New Zealand Road Trip – Mount Cook National Park, Christchurch and Kaikōura (Part VI)

Our 3,600 miles+ New Zealand Road Trip has now sadly come to an end after an unforgettable six weeks.

Some of my favourite highlights include cruising in The Bay of Islands, Abel Tasman National Park and Milford Sound; checking out the real Middle Earth™ at Hobitton™; learning about the Maori history and relaxing in geothermal hot pools in Rotorua, as well as going on some incredible hikes in between.

From stunning landscapes and scenery to such a wide variety of daredevil adrenaline junkie activities, New Zealand has had it all. I really have fallen in love with this amazing country.

If you’d like to read about my previous blog posts from our time in the North and South Island, click this link.

Day 34 – Mount Cook National Park – Hooker Valley Track

It was a long four hour drive from Dunedin to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park via Oamaru yesterday, but we eventually arrived at the Glentanner Park Centre shortly after dusk – our base for what would end up being the next two nights.

We’d detoured inland to Mount Cook National Park instead of continuing up the East Coast to Christchurch because we really wanted to hike the 6.6 mile Hooker Valley Track to Hooker Lake.

This was a relatively long trek by our standards, but it was fairly easy as it was flat and fully paved throughout. Luckily, we’d picked a perfect day.

It took just over an hour to reach the beautiful Hooker Lake where we were met with views of the sun shining between the clouds over the Southern Alps, including over New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki Mount Cook at 3,724m.

We spent around half an hour here taking in the views before turning back. By now it was around 15:00 PM, so we decided to pay for another night at the same campground and chill out for the rest of the day.

I believe you can be in the right place at the time and this idiom was about to come true.

When we were checking back in, there was a 25-minute helicopter flight about to depart to the nearby Ben Ohau Range at 1522m and because the company hadn’t managed to fill the remaining two seats, we were given the opportunity of flying for a price we couldn’t refuse.

Instead of paying $229/£120 p/p, we paid two for the price of one. BARGAIN! We’ve been on helicopter tours over New York and Niagara Falls, but never onto a snow-topped mountain before.

(To watch incredible footage from our previous helicopter flight in New York on the day I proposed to Emily click this link or for our flight over Niagara Falls, click here).

It was something we looked at doing on our Contiki tours of Canada and the Rockies and Grand Alaska Camping, but we decided against it at the time.

Needless to say, the views from the helicopter and the top of the mountain were extraordinary. You could see the Hooker Lake in the backdrop with Mt Cook and various other peaks in the Southern Alps.

The snow was knee deep because it had been untouched which made walking a real challenge. See the footage below of Em and I falling all over the place!

Day 35 – Meeting Emily’s family

Sometimes an entire day is needed for driving. This was one of those days as we had another four hour drive ahead of us to Christchurch. We’d left a week here unassigned to spend some time with Emily’s Great Aunt Mavis and her two second cousin’s, Debi and Gary.

Em was looking forward to staying with her Great Aunt Mavis as she had only met her a handful of times. She’d also never met Debi or Gary before. I suppose that’s the problem when you live on the other side of the world!

Day 36 – TranzAlpine Train from Christchurch to Greymouth

Often described as one of the most scenic train rides in the world, today we travelled on the TranzAlpine™ train from Christchurch to Greymouth costing £173/$329 p/p return. After an initial foggy start, we ended up having idyllic weather again.

This 139 mile, five hour trip starts its route by passing through the scenic Canterbury Plains and gradually traverses through the Southern Alps before eventually arriving in Greymouth – a small town on the West Coast.

During the route, we saw incredible vistas, the amazing Waimakariri River as well as miles upon miles of native beech forest.

Admittedly, this was rather expensive to sit on a train for 10 hours (apart from a brief one hour coffee stop in Greymouth) but you can’t put a cost on what was a journey of a lifetime!

Day 37 – Christchurch Guided Tour

Christchurch is the second most populated city in New Zealand with 402,000 inhabitants after Auckland which has a population of 1.5 million.

Today, Debi and her Swedish partner, Chris gave us a tour around the city on foot. However, the most popular way is by taking a ride on the tram.

They explained how Christchurch has changed so much from when the 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck in February 2011 which tragically killed 185 people and left many homeless.

Em’s Great Auntie was one of those caught up in the quake and she lost her home as a result. Smaller tremors continued for months on end afterwards. I can only begin to imagine just how devastating this was and what it is now like to live in fear that another could happen again.

Nevertheless, we parked in the beautiful Botanic Gardens and walked into the city. They showed us the main ‘touristy’ sites including the Cathedral, (which is still undergoing reconstruction), the Canterbury Museum, the Art Gallery and New Plymouth Street where we grabbed a bite to eat.

On our way back to the car, we watched punting taking place on the River Avon, then drove to a lookout point and then onwards to New Brighton.

Day 38 – Drive to Kaikōura

After spending some more time with Em’s family, we ventured 109 miles up the East Coast to the coastal town of Kaikōura as we hoped to go whale watching tomorrow morning.

Debi mentioned that it was an ideal location to spot sperm whales and she was right. This has always been something we’ve wanted to do but never had the opportunity. We were supposed to do this on our One Life Adventures Sri Lanka Tour Pre-COVID before our trip was cancelled.

Day 39 – Whale watching in Kaikōura.

Spotting any kind of mammal in their natural habitat requires an element of good fortune. We saw four of the ‘Big Five’ – African buffalo, elephant, lion and rhinoceros roaming free in the wild whilst on a safari in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa but unfortunately, we weren’t able to spot the elusive leopard.

(To read and see incredible up-close pictures of these animals, click here).

This morning we were up bright and early in the hope that the Whale Watch Kaikōura Marine Experience costing £56/$107 p/p would go ahead as scheduled.

I was skeptical because the weather was bleak and from my point of view, the visibility looked to be extremely average, but everything was fine. What do I know!

The message on the noticeboard said that ‘moderate swells’ would be likely, so we knew we were going to be in for a slightly bumpy ride. In the end, it wasn’t too bad.

It must have been our lucky day because the Captain was able to stop extremely close to two male sperm whales and one male humpback whale during the 2 hr 15 minute cruise. Seeing these humongous animals up close was such a joy to behold.

Day 40 – Rest day in Kaikōura

Our next point of call is Australia, so it was vitally important we had some down time in order for us not to burn out.

I caught up with friends and family, played Football Manager and then binge watched All or Nothing: Arsenal on Amazon Prime.

Day 41 – Vineyard & New Zealand vs Argentina (Rugby Union)

Today we drove back to Christchurch as we were going to the All Blacks vs Argentina match in The Rugby Championship at the Orangetheory Stadium this evening, but beforehand we stopped off at Debi and Chris’ vineyard for lunch.

They gave us a tour around their beautiful 22 acre plot and we sampled some of the finest rosé wine. The views overlooking the Southern Alps weren’t half bad either!

Tonight was the first ever rugby match I’d ever been to – not a bad first! The two sides had met 33 times previously with the All Blacks prevailing an impressive 31 times, and the odds were stacked in their favour with the bookmakers pricing up a New Zealand win at just 1/20!

However, they came into this fixture on a bad run having won just one of their last three games. I thought the result would be a forgone conclusion, but surprisingly Argentina prevailed beating New Zealand 25 points to 18.

I was particularly looking forward to experiencing The Haka – a ceremonial Māori ‘war dance’ performed before the start of every match.

The noise of all 23 players chanting and slapping their arms and legs in unison in front of a capacity crowd of 20,195 was extraordinary. You can watch the footage below.

Day 42 – Shingles

For the last few days, I’d noticed a rash developing on the left-hand side of my body accompanied by a slight pain but I thought nothing particularly of it until I mentioned it to Mavis, who used to be a District Nurse.

She thought that it could be Shingles, so we went to a walk-in centre… and it turns out she was right. The doctor has prescribed me with some antiviral tablets, but he said there shouldn’t be anything to worry about because of my age.

In the evening, Debi, Chris, Gary and Karen came around and we all enjoyed one last meal together courtesy of Debi’s homemade Swedish meatballs.

Day 43 – Rest day

We had the mundane task of cleaning and emptying everything out of our beloved Norman before we handed over the keys. Packing everything back up into our rucksacks was a bit of a ball-ache. I really haven’t missed that part of travelling!

Next, we begin begin our mammoth eight-week Australian Road Trip from Cairns to Melbourne in what I’m sure will be another unforgettable experience.

We’ve hired another camper van for our first six weeks down to Sydney because we loved travelling in Norman so much. For the last fortnight we’ll then hire a car because my Mum is flying out to travel with us down to Melbourne before touring around New Zealand herself. I can’t wait to see her!

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with our adventure, you can either enter your email at the bottom of this article to receive instant notifications every time I post a new blog; click the Follow ‘Al’ Around The World link, or drop me a follow on Twitter at @AlecW95 or on Instagram at @AlecW95 or @alatw95.

Alternatively, you can follow Emily on her travelling TikTok account at @emstraveladventure where she’ll be posting daily travel videos.

Thanks for stopping by, until the next time…


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