Driving, Driving, Sun, Sun

December 23 & 24 – Narrated by Alaina

The past couple days haven’t been terribly exciting (from our adventurous point of view). We have had to make a couple long drives because we have bonus time! We did everything that was on the list and now we have six awesome days to do everything that I didn’t think we would be able to!

With that said, we decided that we would drive north to Nelson and check out Able Tasman park which everyone, including native kiwis, have said is absolutely amazing. We are heading up there today to celebrate Christmas with the family we met in Doubtful Sound and look forward to having the really long stretches of driving past us

December 23

We woke up underneath the Mt. Cook mountain range and it was absolutely stunning. Since the first days of rain, we have been blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather. Bright sun, blue skies and upper 60 temps. We had been told to check out another area of the range which included the Tasman Glacier, so before our long drive we decided to get a mini-workout in. The Tasman Glacier is located on the backside of Mt. Cook so we chose to walk to both the jetty that holds the water to see the icebergs and then climb up to see the glacier and lake all in one. The glacier is about 23km in length although we could only see about a 1/2 kilometer. Mike and I had no idea how many steps we had to take so it was a good leg workout and worth the view. There may have been some harmonies sung from the moulin rouge soundtrack, but Mike would never admit that..

 Because it was such a beautiful day, the visibility was great and you could see the huge chunks of glacier that have recently dropped off. I will admit it was really hard to say goodbye to Mt. Cook and the area. I knew it would be beautiful, but I had no idea it would be so majestic. I have always loved the mountains and am happy to have seen this range in person..

 After leaving Mt. Cook we had about a 4 1/2 drive to Arthur’s Pass – yes, I planned our entire itinerary around going to Arthur’s pass so I could get a picture in front of the sign with my Dad’s name 🙂 We passed through beautiful scenery, lots of sheep and cows, and may have taken Dora off-roading to get yet another picture of Mt. Cook. She definitely hated us…

 We stopped at Lake Tekapo for lunch in the camper, found an adorable cafe and continued on. For some odd reason we have the expectations to not have a cliff/corkscrew drive one of these days… It hasn’t happened yet. Beginning the ascent to Arthur’s pass was impressive, steep and slightly intimidating. We came across Castle Hill which is their version of Stonehenge.

It was cool, but we were racing the sun on mountain roads so we didn’t dilly dally. We entered into Arthur’s pass and it was stunning. The sun was hitting the mountains and it created such a pretty reflection.

 *Sidenote: New Zealand has hundreds of one-lane bridges. What does this mean? You see a sign and it says who has the right of way, you get up to the bridge and see if any cars are coming… If not, go! If yes, you either go or wait pending your right of way. It can be a little stressful, especially if you can’t see the other side due to the sharp turns. We have the signage down, but every time it still makes me a little nervous. Especially when the one lane doubles as a train track!

I got my picture!

  We continued driving through as I had located a campsite right outside the pass and it was starting to get dark… The drive down the pass was insane. It was so steep, there was even an overhang off the cliff for a waterfall to not spill on the road.

 We arrived to Jacksons Retreat Holiday Park about 10 minutes later and were welcomed to a sign that said “voted #1 in NZ”… Slightly skeptical, we pulled in. Well, we now understand how they are able to make that statement. It was the coolest and nicest campground we have been in yet. You can tell that the family that runs it considers it a labor of love. They have 15 acres of pristine land and it was our most private spot in the woods we have had.

We were able to order homemade bread for the following morning and even met a young German who is biking the country and offered to go with us to find the Glow worms! We have passed on the glow worm tours because they are insanely expensive and come to find out, apparently these little guys are everywhere! We trekked through the woods in the dark around 11:30pm on a very well marked trail and came to a small creek, I turned and I was staring at what looked like the starriest of skies. It was so cool! Mike attempted to take a picture and this is what he got. There were hundreds more than actually came out in the picture, I promise:

 It was such a fun and unplanned adventure, and it was in our backyard!

December 24

Merry Christmas Eve! It’s amazing how we now rate a place by their quality of showers/bathroom facilities. Jackson’s killed it. The showers not only had amazing water pressure, but they had actual glass doors! So fancy!

We decided to kick off the morning with a small trek up to the waterfall on the property. The landscape here is much more dense than we have seen… It was like walking through a rainforest. We arrived to the falls and it was beautiful, peaceful and refreshing. It felt like we were in Hawaii (having never been there mind you).

 After saying goodbye to the camp owner Toni and her parrot, Honey (after he used my shoulder as his own private bathroom), we were off.

 First stop was Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth. Monteith’s is an award-winning Brewery and we have seen the brand throughout our travels. Why not visit where it all began? Our visit was highly enjoyable… Mike got a flight of their featured beers and I tried their cider which may have usurped wine for the rest of the trip (we bought a 4-pack before we left).

  The overall design of the building was really cool. Industrial, but they had leather couches around a fireplace and a beer garden. Their beer battered fries? Delicious. And most thrilling to Mike were that their urinals were made out of beer kegs! So cool!

 We continued on our way to Punakaiki which is famous for the Pancake Rocks in the Tasman Sea. I am happy we had the opportunity to stop here as its really a reflection of how powerful the ocean can be. While there is not a true scientific answer as to how these pancake rocks came to be, it is believed to have been seams of mudstone in between limestone and the force of the sea over the past 100,000 years has created the pancake effect, also known as stylobedding.

 Back on the road we quickly stopped at Tauranga Bay Seal Colony a and saw so many baby seals! Mike was ecstatic and we were thoroughly entertained by their antics.

The town that we decided to camp in was… interesting. After going through another pass, we arrived to Murchison. A slightly depressing little podunk town that looked like it was a set from the Wild West. Apparently is was founded during the gold rush but they are trying to turn it around to be a fishing/adventure destination… They have a long way to go :-/ We decided to eat at a local restaurant/pub and while Mike was able to eat his dinner, mine was not appetizing at all… So I just replaced my dinner with Monteith’s Cider. It was depressing just the overall state of the town, but we had a place to sleep, shower and they also had animals (emu, wallaby and others) so Mike was happy.

Most certainly the most unique Xmas eve we have had, but we were together, happy and even found a mini tree to display in Dora! When we arrived back to camp, Mike surprised me with a pair of new pajama pants, “we have to keep the tradition going!” And we watched the Colbert XMas special, a tradition we have going on seven years. Christmas in New Zealand, we will take it!

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