Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

South Island Tour Day 1

Above, and below, mountain views on the way from Christchurch to Tekapo

After a few days exploring Christchurch by myself, I had joined a small group tour of the South Island of New Zealand with the award-winning adventure tour company, Haka Tours.

Having met the group for dinner the previous evening, this morning, after a quick breakfast – our tour guide had a breakfast box full of cereals, bread for toasting etc just for the group – it was up and onto the bus to begin our South Island adventure.

More beautiful scenery on the road to Lake Tekapo

Most of the group had been travelling together a week already touring New Zealand’s North Island and although everyone was super friendly, with bonds having already been formed, we straight away fell into the pattern of us newbies pairing up to sit together on the bus which did make it a bit more difficult to get to know the rest of the group at first.

Today’s destination was Lake Tekapo but first we had a very scenic drive from Christchurch.

The mountain-backed Lake Tekapo

We made a few stops along the road to hop out of the van and take photos of the stunning mountain scenery and Mount Cook in the distance and then a lunch stop at a middle of nowhere cafe for a delicious toasted sandwich.

View from the lakeshore

Arriving at Lake Tekapo late afternoon, we stopped lakeside on the way in to take photos along the lake shore near to the Church of the Good Shepherd, a small chapel built on the shore that has become an iconic landmark.

On the lakeshore, and below, the Mackenzie Sheepdog Statue and Church of the Good Shepherd by the lake.

The views across the lake with the turquoise waters backed by the snow-capped Southern Alps were just stunning and we spent longer than planned wandering along the shore and sat on the rocks taking it all in.

Motel accommodation by the lake and below, the view from my room

From the lake shore, we were taken into the small town where or accommodation for the night was situated. Those in shared dorm accommodation were staying at a lakeside hostel while the few of us who had upgraded to private rooms were staying at a lovely lakeside motel. My room was comfortable, well-equipped and had a patio with stunning views across the lake.

As the sun went down, the mountains across the lake were bathed in a red glow.

Managing to drag myself away from the view from my patio, I met with the rest of the group early evening for surprise trip to Tekapo Springs Hot Pools. The sun had gone down and we relaxed in the hot pools under a spectacularly star-filled sky – Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve and is well-known for it’s starry skies!

Sunset at Lake Tekapo and below, watching the sunrise the next morning.

From the Hot Springs, we were taken back into town for dinner. Our guide had made reservations at a local Japanese restaurant but there were a coupe of us who were not fans of this cuisine so instead, we went to an Italian restaurant next door for a delicious pizza before wandering back to our accommodation.

The next morning was an early start but I couldn’t complain when it meant being up in time to watch the sunrise over the lake! Taking one last look at the beautiful view, I waved goodbye to Lake Tekapo and joined the rest of the group on our Haka Tours bus ready to continue our journey through South Island, New Zealand to our next stop, Queenstown.

Christchurch, New Zealand

Having decided upon taking a 7-day tour of New Zealand’s South Island with small group tour company Haka Tour, I set off on my journey from London Heathrow to Christchurch via short stops in Dubai, Bangkok and Sydney before finally landing 35 hours later. While I was not looking forward to such a long flight, I found it went a lot quicker than the longest flights I had previously taken to Australia, maybe helped by all the stops breaking the journey up; but I was still exhausted when we landed and the last thing I needed was to find my suitcase damaged and split open as it came round the conveyor belt at Christchurch airport!

The earthquake damaged Christchurch Cathedral

Customer services were very apologetic and offered to loan me a temporary case while mine was sent to be repaired but said that as it was a holiday weekend for ANZAC day, I would have to return to the airport in 2-3 days to collect it once it was fixed. I explained I was departing on a tour of the island and wouldn’t be in Christchurch then to be able to return to the airport and after a few calls, they agreed to give me a similar suitcase there and then.

A Christchurch tram passes by

It took me a while to repack and transfer everything from one case to the other and by the time I was ready to leave the airport, I’d abandoned all my plans to use public transport into the city and instead hopped straight into a taxi to take me directly to my Ibis hotel.

The temporary Re:Start Mall

It was afternoon when I arrived and with my room ready to check in straight away, I set my alarm for a quick nap before dragging myself out into the city. Finding my way to the Cathedral Square, I had my first glimpse of what was left of the cathedral, severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake.

An autumn stroll along the river

Hoping to find somewhere to eat in the city, I continued to wander through Christchurch but the city was like a ghost town with little about and failing to find anything I wanted to eat, I returned towards my hotel via a walk through Re:Start Mall, a temporary shopping area replacing stores damaged in the earthquake with stores in shipping containers, then along the river and once back, ordered room service before having an very early night to catch up on my missed sleep.

The Chalice sculpture in Cathedral Square

Having seen a leaflet advertising it in the reception of my hotel, I decided to take a walking tour of the city the next morning. There tour was free and there was no need to book, I just needed to be in Cathedral Square, by the Chalice sculpture, at 10am to meet the guide. 7 of us turned up for the tour, a mixture of solo travellers and couples and we were taken around the city hearing about it’s history and the ongoing repercussions of the 2011 quake.

The eerie, ghost town feel to the city made much more sense having heard the stories of the city’s struggles to rebuild and how many people and businesses had moved out to the suburbs to restart.

Above and below, art work covering up earthquake damage in Christchurch

There was still uncertainty about what would become of the damaged Cathedral and we were taken past the temporary ‘Cardboard Cathedral’ being used in the meantime as well as shown the 185 Chairs earthquake memorial with one chair standing for every life lost in the earthquake. The city was also covered in street art and murals trying to cover up the damage and we had plenty of examples pointed out to us.

Rebuilding, art work, car parks and empty space – Christchurch still recovering from a devastating earthquake

Mentioning to the guide that I had struggled to find anywhere to eat in the city with even cafes serving snacks and breakfast being thin on the ground, he took the group to the C1 Espresso, a cafe with a quick bites menu of sandwiches, fries etc., for lunch.

The cafe had an interesting way of serving fries to the tables sending them through pneumatic tubes rather than the serving staff bringing them over!

Above and below, autumn in the botanic gardens

After lunch, I said goodbye to the group and took a walk to the city’s Botanic Gardens then visited the Canterbury Museum before collecting my luggage from my hotel and moving to the nearby YHA to meet my Haka Tours group.

Having arrived from completing their tour of the North Island, the group were just checking in to the YHA and the few of us joining just for the South Island leg of the tour were introduced before we all went out for food at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

Above and below, visiting the Canterbury Museum

The group was made up of mainly Brits, a few Canadians, an American and one Australian varying in age from early 20s to mid-30s and despite most of the group having already spent a week together travelling the North Islands, I felt immediately included and knew we were going to have a good week together exploring the South Island.

Glad to have upgraded to a private room for the trip, after dinner, I headed back to the YHA and my room to again catch up on my sleep before our early start the next morning to begin our South Island adventure starting with a visit to Lake Tekapo.

New Zealand’s South Island

Touring the South Island with Haka Tours

Needing to justify my idea for a long haul concert break Down Under to a city I had been to many times before, I decided instead to make my trip a New Zealand vacation with a stop off in Melbourne for the concert on the way home. I’d never visited New Zealand before so it would be somewhere new to explore before joining meeting my Melbourne-based friend in her home city for the gig.

I’d be travelling solo until I reached Melbourne so decided a tour would be the best way to see what New Zealand had to offer in a relatively short time – I had 2 weeks in total which was to include the 2 nights in Melbourne. After researching and reading through various itineraries, I realised I’d only have time to see one of New Zealand’s two islands and South Island seemed to come most heavily recommended.

There were a variety of options aimed at solo travellers including Kiwi Experience, a flexi-travel option where you weren’t tied down to specific travel dates but still had a ready made, mapped out itinerary, the use of a tour guide and the chance to meet fellow solo travellers along the way but deciding this was aimed more at younger backpackers in their early 20s than someone in their mid-30s, I instead opted for the award winning New Zealand small group tour company, Haka Tours.

The adventure travel company got rave reviews and catered for a more open age-group than the 18-38 tours I’d done with Trek America so I was hoping there’d be at least some 30-somethings in my group and it wouldn’t just be hard-partying youngsters!

The groups were slightly larger than the 13 maximum on Trek with Haka buses catering for groups of up to 20 passengers but even at full capacity, this sounded like a better option than the groups of 50 herded around by companies such as Kiwi Experience and Contiki.

So I found a 7-day tour of South Island on Haka’s website which fitted in with my other travel plans and even left me with a few nights between the end of the tour and the gig in Melbourne which I decided to spend in Adelaide, one of the few Australian cities I hadn’t visited yet, and decided to take the plunge and book it.

Having recently come off a Trek America Tour across the Southern States of America with one hostel too many for my liking, I decided to take Haka Tours up on their offer to upgrade to private rooms on their tour. While I didn’t really mind hostel life too much, this at least gave me peace of mind that I could get an early night without being disturbed by any night owls in the group as well as meaning I’d have an en suite at some, although not all, of our accommodations over the week.

The tour was to start in the city of Christchurch. Haka Tours owns some of it’s own hostels, including one on the outskirts of Christchurch but we were advised that as this was full with another group at the time of our departure, we would instead depart from the more central Christchurch YHA. I booked a night at the city’s Ibis hotel for my first night in the city then would move to the YHA for the night before the tour began.

The tour’s itinerary sounded really exciting with stops at Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, Wanaka and Franz Josef before returning to Christchurch via a ride on the TranzAlpine train.

Activities for each stop could be booked in advance on the Haka Tours’ website and there was so much to choose from, I couldn’t fit everything I’d have liked to do in! I stayed away from booking the more adventurous activities like bungee jumping and skydiving and instead plumped for tamer activities including a full-day tour to Milford Sound from Queenstown.

With everything booked and my onward travel plan to Australia sorted out, I was excited for my New Zealand adventure to begin…