As two adventure seekers, we couldn’t think of a better way to kick off our marriage than in the adrenaline capital of the world!
During our 15-day adventure, we explored New Zealand to its fullest and can assure you that the hype is real–New Zealand truly has it all! Towering mountains, mighty fiords, lush rain forests, crystal clear lakes, and of course, charming towns filled with the warmest hearts. While we have endless goodness to share in upcoming blogs, we will limit this post to one exceptional day. Join us on our New Zealand road trip, as we cut across the country to explore the Southern Alps.
The Adventure Begins!
We had begun our adventure in the northern tip of the south island, kayaking and hiking in the golden sand beaches of Abel Tasman National Park. From there we drove to the coastal sea town of Kaikoura. After two days swimming with dolphins and exploring the sea life, we headed due south to visit the lovely gardens in the eastern seaport of Christchurch. Below is a map of our adventure to date.
On our 6th day, we slipped out of Christchurch at dawn in order to get a head start on the long trek over the Southern Alps and onto the opposite coast.
We trekked west across low green valleys and lush orchards, and after almost 90 minutes we began to climb into the mountains. By 9am we were giddy at the sights around us.
First Stop – Cave Stream
After crossing the Broken River road bridge, we quickly exited right into an unassuming parking lot.
Tip–if you’ve reached the Craigieburn Forest Park entrance, you’ve gone too far. The Cave Stream Scenic Reserve is an ideal spot to picnic and take in the scenery, as well as seek out an adventure!
New Zealand is well known for ‘caving’– aka, strapping up and repelling into deep dark caverns, some of which are filled with glow worms (primarily in the North Island). As with most guided tours, we found that caving adventures were quite pricey. With a frugal mind and the spirit of a squirrel, we sought out the free option.
After parking, we layered up, slipped on our hiking/water shoes, and strapped on our head lamps (an absolute must!!), to prepare ourselves for a hike into the abyss. We hiked for close to a half mile in the sunshine until we rounded a bend and saw it–the entrance into a cave that winds a half-mile into the mountain.
Travel Tip: If you opt for this caving adventure, make sure your backpack and electronics are situated above your waistline in order to keep from the rushing water. Be sure to have warm clothing, sturdy footwear, and extra batteries (if your head light dims). Even on a warm and sunny day, the cave–and glacial water–is FREEZING!
We would be poor tour guides if we did not insist that you review the daily weather conditions before diving in. You WILL be trekking through mostly knee deep water that will at times become waist deep. If there were or will soon be heavy rains, opt out of this adventure. Freezing glacial water could soon be rushing down the mountain and quickly raise above your head. Click here to view up-to-date weather details.
Once again, while this excursion is free, it is also at your own risk. This area is quite secluded, and even during a ‘busy’ summer month, we only came across three fellow travelers. If you may feel claustrophobic, or just rather not step into cold water, this is also the perfect area to take a short hike.
We felt prepared to delve in and with just the glow of our headlamps we stepped into the cave entrance. With the loud and constant rush of water, we felt eerily alone yet incredibly invigorated by the cold water. We trekked into the darkness, slowly and steadily grappling onto slippery rocks while freezing water rushed past our ankles.
We climbed, slipped, and hoisted ourselves through the smooth interior of the mountain. Angela worried about whether a bear would be aroused, and was reminded that New Zealand has NO predators. Hopefully that will give you solace as you wind through the dark and leery corridors!
A few times the weight of the rushing water pushed us back, and we had to help each other pull forward. Despite numb feet, and the cool air of the cave, we were kept warm with an occasional climb and a huge sense of wonder. Keep trekking and don’t stop moving–it’s so worth it!
Roughly an hour after leaving the sunshine behind, we saw a sliver of sunshine break through the darkness. We moved towards the light, and climbed up a steel ladder that was bolted to the rock to scurry out of the mouth of the cave.
After inching our way out we felt an eruption of sunshine, and our smiles were infectious! We laughed and hugged a new friend that we had met along the way–an English college grad who was exploring the countryside and would soon drive north to pick apples to fund his continued stay. Making new friends and sharing incredible experiences–always our favorite part of travel!
The rush of excitement we had felt was only mirrored by the pangs of hunger, and with no restaurants or mini-marts nearby, we were thankful to have a picnic lunch ready to enjoy.
Travel Tip: If you stay in an Airbnb, we found that most hosts provided supplies to whip up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Add in a few apples, chips and jerky (dried goods that we had brought from home)–and there you go, a picnic lunch in the great outdoors.
Next Stop – Arthur’s Pass
After warming up we continued west and began our journey into Arthur’s Pass, the gateway through the Southern Alps. At 900 meters, it is also the “highest and most spectacular pass through the Southern Alps.” You will catch yourself quickly pulling over at every vantage point to gawk at what’s ahead. While our time was limited, you could easily spend days hiking and adventuring throughout this National Park.
We cannot prepare you for the scenery, and pictures will not give you a sense of the grandeur. The engineering feet alone that it took to build the roads will leave you inspired.
Along the route we saw two travelers on bikes, and we cheered them on as they climbed into the Pass. One of our life goals, now, is to strap on our paneers (bike suitcases) and cycle through this wonderland!
Once reaching the top of the Pass an Information Center provides details about various hikes in the area. With prior research we had decided on the Devil’s Punchbowl Track, an adventure that would allow us to hunt waterfalls.
We struck out onto a flat rocky path that took us up to the base of a long green valley, crossing across a wooden bridge. The track is extremely well maintained so despite the incline we were able to keep a good pace.
Up hand built wooden staircases, and over custom bridges, we hiked almost 1km up to a viewing deck where before us, stood a massive waterfall.
With eyes wide in wander, we joined fellow travelers to get misted by the falls.
While the waterfall is the cherry on top, what really amazed us was the nuts, sprinkles, and hot fudge that made up the sundae. The scenery on the way up is stupendous. The expertly cut path into the hillside made us feel as though we had stepped into the world of orcs and elves. The tall trees and severe rocky slopes felt reminiscent of scenes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. The track in total only covers about 2kms round trip, but in our opinion it was the most incredible way to stretch our legs.
Hokitika or Bust!
If there was ever a place where “she could sell sea shells by the sea shore,” she probably would have opened up shop in Hokitika. After winding our way down the Pass to the West Coast, we headed south to what would be our favorite Airbnb experience– a 5 star granny flat that, along with the main house, was built on the remains of an old gold mine. This was our one overnight splurge, and the space was stunning; equipped with a small kitchen to enjoy a breakfast that was awaiting us in the fridge, a beautifully modeled sitting area, and a plush king bed. Amazingly, the $150 spent was only slightly more than the Super 8 that was located on the outskirts of town.
Better still, upon arriving we were greeted as old friends and were invited into the main house for a tour and cold beers. Once again, we would have loved to have hunkered into these warm surroundings, but a new area was waiting to be explored.
Truly a quintessential seaside town, Hokitika is spilling with local merriment. A stroll down the main street is a must, and be sure to pop into the charming artist’s shops. Large handcrafted art pieces are even strewn throughout the town, and adorned the beach!
As was becoming our nightly ritual, we stopped into a liquor store and purchased a bottle of local cold white wine. When New Zealand laws allow you to bring liquor to the beach, why not enjoy a drink with your sunset?
Upon the recommendation of our hosts, our next stop was to get takeaway fish ‘n’ chips from the local’s favorite–Porky’s. Don’t let the greasy spoon fool you, this was hands down one of our favorite meals while in NZ!
We added in a seaside stroll, and to date, it is one of our favorite evenings!
Sadly, we only spent one night in this charming town, but would encourage our friends to stay longer. There are numerous foodie spots and we were sad to have missed the teal blue waters of the Hokitika Gorge Walk or driven a bit north to explore the impressive Pancake Rocks and blowholes.
Stay Tuned for more NZ Goodness!
Dream of exploring New Zealand but think that it’s out of your price range?? Be sure to stay tuned for our next blog–‘New Zealand on a budget!’
Hugs and Acorns,
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