October has been such an exciting month for James and I!
Apologies in advance – this is gonna be a long post!
We both finished work on Friday 2nd October and I was overwhelmed with a leaving ‘morning tea’ of veggie food and a lovely card from my colleagues. We flew to Christchurch the following day, where we stayed for a week (you can read a full post on what we got up to in Christchurch here)
Our main aim while in Christchurch was to buy a car. Luckily, there are loads of cars on the market at the moment – on the Monday we went to see one that we had found on Trade Me, and we had bought it and changed ownership by Friday.
Our first night at a campsite saw us learn what amateurs we were at the whole camping lark. We realised that we had no bowls to serve our food in, and no washing up liquid to clean our pots. So, the next morning a trip to Countdown was in order.
Then we started our road trip down south. The reason we decided to fly from Auckland to Christchurch in order to buy a car, instead of staying in Auckland, was because we wanted to hike the Kepler Track (situated near Te Anau) before the high season began on 27th October. The Kepler is one of the nine Great Walks in New Zealand and is a 3 nights/ 4 days walk. During the high season, a hut (where you camp) costs $54 per person per night. Comparitively, in the low season, huts cost just $15 per person per night – you can see why we wanted to do it before the 27th October!
Useful link: DOC Website for the Great Walks
Timaru / Te Tihu-o-Maru
Timaru was our first stop along the East coast. It’s a small, quiet town – pleasant, and completely different to Christchurch or Auckland. In the afternoon, we walked along the beach, where apparently it’s possible to see penguins at sunset!
That evening we stayed at Herbert Forest camping ground. We took advantage of the hot showers and the plug sockets to charge my camera; when you’re living in a car you realise just how much you rely on electricity! We met a lovely couple at the camp ground called Robyn & Brendan and had dinner together sitting by the fire and getting to know each other. New friends who I’m sure we’ll see again.
Oamaru / Te Oha-a-Maru
Just south of Timaru is a slightly larger town called Oamaru. The weather was rubbish – dull, grey, and very windy – but we strolled around the historic town centre and Victorian Quarter, which is the principal tourism-puller for the town. The Europeans first settled in Oamaru in the 1850s and many of the original limestone buildings still stand today, including traditional book shops, antiques shops and arts & crafts shops.
These wonderful, obscure ‘dinosaur eggs’ are a sight I had been dying to see ever since I started researching our trip to New Zealand, and they were just as bizarre and impressive as I had expected.
The rocks are unusually large and almost perfectly spherical, but – most importantly – they were formed completely naturally as they are septarian concretions (I don’t really understand how it all works either but you can read more on good ol’ Wikipedia). According to Maori legend, the boulders were once food baskets and gourds onboard an ancient canoe called the Arai-te-uru, which was shipwrecked just south of Moeraki at Shag Point. The reef is the canoe’s hull, a prominent rock is the petrified body of the commander of the vessel, the trees are the ancient people lost in the shipwreck, and the boulders are the eel baskets, gourds and kumaras which were washed ashore (source).
Dunedin / Ōtepoti
Next up was Dunedin, which we liked a lot more than both Oamaru and Timaru, as it’s much bigger – the second largest city in the South Island – with much more going on. It’s a student town, home to the University of Otago, and accordingly there are plenty of shops, cafés, bars and restaurants.
Again the European influence here is prevalent, with the name ‘Dunedin’ deriving from the Scottish Gaillic name for Edinburgh, ‘Dùn Èideann’. Wandering around the city, we saw many beautiful historical buildings such as the Railway Station (built in 1906), St Paul’s Cathedral (built in 1862) and the First Church of Otago (1848).
Entry fees to the above: free, donations accepted for the church & cathedral
In the afternoon we trekked up the famous Baldwin Street – the steepest residential street in the world! Luckily some stairs have been cemented into the pavement, else I don’t think I would have been able to do it – though a man named Iain roller-skated up it in 198! The views from the top were quite something: the rooftops and industrial buildings fading into rolling hills in the distance.
Then we went to take a look at Olveston House, a large building similar to a stately home we would have in England, like Burghley House perhaps (but nowhere near as big.) The house was completed in 1907 for a wealthy merchant named David Theomin who was born in 1852 in Bristol, England and moved to Dunedin with his wife in 1881 – alright for some, ey!
Entry to gardens: Free
Daily tours: $19
The following day we explored the Otago Peninsula, which is home to lots of wildlife such as penguins, seals, sea lions, dolphins and birds.
We drove up to Taiaroa Head, where the Royal Albatross centre is situated. Despite the numerous pigeons threatening to shit on us, the view was simply beautiful and we saw seals sleeping on the beach and shags nesting in the cliffs.
Entry cost for the Royal Albatross Centre: tours start at $19 per person
We drove up to Larnach Castle (the only castle in New Zealand), but we weren’t even allowed to take a photo without paying the $15 fee to enter the grounds. So we left. Below is a picture of it from Google.
Entry Fee: Grounds only $15, Castle & Grounds $28
After a nutritious lunch of jam sandwiches, we took a stroll along St Clair’s beach. It was gorgeous, though the tide came in quite quickly and I got a wet trainer.
We should have stayed at the Catlins longer – it’s a simply beautiful area and there’s loads to see. Our first port of call was Nugget Point. The view was beautiful, the sea stretches out into the horizon, it seems to go on forever, whilst the jagged edges of the cliff-face just out into the blue of the ocean.
Nugget Point is called as such because of the rocks that protrude from the waves below the famous white lighthouse. The wind here was the strongest I think I’ve ever experienced – I was so scared to drop my camera! We saw seals in the coves here, relaxing on the rocks!
Just below Nugget Point, we were lucky enough to see a yellow-eyed penguin at Roaring Bay.
Entry fees: free
The next day we went to see Jack’s Blowhole (sounds a bit rude but it isn’t I promise!) A 1 hour loop walk brings you to the blowhole, a huge hole in the ground which is filled with water. It used to be a cave but the roof fell in, and the water crashes through from an underground tunnel which leads from the sea. Jack is the name for the Ngāi Tahu chief called Tuhawaiki, who was known as ‘Bloody Jack’ to European settlers for his expletive nature.
We had lunch by the Purakaunui Waterfalls, which are apparently some of the most photographed waterfalls in NZ. They are beautiful, tiered waterfalls, but I thought the Whangarei falls were more impressive.
We also drove down to Slope Point, the southernmost point in New Zealand (next stop: Antarctica!) where we saw the strange sight of the windswept trees. It’s super windy along that coast with winds coming from the ocean.
Invercargill / Waihōpai
The next day it rained and rained. We drove to Invercargill and spent most of the day in the library, where we checked conditions for the Kepler track: high risk of avalanches, alpine experience necessary, ice picks and crampons required. We decided that we should wait until the weather improves before attempting the Kepler, even if it means spending a bit more; our safety is more important than money! (And I forgot to pack my ice pick unfortunately.)
Then we were stuck with the question of what to do until the weather improves. There would be no point seeing the mountains etc if they were covered in clouds, and we didn’t want to drive back up north and waste our money or petrol. We decided to sign up to HelpX, an organisation that Robyn & Brendan recommended to us; you help, in exchange for accommodation and food. We browsed the website contacted a few hosts in the area, thinking that we probably wouldn’t even get a reply. We were sitting in the car eating ginger nut biscuits, deliberating on where to camp that night, when James received a call from Julie, one of the HelpX hosts we had emailed. Two hours later, we were waiting tables in her restaurant in Colac Bay.
We will have spent a total of 17 days HelpX-ing with Julie by the time we leave on Tuesday, and it has been an amazing experience for us. She’s given us great food and a gorgeous room, separated from her house, which has an ensuite, kitchenette and electric blankets on the comfiest bed ever. We work for around 4-5 hours per day at her house and the restaurant, helping with the gardening, cleaning, polishing, ironing, and just general helping out. We gave her a hand organising and setting up a garage sale, and drove to Queenstown to pick up the restaurant’s new chef. She even gave us two days off, so we decided to go kayaking on Doubtful Sound – amazing! I’ll have a full blog post about that soon.
James and I have been staying at fairly cheap campsites in our car, which has a bed in the back. We are not self-contacted (i.e. we don’t have a toilet in our van), which means we are unable to freedom camp or use sites solely for freedom camping. The following are some campsites I have annoyed staying at:
- Coe’s Ford, 149 The Lake Road, Leeston – Free. Good toilets & sink.
- Herbert Forest Camping Ground, 99 Breakneck Road, Herbert – $10 per person. Hot showers, kitchen building & laundry facilities (extra $2).
- Wingatui Racecourse, 285-287 Gladstone Road North, Mosgiel, Dunedin – $8 per vehicle. Toilet block with plug sockets.
- Lignite Pit Café & Scenic Reserve, 2056 Gorge Road Invercargill Highway, Ashers – $5 per person. Good toilet, cooking shelter and fire pit, plus you can walk around the beautiful gardens.
And on DoC campsites…
One would think that considering that these campsites are “maintained” by the Department of Conservation, they would be worth the money. We’ve found that’s not always the case. On two separate occasions we have paid $12 ($6 each) to park our car overnight in a field with no running water, no cooking shelter and overflowing, smelly, vault toilets. Sometimes privately run campsites can be cheaper and have better facilities than the DoC ones.
Hope you’ve had a good month! Thanks for reading,
P.S. You’ll note that I’ve included the Māori names for the cities mentioned in this post (where I can). Māori speakers are becoming fewer and fewer so New Zealand are taking steps to keep that part of their history alive, and I respect that 100%.
Note: All opinions and thoughts are my own, and photos are all mine unless otherwise advised.