Who Doesn’t Try to Smuggle Australian Spiders into New Zealand? (February 27 – March 1)

New Zealand is country number 14, and both Mike and I were really excited to explore the country. We left Melbourne on February 27 on a direct flight to Christchurch. One of the fun things that goes along with moving to a new country is to spend the last of our local currency at the airport. We usually have it calculated to only have a few dollars left, which gives us only a few choices at the little airport marts, resulting in some unusual combinations. In Melbourne, we both had a sweet tooth and needed some news.

Upon arrival in the Christchurch airport, we were in for a surprise with their high bio-security at customs due to their agricultural based economy. When we filled out our forms, we noted that we planned to tramp (Kiwi for hiking) and had boots and a tent. Well, we got pulled out of line and told to hand over our boots and tent for inspection. Our boots came back shortly with the soles cleaned. Then, we waited and waited until we were the last two tourists in all of customs. Finally, a custom’s officer walked out of the room with a vial and informed us that they had found live spiders in our tent! He also said that they had to determine if the species already resided in New Zealand and, if foreign, our tent would have to be fumigated which would be super pricy! After watching all the officers go into the back room as this was the excitement of the day, we were both thinking that they could have our leaky tent. Eventually, they all came back looking a little disappointed that they already had that spider, and said we could have our tent back. What a welcome.J

After all that excitement, we hopped a bus to pick up our rental campervan. We chose the Spaceship company, and all of their vans are painted bright orange and have names. Our Spaceship was called “The Hoff,” and I think it was the oldest in the fleet with over 362,000 km! While we were getting our papers sorted, we met 2 Belgians who were returning their spaceship, R2D2, and gave us their New Zealand atlas. In exchange, we gave them a ride back to their hostel. That evening, we got groceries and unpacked our backpacks in our new home. The van was set up well with storage bins under the bed, all our linens, 2 burner stove, and cutlery. Plus, the back opened, and we could attach a tent at night to give us more room. This would do just fine as our new home, and I was excited to spend the next 24 nights in the same bed!

The next morning, we explored downtown Christchurch with plans to follow the Lonely Planet walking tour. As soon as we hit city center, we noticed that streets were closed and fenced off; this whole area was considered the Red Zone and closed due to public safety. I hadn’t realized how much of the destruction of the earthquake last February that we would still see, and it was sobering. We walked around and saw these beautiful old buildings that had their roofs removed to try and save the buildings. I could just imagine how cute and historic downtown used to be, and I hope that they can preserve and rebuild some of these historic buildings. The flowers were in bloom, and almost every construction cone that we saw had a wildflower placed in it for remembrance.

After a nice lunch and a quick look at their botanical garden, we decided to head south to the Banks Peninsula. From Christchurch, we took a long tunnel to Lyttleton which was the first European settlement in New Zealand and got our first views of the stunning inlet. The water was so blue, contrasting beautifully against the brownish hillsides and white clouds. The road hugged the inlet, and we slowly drove around enjoying the awesome views. We were enjoying the views so much that we missed our turn by 15km! So instead of backtracking, we decided to take this little side road to cut across the peninsula to the town of Akaroa. It was unpaved, and there was a sign for no campervans, but we kept going. It was super windy and steep, but we also got some nice views of the sheep grazing on the mountain hillsides. I was happy to get to the other side, though.

Akaroa was settled by the French, and they have maintained the ambience in town, including all the streets being called Rues. The shops were cute and had nice artwork, but the best part of town was the views. Mike also got to do some bird watching and was enthralled with this bird, but the nearby Kiwi’s soon informed him that he was taking pictures of a wood pigeonJ

On February 29th, we pointed The Hoff south and drove a few hours through hilly farmland to the tiny town of Moeraki. The town is famous for its ancient, spherical boulders laying on the beach. The boulders were formed 40 million years ago, and their diameters range from 3‘-9’. The town is also famous for having a yellow-eyed penguin colony which are rare. So Mike and I headed to the beach at dusk to watch them come in from their day of fishing. The penguins are very shy, so they built a little viewing hut to wait in, so that the penguins don’t know you are there. I was happy for the hut because it was pouring outside, and we ended up waiting 2.5 hours with no penguins! We finally gave up and hit the local pub for a consolation prize.

The next day, we headed north to the Victorian era town of Oamaru. The town center plays up its architecture and has a bunch of cute cafes and art galleries. We both needed a little downtime to get caught up in our journals and found a cozy café to drink long blacks (Kiwi for Americano). Our main attraction to the town was to ride a penny farthing, but unfortunately the shop was closed and we had to settle for posing on one. We did get to enjoy a fancy afternoon tea and got to pick a decadent dessert from the trolley which was a nice treat!

Since it was early afternoon, we hit the road again to head west. Along the way we stopped at Elephant Rocks which are huge, strange shaped rocks located in a sheep pasture. Portions of Narnia were filmed here, and we could still see the castle set which was cool. We also stopped to look at a Maori rock art located in a cave.

We ended our day in the small town of Omarama, where we enjoyed a soak in a private, outdoor hot pot. The water was heated by a wood fire which gave off a nice smell, and we enjoyed the amazing mountain views. It felt great on our road weary bodies and was a nice treat. Plus they had a free shower for us to use before heading to our free campsite for the night located next to a pristine mountain river. Perfection!


Our first few days in New Zealand were off to a slower start, but we were now headed for the mountains, which we were both really looking forward to enjoying.

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4 Responses to Who Doesn’t Try to Smuggle Australian Spiders into New Zealand? (February 27 – March 1)

  1. Tracy says:

    How much do I love that your camper van is named The Hoff?!

  2. Dad says:

    The rocks remind me of some we saw when bicycling – eastern Washington maybe? The. Picture with the sheep sure show there size. I like the “Hoff”

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks Dad! I remember those too but maybe they were in Montana? It was fun to walk around them with the sheep grazing, but we had to avoid all the poop!

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