Honeymoon pt 2: New Zealand – Welcome to the South Island

When Sophie and I sat down to discuss our honeymoon plans, it was pretty easy to decide where we wanted to go. We both wanted New Zealand. Being adventurers at heart, we couldn’t have picked a farther destination to travel to from London, UK. In between, we just filled in the locations to connect the cities and it just happened to take us all the way around the world.

For New Zealand, we agreed that the best way to travel around would be by camper van. This was music to my ears, my ultimate dream honeymoon and Sophie suggested it. So in true Sophie fashion, she conducted weeks of research to decide on the absolute best company to hire a van from. Our choice? Wilderness Motorhomes. When we called to book, we were offered an exceptional rate to drive the van from the South Island to the North Island instead of our original plan. So we took the deal and re-routed our flights into Christchurch.

Our arrival into Christchurch was well after midnight, but the owner of the Belmont B&B picked us up and brought us back to his lovely Edwardian style villa for a much needed rest. The wide variety of fruit and breakfast options in the morning only added to the warm welcome into the country.

Walking across the street, we arrived at the Wilderness Motorhome depot and were greeted with “Welcome Sophie and Jason” written on a sign by the door, much to the delight of Sophie. We checked in, collected some contact info, signed some papers and then got into our home for the next month.

Once inside, we were ecstatic to find that our van was fully equipped with all the necessities including gas stove, mini fridge, sink, all kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies, storage compartments for clothes, power outlets, all bedding supplies and a heater (very important).

Sophie and I drove to a nearby shopping center to stock up on groceries and any remaining supplies needed for the month. We also picked up a sim card and some credit for the local Telecom service to ensure we had a usable mobile phone for calls, text and, more importantly, data. One thing was missing for Sophie though. She insisted on a welcome mat for the van. The price was $20 here, so we settled on allowing a $10 budget for such a valuable purchase. Needless to say, no welcome mat was obtained on the first day.

We decided to eat out on our first night in the van, settling for Leinster Road Bistro – a great choice. Somewhere during our conversation with the staff they discovered that we were on our honeymoon so, at the end, they brought out our chocolate lava cake with chocolate hearts surrounding it. All filled with love, we checked into our holiday park campsite and retired for the night. With a flick of a switch, our back seat automatically folded down into a full futon bed.

The next morning, we made use of the holiday park’s laundry facilities for a much needed wash (after a week in humid Hong Kong and Macau) and then visited The Antarctic Centre. We saw penguins, learned about the great southern continent and experienced an Antarctic blizzard. This was the closest I’ll get to Antarctica, so I was soaking in every bit of the below freezing temperature winds that I could. Sophie mainly stayed sheltered during the storm.

We next headed to the city center to check out Christchurch. And while we were not expecting much in terms of tourist sites (following the devastating earthquakes in 2011 and 2010), we were not prepared for seeing what little had remained. The entire city center was a construction zone with virtually every lot fenced off and most roads closed. Detour signs led us circling around what used to be the Christchurch Cathedral while our GPS went crazy. It was a sad sight, but locals seemed to be positive about the outlook as they wait for the rebuilding of a new and improved city. A great attitude to have.

Without much to see in the city, Sophie turned to her trusty guidebooks: Eyewitness Travel Guide to New Zealand given to us by our friend Jess and The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook lent to us by our token friend from New Zealand, Graham. Sophie chose to open the Lord of The Rings book first.

To pay tribute to our kiwi mate, we decided to name our van after him but spelled Graeme instead. We’re sure he’d appreciate the gesture.

We drove towards the center of the South Island and reached Mount Somers just before the sun went down. Now that we were close to the mountains, the temperature was quickly dropping and heating was definitely required. Our electrical cord was plugged in, one end into the van and the other end into the power outlet that came with the camp spot. As I turned on the propane and boiled 2 cans of tomato soup over our mini two-range stove, Sophie put together our table and arranged the utensils. The dinner was warm and delicious.

We washed our 2 bowls and 1 pan over our little sink and then turned on our little heater. It worked surprisingly well. To keep the insulation in, Sophie put up the curtains for the windows and we were ready for a cozy night, planning the route for our next few days. It became apparent that the Lord of the Rings location guide was going to get a lot of use on this trip. I hadn’t even seen the movies before. So to familiarize myself with the scenery, we began downloading the first of the extended versions of the popular trilogy, as there was high speed wifi available at this place.

Our first stop on the Lord of the Rings tour was Mt Potts. The narrow gravel roads took us to a unique rocky hill that was surrounded by mountains in all directions. This was the site of Edoras. Sophie was jumping for joy. An hour of hiking through sheep and cattle took us to the summit of what had little resemblance of a movie set. The air was fresh up here. Not that it wasn’t fresh down below. In fact, the New Zealand air has been a treat after we struggled through the smog in Asia. We had a peaceful picnic atop of Edoras, while Sophie pretended to be the Princess of Rohan. The panoramic view was pretty amazing up here.

Just down the road from Edoras, we stopped in at the Mt Potts lodge for a nice pint of a local dark ale to accompany our introduction to kumara fries, or the kiwi version of sweet potato fries. We were hooked. The ensuing drive was meant to be very scenic but, as the clouds rolled in, the weather took a turn for the worse. However, the nice aftertaste of kumara fries kept us going until the town of Fairlie. We pulled into a campground and plugged in. They had fresh herbs growing in their garden for us to use in our spaghetti.

There was also free high speed internet again here, so we finished our downloads of the remaining two movies in the series. At the same time, we began the first film. I had to admit, the story was quite compelling and I was getting hooked. When Edoras appeared, Sophie paused it and started comparing the image in the movie with the image on her camera. We stopped for the night an hour in to break up the marathon into smaller segments.

The cloudy and foggy weather continued the next day and prevented us of the breathtaking views of Lake Tekapo that we were hoping for. Instead we made our way toward the East coast and down to a very scenic holiday park in Moeraki Village.

We continued down the coast to Dunedin. And although the skies were clear, the winds were strong and cold, so our walk around the many Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the city were stopped short. But the visit was not without success for one of us. At the local Pak N Save store, Sophie miraculously found what she had been looking for all trip: a welcome mat for $9.99. I couldn’t refuse as it was within the budget I set. So with our latest addition, the van was complete.

Our drive through the rain storm brought us into Nugget Point, where we pulled into Hillview Campsite. At $5 a person per night, it was by far the most cost efficient holiday park we stayed at in New Zealand. Most of the campsites had nice facilities that we never used. We were content to be in the van the whole time. All we really needed was a power supply to plug into, so that we can watch our Lord of the Rings movies and have the heater running all night. So this campsite was perfect. It was, in fact, a farm and the backyard of a residential house. There were chickens and sheep running around and we were basically the only ones around.

There was even free wifi connection. Which we needed. We had been away from London for 2 weeks now and some of our clients were requiring some additional work on a project, so we figured we would spend some evenings working from the van after sightseeing during the day. The wifi connection was not the strongest here though. But to stabilize it, Sophie set up a tethering network from her phone using the data plan. So here we were in the middle of a farm at the southern most part of New Zealand, kilometers away from the nearest people (other than the owners of the house), and we were working away on our laptops through an internet connection on the phone. It’s amazing how technology can be.

We had so much work to catch up on that we spent another day and night at the farm just relaxing while working for our clients on the other side of the world. We also wanted to wait out the bad weather as the pattern of rain day, clear day and then back to rain day was holding true so far in New Zealand.

With a major submission for our clients sent off and the Fellowship of the Ring finished, we had come to the end of our first week in New Zealand. We were loving our time here so much that we asked for an extension on the van rental and rescheduled our flight out. This was the life.

Continue to the next honeymoon post Honeymoon pt 3 New Zealand >>

Video

Here is the first part of some footage we captured while vanning around the South Island.

Photos

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