lodge Manager Anthony even made everyone porridge for breakfast the next morning before setting off on day 2!
The viewpoint of the South Coast at sunrise from the lookout above Okaka Lodge.
Day 2 saw us descend back down to sea level through the forest, along an old railway line and across viaducts towards Port Craig Lodge. Of course it wouldn't be Fiordland without rain so to arrive at the Lodge and meet Sarah with a hot cup of tea was pure bliss. After another feed of porridge we set off on the final day of the walk back to Bluecliffs beach. Today we followed the coast crossing small beaches along the way. Thankfully it was another beautiful day and after a fight with some Oystercatcher birds and many many sandfly bites we could see the end! 3 days and 62km later we were back to the van! This walk definitely made us question why we enjoy this life (better hiking bags are on the shopping list!) so much but it felt like a massive achievement! Never walking again….
One of the many bridges that we needed to cross on the Hump Ridge Track.
Over the next few days we started to drive up the East Coast stopping at countless sandy beaches trying to spot some wildlife. We stopped at Slope Point, the most southern point of NZ, and at Nugget Point Lighthouse where Gavin took some photos of the sunrise and took short walks to see McLean Falls and Purakanui Falls. Akaroa was our next stop where we hiked up to Stoney Bay Peak but a hazy morning meant the views were non existent! The wind picked up in the afternoon and a thunderstorm rolled in so we moved on further north to Kaikoura.
If you want to see marine wildlife around New Zealand then Kaikoura is the place to do it! Seals, dolphins, whales, penguins, albatross, the list goes on! Seal colonies line the roads so these are really easy to spot. At this time of year you will see many pups also - too cute! A spur of the moment decision saw us out on a whale watching tour to see sperm whales. On this tour we also came across loads of albatross. These things are huge!! You can only appreciate their true size when you see them next to a seagull. The highlight of my trip so far was the dolphin swim we did with Dolphin Encounter. We set off at 5.30am to find a pod of dusky dolphins. We were told to make loads of noise and sing under water to attract them to us. This was amazing! Swimming in the open ocean with wild dolphins was a once in a lifetime experience. Finally we rented some SUPs and took off along the coast to find some seals. We had one seal that we decided to call Sammy, swim right up to us and jump around us. Again this was just unreal! Kaikoura will never be forgotten!
One of the hundreds of Dusky Dolphins that was jumping around our boat during the Whale Watch tour.
An Albatross glides above the Pacific with the Kaikoura Mountains in the background.
What a way to end the trip. Sadly today we had to say goodbye to our trusty campervan. Its served us well for the last 10 weeks and we couldn't recommend CamperCo more. We have one more day to enjoy in Christchurch, and sleep in a hotel bed (who are we?!) before we fly to Melbourne for phase 2 of the holiday! New Zealand you were amazing, it's been real.