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New Zealand Swan Song

Our time in New Zealand was coming to an end. We could feel it as the Christchurch airport called our name and ExploreMore wanted to rent Bazils to yet another paying customer. But we weren’t quite ready so the Catlin Coast and Mount Cook became our swan song.

Campsite at Slope PointThe pain saying adios to Milford Sound was tempered knowing the drive was marvelous. Bazils agreed to seven hours non-stop in fifth gear and so we arrived in the seldom visited southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The Catlin Coast is characterized by lush hills of green, endless stretches of rugged coast, and a steady wind. Arriving late, priority number one was to locate an overnight spot. Judging by the area’s remoteness, this didn’t seem to be a problem. Finding a gravel parking lot perched above a sheer cliff that overlooked the Pacific Ocean, we were ecstatic. Even the “DANGER Beware of Cliff” sign added novelty to the spot. All was well until 11:03 PM. “Ash, can you sleep in this?” I inquired. “No, I have not slept a wink.” The wind was gusting so hard that it seemed capable of rocking the campervan right over the cliff. My brilliant thought was to move Bazils into the wind so that the steel passenger side acted less like a sail. It worked for twenty minutes until the wind shifted direction and we both scrambled into the cab, fired up the V-6 engine, and located a protected gully to park. But this spot would not suffice either as the road was narrow and the campervan’s bumper hung out over the broken asphalt by five feet. Another ten minutes searching the black night yielded a suitable position where the wind could merely knock over Bazils, but stop short of rolling her into the raging sea. Combined sleep between us on this restless night: 140 minutes +/- 20.

Herding Sheep on ATV Wind Swept Trees Over Barn Catlin Coast

Looking like welterweight fighters after a tough bout, we drove the next day along the Catlin Coast and stretched our legs on several short hikes. The name “Jack’s Blowhole” was intriguing enough for us and while the actual sight isn’t so great, the hiking was fulfilling. With intermittent rain and countless sheep keeping us company, we were rolling with the punches. But when rain, sheep feces, and a gap in the trail meet, you are either acknowledge defeat or go down swinging. We got some good laughs crossing the fifteen feet of mud/poop and an even better time cleaning the brown sludge from our Salomon Trail Runners that afternoon.

Jack's Blowhole Trail Sheep Poop Or Mud... Take Your Pick Sheep On The March

Roaring BayBetter luck would find us further north along the Catlin Coast at Nugget Point. Ash had been talking incessantly about seeing penguins in their natural habitat. Our best opportunity was a short hike to Roaring Bay to spy the rare yellow-eyed penguin. From a “hide” you keep a keen focus on the shrub abutting the rocky beach. Low and behold, a young mother came waddling toward the ocean to fetch some fresh seafood for her youngsters burrowed away in the tall grass. Ash was ecstatic. At the tip of Nugget Point lies its namesake. The massive rock formations were impressive as was the hike along the cliff edge. Before departing the Catlin Coast, two playful seals performed an odd mating ritual then posed beautifully for some pictures. Even the Kiwi animals promote tourism!

Yellow-Eyed Penguin Going Fishing Nugget Point Playful Seals

Imaginary Hole-In-OneThe following day, en route to Mt. Cook, we passed through yet another valley producing outstanding Kiwi wine. We could not pass up the opportunity, so we ducked into the Northburn Station Vineyard in Cromwell. The vino was as expectantly fantastic, but I found the Par Three golf hole nestled amongst the vines to be even more exceptional. With an imaginary Ping pitching wedge and a rock filling in for a Titleist Pro V1, it was easy pickings for my first hole-in-one.

Sir Edmund Hillary StatueHaving read quite a bit about Sir Edmund Hillary (first person to summit Mount Everest in 1953), I longed to see the mountain he trained on (late 1940s) and the alpine center bearing his name. Driving to Mt. Cook is yet again, a real treat. The cool blue water of Lake Pukaki isn’t too bad a sight as the odometer climbs during the 55 kilometer jaunt. Then as we made a winding left turn, Mt. Cook came into focus on this brilliant afternoon full of sun. Several stops later to absorb the immaculate surroundings, we came to the most crowded Department of Conservation campsite yet near The Hermitage. One can see why as it is positioned beneath Mt. Cook and its neighboring snow capped peaks. The sunset was sensational then the black sky revealed innumerable stars, some even shooting.

Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki Lake Pukaki and Ash Mount Cook  

Well rested in the mountain air, the weather had made a change for the worse the next morning. Known to the Maori people as Aoraki, or Cloud Piercer, New Zealand’s tallest peak at 12,316 feet was shrouded in thick gray clouds. The rain and wind prevented any hiking so we spent the day at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. Not only does it house one of the best collections of the famed Kiwi alpinist’s gear, but it offers mind blowing features about the universe in a domed digital planetarium. Though the swarming clouds refused to reveal Mt. Cook on this day, we were entertained like third graders on a field trip. Sometime while hiking Argentina’s Patagonia, I developed a desire to camp/hike more and Mt. Cook added fuel to the fire. What do you say Ash? Climb Mount Kilimanjaro on our way to achieving the Seven Summits?

Surrounding Peaks At Dusk Southen Alps Sky At Sunset Greg with Lake Pukaki Behind

Three weeks came and went in a flash. New Zealand left such an impression on us that we vow to visit once again with friends or family. Without a doubt, this magical country full of caves, mountains, beaches, wine, vistas, adventure sports, hills, and open road ranks high on our round-the-world trip.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Book early for New Zealand campervans. The high season runs from December – March and many companies sell out during this period. We got lucky when we booked just two weeks out. Utilize one of the campervan aggregators ( to book. If your selection is not available, they will offer a similar product via email. This saves the headache of emailing every rental provider separately.
  2. When booking a campervan, be sure the quoted price includes everything. A company’s quote might seem like a deal, but when you factor in insurance, return fees, additional driver fee, additional kilometers, etc. the price can escalate. Also consider a diesel engine over unleaded if you plan to drive excessive kilometers or rent for over a month… the fuel savings can outweigh the additional upfront costs.
  3. Most campervans utilize manual transmissions.  Limited amounts are available in automatic and will cost more.  If going the manual route, some know-how is suggested to avoid complete embarrassment when pulling out of the rental agency parking lot as we saw.     

  • Laura Keller

    Wind on the Catlins coast was insane! Brave souls to have set up shop for the night on a cliff with that wind. We got a huge kick out of the trees you captured so well — looked like a bad hair day! Missing the green spaces and order of NZ here in India…that is for sure!

  • fofs

    Laura – We tried to set up shop on the gusty Slope Point…disaster. Water is to oil as New Zealand is to India.

    - Greg and Ash

  • spencerspellman

    New Zealand is definitely on my bucked list, but haven't had the opportunity yet. It seems to be one of the more underrated destinations in the world, and I first gained a love and appreciation for it because Lord of the Rings was filmed there. I know that the Tourism board there is doing a lot to gain interest in the island. By the way, love the Par 3 shot; can't say I would've expected that in NZ.

  • fofs

    Spencer – You MUST make it to New Zealand. We have been to 15 countries in 6 months and NZ is #1 or #2 to visit again. The diversity of climates, towns/cities, and activities make the country suitable for everyone's interests. I think our enthusiam for the place is evident in our blog entries… we can't wait to make it back!

    - Greg and Ashley

  • fofs

    Spencer – You MUST make it to New Zealand. We have been to 15 countries in 6 months and NZ is #1 or #2 to visit again. The diversity of climates, towns/cities, and activities make the country suitable for everyone's interests. I think our enthusiam for the place is evident in our blog entries… we can't wait to make it back!

    - Greg and Ashley

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