Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Just off the coast is a huge underwater canyon system and its nutrient-rich waters attract Sperm whales all year round. Humpback whales and occasionally Blue whales can also be spotted as they pass through the area during their annual migration.
We pulled up at a lovely beachfront campsite and after watching the sunset, we fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. The next morning we headed into town and walked along Kaikoura’s peninsular walkway. There were some fantastic cliff top views and tons of seals lazing on the beaches below.
Instead of whale watching, we opted for the more interactive experience of swimming with wild Dusky dolphins. Dusky dolphins are one of the most acrobatic species of dolphins and they are very sociable; often swimming in large pods of up to 500 dolphins. To attract the dolphins’ attention we were told to dive down, swim around in circles and make strange noises. We might have looked and sounded a bit odd, but it seemed to do the trick! We were surrounded by tons of inquisitive dolphins and even spotted a couple of dolphins mating. It was an amazing experience and it seemed like the dolphins enjoyed the interaction too!
Once we were back on dry land, we walked along Ohau Stream to a small, picturesque waterfall that becomes a sanctuary for young seal pups in the winter months. The pups spend the day playing in the stream while their mothers are busy hunting for fish in the sea. It was well worth the 5 minute walk to watch the adorable pups splashing around and waddling over the rocks.
Next stop: Wellington, New Zealand
Abel Tasman National Park stretches from Tasman Bay to Golden Bay on the north coast of the South Island. We decided to explore the area by doing a 2 day self-guided kayak trip, spending the night in a hut on one of the secluded beaches. Aided with a map and a couple of flares (just in case we got into trouble) we paddled off into the distance.
We kayaked passed a few golden sand bays before we reached the northern tip of Adele Island. The island is home to a seal colony and we watched on as several young pups splashed around in the sea. The pups are definitely more playful and inquisitive than the adult seals who seem to prefer basking on top of the rocks. After getting our seal-fix, we kayaked back to the mainland and pulled up on one of the beaches for a quick lunch stop. We didn’t hang around for long though as a few pesky seagulls kept swooping in and trying to steal our dinner. After lunch, we kayaked further north along the lush coastline before we reached our hut at the beautiful Anchorage Bay.
We set off early the next morning, we were keen to make the most of our last day on the water and it wasn’t long before we spotted some unusual activity on the horizon. We quickly kayaked over to get a closer look and we were amazed to see a large pod of Bottlenose dolphins surrounding us. We couldn’t believe our luck; they swam so close to the kayak and often passed beneath us. It was incredible!
We kayaked alongside the dolphins up to Tonga Island Marine Reserve. I’d like to say they were trying to keep up with us, but it was definitely more the other way around. Two dolphins were particularly intrigued by the kayak (and gopro) and kept us company while we were lagging behind. At Tonga Island there were a few seal pups who swam along with the dolphins, occasionally they were flung into the air in what looked like a game of seal volleyball. I think the dolphins were definitely having the most fun at this point.
Just before we were due to head back to the mainland to catch our water taxi the dolphins treated us to a private acrobatic show. They were jumping out all over the place, doing tricks within meters of our kayak, and the more we cheered the higher they seemed to jump! It was an amazing way to end our kayaking adventure and it stands out as one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip.
Next stop: Kaikoura, New Zealand
Arthur’s Pass is a small alpine village that is nestled between the Southern Alps. The drive into town was particularly scenic, the road snakes its way through the valley and around the mountains before passing over the Otira viaduct. We stopped off at Devil’s Punchbowl, an impressive 430ft waterfall, before heading to camp for the night. This was one of the wildest campsites that we’ve stayed at so far and once night fell, we had a great view of the milky way and the starry night’s sky.
Camping in the wilderness
The next morning we scrambled our way up to Avalanche Peak. Once we had climbed out of the tree line and edged our way past a few sheer drop offs, we we surrounded by mountains and snow capped peaks. We had a quick lunch stop at the top, before heading back down the mountain and driving to the west coast. The walk took us around 4.5 hours in total, it was a tough climb, but it was definitely worth it for the views!
View from Avalanche Peak
On the west coast we visited a glowworm dell and Hokitika Gorge before driving north, along the tropical coastline, to Punakaiki. Punakaiki is a popular stop off due to the famous Pancake Rocks. These limestone formations have been heavily eroded, by the Tasman sea, for thousands of years and the layers now resemble huge stacks of pancakes. There were also some impressive blowholes along the walkway that kept us entertained for a while!
Next stop: Abel Tasman, New Zealand
Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers both descend from the Southern Alps and stretch for around 12km out to the coast (only 300m above sea level). After a brief stop off at the blue pools, we arrived in Fox Glacier town to a day of torrential rain. As the forecast was looking more promising for the following day, we decided to sit it out and wait for the rains to subside.
Thunder Creek Falls
We awoke early the next morning and started off with the terminal face walks to both Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers. For safety reasons you can only get within 200m and 750m of the terminal faces, unless you pay for a helicopter tour that is! Our next walk was the 1.5 hour circuit around Lake Matheson. This was a beautiful walk and we were really lucky to see the near perfect reflection of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman in the lake.
Franz Joseph Glacier
We finished the day off with a tough 5 hour trek to Robert’s viewpoint. The path took us over 4 long suspension bridges, crossed waterfalls and streams and involved lots of scrambling over slippery rock faces. It was our most challenging walk so far and probably the most fun too. From Robert’s viewpoint we had a great lookout over Franz Joseph Glacier. We walked for around 8 hours in total, it was a great day and our legs were certainly ready for a good rest afterwards!
Next stop: Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand
Wanaka is a charming lakeside town with plenty of activities on offer. It feels like a smaller, more relaxed version of Queenstown and was particularly beautiful when we visited in May as the autumn colours were really vivid. On the drive over from Oamaru we stopped off at the Elephant Rocks, which are huge boulders that featured in The Chronicles of Narnia films. It was fun spending half an hour or so scrambling and climbing up over the rocks.
In Wanaka we hiked up to Roy’s peak which was a really steep 5 hour walk. It was probably our toughest climb so far, but we had great views looking out over Lake Wanaka and the snow capped Mount Aspiring.
We also did some back country horse riding on Appaloosa (Native Indian) horses in the stunning Cardrona Valley. Neither of us have ridden much before, but we really enjoyed it and it’s and definitely something we’d like to do again!
Next stop: Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, 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.
Yellow Eyed Penguins
Nugget Point Lighthouse
Hooker’s Sea Lion
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!
The Lost Gypsy Gallery
The Quardagurgle – this makes the strangest sound!
An elaborate water wheel
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
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!
The drive to Milford Sound
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