Too much of a good thing? (New Zealand, Part 1: Christchurch to Southland)

“You’re spoiled by the world!” was the response of my friend Michelle when I told her I wasn’t yet gaga over New Zealand.

I agree with her; I think I have been traveling to too many phenomenal locales lately. Part of what makes something extraordinary is when it is compared to the ordinary…and it has been several months since I’ve been surrounded by the ordinary.

I know, I know…tough life. Geesh.

I’m not complaining. I’m just sharing the observation that my affinity for New Zealand appears to be on more of a slow simmer compared to the mind-blowing flambé I experienced in South America (see any of my recent blog posts).

I have no doubt that in the end I will have fallen in love with New Zealand and the impressions I am left with will be rich and complex as a result. As you’ll see from the pictures below – it shouldn’t take me long to get over my blasé attitude.

Just one of countless picturesque New Zealand landscapes…green fields full of content grazing sheep and towering mountains in the distance. How am I not wowed by scenes like this?!?

We are touring the South Island of New Zealand by campervan which, we’re told, is the only way to do it.

Wherever you go there are a variety of campgrounds and parks set up to accommodate campervans of any size or budget, including many free sites. We’ve been having a blast, even if we are driving the tackiest vehicle known to man. {Well, that’s not entirely true…these ones are even worse (Google images for them if you dare). It seems the cheaper the rental price the more offending the vehicle’s décor.}

Our classy and discreet campervan. There is a camaraderie among the drivers of these Jucy vans…a shy wave as we pass each other on the road, as if to say “Oh…I’m sorry, you’re stuck driving one too?”

The pictures below generally follow our travels around a portion of the South Island, from Christchurch to the coastal areas in the south. Future posts will follow us around other parts of the country.


We started our tour in Christchurch, a fascinating city that is currently undergoing reconstruction following a devastating earthquake in 2011 that killed over 180 people and all but destroyed the downtown area. Watch this video to get an idea of how destructive the earthquake was. Christchurch reminded Glenn and I of a smaller, slightly hipper, version of Portland, Oregon – where we call home.

There isn’t much they aren’t using shipping containers for…housing, shopping malls, even a church. Here they are being used to hold up an old building facade. Note the artwork on the buildings in the background, including the statue of a guy on the roof.

There are efforts across the city to find temporary uses of vacant lots where a demolished buildings once stood. Anything to fill the voids. This was my favorite – the “Dance-O-Mat.” Just insert a few coins into the washing machine and the lights come on, the music starts and an impromptu dance party begins!

Sanctioned and unsanctioned street art can be found everywhere you look. I walked past this building awaiting reconstruction several times before I noticed it was covered with a photograph of the other side of the same building. A clever trick.

Mt. Cook

Our first day of driving took us to the Mt. Cook area, known for towering mountains and beautiful lakes. The weather wasn’t entirely cooperative, but we got to see some beautiful sights despite the rainclouds.

The flowers were in full bloom at Lake Tekapo, known for its aqua blue waters.

The vast, glacial moraine filled Tasman River valley. There is an amazing bike trail called Alps to Ocean that starts in this area (and includes a helicopter ride over the river!) and continues for nearly 200 miles to the coast. Definitely something Glenn and I would like to go back and do some day.

The clouds lifted for a bit and we caught a glimpse of the mountains behind the beautiful blue Lake Pukaki. We never got to see Mt. Cook though.

We discovered several great sites along the road between the Mt. Cook area and the town of Dunedin.

We turned off on a side road following a small sign that said “clay cliffs” and were treated to a great hike through these interesting formations seen in the distance here.

The river valleys were full of blooming flowers.

Interesting roadside limestone formations. These had historic Maori artwork at their base (well, at least what little art remained after scholars and others chiseled much of it away to be shipped off to Europe and other distant lands).

These interesting formations are known as the Elephant Rocks, located in a sheep farmer’s field that the public has been granted access to. 


We spent two days near the eastern coastal town of Dunedin, known for the concentration of wildlife in the area.

Here you can barely see Glenn hiking down the steep trail to Tunnel Beach, which we thought was aptly named for the rock formation extending out to sea…

…only to find that there was a somewhat hidden tunnel that had a steep staircase leading down to the beach. Timing is everything though, as the last 1/3 of this tunnel fills with seawater at high tide!

A couple of young male seals were playing off the tip of the Otago Peninsula.

We took a beautiful hike through the Okia Reserve through a landscape that is being restored to its natural habitat.

The Okia Reserve hike took us through huge flower covered sand dunes to a secluded beach that we had to ourselves.

We found this big guy on the beach which is known as a resting area for large seals. He would lumber across the beach at full speed for about 30 feet, then fall flat on his belly to rest for a few minutes…then get up and do it all over again. He covered quite a distance before he eventually entered to the sea for an evening of hunting.

Seal tracks to the sea – a nice straight line…

…unlike Glenn’s wandering tracks.

I loved the reflection of the green field on the wet beach in this photo. If you look closely you’ll see a solitary penguin on the beach.

All that is left of the sternwheeler called the Victory (which Glenn was calling the Defeat).

Catlins Coast

We took a long and scenic drive down the coastal area known as the Catlins on our way to the town of Invercargill. There was no shortage of cool things to see along the way.

Nugget Point Lighthouse.

Glenn at Nugget Point looking for wildlife. The rocks below were covered with sleeping fur seals and sea lions.

Purakaunui Falls at the end of a short hike through a beautiful forest.

A petrified forest is exposed during low tide at Curio Beach. The long straight line is a petrified log, and the little bumps sticking up out of the water are petrified tree stumps. Very cool.

Four large seals taking an afternoon nap below the Waipapa Lighthouse. They’d occassionally flip sand to on their backs with their big flippers – presumably to help protect them from the sun.

Any motorcycle buff will know that the town of Invercargill was the home of Burt Munro and his famous Fastest Indian motorcycle. No visit would be complete without a trip through the local hardware store…which also happens to showcase countless vintage motorcycles and cars (including the actual Fastest Indian) throughout the store. Here Glenn buys a multi-tool amongst a few of the displayed motorcycles…and lawnmowers and chainsaws. Such an entertaining place.

Although it wasn’t love at first sight, I have been enjoying our travels here in New Zealand. I’m trying to make sure that I don’t take it for granted what an amazing opportunity and privledge it is for me to see the amazing places I’ve shared a glimpse of above. Next stop…Milford Sounds and then on to Queenstown!

I’m so lucky to be here seeing the beautiful countryside of New Zealand…and to be doing it with my best friend!

Interested in reading more about our travels in New Zealand? 

Things are looking up! (New Zealand, Part 2: Milford Sound and Queenstown)

Rain, rain…go away! (New Zealand, Part 3: West Coast, Kaikoura and Wellington)

Farewell to Middle Earth. (New Zealand, Part 4: North Island)



7 comments on “Too much of a good thing? (New Zealand, Part 1: Christchurch to Southland)

  1. Pingback: Travel reboot in Thailand | A Life More Extraordinary

  2. Pingback: Farewell to Middle Earth (New Zealand, Part 4: North Island) | A Life More Extraordinary

  3. Pingback: Rain, rain…go away! (New Zealand Part 3: West Coast, Kaikoura and Wellington) | A Life More Extraordinary

  4. Pingback: Things are looking up! (New Zealand, Part 2: Milford Sound and Queenstown) | A Life More Extraordinary

  5. Wow, the video of the earthquake was really something! And Seattle could experience something even larger according to the recent studies. Loved the artwork you showed also. The human spirit carries on!

    • Hi Judy! It was really fascinating to see the scale of redevelopment and the creative culture that helped them persevere. Big quakes are coming to the Northwest for sure!

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