Day 1: Christchurch
Our first day was a half day in Christchurch, our starting point on the South Island. The town was a bit disappointing compared to the very charming description in the guidebook, but they have nice botanical gardens where we walked for a couple of hours to stretch our legs from the long journey. We also walked along the Avon River and through the downtown, parts of which look very English. It is also here that David began his beer tasting tour around New Zealand.
Day 2: Banks Peninsula / Akaroa / dolphins
We drove to the Banks Peninsula just south of Christchurch where we took a boat trip from the small French-style village of Akaroa to go swim with dolphins. That’s right, we put on wet suits (of course, David took a sideways pregnant shot of me in this) and we were taken out into the middle of a bay where we swam with dolphins. They had dorsal fins like mickey mouse ears. We only saw a few, but did get in the water with them, and it was very cool to watch them swim leisurely among us. The peninsula looks just like the brownish rolling hills of California (like when you drive south from SF on 280).
We spent the rest of the day driving south along the coast, stopping only to see the Moeraki Boulders (a group of large smooth boulders strewn on the beach). We drove all the way down to Dunedin, where we stayed at a small motel in Portobello on the Otago Peninsula. We got there past 10pm and went straight to sleep as we had to get up at 5am the next morning (yes, that includes me!).
Day 3: Otago Peninsula / penguins / drive west
At 5:45am, we were some ways down the shore where we joined a small group for a guided walk to see the penguins on their “way to work”. We walked over dunes, then along the beach for 20 minutes, and then up other dunes into a wooden hut where we hid and waited. In a few minutes, one and then another yellow-eyed penguin started descending a steep cliff near us, hopping and skipping all the way down, across the sand and into the water to go fishing for the day. We saw maybe 6-7 different penguins do this over the course of 1.5 hours, and they were so cute! The poor guys are really not equipped for hiking on steep slopes, so they looked quite comical doing this and it took them about 30 minutes each. A young one came down, bit by bit, hoping to catch up with his parents who had come and gone a while ago, and when he made it all the way down, he decided today was not yet the day he was going to make it all the way to the sea, so he turned around and hopped all the way back up again, not knowing how close to the water he had gotten.
Then we drove across the island to the west coast to Te Anau, the gateway town for the Fiordlands National Park, our next destination. The inland part of this trip was full of sheep and cows, as the rest of our trip. Te Anau provided a good spot to grab last minute camping supplies, a nice meal and internet connection.