South Island Road Trip

South Island, New Zealand
Sunday, September 8, 2013

So our time in New Zealand has come to an end.... Boo!! We absolutely love New Zealand as this blog shows, the largest we have posted to date!

When less is more

During the course of writing the blog we have used a few words a lot, to name a couple 'stunning and amazing' At the time we used these words as they summed up what we were thinking but in retrospective we wish we had kept them in reserve for a more appropriate time such as describing the pure beauty of New Zealand, as having used them before diminishes their meaning. When we use such words in this blog we truly mean it, if in doubt check out the photos as a picture speaks a thousand words!

Day 13 - Crossing the Strait

Luckily we awoke to good weather and a very still Cook Strait, which was a big relief to both of us as neither of us wanted to face yet another rough boat trip! We were extremely lucky to have a smooth crossing as the Strait often experiences rough water and heavy swells where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean

We patiently queued up and waited to board the ferry as all the tourists were carefully grouped together so that the locals could be first on and first off. We boarded on the lower vehicle deck named the 'train deck' we noticed the rails built into the floor but it was only when we drove off the ferry at Picton we passed the train wagons which were loaded at the front of the deck waiting to be collected.

The ferry journey is billed as one of the best in the world and it didn't take long to see why. Just after we departed from Wellington the lovely views of the hilly landscape around Wellington Bay was only the start of things to come, as the ferry entered the Strait it was possible to see the snow-capped mountains on the South Island and after crossing the Strait we entered the Marlborough Sounds where things just got better and better. The Marlborough Sounds is a network of valleys which have been drowned by the sea by both land subsidence and rising sea levels, resulting in some fantastic scenery. Rolling hill after rolling hill covered with vegetation and only the odd dwelling in sight the views were great from every direction.

As always time flies when you are having fun and before we knew it the 3.5 hour ferry ride was over and we were back in the spaceship and on the road to Westport. We arrived at the holiday park late afternoon and it seemed we had the whole place to ourselves so after a quick meal we turned in for the night feeling weary after the long drive. The park was situated right next to the beach and all we could hear was the pounding of the waves hitting the beach but we were so tired we fell asleep in no time at all.

Day 14 - Drive to Greymouth

The next morning we got on the road bright and early, keen to sample some of what Westport had to offer before driving south to Greymouth. We decided to check out Cape Foulwind and when we arrived we were happy to find out that it didn't live up to its name. We followed the path up to the lighthouse and continued along the coastal path for about 20 minutes and couldn't stop smiling as we took in the landscape around us.

We had read about a seal colony and we decided that we couldn't leave without trying to see some. After a short drive south to Tauranga Bay we met up with the coastal path again and headed back north towards to the lighthouse. After squinting at the rocks we managed to distinguish a couple of seals which blended in with the surrounding environment. A little disappointed we didn't see more we started to head back to the car occasionally peering over the edge to see if we could see any others. Luckily on our last attempt we came across at least 20 seals playing in the water or laying around attempting to sun themselves on the rocks.

After an amazing morning soaking up the sights around Westport we drove further down the west coast for a one night stopover in Greymouth. We didn't plan to stop along the way but as we were driving along the Coastal Highway it was impossible not to be blown away by the outstanding views and we ended up stopping in several places to enjoy a brew whilst soaking up the great sights. When we came across the signs that advertised the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes we were intrigued enough to stop and investigate.

We jumped out of the car and followed the scenic pathway that led us down to the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes. The rocks are accurately named because they strongly resemble a pile of pancakes that have been stacked on top of one another. It has taken millions of years for the sea to eat into the rocks in this way but the end result is an awesome sight to see and we were glad that we stopped. It's a shame that we didn't get to see the blowholes gushing out water at tremendous speeds which apparently is very similar to a geyser, if a little colder!

The first viewing point was over a really deep surge pool filled with jagged rocks and a circular wall of solid rock that is slowly being eroded away. The powerful waves were crashing against the rocks which sounded like an explosion and we heard it long before we actually saw it. The sound was deafening and it was impressive to see the power of the sea swirling around.

Shantytown Heritage Park

When we arrived in Greymouth we headed straight for the Shantytown Heritage Park that we had seen advertised and we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves because we managed to buy our tickets on bookme at the bargain price of just $10 instead of $31.50! Which in the grand scheme of things is only a small saving but hey everyone loves a bargain and 'every little helps'. (Added for Sonya's benefit in case she was missing work but we think you can guess what her response was)

As soon as we entered the Heritage Park we felt like we had been transported back in time, especially when we saw the steam train chuffing away. We decided to take the small hike to the top of a hill overlooking the old town and the view was worth the huffing and puffing to get to the top. Back at the bottom we walked past the huge water wheel on our way to Chinatown where we read about the arrival of the Chinese gold prospectors at the end of the 18th century. This was a really interesting section complete with a few shops and houses that the Chinese workers would have dwelled in.

After looking around Chinatown we strolled past the train station and into the main town to look inside the old style buildings. Having already eaten our lunch we decided not to venture into King Dick's Café and instead wandered up the main road and in and out of the shops that would have been the most popular back in the day. These included the old photographers shop, the printers and an old shoe shop where a skilled shoemaker would have been able to make a pair of boots from scratch in about ten hours! We also looked inside the Golden Nugget Saloon and the cabinet makers before having a good old nosey in the old general store. Just as we finished we heard the stream train driver blast his horn indicating that he was about to set off so we made our way over to the train station eager to take a trip on the beautiful old fashioned choo choo train.

The journey was short but sweet and followed an original bush line through the native forest. At the end of the line we had the opportunity to climb inside the driver's cab. On the way back down the line we jumped off at the Sawmill, a great mock-up of how a saw mill would have looked complete with scarily dangerous circular saws. After reading some of the information about the dangerous jobs that the people would have had to do we made our way across the tracks to an area in the woods that was gold mined in the past. Complete with cardboard cut outs of characters which made us jump by suddenly talking to us and explaining who they were and what their job used to be. It was a really good way of explaining the past and giving us an idea about the life people would have led if they were out here panning for gold during the gold rush era. After looking through some of the mock up buildings and listening to the different characters tell us tales we walked through the gold panning area, where you can still pan for gold before making our way back into the town. Although all of the big gold nuggets have been found there is still gold in 'em hills, as on the Fox Glacier walk (more on that later in the blog) our guide told us that one of his colleagues spent just 5 weekends panning for gold and found enough to make two wedding bands.

Back in town we visited an old wooden church that was just as quaint on the inside as it was on the outside. After this we visited the foundry, the school, the jail house and a spooky hospital that could have been the set for a bad horror movie and needless to say we didn't spend too long in here. We had a fantastic time at the Shantytown and we couldn't believe that we spent nearly 3 hours wandering around. It was a great afternoon and well worth a visit even at full price.

Day 15 - Franz Josef

After the drive down the coast to Franz Josef we took the hike out to the face of Franz Josef Glacier. The views of the glacier were impressive but as it has receded over time the viewing area is now 300m from the actual glacier which is also obscured by a moraine mountain. The only way to get really close to the glacier is to take a helicopter which lands on the ice and gives you time to explore the area before flying you back down. There is also a helli-hike option which includes a guided tour of the glacier. Both options are expensive and we decided against taking a ride in a helicopter in favour of taking a glacier walk on the equally impressive Fox Glacier that we will be seeing in a couple of days' time.

The face of Fox Glacier is easier to access by foot and doesn't need helicopter access, hence it is considerably cheaper. In the evening we relaxed in the hot pools after finding another great deal on bookme. The pools aren't naturally heated which is a first for New Zealand but the location more than made up for it. Built in a forest with trees that were in touching distance of the pools, the location was about as tranquil as it can get. The complex had three pools heated to a mellow 36°c, a moderate 38°c and a toasty 40°c and it was pure bliss to relax in the outdoors as the sun went down.

Day 16 - Wildlife Centre

Another day and another great deal on bookme, this time a back stage pass to the West Coast Wildlife Centre. A tourist attraction come research conservation centre right in the middle of Franz Josef. The centre does some incredible work to try and save the Kiwi bird from extinction, to be honest neither of us even knew there was such a bird and we put our hand up and admitted it to our guide. We might have been a bit ignorant but at least we are not plain stupid as when we told our guide she commented we weren't the first and then recited some stories. The best one was when somebody told her they are allergic to Kiwi fruit and asked if it would be safe to go near the Kiwi bird! How she kept a straight face is beyond us :-)

Unlike the Panda's we saw back in China the Kiwi is happy to reproduce on its own accord, however due to its predators the chance of an egg hatching and then the young chicks making it to adulthood is only 5% in the wild, in contrast at the centre it is 95%. Unfortunately for the Kiwi back in the 1800's the stoat was introduced into the wild in a vain attempt to control the rabbit population. However the stoat is an extremely clever animal and soon worked out that it was far easier to hunt the baby Kiwi's rather than chase the fast moving rabbits. Since the introduction of the stoat the Kiwi has been in decline and although some types of Kiwi still have a relatively healthy population of around 35,000 the Haast Kiwi is nearly extinct with a population of just 350.

The Kiwi is a nocturnal animal and therefore it is very rare to see one in the wild. However the centre has a couple of Kiwi birds that were reared last year and they live in a specially designed room with everything they need until they are old enough to be released into the wild. The centre have reversed night and day by lighting and this is to ensure the Kiwi's are at their most active during the day. To be honest to just see the upstairs section of the centre would have been over priced but our tickets included 'access all areas' and we got to visit downstairs where the centre does its magic. Unfortunately there weren't any ickle Kiwi's running around as the next batch of eggs weren't due to hatch until September but our guide gave us a full tour of the facilities and a lot of info on the Kiwi. A few of the things we found fascinating were:

The Kiwi is born with an incredible new born to adult ratio of 1 in 4 which is one of the smallest ratios of all animals. To put it into perspective when the female lays her egg it is the equivalent of a human giving birth to a 6 year old! How crazy is that?

They are born with a food sack that gives approx. 10 days' supply of food during which time they learn to forage for food. Therefore they do not rely on their parents for anything and are self-sufficient from birth.

We enjoyed our time at the research centre and we are really glad we managed to grab a bargain on a backstage pass which definitely showed off the best part of the centre. If we hadn't bagged a bargain we would have only opted for the normal admission and we would have missed out on the best bits.

Day 17 - Doing the Fox Trot on Fox Glacier

Since we booked the Fox Trot Glacier Walk the weather has been up and down with plenty of showers but we were keeping our fingers crossed that we would have a dry morning for our walk. With 11m, yes metres of rain per annum on the glacier it is wet more often than it is dry and unfortunately we woke up to a typical rainy day, but we were too excited to be put off by a bit of water so we got on the road and made our way to the glacier tour building.

After checking in we were given a pair of heavy duty boots that came with a set of crampons to help us grip onto the ice. In addition to this we were given a water proof jacket and trousers to add to our already warm weather gear. After worrying about the rain and wrapping up we looked like two Michelin men but hey at least we were prepared. After getting geared up we jumped onto the replica groovy old style bus that was ready and waiting to take us to the bottom of the glacier. The first part of the tour was all about the climb to the top of the moraine hill that would give us access onto the glacier. We spent a good hour climbing to the top of the hill knowing that every step we took would get us closer to stepping out onto the glacier itself. We stopped at several places along the track so that our guide could point out the changing shape of the cliff face that has been caused by the glacier retreating and advancing over the years. We reached the top of the first hill which is the furthest point you can access without a guide and the views of the glacier were absolutely amazing and much, much better than what we could see of Franz Josef from the public viewing point. After walking up and then down some more hills we were finally ready to put on our crampons and venture out onto the ice.

We were so excited and we couldn't wait to get onto the glacier itself and the further we walked onto the ice the more excited we felt. It has to be said we were really impressed by the ice steps that had been freshly cut by a few of the guides just a couple of hours earlier and let's just say it certainly made navigating the ice easier for us beginners as the crampons were a lot harder to walk in than we thought they would be.

A little bit into the walk we got to walk inside a big crevasse and although it was a narrow and slightly claustrophobic experience when we got to the other end and our guide asked us if we wanted to do it again we all voted 'yes' so it can't have been too bad. Afterwards we made our way further up the glacier to what was recently the end point of a full day tour, highlighting how quickly the glacier is receding and changing.

After worrying about the rain at the start of the trip it turned out to be a relatively dry walk but we can't say the same about the next group of unlucky people as just before we got off the glacier the heavens really opened and by the time we arrived back at the tour building it was absolutely chucking it down. We quickly decided to shelve any plans we had made for the afternoon and drove further south onto Wanaka which is bang in the middle of skiing country.

We were hoping that the weather would improve by the time we got to Wanaka but there was no such luck and it just got worse and worse and we arrived in the thick blanket of a rain cloud. By late evening the wind was also howling and blowing a serious gale and we were starting to wonder if we were going to have to dig out our trusty ear plugs just to get some sleep.

Day 18 - Queenstown

After yesterday's horrific weather, which was one of the worst day's weather we have had on our entire trip we awoke to a chilly but beautifully clear and still day. As we peered out of our camper the views of Wanaka Lake and the surrounding mountains were simply stunning and completely unexpected, as when we arrived yesterday we couldn't see a thing through the rain clouds.

After admiring the views we jumped on the Cardrona Valley Road towards Queenstown, along with masses of others heading for the nearby slopes to make the most of last night's heavy snow fall. After passing through the valley we started to climb into the Crown Range and as we climbed the views just got better and better and with the beautiful bright blue skies overhead it just complemented the surrounding snow-capped mountains. After avoiding the ice and snow we reached the plateau which was 1,100 metres up and it is the highest point on a main road in New Zealand (didn't our ears know it) After enjoying yet more amazing views over the Crown Range we started to slowly descend towards Queenstown

Skyline &Luge

Yeah you guessed it.... we got another bargain on bookme. We managed to get the Skyline Gondola and 4 rides on the Luge for just $18 per person which is approximately 60% off! The advert for the Luge says 'once is never enough' and we couldn't agree more, so getting the equivalent of 4 free rides was a great deal.

We took the Skyline Gondola to the top of the mountain for unbelievable views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. After enjoying the views we took the ski lift to the start of the Luge were we sped back down the mountain on a bit of plastic with handlebars. The Luge has two tracks a so called 'scenic track' and an 'advanced track' both of which are over 800m in length. As the name suggests the advanced track is a bit more demanding (or fun!) with a steeper gradient and banked corners where you can get up to some serious speeds. We both had a great time and surprisingly Sonya didn't even crash once, but even after 4 rides we wanted to go again, and again!


After an adrenalin rushed afternoon, spent throwing ourselves down the luge tracks we decided to head back to the holiday park to catch up on the blog whilst chatting to fellow travellers and enjoying the warmth from the cosy wood burner. The afternoon absolutely flew by and it wasn't long before we had to drive back to the Skyline in time for the stargazing tour that we had booked onto earlier in the day.

We took the gondola to the top of the hill and waited in the comfy bar area for the tour guide. It wasn't long before she approached us to explain there was a small amount of cloud cover overhead so before deciding if she would run the tour we would wait until everyone else had arrived and let us decide if we thought we would get value for money. Luckily a little later the cloud cover had cleared enough for us all to vote 'yes' which was an immense relief to us because we really wanted to experience a stargazing course in New Zealand.

Before heading outside into the cold night everyone was given an $800 Canadian Goose down filled jacket to wear. We don't know why Canadian goose feathers are supposed to be better than any other geese but we weren't complaining as boy were we toasty.

As we made our way up to the viewing platform we walked on the luge track that we had spent the afternoon racing down. Once we were at the viewing platform our guide talked to us about the various stars and planets that could be seen in the Southern Hemisphere and as she pointed them out to us she also spent some time programming the two telescopes so that we could take a closer look. We got the chance to see Saturn and its wonderful rings, the Jewel Box which is a red, white and a blue star in a straight line and our closest stars Alpha Centauri. The Alpha Centauri is two stars, a mere 4.24 and 4.35 light years away. To put this into perspective our guide explained that if we drew a 2mm dot beneath our feet to represent the Earth our sun would be about 2.5 metres away about the size of a basketball, our closest stars would also be the size of a basketball but they would be in Bali some 7,000km away! When you put it like that even though we had fairly decent telescopes spotting a basketball in Indonesia is pretty difficult.

Another great evening which was made all the more enjoyable by our toasty jackets, our witty guide and the free hot chocolate at the end.

Day 19 - Queenstown

In the evening we headed into Queenstown to check out the -5 Ice Bar. The bar has a hefty $20 entry fee and we would have given it a miss but after (you guessed it) we found a great deal on bookme for just $5 each we had to drop in. The ice bar is made up of over 18 tonnes of crystal clear ice and everything is made out of the chilly stuff including the furniture, the bar, the bar games and even the glasses we drank from. After getting dressed up like Eskimo's we enjoyed a drink whilst admiring the ice carvings before we couldn't bear the cold any longer. Unlike most bars where smashing a glass would probably get you thrown out of the establishment it was encouraged as they can't reuse them and they make fresh ones every night. So after drinking up we smashed our glasses into the bin and headed for the warmth outside!

Day 20 - Te Aneu

After a leisurely drive we arrived in Te Anau all ready for our trip to Milford Sound tomorrow. Milford Sound is a fjord towards the northern end of Fiordland National Park. It is acclaimed to be New Zealand's most famous tourist destination and was judged in 2008 as the world's top travel destination in an international survey run by TripAdvisor. Can anything really top what we have experienced so far in New Zealand? Time will tell.... roll on tomorrow.

Day 21 - Milford Sound

We awoke to a frosty, hazy morning and hastily got on the road as although we only had 120km to drive to catch our 12:45 cruise, we were concerned we might run into problems with the drive, as SH94 is notorious for having bad driving conditions.

We were also worried we might need snow chains, but as everybody we asked told us something different we decided to chance it because if we left earlier enough, if needed we could resort to plan B. Plan B was a bit sketchy but we either planned to return to Te Anau and try and grab some chains or jump on one of the many tour buses.

We never did find out the actual rules and regs but our interpretation of them after talking to various people are, it is the law to carry snow chains in your vehicle between May and September, but they are only required to be fitted when conditions are bad enough. The State Highway's website estimates that chains are required to be fitted on around 20 days a year. When they need to be fitted it will be advertised on the web and road signs. There is also a road side check point and when it is open you must stop and prove you have chains in your vehicle and you know how to fit them. It is unclear when the check point opens but we assume it is when the conditions require chains to be fitted and luckily it was closed when we sailed past. :-)

SH94 is regarded as one of the most scenic roads in New Zealand, and has a peak elevation of 940m. The views of the surrounding mountains and lake are part of the Milford experience and we made sure we left enough time to make regular stops at various sights along the way including Mirror Lakes, Hollyford Valley lookout and the Chasm. We also took a lengthy diversion to the end of the Lower Hollyford Road but quite frankly it was a waste of precious time as unless you have hours to spare to get your hiking boots on there really isn't much else to see or do. One of the most notable bits of the SH94 has to be the Homer Tunnel which is approx. 20km from Milford Sound. The tunnel is a massive 1,219m long and slopes down towards Milford Sound with a gradient of 1:10. To make things more difficult/interesting it is barely lit which makes progress slow going. The tunnel only operates in one direction at a time, luckily towards Milford we approached on a green light and coming back we only had to wait a few minutes but the signs warned that the signals work on a 15 minute sequence

As the morning went by the weather just got better and better and we arrived to cloudless bright blue skies. The drive was a doddle and we are so glad we stuck to our guns and drove ourselves instead of opting for the overpriced tour bus.

What's behind the name?

When Captain Cook was exploring the coastline of New Zealand in the 1700's he did not enter Milford Sound, believing nothing lay beyond the entrance and mapped it only as a bay. In the early 1800's Captain John Grono from Wales was caught out by a storm in the Tasman Sea and after consulting Captain Cook's maps decide to take shelter in the bay, only to discover the beautiful fjord. He named the fjord after his hometown Milford Haven, it was only later that other settlers changed the name to Milford Sound to follow the naming convention of other fjord's in the area after saying it looked nothing like Milford Haven and we couldn't agree more!

Nature Tour boat cruise

We booked ourselves on a 2 hour nature boat cruise which worked its way up the entire length of the fjord to the Tasman Sea. The tour was fantastic and took in the main sights of the fjord and along the way we were lucky enough to spot some seals and a lone penguin. Unfortunately we didn't spot any dolphins which are known to visit weekly. The fjord was simply stunning with sheer rock faces that rise over 1,200 metres on both sides of the fjord and with 4 permanent waterfalls it's hard to describe its beauty by words alone.

Our trip was also enhanced by the unbelievable weather. We were so lucky to have a warm and bright sunny day as after all this is mid-winter and is the West Coast! As with many other places on the West Coast, Milford Sound has many wet days a year with an annual rainfall of 6m and it has been known for 250mm of rain to fall in 24 hours. As our guide described it 'coming to Milford Sound expecting dry weather is like visiting the desert and expecting rain'

So enough of that to answer yesterday's question can Milford Sound really top everything we have already seen in New Zealand?

In a word 'yes' but we have seen so many things in New Zealand that have really blown our socks off and Milford Sound is just another one on the long list albeit it is it the top. If we were only allowed to visit one place in New Zealand we would have chosen Milford as it is just beautiful but we can't compare a fjord to the Volcanic region, or the Southern Alps and the glaciers which are both in their own right truly amazing. So it was a yes but equally it is a maybe, we love New Zealand and choosing the best bit is impossible.

Day 22 - The only way is up!

The biggest day on the road yet covering 500km from coast to coast via the Southern Scenic Highway. 300 miles isn't a massive distance to do in a day in the UK but on the windy roads of New Zealand with plenty of scenic stop offs it is the maximum you can complete in daylight hours. The journey took 9 hours and we arrived just as the sun was going down. We set off from Te Anau and took the scenic route to Dunedin via Invercargill and Bluff following the length of the Southern Scenic Highway. We left in thick fog which thankfully cleared by mid-morning and we then enjoyed another fantastic day with bright blue skies and beautiful sunshine. Who knows where the traditional winter weather is hiding but we're not complaining.

The most prominent stop on the journey was Bluff recognised by many as the southernmost point of the South Island and the start or end of SH1, which we have used along the way throughout New Zealand and got us to Cape Regina all those km's ago. So after 7 months and 19 days we have finally made it to the bottom of our big adventure and the only way from here is up. We are finally on the way home. Boo!

Day 23 - Chocolate &Beer a delightful combination!

When we were planning our route through New Zealand we chose to have a night in Dunedin because we thought it would be a great place to break up the long journey from Te Anau to Christchurch. As we have been driving from place to place it was impossible to miss the leaflets advertising Dunedin's two main tourist attractions the Cadbury's Chocolate Factory and Speight's Brewery. Let's just say we didn't waste any time and booked ourselves onto both tours as fast as possible and have been looking forward to having a naughty day out sampling as much chocolate as possible before having a good old taste of our favourite New Zealand tipple.

We kept our eyes peeled and we were lucky enough to come across a 10% discount voucher for the Cadbury's Chocolate tour and when we arrived in Dunedin and booked into the Top 10 Holiday Park we were kindly informed that because we were Top 10 members we would get 20% off the brewery tour and all merchandise! Happy days :-)

We were booked on the 3pm Cadbury's tour and because we wanted to be able to sample the beer later on we decided to leave the car behind and walk the forty minutes into town. We started walking with the silly notion that it was going to be a nice stroll accompanied by the odd hill. Wrong! Let's just say we soon found out why Dunedin is described as the Edinburgh of the south. One of the hills was sooo steep that halfway up the hill stairs had been cut into the pavement to make it easier to climb! After this it was all downhill which didn't bode well for the long walk home after a few beers. We are starting to think that having a car for the last month has made us a bit lazy and we are in for a shock when we get to San Francisco because it's going to be Jam packed with hills! Yikes.

Cadbury's Tour

Our tour guide was a lady version of Willy Wonka and she was wearing purple dungarees with a white top and a purple Cadbury's cap which helped to partially cover up her delightful hair net. We all had to wear these hair nets and Sonya was secretly hoping we would get to wear the purple dungarees and cap too but sadly this wasn't offered.

Before we started the tour we had to watch a brief video and we were all given our first free bar of chocolate which we managed to munch our way through before the short video was even finished. We were told to hold onto the plastic bag the chocolate bar came in as we would be given some more bars to sample later on in the tour. After this we were taken into the factory where our guide explained to us how dark, milk and white chocolate is made and showed us some posters of the chocolate bars that are made exclusively for New Zealand.

We were impressed by the machinery and loved seeing the chocolate buttons zoom along the conveyor belt and into waiting trays. We also saw the workers boxing up Easter eggs which seemed way too early but apparently it takes 6 months to accumulate enough Easter eggs to be sold over the Easter period and most of them will be consumed in just one week! After seeing all of this chocolate it was only fair that we got to sample some of the lovely stuff and luckily for us we were given several bars of chocolate to add to our collection :-)

After walking through the factory we were led into one of the original silo's and before we could ask why we were standing in the dark the lights suddenly came on and one tonne of melted chocolate came crashing down from a trap door in the ceiling landing into a huge funnel. It was an amazing sight to see and we were literally drooling as we left the room but we didn't have to worry because our next stop was to sample some of this wonderful liquid chocolate. Most of us tried at least two of the small cups of heaven but there was the odd crazy person who declined their second cup and it was thrown in the bin 9 Sonya was absolutely outraged and although she was starting to feel pretty sick she would have definitely had a go at eating her third pot of chocolate instead of wasting it.

Speight's Brewery

Our tour of the brewery was at 6pm so with a bit of time to spare we went in search of the Brewery's Ale House that sits right next door to the brewery itself. The Ale House had just received a major re-fit and we happened to arrive on the opening day so we got to sample some seriously fresh ale that is pumped in from next door. Apparently the whole building had to be re-fitted so that it could be earthquake protected which sounded like a good idea to us. We sat and enjoyed one or two pints of Speight's Gold Medal Ale whilst we sampled some of the free bars of chocolate courtesy of Cadbury's, what a great combination.

We didn't have far to walk to the start of the tour and had a few spare minutes to take a look at the merchandise before our tour started. This is always a bad idea because we usually end up seeing loads of stuff that we want and true to form we had a pile of stuff set aside before the other members of the tour group had even arrived.

Our tour was led by a friendly man named Rod who took us on a bit of a history lesson to give us a better understanding about how the Speight's Brewery was formed and why it has always stood on the original site in Dunedin city centre. The sole reason being the brewery sits on top of a natural spring located 70 metres below ground level, which just happens to have the perfect PH balance needed for brewing beer. He also mentioned that there is a tap on the side of the building where you can swing by and fill up your bottles with this lovely hard water.

The guide told us about the struggles Speight's and all of the other breweries went through during the prohibition years. This was a very dark time for all of the breweries in New Zealand and to survive they joined forces. As one big company they could enter government meetings to lobby against the prohibition campaign and thankfully it worked; otherwise we wouldn't be sampling any beer today!

For our next stop on the tour we wandered into a room to take a look at the ingredients needed to make beer. Although we have been on a few brewery tours over the years we always seem to learn something new about the history of making it. On this particular occasion we learnt that way back in the 10th century beer was brewed at the local monasteries and the monks started out by using hops nearest relative.... extracts from marihuana plants to brew their favourite tipple! Apparently the only reason they changed to hops was the marihuana plant made the beer too sweet.

The next part of the tour took us through the main brewing room that housed the most beautiful copper tanks that are used in the fermenting process of making the beer. They certainly don't make them like that anymore!

Next our guide explained how the Christchurch earthquakes had really affected the brewing industry in New Zealand for two main reasons. Firstly Christchurch's Lion brewery was totally destroyed in the quakes and instead of rebuilding the brewery it was decided to move everything to Speight's. Therefore the workload of Speight's has shot up from just 5 brews per week to 20 brews a week. Secondly Speight's was unique as it transported its beer by tanker which would be pumped directly into the pub's cellar. This continued right up to the quakes in 2010 when many cellars and the underground piping from street level were destroyed. Overnight Speight's delivery network had been ruined and now like other breweries it has changed to the modern keg.

These two changes means the brewery can't cope with both the demand and storing of the kegs and therefore is undergoing a massive $29m refit. As the brewery is landlocked, part of the building has had to come down so that they can build up, up, up. It really was work in progress and even though we walked through a building site the first brew from the new facility is supposed to be completed by the end of October. We will have to come back and see it finished sometime in the near future!

All of this talking about beer was making us rather thirsty and as it was the last tour of the day our tour guide Rod wanted a beer too so we made our way back down the stairs to the bar. After pouring us a few glasses of beer our guide showed us the ropes and then he stepped aside and said three magic words 'the bars yours' followed by another 6 magic words 'have as much as you want' after a round of applause the next half an hour was exceptional fun as we tried to pour perfect glasses of beer. Our aim was to drink enough to cover the tour price which we easily did even at full price. But maybe we still didn't drink enough as we managed to remember all this stuff!

We had a great time and certainly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Dunedin.

Day 24 - The final big road trip

Today was the last of the big road trips from Dunedin to Christchurch. After a few beautiful days we awoke to heavy rain and combined with a chilly cold wind and a bit of hail and snow thrown in for good measure it was a nasty reminder that it is winter after all.

We planned to get on the road nice and early but when we started to drive our trusty spaceship out of the park it started screaming in pain and it was loud enough for the other campers to stop what they were doing to see what the noise was, we decided it needed medical attention and called the AA.

To be fair the man in his van turned up within the hour but waiting around knowing we had a long drive ahead of us the minutes ticked past very slowly. After a quick drive up the road the mechanic diagnosed the problem as a stone in the brakes. Both trying to cover up our tracks as we were unsure if we were allowed on unsealed roads like in Australia we scooted around the issue until the mechanic asked had we been over 'any road seal repairs' and after a quick glance at each other in unison we replied 'yes'

So that was it, we had a story if needed and it convinced the mechanic it was a stone in the brakes and he got to work fixing the problem. Now we thought it would be a little bit like when you get a fly in your eye which feels like an elephant, we were fully expecting the stone to be minuscule but the mechanic couldn't dislodge it without taking the wheel off. When we did manage to free it he presented us with a humongous stone and no words of a lie it was 20mm long! How we managed to get it stuck in the brake disc without damaging something else who knows but we weren't complaining. Our spaceship quickly came back to life as if it had been given a steroid injection and we were ready to get back on the road.

With just one place left to visit in Dunedin before getting back on SH1, you guessed it back to Speight's Brewery to fill up everything we could with lovely Speight's water.

We arrived in Christchurch late afternoon on quite a prominent day for the city as it was exactly 3 years to the day since the first of the devastating Canterbury quakes rocked the city.

Day 25 - Horse Riding

After a few days without a bookme bargain it was time to go for our super cheap horse ride. The first ride of the holiday where Sonya opted to saddle up and not stay at the hotel reading her book! We couldn't believe our luck as after another morning of heavy rain just as we saddled up the rain stopped and the sun came out.

A great afternoon riding where for once Ross was paired up with a suitable horse and Sonya found her riding legs saying she wanted to do more, well that was before the saddle sore kicked in any way!

Day 26 - International Antarctic Museum

Our last deal on bookme was bargain entry to the International Antarctic Centre. With New Zealand being located so close to the South Pole it runs an extensive scientific programme of the Antarctic region with the headquarters based in Christchurch. The centre itself is located right next door to base camp, which was very quiet as being winter all the scientists were at the North Pole.

Although we paid less than standard entry we managed to bag a couple of Extreme Passes which included unlimited free rides in the Hagglund and unlimited goes in the 4D theatre, albeit one go in each was enough. One of the conditions of the ticket was that we had to arrive within 15 minutes of our booked time which happened to be 9am. So we rocked up bright and early and were the first through the doors and to our surprise we had the place to ourselves for a good half an hour.

We braved an authentic Antarctic blizzard complete with 40 km/h winds and a wind chill factor of -35°c! We then took a spin in the incredible Hagglund, an all-terrain amphibious vehicle built for the Antarctic. After strapping ourselves in we were thrown round a purpose built track to show the capabilities of the vehicle. The track included going up and down hills, one with a stupidly steep 45 degree angle, across a wide crevasse and even swimming in water. The ride wasn't for the faint hearted but it was certainly fun! Back inside the centre we saw ickle blue rescue penguins being fed before getting wet in the 4D theatre.

We had a great morning learning loads of stuff about the arctic and talking to the friendly staff.

After lunch we headed to the coast and along the way went through a suburb of the city that was badly affected by the quakes. Although a few people had already described parts of Christchurch as a 'ghost town' until we saw it for ourselves it meant nothing. Since arriving in the city we had been in a fairly busy part which seemed to be unscarred by the quakes, so suddenly coming across an area with empty street after empty street of quake damaged houses was quite frankly chilling. It appeared that everyone had just upped and left leaving whole housing estates empty and in disrepair, most of the houses had curtains blowing in the wind which made it quite an atmospheric place to visit and can only be described as akin to a war zone.

We then decided to head into the city itself and sadly things didn't improve. It was hard to take in but when we say that nearly every shop, office and business in the CBD has closed down it paints the picture. Large areas of the CBD have already been pulled down with many more buildings assigned to the same fate; apparently over 1,000 buildings have already gone. 3 years on with the TV crews long gone, the city is still in ruins with cars parked where buildings stood and only a handful of people milling around it certainly didn't feel like a Friday afternoon in New Zealand's second largest city. As we wandered the streets we were simply shell shocked by the devastation all around us. The few locals we did see were so used to the destruction it was like they didn't see the devastation around them anymore and they merrily continued shopping and socialising with their friends. Although a bit of a novelty the re-start shopping mall created from shipping containers complete with banks and food outlets really showed how the city is trying to start over or more aptly put, restart itself. Although the quakes lasted for longer the most devastating shakes only last around 30 seconds but it is estimated it will take 40 years to rebuild the city.

Having both absolutely loved New Zealand, seeing Christchurch on its knees was upsetting but we are glad we visited and hope many others will continue to visit to. Unfortunately if people stop visiting it won't have the opportunity to restart and it would be a great loss for this vibrant community of people who continue to struggle on even though their city is in ruins.

Day 27 - (John) The Bone Dude

We found out about The Bone Dude from Lonely Planet where you can spend a couple of hours with the dude learning the art of carving your very own bone pendant instead of just buying one from a souvenir shop. It sounded like a very unique thing to do and a great way to end our time in New Zealand so we emailed the dude and quickly got a reply from 'John'. Personally we think The Bone Dude sounds a bit cooler than John!

Our mental image of the bone dude was completely wrong and to our surprise John had only one arm but still managed to teach 6 days a week and carve amazing items from bone. Before you ask the bone comes from the upper leg of a cow no humans were harmed during the making of our pendants!

John now works from his house after his workshop was destroyed in the earthquakes. The small workshop in a converted garage could seat 8 students but luckily we had it all to ourselves. After having a long chat with John about the quakes we got to work shaping our masterpieces. Sonya chose to carve a fish hook and Ross chose a whale's tail before John told him it was one of the hardest things to carve! D'oh! Three hours absolutely flew by chatting with John as if he was an old friend whilst delicately carving our bones. By the time one o'clock rolled round we both had pendants we were proud to wear which really resembled what they were supposed to. We both had a great morning and after yesterday's sad and chilling reminder of what Christchurch is suffering it was nice to hear everything from a local's perspective and how he and his family have managed to recover in the aftermath.

Day 28 - San Francisco here we come!

So our time in New Zealand has come to an end. I think by now it is evident we will miss New Zealand, if we knew we were going to enjoy it as much as we did we probably would have tweaked our plans to have more time here. Well hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can't change anything now so there is only one sensible thing to do and that is to come back soon!

With part 5 of the journey over after a long flight we will start part 6 'The USA'

We have suffered from a bit of train lag back on the Trans-Siberian but so far we have escaped the dreaded jet lag, however we are fully expecting to be suffering by the time we touch down in San Fran as we arrive nearly 7 hours before we depart!

After leaving San Fran 'normal' blogs will return as we should post each time we leave a city.

Our Final Thoughts

Ross has wanted to visit New Zealand for many years and after Sonya caught the travelling bug from Ross she has wanted to visit too. Both with high expectations, it could have easily been an anti-climax but it wasn't in anyway shape or form. New Zealand is now firmly both our favourite country, yes better than Thailand which contrary to popular belief was never in first place anyway. There is no denying that we both love Thailand but we couldn't cope with the heat 24/7, the language barrier is an issue and not to sound like complete snobs, as more and more airlines fly to the land of smiles it is fast becoming the Spain of Asia and will soon be full of football shirts on the beach. Err no thanks.

Before leaving the UK everyone expected us to love Australia and not want to come home, but not one person mentioned New Zealand. In contrast all long term travellers we have met without exception has said over the two they preferred New Zealand and we couldn't agree more.

Don't get us wrong Australia is a lovely country but it is centred on the cities and its beaches. Also the cost of living nearly spoilt it for us, partly as we had just come from Asia, whereas the cost of living in New Zealand is comparable to the UK.

For us New Zealand beats Australia on just about everything it even has beaches to rival that of Australia albeit the weather isn't quite as good. However New Zealand has so much more to offer than its neighbour to name a few, the slopes of the Southern Alps, the glaciers, Milford Sound and the volcanic regions. If you wanted to you could go skiing in the morning and then surf in the afternoon, in how many other countries can you do that? It is just a shame that all this beauty is caused by such a dark powerful force. It is inevitable that one day there will be another earthquake and volcanic eruption, since we have been in the country it has suffered many earthquakes, most too small to feel but it has had a couple rated as strong and a severe quake measuring at 6.6! We just hope when the day does come the country and its people escape unharmed.

Was a month enough?

Just about! We travelled the length and breadth of the country and saw just about everything we wanted to, with the exception of Stewart Island and New Plymouth on the North Island. We could have also spent a few extra days along the way in a few of the larger cities but the journey is the destination and we saw more by being on the open road than we did in the cities

If we ever did something again we would do the journey in reverse and start in the South Island and finish in the North Island. Initially we looked at this but as we could only fly direct from Cairns to Auckland it scuppered our plans. The great advantage of doing it in reverse is the vast majority of people do a similar route to ours and thus all the campers end up in the South Island and need returning to the North Island, therefore a lot of rental companies do special 'relocation rentals' These can be so cheap they border on being ridiculous, for instance Spaceships did a $9 a day, yes just £5 a day combined with a reduced ferry crossing. Also people tend to leave left overs at the holiday park, we have picked up a few goodies along the way but the amount of stuff that was left at Christchurch was crazy, if you are lucky you can pick up a few days' worth of food and an internet card with some time left on it. Cha ching!

Our final thoughts on the spaceship!

To be honest at times it was a bit inconvenient having such a small camper and we would have loved a bit more space. We would have loved a table to sit at to enjoy breakfast, write the blog and do forward planning. A bit more headroom so we could stand up to get dressed would have also been a bonus, but as we were paying top dollar to stay in quality holiday parks with fantastic common areas if we had been cooped up in the camper 24/7 we wouldn't have used the facilities we were paying for. The great advantage of the spaceship was it was classed as a car and qualified for the lowest rates on toll road and ferry crossings. Also the fuel economy was remarkably better than even the slightly larger campers and as we covered over 4,850km we saved a small fortune on fuel.

During the day driving between places was a breeze and we could easily nip along with other traffic. On some of the longer days on the road we covered in excess of 450km a day, roads in New Zealand are extremely windy and we don't think we would have been able to cover as many km's in a bigger camper. As we were on an extremely tight schedule if we didn't cover as many km's per day as we did we wouldn't have been able to see both the North and South islands in just 4 weeks.

The spaceship had its drawbacks but it had many advantages too, and all in all we are glad we opted for one over a bigger camper and we have become strangely attached to our ickle orange Lynx. However if we were to repeat our road trip we would certainly consider a high sided van with a similar wheelbase to a large car. Numerous companies seem to rent this type of camper and although more expensive to rent and run having that bit more space would be worth it. Also if we did opt for a campercar again we would probably go with Juicy Campers. They also rent the Estima but have converted it in a slightly different way to the spaceship, which in our opinion is much better. They have put the kitchen area at the rear of the vehicle which makes it much easier to access everything and with a table for daytime use it gives the car two distinct day and night modes.

Finally if at all possible we would also try and get a diesel camper, unfortunately most of the smaller ones are petrol but at the time of writing petrol is approximately 70 cents more per litre than diesel. Without doing the maths it's easy to see it wouldn't take long for a diesel camper to be a lot cheaper!

Top 10

We suppose you could call our campercar, clamping just one up from camping. Doing that for 4 weeks in mid-winter would have been pretty hard-core but good old Top 10 really made our time in the spaceship enjoyable. With great common areas and bathroom facilities we are so glad we found and used Top 10 every night we were on the road. They might not be the cheapest of holiday parks but the standard of the facilities are well worthy of the price.

We stayed at 15 different parks and it is hard to choose the best one, which is exactly the way it should be as we wanted good quality facilities each and every day. Obviously some parks had a bit more than others and a couple even had a spa and swimming pools. Unfortunately there was just one park we wouldn't recommend, Hastings on the North Island. It was very outdated and was like a Butlins holiday park from the 60's, apart from that particular one Top 10 was brilliant and really made our time in New Zealand enjoyable. As the parks motto goes 'Top experience.... Always'

So we have written over 10,000 words in this blog alone which is nearly a thesis, so cutting to the chase we could have used just one word to describe New Zealand: Incredible.

We will come back that's for sure.

Ta Ta for now

Team Chip

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