Day 15-19 Rakaia Gorge, Tekapo, and Mount Cook

I dropped Julian off at the Christchurch airport (flew CHCH to Auckland to SF to NJ to BUF!). I start my journey here out solo, and mainly tent camping (which is super easy! most hotels/airbnbs were booked up around the holidays...not so easy. The next few weeks were incredible! There's a reason everyone says to spend the majority of your time in the South Island. I will attempt to show you how dramatic and beautiful the South Island is. 

I camped at the Rakaia Gorge campground for the first night. The water was really that blue! I explored the area and had found my own special lunch place with nobody around. 

I took the backroads to Lake Coleridge. I didn't have any cell coverage, but I had maps downloaded. This was a scenario where It looked like it could be cool based on the map, and was pleasantly surprised! 

I went on some short walks in the area. I was the only one around for miles! Just me and the sheep/cows. You simply can't find that kinda peace and quiet in the states.

From Coleridge Lake, I drove a few hours west to get to Lake Tekapo. Talk about jaw dropping! I headed to Lake McGregor Campsite, set up camp and headed out on a "shingle" road to explore some of the area. I was truly in my happy place. What was even more exciting? The region is reknowned for lack of light pollution, which make it some of the darkest skies in the world! The weather here was pretty warm, despite being in the mountains.

At the campground (which got completely full BTW), the campground host had this unique duck following him around. apparently one day he showed up, and he started feeding him, and the duck hasn't left his side. He squacks people away if they get too close to him! The guy was even petting him.   

At the campground (which got completely full BTW), the campground host had this unique duck following him around. apparently one day he showed up, and he started feeding him, and the duck hasn't left his side. He squacks people away if they get too close to him! The guy was even petting him.


I timed it perfectly to get a new moon while I was in the area. I also didn't have any clouds in the sky! I had to wait until about midnight for the skies to get completely dark. But when it did, it sure was mesmerizing! Above is my rental car, my little backpacking tent under a zillion stars! Unfortunately Milky Way season is in the summertime (same as the states) so I missed out on the galactic core, BUT did get to see some new constellations!

Lupine fields near Tekapo

Lupine fields near Tekapo

The drive to Lake Pukaki was about an hour. This was probably one of my favorite places in NZ. Hands down the most beautiful place I've ever been to. Despite the crowds at the village/campground/hikes, it didn't even bother me. It also spoiled me, and that nothing will ever compare to this place :D 

The first day (above) I did the Hooker Valley Track. It was 70s or 80s and the sun burns fast here! There's apparently a big hole in the ozone over NZ/AUS that makes skin burn really fast. Skin cancer is a big problem in NZ.



More Crazy Dark skies! My older camera struggled on the star shots. I'm sure my newer cam would've handled the noise alot better. If you're curious on my setup, I used an Olympus EM1 and Laowa 7.5mm F2. 30 second exposures @ F2 ISO 1250. I used my MeFoto Roadtrip tripod and used a remote shutter as well.

This was Tasman Lake. You climb tons of stairs to get to this viewpoint, but it's worth it! There used to be a huge glacier there, but it has receded quite a bit. 

One of my favorite photos (I was pulled over)

One of my favorite photos (I was pulled over)

Kea Point trail - I didn't see any Keas, but it was still incredible!

Day 12 - 14 - Nelson to Christchurch

There was a large earthquake last year was just north of Kaikoura, and it destroyed many roads on the east coast. Apparently the ground moved up 9 feet in under a minute! We were lucky enough to time it so that it reopened the day before we were planning to drive through it! many stretches were still under construction, so it was very slow moving. 

these  birds were on the way down to the Kaikoura peninsula. Once we got into Kaikoura, we checked into our cabin and took a drive out to the peninsula. One of the best meals I had (and cheapest too!) was at a roadside BBQ joint - Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk. Don't drive past it! It's amazing fresh seafood! I got salmon and Julian got a giant crayfish. Watch out for the seagulls, they WILL steal your food any opportunity they get...and yes, speaking from experience, they stole the last bite of my salmon :curses:

stomping around doing seagull things

We drove out the the tip of the peninsula - Point Kean Viewpoint, and were a bit underwhelmed at the wildlife. we saw a seal here and there, but nothing that everyone was raving about. so we kept walking along the shoreline, and OMG. There was a nesting seagull colony of 1000's. talk about scary. Then, we saw hundreds of fur seals! These guys are hilarious to watch, and the babies are the adorbs. We probably hung out with them for a couple hours!

like is this real life??

like is this real life??

this one waddled up to us and made a little howl and then shuffled away!

this one waddled up to us and made a little howl and then shuffled away!

listen with the sound on! it makes the best noise

After Kaikoura, we made our way down to Christchurch for Julian's final days before taking off our first stop (below was Waikuku Beach. A pretty empty beach, but saw a few dogs on the beach that we stopped and played with while the owner was surfing :) We ended up talking to the owner quite a bit when he came back.

We arrived in Christchurch, checked into our Airbnb and was greeted by the sweetest 9 month old chocalate lab, layla. She was the best. We headed downtown to check out some architecture. Christchurch was interesting in that they had 2 earthquakes in a 3 year period , almost 10 years ago. It sounds like it wiped out most of the city, and it's still rebuilding. It was a mix of brand new buildings, and old architecture. overall I was underwhelmed by the city, and didn't like it very much. 

We drove up to the top of the gondola before heading to Godley Pass

Next we took a hike around Godley Pass. There was still bunkers from WWII you could explore! I didnt expect to see that out here!

Finished off with a beautiful sunset up on Cashmere hill lookout. The next day we were going to swim with the dolphins in Akaroa, but they cancelled due to high winds. Whomp, Whomp.

Day 8 - 11 - Wellington to Nelson

We Stayed in a hotel in Lower Hutt, and took a drive down to Wellington. Wellington was a pleasant surprise, I got great vibes from this city - reminded me a bit of Portland - Quirky, with lots of beer, and coffee. We got lots of recommendations to go to the Te Anau museum, downtown, so we went and was pleasantly surprised that it was free! They put on a super realistic WWII exhibit while we were there:

After the museum, we walked around a bit, and checked out some viewpoints, and the city gardens (below).

I found out my cousin's friend moved to Wellington area from Philly earlier in 2017, so I met up with him, and he took us to a Korean restaurant, and a brewery (Garage Project). 

We then went over to Zealandia. "Zealandia is the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, with an extraordinary 500-year vision to restore a Wellington valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state. The 225 hectare ecosanctuary is a groundbreaking conservation project that has reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife back into the area, 6 of which were previously absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years."

All the birds were not held in captivity, and were free to roam

We headed down south to our Airbnb in Houghton Bay and caught another great sunset

We went back downtown to see a few more things before our Ferry departed at 2P.

The Ferry was incredibly scenic! We saw some distant dolphins, and even some baby whales!

After the 3.5 hour ferry ride from the north island to the south island, we landed in Picton. We still had a 3 hour drive to windy mountain roads until we got to Nelson. Our airbnb host was great, she took us swimming in the beautiful Tasman Bay at sunset! The next morning she took us to a yoga class on the beach. 2 things I've never done before! We also got our first taste of sandflies. During the next dozen blogs, you'll hear me complain about these things. They are about the size of a fruitfly, and 1000 times more annoying. They crawl down your socks and bite until you smack em. They come out right at sunset and sunrise and attack in droves. I've learned to cover up after they started drawing blood. You don't usually feel them until it's too late! 

Nelson was kind of a boring town. It's too bad we were tight on time, as Abel Tasman National park is just an hour away. Lots of kayaking, tramping, and biking inside that park - with the teal beautiful beaches.