Without a premeditated plan in place, we decided to head south to the Catlins for a few days to get off the beaten track. There is a scenic coastal route that takes you through farmlands, beaches, bays and forests. The roads are steep, narrow and mostly unpaved but they lead to views that are totally worth a look. We stopped at two lighthouses along the way, walked around the southern most point of the South Island and caught glimpses of the yellow-eyed penguin (the rarest penguin in the world). Even the free campsites in the Catlins had great views. We backed in to our ocean front view complete with coastal cliffs and sunbathing sea lions. The next day we drove up to Nugget Point. Deep blue skies and aqua water against black rocky shores, bright green foliage and golden sand…the Catlins are just so colorful! We found the drive to be much prettier than our trip down New Zealand’s West Coast (and without the tourists, too!). As we made our way from the Catlins to Queenstown, we passed a few incredibly blue lakes. I’m telling ya, New Zealand knows how to show off some scenery even when you’re just passing by. Our time in Queenstown was pretty uneventful. We treated ourselves to a holiday park not far from the center of town so we could shower, catch up on laundry and figure out a game plan for our remaining time in New Zealand. We managed to find a few hours to walk downtown. The downtown area is set right on the lakefront surrounded by mountains…it’s lovely.The next morning, we drove out of Queenstown. As we started towards our next destination, we passed a bungee jumping operator off the side of the road. We made it another 10 kilometers before I pulled the campervan over to turnaround. It took all of five minutes to pay before I was out on the ledge of the bridge. Chris decided to sit this one out but played photographer and videographer for me. When the young man fastening my harness asked if I’d like to get dipped in the river, I told him I preferred not to get wet (I had my first shower in several days just a few hours before). If he could swing it, I would be up for touching the water with my hands. I think my exact response was a “river manicure.” He must not know what a manicure is because I was definitely dunked into the river up to my waist. A big thank you to Mary, Erica and Stephanie Purucker for the bungee jumping honeyfund! Queenstown is known for adventure and adrenaline activities. As a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, I couldn’t bear the thought of visiting the adventure-capital of New Zealand without a quick adrenaline fix – so thank you so much for the experience! Fun fact: my last second decision landed us at the “home” of bungee jumping. The first bungee ever done was off the bridge I jumped off in 1988.
Back in the car (more soaked than anticipated), we continued on to Mt. Cook National Park. As we started to approach the mountain range, we came across Lake Pukaki. I honestly don’t know which was more blue…the sky or the lake. That evening, we watched the sun set over the mountains. We camped under Mt. Sefton and listened to the roar and crash of avalanches coming down the mountain. This was one of Chris’ favorite campsites so far. The next day, we walked down one of the hiking trails to catch views of Mt. Cook and the surrounding areas. Mt Cook. is the tallest peak in Australasia and the views were great but we didn’t last long under the hot sun. Back on our way up north, we drove through beautiful outcroppings on our way through Arthur’s Pass and camped at a free site right on the lake. Our plan for the next morning was to go on a five hour hike, but after searching for the trail head for twenty minutes, we started to get frustrated and overheated from the hot sun so we gave up.After cooling down by the river for a couple of hours, we decided to keep driving. We grabbed some cold beers and decided to make a nice dinner (chicken stir-fry, yummo-o!) at our next campsite.The northwest coast is one of our final destinations on the South Island, specifically Abel Tasman. Everyone raves about the beaches at Abel Tasman and we were anxious to check it out for ourselves. Out of all of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coastal Track is known to be one of the most beautiful and also the easiest. Our intention was to do part, if not all of the track which is 51k long, but once we stopped at the information booth we became overwhelmed with options. We decided to forego the walk completely and opted to spend the day lounging on the beach instead. We parked our camper at the beginning of the trail where all of the trekkers were getting ready to leave. As they prepared their backpacks with the food and camping gear for the next few days, we walked past them in flip flops with our beach chairs and picnic lunch in tow. We were happy with our decision. The water was warm, clear and beautiful and we managed to find a private area of beach to call our own for the day. The Abel Tasman coast, even the small portion we saw, was well worth the visit. We can’t believe how quickly the time is passing. We have little over a week before we fly out of New Zealand so we’re slowly making our way back to Auckland for our flight. We still have Marlborough wine region and the North Island to explore before our itinerary is complete. We are trying to enjoy every last minute of this beautiful and breathtaking country!