PLACES WE VISITED
What did we do on the South Island?
A lot of driving! Well, Mark did anyways. Most of it was done on the wrong side of the road (there might have been one incident of accidental right-side driving that raised both of our blood-pressures a few notches – but we’ll try and forget about that one). We rented a 2 person camper van and drove around a good part of the South Island in 12 Days and put on 2275 KM.
Check out the interactive map of our route:
- The drive through Arthur’s Pass – we were lucky enough to get incredible weather for this drive which made for crystal clear skies and impressive mountains jumping out at us from every angle!
- Pancake Rocks and Blowholes – the conditions weren’t in our favour so we didn’t actually see any blowholes – but the site was worthwhile visiting nonetheless!
- Walk/run around Lake Matheson – the picture perfect reflection of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman in Lake Matheson was something to see.
- Sunset over Lake Wanaka
- Milford Sound – definitely the top highlight of our time on the South Island. We did a day trip with a local company from Te Anau which proved to be well worth – gave Mark a break from driving and both of us a chance to fully admire the amazing scenery along the way!
- Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki – the aquamarine colour of the lakes was really impressive which made for a stunning drive up to Aoraki Village.
- And so many more beautiful sights!
It wasn’t all epic LOTR scenery and amazing views
Yes, there were lots of epic Lord of The Rings (LOTR) scenery, including Hobbiton on the North Island, and a ton of amazing views! We definitely watched all 3 LOTR extended movies prior to arriving in New Zealand in preparation. What wasn’t so fun is Mark caught an awful cold shortly into the South Island trip. It might have had something to do about losing daylight and having to run around Lake Matheson, sweating a ton, overheating, taking our jackets off, then freezing again. Yup, that probably did it. Mark managed to survive his man-cold and kept truckin’ along. Luckily we came across a little honey stand on the side of the road and made some lemon honey tea. So he drank a ton of tea and ate an entire bulb of garlic in attempts to squash the cold.
The KIWI’s can’t seem to figure out how to make a toilet flush properly!
They say “If you’ve ever clogged a toilet, you’ve exceeded at least one person’s expectations”. Mark may have exceeded expectations. The Kiwi’s can’t seem to figure out how to make a toilet flush…there was virtually no swirl action. This was also noticeable on the North Island. The more you know! (TMI?)
It was definitely worth it
The cold (both sickness and in temperature), the long drives and the rushed schedule still made for an amazing adventure on the South Island. The pictures speak for themselves! There is so much to see and do in New Zealand; be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to see it all.
Interesting Notes about our time on the South Island:
- Mark went bungee jumping at the highest bungee in New Zealand. Read and see more about Mark’s epic bungee jumping here.
- It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, everyone knows the “Happy Birthday” song. We were on a tour of Milford sound and sang Happy Birthday to one of the tourists in our group, and we all knew the song even though we were from all around the world.
- On more than one occasion Lauren had a shower and used all of the hot water (or all of the water in the fresh water tank). Mark was less than impressed.
- An airhorn siren went off while we were in a little town of Lumsden. We weren’t sure if tornadoes were coming or incoming enemy bombs…turns out it’s how they signal the voluntary emergency response folks (thanks Google!).
- Like the North Island, there are lots of very new, clean public toilets everywhere…and free! This was sorely missed in Africa and most of Europe.
- It was pretty cold when we were there. No one seems to know how to properly heat or insulate their homes, so it’s always cold indoors. Our Airbnb in Christchurch even had an option to rent a heater for our room! We declined and luckily we had a heated blanket. Getting out of the shower was not fun though.
Oh, Rarotonga! Where it all began… the perfect start to our adventure. The stressful airport proceedings and long flight were well worth it once we arrived at our beautiful little slice of paradise.
Flashback to the stressful airport proceedings… We arrived at the Vancouver airport well in advance of our scheduled departure after spending a lovely day in Southern BC with Mark’s mom. Sure enough we got pulled into secondary at the US customs (since we were flying through LA) and questioned about our intentions. Our excited grins faded quickly when the officer told us that our plan to quit our jobs and travel indefinitely with only carry-on backpacks “seemed a little suspicious”. I think the sudden pale look on both of our faces was enough to convince the officer that we were serious (and also slightly terrified) about the idea. He was pretty curious about the foreign concept, asked us a few more questions, and finally wished us well before letting us be on our way. The slight fifteen minute delay leaving Vancouver cut into our tight two-hour layover in LA, but we made our connection without sprouting too many new grey hairs.
Finally! We landed on the tiny little island of Rarotonga in the South Pacific. It was shortly after 6AM and the sun had yet to rise. We took a few minutes to get our bearings and then set out to find our first home as nomadic wanderers. We quickly realized what we were in for when the kind lady at the airport concession stand asked for $6 NZD (aprox. $4.15 USD) for the 1.5L bottle of water we ordered… Our walk from the airport to the bus stop gave way to a beautiful sunrise over the Pacific ocean and we took a few minutes let it all sink in.
Our week in Rarotonga was nothing short of amazing. It was exactly the relaxed and carefree week we needed after the stressful month leading up to our departure. We had mid-high 20 degree (Celcius) weather and only encountered rain on a couple occasions. We stayed at a beautiful on-suite AirBnb studio on the south-east part of the island where we were able to cook our own meals in our outdoor kitchen and soak in the rays on our private (though very rocky) beach. The infamous Muri lagoon was a short walk away where we managed to become open-water PADI certified scuba divers despite some minor setbacks.
A few things we learned along the way:
- Don’t buy anything that has been imported while on an island in the middle of the Pacific – $8 NZD for a dozen eggs and $8.50 NZD for a bag of Doritos were a little more than we were willing to stomach!
- Almost everything is closed on Sundays – which can make for a rather hungry first day on the island.
- Minimum of SPF 50 is required for pale Canadians to avoid sunburn in the South Pacific.
- Mildly windy weather on land makes for pretty significant waves at sea.
- Lauren has a real hard time with significant waves at sea.
- Being sea-sick can sometimes attract unexpected sea-creatures.
- Always move to the bottom of the ocean when an unexpected sea-creature has been spotted.
- It’s a good idea to get out of the water when a tiger shark has been spotted.
- Hitchhiking is a widely accepted mode of transportation on the island of Rarotonga and it took us 13 cars to get picked up.
- Rarotonga locals are extremely friendly!
CHECK OUT OUR TRAVEL TOOLS
Learn how to travel like a pro
Here you'll find all the travel hacks we've learned along the way, from finding the cheapest flights to what apps to download and use.