A New Zealand Road Trip With A Fiji Stopover v.4

Pancake Rocks and Mangarakau Wetland Swamp

We spent the morning driving along some pretty spectacular New Zealand cliffs. Saw steam lifting off the Tasman Sea oceanfront, which I haven’t seen before. Tried to get it on video, but failed miserably. Stopped off at the Pancake Rocks and Blowhole in Paparoa National Park. Interesting enough geological feature, but another anti-climactic blowhole.


Touranga Bay seal pup on New Zealand's South Island

Touranga Bay Seals

Saw signs for the Touranga Bay Seal Colony and decided to stop. Hiked out to see some fur seals basking in the sun… during pup-growing season! The New Zealand fur seals are super small; full-grown females only grow ~66-110 pounds. And the babies were to die for. Just adorable. And lots of them.

Coastal cliffs turned into some pretty fantastic river views in mountain territory, followed by wine and orchard country. This, in turn, took us towards Kahurangi National Park, Abel Tasman National Park, Golden Bay, and, finally, Mangarakau Swamp. All on the far north end of the South island of New Zealand.


Mangarakau Swamp

Per TripAdvisor, we were prepared for a long drive down a dirt road. What we weren’t prepared for was 33 kilometers of curvy, steep gravel roads through wetland inlets. We arrived safe and sound to our little chalet, however. Expert driving on my husband’s part required no prescription medication on my part. And Sally and Giff were wonderful hosts.

Supposedly, they lived in the Golden Bay area and owned a dairy farm prior to moving to Christchurch for seven years. No idea how they met or if they had children; they had different last names, but pictures of young children on their home fridge (grandkids?).

Giff went to university in Christchurch and they owned a motel for some time before moving back to the area. Giff wanted to move even further out in the swamp, but Sally forbade it. They now owned the two chalets, fifty beehives, and leased acreage to the neighbors for cattle grazing.

Giff took us out on to a grotto right on the property to view glowworms and protected crayfish. A little scary hiking in the swamp at night with a stranger and a flashlight, but a very cool excursion as it turned out. In the meantime, Sally made us a wonderful three-course dinner. At the end of it all, they turned the house lights off so we could see the New Zealand stars from our chalet porch. …Just awesome.

Nelson Lakes and X-Men 3D

We slept in later than we had most mornings, but got an early start on that long, windy dirt road. A somewhat uneventful day, unfortunately, since we were taking mostly the same route back we had taken in the day before. We were going to stop outside Nelson to see New Zealand’s oldest church, but were informed, much to our dismay, that it had collapsed during the earthquake.

Swans at Nelson Lakes National Park in New Zealand

We did stop off at Nelson Lakes National Park, however; one we hadn’t seen on the way in. Serene, picturesque lakes with black swans happily skimming around in the distance.

A Movie With the Locals

Came back to the Greymouth Global Village hostel and decided a theatre movie was in order—the new X-Men in 3D. They had a small bar attached to the theatre and we chatted with a couple locals.

One was a nice enough young girl with a diamond-studded tooth, the other an older gentleman with what seemed to be a stroke injury in one hand or arm. He told us his wife had died of cancer recently and how, right after, their dog was poisoned by 1080 on a trail. (We’d seen protest signs and stickers speaking out against 1080, but had no idea what it was until then. A poison set out on trails for possums and stoats, I guess.)

It was a really sad story to hear from someone you just met, but he seemed accepting and just happy to meet someone new. He told us he’d adopted a new puppy and how he had to pepper his shoes because the little guy was so rambunctious.

The theatre was great. The hostel was great (again). I wouldn’t recommend the movie, but Magneto’s pretty hot.

Arthur's Pass, New Zealand

Christchurch Via Arthur’s Pass

Tackled Arthur’s Pass first thing in the a.m.. A pretty drive, good weather, slight change in geology as you moved west to east. When we stopped off at the information office, it looked like there were some amazing hikes for more experienced hikers. Makes me pine to get back into backcountry hiking, or at least build the stamina to do some serious trails.


There was a warning for Keas in the area in our New Zealand book. Thanks for the late notice, a-holes. I think it said they were “inquisitive.” Not my personal word choice, but whatever you need to tell your readers so they’re not downright terrified of angry flocks of giant parrots with huge claws attacking your vehicle and stripping it of all its parts. Yep… “inquisitive.”

New Zealand’s Christchurch Earthquake

Made it to Christchurch midday. As we made our way downtown, we started to realize something that we truly weren’t expecting. Three years after the devastating 6.3-magnitude earthquake that shook New Zealand, Christchurch is almost completely leveled. Two extraordinarily shocking revelations: #1. The sheer amount of that devastation; and #2. The fact that none of it has been rebuilt.

Christchurch Cathedral, New Zealand

We booked a stay at a Novotel across the street from the Christchurch Cathedral and were told to park “at our own risk” in the hotel parking lot. When we got a better look around, we understood why—the only building in an otherwise rubble parking lot was on the brink of collapse, boarded up. We decided to drop our stuff off and do a walking tour of the city recommended in our book, make the most of it.

Aside from the fact that most of the suggested walking paths were blocked by construction or barricades, almost everything was collapsed or closed down. The whole back half of the city’s main cathedral had fallen in and what remained was supported by steel beams and overtaken by pigeons. You could tell the steeples and domes of a number of buildings had been removed and placed in front of or next to them at ground level, probably to prevent further damage.

The once picturesque Avon River was lined with scaffolding and chain-linked fences. Peeking into the few in-tact shop windows we came across, we could see stuff was strewn everywhere, obviously left in haste, never to be collected. New Regent Street seemed to be the one glimmer of hope left in the whole of downtown, a single colorful block of shops, struggling to pull in whatever business could be found.

Earthquake damage in Christchurch, New Zealand

Rebuilding Christchurch

We learned that our hotel was new construction, not repaired, and noted the efficiency of corporations to claim prime, post-devastation real estate and build at the speed of light versus the inefficiency and lack of speed with which a government rebuilds. Not much changes in that way from country to country, I suppose.

A 6.0 earthquake is a pretty nice shake-up anywhere you go, but I didn’t think it would have the power to bring a city like Christchurch to its knees. I guess I’d expected, with the exception of older buildings like the cathedral, that a modern city on a major fault line would have been built with the necessary architectural materials to withstand a heavy-duty earthquake. Seattle had a 6.8(?) soon after I’d moved to New York and I don’t recall alarming damage as a result, let alone pure devastation; nothing like this. Or maybe I’d just moved away and was 19, detached and uninformed.

Jeff and I estimate 60% of Christchurch, New Zealand is now dilapidated rubble. Overall, a sobering experience.

The Route Back Begins

Not much to report today, unfortunately. Flew Christchurch to Auckland in the morning. Bussed downtown and checked into our hotel. Jeff experienced Dim Sum for the first time. Decided to take the day off from touring and got spa treatments at the hotel. A little bored after so we stopped at a random Irish bar around the corner for a few drinks. Fell asleep watching rugby again, which appears to be my new favorite sport (if I had a favorite sport to watch on TV). Only in New Zealand…

Downtown Nadi and a Hindu Temple

We flew Auckland to Nadi first thing in the morning. We basically have an entire day of hanging out before we catch an overnight flight back to LA. Thought it would be a great idea to check out downtown Nadi. There’s a Hindu temple Jeff is really excited to check out, and we’ve never been to a Hindu temple before, so why not?

We checked our packs into the airport security storage, which is really just a closet at one end of the airport packed with a bunch of other people’s stuff. No tickets. Just drop your stuff off and leave it there. Ask to be let back in to grab whatever. Caught a cab downtown and started walking around.

Downtown Adventuretime

Nadi is really just your average third-world-type city. Lots of rundown, random, small shops. Shop owners spotted us a mile away and every. single. shop. wanted us to come in. Every. single, restaurant. We found the market our Lonely Planet book wrote about and began a stroll through. There weren’t many stands, but lots of handicrafts.

We didn’t stay very long since we were a little turned off by some of the stall owners who followed our every step and wouldn’t leave us alone despite politely telling them we weren’t interested several times. Unfortunately, hawking also makes me a little paranoid and I start subtly checking for my passport every five minutes.

Our First Hindu Temple

We walked to the Hindu temple, where we paid a small fee. I was given a couple sarongs to cover my heathen self since I was wearing a tank top. We took a tour with a Hindu monk and I was advised that women must always stay to the left side of the men. This, of course, gave Jeff deep satisfaction, and he made it a point to shift his direction constantly, causing me to shuffle to the correct side of him repeatedly.

The temple was super brightly colored and every individual surface was painted with a religious story. …We learned one of the Hindu gods rode a mouse? (This is actually Ganesha, “remover of obstacles, though traditionally he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked.”)


At the end of the tour, the monk asked if we would like to donate to a program they ran for the homeless. Two things came to mind, here. One is that we already paid an entrance fee and a fee for the sarongs, so… we didn’t feel obligated to donate additional funds. The second was that we had just enough Fijian dollars to get us back to the airport. Despite feeling a little guilty, we also felt a little duped. Would we have received a tour if they opened with this? I’d like to think so, but you just never know.

Sketchiest Cab Ride Ever

We stood on the main road waiting no less than fifteen minutes for a cab to pass by. There were a thousand on our way in, and we didn’t think it would be a problem to find one back. It was also blazing hot out. Finally, what looked like a hotel shuttle pulled over and offered us a ride. We accepted after negotiating a fair fee, though as soon as we started to get into the van, we began wondering if this was such a good idea.

Surely, this guy was not supposed to be shuttling random people around. The interior of this van was shabby at best and the seats were covered in plastic. (This is where I begin having visions of getting kidnapped and hacked to pieces.) That never happened, of course, but the driver did stop at a gas station where he left the van running while filling the fuel tank, washed his windshield, and put air in the tires. We just sat awkwardly and waited. What can you do?

The Postcard Never Received

When we got back to the airport, we had quite a bit of time to kill. Just hung out. Found a wooden mailbox and sent a postcard to my nephew that I’m not sure has ever arrived to this day. Spent eleven and a half hours in a center seat on the airplane, next to a woman with a lot of hair that kept getting in my mouth, holding the biggest baby I’ve ever seen in my life. As apprehensive as I was about sitting next to that baby on this flight, it did not make a single sound the entire time. I’m impressed. What an end to our New Zealand Road Trip and Fiji Stopover, eh?

The End of Our New Zealand Trip

Landed in LA. Just checked into our hotel, got some dinner, and lounged around. Exhausted, but sad as yet another great adventure comes to an end. But New Zealand definitely tops our list. Tomorrow we’ll be back home and returning to work shortly after. Guess I should start planning the next one!

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Cheers, Jordan