A short drive around the South Island

This is a combination blog. As such we will need to colour code. Vicki will be purple. Rich will be this red colour. Good luck keeping track…I will add switch over clues to help.

[Vicki] Actually, it turns out, it won’t be such a short drive. Whilst planning our trip, we didn’t really appreciate the distances involved, and so we will end up with some fairly big driving days – never mind, I’ve heard the scenery is quite impressive!

Thursday 5th March – Queenstown to Franz Josef

Whilst sitting watching the sunset the previous evening, it had occurred to us that due to the time difference,when we were picking up the car in the morning, many of 26.2 rrc would be getting ready to run the monthly handicap race. Given that we had wanted to fit in a run, it seemed quite fitting to do it at the same time. I have to say that running along the edge of lake Wakatipu as the sun came up was infinitely more enjoyable than 2 laps around Berrylands. However, at the end of the run we found ourselves running alongside a state highway (an NZ equivalent of a motor way – still only 2 lanes wide) and then through industrial estates. We really felt that we had then got to see bits of Queenstown that most tourists don’t. 

Car and bags collected we headed out of Queenstown towards our end point for the day – the Franz Josef Glacier.

[Rich] The first leg of the drive was to Lake Wanaka. As we left Queenstown we soon found ourselves on a very steep and windy road. This didn’t fill Vicki with confidence for the several days of driving ahead as she isn’t a fan of roads like this, especially not the way that I drive them. There was nothing to worry about though as this only lasted for a few miles and was by far the worst section of the drive. From then on it was highway passing between lakes and through forests. The only thing we needed to worry about was getting stuck behind campervans. You don’t want a Wicked or Jucy van spoiling your view.

After a lunch stop (pies and sandwiches from Wanaka eaten by the lake), Vicki took a turn at driving. She took us through Mount Aspiring National Park. I am currently getting her to work on her scenic driving as on several occasions she failed to stop at lookouts or passed by car parks to interesting features. Often we would end up a few hundred metres past them as she hadn’t noticed them straight away (Vicki – or Rich hadn’t decided if he wanted to stop until we had passed them!). Fortunately we got back to all the key ones, a particular highlight were the Blue Pools. Although the sand-fly were biting it was still worth the walk down to see them.


As we left the national park it started to rain and I took over driving. We did a fairly long run up to the Glacier region with no stops, partly because it was raining but also as there didn’t seem to be anything worth stopping for. The drive was still scenic but partially obscured by the rain.

We made it to Fox Glacier as the rain was beginning to die off. Seeing a road advertising a glacier view we followed it. Unfortunately all we could see was cloud so really not worth the detour. Returning to the Fox Glacier village we considered our options. We could go straight to Franz Josef but we really wanted to see a glacier since we had come this far. As the weather was steadily improving we decided to give Fox another chance and headed to the car park to walk to the base. We figured we would at least see what the visibility was like and try and get a glimpse of the glacier. We were very glad we did as it stopped raining entirely and cleared just in time for us. A walk up the hill gave us great views of the glacier now the cloud had dissipated.


In recent years our views of glaciers have been while skiing over them. Seeing the glacier in summer was a very different experience as you can see how it is melting away and the valley that it is carving through. There were options to take trips onto the glacier however we were happy having been able to see this one so passed on the expensive glacier walking options available.

[Vicki] Having legged it down from the glacier, we made it to our accommodation just in time to squeeze in a dip at the Hot Springs in Franz Josef – there are 3 pools, at 36c, 38c and 40c and at twilight, we almost had them to ourselves. I found the 36 and 38c both very comfortable,but the 40c a little too warm, but Rich was happy to float around the 36c and after an initial dip avoided the other 2. It was very strange to be sitting in basically a large jacuzzi without bubbles, but it was a lovely end to the day.

Friday 6th March – Franz Josef to Christchurch

When we arrived at our accommodation the night before, the man at reception had mentioned (quite cheerily) that he was expecting ‘rain like you have never seen’ over the next couple of days. Given our experience in Brisbane we didn’t think this would be true however the thought didn’t exactly fill us with joy. When we woke up to heavy rain, we decided to hightail it over to the other side of the island. Apparently if it is raining on the west, it is unlikely to be raining on the east, and so that guided our decision to drive to Christchurch. Well, that and the fact that they have a parkrun.

Destination decided, we set off, and made our first stop of the day in a little seaside town called Hokitika. It was still raining, and so we decided that the only thing to do was to go inside somewhere – the choice here was the Sock Museum, or the National Kiwi Centre. The Kiwi centre didn’t just offer Kiwis (in fact, there were only 2), there were also captive Eels, some up to 100 years old. Luckily, we had arrived just at feeding time and so got to watch a mass of Eels being fed. For someone who is snake averse, when the offer to feed the Eels was made, Rich was straight in there (however, he did decline the offer to stroke one). Apparently they are an endangered species, but as they are not cute and cuddly like to Kiwi there is less support for their protection. I thought they weren’t as ugly close us, and surprisingly gentle when taking the food from you, but I can see why people would choose a Kiwi over an Eel to protect.


The Kiwis were definitely shyer than the Eels – the fact that they are nocturnal doesn’t help with the viewing but combined with their aversion to noise and people, meant that they were mostly content to hide at the back of their enclosure. The female did dart out for some food, and I have to say, they are very cute – little balls of fluff (apparently their feathers are more like fur) that trot about, with a huge pointy beak.

The final attraction at the National Kiwi Centre was Crayfish (nope, we had no idea why either). In particular, you could fish for your own crayfish, as long as you put them back afterwards (rather than taking them for your lunch). The staff had left some meat on table, and in a similar way to crabbing, you had to dangle it in the water and wait for a bite. However, these were smart Crayfish. As soon as they felt you tugging on the piece of meat they had started to nibble, they would let go. We assume that they had learnt that moving meat means a trip in a net and a bucket, and wanted to avoid this. However, we did eventually catch one, much to the excitement of the German family that was also trying. Mission accomplished, we left them to take photos and throw our little friend back.

All the fishing and seafood had made us hungry, and as the thing to eat in the area is Whitebait patties, we opted to pick up some lunch and have a picnic on the beach (well, in the car, as it was pretty chilly and still threatening to rain). I have to say Rich’s Whitebait Pattie Sandwich did not look appealing, but I am assured it tasted good.


[Rich] As we drove on from Hokita it was raining off and on. This was not ideal as we were about to drive along the scenic road through Arthurs Pass. There isn’t much point doing a scenic drive if you can’t see it due to clouds and rain. Fortunately the weather gods smiled on us again and as we arrived at the pass the weather cleared. As we admired the rainforest along the road we even found a friendly Kea (the alpine parrot) and were pleased to check this off our list of sights to see.


Further along the pass the landscape and weather changed dramatically. Passing through the high mountains trapped the rain that had been following us. This is a regular occurrence as we went from rain forest to much drier grassy plains along a river that was far from full flow. The contrast between the scenery at the two ends of the pass was huge and the change happens extremely quickly. We weren’t complaining though as it meant we had left the rain behind us.


Completing our drive we arrived in Christchurch. When we got there we wondered where everyone was. It had been a struggle to find a hotel (we ended up in a central hotel where we would rather have been in a Motel) but when we got into the city it was not the large number of visitors that made finding rooms hard, it was the lack of hotels. Since the earthquakes in 2010/2011 the city has been devastated. There are many free car parks in the centre which are empty lots that were former buildings. Shops have been destroyed and replaced with container crates forming makeshift bars, restaurants and shopping malls. Wandering around a city centre on a Friday night you would expect to see many people however there were not. It was almost desserted. The earthquakes really did take their toll which you can only really appreciate when you see it.


We did manage to find food in a pop up market (since there are few restaurants left) and then life in a container bar and on one of the few remaining retail streets. While you can see the damage easily, you have to search a little harder to find the revival that is underway. Once you find it though you can see the spirit of the locals has not been broken and we look forwards to seeing how the city will be reborn in the future.

Saturday 7th March – Christchurch to Nelson

[Vicki] Being Saturday, it was of course, parkrunday. This time a lovely figure of eight loop around the central park in Christchurch. We did very well posting our best times since last October. Clearly being on holiday is not taking too much of a toll. The run was followed by coffee and a chat with some of the runners, including a lovely chap called Dan, who had knocked over 10 minutes off his time in 11 appearances.

We left Christchurch quite content, and ready for another day behind the wheel. It was always going to be a long day of driving, but with bad weather pretty much all the way from Christchurch to Nelson (around 400km) we were pretty tired when we arrived into Nelson, a pretty little town at the centre of the craft beer and wine making areas of New Zealand (and incidentally, the place where the Lord of the Rings ‘One Ring’ was made).

As a treat for driving through all the bad weather, we headed out for a nice dinner. Hopgoods provided us with lovely food (more fab steak) and a lovely bottle of wine, which went down very nicely and meant that we were more than ready to hit the hay when we got back to our motel.

Sunday 8th March – Abel Tasman National Park

[Rich] No serious driving today as we have reached the top of the South Island. Instead we did a short drive to Kaiteriteri beach on the edge of the Abel Tasman national park. Here there were many different options for what to do, sea kayaking, boat trips into the national park or just relaxing on the beach. We decided to go for a trip into the park by boat. It would have been good to kayak in however having arrived late in the day after a leisurely start we didn’t have enough time for this, and having kayak’ed a few days ago, we didn’t feel we were missing out too much.

We cruised in to the park instead aboard the Sea Shuttle, seeing a few fur seals on the way. Along the coast of the park are sandy beaches in coves along a more rugged yet extremely green coast line. The water in the coves was spectacularly blue and very inviting. It turned out when we went in later that is was very refreshing (read cold) but a welcome dip on a warm sunny day. While in the park we took time out to take a walk into the woods and see some viewpoints. At a secluded bay I found some rocks to clamber onto and promptly fell off. With a wet foot and scratches on my leg Vicki was disappointed that she couldn’t say I told you so as for once she had not warned me off these rocks.


Rich on the rocks, soon to be in the water.

From Abel Tasman to Nelson is a cycle/tasting trail. The idea is you ride along and sample the local delights over several days. Not having bikes didn’t stop us and one the way home we stopped for a brewery tasting and fresh cherry ice cream. After an afternoon toasting in the sun, both were very welcome.

Our evening back in Nelson started with a run to the centre of New Zealand. This is a monument and lookout at the geographical centre of NZ. We didn’t consider that it being a lookout would mean it would be up hill. We soon found it was a serious hill too as we struggled up for over 1km of paths to the top. We recovered back in our suite hotel with our first proper home cooked meal of the trip (seafood pasta) which was a welcome change from eating out and allowed me to get stuck into my session IPA that I got from the brewery.

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