Our second week in New Zealand saw us in the southern most part of the South Island, and with it we were blooming cold. The greatest downfall of the Jucy that we've found so far is how short the duvet is, our feet always end up getting pretty cold at night as we pull the duvet up in the colder parts of New Zealand to get warm faces. But hey, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger – particularly the skin on the bottom of your feet from getting cold!
As we left the yellow-eyed penguins behind in Curio Bay, we drove on to Riverton. Our route to Riverton included going through Invercargill, which if you look on Google Maps looks pretty big as it is named pretty early on when you're zoomed out!
As I drove up to Invercargill and parked in the 'centre', we were surprised at just how dead it seemed to be. We read on a pretty old poster (but we've had our facts recently confirmed by a New Zealander and Wikipedia) that New Zealand has the same land area as the UK but has a population half that of London, and tourists double that population. Therefore wherever you drive in New Zealand it is pretty quiet and you look around for all the people. However, Invercargill surprised us more than anywhere else. The buildings and roads were all there, there were even traffic lights (which are a rarity). But the population seemed to be non-existent. Oh well, we looked around for hats anyway which Josh was successful at and I would just have to carry on my search elsewhere.
After Invercargill we carried on our drive to Riverton and pulled up at a campsite that was described as a holiday park, most holiday parks we've visited in our stay are large complexes. However, this one was very different. It seemed to be based around an old village hall which had games, a TV, a record player and a small museum collection in it. We were shown to our site for the night which had a view over the bay and was surrounded by hedges and there seemed to only be 15 or so sites. We knew we'd scored lucky!
As the weather was a bit windy and cold we spent most of our time in the old village hall, Josh found the record player and put on a 'Best of the 40s/50s/60s' record which had some of my old favourites from ballroom dancing on it so we both had a little dance around the hall. We also played pool (somehow I ended up smacking the cue in my face), darts, table tennis and had a look at the puzzle but gave up as it seemed there were quite a few pieces missing.
The following morning we peeled ourselves out of the cold bed and Josh drove us to Mossburn. The campsite we were hoping to stay in didn't accept check-ins until 2pm so he carried on driving and found a scenic picnic spot, which is probably one of our favourite activities whilst in a camper van – finding cool places to pull up and just be.
When it came to check-in time we headed back to the campsite where we were given animal feed. We excitedly headed off to the field of alpacas we'd seen as we drove in, it was nice to feel like children again getting excited about hand feeding the animals. There was a goat in the field who turned out to be a bit huffy, but the alpacas were super cute and gentle.
That evening whilst I was trying to find myself some warmth under the duvet, Josh stood outside the camper and took some epic photos of the night sky [This was a bad idea to do in sandals, it took quite a while for me to feel my feet again. But I think the results were worth getting a bit cold! – Josh].
Another stop that I was keen to make on our trip was Manapouri, I knew there was a large lake there that looked beautiful and a campsite that had seen pretty good reviews. So in the morning we hauled ourselves off to Manapouri. Again, our main activity for the day was pulling our Jucy camper van up to Manapouri Lake at lunchtime to chill, blog, read and eat lunch. It felt like our own little area of bliss.
We then headed off to our next campsite which had proper bathrooms (as in 5 separate rooms that had a shower, sink and toilet in each and was kitted out like one you'd have in your own house!). Amazing. Surprisingly that night we were warm and woke up to a beautiful sunrise with mountains surrounding us. We decided to head off early in the morning in order to complete a drive to Milford Sound (somewhere that we'd seen a lot of brochures for but didn't want to fork out for an organised trip).
Josh kindly did the driving along the mountain roads that often had sheer drops off the side and very little in terms of barriers keeping vehicles on the road. It was also where we saw rock fall warning signs that were actually needed, as it was clear that rock falls had recently occurred and were still being cleared even as we drove along. The road there was spectacular, along the 2.5 hour road we made a lot of stops to take it all in and for Josh to take photos of the Mirror Lakes, The Chasm and other sites that were visually stunning but didn't have specific names.
One particular part of the road went through a tunnel that was bare rock on the inside which was started being made in 1939, it was narrow enough that only one lane of traffic could go through. I was appreciative that neither of us suffers from claustrophobia!
Once we finally arrived at Milford Sound Josh was struck by how similar it appeared to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and made a comment to me as we were entering the cafe, to which a passing lady said 'Me too!' and then apologised for listening to our conversation. As our spending so far in New Zealand had been pretty low we treated ourselves to lunch in the cafe as well as a cake to share (I don't know what's happened to me, I would have been horrified at the idea of sharing a cake before travelling!).
After exploring Milford Sound for a little during the rain, we decided to turn around and head back to the village between Manapouri and Milford Sound called Te Anau.
We didn't stay in Te Anau for long, just the night. We'd planned on doing a walk in the area the next morning but the rain and cold weather stopped us. We then had a backup plan of playing mini golf, but the course was being mowed and the owner made no inclination as to when we'd be able to play. So we browsed the shops, (got myself a hat finally!) and then headed off to Queenstown.
Our drive to Queenstown was another picturesque drive and when we arrived in Queenstown we were greeted with more picturesque views.
Queenstown seemed like our idea of a perfect town – surrounded by mountains, lakes and nature and not too busy. We arrived at a campsite that we knew to have very few unpowered sites but was meant to be the nicest one in Queenstown, we kept our fingers crossed and managed to get two nights booked!
Once we'd set up in our campsite which looked like a glorified carpark but had lovely bathrooms we headed out into the town centre for a wander. It was full of adventure experience shops, lots of restaurants and individual shops. We then walked around the park where we saw strange looking metal cages that turned out to be frisbee golf sites, I decided I'd look into it and see if we could play.
The next day we booked on to go up the Skyline Gondola and have a go on the luge. We waited patiently in line for the gondola, wrapped up in all our layers as we were used to being cold. However we soon got quite warm and ended up removing the majority of them. At the top of the gondola we exited and spent some time at the viewing point looking around before making our way to the luge.
At the luge we donned our helmets, stowed our layers away in a locker and then headed up a chairlift to the start. As we got in the luge cars and quickly went through the process of learning how to control them I already knew that Josh would be zooming off pretty soon and leaving me far behind.
As soon as we were given the go ahead off we went on the beginners route and sure enough Josh was off like a rocket! I was a bit more cautious around the corners as my helmet was too big and kept rolling around, although I probably would have been fine. It was a lot of fun whizzing down the mountain in our luge cars! As I got out at the bottom I saw Josh standing around waiting to go up again, knowing that he wanted to go faster. So off we went twice more on rides on the 'experienced' track which had a few more tighter turns, both times I was flagging behind but still having fun.
As we finished our last run the mountain was getting busier with people doing all the available activities, including mountain biking. I wondered how long it would be until Josh mentioned he wanted a go. I didn't have to wait long! After we'd got back and had lunch Josh had researched renting a mountain bike for the next day and we decided to stay another night in Queenstown so that he could fully enjoy the day.
After lunch we went and rented frisbees from an activity shop and played the full '18 holes' of frisbee golf in Queenstown park. I was super bad to begin with, not helped by the fact that the first holes were at the top of a slope going directly into the water! I was constantly having to run downhill after my frisbee while praying it would stop before the water. Unsurprisingly, Josh won the game [I can't really claim that I won as such, just that I was less bad than Nikki. We were both pretty shit – Josh].
The next day Josh and I headed off into the town at mid morning, as we got to the centre we headed in two directions – him to the mountain bike shop that he'd rented a bike from and me in the direction of fudge and hot chocolate. (Josh will be doing a separate blog post about his mountain biking experience.) I spent the morning browsing the shops of Queenstown, doing free fudge tasting and then buying some (I thought it would be rude not to) and then to a chocolate shop where I sat reading with a hot chocolate. Whilst I was reading I felt a little hand pat my knee… I jumped with surprise and then saw a little face belonging to a Chinese toddler beaming up at me. I smiled and waved and hoped her parents knew where she was. As I looked around for her parents they started to apologise and I waved them off to say it was absolutely fine. So I spent the rest of my time in the chocolate shop playing pat-a-cake with a small child, making silly faces and then realising it was time to meet with Josh for lunch.
We had some amazing pies for lunch, I listened to his mountain biking stories and then we went separate ways again so he could continue throwing himself down a mountain. In the afternoon I headed towards 'The Bead Shop'. Whilst there I got chatting to the English lady behind the till who was the same age as me, she showed me an area of the shop where you could sit and make your own jewellery from any of the beads in the shop. So there I sat for the next two hours making three bracelets, chatting about jewellery making, sewing and travelling. It was a little moment of bliss and I was glad to have had the experience.
I then headed off to find Josh after he gave his bike back, we treated ourselves to fish and chips on the lake before heading back to our camper for the last night before heading off to the place we'd seen all over Instagram – Wanaka.
We really enjoyed our time in the south of the South Island, it offered many picturesque views during our drives. We'd never seen views like the ones we saw at Milford Sound or seen a town like Queenstown. Each day we saw something beautiful and it always felt like we'd not even seen all the beauty it had to offer. However, New Zealand still had a lot more to offer and we only had two weeks left!