The South Island adventure began with us, and our trusty Mazda 2 rental car, taking a ferry from Wellington to our stop in Picton. It’s a vehicle ferry, and it was enormous! It transported tons of people, their cars, and even a few larger semi trucks. Once everyone parked, we got out of our car and made our way to the upper decks. It felt like a cruise ship on the inside. There was a cafeteria, a movie theater, and a lot of seating. We had to wake up very early to catch the ferry, so we tried to get a little sleep in the dark movie theater before landing.
Due to the recent earthquake the main route (along the ocean) from Picton to Christchurch is closed. That meant driving through the middle of the island, which is a bit longer of a drive, so we booked a motel room for a night in Maruia to break up the drive. Taking a few unplanned stops along the way helped break up the drive even more! A few of those stops include Maruia Falls, Lake Rotoiti, St. James Conservation Area, and Late Rotoroa. Absolutely stunning lakes, surrounded by beautiful mountains. Maruia itself is a rather small town, so we only spent the evening there before continuing on to Christchurch the next morning.
The Worst Part of New Zealand
At the lake, we (mostly Sam) discovered the worst part of New Zealand. Sandflies! They are little biting black flies, the size of gnats. They leave itchy, reddish bumps that are similar to mosquito bites, but so much worse. It’s kind of like if mosquitos bit the same spot over and over again for several days in a row. Sandflies are awful. Sooo itchy!! And the bites itched and stayed red for a little over a week. Now we know that bug spray, long pants, and long sleeves help keep them at bay. Wish we would’ve known about them prior to visiting lakes and waterfalls, their favorite hangouts so we could’ve been more prepared!
If you think we are exaggerating, you can take the word of explorer James Cook, who recorded his thoughts on sandflies when he encountered them in 1773: “The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly, which are exceedingly numerous, wherever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the small pox.”
After stopping for a few photo ops along the way, we arrived in Christchurch. The city itself is quite large, but to us it felt a bit like smaller cities joined together. Last year, it was hit by a substantial earthquake and is still feeling the aftermath to some extent. They’ve filled some of the spaces impacted by the earthquake, and were working on prioritizing what is repaired while we were there. A company called Gap Filler put up several creative installations to help fill the space and beautify the city in the meantime. They’ve done a few really creative projects, like a giant street arcade game. Very cool to see!
Each Saturday from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., vendors set up for Christchurch’s largest farmers market. Fresh fruit and veggies, live music, amazing food, and tasty desserts! Joseph got the best Chai tea we’ve ever tasted, we split some chicken teriyaki skewers, and finished off our visit with vanilla blueberry vegan ice cream.
Christchurch has some great restaurants as well. We ate dumplings for dinner one night at the Potsticker Dumpling Bar, poke bowl and lamb lasagna for dinner at Home and Fine Fare Kitchen, and we enjoyed having breakfast at Black Betty Cafe!
Orana Wildlife Park
We also visited Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch. It’s New Zealand’s only open-range Zoo, and aims to create realistic habitats for all of its animals. They have a pair of Kiwi – brown, flightless, native New Zealand birds. They’re nocturnal, so their enclosure doesn’t allow photography, but they were so cool! And weird. And interesting! Here’s a quick National Geographic video if you want to get an idea of what they look like.
Christchurch made a convenient central hub to check out other places in the surrounding area: one of those places was Akaroa. A historic French and British settlement, its maintained a very European feel in the shops, French street names, and overall design. We split some fish and chips by the waterfront, and spent the day just wandering around.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
On the way out of Christchurch, we stopped at their Botanic Gardens (every garden is majestic!) 🙂 These gardens were founded in 1863 with the planting of a single oak tree. Since then, they’ve expanded considerably! No entry fee to get in, and it’s a very nice place to walk around and explore. They have a lot of lovely flowers and plants, and our favorite was their Dahlia collection next to the rose garden. We’d never seen so many different colors and varieties!