Friday 16 January 2015

South Island- The Best of 2014

It is pretty hard writing a blog about the best of last year when the whole year was pretty awesome. I say the Best of 2014 but in fact I have included December 2013 too, which was when we started our South Island odyssey. We have covered many miles, seen a lot of spectacular & beautiful scenery, driven some pretty awe-inspiring roads, had some wonderful wild life encounters and met so many lovely people.  Here’s my attempt at trying to choose ‘the best of’ although I have to admit that I had at least 2-3 first place contenders for each title after whittling down the list.

Best Nature Encounter-

This would have to be the Yellow Eyed Penguin (Hoiho) that marched right past us, not a metre away from where we were sitting in the grass at Katiki Point near Moeraki. Our first experience with the endearing Hoiho and we couldn’t have asked for a more personal encounter.

Blog post here- Penguin Encounter

Best Road Trip-

This one was hard; we really have enjoyed many spectacular road trips along some remote & isolated roads, most of them dusty gravel & winding but not knowing what is around the next bend always has us sitting on the edge of the seat pushing on until we reach the end. I chose the road to Walter Peak Station for it’s sheer grandeur; the surrounding mountains rose so sharply from the valley floor making us look pretty insignificant on the road below.

The Road to Walter Peak Station

A very close second was the road to French Pass in the Marlborough Sounds with it's magnificent 360° views.

Best Photo Opportunity-

Oh dear how do I choose this one? The year has been full of fantastic photo opportunities. Every day and around every corner there are amazing vistas and stunning scenery. New Zealanders are extremely lucky you know; where else in the world can you travel from mountain scenery, through tropical rainforest, past arid desert landscapes with azure blue rivers & lakes and across lush farm plains to arrive at golden sand beaches, all within 2-3 hours of driving?

Autumn at Bannockburn won this one- I loved the amazing range of autumn colours, the deep red of the rosehips, the smell of the dried thyme & the still autumn air which had The Inlet looking like a millpond.

Beautiful Bannockburn

Best Bird-

Again there were far too many for me to choose just one, we were able to tick many first timers off our birding list and see some quite rare birds including the Glossy Ibis at the Travis Wetlands in Christchurch but the one little bird that found a special place in my heart was a NZ Bush Robin (Toutouwai) at Mavora Lakes who would climb up on my shoe as I was sitting on the ground and peck at all the sandflies landing on my legs. Except a couple of times he made my leg bleed thinking a mole was a sandfly.

Here's the video of this little character pecking my leg & tap dancing (I can finally upload it- it's not the best quality, the clicking is the camera focusing, it was my first attempt at videoing with my camera)

Best Paid Attraction-

Hands down the best money spent by far was the ‘Knights of the Sky’ display at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim. An incredible exhibition featuring our very own knight, Sir Peter Jackson’s collection of vintage aircraft.

‘Kinghts of the Sky’

Best Activity (and biggest laugh)-

The Lumsden Community fundraising 4WD Safari through Nokomai Station’s ‘Hidden Valley’. This was our first experience of 4WDriving with others and we had an amazing day with just enough scary sections to keep us on our toes. An added bonus was travelling the famed Nevis Road on our way home. Our ‘Shiny’ did us proud.

Hidden Valley, Nokomai Station

Best Domestic Animal-

Horace & Horatio, two 12 year old Kune Kune pigs with faces that only a mother could love!

Best Day Walk-

This was another tough one to chose- we have walked a diverse range of tracks and they all have their merits, but I think my vote must go the Kiwi Burn Loop in the Snowden Forest near Mavora Lakes. I chose this one for the sheer challenge it threw at us; lulled by an enchanted forest with a beautiful green moss covered track and plentiful birdlife on the way in, we were then confronted with moa height tussock, deep muddy bogs and the water canals of Kiwi Burn on the way out. Never has a hut, seen on the horizon, seemed so close yet so far as we fought our way through the undergrowth and zig-zagged our way down the boggy burn. But the sense of achievement when we finally made it back to our vehicle was exhilarating!

Kiwi Burn

Most Exhausting Day Walk would go to Key Summit on the Milford Road but oh what views we were rewarded with at the top.

Best DOC (Department of Conservation) Campground-

Kenepuru Head and Mavora Lakes- OK so I couldn’t choose! Kenepuru for the great facilities and large open grassy sites, Mavora for the isolation & huge area available. Both of them because they’re miles from anywhere and have not too many campers.

Mavora Lakes

Kenepuru Head

Best Commercial Campground-

Not only were we made very welcome by Selwyn & Gloria but their Manapouri Motorhome & Caravan Park must be the most manicured & well cared for park in the country. Handy to the Doubtful Sound boat tour operators, the magnificent Kepler Track ‘Great Walk’ and just far enough away from the madness that overtakes Te Anau during the tourist season.

Relaxing in Manapouri

Best Beach-

Golden Bay’s Whararaki Beach which is located at the top of the west coast just south of Farewell Spit is the winner here. After walking through lush green paddocks dotted with new-born spring lambs we were greeted by an amazing expanse of pure white sand dunes, brilliant blue ocean, monster sea caves and huge majestic sea stacks known as the Archway Islands. Not often visited they are well worth the extra effort involved in getting there.

Wharariki Beach

Best Nature Phenomenon-

The barfing shags of Tata Beach- such an amazing spectacle that I had to visit twice.

Best City-

This may come as a surprise to many but Invercargill wins hands down. Much maligned by the rest of the country, Invercargill is a lovely, tidy, compact city full of character and historic buildings with dozens of parks and green spaces scattered throughout the city. Taking centre stage & the jewel in the crown literally, is Queen’s Park, an oasis in the city centre.

The Belle of the South

Invercargill Water Tower

Best Lake-

There were plenty of contenders for this one but in the end I chose the ‘Dismal Swamp’, Lake Onslow; a large puddle in the middle of a windswept expanse of rolling tussock and surrounded by the most beautiful fishing huts ever.

Lake Onslow

Best Waterfall-

We actually haven’t seen too many waterfalls in the latter part in the year but certainly had our fill earlier on while travelling through the Catlins and around Fiordland. My choice is the Catlins’ McLean Falls, a beautiful multi-tiered waterfall that is located at the end of a short bush walk full of emerald green luxuriant ferns and mosses.

McLean Falls, Catlins

Best Free Campsite-

This would have to be Weir Beach Reserve at the southern end of the Catlins. Ovelooking a huge estuary and close to an ocean beach where sealions can be found, Weir Beach Reserve is a large grassy expanse with a basic drop toilet and the best spring water supply we've found on our travels. And best of all it was close to our Invercargill family who came to camp with us.

Weir Beach Reserve

Best Historic Encounter-

Without a doubt, the Lawrence Lions. An amazing coincidence led me on a path of discovery- from not knowing about the lions and their escape to making contact with the daughter of the man that had to shoot them, and then finally to the Dunedin Museum to view Sultan & Sonias’ taxidermied bodies.

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Best Ride-

Not one but two free unexpected helicopter rides within 3 weeks of each other. The first one in a Robinson 22 to take photos of the Manapouri Motorhome & Caravan Park and the second in a Robinson 44 to take photos of the Arrowtown Autumn Festival Motorhome Rally. Both thrilling and exhilarating with awesome views over the district.


Above Arrowtown

Best Weather Experience-

Milford Sound in the rain. This would have to be the most unexpected surprise and on a day we really wanted it to be fine. After a thorough drenching walking part of the Milford Track and not seeing more than a few metres ahead of us due to the mist and heavy rain we drove into a water wonderland as we made our way back to camp at the aptly named, as it turned out, Cascade Creek. The mountains came alive as hundreds of waterfalls cascaded down the walls that surrounded us on the climb up to the Homer Tunnel.

Rain on the Milford Road

First place for the most terrifying weather encounter goes to the wild ride we endured at Elaine Bay in the Marlborough Sounds.

Best  Most Wonderful People-

It’s been a privilege & a pleasure to meet so many great people on our travels; from laugh a minute, heart of gold Kevin at Hillview Camp Site near Owaka in the Catlins, to the hospitable Dusty and family who invited us to a roast dinner & to stay overnight on their farm at Albury Park Station.

Hillview Camp

Albury Park Station

Then there’s all the fabulous people we’ve met while partaking in an assortment of tours & activities,  at the various camping grounds and rallies, and especially the lovely people we’ve shared many a jovial  ‘Happy Hour’ with along the way- far too many people to mention individually but all wonderful, caring people who have made our journey that much more special. And a particularly special mention must be made of the folk that have made contact, & I've had the pleasure of meeting, who have been following my blog.

Yes, we’ve had a wonderful year. I could go on and on but I’m sure I’ve listed far too many as it is so I’ll call it a day. But do you know what the best bit really is? We get to do it all again this year!


  1. Looking forward to your upcoming adventure stories. Thoroughly enjoy your blogs and stunning photos!! Best wishes for 2015!! Regards, Joanne Pett

    1. Thanks Joanne, lovely to hear from you and best wishes to you and your family for 2015 too. I'm glad you have enjoyed reading the blog, I know you'll enjoy the coming year too.

  2. This was a great read! I'm also looking forward to your travels this year. Congratulations on producing such an enjoyable blog for all us stay-at-homes.

    1. Thanks Olwen, much appreciated. Funnily enough I thought 'the best of blog' was a great read too! I've read it more than my usual 2-3 times, it brings back lots of happy memories. I'm sure there'll be plenty of new adventures to write about this coming year. Thanks again for your support.

  3. Yes it certainly was a super year for you two, you've given us plenty of ideas for our own travels.....we camped at that very spot, the head of the Kenepuru sound last Christmas day, a superb spot.
    It's a must to camp at Weir Beach Reserve, its Christines Clan!
    Cheers for 2015
    Hope to spot you on the road in 2015.
    Jimu & Christine

    1. Thanks Jimu and I'm glad you've enjoyed our journey. It was great to meet you two and I know our paths will cross again soon. You enjoy every day of your new lifestyle and don't forget to let us know if you find any hidden gems 'Out There'. Your support has also been much appreciated.

  4. Thanks for a great read about your best places etc. We always enjoy reading your blog, and the photos are stunning. Would be great to meet up with you both sometime, if we are in the same place at the same time.

    Robin and Jenny from Romany Rambler

    1. Thanks guys, much appreciated. Perhaps we can touch base as we pass back through Levin on our way south in a couple weeks or so. It would be lovely to catch up.

  5. What an informative and fantastic blog you have created. Very inspiring, beautiful photographs. We are making our way around the Sth Island also (left Nth Island 2 yr ago) and your blog will no doubt, be referred to regularly, now that I have come across it.. Thanks and congrats, you are a gifted writer. Maybe a book? in the making? Kind Regards.

    1. You are too kind Janine, many thanks for leaving a comment and I'm glad you have enjoyed the blog. I do have the blog regularly printed but just for my own benefit- so I have a hard copy. I think I'm up to Volume 7 so if I did go to print I'd have to do a lot of condensing! :) Maybe we'll see you on the road somewhere, do make yourself known if you see us about.


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