New Zealand

New Zealand


New Zealand was 7 weeks of high adrenalin action spread over both islands. The scenery is superb, but the weather was a bit dodgy for much of the trip even though it was summer. We flew into Auckland and stayed for a while with friends before heading up to Paihia in the north for some kayaking and sailing. We gradually moved down the north island taking in Rotorua, Taupo and Wellington before crossing the Cook Straits to the South Island where we kayaked in Picton and Nelson before heading down to Franz Josef for some glacier walking. A stunning railway crosses the island from Greymouth to Christchurch which includes 4 high viaducts. After Christchurch we went to Kaikoura which is one of the best places in the world to see seabirds and whales. We completed NZ with Jonna's birthday in Picton after walking the Queen Charlotte Trail. 

This is me in action in the bays around Paihia on our 2 day trip which involved camping out overnight. We were guided on the first day and toured around for about 20k. On the second day we were unguided and headed over to Russell where a pub holds New Zealand's alcohol licence number 1.

New Zealand Paihia

Rotorua is famed for its volcanic activity and we saw plenty of geyser action. Additionally the whole town stinks of sulphur. Whilst here we did our obligatory parachute jumps from 12,000ft. Awesome and the best hangover cure you can imagine.

New Zealand Rotarua

I rather foolishly signed up for a tandem kayak run down the Kaikoura river. It involved 11 rapid runs including this 7m monster with an Olympic standard guy behind me doing the steering. It was a very scary ride and not one I would do again!!!. The kayak becomes completely submerged at the foot of this fall and seems to take an age to emerge. We followed this up a few days later with a more serene white water raft trip on the Tongariro.

New Zealand Kayak

On the South Island we signed up for a couple of 3 day kayak trips. The first was in the Marlborough Sounds and was just us in a canoe. We explored for 3 days, camping out and being visited by the strange Weka bird which was quite adept at cleaning pots and pans for us. It also stole a fork. The weather was foul and the trip back was undertaken in a 4-ft swell which sorely tested our skills, but we made it. 

New Zealand Picton 2

Down the west coast of the South Island we visited Franz Josef where a glacier comes down to almost sea level and can be climbed. It was freezing cold and rained for most of the trip. We had crampons and 4 layers of thermal clothing. We had hoped to do a snow landing helicopter trip but this was postponed for 3 days in a row and we had to leave.

New Zealand Franz Josef

Superb bird watching offshore where a deep canyon brings Antarctic water near to shore. This is a petrel and we also saw 7 species of albatross. The day after this we swam with sea lions in 5mm full wetsuits and still froze.

New Zealand Kaikoura

Jonna's fortieth birthday and we celebrated with a tramp along the Queen Charlotte trail. It's a neat setup where a water taxi takes you to the beginning and then picks you up hours later at a pub further along the track. How cool is that?. It's also the Post boat.

New Zealand Picton


Finally returning after a long gap we find NZ crowded, more developed and less spontaneous. it is though still familiar and we soon settle into a routine. Starting in Auckland for a few days we revisit old favourites, Tiri Tiri Matanga and Rangitoto before picking up a hire car and heading to Hobbiton for a Lord of the Rings experience. It was great!!!. 

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A pint of hobbit ale at The Green Dragon

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Time for some birding and we head to Miranda and the Coromandel where the rare Wrybill can be found, which I duly did. The Coromandel peninsular has some stunning scenery and great walking and we spent a few days doing just that before heading to the Tongariro National Park which was suffering some bad weather which put the alpine crossing off the agenda. Fortunately some other walks were open and we were able to find some rare Blue Ducks as well. With a cricket test match between NZ and England due to start it was time for Jonna to head off to Tauranga to meet friends whilst I headed down to Wellington for some quality birding.

Kapiti Island is a wildlife reserve where all invasive species have been eradicated so native NZ birds are plentiful and I was able to look for Kiwis in the evening. A real highlight and one that was to be repeated several times during the rest of the trip. I made the crossing to the South Island by myself and had some great seawatching, especially Albatrosses and Petrels. Basing myself in Picton allowed me to visit the various Islands in the Marlborough Sounds including Blumine where the rare Orange-fronted Parakeet lives. Success. My trip also coincided with the Mayflower visit for the Cook anniversary.

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After being rejoined by Jonna we took rental kayaks out for 4 days camping in various sites. The usual quality sites accompanied by dreadful kayaking conditions in the afternoons when the wind really rips up. Tiring stuff but always nice to have an night under the stars with plenty of possums for company. After returning the kayaks we were off by coach to Christchurch, our first time after the earthquake and it was clear the recovery is a really slow process. This was a short visit before moving on, but we were due back for Xmas. We stayed in the same place that we would for Xmas so it was a good recce. We had made a good choice with Foley Towers and Mr Foley the cat was in residence. 

Picking up our campervan we thought we would be in for an interesting week. We were not wrong but in completely the wrong way. The weather was awful and our detailed plan was ripped asunder and we had to make things up on each day. Heading to Arthur's Pass we managed a short walk in the pouring rain before finding somewhere to stay. It rained constantly all night and all of the next day as we moved down to the Franz Josef area. Our evening spotting kiwis at Okarito unbelievably took place in about the only 3 hour gap without rain. Everything else was rained off and we continued down the coast. Landslips forced us to spend a night in Haast and witness a town gradually fill up. The pub did great business and the following morning all eyes were on the internet for highway updates. It was to open at 10am so we joined an enormous line of campers and headed out. Later that day the highway was closed again for many days as did the only other way back out to Franz Josef. We were very lucky.

Mount Cook is a sight to behold. At least that’s what we were told. A complete washout prevented any views and meant we could only do a short walk. Extremely cold. This was meant to be our practice for the Milford Trail and we were getting nothing. Frustrating, but I did get to see the extremely rare Black Stilt and some more Wrybill. Continuing the theme we got wet at Tekapo and Wanaka, both of which were under water, although during a lull we climbed Roy’s Peak which was great exercise. Tekapo is famed for its lupins which were also drowning.

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We dropped the campervan in Queenstown and readied for the Milford Trail. We had booked the organised trip of 5 days, 4 nights, expensive but very comfortable with an extra night at the end which solo trekkers don’t get. It turned out to be a great trip, not overly difficult and we were easily in the top quartile skill-wise. The scenery was very impressive especially up over the McKinnon Pass and the food and lodges were extremely lush. We had been expecting to room-share but each night we got a room to ourselves. Result.

From Queenstown a quick bus got us to Invercargill/Bluff where we crossed to Stewart Island, a very undervisited part of NZ. We had booked 5 nights which initially seemed a few too many but we happily filled the time with walks, kiwi-spotting, island trips including one to Ulva, another bird sanctuary where one of the last desired NZ birds for me was found, the Yellowhead. 

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Leaving Stewart Island early, the combined ferry, bus and minivan delivered us to Dunedin, a mini Edinburgh replica, steeped in history where we had a few days to kill. Long-term travelling has a few issues around Xmas and New Year where you have to hole up for longer than you might normally want to but here was OK and we managed a nice day trip out to a Yellow-eyed Penguin colony.

A bus from here on Christmas eve took us back to Christchurch where a quick shop got us all the goodies for Xmas and we settled down for a lively party in the hostel.

Soon it was time to head to the airport and on to Tasmania.

See more New Zealand here

© Paul Hyland 2012