We started our Kiwi trip in Christchurch. We rented a RV with a bed and a small kitchen (the kitchen comes out from underneath the bed and you have to open the back of the van to cook). The total price was around $2,000 for two weeks, including insurance.
We used the app Campermate to discover all the best camping spots -- it also includs reviews and info about amenities. Make sure you download the area of interest, so that you can have offline access. It's unlikely you'll find many spots with free internet in NZ.
After getting the car in Christchurch we bought easy to cook food (pasta, pre-cooked rice, tortillas, chicken) and equipment for our time on the road (warm clothes and a hat). There's a Kathmandu outlet downtown which is perfect for last minute deals.
From Christchurch, we made our way southeast to Akaroa because we read that there were dolphins in that area. We stayed in a little village called Onuku Farm. It $14 per person per night with a van, with amenities including toilets, showers, kitchen, and laundry.
There's several excursions in the area, we decided to go for kayaking with dolphins for $30. They gave us the kayak and suits and pointed out the best area to see dolphins. Dolphins get closer to the town harbor during the morning and we were patiently waiting for them to appear. They didn’t make us wait too long, though. There were three or four around us playing with the little waves that we formed with the paddles. Dolphins are fast and elegant in their movements and it was a privilege to watch them swimming, wild and free. Sometimes they disappeared under the deep blue water, but not for too long. They kept on coming and going and seemed to have fun getting to know us.
After our adventure with dolphins, we made our way south towards Mt. Cook and stopped for the night at Waihi Gorge Campsite. The price is $5 per adult per night (put money in the box located at the entrance). It’s a basic site with toilets, nothing more. We loved the place because we were the only ones, or I should say the only people. On the hills, there were thousands of sheep. If privacy is what you’re looking for, this is the perfect spot.
Mt. Cook is a touristy area. The closest spot to camp is called White Horse Hill Campground and the price is $8 per person per night. There is a common area with tables and sinks plus shelter and showers 3 minutes drive from the campground (showers $1.25 for 5 minutes). It’s very cold at night and often foggy and rainy. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend this campsite if it wasn’t for proximity to the hikes. If you have time, check the forecast before heading to the mountain because you might get disappointed.
The main point of interest and the most touristy hike is Mueller Lookout, which is a 3 hours walk (return included). The best time to enjoy the silence and sounds of nature is at sunrise. Buses with large groups of tourists start to arrive around 9 AM.
Kea Point and the Tasman Glacier Lake are shorter hikes. The viewpoints are perfect for admiring the stunning glacial beauty of the landscape. Staring at this remote place that has been modeled for thousands of years I thought that its deep silence makes it seem quiet and dormant when in reality this area has been active with constant and slow movements that have been carving and eroding the rocks. This misleading appearance of balance above the chaos fascinates me.
We did a quick one night stop in Queenstown to refill at the grocery store then headed towards the magical Fiordland.
We spent the night at Gunns Camp. The price is $13 per night with amenities (toilets, showers, kitchen). The campsite is a one hour drive from Milford Sound, which makes it quite popular. The amenities are not many compared to the demand but the story behind it makes it special. It used to be a workers camp for the people that were building the Milford road and Homer tunnel. The owner wants the visitors to live in the original conditions, as it was in the 1930’s, to feel the hardships of the workers that lived there. There is also a little museum about the history of the camp. Very interesting.
Milford Sound is touristy but it’s worth it. Although I haven’t seen all the world yet, I can say that it’s probably the most spectacular natural attraction on earth. We did a one hour cruise with Jucy and we loved it. The price is $30 per person with brunch included. The captain was fun and entertaining. He described the natural scene unfolding in front of our eyes.
Get ready for a natural Wonderland: unique vegetation, mountains, and rocks sculpted by glaciers, dolphins playing with the current, seals sunbathing on rock and waterfalls that have been there for 10,000 years.
The captain took us close to the waterfall and told us that if we wanted to stay on the deck we would get wet. We decided to stay and live the experience to the fullest. How many times in life can you say: “I showered with pure water coming from a glacier?”
We felt the powerful frozen wind on our skin, got drenched and had fun. I adored this interactive experience with nature.