New Zealand’s South Island Part 5 – Mt Cook to Able Tasman National Park

Aoraki Mount Cook and its surrounding park is a striking area of Aotearoa. It’s the tallest peak so you won’t be climbing it unless your next stop is Everest, but the views from the bottom are beautiful.

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The glaciers and snow melting off the Southern Alps form white waterfalls and tumultuous rivers rolling away down the valleys.

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We took the day to do the Hooker Valley Track, which is about 3 hours of walking to get there and back and you’ll want to stop a bit for the views.

There are 3 big swing bridges along the way, which I love.

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The whole track is very well laid out and easy going.

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And at the top, you arrive at this stunning glacial lake, with occasional icebergs.

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Rather than staying the night at Aoraki, we drove on to Lake Tekapo, and camped at a gorgeous little campsite just over the hill. It came with its own lake and everything!

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We spent the morning walking around the little church on the banks of Lake Tekapo and wading in the cool water.

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We decided to cut back over to the west coast via Arthur’s Pass, another classic kiwi drive.

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If you stop for nothing else, stop for the kea. They are one of my favourite animals in New Zealand. Curious, destructive, and playful.

We stopped near the Otira Viaduct lookout where there were loads of them, and the view was lovely too.

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Of course, this bridge thing is also pretty cool.

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The pass meanders through chunks of lush green forest and can be quite slow going along the narrow roads.

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As any traveller will tell you, you come across some of the most unexpected things in unexpected places. Who’d have thought we’d find a gourmet doughnut shop in a tiny town called Motueka? Even more surprisingly… it’s disguised as a pub and called The Smoking Barrel.

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We had decided pretty early on that we wanted to get to the bottom of mainland Aotearoa and the top of the South Island. Having done Slope point a few days earlier, we set off for Farewell Spit, an area only accessible by specialised offroad tour buses.

We were initially sceptical, but the guides at Farewell Spit Eco Tours added such amazing knowledge of the local area and animals that it really made a wonderful half day trip. Note that the tours can only run at low tide, so check in advance what times you’d be able to go.

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The spit is phenomenally shallow, becoming almost completely covered during high tide. Just a few centimetres of height in rising water can translates to meters of horizontal distance. Huge muddy beaches are exposed as the water goes out, and everywhere you’ll see birds taking advantage of them.

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Aside from the wildlife, there are also human footprints on the spit. Through remarkable engineering, a lighthouse was placed on the end of the spit to warn ships off the incredibly shallow waters. There are several buildings around the lighthouse, from the days of lighthouse keepers.

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If you’re lucky enough to have your trip coincide with sunset you might be treated to some of these –

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Another unexpected small town food find was a delightful hippie market in Takaka, selling fresh local produce, yummy baking, and a collection of trinkets.

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If you have time up your sleeve while travelling, be sure to Google maps “attractions” to find a collection of things along your way that have been tagged as such. We found some of our most surprising places this way, including Te Waikoropupu Springs.

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We didn’t know they existed, but the information area is impressively comprehensive so now we know a bit more. The springs are a culturally significant area and are one of the cleanest water springs in the world.

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The water is almost unbelievably clear.

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Our final stop before taking the ferry back to Wellington was the Able Tasman National Park. We just skimmed through it as we were tight on time, and the park is less easy to travel by car than some of the others.

We decided to do the Harwoods Hole walk. Apparently, there are a couple of hazards to be aware of. They primarily boil down to “don’t jump down the giant hole, or any of the smaller holes”.

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Most of the area is limestone, which has been interestingly eroded over time by the water in the area.

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The hole itself is hard to get a good view of without being in a somewhat precarious position, but the surrounding cliffs are striking in their own right.

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There is a little side walk called Gorge Creek lookout where you can scramble up the backside of one of the cliffs. But don’t get your hopes up – you can’t see into the hole from there either, just stunning views of the Takaka Valley. It does, however, have some really cool sharp, wavy limestone rocks at the top.

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From there we grabbed a few last minute supplies for dinner from the Picton supermarket to avoid the packaging and cost of on-ferry food and made our way back to Wellington.

It was a gorgeous trip, and I would absolutely recommend taking the time to see Te Waipounamu, the South Island. If you only have a week or two in New Zealand, spend most of it down there in nature to get your wild space fix.

I think that doing it in less than 10 days barely does it justice, and about 12-14 days is about right to do it properly with some time for exploring and doing longer walking trails.

If you’d like to read more about the rest of the trip make sure to read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 as well (or just skim them for the gratuitous nature shots).

See you somewhere.

xo cait

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Zero Waste and Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas

It’s getting to that time of year where people start thinking about expressing their love through gifts. My family hasn’t really done this since we all started earning money and no longer needed clothes or books bought for us, but occasionally you’ll want to show affection through a thoughtful gift and that’s ok. 

When it comes to actually choosing a gift there are an impressive number of people and organisations who will try and convince you that fun, useless, probably plastic, unethically made trinkets are a good idea for those “little somethings” and “stocking fillers”. DON’T LISTEN TO THEM, YOU ARE BETTER THAN THAT. 😉

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New Zealand’s South Island Part 4 – To the south, to the south!

After the sounds, we had to decide how far south we felt like going. Often people will start going back north from there, towards Dunedin and the central south island; but as we had an extra day up our sleeves we decided to check out Bluff and the Catlin’s (the southernmost point of mainland New Zealand) before heading back up.

On your way out of the sounds, do make sure to stop at the mirror lakes, they are eerily flat and reflective.

mirror lakes

We took the drive to Bluff, the southernmost town in New Zealand, slowly and stopped at a few little parks for walks and exploring.

train tracks south

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You can drive all the way out to the coast at Stirling Point, where this cute sign is surrounded by a constant cluster of people politely waiting their turn to take a photo. There are also tracks you can walk down along the coast through native bush.

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There are some great spots, we especially enjoyed the Bluff Hill lookout. It has a gorgeous view of Stewart Island and the surrounding area.

Rakiura from te waipounamu

The top of the hill has a platform area with interesting tidbits of information, and names of surrounding landmarks. This one was my favourite translation –

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We made our way around the coast towards Waipapa lighthouse on the way to the Catlins. It’s a ridiculously quaint sight.

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Our final stop before the Catlins was Slope point – the actual furthest south you can get on mainland New Zealand. You get to it by walking through farmland, which was pretty hilarious, though the cows didn’t see the funny side.

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this way to the south pole

Onwards, to Curio bay! If you’re into Jurassic aged trees then this is definitely a cool sight – it’s a fossilised forest that’s now mostly rock pools.

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You can still see the knots in the trees, even though they are thousands of years old.

fossilised tree at curio bay

The Catlin’s Forest Park is beautiful. There are oodles of waterfalls and walks that are easily accessible from the road. the most popular of these is the McLean Falls.

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Tunnel Hill, another walk in the Catlin’s –

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Nugget Point lighthouse –

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The ‘Nuggets’ – possibly one of the more picturesque parts of the coastline, or possibly I just love the word nugget.

nugget islands at nugget point

Roaring bay penguin and seal observatory, looking out over one of the only nesting points of the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin. We actually saw one too! It was tiny and very far away… It might even be in this picture.

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Of course, we had to keep feeding ourselves and managed to find a load of awesome places to stock up with zero waste, package-free food – like New World’s deli counter.

zero waste lunch

No visit to the South Island of New Zealand is complete without a trip to the Moeraki Boulders on the beach. Top tip – if you go through the cafe area you’ll need to pay to use the stairs, but if you go just down the road there is a Department of Conservation access point that’s free and has info about the area.

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moeraki boulders

inside the boulder

Oamaru was apparently once one of the largest towns in Aotearoa and was a hub of business and shipping. You can see that in the boom of Victorian architecture, all built very quickly.

oamaru old streets

A delish, local package-free treat!

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The “steampunk capital” of New Zealand, the Victorian shops are full of a wide range of art and quirky antiques.

a strange shop in oamaru

For the truly inspired, there’s also a Steampunk experience.

the steampunk museum

We weren’t that inspired and instead opted for a cheese tasting. Whitestone Cheese Co also do tours of the factory, but we were there on the wrong day.

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The area around Oamaru has been populated for an impressively long time, and nearby, at Takiroa, near Duntroon you’ll find some brilliant examples of ancient Maori rock art.

ancient maori rock art

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We started the drive inland from there, along the Waitaki river. The Waitaki is one of the most significant waterways in our hydroelectricity generation here, and the dams and generation houses make a nice place to stop along the way towards Mount Cook.

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See you there!

xo cait

Natural, zero waste cleaning

Recently, I tried a laundry experiment involving English Ivy. I read on the internet that it could be used to clean clothes, so I gave it a go. As far as I can tell there didn’t seem to be much difference between my clothes just rinsed and my clothes washed in the washing machine with a bag of torn up ivy. My clothes don’t really get dirty (I work an office job and have no dogs or kids around me), but the general armpit whiff is always a thing on my clothes (regardless of what deodorant I use, though the Dirty Hippie deodorant seems the best so far) even when I used to use store bought synthetic thingies.

So, I’ll try another couple of methods, but at the moment that one’s a bust. It did get me thinking though, about what “clean” is. It’s definitely not about killing 99.9% of germs, because heaps of those are actually useful, but some level of hygiene is still important.

90% of my household cleaning uses just vinegar, which I buy in 5l lots, and baking soda, which I buy package-free or in 5kg bags. Occasionally I will get fancy with some lemons or essential oils, but mostly I keep things really simple (and cheap!).

Without further ado – here’s my cleaning routine: Continue reading

Zero waste pastry and a Harry Potter themed party

It was my birthday last weekend, so I decided to make all my snacks for my party – waste free! Seeing as I was turning 26, I threw the birthday party 13-year-old me would have loved – but twice as awesome. A Harry Potter themed movie pyjama party in a tent fort and eating fancy hamburgers 4 times in 1 day.

Naturally, there had to be party snacks for in between the burger lunch and the burger dinner. I made pumpkin pie spiced popcorn, lemon sorting muffins, cockroach clusters, and both sweet and savoury pumpkin pasties. There were also bulk pretzels and lollies, bought package free. I was darn proud of myself.

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Getting to the bottom of Toilet Paper – Which one’s really better for the planet?

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Have you ever tried something new, or bought a new brand because you thought it was more eco-friendly than what you used to do… only to be told by everyone as soon as you mention it that it’s actually worse?

It can feel impossible to figure out what is actually good for the planet, especially with such a staggering amount of greenwashing and so many aspects of the ecosystem to consider.

As a general rule, if I can avoid it – I don’t buy it at all.

If I can’t avoid buying something I try to buy things second hand so that I’m not contributing to the initial creation of the product, or I look for the most environmentally friendly version of the thing.

Obviously, toilet paper is not one of the things you can get second hand… so what is the most sustainable option? Figuring out which brand is the best for our planet is a pain in the rear*. Let the bathroom puns commence. Continue reading

New Zealand’s South Island Part 3 – Water, Water, Everywhere at Milford Sounds!

No trip to New Zealand would be complete without a trip to the Milford Sounds. There’s not much I can say that explains the striking, bold beauty of the way down south.

Driving the 4ish hours from Queenstown is picturesque in its own right, but the real magic starts an hour after Te Anau as you get further into the wild. You’ll drive along slowly winding roads next to slowly winding rivers behind very, very slowly winding campervans and enchanted tourists.

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New Zealand’s South Island Part 2 – Skydiving Frans Joseph and pretty, pretty lakes!

Have you guessed what the most expensive thing I did on my road trip was yet? Here’s a clue, you can pay an extra bajillion dollars for a bunch of go-pro photos of the experience.

We found ourselves with a couple of hours to kill in Frans Joseph after the heli-hike (check out the photos if you missed them… it was so cool!) so we squeezed in lunch and a short walk up a hill to a tunnel. That was pretty cool. Also, make friends with bus drivers, they get free drinks at any places they take their busses to.

Franz Joseph walking trail

And then – SKYDIVING.

We decided on the ferry that this would be something we would splash out on. We saved loads of money by sleeping in the car in campsites and cooking most of our own food, so we went all in and did the highest (and almost definitely most expensive…) skydive in New Zealand.

so ready

19,000 feet.

75+ seconds freefall.

$559.00. (plus another $120 for photos)

100% worth it.

getting ready to jump

You go so high you need oxygen in the plane. It’s a solid flight, and the views over the glacier and the mountains were incredible.

Was I scared, doing the whole “jumping out of a perfectly good plane” thing? Not really, mostly exhilarated, with about 1 second of “HOLY SHIiiii…..” as we did the leaving the aircraft part. You have to sit on the edge of the door, dangle your legs out into nothingness, and just hang there for a second while your tandem buddy gets themselves ready to jump. It’s definitely the scariest second of the whole deal.

cackling with glee

After that, it’s just magnificent.

We did flips and spins and stuff. Very awesome.

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I think I enjoyed the bit after the parachute opened the most. The falling part was a flood of emotion, but it was also really cold so my eyes were streaming and I couldn’t see much, and my mouth was open from cackling with glee so my sensitive teeth got all cold and sore.

After the chute opened we did more awesome spins and I got to play with the steering and do cool tricks. (Yessss.)

Check out that view!

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I think I laughed hysterically the whole way.

I got the giggles

So that buzz lasted for quite a while. 🙂

We talked about it all the way along the drive south for the next few days. Our campsite that night was a beautiful Department of Conservation spot called Cameron Flat.

cameron flat department of conservation campsite

Just a wee way away from that we decided to walk the Blue Pools walk first thing the next morning.

walking in the bush

The water looked so magically clear and beautiful. So I dived in.

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It was a trap. It was SO cold.

come up for air

Jumping back in the car, we carried on along the Haast pass and down the other side the magnificent lakes Wanaka and Hawea.

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The Neck is a great spot to stop for a snack and photo break.

the view from the neck

Seriously, its so good that Wanaka and DoC casually put a photo spot trail in to help you get all the best snaps.

DoC photo suggestion sign

Lake Hawea

Lunch on the beach beside Lake Wanaka was a delight, and we wandered around trying to find #thatWanakaTree.

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It was way further around than we thought, so we ended up driving there.

that wanaka tree

There was a hilarious number of tourists taking glam shots in pretty dresses perching in the boat and prancing along the beach taking photos. Of course, I joined in with my own #glam shot. So sexy, right?

glam shots

Onwards, to Queenstown!

the road to Queenstown

Another gorgeous lake (Lake Wakatipu), and lots of fancy food. The chocolatey things at the place that does chocolate and ice cream (Patagonia) were excellent to nibble while walking along the lake edge.

Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu

We met up with a friend for dinner and a sat on the edge of the water watching the sun set.

That night we slept in another lovely DoC site, Moke Lake, and the next day we continued on south, to Milford Sounds! Voted by a random german hitchhiker I met as “the prettiest part of these islands”.

moke lake campsite

So there you go. Can’t argue with Sara.

xo Cait

P.S. We really wanted to see a kakapo (impossible in the wild these days, they are very endangered). So here is a picture of a Kakaporg.

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My almost zero waste daily hygiene routine

When I started learning about reducing my waste I identified 2 main areas that generated waste in my life.

Health and hygiene, and food.

The health and hygiene part was actually a much easier area to change because everything ran out one at a time and I could see when I was running low and start hunting for a package free alternative.

Here’s my shower now –

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