Agh I am so sorry for the delay in posting this, I’ve just been so busy! December was incredible – we packed so much into just a month. Since the weather has improved (a LOT) we’ve enjoyed sitting outside in the sun – James has been playing his guitar on a regular basis again and I’ve read three books. When it’s sunny I really think to myself that I could carry on camping forever, I love it!
It was a month of driving back and forth across the northern end of the country; we were a tad unorganised and did everything in a jumbled order – oh well. In early December we finished our time on the West Coast – I must be honest, I was quite happy to leave because the weather and the sandflies were the worst I’ve experienced in New Zealand so far! The rain was constant and I have scars on my ankles from the bites. Not ideal. Then we travelled North, stopping at Nelson Lakes National Park (I wish wish WISH we’d stayed longer), and up to Nelson. We did the Abel Tasman Coast Track, went across to Picton for a cruise of the Marlborough Sounds, and spent a good few days soaking up the sun in Golden Bay over Christmas. Next was Hanmer Springs, before staying with our friends Robyn and Brendan in Springfield for New Year. We’re currently in Wellington; we got the ferry from Picton this morning.
Where we’ve been:
The West Coast: Greymouth, Westport, Karamea
Tasman: Nelson, Richmond, Motueka, Takaka, Collingwood, Farewell Spit, Abel Tasman National Park, Canaan Downs
Marlborough: The Pelorus River, Picton, Marlborough Sounds, Motoiti Island, Nelson Lakes National Park
Canterbury: Hanmer Springs, Springfield, Christchurch
Taking a tour of Monteith’s Brewery
It was raining and we were stuck for something to do, so decided to see behind the scenes of the brewery of one of New Zealand’s most popular beer producers. We had a half-hour tour, poured our own pints, and had a further three glasses of beer. In the welcoming bar and dining area, you can order a beer and/or something to eat from the tapas menu. There’s a gift shop and ‘museum’ of sorts, explaining the history behind Monteith’s. Realising we still needed to drive to the campsite, we sobered up with a huge plate of fries and Monteith’s Radler has become my staple drink ever since.
Prices: Tour $22, Fries to share $13.
Address: Monteith’s Brewery, 60 Herbert Street, Greymouth
Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks
Despite the bad weather on the West Coast, we stopped at Punakaiki to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. We forgot to check the tide times beforehand – if you go at high tide, the water explodes out between the rocks in a ‘blowhole’ effect. The rocks themselves were still quite impressive!
How to get there: The rocks and blowholes are signposted off the SH6. Disabled access on most of the walkway.
Seeing the seal colony at Cape Foulwind
Depending on the season, it’s possible to see up to 200 New Zealand Fur Seals / Kekeno just outside of Westport at the aptly named Cape Foulwind. They normally laze about on the rocks, coming ashore to rest after fishing in the sea for up to three weeks at a time. We saw around twenty seals – including some pups!
Address: Seal Colony Road, Cape Foulwind, Westport
Trekking to Scott’s Beach, Karamea
Making the most of the rare sun on the West Coast, James and I decided to walk part of the Heaphy Track (one of New Zealand’s Great Walks). The walk to Scott’s beach only takes around an hour and a half, and the beach itself is beautiful – we wished we’d worn our swimwear! We climbed up on top of the big rock and watched the waves for a while before heading back to Karamea. Read my full post on Karamea here.
How to get there: the track starts at Kohaihai DOC campsite, at the end of Kohaihai road, just north of Karamea.
Hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track
Our second Great Walk – well, third, if you count the teensy part of the Heaphy we did – was the Abel Tasman, which is arguably the most beautiful of all of them. The 60km track starts in Marahau and finishes in Wainui Bay; it’s not a loop track unlike the Kepler. It’s a beautiful walk through native rainforest and across pristine beaches – the views of the ocean were just breathtaking. I wrote a bit more about it in a blog post here. For more information or to book overnight accommodation visit the DOC website here.
We were on the Abel Tasman trek on James’ actual birthday, so celebrated properly afterwards. We spent a few days in Nelson, where we went to the weekend markets and snapped up a few bargains, before embarking on the Craft Beer trail. The recommended thing to do is rent a bike for the day, meaning you won’t have to nominate a designated driver. The complete route is very long, starting at Motueka and ending in Nelson – unless you were a pro cyclist I’m not sure how you’d complete it! We checked into a hostel after lunch where we left our car, and then biked to Tahunanui, enjoying a tipple or two at the nominated bars and breweries. After a slightly wobbly cycle back to Nelson, we had tapas at the Underground (situated in the basement of the hostel) and did the last part of the trail on foot – probably sensible considering!
Where we stayed: The Innbetween Backpackers and Lodge, 335 Trafalgar Street East, Nelson. Tent site $15 per person per night.
Bike rental: Aurora Backpackers, 161-163 Trafalgar Street, Nelson. Half day hire (four hours) $20 per person plus a $20 refundable cash deposit per person.
For James’ birthday I got him a couple of small gifts as well as an activity day out. He loved kayaking in Doubtful Sound so I thought I’d treat him to a day of kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park. I found a deal on grabone.co.nz (a website which is similar to the UK’s Group On or Wowcher), with a company based in Marahau and booked it without reading the small print! The experience turned out to be slightly different to what I’d envisioned… We decided against paying additional costs to transport the kayaks into the national park, and instead spent our time splashing around the inlet, exploring the deserted beaches and caves in the rocks, marvelling at the ocean’s turquoise colour, and also trying not to get stuck in the sand when the tide had gone out. Although it wasn’t what I had expected, we still had a great time! *Note: I didn’t take any photos on the kayaks as they were sit-on kayaks, not the super-sturdy sea kayaks we used in Doubtful Sound, and I didn’t want to risk damaging my camera.
Cruising Marlborough Sounds
For Christmas this year, James and I decided not to buy each other any gifts; neither of us are materialistic people and we definitely don’t need any more stuff! Instead we treated ourselves to a day out. We took a cruise of the Marlborough Sounds with Cougar Line, departing at 7.30am for Motoiti Island where we were free to explore the native wildlife’s habitat. We then cruised across to Resolution Bay, where we hiked part of the Queen Charlotte Track. After a beer at Furneaux Lodge, we cruised back through the Sounds, stopping at the bays and inlets before returning to Picton at 5pm. It was amaaazing and worth every penny – here’s a full post about it!
Cost: Cougar Line Ecotour Cruise $95 per person.
Christmas in Golden Bay
On Christmas Eve, James and I checked into a motel for three nights, where we enjoyed the home comforts of a proper bed, a hot shower, a fridge and free wifi. We spent Christmas Day on the beach for a few hours, soaking up the sun. We explored the hippy town of Takaka with its extortionately overpriced elephant pants ($35!?), the beautiful waterfall at Wainui Bay and the clearest water at Te Waikoropupu Springs, the incredible Farewell Spit and Wharakiki Beach, where NZ fur seal pups flap about in the pools. We also hiked from Wainui to Mutton Cove on the Abel Tasman Coast Track – the part of the Great Walk that we didn’t do last time! I didn’t feel like it was Christmas at all – with the beautiful sunny weather and being without my family – but we wore our Santa hats and listened to Christmas songs and made homemade Buck’s Fizz and ate Mince Pies (or mince tarts as they call them here).
Where we stayed: Collingwood Park Motel, Ecopod. Rates vary.
Seeing film locations used in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings
To quote Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf): “I can’t believe Nelsonians get to wake up in this amazing paradise every morning.” The region is gorgeous, and it’s packed with scenery that truly is #RealMiddleEarth. Whilst I’m not a huge Tolkien fan, it was pretty cool to see a few locations used in the films, and they really did feel magical!
An 11km-long, dusty gravel road off the SH60 highway brings you to Canaan Downs, a huge, grassy area used in summer for events such as weddings and festivals. The rocky, barren terrain does look like something off the big screen – and it is! The scenery here was used as Chetwood Forest in The Lord of the Rings. We did the 45 min walk to Harwood’s Hole, an impressive 176m deep hole in the floor of the forest – so huge you can’t see the bottom!
Between Nelson and Picton lies the Pelorus River. Surrounded by native forest, it has a rocky shoreline and is a striking green colour. The area features in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – this is the river where Bilbo and the drawers float along in barrels to escape the orcs! There are plenty of walks along the river to choose from as well as a DOC campsite if you want to stay longer.
Seeing in the New Year with great company
We weren’t really sure what to do for New Years as usually back home we spend it with our group of friends. Our friends Robyn and Brendan, who we met way back in October at a campsite near Oamaru, invited us to stay with them in Springfield where they are now living. We turned up on the 31st and saw the new year in with homemade pizza, card games, music and copious amounts of champagne. We stayed a few days, catching up on travels and spending time with their chickens. They spoilt us with great food, a comfy bed, hot shower and laundry – the little luxuries we miss when we’re on the road! Thank you Robyn & Brendan!
As always, the following prices are what we paid per person to camp for one night in our non self-contained vehicle.
- Karamea Motor Camp: $9
- The Pines Tavern: $5
- DOC Freedom Camping in St Arnaud: Free
- Edmond Baigent Reserve: Free
- McKee Domain: $6
- Kina Domain: $5
- Albert Stream: Free
January brings us to the North Island. Originally, we had planned to stick around in Wellington to work for a few months before travelling the North Island until our visas expire. Plans after our visas expire are completely up in the air at the moment! A couple of days ago, we decided on a change of plan; although money will be tight, we’re going to continue our travels of the North Island and settle in Wellington to find work once we’re all travelled out!
How was your December? Have you ever spent Christmas abroad? Do you have any must-sees for New Zealand’s North Island? Please share your tips!
Thanks for reading and a Happy New Year to all!
Note: All photos are my own. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which help run this site.