The Catlins & Otago Peninsular, New Zealand

The Catlins Coast stretches from Invercargill to Balclutha. The rugged coastline and deserted beaches are home to a variety of marine life including the endangered yellow-eyed penguins, Hector dolphins and Hooker’s sea lions. We spent 4 days exploring the area and witnessing some of its wildlife.

My favourite sighting was spotting the adorable yellow-eyed penguins (the rarest breed of penguin) waddling ashore to their nests, whereas James preferred getting up close to the Hooker’s sea lions at Cannibal Bay.

We also visited the quirky Lost Gypsy Gallery which is filled with interactive (wind up and button pushing) creations. For example, there was a piano that was hooked up to various objects around the room, so playing a key would trigger anything from a whirring fan to chattering teeth. It was really good fun looking around and playing with all the amazing inventions!

Our last stop on the south east coast was at the Moeraki Boulders. These unusual but supposedly naturally formed boulders are almost perfectly spherical and range from 0.5 to whopping 2.2 meters high!

Next stop: Wanaka, New Zealand

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in New Zealand with a staggering 6,813mm annual rainfall (compared to a mere 594mm in London). After checking the weather forecast in Queenstown and realising we had a one day window of sunshine, we decided to push on and head for Milford Sound that afternoon.

We awoke the next morning to perfectly clear blue skies and thankfully managed to squeeze on to the early morning boat trip. We cruised through the fiord, passing several huge waterfalls and the majestic Mitre Peak, before reaching the Tasman sea. The fiord was carved by glaciers during the ice ages and is now home to an abundance of wildlife including seals, penguins, dolphins and even whales occasionally cruise the waters. Despite keeping our eyes pealed we didn’t spot any sea life, but the views more than made up for it!

In the afternoon we walked the 3 hour track to Key Summit. The path took us up through the forest to a picturesque little tarn that reflects the surrounding mountains. We also had a great view of Lake Marian, which we had hoped to walk to the next day, but true to the weather forecast the rains came and we decided to move on. We were very lucky to have seen Milford Sound on a beautifully clear day!

Next stop: The Catlins, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is well known for being the adventure capital of New Zealand. The beautiful alpine town offers everything from bungee jumping and paragliding to jet boat riding and also becomes a ski resort in the winter months. We were quite tempted by the 134m high Ben Nevis bungee jump, but decided to save our funds for another adventure later in the trip. Maybe next time!?

Whilst in Queenstown we hiked up the Ben Lomond track. We took the gondola up to the start of the track and after around 3 hours climbing we reached the summit and were rewarded with a panoramic view looking out over the lake and mountains. A perfect place to have a quick lunch stop and rest our tiring legs!

The following day we drove the scenic route from Queenstown to a little place called Paradise. As we weaved our way along the lake’s edge, we were constantly amazed by the views. This has to be one of our favourite drives so far!

Our camp that night was in a really remote spot about 11km (and 5 deep fords) down a gravel track past Paradise. We had hoped to get some food in when we passed through Glenorchy, but we soon discovered that their local store was more like a garden shed with a few cans of beans. Thankfully we had a few supplies left in the cupboard and didn’t go hungry!

Next stop: Milford Sound, New Zealand

Mount Cook, New Zealand

Mount Cook is the highest peak in New Zealand standing at 3,724m and is snow capped all year round. The drive to Mount Cook is spectacular; the snow capped peak and surrounding mountain ranges encompass the beautifully blue Lake Pukaki. It took us around 2 hours to drive from Lake Tekapo with multiple stops for photos!

We walked the popular Hooker Valley track which took us around 3 hours. We crossed over several suspension bridges, passing tarns and vantage points until we reached the ice cold Hooker Lake at the base of Mount Cook. We spent the night camping in a beautiful spot, surrounded by mountains, at the starting point of the trail.

The next morning we headed south towards Queenstown and stopped off briefly at the Clay Cliffs. The sharp pinnacles and ravines have been formed by the natural erosion of the gravel and silt layers. It makes for quite a dramatic landscape and although the weather was a little gloomy we had fun scrambling around these towering cliffs.

Next stop: Queenstown, New Zealand

Christchurch & Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

We were welcomed into New Zealand by the sound of sheep ‘baa’ing over the airport speakers and by some of the friendliest immigration staff I have ever encountered. We even had to pass a little quiz before we could get stamped into the country.. thankfully for me it was New Zealand ‘places to see’ not general knowledge.

Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island. In 2011 it was hit by an earthquake which caused 185 fatalities and severe damage to the city’s infrastructure. The city is still in the process of rebuilding itself and much of the city center still looks like a building site. There is a new shopping area called Re:START which had been built out of shipping containers. The shops were quite pricey, but I like the idea.

After picking up our campervan (and home for the next 2 months) we drove to Lake Tekapo. On the way we passed countless fields of sheep and a few alpacas and deer. The drive gradually became more scenic the further inland (and closer to the mountain ranges) we drove. Our campervan ‘Wendy’ is fully equipped with a small kitchen and bathroom so we can make the most of staying in the free campsites out in the countryside.

After around 3 hours driving we arrived at the dazzlingly blue Lake Tekapo. Lake Tekapo sits in New Zealand’s dark sky reserve which makes it an ideal place for star gazing. We took a 2 hour walk up to Mount John Observatory where we had a great view of the lake and were also able to look through some of the telescopes. We saw Venus and a sun spot that is larger than Earth.

We spent the night camping nearby at Lake McGregor which was a very peaceful setting with black swans gliding around the lake.

Next stop: Mount Cook, New Zealand

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is the most populated and cosmopolitan city in Australia and it certainly has a bit of a buzz about it. We aren’t exactly city lovers, but we couldn’t help but be impressed with the city’s skyline. The harbour is a hub of activity; the iconic Sydney Opera House is surrounded by fancy bars and restaurants filled with tourists and city workers alike. After exploring the harbour and walking across the imposing Sydney Harbour Bridge, we took to the shops to get ourselves some warmer clothes ready for autumn in New Zealand.

The city is surrounded by beaches and national parks so it isn’t hard to escape the hustle and bustle. We caught the train out to the Blue Mountains and walked some of the popular trails along sheer cliff edges, through the forest and down to the valley floor. There were some pretty spectacular viewpoints and waterfalls along the way too!

We also visited the famous Bondi Beach on a rather busy Sunday afternoon. The beach was jam packed, quite a contrast to the deserted beaches we found in the Philippines, but it was fun to sit and watch the surfers ride the waves. We walked along the coast, passing coves and quieter beaches, before reaching Coogee beach just before sunset.

Next stop: Christchurch, New Zealand

Anda, Philippines

Anda is a delightful small town on the island of Bohol and despite being relatively undiscovered by tourists it has some of the most stunning white beaches i have ever seen. It felt like we had found a hidden gem and I have no doubt that Anda will have a tourism boom in the next few years. We arrived after taking a rather bumpy boat ride from Oslob to Bohol and then catching the public bus to Anda. There are no bus stops here, instead the bus stops whenever and wherever there are passengers. Consequently the bus stops every few minutes.. we stopped twice before we had even left the bus station complex!

We stayed at 1Peace Beach Resort which was a few minutes out of town but had a beautiful, almost private, beach. This is one of the best places we have stayed on our trip. We spent the days lazing on the beach, playing on the slackline and kayaking down the coast. At night there was a communal meal which was a great way to meet other travellers and it was usually followed by an impressive fire show (we even had a go too!)

Whilst in Anda we hired a scooter to explore the surround area. We visited Can-umantad waterfall and Bohol’s main attraction; the Chocolate Hills. There are over 1,200 mound shaped hills scattered along the horizon and they turn a chocolatey brown colour during the dry season (hence the name). The hills make quite an unusual view and it’s hard to imagine how they were formed naturally, it is still disputed by geologists.

Next stop: Sydney, Australia