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Read all about our New Zealand South Island trip right here on our New Zealand travel journal.

New Zealand Travel Journal - looking across Lake Pukaki towards Mt Cook

Hi, and welcome.

We hope you enjoy our New Zealand travel journal. It's August and we (Dave, Kim and son Tim) are about to kick off our two week trip around the South Island. We can't wait. The scenery will be amazing (lots of snow).

Every day we will record the highlights of our trip, and hopefully show you lots of photos of this spectacular country.

Our trip takes us from the beautiful garden city of Christchurch, then north to the whale watching hub of the South Island, Kaikoura. From there we head North East to the lovely seaside village of Marahau, gateway to the wonderful Abel Tasman National Park. Five nights there to visit family and friends, then South West to Punakaiki on the rugged West Coast. From there it's off to Franz Josef for the night then on to Wanaka. A night there then a short drive over the Crown Range to Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand for a jam packed five days. Finally on to Mount Cook for a night before returning to Christchurch for another night, before flying home.

Our trip follows the same route as our South Island Sun and Snow Itinerary, which we offer as a self drive package.

We hope that our New Zealand travel journal inspires you to visit this great country.


Dave, Kim and Tim.

Itin 3 Route Map

Day 1

The Southern Alps from our plane

Today we flew into Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. The trip over from Australia took about 3 hours.

As always, the flight into Christchurch was amazing, with lots of snow on the Southern Alps. We flew on Air New Zealand and their service was very good. The flight attendants were funny and attentive, and the meals, although basic, were full of flavour and just about the right size.

One area where Air NZ have improved over the past few years is their in flight entertainment. The choice of movies, music and games is extensive, and each seat has its own small screen, so you can choose what you want to watch or listen to. Well done Air New Zealand. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to watch a new release movie.

We collected our rental car from Hertz. A few minutes to complete the paperwork, and off to our motel for the night, Pavilions, on Papanui Road. We chose Pavilions because it's easy to get to from the airport (about 6 kilometres from the airport), and it's close to the various restaurants in Papanui Road, and also close to Christchurch CBD.

When we arrived we found that the good people at Pavilions had turned the heaters on, so our room was toasty warm. Our 2 bedroom suite was spacious and comfortable, and although we were only there overnight, it would have made a perfect base for a longer stay, having basic cooking facilities and kitchen.

We have also booked to stay at Pavilions on the last night of our New Zealand South Island trip.

Pavilions Hotel Christchurch

Around 7 p.m. we wandered down Papanui Rd and decided to eat at a Thai restauarant named Keo Thai. It was only 50 metres or so from our motel, and had a wide range of reasonably priced meals, wines and beer. Although it was a pretty cool evening (around 5 degrees celsius) we decided to eat outside under the gas heaters. It was great, and our host Francis made us feel very welcome. The food was fresh, tasty, and the service was excellent. We highly recommend Keo Thai if you are staying in Papanui Road.

Keo Thai restaurant in Papanui Rd Christchurch

After dinner it was back to Pavilions for an early evening. Tomorrow we are off to Kaikoura, the whale watch capital of New Zealand!

Kaikoura is a place that we have stayed at many times over the years and we are always drawn back by its location, laid back feel, and amazing scenery. We can't wait!

Day 2

Today we were up early for our drive north along the east coast, to the stunning township of Kaikoura.

Green hills north of Christchurch

Kaikoura was once a whaling port, where thousands of whales were slaughtered. Thankfully, those days are long gone, and today, Kaikoura draws tens of thousands of visitors annually to view these amazing mammals, along with a range of dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, birds and other marine life.

The trip from Christchurch to Kaikoura takes around two and a half hours.

As you leave Christchurch you travel through farmland and rolling hills that seem to go on forever. They are unbelievably green, and although there was low cloud shrouding the higher peaks, we caught our first glimpse of snow on the peaks about 30 minutes out of Christchurch.

As we headed north we passed several vineyards including the Mud House and Pegasus, and about half way to Kaikoura we passed through the small village of Cheviot, a good stop for a snack, fuel and potty break. Around 30 minutes south of Kaikoura the sea came into view, and from there to Kaikoura the road hugged the coastline, giving lots of opportunities for great photos.

A sleepy local near Kaikoura

 We stopped at Goose Bay for some pictures, and spotted our first New Zealand fur seal of the day. The coastline north and south of Kaikoura is home to several seal colonies, and it's possible to view them up close (don't go within about 10 metres though as they can be dangerous!).

The snow covered Seaward Kaikoura mountain range provides an amazing backdrop.

Road tunnels near Kaikour

And each time we pass here we marvel at how those clever New Zealanders managed to run not only a road, but a railway line, between the mountains and the coast.

Just south of Kaikoura we passed through some road tunnels, and before we knew it, we had arrived at Kaikoura.

Before heading into town, we stopped off at South Bay for a walk along the shore and a look at the boats used by Whale Watch Kaikoura.

A beautiful spot - a Whalewatch Kaikoura boat in South Bay Kaikoura

Their information centre and booking office are located just north of the town centre, but their boats depart from South Bay. As we watched one of their boats depart we wished that we were on it. Unfortunately this time it was not on our schedule, but having done the trip before, we can highly recommend it.

And so confident are the operators, they guarantee that if you don't spot a whale on your trip, they will refund you 80% of your trip cost!

We then headed into Kaikoura and checked into our accommodation, the Anchor Inn. Over the years we have stayed there several times, and it's just a beautiful motel.

Here we are relaxing at the Pier Hotel Kaikoura - a great view

Located directly across the road from the ocean, the Anchor Inn offers a range of room configurations, and stunning views. We chose a 2 bedroom suite with full kitchen, living area downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs (the main looking over the sea). Hosts Craig, Jacqui, Keith and Pauline made us feel very welcome, and we highly recommend the Anchor Inn if you are in Kaikoura.

After check in, we headed along the waterfront to the seal colony on the peninsula. Lots of seals and they were really close, so lots of photo opportunities. While we were out that way we stopped at the historic Pier Hotel for a drink, and sat outside and gazed over the ocean. What a beautiful place Kaikoura is.

The Anchor Inn at Kaikoura, a great place to stay.

Later we headed down town for a late lunch / early tea, and decided to eat at one of the local pubs, the Adelphi. Tim and I had a burger. Very tasty and good value, and Kim had the first of many a meal of New Zealand green lip mussels.

A local beer and wine washed our meal down and renewed our energy for a walk around the local shops, and to take a snap of the huge mural on the outside wall of one of the buildings in the main street. Showing two huge Sperm Whales, this must be one of the most photographed murals in New Zealand, and shows them very close to actual life size! What amazing mammals they are.

Mural of Giant Sperm Whales in Kaikoura

In the centre of town there is a good range of gift shops, cafes, banks, and a small supermarket. Out on the highway there is a larger New World (supermarket) with a full range of groceries and alcohol, together with a range of other shops. There are also several restaurants and motels along the main highway.

Stunning Kaikoura

Throughout New Zealand, you will find that the major supermarkets (New World, Fresh Choice, Countdown) are the best place to top up your supply of New Zealand wines and beers. They have a good range and cheap prices.

Time then to head back to the comforts of the Anchor Inn in readiness for an early start tomorrow.

Day 3

Kim was out of bed early today for a walk along the beach and some photos of the Kaikoura sunrise.

A beautiful Kaikoura sunrise

This really is a beautiful spot, and although low cloud prevented us from getting some photos of the snow capped Seaward Kaikoura ranges, the rugged Kaikoura coastline always offers lots of great photo opportunities. Thank god for digital cameras!

Today we were off to one of our favourite parts of New Zealand, Marahau. Marahau is a small village located at the start of the world famous Abel Tasman National Park,

A rainbow in the Abel Tasman National Park

and is located towards the top of the South Island, near Nelson.

Kim's family have lived in the area for 70 years, and we regularly visit to catch up with them and with the many friends that we have made over the years.

The drive today takes around 4 hours, and takes us through Blenheim, Havelock, Nelson, and Motueka, before arriving at Marahau.

The Kekerengu Store between Kaikoura and Blenheim. A great spot to stop for a coffee break.

As we leave Kaikoura and head north, the first couple of kilometres are pretty uninspiring as we make our way out of town. But soon, that all changes, and as we round a bend in the road, we are met by the Pacific Ocean.

For the next 50 or 60 kilometres, the road hugs the Pacific, and the views are amazing. This has to be one of the great drives anywhere in the world. If you have a chance, stop off at the roadside seal colony, and a bit further on, the Kekerengu Store, ideally positioned to catch ocean views, a coffee and a snack.

Try the fresh lobsters from Nin's Bin north of Kaikoura

Another "institution" along this stretch of road is Nin's Bin, a small roadside caravan that has been selling local crayfish for many years. 30 or 40 kilometres south of Blenheim, the road heads slightly inland and starts to climb through the hills. As you head down the other side, various wineries start to appear, and just before Blenheim you pass one of New Zealand's best known wineries, Montana.

Montana winery at Blenheim, one of many in the Marlborough district

 Blenheim is the the major town in the Marlborough region, and home to dozens of wineries. Blenheim is around 28 kilometres from Picton, the South Island arrival and departure point for the inter island ferry which transports visitors and vehicles between the North and South Islands. Picton is also the main entry point for the Marlborough district and the stunning Marlborough Sounds.

Pretty Picton, on the Marlborough Sounds

We stopped off in Blenheim for a break and a look around the shops. One of our favourites in New Zealand is The Warehouse, a large discount department store. Their large red stores are scattered throughout NZ, and we find them handy for CD's and DVD's and other bits and pieces.

On the road again towards Nelson, we drove through the small village of Havelock. This pretty little village has a large marina and is the gateway to the Pelorus and Keneperu Sounds.

Havelock's Muscle Pot

It's also famous for the Muscle Pot, a cafe selling New Zealand green lip muscle products, and we couldn't pass without picking up a couple of their muscle pies for Kim's uncle Toppy (not my thing, but he swears by them).

A little further on is the Pelorus Bridge scenic reserve. Here the road crosses the Pelorus River as it flows through a steep gorge. If you are passing this way, take the time to stop and wander down to the river bank. The water is crystal clear.

There is also a cafe on site.

The gorge at Pelorus Bridge

Back on the road to Nelson we went through the picturesque Rai Valley and mile after mile of rolling green pastures. Closer to Nelson the road rises and we pass through a winding section of road over the Whangamoas. Shortly after, the magical Tasman Bay and the thriving city of Nelson come into view.

Nelson is the largest South Island city north of Christchurch, and has one of the highest growth rates in New Zealand. It's easy to see why. A great bayside location, snow capped peaks, close access to the Abel

Tahunanui Beach at Nelson - sand and snow!

Tasman National Park, a full range of services, a strong arts culture, numerous wineries and restaurants, and extensive sporting facilities are just some of the things that attract people to Nelson.

Nelson also claims to have more sunshine hours than anywhere else in New Zealand.

After a quick stop in Nelson for some groceries, it was off to the beautiful seaside village of Marahau,

Sunrise at Marahau in the Abel Tasman National Park

our home for the next five nights. Around 1 hours drive from Nelson, Marahau has been home to relatives of ours for decades, and has been a regular favourite for us.

As we leave Nelson, we pass several wineries, and small villages such as Mapua and Ruby Bay. Mapua is a popular spot with several restaurants and cafes. At Ruby Bay, the road hugs the coastline for a short distance, and it's worthwhile stopping to take some photos. The view from Ruby Bay back across the water to Nelson is stunning. The bay always seems to have an amazing turquoise colour.

Around 45 minutes from Nelson, we arrive at Motueka, the largest town in

Low tide at Marahau

the area. "Mot" as it is known by the locals, has a great range of stores, cafes, restaurants and services, as well as a couple of larger supermarkets.

A further 15-20 minutes and we arrive at Marahau, gateway to the famous Abel Tasman National Park.

For many tourists, Marahau is the start point for their visit to the Abel Tasman. Several kayak companies are based in Marahau. There is also a good range of accommodation, with everything from camping grounds and backpacker accommodation, to motels and private homes for rent. We will be staying with Kim's uncle Toppy, a descendant of one of the original settlers in Marahau.

Day 4

Well, as always Marahau and the Nelson region feel very comfortable for us. With lots of friends there and lots to see and do, there is never a dull moment.

Kayaks in the Abel Tasman - picture courtesy Relaxing Journeys

Up early every morning, we take a walk either down along the waterfront, or into the Abel Tasman National Park, to Stu's Lookout. This short walk follows the headland and gives wonderful views of the crystal clear waters of the park. The Abel Tasman National Park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and many come to kayak, or to walk the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

Today is Sunday so we head back into Motueka. With a population of around 8,000, Motueka sits on the shores of Tasman Bay, and relies on farming (mainly fruit), seafood, and tourism. Today the local markets are on, and its always a treat to wander around through the various arts and craft stalls. There is also a good supply of fruit and vegetable stalls, and we buy some locally grown asparagus and yams for tea. On the way back to Marahau we grab a sandwich and sit by the bay, before heading home for one of uncle Toppy's home cooked meals.

Day 5

Monday starts off a bit cool (around 0 degrees celsius) but warms up to around 14. During the morning we help Toppy chop some wood. He's in his 70's but fitter than us! Then we head off to Takaka and Golden Bay for the

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track

rest of day. Out of Marahau we head over Marahau hill and back onto the main road (about 10 minutes). We then begin the steep climb over Takaka Hill. As you near the crest there's a great lookout that gives stunning views back towards Marahau and the park. The lookout is also the access point to the Ngarua Caves, a chain of limestone caves that are well worth visiting if you have the time.

A diver in the crystal clear waters of Pu Pu Springs

A short way up the road you begin your descent of Takaka hill, looking out over a beautiful valley. Snow caps the taller peaks on the other side of the valley, and some light showers bring the peaks in and out of view as we descend. After about 20 minutes we reach Takaka, the main township in Golden Bay. Takaka is a very "arty" place with lots of galleries and craft shops, and its a good place to wander for an hour or so.

We've been to the Golden Bay area many times. It's a beautiful area. Lots of small coastal villages, and plenty to see. If you make the trip, spend a couple of days in the area. You can access both the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks, and also the amazing Te Waikoropupu (Pu Pu) Springs , and Farewell Spit . Pu Pu Springs are said to be the largest in Australasia, discharging over 14,000 litres of icy cold, clear water, per second!. Pu Pu Springs are also said to be the clearest freshwater springs in the world. Today we walked along the streamside tracks to the viewing deck, which has a clever mirror system that allows

The view from the Abel Tasman memorial

you to see under the surface. Last time here we spotted some trout, but none this time.

After Pu Pu Springs we drove to the coastal village of Port Tarakohe (about 12 kilometres from Takaka), and walked up to the Abel Tasman Memorial. The memorial commemorates Abel Tasman, the Dutch navigator who was the first European to sight New Zealand way back in 1642. From the car park it's a few minutes walk up the track to the memorial, which sits on a cliff top overlooking the bay. After taking a few photos, it's back into the car and home to Marahau. It's been a big day.

Day 6

Up early again for a walk to Stu's Lookout then back to Toppy's for a

Ruby Bay

hearty breakfast. Off to Nelson today. We always love the drive to Nelson (which takes about 1 hour from Marahau). You pass through fields and orchards, past local wineries, and of course, near Mapua, along the shores of Tasman Bay. We pull off the road at Ruby Bay to admire the view across to Nelson. Beautiful.

Nelson is a largish city, and when combined with the adjoining towns of Richmond and Stoke, has a population of 60,000 - 70,000. It's by far the largest city north of Christchurch, and has a great range of shops and things to do. And its location on the shores of Tasman Bay is spectacular. Once again, we see

Nelson's World of Wearable Arts

snowcapped peaks, the most notable being Mt Arthur. As we approach Nelson we pull off the road to admire Tahunanui beach. No surfing here, as the beach is protected from the open ocean, but its a popular swimming beach in summer. The drive along the waterfront into Nelson takes us past several waterfront restaurants, and a great fresh seafood store, which makes tasty fish and chips.

Nelson is a thriving artistic community and if you are into arts and crafts you will certainly feel at home. A popular tourist attraction is the World of Wearable Arts and Classic Car Museum.

We spend several hours wandering around the shops in Nelson, then head back to the waterfront for a lunch of fish and chips, which we eat on the wharf. We are treated to a visit from a large dolphin which frolics in the water just off the wharf. Then its back to Marahau.

Day 7

A quiet day today at Marahau.

Day 8

Today we say goodbye to Marahau. It's always sad for us to leave this beautiful place, and we highly recommend a visit if you come to New Zealand.

We leave Marahau around 9am and head off towards another favourite of ours, Punakaiki, on the wild West Coast.

Click on the following link to follow us on the rest of our trip...... Part 2.

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