Day 11: June 8th – Van Swaps and Traffic Stops

We woke up at Lake Alexandrina campsite, which neighbors Lake Tekapo. It was a cold night, and a frosty morning.


Got up and walked down to the lake and Jo pranked some ducks for a while. It was a really beautiful site.

We saw a bunch of sheep on our way to Lake Tekapo. Pretty normal for driving around NZ.


Lake Tekapo is so amazingly beautiful. I wish we knew how to capture the Caribbean blue of the water in photos!

The Sheep Dog Memorial was there by the lake, too. All those sheep keep these guys very busy. They deserve respect!

Shepherd Dog memorial.JPG

The old Church of the Good Shepherd was there, too.

We didn’t spend too much time, since we had to return the camper and pick up the new one.

Once we got back in the van and we were getting ready to leave, we looked over at the van next to us and the guy in the driver’s seat was wearing a neck pillow!!!  What?!?!  It was hilarious.

The drive from Lake Tekapo for the next hour was really pretty and nice. Then it turned into a bigger highway with a lot more traffic, once we were getting closer to Christchurch.

We made a quick pit stop at Rakaia, the Salmon Capital of New Zealand, where they have a giant salmon statue in the middle of an amazing park with an adult-sized hamster wheel.

We hit the road again and stopped at the Cookie Time Factory Outlet Store and bought a kilo of broken cookies for $9.50 NZ. Those should last us a while on the road!

We forgot to mention–when we were in Queenstown, there was a place called Cookie Time Cookie Bar that served cookies and had karaoke. Amazing business idea. We’re looking for angel investors…let us know if you’re in!

Finally we did a painful pre-wash of the van ourselves at a self-wash. The inside was fine, but the outside was suuuuuuper dirty and we really couldn’t get it done, despite lots of elbow grease on Jo’s part.


We went to a Centex station and gassed up, and sent the Space Ship through the car wash.

Then we went to Jucy to pick up our new camper relocation. The gal who helped us was hilarious. Once she learned we were Americans, she couldn’t stop talking about the Kardashians. She said she would rather watch the Kardashians than go to the NZ All Blacks Rugby game. She thought she’d fit in really well with them.

We asked her for a lot of favors, like, if we could have the van longer than 3 days and still only pay $1 per day. She kept saying, “Yeah, we can do that, I’m the boss!…until my boss comes back.” Ha! …and then she actually did it! Wow, $7 for 7 days. SCORE!

We bought our tickets for the first ferry of the morning to the North island, then returned the Space Ship in the nick of time. Phew!

Our Jucy van is sweet–a little fancier than the ol’ Spaceship (but don’t worry baby, we still love you!). There’s even a DVD player in it. The Jucy office had a little bookshelf of travel books and DVDs that adventurers had left behind when they returned their vans, so others could borrow them and return them when they were done. We were VERY lucky to find the first season of Eastbound & Down on that little shelf. YES!

We stopped at the grocery store to pick up some basics, then found a Pizza Hut for dinner! Pizzas are super cheap! They are a bit smaller, but still big enough for us. We got a seafood pizza and it was delicious. You also get to pick what sauce you want on your pizza, even though it might already have marinara on it. Sweet chili sauce is a big deal over here, and they put that stuff on everything. They also have sides there–so weird! But, hey, we didn’t ask too many questions and just ordered the onion rings.

We keep hearing the same commercials over and over again on the radio, and one of our favorites to imitate is for a children’s clothing store called, Pumpkin Patch. It’s a bunch of little Kiwi kiddos shouting “PUMPKIN PATCH!” in their Kiwi accents. It’s the cutest!!

We hit the road up the East Coast from Christchurch for the second time on this trip, caught a sick sunset…


and didn’t stop until…

June 8th – 9:30pm: WE JUST GOT PULLED OVER!

A police officer just pulled us over for speeding, as we came into the town of Kaikoura. He was rocking a sweet beard, kind of like this:


After asking for Jo’s license and looking it over, he asked Jo what the firearm safety thing meant on his license. They immediately got to chatting about hunting. The officer talked about wild pigs at his property, and a “traditional hunt.” He was talking about someone dropping off a wild pig…?

Even though we speak the same language, it is HARD to understand Kiwis sometimes!

Anyway, this police officer was hilarious. He talked about a side-by-side buggy? Did he mean a motorcycle with a sidecar? If anyone who speaks Kiwi can shed some light, that’d be great. Then just when their conversation was getting good, someone called his cell phone. He ignored it for a while, but finally answered it and said, “Okay, give me five minutes.” Then they kept talking for a while again, and someone buzzed his walkie talkie. He responded with a fed up, “All right, I’ll be right there!”

Then he turned to us and said, “Every time I get to talk about hunting, I get interrupted!”

Eventually he decided he should go, handed Jo his license back and said, “Watch your speed.”


Also, I just found this. Kiwi cops are wonderful.

We got going again toward a campsite near Picton so we can catch the ferry in the morning. Our first choice campsite was full. Fudge! Choice #2 is…? Hmm, not a lot of options up here.

We pulled in to Whatamango campsite, bellied up to the Car Bar and watched a couple episodes of Eastbound & Down before bed.

We are North Island-bound tomorrow! It’s sad to leave the South Island, but we’re excited to keep on exploring and discovering more of this amazing country!


Day 10: June 7th – You Best Take a Look at Mount Cook

We woke up at Lindis Pass Historic Hotel campsite. The Lindis Pass Hotel was used in the 1880’s during the Gold Rush in the Central Otago Region, but was abandoned in 1950 and is now in pretty rough shape.


We opted to sleep in the campervan, rather than the hotel.

We hit the road and drove through Lindis Pass.

We realized we needed gas, so we went back in the direction we had come from to Tarras, since we had no idea how far it would be to the next petrol (gas) station. Once we filled up, we were en route to Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, at 12,218 feet.


Parts of the drive were really foggy. We went through a small salmon town, called Twizel, with tons of beautiful blue lakes–that we could barely make out through the thick fog.

We were starting to worry because we thought it would be too foggy to be able to do anything at Mount Cook. We checked the weather, (use MetService in NZ for all your weather-checking needs!) and everywhere EXCEPT Twizel was nice and sunny. Twizel was so foggy and FREEZING! (It felt just like home…Mother Nature LOVES using Duluth to display her bipolar tendencies.) It was -9 degrees Celsius/16 degrees Fahrenheit. BRISK for June. Check out these trees!

So we pushed on toward Mount Cook, and got our first look at Lake Pukaki. The blue water–like turquoise, Caribbean sea blue water–was just unbelievable! And the fog completely lifted once we got out of Twizel.

Next stop: Mount Cook visitor centre for advice on hiking routes. We decided on the 13 kilometer/8 mile Hooker Valley track. But first…quick, staring contest, GO!


We headed out to the track and it was really snowy and icy. We saw a lady fall and totally jack up her wrist. Jo fell on his butt early. Elaina fell on the way back. Slippery stuff!

The hike was amazing. The weather was perfect–blue skies and sunny and warm.

The hike was to the Tasman Glacier and Tasman Lake. There were three suspension bridges. It was very “Middle Earth-y”.

The lake was frozen so we could go out (and scissor) on it.

It was quite a bit cooler on the way back, once the sun was starting to go down. Thankfully we made it back before dark on today’s hike. Yay! It probably wouldn’t have been too smart or fun to slip and slide our way back on that icy trail in the dark.

We started out of town and decided to make a stop at Tekapo Springs. We got a great deal using BookMe to get our tickets. There were three pools–36 degrees C, 37 degrees C and 38 degrees C (in Fahrenheit, 96.8, 98.6 and 100.4). It was so great. It was very cold to start, getting out to the pools and cold going between the pools–frosty lawn chairs and decks!!–but definitely worth it!

We had so much fun and really relaxed, and even had hot showers afterwards.

Oh yeah and they had curling league there that night on the outdoor rink. So cool!


Jo got us some pies for dinner–buttery chicken and beef. They were SUPER good. Sidenote: pies in NZ aren’t like pies at home. They are meat pies, like pot pies–savory and flaky crusty and delicious. We devoured our pies, and the leftover cheese and baguette we had from the night before, in the parking lot of a hotel so we could use the internet. A very classy move.

Jo found a great deal on a campervan relocation. You may be wondering what a campervan relocation is. In that case, we’d like to share the good news in the world of campervans.

Companies frequently need their campervans transported from one location to another, to be available for customers picking up elsewhere. When they need these vans moved, you can often book them at a very low rate ($1 per day, in our case) as long as you get them to the destination in the agreed-upon number of days. Always look for these, especially if your schedule is flexible!

We really hope companies like these take off in the US…there could be some really cool road trips in our future if they do!

So tomorrow, the plan is to check out Lake Tekapo in the morning, then drive on to Christchurch to drop off the X-Wing and pick up our new relocation van.

Van hoppin’!!

Day 9: June 6th – Cruising Milford Sound & Tramping through Middle Earth

WE SLEPT IN (Home Alone style)!

We were supposed to be at the Milford Sound harbor for a cruise starting at 9:45 and…we didn’t make it. I guess we didn’t just turn into early morning people like we thought we had.

The Milford Sound Lodge

When we arrived at the harbor, we met a couple that was trying to figure out which cruise they were going to go on. The couple was a girl from Maine, living in NZ and a Kiwi, named Zhoel. They lived up near Coromandel, on the North Island, so were giving us some ideas for things we should do if we make it up that far. We tossed around cruise ideas and after toiling a long time, decided on the smallest boat, a nature cruise with Mitre Peak Cruises.

Before moving on, I want to back up a little bit. We missed the cruise we intended to go on, that we had found for a super good price on BookMe ( It’s this really great deals website, similar to Groupon, where you can buy discounted tickets to different activities. We checked it ALL the time…when we had WiFi or phone service, that is. But anyway, don’t miss out on BookMe if you go to New Zealand or Australia. So many activities!


After we decided on our cruise, we had a little time to kill, so we went out to see The Chasm.  There was a ton of water crushing through this stream, which formed holes in all the rocks.

We kept calling it The orChasm…because we’re mature.

There was a scary ghost mask face rock (like in the movie Scream), and huge cauldrons with big holes.

Look for Gollum’s glowing eyes, protecting his Precious…

Then we went back to the Foreshore Walk, right by the Milford Sound harbor. Oh, fa sho! There were super beautiful views of the Sound and the boat docks. Photos just don’t do it justice.

Finally it was time to head to our cruise.


It was a small boat, we were the third and fourth people in line, and made our way straight to the front of the boat…and…no one else did…except for one guy.

Once we got going, more people came out there but it still never really got crowded. Hello, Milford Sound!

We learned about the history of the Milfy Sound. Some fun facts:

  1. Rudyard Kipling called the Milford Sound the “Eighth Wonder of the World;”
  2. Receiving an average of 21 FEET of rainfall per year, Milford Sound is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand, which makes us pretty lucky that we had a sunny day;
  3. The fiord remained undiscovered by European sailors until 1812, because from the Tasman Sea, the entrance to the fiord just looks like a large bay, and sailors were afraid to get too close to the cliffs.
Milford Sound entrance from Tasman Sea

The cliffs are all composed of minerals valuable in mining – copper, iron ore, and other rockin’ minerals.


People catch abalone, crayfish and other shellfish in the Sound.

There are tons of waterfalls when it has been raining, but our cruise day was sunny. There hadn’t been any rain in the past few days when we were there, so it was nice for being on the water but not great for the visual effects, apparently. We enjoyed the blue sky and turquoise water, though!

We cruised all the way out to the Tasman Sea, past St. Anne’s Point. Certain times of the year you can see whales and penguins around that area. Not today, unfortunately!


Yesterday, a group saw dolphins in the Sound. Jealous! They live on the coast, so there are never any guarantees that you’ll see them enter the Sound.

We did see a few young seals laying out on the rocks. So cute! The boat got up really close. I don’t think they appreciated that.

The views in general were just amazing. Jo stayed out on deck when we went up to a waterfall, Lady Bowen Falls.


We talked to a couple American guys who had been doing some serious adventure traveling–skydiving near Lake Matheson, bungy jumping at Nevis (another bungy site near Queenstown), and The Skippers Canyon Road, which sounds absolutely terrifying. It’s so dangerous that your rental car insurance won’t cover you if you choose to drive on that road. NO THANK YOU.

We also met Nick, who told us to basically cancel any other plans we had for the next day and that we absolutely couldn’t miss Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo. Well, okay, plans for tomorrow made!

He lives up near Auckland. He is actually going to the NZ All Blacks Rugby game in Auckland, so Jo was asking him for advice on how we could get some tickets. Jo got his digits, so we will plan on getting in touch with him when we get up to Auckland, at least to grab a beer after the game.


We left the cruise, and the beautiful Milfy Sound…(please don’t Google that).


…aaaaand back through the Homer Tunnel…

…en route to the Key Summit, part of the Routeburn Track. And just so we’re on the same page, in New Zealand, you don’t “hike,” you “tramp.”

The Key Summit was a 3 hour return (there and back) tramp, and we didn’t even start until until 4:30, so we knew we’d come down after dark. We brought headlamps and supplies. The tramp was challenging–very uphill, but it felt great.

This was SO WORTH IT! Absolutely GORGEOUS! Straight up Middle Earth.

The reward at the top was spectacular. There were mountains all around. The entire landscape was breathtaking.


We watched the sun disappear behind the mountains, leaving our Middle Earth in darkness.


We got our gear ready for the dark descent…

…and headed down. We drove on all the way back to Queenstown.

We made a pit stop to replenish the Car Bar, and rolled into our campsite nice and late. It was, once again, a crazy drive. The roads were windy, mountainous and frosty (the Kiwis prefer frosty to icy), and we had a thick layer of fog to contend with.

What a FANTASTIC day!

Day 8: June 5th – Divorce Material

Disclaimer: there will be a million photos on this post.

We woke up at Moke Lake campsite to a very frosty morning. The mist and frost were intense. This was definitely our coldest night and coldest morning so far.

The drive to the site last night was quite scary. The gravel road was completely icy, narrow and steep. There were a few other cars that were having trouble on the road (we think young Kiwis use Moke Lake campground as a makeout spot!), but Jo handled it like a pro.

moke lake drive

Elaina remembered seeing all the sheep laying down and staring at us as we were driving through. She was thinking, “They know something we don’t know.”

Thankfully we made it out okay , and really enjoyed the drive back toward Queenstown. The views were absolutely spectacular.

We stopped at a lookout on Lake Wakatipu and got real camera happy. WE CAN’T HELP IT. This place is just unreal.

We finally made it into town and stopped at the Budget 1 2 3 + Plus store (awesome name) to pick up some postcards. It costs $2 to send 1 POSTCARD in New Zealand. Craziness.

It was sad to leave Queenstown, because it is such a special little town, but we ventured off in the direction of Te Anau  en route to Milford Sound. We were trying to figure out if we would stay in Te Anau or further along the road to the Milford Sound. We stopped in Te Anau and hit a couple info spots. The lady in the iSITE was really funny. She has actually been to Minnesota, specifically the Mall of America, many times, and Oregon. We tried to tell her about some cool things to do in Minnesota BESIDES shopping, but she really wasn’t interested. She thinks everything is so cheap in the US, and especially Minnesota because there isn’t tax on clothes. We thought she might be interested in hearing about cool activities outdoors to do but…nope.

We told her we were cruising around NZ in our little campervan. Her response: “Oh, those things are divorce material!”

Fortunately, we don’t agree (and we’re still married). Campervans rule!

We decided to keep pushing on toward Milford Sound, and stopped to check out the Mirror Lakes. It was a really nice hike out to the lakes, and there were a bunch of ducks diving down in the water. It was pretty sweet!

We decided to push our luck and keep driving up toward Milford Sound and the Milford Sound Lodge. We were testing our luck because the Lodge just has a limited number of rooms, and since our phones didn’t work, we couldn’t call up there and see if they had rooms available. So we just hoped for the best!

mountains queenstownSo far, we’ve done really well with paying barely anything to sleep places, and kind of regretted not getting a hostel in Queenstown so we could clean up and regroup–showers…laundry…all things that aren’t available when you’re LIVING IN A VAN–so we were very hopeful about staying in the Lodge.

The drive from Cascade Creek up to Milford Sound was really awesome. It included a tunnel through the mountains that was almost a mile long…very creepy!!

pass bay starts

We took a couple night photos and the color of the sky against the mountains with the stars coming out was so cool.

We arrived at the Lodge and asked about dorm rooms, decided we wanted to stay in the dorms and then went to pay and they had sold the 2 spots they had left to some other people. DANG.

Oh well, the camper area had community facilities, including a kitchen, showers, and bathrooms inside…we were SO excited.

After showers, we started our laundry and then heated up some dinner in the communal kitchen. We were able to accomplish a bunch of stuff–copied pics from the camera to the computer and external hard drive, watched our bungy videos, which were so fun! Jo was so smart to have set those up!

We hung out for a while there and had a few beers. It was a nice, chill time.

The person working the front desk said you could see glow worms if you just go out and walk around. We decided to try to find some, but didn’t have any luck.

We turned in, excited for our Milford Sound cruise tomorrow!


Day 7: June 4th – Adventure Capital of the World

We woke up, once again, surrounded by mountains at our campsite, 12 Mile Delta.

We checked out the scenery and snapped some pics, then were greeted by Stewart Rainbow, the campground manager who we had forgotten to pay the night before. Oops.

Then we headed into town to figure out what we were going to do for the day. It took a while, because we had to stop and take a bunch of pics. This place is RIDICULOUS.

view of 12 mile delta campground

We stopped and got gas and groceries. YIKES. This country is expensive.

expensive gas

Then we started figuring out our bungy jumping plan, AKA, Elaina started sweating profusely. AHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

The weather was so nice–the sun felt great. It was a tough decision for Elaina, but Jo was really excited. We decided to do the original AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge jump. Elaina was very scared.

Elaina didn’t want to think about it too much. Just lean forward, and it’s happening.

We did a tandem jump of 142 feet. It was scary standing up there, but, most of all, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!

All the staff who work so hard to make sure people jump safely and have fun are absolutely AMAZING–so nice! Thank you all!

Kawarau Bridge shot

It was absolutely amazing! A lifelong bucket list done in the place Jo wanted to do it–the original home of bungy.

ready to jump

On our way back into town, again we had to stop and admire the views.

We went into town to walk around, and went to check out the Queenstown Gardens, which were getting set up for an event.

The Queenstown Gardens had disk golf, tennis, lawn bowling…tons of fun stuff. We stayed around for the event, LUMA Southern Light Project.

Queenstown Luma

There was a beer garden that was all underneath this huge tree, with strings of lights throughout its branches. There were heat lamps and a DJ and a guy making balloon animals…?!

We went back into town and grabbed a Fergburger.


We got back in the van and headed out to our campsite.

Where will we wake up tomorrow? We shall see!

Day 6: June 3rd – Stay for a drink–we know you Wanaka.

We woke up at Gillespies Beach Campsite. The Southern Alps were towering over us–so cool!

6 xwing southern alps

We walked out to the beach, and it was just amazing. The coolest thing was turning away from the water to see the mountains. The beach reminded us of Lake Superior, actually–rocky, lots of driftwood, and just a massive body of water.


We got back on the 12 km long gravel road, and once we emerged, we were greeted by more amazing views–mountains, cows, and mist.

cows and mountains

Our plan for the day was to start at Lake (Carrie) Matheson. The morning light was absolutely gorgeous, with the mist and the sunlight.

This place was so magical that, somehow, even a spiderweb was beautiful.


We were lucky with the current, and caught some great photos of the reflection of Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman, and a bunch of other, much less important (??) mountains.

Seriously can’t get over how perfect this place is.

We hit the road and spotted an elusive white yeti.

elusive white yeti

Our next stop was the Fox Glacier. It was a great hike, over rocks and streams, and a nice, steep climb. The mountain walls around us were very Lord of the Rings-y.

After the Fox Glacier, we worked our way down the West coast, through Haast, the gateway into Mt. Aspiring National Park.

mt aspiring

Hopped out of the car for a quick jaunt to Thunder Creek Falls, with amazingly blue beautiful glacial runoff water and tons of large rocks out in the river.

Next, we hopped out and hiked to the Blue Pools. They are exactly as they sound–pools with crystal clear, aqua blue water. The climate really made a shift at this point–everything was covered in frost as we approached the evening hours.

We pulled into the town of Wanaka (pronounced wanna-ka) to see if the i-SITE (NZ tourist information office) was open, and found a very happening little town. We decided to stop for a beer at Kai Whakapai, an adorable cafe/bar with a great vibe. Even though it was winter, the majority of people were still hanging out in the outdoor seating area. They had a few heat lamps, but it was definitely chilly! We loved that about New Zealand’s culture–hang outdoors no matter the weather! It’s a beautiful world out there.

The bar was having a fundraiser for the National disc golf team in August in Canada. We talked to some phenomenal locals, and then hit the road toward Queenstown.

Once we got into Queenstown, we got a bite to eat at Boliwood. The food was super good, and our server was really friendly!

Then we headed out to our campsite, enjoying some rad oldies on the radio.


Day 5: June 2nd – Pancakes and Glaciers

We woke up at Lyell Camping Ground, just past Murchison en route to Westport in the Buller Gorge. Amazing, mountainy views.

E and Van at Lyell

We must have been very distracted by the views because we went 20km in the wrong direction-but it was totally cool, because we had driven that whole section of road in the pitch black the night before!

Buller Gorge road

We got turned around and the drive was truly MAJESTIC. The mountains were green and beautiful, with wide powerful rivers cutting through. Stunning.

landscape driving nz northern s island

Once we got to the Western coast, the ocean views were incredible.

Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any of those adorable blue penguins.

Our next stop was at Paparoa National Park to see the Pancake Rocks.

pancake rocks

Shout out to DOC, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (or “Conversation” as we frequently called it). They do a great job with the infrastructure surrounding these natural landmarks, with interesting information and pathways that actually protect the landmarks.

We had a lot of car time today. We drove through a bunch of cute little towns–Greymouth, Hokitika and Hari Hari.

Road and mountains

Finally we arrived at Franz Josef, an adorable village that completely revolves around the Franz Josef Glacier.

We took a short hike up to the glacier, and on the walk, discussed our study abroad experiences and the side trips we took. Jo said he worked his butt off to make $1,000 doing snow removal the week prior to leaving for his semester in Australia, but when he and his roommates had a “small get together to avoid getting in trouble going to homecoming parties” and got busted, $700 of what he made ended up being paid to the City of St. Cloud to pay off that ticket.

::Note to future parent-selves: terrify future children with this tale!!::

We hiked on top of all the sediment left behind as the glacier receded. There were really long waterfalls coming down the mountain walls. The ice of the glacier had a blue tint, and the glacial stream was an icy blue/green color.

Franz Josef glacier hike

We chatted with some French people who were collecting slate slabs for cheese platters. Perfect gift idea! But super heavy. Not doing it.

We took a bunch of sweet pics of Jo reenacting cliffhanger and being crushed by a boulder…

…and a video of true cinematic mastery.

We went back into town, got dinner, then headed out to our campsite at Gillespie Beach, which was at the end of a 12km long, windy, narrow, gravel road. It was quite the experience getting there. We had to dodge sheep who couldn’t decide which side of the road they preferred to graze.

Wrapped up the night with the most amazing stargazing we’ve ever experienced. Well done, New Zealand!