CHRISTCHURCH

We decided to fly into Christchurch on the South Island. The plan was to find a used campervan to buy and start touring as soon as possible. We had a month for the South Island and a month for the North Island, plus a few extra days to buy and then sell the campervan.

Arriving in Christchurch was a bit of a shock to us. We knew about the earthquake(s) of 2011 but, until we arrived, we had no idea how devastating the damage was. It feels like a ghost town. Despite the destruction in certain parts of town, other parts were bustling with innovative efforts to rebuild. The use of corrugated steel and shipping containers to patch, repair, and protect was truly inspiring. Our favorite was the re:start mall. Shops, cafes and a performance stage in the midst of ruins, built with stacked shipping containers. In this small section of the city you could almost forget about the natural disaster that had displaced so much of the city’s population. We weren’t too sure at first, but after exploring the city a bit we ended up feeling optimistic for it’s future.

Our priority while we were in Christchurch was to purchase a van to live out of for the next 2.5 months. We had read a lot about backpackers buying vans to tour in and reselling them at the end of their trip. After researching rental options, we quickly realized that, financially, it was out of the question. After seeing a couple of vans, we found one that came with a fold up bed, and most of the camping equipment we would need. It had a lot of kilometers on the engine, as they all do, but the timing belt had just recently been replaced so we decided it was our best option. We stocked up on a few small things and hit the road after about a week.

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EXPLORING THE SOUTH ISLAND

It felt great to get out of the city and into the glorious countryside of NZ. Just a few kilometers outside of Christchurch and our jaws were on the floor. Our first stop was Akaroa out on Banks Peninsula. We made our way through rolling golden fields at sunset and set up camp on a beautiful lake for our first night in the wilderness. And for free! We had heard freedom camping was allowed in most parts of NZ, but we were of course hesitant at first coming from the US where it’s not openly accepted. We slept comfortably and un-bothered throughout the night. Nothing can prepare you for the epic landscape of New Zealand, and we were just beginning to realize how much fun this was going to be.

From Banks Peninsula we made our way inland to check out the lakes. We’d seen some amazing geography on the trip thus far, but nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to experience. Lake Tekapo was our first stop. We arrived with just enough time to set up camp, go for a quick swim in the lake and cook dinner. With a view of Mount Cook as our backdrop we were in absolute heaven. We spent the night under the most expansive sky of stars and woke up to the glowing blue of the glassy lake behind us. We could have stayed forever, but it was time to hit the road for Lake Pukaki and Lake Hawea. We’ve never seen water this color or so clear (aside from Croatia)! The sensation was only amplified by the fact that we hadn’t had our own car since Western Europe. We were literally living in the dream that we had started talking about 3 years ago.

As we made our way south we decided the next stop had to be Queenstown and from there we’d head out to Fiordland. This was by far the most dramatic landscape we’d ever seen. It was right up there with Iceland, and we were smitten. We stopped in Te Anau to refuel for a bit and then it was off to Milford Sound. The drive out there was absolutely ridiculous and, although we didn’t spend nearly enough time, we had an amazing night camping by a salmon filled river fishing and taking pictures.

After a few days adventuring in Fiordland, we decided to head up the rugged coastline of the west where surfers and beautiful beaches are abundant. We made our way from Fox Glacier to Franz Josef Glacier, which were equally as stunning. After stopping in many small surf towns, exploring Punakaiki (pancake rocks) and getting viciously attacked by the dreaded sand flies in Karamea, we were ready for some hiking and beach dwelling in Abel Tasman National Park.

At this point our beloved van was starting to have some issues. It started with the automatic transmission having some shifting issues so we added fluid and drove on. Optimistic that we had solved the issue, we headed north to Abel Tasman. We set up camp and spent days hiking and exploring beautiful beaches. When we decided to leave the remote area of Abel Tasman, we were forced to deal with the realities of our vehicular issues. It took us about 45 minutes to get the van started and we were barely able to limp it over the first mountain range. On the far side of the second mountain range there was a town called Motueka that would have plenty of garages that could hopefully help us. But, to our dismay, that would not be an option. Even in first gear, the van would no longer climb even the smallest hill. It would bog, buck and stall. Our situation was dire. There was one small town between the two mountain ranges called Takaka, and it just became our only option.

After being turned down by every garage in Takaka because no one really wants to work on crappy, old and abused camper vans, we made our final stop at GB Mechanical. They must have seen the desperation in ours eyes (or the tears welling up in Sarah’s) because, although they were just as busy as everyone else, they agreed to have a look at the van. We happily waited all day to hear the diagnosis but by 5pm there was still more of the engine that needed to be dissected before they could really tell what the problem was. With no place to sleep, Simon, the amazing mechanic at GB, happily agreed to let us roll our broken down van to the junk yard in the back of the garage and continue to live in it there. This, ironically, became our home for the next week and a half.  After a couple of days waiting to hear our fate, we finally learned that the timing belt pulley at the front of the crankshaft had stripped the key and shifted the timing of engine severely. The motor was toast. Our van was worthless. Well, actually, it was worth $50 to Simon the mechanic. Our whole plan to resell the van and make some of our money back had failed miserably and we lost it all. Slightly shocked and mostly just depressed, all we could do was suck it up and move on as best we could. The only thing worse than our van dying would be giving up and going home a month early. Thus began our weeklong stay in Takaka, scouring the local classifieds and message boards at the supermarket for another smaller van or car to purchase.

We quickly made friends with the mechanics at GB Mechanical and some locals in town. We sold many of our belongings in the Saturday market to get some of our money back. We barbecued with our new friends at a house party where we begrudgingly took homemade jell-o shots with the locals. Even after such a blow to the bank accounts we were feeling extremely lucky to have met this incredible group of people who were so readily willing to jump through hoops to help us. We would not have met them any other way. It was interesting to think about how many places we’d passed through and never thought twice about…if we only had time to spend an entire week every place we went.

Just as we were starting to get restless, a native Australian who had moved to NZ got in touch with us about an older Subaru wagon that he thought we’d be able to sleep in with the seats down. It instantly felt right…maybe because he invited us to his farm to meet his pig named Tiger and his baby goat! Either way, we made the decision to down size and take the station wagon. It surely wasn’t going to be as comfortable as the van for sleeping, but we were determined to make it work. After saying goodbye to all of our new friends we were off to North Island in our (latest) home on wheels!

Before we departed from the South Island we decided a trip out to French Pass was a must. We were not let down.  We explored the winding roads and beautiful views for 2 days before our car ferry from Picton to Wellington. Once we were on the ferry we enjoyed the sunset and then lounged in the café while we worked on the next Miles & Miles post. Similar to everything else in NZ (even public bathrooms!), the ferry was extremely clean and well maintained, so our ride was wonderful.

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EXPLORING THE NORTH ISLAND

We arrived in the city of Wellington late and had nowhere to camp, so we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel room. One night turned quickly into two. We hadn’t realized how much we missed sleeping in a real bed! We spent our days wandering the bustling streets of the city, and our evenings lounging in clean white sheets and robes. All and all we had a great time, but we started to get restless in the city.

We made our way into Tongariro National Park where he hiked an 18kms of the most epic landscape we’d ever seen. A grueling up hill hike lead us to the most beautiful turquoise volcanic pools. It was worth every second and such a nice way to get back out to nature. From there we decided to head up to the Bay of Islands. Bay of Islands is known for it’s beautiful remote beaches, uninhabited islands (150 total) and, of course it’s yachting culture. One of many goals we had when we left for the trip was to go sailing at least once and now that our time in NZ was coming to an end, as was more than a year traveling the world, this was a great opportunity for us to do it! We found a small company that chartered boats of all sizes for a reasonable price and immediately went down to the harbor to check it out. We met the owner of the boats and soon enough we were booked to be heading out the next morning. We excitedly stocked up with enough groceries for 3 days on the water.

We were there first thing in the morning, slightly anxious how this adventure was going to turn out. We’d never taken a sailboat out on our own before, but if the last year of traveling has taught us one thing, it’s that if something makes you nervous, say yes…and at the very least, it’ll end up being a great story. We navigated our way out of the harbor, into the channel, and hoisted the sails! The wind was gentle and out of the northeast, perfect for anchoring overnight in the Bay of Islands. We had to sail due north, straight into the 2-3ft swell, for a little more than an hour before we could tack and head into the protection of the Bay of Islands. Just as we started to relax and celebrate the calm waters, we noticed the huge black cloud coming towards us. We had no time to get the sails down before the wind picked up and it was pouring freezing rain on us. Panicked, we managed to get the sails down while maintaining our course in the right direction and not falling overboard. Before we knew it the sun was out again and we were anchored with ice-cold beers in hand celebrating our maiden voyage! The next 2 days were unbelievable. We sailed through the most beautiful clusters of islands, anchored in the most secluded coves and took our dingy ashore to explore uninhabited islands. It was such an amazing few days and now that we’re officially “sailors” we can’t wait to get out on the water more!

After our epic sailing adventure we headed back to the mainland to explore more of the far north before heading back to Auckland for our flight home. We stopped at the towering sand dunes of Te Paki and made our way to Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea and South Pacific Ocean collide. It is thought by the Maori (New Zealand natives) culture that this is where souls depart on their journey to their homeland. We took it all in and knew this was the perfect way to end a truly unforgettable journey through New Zealand. We headed to Auckland to sell our Subaru (which we did successfully) and fly back to the USA!

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Jeannine says:

    There are beautiful. Would love to know the process you went through to edit them like this. Gorgeous colours.

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