Kaikoura is the whale watching capital of New Zealand. But after spending close to 3 weeks on the road, we did not have any energy or enthusiasm left. We took a short drive to see yet more seals, but spent most of the day just lazing around the town.

Finally, the last day of our memorable campervan trip around New Zealand. I must confess to feeling sad at returning our vehicle. I had really enjoyed the experience of driving and living in a campervan. We had clocked up over 3,000 kilometres in 19 days by the time we returned our vehicle, but enjoyed every minute of it.

We took in a Hakka performance in our last evening at Christchurch (and New Zealand). It was obviously a performance put on for visitors like us by students, but as an introduction to the local culture, it was satisfactory.

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Nelson to Kaikoura

From Nelson, we headed on to Queen Charlotte Drive to take in the beautiful sounds of this part of the island. The scenery was spectacular, helped by the fact that it was bright, sunny day.

After a short walk along the drive, we tasted the local delicacy – whitebait – from a roadside vendor. And as is usually the case with roadside vendors, the whitebait sandwich was delicious!

Our next halt was at Picton, from where the Interislander ferry departs for North Island. But that has to wait for our next trip to New Zealand!

We then drove past Blenheim to Omaka – the site of the most unusual attraction we visited. With help from Peter Jackson, the Kiwi director famous for The Lord of the Rings films, the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre features a collection of original and replicas of WW1 aircraft. It was worth the detour.

We then drove past the famous Marlborough wine region, but a halt here was not on our itinerary. After a halt to watch seals at Ohau Point, we reached our last campsite at Kaikoura.

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Punakaiki to Nelson

We had a long drive today from the West Coast on to the Northern part of the South Island. The highlight of the day was lunch at Jack Gasthof’s. I had not read about this place in the Lonely Planet (though it is mentioned, as we checked later). But we saw signs on the road, and decided to follow them.

Jack Gasthof’s is a small, but stylish place started by Germans. The menu is international (nachos, pizzas, etc.) with a fair number of vegetarian options. They had a small bar area (closed in the mornings, with a great music system. The place reminded me a lot of shacks in Goa.

The food was delicious as well, and very reasonably priced.

After lunch, we left the coast, and made our way inland. The scenery was no different to what we had encountered in the past, and by now, we were beginning to get fatigued. So, after reaching our camping ground in Nelson, we really had no energy to go out for dinner.

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After all the rains of the previous day, today turned out to be a glorious sunny day. We left our hotel and made our way to Franz Josef Glacier. we didn’t have the time nor the inclination to view the glacier up close. So we were satisfied with just taking a 2.5 km stroll to get some good views of the glacier from a distance of about a km.

After that, we made our way up the West Coast, to Punakaiki. Punakaiki is famous for it’s ‘pancake rocks’. And they are certainly worth seeing. In addition, maybe due to the warm sunny weather compared to the rest of the South Island, I found it to be one of the more beautiful places that we had visited this far on the South Island. Punakaiki is also the southernmost region in the world where palms go naturally. And this certainly helped add to the lazy, sub tropical feel of the place.

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Fox Glacier

Today, we walked on to Fox Glacier. It was a novel experience for both of us. The walk took us along temperate rainforests to a point a few hundred metres above the mouth of the glacier, where we put on crampons to assist the walk on the glacier.

By the time we reached the glacier, the rains, which were forecast to hit by mid-day, come down right on schedule. Even with all our layers of clothing on, we were very cold. We spent close to an hour on the glacier, but were very happy to get off it towards the end!

By the time we got back to base, we were cold, tired and hungry. Luckily, the cafe at the glacier walk office had some good hot vegetarian fare that revived us.

The rain hadn’t eased at all, so we decided to do the short drive north to Franz Josef Glacier, and halt in a motel for the night. Sitting in the warm hotem room, watching TV, and listening to the rain pouring down outside, this turned out to be one of the smartest decisions we took on the trip!

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Haast Pass

Today was a day spent mostly on the road, driving from Wanaka to Fox Glacier via Haast Pass. The day was a grey, cloudy one. Along the way, we stopped to view a couple of waterfalls. It turned out to be quite a long drive, and it was quite late by the time we reached Fox Glacier. We booked for a guided walk on to the glacier for the next morning.

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Today was our first true rest day of the trip. We decided to stay one more night at Wanaka. After a lazy sleep in and a very late breakfast, we finally left the campsite at 2 PM and went to Puzzling World.

This might be the most unique sights we visit during the trip, a collection of illusion rooms and an outdoor maze, with smaller puzzles that visitors can sit down and play with. The illusion rooms included ‘Following Faces’, where faces of famous personalities seem like ther are watching you from all angles, to ‘Holograph’ rooms, to ‘Ames’ room, which causes the illusion of normal people looking big or small. This technique apparently was used in the ‘Lord of the Rings’. Another room had the illusion of objects going against gravity, such as a ball rolling ‘up’ a slanted table, water flowing ‘up’ an incline, etc.

The maze was a difficult one, across 2 levels. We managed to crack the easier one in 40 minutes.

By then, we were feeling the effects of our first real ‘hot’ day of the trip, and made our way back to the campsite.

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