Homeward Bound! – New Zealand Part 1

I’ve travelled the world a lot over the years, but recently I realised I haven’t properly explored my own backyard. So I’ve got my hands on a Kea Camper and I’m heading on a journey around the South Island of New Zealand. First stop, Christchurch!

Flying into Christchurch it was a nice feeling to be back on home soil. I could have been a little more patriotic and come in on a local carrier, but Qantas was my airline of choice….you can’t ignore their impeccable safety record, plus of course the arrival time meant I landed with plenty of daylight to look around the city.

First stop though was to check into my hotel – The Crowne Plaza. Now before you start thinking “Typical travel show presenter, staying in expensive hotels that the rest of us couldn’t afford!” Well, this place is exactly the opposite. It’s comfy, modern and offers great service, without the hefty price tag. The hotel restaurants are apparently good too, but I couldn’t resist a pub meal down the road.

Now the first thing I noticed in Christchurch was the European influence. It’s apparent in everything, there’s even punting on the Avon River, which by the way is a pretty relaxed way to see the city. Another good option for getting around Christchurch is on the tram, and for an aerial view head up to the gondola.

The following morning I picked up my home on wheels, a Kea campervan. A motorhome is arguably the best way to get around New Zealand. You can see the sites at your own pace and then either stay in caravan parks or Department of Conservation campgrounds along the way. It gives you more freedom and can also save you a heap of money. The money I saved I used to indulge in a couple of nights in comfy hotels.

The first day saw me travelling through the Canterbury Plains and into the mountains as I headed south. First stop was the magnificent lake Tekapo, followed by an evening arrival into Mt Cook. Now I’m about to use a cliché here, but I mean it entirely – Words don’t do this place justice!

The views from The Hermitage at Mt Cook Village, across the valley to the distant mountains are nothing short of jaw dropping. The snow-capped peaks glisten as they tower over the green and gold plains below. Waterfalls tumble down the cliff faces and crystal clear streams flow through the fields. There’s plenty to see and do here, including the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre and 4wd tours. But the activity that most appealed to me was glacier sea kayaking, so the next morning it was an early rise to meet up with local mountaineering legend Charlie Hobbs.

The Kayak trip took me from the still, icy waters of a lake, to being up close and personal with a glacier. The pristine water and mountainous backdrop was the perfect setting as Charlie gave me an education about the local plant life, geology and history of the area. I even got to touch an iceberg!

After a bite to eat at the Old Mountaineers Café, I hit the road to Queenstown. It’s a scenic drive of around four hours, passing massive rivers, deep gorges and several lakes. Filming during the drive meant I didn’t roll into town until after dark….But hey, the occasional long day is a small price to pay when you get paid to travel the world!

In Queenstown I spent another night at the Crowne Plaza…yeah I know, I’m a bit soft, but I figured I deserved a night of luxury after the hard day. The following morning I headed out on a 4wd trip with Nomad Safaris. The tour I was on took me through a place called Skippers Canyon. It’s a half-day of adventure where you’re taken to see locations where Lord of the Rings was filmed and into a spectacular landscape that was the realm of gold miners a century ago. The single lane track is carved into the rock face and winds along the mountainside, providing a dramatic and rugged backdrop.

Bidding the Nomad Safaris guys farewell I boarded the TSS Earnslaw, a vintage steamship that cruises the beautiful waters of Lake Wakatipu. She was launched in 1912 and is believed to be the only coal-fired passenger-carrying vessel still operating in the southern hemisphere. The cruise is a must do if you’re ever in Queenstown. It’s a relaxing and scenic journey with commentary about the vessel and history of the area. It’s also a great way to finish off a day of touring.

 

I flew to Christchurch with Qantas: www.qantas.com.au

I picked up my campervan from Kea Campers: www.keacampers.com

For information about punting on the Avon River in Christchurch: www.punting.co.nz

Accommodation in Christchurch, Crowne Plaza: www.christchurch.crowneplaza.com

The Hermitage Mt Cook: www.mount-cook.com

Glacier Kayaking Mt Cook: www.mtcook.com

Accommodation in Queenstown, Crowne Plaza: www.christchurch.crowneplaza.com

For more information about New Zealand visit: www.newzealand.com

4WD Tour in Queenstown (Nomad Safaris): www.nomadsafaris.co.nz

TSS Earnslaw Cruise: www.realjourneys.co.nz

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