10 adventure-filled days, 9 starry nights, countless hikes, hundreds of car sing-a-long’s, thousands of photographs, and road-tripping memories that will last us for always. As the south island of New Zealand is not all that easily accessible by public transport, we decided that the best way to travel to & from some of our favourite spots & tick a few more things off of our bucket list, was to hire a camper-van and give ourselves the ease and flexibility of exploring wherever and whenever we wanted.
We had arranged with Jucy Vans (as after lots of online researching, we found their prices to be the most cost-efficient, $27 per day including bed, fridge, kitchenware, & cooking utensils) to pick-up our vehicle from Christchurch, and then drop-off in Queenstown, which meant that we were then able to make many detours along the way.
Christchurch - Kaikoura
First stop, searching for sea lions! We drove from Christchurch to Kaikoura, which we had heard from other travellers was famous for their abundance of sea lions.
The drive along the east coast of the south island was a scenic (but when is it not in New Zealand!?) and cruisy one. It took around 6 hours (including short toilet and food breaks), and the last hour we popped out right along the coast, with distractingly beautiful views of the sunset and ocean upon our arrival.
As darkness was approaching, we found a quiet little spot to camp along the beach & fell asleep in our van, listening to the waves crashing & excited for tomorrow’s adventures.
We awoke early, the sun creeping through our van blinds, encouraging us to get out of bed. As it had been quite dark the night before, we were not able to appreciate our surroundings until the following morning, and were pleasantly surprised when we popped our heads outside and realised that we were 5 metres away from a crystal blue pebbled beach, a perfect view for us to enjoy while cooking our eggs & toast at the back of our van!
After breakfast & a some fun down on the beach, we were off to find these sea lions! We were only driving for around 15 minutes when we spotted our first little guys. We pulled over & were stoked to see how close to the road they were chilling by! Most of them were perched up on rocks and soaking up the sunshine, completely un-phased by all the surrounding tourists.
We continued to drive along the coast, after another 10 minutes we pulled up to where there was a short walking trail that would take you to a waterfall, where the baby seal would often be found swimming. The best time to see the pups is from June to September, and as we arrived in early October unfortunately we had just missed them. We walked a little further along the coast, and were lucky enough to find a quieter spot to sit and view these playful animals without the many tourists - getting pretty close to this big boy as pictured, who had made his way up onto the grass above the beach!
Remember, respect the seals. This is their home :)
Kaikoura - Lake Tekapo
As our next major stop was Mount Cook, we decided to make our way first to Lake Tekapo (which is on the way). We had previously visited Lake Tekapo when we came to New Zealand last year, and have fond memories of the clear night sky that we experienced, when we had only just first started shooting astrophotography.. & we wanted more.
We had never visited Tekapo’s Church of the Good Shepherd before (as pictured), and unexpectedly found ourselves amongst the mass of other photographers attempting to capture the beauty of the night sky above this popular hot-spot. Competing with the hundreds of tourists and constant lights from their vehicles interrupting our exposures, we are thankfully armed with our knowledge of the Milky Way positioning above us, and found ourselves a sweet little spot which still offered all that we hoped to shoot. After a couple of hours of waiting for the clouds to pass and the galaxy to align perfectly above this iconic building, we were pretty stoked with our capture given the numerous interferences and challenging crowded environment! When shooting astro we are usually in a remote and peaceful place of solitude, so this experiences was incredibly different to what we are accustomed to, and would definitely recommend setting yourself a 3am alarm and shooting here when there is not 200 other people trying to get a spot also.
Lake Tekapo - Mount Cook
Mount Cook is also somewhere that we had previously visited when coming to the south island of NZ, and like many of the National Parks, there was just so much to see and hike that we needed to return! Last time we had completed the Hooker Valley track, one of the more popular trails in Mount Cook as it is quite an easy trail that you can complete as a day or night hike (night hike for wonderful astro-shots), and provides incredible glacier views without advanced alpine skills required.
This time however we had our hearts set on a two-day tramp to the Mueller Hut - we were fully equipped with food, crampons, & clothing for all weather conditions. Upon arriving in Mount Cook we went to visit the Department of Conservation (DOC’s) information centre. Prior to doing any multi-day treks we would highly recommend popping into the closest DOC’s centre, as they have all of the up to date weather and snow conditions on the trails/mountains, and will provide you with recommendations as to whether the tramps are safe to complete. They are also just awesome legend’s who usually have mad adventure-stories to tell and can give you lots of tips about side trips to do etc.
Unfortunately for us, the weather conditions for the next few days were not looking favourable, and DOCS advised us that although we may be able to safely reach Mueller Hut, snow was forecasted to fall above 1500metres, which would mean that we may not be able to return back the next day due to sleet conditions.
We were pretty bummed, but decided the next day to pack our day packs regardless, and make our way up as far as possible.
The Mueller Hut track is accessible via the Sealy Tarns trail, we departed relatively early that day, and found ourselves climbing thousands of steps, gaining altitude quite quickly and reaching snow-level within an hour and a half. The views from the end of the Sealy Tarns trail were absolutely breathtaking. We were engulfed by snow mountains, & had incredible views of the Tasman glacier below us. After making friends with some lovely travellers from Montreal and having a bite to eat, we continued up the track that was going to hopefully take us to Mueller Hut.
We gained another 200metres in altitude, the entire time scrambling up rocks, until we reached complete powder. At this point we were the only two people venturing up the mountain, and had the entire white wonderland to ourselves. We continued our way up the mountain towards the ridge, however after a couple of hours the sun became immersed in dark clouds, and with bad weather forecasted for the night, we made our way back down the mountain, skipping, slipping, and sliding our way down - very wet bum’s, but very big smiles :)
We would certainly recommend that if you intend on staying the night at Mueller Hut, you will need to be prepared with ice axe's, crampons (during the off-season), food, water, and warm clothing. The sun may be shining during that day, but the weather can change in any instance, and boy does it get pretty cold once dusk hits - always be prepared for all conditions!
Below: our YouTube video of our time in New Zealand :)
If you guys have any questions about any of the places we’ve visited, or trails we hiked, feel free to send us an email via our “Say Hello” link, or to WeLiveWeExplore@outlook.com