We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Our Top of the South Trip Report!

California
Level Contributor
7,680 posts
71 reviews
Save Topic
Our Top of the South Trip Report!

Just got back. I know if this goes more than one page, it's a pain to scroll through the entire post again. So I'll submit it as the first reply (if all works well.)

California
Level Contributor
7,680 posts
71 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

I know I have appreciated trip reports and since I’ve received so much help from these forums, will post ours here.

Our trip is our second to NZ. The first was to the North Island last year and this one was a “Top of the South” trip done in a campervan. We did North Island in a campervan so kind of knew what to expect. All overnights were done at commercial parks, both large and small. We opted to go anti-clockwise because that put winery regions at the beginning, and worked out for high/low tides that were important. We are both in our 50’s and love the outdoors. We try to avoid anything crowded or touristy, and are geocachers.

November 30th, we picked up our campervan from United Campervans after a good night’s rest at the Copthorne Hotel. I have very favorable comments about the Copthorne, am rather neutral about United Campervans (will post details in reviews section). After getting supplies, we stopped at the Waipara Springs Winery, which was lovely, then headed to Hanmer Springs. We had a wonderful hike to Dog Stream Waterfall (about 2 hours return from closest carpark). Top 10 campground was probably the fullest of any we went to, but very nice and would recommend highly. Hanmer Springs was cute little village and very lively.

December 1st, we hiked the Forest Walk near our campsite and looked for geocaches. We had to get our toilet fixed in the camper, so got that taken care of and then headed towards Kaikoura. We arrived at Point Kean carpark, had lunch, and set out at low tide for a loop walk around the peninsula. There was a nesting ground for the gulls (?) that was wild and noisy with activity. We saw a few seals, but they were quite inactive in comparison. Then we drove to Alpine Pacific Holiday Park to clean up a bit before our Argo Tour.

Alistair is our guide for our Argo tour. His family has owned Glenstrea Farms for several generations. The Argo circuit is 20k around the hills and streams of his farm. It was a lot of fun. We got gorgeous photos from above Haumuri Bluffs, and had fun chasing livestock. It was just the three of us and for the price, the Argo option is a lot of bang for your buck. It also gave my husband a break from driving.

December 2nd, This was probably one of our best days of the trip. We checked out Ohau point and waterfall. There were probably 7 seal pups at the falls – SCORE! Much of what has been written about the seal’s life cycle said that the pups were only brought here between April and October, so I was pleasantly surprised. Afterwards, my husband commented he really wanted a cup of coffee and his timing was perfect – The Store at Kekerengu was a few kilometers away. He said he felt like he was travelling with a local because I knew where the good coffee was – HA! ;-)

The highlight of the day was going to Sawcut Gorge. The gorge must be written up in some sort of European publication because the only others there were 3 European couples, in three separate vans, not traveling together. Two of them asked us if they were going the right way and how far, like we know? Maybe we looked like we drive unsealed roads all the time. The ranger at the home at road’s end came out with a handdrawn map and explained the route, and off we went. It was an adventure with 15 stream crossings going up, and the gorge was spectacular!

We had intended to do some wine tasting in Marlborough, but arrived in the area at about 10 ‘til 5. The choice had to be made between wine tasting or chocolate and the chocolate factory won out! We bought Macadamia nut toffee and chocolate caramels. Yum! Then we drove up via Havelock to Linkwater.

I know Linkwater isn’t high on the destination list, but this gave us a taste of Queen Charlotte Drive enroute and Smith Farm Holiday Park is so highly reviewed. The reviews were spot on. Barbara was so welcoming and gave us great suggestions of things to do in the area. And the homebaked muffins were great. That evening, we set off on a short hike behind the grounds to a waterfall and glowworms. We had to cross through several paddocks and bush. We found the waterfall and another couple from Holland there waiting. As it grew dark, glowworms appeared like something out of Disneyland. But the real adventure was hiking back in the dark. At the far end of the last paddock and right in front of the gate were about 15 pair of eyes (cows) reflecting back at us! Yikes!

California
Level Contributor
7,680 posts
71 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

December 3rd, Barbara had mentioned a portion of Queen Charlotte Track that was nearby, from Anakiwa to Davies Bay. We hiked and geocached out and back, the views and weather were gorgeous! Then we headed off towards Nelson, stopping off at Peloris Bridge for a looksee and short loop hike. At Upper Moutere, we stopped for winetasting at Kahurangi Estate and Neudorf Vineyards. Both were excellent and we stocked up for the remainder of the trip.

We settled in at Old MacDonald’s Farm in Marahau, our home for the next two nights.

December 4th, Our day was spent at Abel Tasman NP. We had booked the Ab Fab tour with the Sea Kayak Company and couldn’t have been happier with our choice. Kate picked us up promptly at 8:45 and we picked up one other couple. We were loaded, with others and 6 kayaks onto a water taxi – while it was still on land. Then a tractor took us out on the sandbar and launched us. It’s quite a sight seeing all those kayaks loaded on the back of a water taxi! We were unloaded at Onetahuti. Our kayaking led us around the seal colony at Tonga Island and down the shore to Bark Bay where we had lunch. I’m glad we opted for the half-day of kayaking, my arms were tired! We hiked the track to Anchorage Bay, having to use the high-tide route. Stunning scenery at each corner. We had to laugh each time we heard the rushing of a waterfall. You could hear them but not see them because they would be behind huge boulders and overgrowth.

I guess we made good time because we were at the appointed pickup point about a half hour early. It was just starting to drizzle and one of the skippers said he had room for the two of us. “Better than leaving you out in the rain,” he said. I wish we had gotten his name, because he really took wonderful care of us. When we got back at the landing at Marahau, we asked him how we could make our way back to Old Mac’s. He did not hesitate to get a van and drive us himself! Talk about New Zealand hospitality!

December 5th, This was a day I wasn’t sure how much we would be able to do. The plan was to head over Takaka Hill and do our adventures there. At the top of the list was to hike to Rawhiti Caves. The drizzle from the day before turned into full rain, and it was heavy at times going over the hill. The twists and turns were do-able, but our home is located in the mountains so we’re used to windy roads. When we got to the trailhead for Rawhiti, the rain had settled to a drizzle. A sign said to follow the streambed up where the track had washed out. So we crossed the dry creekbed and found the track on the other side. We were a good 400 meters up the far side when we heard water rushing and peered through the trees. It was gushing over the rocks! My husband suggested we go back the way we came, and go back FAST! “As fast as you can!” I no longer took caution avoiding muddy bits and ran right through them. We got across the dry creekbed and waited, wondering if that water went somewhere else. But then it came – in torrents. What was dry was now a surging river. YIKES! Had we arrived sooner and climbed closer to the caves, we wouldn’t have been warned. It may have also been a blessing in disguise because our headlights had been left on (with many a curious cow about). We were parked alone in the middle of nowhere.

So, not wanting our adventure over the infamous Takaka Hill go to waste, we went to The Grove, which was way cool with massive boulders and trees. We got our cave “fix” at Ngarua Caves at the top of the hill. Rather commercial and touristy (I hate to be told to wait in the giftshop), but interesting. When climbing (literally) out of the cave, it was bright and sunny.

We camped at Owens River Reserve. If I could change anything on this trip, it would be to avoid camping anywhere on Buller River. The sandflies held us hostage in our campervan. We dared not venture out to shower until nightfall. And then I discovered that the lights did not work in the shower/toilets and that there was no hot water, as advertised. At least we had power, my dear husband braved the beasties prior to dinner. They ate well.

California
Level Contributor
7,680 posts
71 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

December 6th, We woke up to a light rain, and headed for the West Coast. Charming Creek Walkway was recommended to us and only about a half hour north of Westport. The rain got came down heavily just as we pulled into the pullout for the Walkway. We made some lunch for ourselves and mentally prepared ourselves for a wet walk. But the time we rinsed the dishes, the rain was only a drizzle and off we went. This walk had everything! Tunnels, a swingbridge, relics from mining days and waterfalls! The skies cleared and we had a great outing.

We drove down the coast and hit Trumans Track at almost high tide. So we had to dodge the waves a bit to get to a geocache there, but were successful. Then on to Pancake Rocks. All the planning to get there at high tide was a bit of a letdown. The blowhole spit and spewed a little, but not like pictures I’ve seen of it. I suppose we lacked the westerly swell. The rock structures were very awesome though, so we weren’t disappointed. We settled into Punakaiki Beach Camp for the night. Beautiful spot and finally a hot shower!

December 7th, Our primary adventure today was to stroll Motukeikei Beach at lowtide. We found the pullout easily and another campervan pulled in behind us a few minutes later. The beach was wet, wild and good fun. The rock stacks looked different every few yards and I think my husband used an entire gig photographing them. Small streams spilled onto the beach and the cliffs were awesome! There was a rogue wave that came just as we rounded the point and I got my feet soaked. I’m always trashing shoes on these trips and have learned to take several pairs!

We also walked the track at Coal Creek Falls. No luck finding the cache there, but the falls were in full force from earlier rains.

We got our fuel tank topped off at Greymouth and stopped for lunch at Hokitika. I guess I had different expectations for Hokitika. When you describe a seaside town with lots of artisans, I think of Capitola or Mendicino (California). I had anticipated strolling the shops or even eating at a café when we arrived at Hokitika. But to me, the town lacked the charm I was expecting. It was a grey day and that probably added to the issue. We drove around a few blocks near the town clock, parked on a sidestreet, and made our own lunch – never exited the campervan. It just wasn’t what I expected and maybe I didn’t give the town a real chance.

We arrived at Fox Glacier (I even drove! -- Hubby was tired, but my driving woke him right up!) with plenty of daylight to spare. The clouds cleared and we had a beautiful evening.

December 8th, The day started bright and clear, just a tiny cloud covering the peak of Mount Cook. We headed for Lake Matheson. The first landing there were about 7 photographers standing and waiting for that last wisp of a cloud to clear over Mount Cook. We forged ahead and got to Reflection Island, where there was no one! And the Mount Cook view was better too. We had the place to ourselves and stayed about 10 minutes enjoying the serenity. As we returned to the camper, we noticed the tour busloads of people starting to arrive. Great timing!

We still had much of the morning before our helihike at 11:50, so walked to the terminal face of the glacier (and saw our first Kea), and then walked Minnehaha track near town.

The helihike was enjoyable. Zorah, our Australian guide had quite the snarky sense of humor. Great experience and scenery. I got to sit in the front seat of the helicopter on the return and the view from there was worth the price of admission!

December 9th, We nixed our original plan of stopping at Franz Josef Glacier and headed straight for Hokitika Gorge. The color of the water is this unique milky turquoise. It’s one of those places only New Zealand could have. Just beautiful! We continued on the backroads to Lake Kaniere. There were several geocaches placed along its shores, which was one of its draws. The first one looked like it would be an easy walk a bit off the road. Wrong! It was about 2km up and down some steep hills, and ended at a platform overlooking the lake. The next one took us to Dorothy Falls and a flat track across the street that had lake access.

We still had plenty of time so headed up to Arahura River. We had read about a swingbridge at the Arahura Styx River track and tried to get to it. We found the iron gate and traveled to the washout, then went on foot for the last 2km to the bridge. There were so many stream crossings and the track got muddier and muddier. We came to about the 7th mud puddle that required bushwacking around and we threw in the towel. So no swingbridge sighting for us this time. We headed for our campground.

Jackson’s Retreat on Hwy 73 had fabulous views and the owner was very welcoming. The toilet and shower block was top notch. A good end to a long day.

California
Level Contributor
7,680 posts
71 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

December 10th, We continued up Arthurs Pass, across the viaduct which had interesting rock shelters and a waterfall you pass under! At the top, we hiked the many steps to Devil’s Punchbowl Falls. It was a huge waterfall and would have made for some great photos. But unfortunately, the sun was positioned right at the top so we couldn’t get shots from the end platform. We checked out the visitor center and made the short walk up Millennium Track to Avalanche Creek Waterfall. We had lunch at the pullout at the eastern edge of Arthur’s Pass National Park with views of snow-capped mountains in the background, and lupines in the foreground.

Our next stop was Cave Stream Reserve. I had every intention of going through the cave for the full experience. It sounded like great fun when sitting, nice and warm, reading about it. We brought headlamps and watershoes. But I didn’t see any one else gearing up for it and since we had to return the campervan in a few hours, I worried about how to deal with the wet clothes. Okay, I chickened out. Seemed like being in a cave for 40 minutes when you are cold and wet might not be so fun. I’ll do it next time (and bring thermals) I promise!

Our last stop was at Castle Hill. By now it was getting rather hot, so we stayed to the flat track and only ventured a little way up the hillside. Those rocks got bigger the closer we got to them! The husband and I did a little rock climbing – on little rocks. ☺

So that’s it. Next trip to the Sounds, Mount Cook, Queenstown, and the Catlins is tentatively scheduled for March of 2014. And I’ll give a little shoutout to Scott Cook and his NZ Frenzy book, my primary travel guide.

Postscript – I realize that TripAdvisor does not have a section for reviewing campervan rentals, so will post my comments here. We had a couple of issues with United Campervans. I know they are going through some transitions because now they are at the same depot as Britz and Maui in Christchurch. We booked through Motorhome Republic, which may have also been the source of blame for our first problem. At booking online, we were asked details for hotel (when and where) pickup. After waiting at hotel reception beyond appointed time, we found out United doesn’t do pickups. The bedding for our queensized sleeping area consisted of a single-wide duvet and equivalent blanket. Our GPS wouldn’t charge with the charger provided. Our toilet did not flush. To United’s credit, they found a mechanic at Hanmer Springs to fix the toilet (a blown fuse). However, they told us the mechanic would be there at 7:30am when in fact the station opened at 7:30am, but the mechanic doesn’t come in until 9:30am. It comes down to whether I would use United again and no, I wouldn’t. Our North Island rental with Frontier was flawless and I had hoped to have the equivalent in South Island.

Christchurch, New...
Destination Expert
for Zhuhai, Christchurch, South Island
Level Contributor
33,694 posts
331 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

What an amazing trip report! Sounds like a great trip.Thanks for taking the time to write it.

New Zealand
Destination Expert
for South Island
Level Contributor
28,367 posts
84 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

Thanks for your detailed report Dec :)

So how does geocaching work? Do you work off a book? a website? ... do you leave a trinket or just leave your details?

I gave done many of the highest peaks in the US where you find the can and leave your details - so I suppose this is similar?

Edited: 15 December 2012, 00:01
California
Level Contributor
7,680 posts
71 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

It's similar in that each cache contains a logbook. You sign your geocaching name and the date in it. Caches can be as big as a breadbox, or as small as a pea. One of the caches of our trip was a fake bolt in a picnic table! The end unscrewed to expose the log. Check out www.geocaching.com for more info. I used saved "lists" of caches on my iPad and used the GPS on that to find them. Most usually use a hand-held GPS. You also log into your geocaching account to log your finds. It's great because it can take you to little known "gems" of an area. Ohau seal colony had two, Dog Stream Falls had one, Pt Kean had one, etc.

Christchurch, New...
Destination Expert
for Zhuhai, Christchurch, South Island
Level Contributor
33,694 posts
331 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

I did a bit of geo-caching with a friend in the Yorkshire Dales last year and it seemed there was a "take-something-leave something" policy there as well as signing the log book. I left a Chinese 1 Yuan coin!!

California
Level Contributor
7,680 posts
71 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

Yep, there is some trading involved if you want to. The smaller caches only have room for the log. Larger ones will contain small toys and trinkets. If we're caching with kids, they enjoy trading items, but we usually don't bother when on our own. There are also "Travel Bugs" which are inventoried items that you move from place to place and log where they are. We've placed a couple of TB's and monitor them. Right now we have one in Spain, Germany, New York, and Alberta Canada. We picked up a TB in one of the NZ caches and will deposit it in a cache here (California) next time we are out and about.

Edited: 15 December 2012, 17:53
San Antonio, Texas
Level Contributor
219 posts
10 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Our Top of the South Trip Report!

Sawcut Gorge and Queen Charlotte sound awesome; thanks for sharing. Got any good pics?