New Zealand is experiencing the hottest summer in 150 years! It’s been the most incredible summer in Wellington too (which can be hit and miss). We’ve had temperatures in the high twenties and into the thirties, the beaches are crowded, the sea is being swum in (normally only for the brave or crazy) and sales of ice-cream and gelato are astronomical. The good weather started early too, with a dry spring and sunshine days enticing us to the beach.
The weather really has been fabulous and we loved sharing it with my parents – who arrived a few days before Christmas, all the way from the UK, and stayed for a whole month. My hubby had a month leave from work too – so we really had the best Christmas present – the gift of time to enjoy the fine weather and outdoors.
After spending Christmas and New Year in Wellington we headed to the South Island, sailing across the Cook Strait on the InterIslander ferry.
It was one of the smoothest crossings that I’ve experienced (and I’ve had some shockers!). It was actually calm enough, and warm, to sit outside on the deck over the Strait. The journey through the Marlborough Sounds of the south island, as we approached Picton, was stunning.
We stayed a night in Picton, knowing the drive to Hanmer Springs the next day would take some time. It was a lovely start to the holiday, swimming in the outdoor pool at the Picton Yacht Club Hotel, enjoying the scenic waterfront and spotting sting rays in the bay.
The next day we set off on the scenic drive to Hanmer Springs.
I’d booked us into the Heritage Hanmer Springs Hotel, which has quite an interesting history – which is told with black and white photographs hanging along all the corridors of the hotel. We arrived in rain, but that didn’t damper the children’s enthusiasm to play outside. After a day of travelling they spotted the tennis court and asked to play – it was actually a good laugh!
We warmed up afterwards with a curry from a popular restaurant in Hanmer (so popular we had to wait an hour for a take away!). After a good feed we all slept well and woke up looking forward to a morning at the popular Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa – a marvellous place with thermal hot pools and recreational pools, including a wave pool, lazy river and a number of fun water slides!
Hanmer is a gorgeous place, I really wish we’d had longer, but after a dip in the pools, a quick browse of the shops and a round of mini-golf we headed off to Kaikoura.
My husband and I hadn’t visited Kaikoura for over 15 years and the stunning natural setting, combined with incredible marine life, had left a great impression on us. The people of Kaikoura we always remembered as being warm, welcoming and extremely hospitable – and nothing had changed. The earthquake of 14 November 2016 had obviously had an impact, but the people had retained their spirit and worked hard to get through. It’s really good news that the highway south, and more recently north, of Kaikoura are open again – a remarkable feat of work!
We stayed for two nights in Kaikoura, staying at the friendly Alpine-Pacific Motel & Holiday Park, where the outdoor pool and spa pool were well used by all the family. Our children had a great time making friends with other guests and Grandad even managed an opportune dip, whilst I looked after Grandma.
After a lovely evening of play and relaxing we woke up the next day to go on a ‘Wings Over Whales‘ flight. It was a wonderful experience to see Sperm Whales from the air. We were fortunate to spot two whales and see one diving down, raising its majestic tail in the air before vanishing from our sight. Many years ago Dan and I had gone on a whale watch boat tour – which was incredible (but the sea sickness put me off doing that again!).
In the afternoon my folks enjoyed walking part of the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, whilst the girls played at the swimming pool. There are so many great walks – from an hour to a couple of days!
The next morning my hubby and I took the children on a sea kayak experience with ‘Kaikoura Kayaks‘. There was quite a swell and a northerly got up later in the morning, making conditions difficult for paddling back to shore, but we felt in extremely safe hands with our guides. We saw a baby New Zealand fur seal bob up out of the water in front of our kayaks and many more lounging on the rocks.
The food in Kaikoura is amazing and, being a coastal town (with a rich marine ecosystem) there is also plenty of sea food to enjoy. We visited the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ after our morning kayaking and it was everything we’d been led to believe – yum!!
After Kaikoura we took the inland, scenic drive to Lake Tekapo. It’s a really stunning drive and worth taking a whole day to make pit stops and enjoy the scenery.
One of my favourite things about driving through New Zealand is that there are no large service stations like in the UK, but instead small villages with local cafes serving home made goodness. Whenever we heard the familiar call of, ‘I need a toilet stop!’ we would find a toilet block next to a playground – perfect!
Tekapo is a nature lover’s idea of paradise. There are outdoor activities for all seasons and the night sky comes alive with stars – so much so that it’s now home of the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve. International Dark-Sky Associationʼs Executive Director Bob Parks remarks, “The new reserve is coming in at a ʻGoldʼ level status. To put it simply, it is one of the best stargazing sites on Earth.” We didn’t get a chance to experience the stars (with darkness not descending till nearly 10pm in the peak of summer!) but we saw a stunning sunset and loved the scenery.
We spent two nights in Tekapo and enjoyed walks, swimming at the hot pools at Tekapo Springs (and racing down the giant slide that had been put up for summer, filling the space of the winter ice-skating rink).
I really cherished having the time to walk the Mt John circuit track with my parents, via the lake shore.
We started from the town and walked along the lake shore, before winding uphill, taking in the most amazing views, before reaching the summit.
The Astro Cafe at the summit was a lovely stop – especially on a warm, summer’s day.
My husband had spent the morning with the children, at the hot pools, and then drove up to meet us at the summit. My youngest daughter came equipped – with good walking shoes – so chose to hike back down the other side with my parents and I.
It was then my turn to relax my legs and the hot springs were the perfect tonic (though I didn’t get long to relax – as two of my daughters insisted that I took a few wild rides on the giant slide!).
Our next stop… Wanaka, for six nights!