Three weeks in New Zealand

An invitation to the wedding of Richie and Aynsley, good friends that we met when they moved to Amsterdam in 2009, gave us the perfect excuse to fulfil a long-held dream of visiting New Zealand. We had a fantastic time there – here’s a selection of photos from our travels through the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Putrajaya, Malaysia

First stop, Kuala Lumpur. Fintan (a friend from my DVB days) and his wife Jen hosted us for our 14 hour stopover, welcoming us with birthday cupcakes for me at the airport and taking us on a whistle-stop tour, including the strange and impressive planned city of Putrajaya.

Horse mussels on Onetangi Beach

Waiheke Island, off Auckland, where Richie and Aynsley got married on Onetangi Beach. A recent cyclone had washed thousands of horse mussels up onto the normally pristine sands.

Brad and Aynsley

The shells were swept aside to make a perfect aisle for the bride.

Richie, Ayns and Adele

Richie and Aynsley the morning after the wedding, along with Adele, who we had met previously when she visited them in Amsterdam last year.

Waimangu

After the wedding weekend we picked up a car in Auckland and headed for Rotorua. After a night at the Funky Green Voyager (recommended!), and a quick wander round Kuirau Park to see the boiling mud pools, we drove on to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. An amazing three hour walk took us past steaming pools of lurid green, with strange coloured algae and moss. Following a massive volcanic eruption at the end of 19th century, little by little the subsequently barren land has been recolonised by natural, but unnatural-looking forest.

Kiwi in Waitomo

We skipped quickly through Taupo, stopping only for a dip in the river at the Huka Falls walkway hot springs, driving on to Tongariro National Park. Unfortunately gale force winds and heavy rain put the kibosh on our plans walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. So we hopped in the car and drove to Waitomo to see glowworms and kiwis.

Taranaki Falls

The sun shone the next day, but with a ferry to catch in Wellington we only had time to take on a shorter walk at Tongariro, visiting the Tama Lakes and stopping off at the Taranaki Falls on the way up.

Mount Ngauruhoe

We were rewarded with some great views of Mount Ruapehu and (pictured) Mount Ngauruhoe, otherwise known as Mount Doom, of Lord of the Rings fame.

Eoghan, Jillian, Niamh, Nadine

In Wellington it was good to meet up with Jillian, a friend from our Geneva days, and with my Kanturk cousin, Niamh.

Marlborough Sounds

Choppy waters as we sailed through Marlborough Sounds to land at Picton on the South Island, still with two weeks ahead of us.

Eoghan and vineyard

Following good advice (thanks Bren and Julie) we stayed at Watson’s Way backpackers in Renwick which meant we could explore the local vineyards by bike with the minimum of fuss. We decided to visit the four or five organic vineyards in the area and tasted some very good wines. Huia and Seresin in particular stood out.

Seal at Kaikoura

Next stop was Kaikoura, where bad weather out at sea repeatedly prevented our whale-watching trip from departing. We had to make do with the seal colony just outside the town – and getting soaked to the skin on the three-hour walk around the peninsula.

Sea kayaking at Abel Tasman NP

We decided to change our itinerary slightly, heading from Kaikoura to Abel Tasman National Park for a couple of days, in the hope that we’d get better weather for whales if we returned a few days later. At the National Park we had great weather – perfect for a spot of sea kayaking…

Seal pups

…and for having great views of seal pups learning to swim. Very cute.

Horse trekking at Marahau

An evening trek on the beach was a little more dramatic than it should have been. My horse kicked our guide, almost threw me off in the sea, and got spooked when Nadine’s decided to break into a gallop. Yes, my second ever time to attempt horse riding was more exciting that I had expected.

Sperm whale with Kaikoura range

Sure enough, when we got back to Kaikoura the weather was perfect – we saw seven sperm whales, four from very close up. The view of the snow-capped mountains in the distance made for a stunning backdrop to these awesome animals coming up for air.

Penguin Club Omaru

Our weather-affected itinerary changes meant we skipped the glaciers on the west coast and instead headed south from Kaikoura to Oamaru, which was a gem of a town. We wandered through the unusual (for New Zealand) cobbled streams and limestone buildings, we (just about) saw little blue penguins returning to shore to roost for the night, and we went to see an Aussie singer-songwriter called Tim Guy at the Penguin Entertainers Club, a very cool venue we stumbled upon down a backstreet.

Nadine, Darran, Fred and Holly

We then went west again, driving across to Queenstown through landscape that looked a lot like the Wicklow Mountains. We were delighted to accept the invitation to stay with Darran and Frederique, a couple we met at the wedding on Waiheke. Young Holly showed us her cricketing skills in the back garden.

Milford Sound

At Queenstown airport we picked up Elinor and Cody – Nadine’s good friend from Bath Uni and her Aussie husband, who she had surprised with a birthday trip across the Tasman Sea to travel with us for a few days. Milford Sound was our destination – it really was beautiful there. The drive down through Homer Tunnel into the valley is breath-taking. We stayed two nights at Milford Lodge in beautiful surroundings.

Raincoats

We went on one of the wildlife discovery cruises, putting on the very ineffective raincoats so that we could stand under one of the many waterfalls pouring into the fjord – so we got soaked even though we were there on a rare dry and sunny day.

Underwater

The underwater Discovery Centre is a must – the waters of Milford Sound are teeming with marine life, and the centre allows you to view it all from the comfort of a warm, dry submerged viewing chamber.

Quoridor with Cody, Joanna and Emerson

Heading back across country we stopped at Wanaka, where Joanna, a Scottish/Kiwi friend from our Geneva days, had returned from Uganda with her husband Emerson. Another of Cody’s tasty meals (he’s a chef by profession) was followed by some intense games of Quoridor, which was fast becoming the game of choice for the holiday, narrowly edging out cribbage.

Big Nadine, little Elinor

Wanaka is also home to Puzzle World, where some of the illusion rooms can really mess with your brain. Nadine is looking rather Amazonian here compared to little Elinor.

Red corner

Puzzle World also features a complicated maze where our competitive side came out as we raced our way to the four corners ahead of our travelling companions. Childish, yes….but lots of fun!

Cody swims in Tekapo

We drove on to Lake Tekapo, stopping at Lake Pukaki for lunch with a view of Mount Cook. At Tekapo Cody decided to take a dip in the very, very cold waters. I came prepared with towel and togs but decided against.

Eoghan with a Hector's dolphin

After a sobering drive through earthquake-affected Christchurch, where we weren’t able to get in to the area where Cody and Elinor had previously lived, we dropped them at the airport and drove on out to the picturesque town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. The French landed here with the intention of starting a colony, only to discover that the English had stolen a march on them a couple of weeks before. Merde! We went swimming with Hector’s dolphins – that’s one swimming past me above as I sang into my snorkel to try to hold their interest.

Penguin

And we also saw one or two little penguins whizzing by our boat – cute!

And at that point our camera died. We dropped our car at the airport in Christchurch and flew back to Auckland for one night. (Stayed at the wonderful Bamber House and ate amazing Indian food at Raviz.) Then Nadine flew on to Fiji for a week of work at the IUCN Oceania office and I endured the interminable journey back to Amsterdam via KL.

New Zealand – amazing landscape, wonderful wildlife, friendly people and a relaxed pace of life. Loved it!