New Zealand Campervan: West coast wonderland

We were ready to take it a bit easier after our whirlwind (in more ways than one) tour of the North Island, so we started off our South Island adventures in the quiet, misty farmlands around Marlborough Sound.

The Campermate app showed us a farm/campsite with rave reviews about the cute animals, friendly owners, and hot muffins on arrival. Sold.

After fawning over Molly the pig, Tiri the goat, and a gaggle of hungry sheep, we picked up our broken hearts and drove to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track for a hike down one of the thin fingers of land reaching into the sound.


Farewell Spit

Next, we headed for the remote, sandy shores at the very tip of the South Island. Bertha waited for us in the carpark under the care of our friends the peacocks, and we set off through a hilly sheep paddock toward the larger-than-life Wairiki Beach.


We noticed the pathway gradually turning to sand, but the beaches’ impressive windswept dunes and huge rock formations almost snuck up on us, waiting until the final bend or two to reveal themselves.


We picked a “well-marked trail” across the hills overlooking the beach, which turned out to be more of a set of red stakes jabbed into the grassy, Shire-like landscape.


Obediently, we let them lead us up and down at least a half dozen steep, slippery hills which provided a good amount of silly falls and startled sheep encounters. Eventually, we huffed and puffed our way to Cape Farewell, with epic views and a sheer drop to the Tasman Sea.


Stormy seas

Further south, the highway bends to the west and starts to skirt the rugged, temperamental coastline.


Along the way we pulled off to see Punakaiki, or “Pancake” rocks, so named because of their layered appearance. Among the formations are surge pools and blowholes, where stormy waves create blasts of water that shoot 10+ meters into the air. We luckily arrived exactly at high tide, and the just-barely-nice weather created a roaring maelstrom of seawater that was perfect for viewing the blowholes in action.


It’s also along this section of highway that we pulled off into an odd little coastal town for a guaranteed Kiwi bird sighting at the National Kiwi Centre. Huge moment for me. Though it wasn’t in the wild, and not in a place that allows cameras (they’re scared of flashes), getting to see these fluffy, earnest little birds digging for a snack made the funky stop well worth it.

Glaciers and great timing

Over the next few days, we visited Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, somehow avoiding rain on both of our hikes in to the glaciers perfectly—like raining the second we got back to the carpark perfectly.


Seeing these glaciers was a powerful experience, not only for their raw beauty and scale, but also for the perspective we gained on how rapidly the earth is heating up. The multi-kilometer streambeds we had just hiked up to view the glaciers were created by their gradual retreat since the opening of the trails in the late 20th century. And in 2013, the Department of Conservation had to finally concede defeat and move the viewpoints around the next ridge—the edge of the glaciers couldn’t even be seen from the old pathway.


Upon learning this, Nick felt deep pangs of guilt for all the Aqua Net he’d layered on those cowlicks over the years.


Up next:

Southward ho! We’re taking Bertha deep into the Southern Alps and Fiordland.