After spending half of our time on the North Island in New Zealand we took the Interislander Ferry over to the South Island for another four weeks of epic road trippin’.
In our opinion, the Interisland Ferry should not be missed when taking an extended trip to NZ. Although it was outrageously expensive, it was the only way to get our beloved home-on-wheels from one island to the other. Thankfully, the 3-hour journey was both relaxing and beautiful, redeeming itself for the high cost. It’s also remarkably convenient. You drive on, spend a few hours taking in the stunning cook straight waterway, and then drive off.
The ferry dropped us off in Picton, the perfect spot to explore the northernmost sections of the South Island. This was an area we were eager to explore, since we missed it the first time around.
The northern region of the South Island is beautiful. It’s home to New Zealand’s most popular national park, Abel Tasman, and some of our favorite day hikes were in this area of New Zealand.
We wasted no time getting to know this lovely area. We left Picton and made our way over to Kaikoura, one of our favorite places in all of New Zealand. After spending a day hiking around the area and stumbling across fur seals, we retreated back to Blenheim, one of NZs best wine regions.
Our Winery Experience (or lack thereof)
We won’t even pretend be to pretentious or claim to know anything real about wine. Wine is wine, and if it tastes good, well that’s cool. We drink it, we like it, and we enjoy a good winery experience under the right circumstances.
With that said, you can imagine our apprehension when we were faced with choosing among 30+ wineries to visit. Goodness, how the heck am I supposed to choose from that outrageous number?
Being the highly analytical people that we are we preferred using the process of elimination, cross-referencing among the best scholarly articles that had been peer-reviewed and with a low margin of error (i.e. our Lonely Planet guidebook)
This brought our choices down from 30+ to 15. Progress. From there, we became even more analytical about this and started the elimination process based on how fancy their names sounded. This dropped our total down to 3 wineries. Our final approach to conclude this experiment was to consult a map and choose the one out of those three that was closest to our current location. The winner here was called Cloudy Bay Winery.
The name Cloudy Bay was catchy and easy to remember. It’s named after a scenic yet lesser-known bay in the area. Historic, meaningful, and thoughtful. It didn’t have the word “estate” in the name, which conjures up images that are too fancy for half-clean backpackers.
Cloudy Bay was nice; swanky even. We rolled in in our rinky-dink van and laughed. Then we walked in wearing our hiking clothes and paied for the wine tasting. In order to make up for our dreary appearance and earn brownie points with the lady pouring our wine, we didn’t even order the cheapest tasting available.
Feeling quite proud of ourselves for navigating through this tedious process, we settled in and sampled our wines. We pretended to notice the subtle differences between the five different wines that we sampled (“yes, I can definitely taste the oak, pear, and apple hues in this one”).
After about an hour there we determined this kind of scene just wasn’t for us. We gave it a valiant try. In all fairness, the wine did taste really nice. It’s the kind that I would buy and bring to a fancy dinner party, if I ever go to one of those. But I probably won’t, because I live in Jacksonville, FL.
In keeping to our true spirit we ditched the winery for the brewery next door. We ordered a tasting flight and this time I really could tell the difference between the five beers that I tried. We ordered our favorites and went to sit outside on the beanbags under the shade of a tree. It was a good day indeed.
Marlborough Sounds: Brilliant Everyday
After our winery/brewery day we retreated back to Ethel (our van) and hit up some more stunning campsites along the northern section of the South Island. The succession of bays and pretty beaches seemed to go on forever. We enjoyed every bit of the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive from Picton to Havelock. We hiked and camped at a few places along the way before ending up a stone’s throw away from Abel Tasman National Park.
We enjoyed this region of New Zealand so much. Who could deny appreciating a true tropical paradise with plenty of hiking opportunities to make your feet itch? The stunning sea vistas seemed to be endless. After spending nearly a week checking out the region we decided that, for the sake of time, we needed to begin heading down the West Coast.
The Road Less Traveled (Never Again)
The road less traveled happens to be in the Northwest region of the South Island. Everyone wants to take the road less traveled, right? Wrong. We figured that out the hard way.
If you’re gonna spend nearly two months living out of a small van you might as well do it right. This thought brought us to our decision to drive up to Kahurangi National Park. It’s New Zealand’s second largest National Park and also the end of Highway 6, which traverses down the West Coast. We also really wanted to to see the Oparara Arch and Basin, a collection of crazy limestone formations that are millions of years old.
BELIEVE US when we say half the fun was getting there. It really didn’t look that far away on the map…..
What we learned is that distance isn’t always the problem; it’s the condition of the road. The “end” of Highway 6 and the road to the Oparara Basin is a gravel nightmare. The fact that our van made it to the park campsite and still had all of it’s pieces attached is a true miracle. The ride was so bumpy that it kept knocking the van into neutral. Crazy, I tell ya. It was about an hour of teeth-gritting, finger-crossing, bouncing-like-a-basketball ride.
Once there were rewarded with a prime beachfront camping location. Unfortunately, one could hardly relax and enjoy the view because the sandflies were horrendous. They were swarming us so bad that we could hardly cook our dinner. I even got bit on my face! In the morning we decided to skip out on walking around this region due to the sandflies.
So yeah, now we see why not too many people venture over to Kahurangi National Park. Our day spent getting there was surely an adventure we will always remember!