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A travelogue chronicling the adventures of Shane & Julie - a husband and wife seeking to travel out of the country every year of their marriage

Filtering by Category: New Zealand

charleston, christchurch & picton // new zealand

Julie Murphy

Charleston, Christchurch & Picton // New Zealand Travelogue - The Murphy Atlas

The drive north from Franz Josef glacier puts you right back on a section of New Zealand's gorgeous State Highway 6 also referred to as The Great Coast Road (not to be confused with Oz's Great Ocean Road). This winding drive's transition from ice-capped mountains to lush jungles to rugged ocean cliffs deservedly earned it a spot in Lonely Planet's list of the world's best coastal drives.  

Just over two hours into the drive, we came upon the fishing city of Greymouth where over 40% of the west coast's population lives. This is a great spot to load up on fuel and food if continuing north, as options tend to become few and far between. We decided on the delicious Speight's Ale House located in a beautiful, historic brick building just across the street from the Grey River. They serve a great variety of hearty meals that they help you pair with one of their award winning beers. After a thick clam chowder and a Speight's Gold Medal Ale, we were ready to continue north.

The coastal vistas only got more impressive as the road continued. Signs started boasting "Penguin Crossing" but we unfortunately missed these tuxedoed fellas as they are most common from July to November in the early morning or late afternoon. In just 40 minutes from Greymouth, we found ourselves at one of the west coast's iconic hotspots: the Pancake Rocks. We were a little wary at first when we saw dozens of cars and a full-scale gift shop across the road but realized it was all worth it once we started the 20 minute loop through these super unique rock formations. Try to aim your arrival time around high tide and you will hopefully be rewarded with awesome breakers crashing against these stacked flapjacks and (bear with me) impressive blowholes.  

Our trip then took us another 30 km north to the often overlooked town of Charleston. This post-mining community used to hold more than 15,000 inhabitants and more pubs than private residences but has since dropped down to under 300 permanent locals (and no pubs). However, we were there for the quiet but rugged coastline and stunning limestone caves of Paparoa National Park. Our Airbnb at the rustic (and completely off-grid) Pyramid Farm certainly matched the serene and rural setting. The generous and fascinating host, Don (and his dog named Dog), also provided us with the most delicious honey known to man which he harvests right behind the house. For more substantial food, we would recommend the very local spot simply named Jack's that doubles as a camping ground and producer of the best pizza we had in New Zealand. There's no official address but watch closely for their wooden sign on your left about 5 or 10 minutes north of the town...and definitely don't let the drinking locals on the front porch deter you from the towns sole watering hole.

After talking with Don and other locals, we learned that most Kiwis prefer the impressive Nile River cave system of Paparoa over the more advertised (and touristy) Waitomo Caves of the North Island...and we totally understand why. *Also note that Waitomo does not allow any sort of photography, unlike the caves in Paparoa* We teamed up with the sole tour company in the area, Underworld Adventures, for an absolutely unforgettable day. Underworld suited us up with full wetsuits and caving gear before sending us out on an old mining train deep into the jungle. Each person then grabbed their own inner tube before trekking up to the entrance of the cave. The next few hours were spent touring through the colossal caves and forests of untouched stalagmites and stalactites. 

Once we made our way into the deeper chambers of the cave, we finally put those inner tubes we had been carrying to good use with a NZ activity we'd really been looking forward to: BLACKwater rafting! The same underground river that hollowed out these caves still rushes through and we jumped into it, tubes in hand. Now the real kicker was that, once the water started pulling us along, all headlamps were turned out and we were guided by the galaxies of glowworms that hung from the ceiling above us. Now we're talking about millions of faintly glowing stars that combined to create one of the more surreal experiences we've ever had. Who even knows how long we floated down the pitch black river watching the light show above us before the river dumped us back out into the heart of the jungle for us to float our way back to the train. Absolutely amazing!

We were still recounting how awesome the caving trip was the next morning when we hit the road to make the drive across the island to Christchurch. While not the most direct route, we chose to make our way back to Greymouth and head over the Southern Alps via the highly-recommended Arthur's Pass. It certainly did not disappoint. The road cuts through the heart of the snow-capped mountains, along rushing turquoise rivers, and dumping you out into humbling glacial plains. Get your arms (and stomach) ready for plenty of switchbacks along the way but there are great coffee shops on either side of the range to keep you fueled and ensure that you are awake for all of the amazing scenery out the window. 

We were a little surprised when we arrived to Christchurch to find that the country's third most populous city felt...deserted. The 2011 earthquake this city experienced killed 185 people and demolished much of the central town. This tragedy was still very evident as we wandered around Cathedral Square and the surrounding blocks of reconstruction. However, the resilient people of this city have far from given up and there are signs of a hip local community growing from the destruction. Delicious spots for breakfast/brunch like The Villas can still be found near the Canterbury Museum and great drinks and nightlife are alive and well across town at Revival Bar. We even found some incredible Mexican high-end cuisine at Tequila Mockingbird and its budget sister next door, Bueno Cantina. However, our favorite find was the Sunday afternoon concert series "Lazy Sunday" held in the botanical gardens featuring impressive musicians from all across New Zealand. 

A couple nights in Christchurch felt about right before dropping off our car and catching a bus up to Picton, the port for jumping a ferry to the North Island. As we had come to expect, the drive itself was beautiful as we rode by rugged beach towns and seal colonies before jutting inland through the wineries responsible for NZ's infamous Sauvignon Blanc. The little town of Picton blended a bit of both sceneries with most of it's activity condensed into one main street facing the mountain-ringed shore. There isn't a strong restaurant scene in this humble town so we were content making our own dinner and watching the sun set around the quiet bay for our last night on the South Island. 

This was the last of our adventures on the South Island of New Zealand -- there's SO much more to explore (which just means we have to go back, right?!) Who is coming with us next time? Also, have any of ya'll been caving or seen any crazy glow worms? 

wanaka & franz josef glacier // new zealand

Julie Murphy

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When we started mapping out our road trip north to Christchurch from the southern tip of New Zealand, it became clear that we had to make a decision early: east or west. Heading up the eastern shoreline brings you past the university city of Dunedin and eventually on to the Elephant Rocks and Moeraki Boulders. In our opinion, the main selling point of this route is that you can ONLY access the Mt Cook National Park from this side of the mountains despite what it may look like on a map. However, the wild western allure of glaciers, caves, and mountain passes had us heading up the left side of the Southern Alps despite it being far less direct.

Heading northwest from Te Anau, we passed through the now familiar Queenstown area (to watch them Pats win the superbowl!) before continuing an hour beyond to the beautiful Lake Wanaka and it's bustling little town. Our luck with rain continued as downpours kept us from a clear view of the lake but we were able to keep ourselves entertained with a showing of the final Hobbit movie at the awesomely unique Cinema Paradiso. This theater/restaurant combo serves up some tasty grub for you to enjoy while lounging on La-Z-Boy recliners and least until intermission (yeah, they still do that) when they serve hot chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. Paradiso sounds about right! If you are still hungry for some reason, just walk across the street to the delicious woodfire pizza truck that seems to be permanently parked there serving up some tasty thin crust.  

Our Airbnb was located in Lake Hawea just 10 minutes up the road from Wanaka on an equally beautiful lake and far more quaint town. This served as a great launching point (after some delicious sustenance from the friendly Sailz Cafe)  for the wildly climbing roads that hug these two lakes and head northwest over the Southern Alps to the sea. As the case with most of the southern island, there is certainly no shortage of photo ops all along this road but Haast Pass is regarded as one of the country's most stunning roads...and that's saying something! By local recommendation, we decided to break up the drive with a little hike just north of Makarora in Aspiring National Park on the Blue Pools Track. A 20 minute walk brings you across a swing bridge high above the Makarora River to crystal-clear, glacier-fed pools where you can watch fish swim by through the azure blue water; not to mention some of the best skipping rocks known to mankind.

After a climate-confusing 5-hour drive through fields, mountains, beaches, and jungles, we made our way into the small backpackers town of Franz Joseph and it's like-named glacier.

The weather around these icy peaks can be quite temperamental as we learned from only a handful of clear skied hours in the 3 days we spent there. There is no shortage of tour options by foot, 4x4, snowmobile, or helicopter but an hour hike on your own gets you nearly to the glacier's face. Just make sure to take heed of any warnings at the trailhead as the path takes you through a glacial valley that can flood out quickly with the right amount of rain. For those willing to splurge a bit (we opted out), you can top off your Franz Josef experience at the Glacier Hot Pools in heated glacial water and warm up from the area's surprisingly chilly weather. 

We're really starting to dig these glaciers - first from Iceland and now Franz Josef. Have any of y'all seen any sweet ice caps we should add to the list?

milford sound & te anau // new zealand

Julie Murphy


Milford Sound isn't convenient to any major city nor is it on the way to anywhere else. The road there is a dead end. Yet its majesty and grandeur have made it arguably New Zealand's most famous tourist destination, a winner of TripAdvisor's Traveler's Choice Destination Awards, and even acclaimed by some like Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world. Naturally, we had to see what all the buzz was about.

You don't just "hop over" to "check out" the Milford Sound. It is nearly a 4 hour drive from Queenstown with the last hour being almost exclusively made up of hairpin turns through mountains. The views are absolutely stunning. It's during this last stage of the drive that you get your first taste of the sheer-faced mountains that continue on to the sound and the waterfalls that seemingly pour from the clouds. At the peak of the Milford Pass where you begin your decent to the sound, you drive through these rock monstrosities in a kilometer long, single-lane tunnel that has been roughly cut out as evidenced by the streams of water that pour down its inner walls. Once you've begun the descent, give your brakes a rest and check out The Chasm that will be signed well on the left-hand side of the road. A 1o minute walk takes you to footbridge over a river where the turquoise glacier water has creatively sculpted the surrounding rock. 

There are dozens of tourbus companies that can take you to the sound from Queenstown and back in a single day. However, we would argue that renting a car and driving there yourself is half of the experience and would be cheaper than most tours. This autonomy also gives you the ability to stop as you will and time your arrival to avoid hundreds of fanny-pack-flaunting tourists (no offense to the fanny-pack). Just maybe don't go overkill like we did...

We had gotten some funny looks back in Queenstown when telling people we would be spending 3 nights in Milford Sound (we cut this back to 2 nights once we arrived). Our naive thought was that a place this epic probably deserves at least this much time. Little did we know that, while Milford Sound is naturally rich, it the home of only 150 residents, 2 hotels, 1 restaurant, a gas station, 0 cell reception and the most outrageous internet prices around. As a Unesco Heritage site, all hiking and kayaking in the sound requires a guide and their rather expensive rates. However, for those with a slim budget like ours, there are some great free hikes in the area like the 3 hour roundtrip trek to Lake Marian. The trail is certainly steep but crossed over a great suspension footbridge and a series of waterfalls before eventually open up to this tranquil lake cradled among glacier peaks. Well worth the sweat!

The worthwhile benefit of spending the night in Milford Sound was the ability to catch the first boat tour of the day before any of the buses could make it into town. We spent our nights at The Milford Lodge (whose spartan and expensive rooms were unimpressive) and they were able to offer a discount when booking for an excursion with Southern Discoveries. As an added perk, a complementary buffet breakfast was offered for the first cruise of the day and served on the boat. Thanks to the nearly constant rain we had while there (just plan for being wet--they average rain 360 days a year and over 30 feet annually), hundreds of waterfalls came alive and spit from the cliffs into the sound below. To add excitement the captain would navigate us close enough to many of the major falls to feel their rumble and see the seal colonies that fish around the base. 

Instead of spending our originally planned third night in Milford Sound, we packed up and made our way the hour out of the sound to the scenic, lakeside town of Te Anau. In hindsight, this would be our recommended launching point to into Milford as it still has a quaint, small-town feel but with the luxuries of food and insect repellant. Te Anau is certainly less rainy than its counterpart but was still a little chilly so we enjoyed some delicious sandwiches and soup at both The Sandfly Cafe and The Olive Tree Cafe. We had a little extra time after exploring around Lake Te Anau and headed 20 minutes east to the small town of Manapouri that sits on its own equally as stunning (if not more) lake. Devoid of tourists, it was here that we found one of our favorite locals' spot at Pearl Harbor, a tasty pub/restaurant that was constructed out of various pieces of churches collected from around the south island. Don't be intimated by the group of kiwis that will certainly give you a curious look as you walk in the door. Simply pull up a stool at the bar and order and a Tui I.P.A. as you spark up a conversation with these friendly chaps.

What are some travel planning mistakes you've made that you wish you could pass along?