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2 Weeks, 53 Driving Hours, and 3829 km Later, New Zealand, Part 2

Ok, so originally, we planned to have this post out a week after the Part 1 blog, but you know life gets in the way. (Yes, even when you are living a life of leisure like Greg and your biggest responsibility is making dinner each night between Pokemon Go Battles!!) Anyway, here it is, we hope you enjoy!

Road Trip Map, Part 2

A Home at the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement

We last left you on our way out of Queenstown and heading to Dunedin, via Arrowtown. This was one of the few days it rained while we were there so this was a quick stop. Arrowtown is only about 25 minutes from Queenstown with a population of about 3000 people. Like Queenstown it really boomed during the Gold Rush of the 1860s, unlike Queenstown, and more like Ross we mentioned in the last blog, it did not maintain it's appeal to locals or tourists. Because it boomed during the gold rush it was home to a large population of foreigners searching to literally strike gold and get rich. This lead to a large influx of Chinese immigrants to the town and region and one of the main attractions is the Historic Chinese Settlement of Arrowtown. This is a small area of town where they recreated a mining village with several homes and a store which was run by Ah Lum out of his home. Ah Lum acted as an interpreter and financial advisor to the residents of the area as well as giving them a place to congregate and socialize in his store.

Giant Sequoia at Mount Stewart Reserve

After Arrowtown, we made a quick unplanned stop at the original bungy jumping location at Kawarau Gorge, but neither of us was brave enough to bungy. (Greg claims he would have done it after seeing how safe the system in place was, but we didn't have time and there was a long line). Then we stopped in a town called Alexandra for lunch. It was not the best lunch we had on the trip, but it did the job and we continued our journey to Dunedin. Our plan in Dunedin involved getting laundry done that evening because the next day was New Year's Eve and we had a tour planned in the morning and wanted to be free to celebrate New Year's in the evening. So we planned only a few stops. The only other item on our list after Arrowtown and a lunch break was to see Mount Stewart Reserve to see a giant sequoia tree. Greg had never seen a giant sequoia before even though they are native to North America and he lived in California for grad school. En route to the reserve, however, was an adventure in and of itself. Greg put in the information he found online about the area but somehow it brought us to the top of Mount Stewart, where there was not a reserve in sight let alone a sequoia tree. After windy, steep twists and turns, it was basically a hilly sheep farm as far as we could see. We carried on anyway, hoping the location tracking was slightly off and the reserve would be just around the corner before we finally gave up and put in the destination for the hotel in Dunedin. Feeling defeated we continued on... and then! We spotted the reserve literally on the route we would have taken if we didn't plan the detour. So yes, Greg got to see his first giant sequoia in New Zealand where they are super rare. They were huge! Even though they allegedly get a whole lot bigger.

Larnach Castle

Afterward we continued to Dunedin, where we would be staying again for two nights. We got all the laundry done and had a pretty mellow evening in preparation for a long day the next day. Dunedin is seventh largest city in New Zealand at approximately 130,000 people. It felt that way too. There was an obvious city vibe that felt more like people lived here and weren't just tourists. The following day, New Year's Eve, we had a tour of Larnach Castle. Larnach Castle is the only castle in New Zealand and was built by an England businessman when he was stationed there in the late 1800s. It is a Gothic Revival mansion and had been abandoned for years after Larnach died before being discovered and purchased by the current owners who have turned it into a museum and live on the grounds. The castle and grounds were beautiful and had small nods to Alice and Wonderland throughout, but we didn't notice them until about halfway through the tour so we didn't get to catch all the allusions. We did get to see the Queen of Hears throne, but we missed the Chesire Cat.

The View from the Top of Baldwin Street

After the Castle we made our way to the Royal Albatross Center, which is the only place albatross nest on the mainland anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, we missed the guided tour, but we are 95% sure we saw one flying off its roost from the viewing platform. (The viewing platform was pretty far away from the roosting area so we could not get a great sense of scale, but it fit the description we expected for the large birds). Then we made our way back to town after trying to find a small hike up a dormant volcano that was inaccessible by car so we skipped it. Instead we went to Baldwin Street, which is the world's steepest street! No cars allowed, unless you live there, which people surprisingly do, but we walked to the top and it was pretty wild. We felt bad for the streets parallel to it because they are probably the world's second and third steepest streets but they don't get any credit! Anyway, after that we went to dinner and celebrated the new year at the Octagon, which is a small park at the heart of town. It was a pretty small celebration but was fun to be out and celebrating with the locals.

The next day, we slept in a bit (it was New Year's Day after all) and made our way to Lake Tekapo. On the way we stopped at Boulder Beach, where there are naturally occurring spherical rocks on the shore. Very strange, but very cool to see. And we stopped for lunch at the Wrinkly Ram, where you can see a sheep shearing if they are doing them that day. They weren't, but lunch was good!

The Church of the Good Shepard

Lake Tekapo is gorgeous. Probably the prettiest water of any lake in New Zealand (not to be confused with the Hokitika Gorge or the Blue Pools; those are on another level.) (That water though!) Lake Tekapo also has a lot going on for a small town. We went to the Church of the Good Shepard, which is considered one of the most photogenic places in the country. It was built in 1935 as a memorial to commemorate the early settlers of the region. After snapping a few photos there, we hiked up to the observatory at the top of Mount John. This hike was straight up the mountain and not very enjoyable (according to Greg), but the views from the top were amazing! Al is glad she made Greg do it. We also went to the Tekapo Hot Springs after the hike, which was a welcome, relaxing time. While we were in the hot springs we met a couple from Texas who we chatted with for about an hour and it was nice to talk with some folks from the States while we are so far away! They were also doing the camper van trip and Allison appreciated that their dynamic was similar to ours in that the woman was very much into the van life and the man was along for the ride but enjoying it.

After the hot springs we made our way to Fairlie Holiday Park, but not before Greg made us pull over so he could go jump in the lake. Every other time we were near this beautiful water he kept saying if only he were in his bathing suit he'd jump in, well now he was in his suit and didn't want to miss his chance. The water was COLD! Fairlie Holiday Park was pretty low key, had a little more than the basic amenities but nothing like WiFi or anything. We pretty much ate a late dinner and hit the hay.

Our Room at The Grange Motel

The next stop was Christchurch. Because we only had one night there, we only stopped for lunch on the way in a town called Geraldine. Once we got to Christchurch we checked into our accommodation for the night, The Grange Motel. The Motel was very nice. It had floor to ceiling windows that opened up so the room could be open completely to our balcony. Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand (and the largest on the south island) with over 375,000 people living there. It felt smaller than it is. It was very walkable with a nice downtown area and gardens. (Greg, who had never been to New Zealand before felt like this was the most livable city we'd visited, with enough things going on not to be bored, but not an overwhelming feeling of living on top of your neighbor like you can get in similarly sized cities.) After lunch at the Riverside Market, we took a driving tour of the botanical garden and wandered the city for the rest of the afternoon before ending up at the site of the old Cathedral that was destroyed during the 2011 earthquake. The Cathedral is still a construction site, but they are working to restore the iconic landmark at the center of town.

For dinner we made our way back to Riverside Market for dinner around 7 or 7;30. Everything was closed or on their "late night menu." It was wild! The only place that seemed like they were serving dinner had an hour long wait (which makes sense when you're the only place in town serving dinner at dinner time) and they also told us they might run out of chicken. So we went elsewhere and found a takeaway Italian restaurant that was open until 8 pm. We got food to go and hung out the rest of the night at the motel. I don't know if I can stress this enough, but things close EARLY in New Zealand and it takes some time to get used to. It's something we still aren't used to in Australia but restaurants are at least usually open for dinner in our neighborhood. This will be a theme for us the next couple days because the New Years Holiday fell on a weekend and therefore the holidays went until Wednesday for a lot of places. We will talk more about that on our return to Blenheim.

Allison Enjoying the Lavender Farm

After Christchurch we made our last long journey on the South Island, back up to Blenheim and Picton for the Ferry. Most of the day on the road was dedicated to short stops with vistas. Our first stop, however, was the lavender farms of Lavendyl, which are exactly what they sound like and probably not worth the $5 we paid for the opportunity, but Allison likes purple flowers so Greg insisted! Then we stopped for lunch in Kaikōura, which is a small town on the coast with shops and restaurants. At this point Allison was sick of the fried food we'd been mostly eating (everything in NZ comes with a side of chips (french fries)) so we still aren't sure why she agreed to stop at a fish and chips place, but we did. She ordered a hotdog though to try to have something other than fried food, little did she know they fried their hotdogs too so she got a battered, fried hotdog. Greg was jealous, but he made due with his meal and Allison mostly just couldn't believe it. After that we stopped at two lookouts. The first, the Ohau Point Stephon Lookout, you could see sunbathing fur seals and there were tons of them! The second, Puparoa Point Rest Area, had some Māori Art and plaques explaining the importance of this area to the Māori creation story.

Fur Seals at the Ohau Point Stephon Lookout

Finally, we got back to Blenheim, where we wanted to go to a winery, but they all closed at 5 PM if they were open at all that day. We had looked up a few restaurants to try, but none of them were open in honor of the New Years Holiday (at this point it was Tuesday, January 3rd!). So, we parked outside the hotel we stayed in the first time around and plugged into their WiFi to try to find anything that was open and eventually found one winery to try, but it was closed. Fortunately, across the street was the only restaurant in town that was open. We weren't ready for dinner, but we wanted to try some local wine so we stopped in for a drink before heading out to the campsite. This is where we learned that Monday and Tuesday were considered holidays because both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day landed on a weekend and are usually considered holidays. We were relieved to learn that the holiday season should be done now and we could expect normal business hours for the rest of our trip (even though some places were closed for much longer, we didn't have as many issues after this trying to find food, but we were also in Wellington and Auckland for dinner those days).

We made our way to the campsite: Whites Bay Camping Area. This was the first and only Department of Conservation camping area we stayed at and it was pretty barebones. It had bathrooms and showers, but no hot water. No kitchens or anything, just a campsite and the basics. It was also only $10/night and got the job done. The location was beautiful at this one too. Very close to the water and you could hear the waves from our parking spot. With limited amenities, we actually played a new board game that Greg brought after dinner which was fun. And then here is where the Great Mosquito War of 2023 happened. We still aren't sure how it happened, but they got past our netting and they invaded the inside of our van! While we were winding down for the night, Allison spotted the first one and we captured it. But they kept coming! We counted 8 that we secured (aka killed) but the fear kept both of us from getting a good night sleep. In the end, we think the "Mozzies" won the war that day, but we digress.

The Beach at Whites Bay Camping Area

We had a lot of time in the morning as the only plans we had were to get on the Ferry for a 1 PM departure. So, we went for a walk on the beach with our morning tea and leisurely packed up the van before making our way to Blenheim for breakfast and eventually to the Ferry in Picton about 30 minutes north. The Ferry was a little larger and a little more crowded than our nice Christmas Day Ferry on the way down, but we got seats and were confortable for the slow, four hour journey to Wellington. This time around we were staying in Wellington CBD (Central Business District, or what we would call "Downtown" in the States). We checked into the hotel and got dinner before we wandered around Wellington and the harbor for most of the night.

Breakfast Scramble at Waitomo Holiday Park

From Wellington, we made our way back north. This was probably the longest day of driving we had, 6 hours on the road with no planned stops besides lunch. We stopped in Whanganui for lunch and to stretch our legs. We got more than we bargained for when the park we saw on the map did not have an entrance where we thought it would and had to go around two city blocks (up what felt like a mountain) before we found a place to eat out take away lunch. This was another rainy day so it was probably good we were in the car for most of it. We did stop along the way to make an afternoon tea, which was nice, but the rain got us (well, Greg, because Al stayed in the car) a bit during the stop. Finally, we made it to Waitomo Top 10 Holiday Park, where we stayed for the night. This was one of the better places we stayed. We made dinner out of the rest of the food we had because this was our last night of camping. Then we did the same with our breakfast food in the morning and converted the van back to a proper van.

Our Exit Point at the Waitomo Caves

Our second to last day (yes I know we are almost there people, we are almost there!) was jam packed. Our first stop was the Waitomo Glowworm caves. This was awesome! The tour is run by the Maori people and it starts in Ruakuri Cave, a water-carved limestone cave. The walking tour consisted of some history of the caves and the story of their discovery as well as a tour of the grand underground cathedral carved out of the rock over millions of years. The Cathedral is big enough to host concerts and weddings. It was pretty amazing and the acoustics were very good as demonstrated by our guide. After the walking portion we were taking by boat from one end of the cave to the other in complete darkness besides the glowworms clinging to the ceiling of the cave. It really felt like a sky full of stars underground. This might have been the event on the trip that outperformed our expectations the most, both of us were very pleasantly surprised by the tour and the experience.

The First Hobbit Hole at the Shire

Our last item on the itinerary before making our way back to Auckland was Hobbiton! For those of you who do not know, Hobbiton is a set from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films depicting the Shire where the Hobbits lived before their given adventures. It was created as a temporary set for the Lord of the Rings movies and was taken down between filming of those and the Hobbit series; however, with the Hobbit movies already planned, they left the staircase to the home of Bilbo, Bag End, in order to make sure it would be recreated properly. With the popularity of the first films the site because a destination even after the set was taken down, so when they rebuilt it, the owners of the property suggested it be rebuilt in a more permanent way. Since then, it has been in place as a little movie set paradise with visitors coming from all over the world to see it. While we did not plan our trip to NZ because of Hobbiton like some, it was a major reason we wanted to see both islands on our trip and it was well worth it. Allison took close to 1000 photos while we were there (and impressed the tour guide when she knew that Samwise's house was the final shot of the original trilogy) and Greg kept getting lost once they let us roam on our own trying to find all the fun little secrets around! The tour basically walked you through the ground, from the Hobbit holes to the Party Tree to the Mill to The Green Dragon Inn. It also included a complementary drink at the end of the tour that you could enjoy at the Green Dragon. The

whole thing was surreal!

Auckland Sky Tower at Night

After Hobbiton, we made our way back to Auckland, where we ate the best pizza in New Zealand at Dante's Pizzeria Napoletano, and had a small hassle trying to return the van when the rental place was closed without a key drop. We left the keys in a hidden-ish spot and took a photo to send to the company. They did not respond so we assume they got the keys! We eventually made it back to the President Hotel around 9:30 or so and prepped our luggage for the trip home. The following day we checked out of the hotel and wandered around Auckland. It was another rainy day so we sheltered in a nearby mall for a while and lazily made our way out once in a while to explore when the weather allowed. There was a late morning stop for tea and an afternoon ice cream break, but otherwise it was just wandering and waiting to make our way to the airport. We flew out in the evening and safely made our way back home to Sydney. It was an awesome trip, but we know we weren't able to get everything we wanted to get done, we will save those things for next time.

Well, that about wraps it up. This was a lot more than we expected to write about the second half of the journey, but if you made it this far, thank you. Your reward is a bunch more photos if you want them!

Al at Mount Stewart Reserve

Hot Cocoa at a Lunch Stop

The Original Bungy Jump Location - Kawarau Gorge

Scenic Overlook

Us at Larnach Castle

Al in the Queen's Chair

Greg in the Queen's Chair

Greg at the Top of Larnach Castle

Al at the Top of Larnach Castle

Al in the Gardens at Larnach Castle

Us at the Observation Platform of the Albatross Sanctuary

Greg at the Top of Baldwin Street

Us at the Top of Baldwin Street

The Scene on NYE in Dunedin

The NYE Countdown Clock

Greg at Boulder Beach

Greg at Boulder Beach Again

Al at Boulder Beach

Greg Always Touching the Water

At the Church of the Good Shepard

Hanging out by the Church of the Good Shepard

Greg on the Hike up Mount John

View from the top of Mount John - Looking down at Lake Tekapo

Mysterious Cloud that Never Moved - Greg Needed to Share

Greg Emerging from Lake Tekapo - we tried to upload the video but it didn't work

Mid Morning Tea Break!

Riverside Market in Christchurch

American Donuts at the Market

Al at Riverside Market

Greg at Riverside Market

On the Tour of the Botanical Gardens

Our Ride for the Botanical Garden Tour

The Cathedral Construction Zone Decked out for Christmas

Greg Enjoying the Lavender Farm

Al in the Circle of Thyme at the Lavender Farm

Waterfall on the Journey North

Al at The Puparoa Point Rest Area

Greg at The Puparoa Point Rest Area

Greg Driving Time

Random Stop Along the Way

Cooking at Whites Bay Camping Area

Final Night in the Van at Waitomo Holiday Park

Greg After the Glowworm Cave Tour

We Made it to Hobbiton!

Hanging with Gandalf

Before the Tour

In Front of a Hobbit Hole

Inside a Hobbit Hole

Looking Down at the Party Tree

The Shire From Bag End

Bag End

Al in Front of Samwise's Hobbit Hole!

Al in front of the Green Dragon Inn

The Water Mill

Beers at the Green Dragon Inn

Inside the Green Dragon Inn

Inside the Green Dragon Inn

The Lantern at the Green Dragon Inn

In front of a Pretty Door at the Green Dragon Inn

Beer Barrels at the Green Dragon Inn

New Board Game to Try!

Al Driving Time

Pizza at Dante's Pizzeria

Returning the Van Keys

Secret Key Hiding Spot

Wandering Auckland Our Last Day

Wandering Auckland Our Last Day

Auckland Train Station Our Last Day

Auckland Train Station Our Last Day

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Feb 17, 2023

Loved reading (and laughing) about your trip! Hope you didn’t get too many mosquito bites. Miss you guys! And agree with Greg on that cloud: NOPE.

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