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Month Sixty-Six was one of my busiest travel months for a while, and I loved every minute of it!
Before I get into all the things I got up to, I want to say that I know how incredibly lucky I am to be back in New Zealand – essentially the safest country in the world right now – and that I really feel for all of you that are stuck inside because of rising COVID cases and cold weather.
It’s going to be a very hard adjustment to be back to that in February, so I am traveling as much as possible now while I am able to, and while it is safe for me to do so.
The month kicked off in Wellington, where I had two more days. I love this city and although it was still quite cold when I was there at the end of November, I still loved my time there.
I went to an excellent craft beer bar, walked around Wellington Harbour, visited Te Papa Museum, and explored coastal suburbs and towns around Wellington.
From Wellington, I took the InterIslander to Picton, and drove straight to Blenheim where I was meeting up with a friend.
We stayed at the beautiful Hotel D’Urville and spent Thanksgiving wine tasting at the Marlborough wineries around Blenheim – it was a beautiful and delicious day.
From Blenheim, we drove out to Kenepuru Sound in the Marlborough Sounds, doing a couple of short hikes along the way, then down to Nelson Lakes National Park for more hiking and some lake-gazing.
Then we spent four nights in wonderful Nelson, and I loved being back in one of my favorite cities in New Zealand.
I farewelled my friend after that and drove to Marahau to begin five days hiking the Abel Tasman Great Walk in Abel Tasman National Park – an absolute highlight of my time in the South Island.
After Abel Tasman, I spent a couple of nights in Golden Bay before driving to the rugged and beautiful West Coast.
I hiked in Paparoa National Park, visited the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, wandered back in time at Shantytown, did a beer flight at Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth, and explored Hokitika for the first time.
After my short and sweet visit to the West Coast, I drove through stunning Arthur’s Pass – stopping to do a couple of gorgeous hikes along the way – to Christchurch.
In Christchurch, I stayed with an old workmate from London days and fell in love with the city that I once considered as quite boring. More on all the fun stuff I did in Christchurch in the highlights.
From Christchurch, I drove out to the Banks Peninsula and spent a couple of nights near the French settlement/Holiday town of Akaroa and I absolutely loved that too.
My last two stops on my northern South Island road trip were Hanmer Springs – where I soaked in the famous hot springs, and Kaikoura – where I went whale watching, hiked the Peninsula, visited seal colonies, and ate crayfish.
Then after my month-long road trip, I dropped the van in Nelson and flew back to Auckland.
I only had two nights in Auckland so I ran around getting the missing pieces for Christmas presents and had a pre-Christmas lunch with my Dad at Cornwall Park Cafe which is always good.
The last day of the month I spent on a bus from Auckland to Papamoa, on the way to my Mum’s for the Christmas period.
Countries Visited: New Zealand
Places Visited: Wellington, Blenheim, Havelock, Kenepuru Sound, Nelson, St Arnaud, Marahau, Takaka, Farewell Spit, Murchison, Punakaiki, Greymouth, Hokitika, Kumara, Christchurch, Waikuku Beach, Akaroa, Duvauchelle, Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura, Auckland, Papamoa.
National and State Parks, Monuments, and UNESCO Sites: Nelson Lakes National Park, Abel Tasman National Park, Paparoa National Park, Arthur’s Pass National Park
Islands Visited: No islands this month.
Best Meals: Aloo Tikki from Higher Taste Hare Krishna Restaurant in Wellington; Luxury cream donut from Seashore Cabaret in Petone; East Street Vegan bowl from East Street Cafe in Nelson; Green-lipped mussels grilled with garlic, lemon and breadcrumbs from Mills Bay Mussels in Havelock; Fries from Hooked in Marahau (possibly the best fries I have ever had); Sticky Date Pudding from Monteith’s Brew Bar in Greymouth; Blue cod and chips from Prospector’s in Kumara; Garlic butter and lemon crayfish tails from Nins Bin in Kaikoura.
Worst Meals: Mussel Chowder from The Mussel Inn near Takaka – not what I was expecting for a chowder. Big chunks of rubbery mussel in a tomato broth with shredded carrot and potato. Not a fan.
Best Craft Beer: Crystal Lake Marlborough Salt Gose from Moa Brewery in Blenheim and Bahama Mama Fruited Sour by Deep Creek Brewing Co. in Auckland.
- Onahau Lookout on Kenepuru Sound 4km/2.5 miles
- Mount Robert’s loop trail in Nelson Lakes National Park 9.7km/6 miles
- Brunner Peninsula loop in Nelson Lakes National Park 3.7km/2.3 miles
- Center of New Zealand hike and Tahunanui Beach in Nelson 6.8km/4.25 miles
- Abel Tasman Track in Abel Tasman National Park 68km/42miles over 5 days
- Wharariki Beach walk near Farewell Spit 4km/2.5miles
- Farewell Spit loop walk 9.7km/6 miles
- Pororari River Walk in Paparoa National Park 7.1km/4.4 miles
- Temple Basin Ski Area in Arthur’s Pass National Park 5.3km/3.3 miles
- Devil’s Punchbowl hike in Arthur’s Pass National Park 2.1km/1.3 miles
- Godley Head from Taylor’s Mistake loop trail in Christchurch 9.7km/6 miles
- Onawe Pa loop hike near Akaroa 2.9km/1.8 miles
- Hinewai Reserve walk near Akaroa 3.2km/2 miles
- Kaikoura Peninsula loop hike in Kaikoura 6.1km/3.8 miles
- Auckland Harbour walk in Auckland 6.5km/4 miles
Watching: The Glass Castle – such a brilliant movie (love Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson), The Morning Show – absolute edge of my seat!, This is Us – so happy the new season is out.
Reading: The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman, The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis.
Posts Published on The World on my Necklace This Month:
The Best Louisiana Food Guide to Tantalize Your Tastebuds
I updated and republished this restaurant guide to Lafayette and New Orleans – all the places I ate at and loved during my time there.
The Ultimate Big Island 7 Day Itinerary
I updated and added more accommodation options to my massive one week guide to the Big Island of Hawaii.
A Day Out Exploring the Beaches Around Wellington
I really enjoyed my day out with my friend Jolie and her daughters – we visited Petone for coffee on the deck at funky Seashore cabaret and wharf wanderings, drove the scenic coastal drive out to lovely Eastbourne, then spent the afternoon in the sun at peaceful Pukerua Bay on the Kapiti Coast.
It definitely put Wellington further up my cities to live in list for when Toby and I move back one day.
Wine Tasting in Blenheim and a Luxury Hotel Stay
Even though I am definitely team beer, I do enjoy a red wine now and then, especially if it is at the winery it was produced at.
Blenheim is smack bang in the middle of one of the best wine regions in the world – Marlborough – so me and my friend Sarah spent Thanksgiving hopping around a range of them and sampling wines and cheeses. It was a fun and delicious day in the sun.
My Dad’s Business Partner owns the boutique Hotel D’Urville in Blenheim, and we were lucky enough to spend two nights here. This refurbished Art Deco hotel has beautifully appointed rooms – each with a different theme, a fine dining restaurant, and a Jazz cocktail bar.
Definitely splurge and stay here if you are visiting Marlborough, you won’t regret it!
Mussels and Incredible Views in the Marlborough Sounds
We only had one day and one night to explore the Marlborough Sounds, so we opted to drive to the end of Kenepuru Sound, and what a beautiful drive it was.
We stopped to do a couple of short but very scenic hikes to viewpoints along the way, and I enjoyed the excellent mussels at our lunch stop in the cute town of Havelock – the Green-lipped mussel capital of the world.
Visiting Nelson Lakes National Park for the First Time
I have been to most of the National Parks in New Zealand now, but one that had eluded me was Nelson Lakes National Park.
I finally made it there on this trip and although it was only a short visit, I loved my time there, hiking around and above the lake, and taking pictures around the iconic wharf. Oh, and freaking out at the giant eels that live under the wharf.
Relaxing in Nelson
Laidback Nelson is one of my favorite cities in New Zealand, so I was happy I got to spend four nights there on this visit. I mostly did a lot of packing, organizing, shopping and working – getting ready for my five days off the grid
But I also visited the excellent Christmas Market, had a night out with a couple of new friends, visited Tahunanui Beach and the Centre of New Zealand, and ate at the excellent vegan East Street Cafe – one of the best vegan restaurants in New Zealand.
We stayed in my Dad’s friend’s place, a luxury house with million-dollar views, so we definitely made the most of our time there as well.
Hiking the Abel Tasman Great Walk
Probably the biggest highlight of the month was the five days I spent hiking the Abel Tasman track, and wow, was this amazing!
I saw seals, penguins, native birds, and glowworms, swam at stunning beaches with hardly anyone else on them, met some great hiking buddies, and loved the peace and quiet of hut life and hiking in New Zealand.
I have hiked the Kepler Track and the Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walks in the past, as well as part of the Routeburn, but the Abel Tasman was my favorite – I think in part because there were a lot less people there than there would usually be as the border is closed.
So Many Incredible New Zealand Hikes
This month was all about hiking, and I did some incredible ones. Other than the epic Abel Tasman track, I also loved:
- Onahau Lookout near Havelock for 360-degree views of the Marlborough Sounds
- Mount Roberts loop in Nelson Lakes National Park for stunning lake and mountain views
- Pororari River trail on the West Coast for lush Jurassic Park scenery
- Temple Basin trail in Arthur’s Pass National Park for snowcapped mountain views
- Godley Head hike in Christchurch for turquoise ocean vistas
- Kaikoura Peninsula walk for vibrant colors and purple flowers
Stepping Back to the Gold Rush Days at Shantytown
I love a recreated historic town and Shantytown is the best in New Zealand. This recreated West Coast Gold-Mining Town has a couple of streets with historic buildings, an old steam engine you can take a short trip on, old gold mines, a small Chinatown, and lots of historic artifacts from the West Coast Gold Rush in the 1860s.
It was really cold the day I visited but I enjoyed it all the same.
Loving Downtown Christchurch
I never cared much for Christchurch and I hadn’t been there since before the earthquake that flattened a lot of downtown in February 2011. Now it is revitalized and so much more exciting than it once was.
My favorite places in Christchurch on this visit were the laneways and Riverside Market – a bustling market building with lots of restaurants and specialty food stores, the beautiful Botanical Gardens, the Cardboard Cathedral – a transitional cathedral made of cardboard and shipping containers, the Canterbury Museum – the Wildlife Photographer of the Year was on when I visited, and all the street art everywhere.
There was even a Christmas service on at the cathedral when I went and it was pretty special to sing Christmas carols and to be treated to Christmas readings, and the choir and orchestra performing Christmas music.
There are still some vacant lots and condemned buildings around but in general, the downtown is looking great!
A Day at the Beach in Christchurch
I spend another wonderful day in Christchurch enjoying beach life. First I drove to Taylor’s Mistake beach then hiked around Godley Head, a headland with gorgeous turquoise sea views and old gun emplacements from WW2 that you can visit.
Then I grabbed some fish and chips and headed to Sumner beach for an afternoon swimming and sunbathing there. Bliss.
A Perfect Day Out in Akaroa
I spent one perfect day around Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, walking the small town and to the lighthouse, swimming at the beach, eating fish and chips, and doing a couple of short hikes in the area.
The color of the water was stunning and it felt like I was in a small village in the South of France rather than the South Island of New Zealand.
Hiking and Sea Life Spotting in Kaikoura
Kaikoura was my last stop on my South Island road trip and I definitely saved one of the best stops for last. I had visited before, years ago and in winter, and it felt like a completely different place this time around.
The colors of Kaikoura – especially around Kaikoura Peninsula – look more like Greece than New Zealand. The sea is so turquoise that it practically glows – something that you don’t see when it is cloudy. There were purple flowers everywhere and the sand around the Peninsula is so white. Just breathtaking.
I spent a couple of hours whale watching and although I did feel quite seasick, I’m still so pleased I did it because I saw two sperm whales, a penguin, and a few albatross (the biggest sea bird in the world).
But the best part was when a giant pod – at least 50 – Dusky Dolphins surrounded the boat and swam with us for about 15 minutes! These super cute dolphins are smaller than bottlenose dolphins, and can only be found in the Southern Hemisphere.
Along with the whale watching tour, I also did a very scenic Kaikoura Peninsula walk where I visited a seal colony with baby seals and even saw baby seagulls – something I had never seen before.
Absolutely Loving Van Life
I really enjoyed borrowing my Dad’s campervan for the month, and had no issues traveling by myself around the South Island in it.
It definitely has a better set up than my North American van Casper, with a swivel table in the back, a small fridge, and lots of storage for food and cooking utensils. I ended up cooking in the van a lot, and I just enjoyed the whole experience.
It has made me think that I should definitely do some more solo van life adventures in the US when Toby is working.
Unfortunately, there must have been bleach or a similar chemical in the jacuzzi at the house in Nelson because it bleached my new bikini and made my skin stink like chemicals. Luckily it was just an H&M one and I was easily able to replace it.
Toby’s Friend Died
One of Toby’s closest friends died of COVID this month, and it was such a shock to everyone. Joe was a real larger than life character, and it is still so hard to believe that he is gone.
Here in New Zealand and its safe bubble, it’s easy to forget that there is a pandemic raging around the world. This definitely reminded me of that fact.
He is the first person close to us that has died from COVID and I really hope he is the last. Joe leaves behind three teenage sons, a fiancee, and so many friends and family that love him and that are so shocked that a man in his late forties who was in pretty good health is gone.
Weird Allergic Reaction
I seem to be very allergic to the South Island and the grass there. I got the worst hayfever of my life when I was hiking the Abel Tasman track, and I even had a crazy break out of hives on my legs – with minor re-occurrences two more times while I was down there.
I bought some hayfever meds after the first bad reaction, but even taking them didn’t completely get rid of my symptoms.
Scary Hike at Farewell Spit
It was a bit foggy when I was hiking along the inner harbor beach at Farewell Spit, and I should have just stayed on that side rather than crossing over the sand dunes to the wild ocean side.
The fog got much denser, and I was sinking mid-shin into the soft, wet sand in some spots – which was pretty scary when I was out there completely by myself.
It felt like I was in the sandworm purgatory from Beetlejuice and I actually started getting quite nervous when I couldn’t find a way back over the sand dunes to the calm side – constantly being blocked by lakes and forest.
I ended up hiking a couple of miles more than planned but eventually found a path that I could take back over the sand dunes.
Sea Sick on my Whale Watching Trip
I’m putting my whale watching excursion on the lowlights list as well as the highlights because I felt really seasick pretty much the whole two hours we were out there. The swell was massive and we were constantly bobbing around in the boat.
I had taken some natural ginger motion sickness pills and I think that I didn’t spew because of that fact while so many people around me were – it was ridiculous how many people were throwing up, but I still felt terrible – discombobulated and nauseous.
Next time I will definitely take some harder medication.
Definitely an expensive month but worth every penny!
Gas ain’t cheap in New Zealand so that was by far one of my highest costs this month – especially because I was driving a large van for long distances by myself. Other high costs this month include Christmas gifts, food and drink costs, and more paid activities than usual.
My paid accommodation this month consisted of two nights in DOC campgrounds in the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson Lakes National Park, four nights in huts on the Abel Tasman track, seven nights at private campgrounds in Takaka, Tasman, Greymouth, Kumara, Banks Peninsula, and Hanmer Springs, and three nights in hostel dorms in Takaka and Kaikoura.
My free accommodation for the rest of the month was two nights at a friend’s in Wellington, two nights complimentary stay at the Hotel D’Urville in Blenheim, four nights at the luxury house in Nelson, two nights with a friend in Christchurch, one night with a friend in Waikuku Beach, two nights at my Dad’s in Auckland, and one night at my Mum’s in Papamoa.
Food and Drink $707
Actually, less than I thought it would be considering I was on the road almost the whole month. I had a couple of big splurge dinners too, including lobster twice in Kaikoura, wine tasting and cheese platters in Blenheim, Mussels in Havelock, and more.
I also cooked a lot in the van to offset costs, and I was treated to a few delicious home-cooked meals by friends and family.
- Hoodie $11.50
- Merino wool under top $21.50
- Bikini bottoms x 2 $18
- Bikini top $18
- Gas $357
- Bus in Christchurch $3
- Taxi to Airport in Nelson $28.50
- Bus from Auckland to Tauranga $25
- Abel Tasman Track huts – 5 nights $136
- Water Taxi from Marahau to Totaranui in Abel Tasman National Park $39.50
- Shantytown entry fee $25.50
- Canterbury Museum entry donation $2
- Hanmer Springs Hot Springs entry $25
- Whale Watching in Kaikoura $86
- Toiletries $32.50
- Hulu $6
- Phone plan US $40
- Phone Plan NZ $33
- Gifts $150
- Candles $11
- Books x 2 $5.50
- Bedding for van $13.50
- 2021 Day Planner $5.50
- Gemstone bracelet $7
Website Costs $12
- Monthly payment for Keysearch $12
Van Costs $0
What’s in Store for Next Month
Next month will be another fun month of travel, but with more family and friend time over Christmas and New Years too.
The month will start with a night at my Mum’s in Papamoa where we will be doing full-on Christmas prep, before driving to Waihi Beach for three nights on Christmas Eve, to spend Christmas with my Step-Dad’s wonderful family.
Hopefully it will be warm enough to swim (December is more like spring than summer in New Zealand these days), and I want to get over to Orokawa Bay and the beautiful beach there too.
From Waihi Beach I will head back to Mum’s for another three nights, then will be spending three nights over New Years at one of my closest friend’s place in Hamilton. We are planning a small party with cocktails and nibbles, and I’m sure we will make use of their pool too.
Then it’s back to Auckland for one night to shop and pack before an early flight to Great Barrier Island! Me and my brother are going to do the three day Aotea Track, staying in huts for two nights, as well as exploring more of the beaches, hot springs and hiking trails on this reasonably remote island.
After a week on the Barrier, I will be heading back to Auckland for three nights where I’m hoping to catch up with Auckland friends and do a pub quiz, before flying back down to one of my favorite cities in New Zealand with my Dad: Nelson.
Me and Dad are staying at his business partner/friend’s incredible house for a whole week, and I’m hoping my bestie will join us for some of that time too.
While I’m in Nelson this time, I want to hit up one of my favorite restaurants – East Street Cafe, go to the Saturday Market, hit the beach, do a day trip to Kaiteriteri to visit a new friend I met on the Abel Tasman track, hike Cable Bay, and go to a couple of breweries/brew bars.
The last two days of the month will be spent back in Auckland, relaxing after another busy month of travel.
To read additional Monthly Recaps, you can find them here
Great read glad you enjoyed being home again
Thanks Auntie Di, it is so great to be back!