Once off the ferry we noticed how different the landscape is from the North Island - and it's exactly how we'd imagined New Zealand to be: very pretty, mountainous and with clear rivers and turquiose seas. Our first stop was a little campsite by a rocky beach in a little inlet called Robin Hood Bay. Access was via a twisty, single track gravel road, steep enough in places to make us wonder whether we made the right decision taking the van that way, but still, we made it and were rewarded with a pretty and quiet little campsite where we could fall asleep listening to the waves on the shore.
We decided on an anti-clockwise loop of the South Island as our itinerary, so our next stop was Nelson, driving through the Marlborough wine region on the way. We'll save the wine tour for the way back up though as we're still well stocked with wines purchased during our Hawkes Bay wine tour.
Nelson is quite a nice little town with a big cafe culture. We found a lovely church that had been converted into a nice pub and then treated ourselves to a tasty curry in a charming Indian restaurant across the road, whilst sampling some of the local pinot noir.
From Nelson we made our way over to the west coast, traversing mountains and scenic forests en route. We spent a night camping in the Buller Gorge, an old gold fossicking area with views of forested mountains and a fast-running river below.
Since arriving in the South Island we've had to step up our game in the war against flying, biting insects. One night we opened the van to go and brush our teeth and accidentally let in a swarm of twenty or so mosquitoes. We've also encountered the dreaded little black sandflies, which although we had been warned about them, are far worse than we imagined them to be! At one point I resorted to tucking my trousers into my socks and zipping my fleece up to my chin - and even then they went for my hands, face and hair! They're a total menace - much how I imagine the midges to be in Scotland, though I've never been.
Up until we hit the west coast proper we had been blessed with perfect summery weather. Now, the west coast of New Zealand is just across the Tasman Sea, off the east coast of Australia, so when the weather suddenly changed to torrential rain and high winds it should have been no surprise. Fortunately it was just a front passing through though and the fine weather returned the next day.
The conditions were pretty dire when we arrived at Punakaiki (reminiscent of driving through Rockhampton in Australia) so we found a nice campsite just off the beach and parked up for the night. However with the Pancake Rocks just up the road and with new, as yet unworn waterproof trousers in our bags we decided to take a stroll. Despite our best efforts to stay dry, however, our waterproofs just weren't up to the job in this rain, but still we persevered as there's only so wet you can get!
The stacks of Pancake Rocks did look especially impressive amongst the stormy, high seas but the horizontal rain meant we could only look downwind - the wind and rain combo was painful, stinging us on the face and hands if we tried to look north! Sadly this also meant we couldn't take any photos for fear of the camera being drenched! Lucky for us the the storm passed overnight so the following morning we were able to see the Pancake Rocks and blowholes in glorious sunshine with a backdrop of stormy, high seas so you can look out for the photos on the blog later!
With the weather renewed to its former, summery self we continued down the west coast to Franz Josef Glacier and did a couple of walks to take in the sights. Our first walk was to the foot of the glacier, then on the following morning we set off on a 12km walk to a vantage point looking out on the glacier about half way up.
A thirty minute drive away is Fox Glacier (not sure if this has anything to do with Fox's Glacier Mints?!) The pathway out to the glacier had been washed away in recent flooding so I stead we did a walk around a nearby lake, affording us stunning views of the glacier.
We camped by a pretty pebble beach that was covered with so much driftwood I can only imagine the kind of storms they must get here on a rough day. Huge weathered tree trunks had washed ashore, making the wide beach look a bit like a graveyard for dead, sea eroded trees. In the background were the snow-capped peaks of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman and the Fox glacier in between.
From Fox Glacier township we travelled down to Haast and visited the picturesque sleepy fishing cove, Jackson Bay, before continuing across the mountains down into adventure and adrenalin capital Queenstown! I'll let you know what we got up to there in my next post.
Love, Sarah and Kev xx