When we arrived in New Zealand, we had close to no plans. That is so unlike me. I love plans. Planning is my favorite. But trying to plan 12 months would just be insane. We knew we were going to be in New Zealand for the foreseeable future and wanted to buy a camper van to tour the country. With 7 months until our only confirmed housesit we had infinite options (although since being in New Zealand we have acquired another housesit. Yay!).
All we knew was that we wanted to get to the South Island as quickly as possible to spend as much time there as we could. It is unlikely that we’ll be returning after we begin house sitting on the North Island. Unfortunately it took us quite a bit longer than expected to get all our shit sorted. We were left with just 3 months to explore the South.
How it came together.
Initially, we were going to make our way slowly around the island in a clockwise route. Beginning in Picton, it was working out well. We moved on to Blenheim, then Kaikoura and found ourselves in Christchurch. We took a mini-break to Australia so I could attend a conference, and that is where I left you last.
From Christchurch we headed to Dunedin, where we spent a bit of time just enjoying the chilled out vibe of this University town. Am I the only person who feels younger when surrounded by college kids? Seriously, its better than a good night’s sleep and a massive cup of coffee.
Anyway, around this time is when J’s parents confirmed travel dates to come and visit us. For two weeks we’d need to up our game. We’ve been what you call “traveling” at a glacial pace. It saves us money and we get to experience daily life in all these awesome places. But when traveling 30 odd hours each way to spend a fortnight, the pace needs to be a bit hastier.
Unexpected time crunch.
Have I mentioned that I love travel planning? Well, I do. And here was a fantastic opportunity for me to dive head first into researching full stop. I devised what I believed to be a relatively leisurely route circumnavigating some of the best spots on the South Island over the course of two weeks. We’d hit Queenstown, Mt. Cook, the Otago Peninsula and of course Fiordland National Park. To my utter dismay, however, the absolute best thing to do there, according to my many resources, would be shutting down for the Winter just as my in-laws were arriving!
That simply wouldn’t suffice. Jason and I didn’t want to miss out on such an awesome experience just because the timing didn’t allow for it to fit into our Howell extravaganza itinerary. With just a week before their arrival, we said screw it and drove across the island (it was only 3.5 hours) to hitch on the next available overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound.
Some background on Fiordland National Park.
Milford and Doubtful Sounds are the main drawcards for this region of New Zealand. While they are “sounds” in their proper names, they are, in fact, fiords. Or fjords, if you’re in Scandinavia. The “sound” names have been retained for historical reasons.
Being from the Southeastern United States, where these things don’t exist, I had to ask what the difference is between them. Both are geographic inlets, however sounds have been carved out by rivers and fiords by glaciers. And the geography lesson doesn’t end there! The majority of the Southwestern tip of New Zealand is comprised of Fiordland National Park, a 12,500km2 park, the largest of all of New Zealand’s national parks. That is roughly 4 times the size of Rhode Island. So, yeah, its a pretty big park.
And, if you have seen the newest installment of Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, Alien Covenant, you would definitely recognize this area. They used Milford Sound as the filming location for where the craft lands on the planet previously inhabited by the Engineers. Cinephile speak over.
The weirdest night in New Zealand.
We arrived to a ghost town. Seriously, we were the only people at the holiday park. Made exceptionally more creepy by the presence of looming Shining-esque shrubbery everywhere you looked.
It was actually a very nice holiday park, although one of the proprietors was a bit abrasive.
Later in the evening when I was working on my laptop and charging my phone one of the owners angrily “assured” me that the USB outlets in the wall were expensive to install and that they were of equal quality to ones found on airplanes (what does that mean?) and that she didn’t understand why no one uses them and she might as well call the electrician over and have him replace them with regular plugs. I mostly just sat there and kept my mouth shut, confused hoping she would walk away. Eventually she did.
Completely lacking groceries and starving, we drove the 10 or so minutes into the center of town in search of sustenance.
Dinner in a church.
Manapouri is the very small town that doubles as the jumping off point to reach the lesser visited Doubtful Sound. The only eating establishment is housed in an old church, and it is called The Church Restaurant and Bar. I wish I could make this up. The lack of options did turn our usually complicated, verging on death match discussion of where to eat dinner much calmer.
Me: I NEED INDIAN FOOD!
J: But we had that for lunch.
Me: I don’t care, I need it now.
Again, we were the only people. It was a bit eerie, until the bartender appeared from what I assume was the kitchen and struck up a friendly conversation with us.
Apparently, this was the second best time to be visiting Doubtful Sound. Only exceeded by the very beginning of the season in September, when the tour companies re-open the route. He showed us where we’d be going the following day on a framed topographical map, hanging beside a staircase flanked with stained glass windows. He was very nice, but probably gets a kickback from the tour company for talking it up. Or maybe I’m just cynical.
After ordering, we found a little nook to settle down in, complete with bench seats and table painted in Prince purple. We noticed shortly after that a gruff looking man appeared at the bar. We noticed because WE WERE STILL THE ONLY OTHER PEOPLE IN TOWN. It didn’t take this gentleman long to get a few drinks in, at which point he introduced himself to us. He turned out to be the better half of the proprietary couple in charge of our campsite for the night.
It was obvious he has to defend his wife often, because without prompt he did just that. He began detailing her history of illness, as if to justify her rude behaviour that litters their review pages on several different apps. I know more than one person who has been through worse who did not come out bitter at the world on the other side. All I felt at this bizarre attempt at conversation or explanation was pity for this man who clearly spends a lot of time at this bar.
After eating dinner and wandering down to the water’s edge of beautiful Lake Manapouri, we returned to our campsite to try and get some sleep before our boat trip the following day. Too bad this version of The Shining has deranged cows living next door. All night this one cow intermittently mooed like it was being beaten to death. IT. WAS. HORRIFYING. The fog creeping in didn’t help either. Needless to say, we were ready to leave in the morning.
Since The Church hadn’t opened yet, we drove 20 minutes into the next town so I could get some desperately needed coffee before checking in with our tour company, Real Journeys.
Words cannot aptly describe this trip, but I will try my best in my next post.
Manapouri Photo BONUS Round