The South Island explored by Motorhome, New Zealand, Part 2
If you haven’t already read about how we started our family travel New Zealand adventure in the South Island in a motorhome, you can click here to catch up with Part 1 – or you can just read on and roll along with our NZ adventure.
Everyone talks about Queenstown and it’s not without reason – Adventure Capital of the World. Now, we do like adventure but sometimes it can be almost as much fun seeing others as they dive into adventure. We did that. Starting with the first commercial bungy jump place in the world. Here, people jumped off a bridge into a gorge and some got wet in the cold river. What an adventurous welcome to Queenstown! We found a camp site for our 5 days there. First night we got food from a place that everyone around here talks about. The FergBurger. Also, not without reason. It. Is. Good! So, it wasn’t our last FergBurger.
The first adventure we embarked on the next day was a ”mom approved” skydive – inside a wind tunnel. It might not have been “the real thing” in terms of skydiving, but it sure was a fun thing to do for both kids and adults and without risking your life or your budget. Getting into the flyer suit, going through instructions and then getting two go’s at “flying”. The instructor finished off showing his skills at this, which in itself was worth paying money for. We were fans! As most times, we managed to land a good deal, which is possible most places, all you have to do is: ask! Here it was about booking early morning or late afternoon for a good price.
Another great family experience in Queenstown was getting on the gondola to the top of the mountain and then throwing yourself on a luge and sledge your way to the bottom of the hill. However, the view over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the mountains is also worth going up for in itself – the bonus up there are all the different activities like luge, bungy jump, mountain bike etc. The family friendly activity of riding the luge was what we opted for. With a clear blue sky and the sharp NZ sun it was nothing but fun and joy, sledging down the concrete ramp on the luge – we did 5 luge runs and going back up on the open lift was also fun. With the amazing view, we ended up spending most of the day up here, eating a bit as well. This is one of those views you just can’t get enough of.
Walking along the foreshore of the lake is also a must when in Queenstown. We happened to be here on the day of the local market, Saturday, so we enjoyed that along with some good music and local snacks from the market. At the end of the beach in town, there is an awesome playground where the boys could burn some energy, while the parents enjoyed some quiet time and the gorgeous view from the beach.
This was also the time where Covid19 started to sneak up on us. The kids had made friends, at the campsite, with some other travelers (also from Denmark), who had a friend arriving to join them on their travels. Only, this person got sick on arrival, and turned out to be the first person in the South Island with Covid19. Since we had only spent time with them outside, the local health authorities decided that we were not of particular risk and didn’t have to be quarantined.
It was an eyeopener of how real and close Covid19 was all of a sudden, as Denmark officially called home all traveling Danes at that time. However, with no home in Denmark to return to (having lived abroad for the last 10 years) and seeming to be in a much safer place in New Zealand (in terms of numbers of Covid19-cases), we decided to stay in New Zealand.
Being in a motorhome meant that we basically didn’t need to be in touch with anyone else, and from then on, we basically kept to ourselves, with freedom camping in our motorhome.
Leaving Queenstown, we didn’t head far. First stop was at one of the gorges with jetboats. As the boys were more up for playing on the banks and watching the jetboat… that was what we did (and thereby saved lots of money:). It was a cool place and nice to hang out by the river with a coffee. Another 20 min. drive later we arrived in Arrowtown, an old goldmining town, where we went gold panning in a little river. The boys did find some gold flakes (nothing that made us rich, though), but it made it all worthwhile and at one point, Martin’s gold ring turned up in one of the boys’ pan! It was some big and surprised eyes that panned it out, but oh, the disappointment when it had to go back to dad.
For the next three days, we mostly drove and enjoyed the beautiful nature. We stayed overnight in the most stunning freedom camp sites with incredible views, and mostly we had it all to ourselves. We were already seeing fewer campervans and motorhomes on the roads (usually, you see them everywhere and all the time). It was clear, that many travelers were leaving New Zealand. We, on the other hand, having decided to stay, enjoyed the fact that we could still travel freely but with a lot less tourist.
After a couple of nights in nameless places in the wild, we headed to Oamaru on the east coast to see the little Blue Penguins. That was quite something, seeing the little penguins come flying into a tiny beach/rocks with the big waves from where they made their way up to their little nests. On their way they had to pass 5 big sealions who had taken shelter for the night there. That was hilarious to see the little brave penguins running off with all its power. The sealion coughed and puffed when the penguins came to close. (The sealions don’t eat or harm penguins but isn’t particularly friendly either). The area where all the penguin nests are, is protected by a Conservation Centre, and we were only allowed on each side of where the penguins walk, behind a fence in red light, which the penguin eyes can’t see – they can only see in blue light. It was such a fun and cute experience, and after we had seen all the penguins that were coming to shore for the night, we walked back to the motorhome. On the way we met another little penguin, who had its nest outside the conservation area. It walked right by us, and as we were walking under red street lights, it didn’t see us.
The next day we were off to Dunedin, still on the east coast, where the highlight was the drive on the Otago Peninsula to visit the Albatross sanctuary. This huge bird nests out there in the wild, and a Sanctuary has been built to protect them and their nests (like with the penguins). We didn’t see any Albatrosses at first and the guided tour was sold out. But having spent some time in the museum and walking around the outside area to try to spot them, we were about to take off. As we started the motorhome, we finally saw a bird… At first, we weren’t sure if it was a seagull, being far away and up high, but then we noticed a seagull flying next to it, and we no longer had any doubts. The albatrosses are huge and seeing it next to a seagull cleared any doubts. With a wingspan of 3 meters it’s impressive to watch it glide through the air. More albatrosses came out flying around the area (from their nests where they feed the 8 kg. heavy chicken!), so we could drive on having seen these big impressive birds.
Next stop was Lake Tekapo. The lake with this icy turquoise water in the most beautiful surroundings. The drive there through yellow-greenish hills with sheep and cattle on all the fields was an experience in itself. We made quite a few stops first at the Lake Pukaki (where you can see Mt. Cook from on a clear day) and finally hiking along Lake Tekapo. It’s the glacial feed that gives the lakes their distinctive blue/turquoise color. What a day we had there – so much nature beauty for our last day in our motorhome – for now.
Having returned the motorhome after a night in Fairlie and spent another 2 nights in Christchurch, we decided that this way of experiencing New Zealand with a motorhome was perfect for us, and we could stay to ourselves with more and more Covid19 cases every day.
With very few tourists arriving in NZ at this time (and the ones who did arrive, had to go into a 2-week quarantine), we were able to get an incredible deal for a new motorhome. But the joy was rather short.
In on our bran new motorhome, we drove to Kaikoura to go on a whale tour. This has been a dream of mine for years, and I was more excited that you can imagine. When we got there, we booked for the next available tour – being the following day. We spent a beautiful
evening in the bay, and arrived the next day, well ahead of time. Finally, having attended a presentation about whales and being bussed to the boat – we were ready to see some whales! But can you believe it – we didn’t see one single whale. This is of course always the risk with wild animals, and it’s exactly how it should be. In this particular place though, they see whales on 95% of the tours, and the boat that went out just before us spotted both a blue whale and sperm whales. We did see a shark, playful dolphins, albatrosses and sealions, and we did really enjoy it, but no whales.
Coming off the boat, we were told to check the news. Something was happening…
The New Zealand Lockdown was announced and would begin in 48 hours. “Wherever you are when the lockdown sets in, is where you will spend the next 4 weeks (minimum)”. The whale tour we had been on turned out to be the last one for the season.
Now, we had to think and decide what to do. Stay in the motorhome for 4 weeks or go somewhere else? You can read much more about our decision process right here and what we did in our Lockdown, in Covid19 Break on Full Time Family Travels.
We spent the night in Blenheim, drove the motorhome the 5 hours back to Christchurch to return it. Rented a car, drove up back up where we had just come from and then some. Luckily, this drive was on the most beautiful ocean drive, and we even spotted dolphins from the shore during a short coffee stop.
We continued up to Nelson, where we had rented a house for the following 4 weeks – but ended up staying for 10 weeks, and absolutely loved every minute in that house. Nelson is known for its great and sunny weather and amazing views of the Tasman Bay, and it did not disappoint.
If you click right here, you can read about how we made new friends with our neighbours, spotted Orca whales from our living room, learned the traditional Maori art of weaving flax and much more during lockdown in our blogpost A Typical Lockdown, or maybe you like to read about our travels in Australia - head over here.