Our final New Zealand Post…
We left our campsite heading North, felt weird! We decided to get as close as we could to Christchurch that night. We spent most of the morning checking out beaches off Highway 1. We stopped in small towns, ate fish and chips, and drank delicious coffee. We ended up going to Katiki Point. We had read it was a free place to check out seals, birds and maybe even spot a Yellow-eyed Penguin. New Zealand has three breeds of penguins: Blue Penguins (smallest), Fiordland Crested Penguins and Yellow-eyed Penguins. We were happy that we got to see 6 Yellow-eyed Penguins there, all were resting and laying down. We also saw tons of Fur Seals! It was a great little hike and even included a lighthouse for us to check out.
We got to a free camping spot right off the highway late in the evening. Since it was a free camping spot, it got pretty busy. The rain held out long enough to cook dinner, which was nice.
It was time to part with our van – since we haven’t posted photos of our sweet ride, check it out (as we mentioned in an earlier post, no curtains for sleeping so we had to improvise):
We got up pretty early and found a camper nearby that we gave our leftover food to, as well as our pillows since they would not fit in our suitcase. We got to our AirBnB around 10AM, and were able to drop off our items. We found a place to wash the car (even though it was raining, we still had to get those bugs off and vacuum). The car wash was also a dog wash. We learned from our AirBnB hosts, Sarah and Heather that these are popular. We were able to get the car dropped off in time at the Wicked office. A few blocks away was a camera store. Steve has been eyeing a new camera bag, as the one he currently sits on one shoulder and becomes quite heavy. We bought a new backpack that could fit his camera and gadgets.
(Note from Steve: For any photographers out there, the bag I purchased was the LowePro Fastback BP 150 AW II. This bag has turned out to be perfect for me on our travels. It fits my smallish dSLR as well as two extra lenses and the tripod (or waterbottle) on the outside. There is also a padded pocket that fits our 12” Macbook and there is another pocket for extra stuff, all while still fitting under the seat of an airplane. It functions as a daypack while carrying all my camera gear as well. The best feature is the side zip for removing the camera. I can slip one strap off and quickly unzip and have the camera in my hand, and then put it right back when I am done. This is great when in crowded areas or places I would rather not have my camera out all the time. This has actually changed the way I shoot and I have switched from wearing the camera on my shoulder all the time to using a hand strap and carrying it in the bag most of the time. I would say if you have a larger dSLR or larger lenses, go with the 250 as this is a tight fit with just my gear.)
Our apartment was fantastic. It was actually an in-law unit, and we had full access to their washer and dryer. The shower was awesome too! We had planned on visiting the zoo so we can finally see a Kiwi, and our hosts kindly offered to finish up our laundry for us while we checked out the sights. We were floored that she was so nice to us, and really genuinely cared about us enjoying our time in Christchurch.
We took an Uber to Orana Wildlife Park. We got there around 2, and decided right away we needed to see the Kiwi. The park was only open till 5, and the Kiwi exhibit closes at 2. Unfortunately, the Kiwi exhibit is a nocturnal house, so no photography was allowed. We were thrilled to finally see one – it was a lot bigger, and cuter than we expected. Kiwis have fur like feathers, which made the urge to cuddle them stronger. We ate lunch at their café, and were “attacked” by ducks. These ducks were used to people and the ducklings, although cute, enjoyed biting our shoes and pants. The highlight of our lunch was witnessing a man pick up a baby duckling, to then be attacked immediately by the mother. I have never seen a duck fly at someone’s face like that.
The park was pretty cool. The animals seem super close. We witnessed the tiger feeding, which involves (and I am not joking) people paying extra to be driven in a metal cage into the enclosure where tigers are fed by handlers who are also in the cage. I think we should’ve done that. Steve and I enjoyed looking at the Cheetahs. I don’t think I have ever been so close to one in my life, and they are so beautiful (they also purr just like house cats only much louder). We also saw a Tasmanian Devil which was ugly and nothing like the cartoon version. We spent a lot of time in the New Zealand bird house, watching the birds eat and flutter around.
The park closed at 5, so we were ushered out. We attempted to get an Uber, but because the park was in the middle of nowhere were unsuccessful. So we hitched a ride with an employee, Jennifer, as close to downtown as she could get us. It was really nice of her to offer a ride; I was beginning to really like the people of Christchurch. We were scheduled to meet my cousin, her children and her in-laws at 6PM, so we killed a little time at a nearby bar trying some local beer.
Genny is my cousin through my mom’s side and I rarely see her because she lives in Washington. It was great seeing her in August, so to see them again in New Zealand was such a treat. Genny’s husband, Brad, brought them with him to New Zealand for work for about a month. Brad is a pilot and was actually flying when we had dinner. Sorry to miss you Brad! We met Brad’s parents Barbara and Ken. And of course we loved seeing Haidyn and Harper! It was really nice seeing family. We have no regrets about this trip, but seeing familiar faces really does help with homesickness. I don’t see Genny often, but it feels like no effort to have a conversation with her. I think that’s how family is, no work is needed, ever. You don’t have to impress them or work hard to keep it going, it comes naturally. Okay, you may have to work a little hard to impress the kids. But it was just like being with my nieces at home in the bay area. It felt really good, and lifted my spirit up completely. Ken and Barbara are travelers themselves, and talking to them was inspiring. They gave us plenty to think about on our upcoming travels. Something Genny had said has resonated with me for the last few weeks and continues to pop in my head. She had mentioned that Mem (my Aunt Mary Ellen, her Grandmother) had loved to travel and would’ve been really proud of me for making this trip. Mem had always told her, “we have gypsy blood flowing through us”. My memories of Mem are good ones: her always eating ice cream or dessert, laughing when in New Orleans someone gave her beads, and her kindness to children. She visited us often in the bay area and always called me sweetie, and said I had beautiful eyes. The idea of her approving of this trip gives me a smile and a warm heart. I can’t overstate how cute Haidyn and Harper are. I met Haidyn in August and she could tell me time on her watch. I was super impressed because she hadn’t even started Kindergarten yet. Seeing her again, I was still in awe of how smart she was. Harper is a ball of energy! She is a wild child with a good soul. She reminds me of stories my mom tells of me when I was her age. My mom called me a little monkey, I would climb everything, hide under tables and at malls it was only a matter of minutes before I ran off somewhere. I always felt they designed those kid leashes with me in mind, and it wasn’t long until I was sporting one. Harper is my wild sister – and I love it. She didn’t really care for Steve, but really… with that beard, of course, but when she cuddles, she cuddles hard. We really enjoyed our night. Thank you Genny, Barbara, Ken, Haidyn & Harper for meeting us!
We were only in New Zealand for 11 days! It was hard saying goodbye because we fell in love with the country almost instantly. New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise. We want to come back (with our backpacking gear) and do some long treks. We didn’t get to see a lot of the North Island, so we would probably focus on seeing more of that when we return. Steve found some long treks near Fiordland he would like to do. We would recommend all of our friends who love to camp, hike, and see natural beauty to consider a visit here!