While driving away from the mountain town Saint Arnauds down towards the coast, I could feel the temperature reaching acceptable levels again. On either side of the road, the hills were getting lower and lower while forests made place for vineyards. Not much later I finished the tiny loop which took me a week, and I was very close to Picton again where the ferry had dropped me off. Upon reaching the east coast of the South Island, I turned right and continued down Highway 1 which was still being restored after the earthquake of November 2016. This meant there were quite some traffic jams as on many sections only one lane was open, directed by traffic lights. This allowed me to gaze upon the sea and at the different colored rocks. Except that some of them weren’t rocks, as they were moving?! Looking closely I realized they were seals, just lying and yawning in the sun. Once again, excited as a kid I parked on the side of the road and jumped out for a video.
It was still surprisingly far to my next destination so I decided to camp halfway. I’ll remember this campsite as one of my favorites, given that parking anywhere on the shore was allowed. The sea was about 6 meters from the van, and behind me I could see the mountains that I had just descended from. The sun was setting, making it even more impressive, resulting in these shots:
The following day I arrived in Kaikoura. This town is famous for its beautiful emerald colored Paua shells, seal colonies and wild dolphins. Friends of mine had done a boat trip to swim with wild dolphins, and the videos they had shown were amazing. I thought long and hard about it, as it cost about 100 euro’s, but I decided to sign up for the next day. It was still early though, and a nearby walk takes hikers past one of the seal colonies. I strolled through the pebbles on the shore, while looking for the famous shells. I didn’t find them, but after about an hour I saw a lone seal. While enthusiastically taking photos, a group of backpackers passed by and told me to walk a few more minutes to the actual colony. Upon arriving there my jaw dropped. There were hundreds of them, of all sizes. While trying to get close I realized how big they were and their roaring didn’t sound very welcoming. Keeping a safe distance I took some photo’s. (Click the photo’s to enlarge and be able to zoom)
A few hours later I returned to my van and drove to an Irish pub, just outside town. It offered free camping in exchange for purchasing a beer in the bar. That seemed like a pretty good deal, and it was. Walking through the Irish-green door it felt like I got teleported to Ireland. A raging fire in the fireplace was warming up the bar while Irish music was playing loudly in the background. The owner (obviously Irish) had moved here with his family and decided to open a bar. Naturally they had Guiness on tap and while sitting down at the warm fireplace with a cold beer in my hand I concluded this wasn’t a bad way to end the day.
Morning came and I jumped out of bed to get ready for my dolphin excursion! Seeing that this country is obsessed with safety we first had to watch a 20 minute video on what to do if the boat would sink. (The answer was swim). We jumped in the bus which took us to the harbor where the boat was waiting for us… on the land? The ship we would go with was still on the trailer while we boarded. The bus then pushed us off the ramp and after a plunge we were on the water. The sea started out calm, but as we headed towards the open ocean the waves got taller and taller. My excitement soon changed to nerves as I started to feel a little seasick. This didn’t get any better when we had to put our wetsuits on. The boat was shaking and I could barely get in the suit without falling over. It was tight which didn’t help a lot either and suddenly we had to jump off as the dolphins were there. Where I should have been very excited and happy I suddenly didn’t care anymore. The nice lady told me to jump overboard as it should be better then. The water of the South Pacific Ocean was icy cold which I should have expected but didn’t. (Maybe I had too much faith in my wetsuit) Dolphins were swimming left and right of me but I was too busy trying not to colour the water to enjoy it. After about 5 minutes I just wanted to get back on the boat, so got out. I wasn’t the only landlubber as other people were getting out too, asking for a bucket. Up until that point I was managing to keep it in, but seeing 3 others around me filling their buckets tipped my scale.
30 very, very, very long minutes later we were back on the shore and I almost kissed the ground for being on steady land again. Sad that I couldn’t really enjoy it, I returned to my van and crashed the rest of the day on the couch in the Irish pub, next to the fire place. Next time I’m buying a dozen seasickness pills I told myself.
The only video I made util I got a little too seasick.. Find the dolphin!
Christchurch! It felt strange being in the largest city on the south island again. My kiwi adventure had started here in December after flying in from Australia, but I only stayed for 3 days as all the nice camper vans were for sale in Auckland. Therefore, without seeing the city I went back to the airport to fly to the North Island, thus starting my adventure there instead of here. I thought about how different everything would have been if I had chosen one of the vans in this city. I wouldn’t have met Tuija, Ezra, and all the other amazing people I had run into so far. This would have been a totally different blog and who knows where I would have been now?
The countdown to Asia and my reunion with Tuija was now down to 5 days. I was happy I made it in time in once piece, but also realized I still had 5 days to fill. I’m not one for sitting down for too long so I decided to do one more small road trip to a volcanic peninsula, just below Christchurch. Akaroa is the name of the lovely small French town that sits right at the end of the road and is the last remainders of the French colonists in New Zealand, whom got utterly defeated by the British during the colonial era of this nation. For this road trip I wasn’t alone. Before driving out of Kaikoura I met up with Alex and India again, two friends that I met months ago while living in the farmhouse in Hastings. They were working again as they had some bad luck with their van(s) and were saving up for the rest of their trip. We met up outside Christchurch and in a convoy of two Hiaces we headed out.
After a steep climb and burning half of my fuel we arrived on the top overlooking the valley. In the distance we saw the town and after rolling downhill like it was a rollercoaster we were at the foot of the mountain. While driving through the village trying to find a free campsite it was like we were in the countryside of France. Littered with bakeries, cafés and French design houses this town knows how to charm its visitors. We camped next to a lighthouse and had French coffee in the morning. We didn’t want to drive the same way back so decided to take a small pass over one of the volcano’s edges. The road was narrow, gravel and I could smell my brakes while slowly going downhill, trying not to nosedive off the side while enjoying the views. A few sweaty hours later we finally hit a concrete road again and arrived in Lyttelton, an underwhelming harbor town next to Christchurch. Between these two places there was another giant hill, but fortunately the locals dug a tunnel for the traffic, which was the highlight of the town. (That has to say something)
We didn’t want to get back too late to Christchurch as a mutual friend of us was also in the city! Elena was already waiting for us when we arrived at the museum. We recognized her right away as she was wearing her awesome cowboy hat on top of her long blond hair. It had been months since we had seen her and we exchanged stories while strolling through the museum. It was only an hour before closing time, so we went straight to the exhibition about the sun and light which I had seen already, but wanted to show them. Even though we only had an hour to catch up, it didn’t feel like another goodbye as chances were good we would run into one another again. The next morning I said goodbye to Alex and India as well as they were on their way to Wanaka, a small mountain town where I would be heading too after my South-East Asia trip. (Also where I’m writing this blog from!) I drove out of the city center to one of the suburbs to Shane’s house. Shane was the first Kiwi I met upon arriving in New Zealand and I would leave my van with him during my 10 weeks reunion with Tuija. Now he had also kindly offered to stay with him for the last few days before my flight to get some rest. I had gratefully accepted that and I parked outside this fascinating man’s house, leaving Yaya 2.0 there for the coming 2.5 months. When I met Shane in December he told me about his adventurous research project which almost seems like a movie plot. It’s an incredible story and so the next blog will be about him & his work!
Next time the intriguing story of: ‘The Doctor’s autograph book’.