Road tripping and house sitting in New Zealand
South Island glimpses and a house sit in the Marlborough Sounds
Nothing beats a good road trip right? And where better to hit the road than New Zealand.
With scenery that never ceases to amaze, an endless array of natural beauty and the lure of seasonal year-round activities, it's no wonder that New Zealand house and pet sit listings are so sought after, and filled so fast!
In February 2019, my partner Dan and I were lucky enough to confirm a TrustedHousesitters house sit in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds at the northern end of New Zealand's South Island.
Despite New Zealand being just a two to three hour flight across the Tasman Sea from our home town of Brisbane in Australia, it had been close to 25 years since I last visited, and Dan has never been!
So with the house sit sorted and our shared desire to see more of the world "closer to home", we decided to make the most of it and began planning a mini road trip.
South Island? North Island? Why not see a bit of both?
With just a two week holiday window and flights booked in to Christchurch and home from Wellington, we mapped out a rough itinerary to follow the South Island's coastal road northbound from Christchurch to the Marlborough Sounds via Picton.
We booked car hire as a one way rental, dropping it off in Picton with the view of crossing to the North Island on the InterIslander ferry. As we had heard so many good things about New Zealand's capital city of Wellington, we were keen to spend a couple of nights there and explore on foot.
Book ahead to avoid disappointment
February has become one of the most popular times of the year for holiday-makers traveling to New Zealand. The last month of the summer season, it is (usually) still warm and sunny and far less busy than December or January. This also means you have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and major attractions without the crowds.
Don't be fooled though. You still need to consider the cost of travel in February is at a premium in most regions and as we quickly discovered, accommodation is often booked out, particularly in small towns and in during ‘special event' times.
Our NZ road trip itinerary
As any road-trip itinerary does, ours took a couple of wonderful detours, surprising us with the accidental discovery of some truly amazing places:
Christchurch to Cheviot
On arrival in Christchurch, we drove downtown and spent a leisurely afternoon strolling through the spectacular Christchurch Botanic Gardens then wandered around the buzzing art's district before heading off on the short drive north to the quaint historical town of Cheviot, where we spent our first night.
Steeped in history dating back to the 1800's, Cheviot offers the perfect halfway stop between Christchurch and Kaikoura.
After a hearty breakfast at one of Cheviot's funky cafes, we drove out of town towards the coast on a short scenic drive to Gore Bay; a popular surfing beach in the peak of summer but way too rugged and wild to brave the waters the day we were there.
On the return drive to the highway, we stopped at the Cathedral Cliffs Lookout to view Cathedral Gully (feature photo), a well weathered canyon of clay rock almost 2 million years old. Through natural erosion, vertical pillars have formed to resemble cathedral spires.
Our viewpoint was a bit overgrown but we managed to scramble through the scrub to snap a photo.
Cheviot to Kaikoura
From Gore Bay (above) we drove to Kaikoura, taking an unplanned turnoff before reaching the main town, to the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway.
If you have the time to do the entire walk, it will take approximately 3 hours but there are shorter walks and tracks to explore, with informative stops along the way telling you about the history of Kaikoura; the geology, the native flora, the sea life and seabird migrations.
This is definitely a worthy stop for a leisurely walk, some fresh air and a scenic coastal panorama.
Kaikoura town is still recovering after the earthquake destroyed so many homes and business in 2016. Like Christchurch, redevelopment and regeneration is ongoing but Kaikoura is known for its marine life and whale watching cruises so is always abuzz with tourists.
Kaikoura to Picton
A couple of hours further north of Kaikoura is the harbour town of Picton. Pleasantly surprised by the town's charm and "almost" cosmopolitan vibe, we were glad we booked a two night stay.
As the gateway to the myriad of bays and inlets of the Marlborough Sounds and being in close proximity to the popular Marlborough wine region, this unassuming waterfront hub offers so much more than meets the reviewer's eye.
Small coves with lovely beaches beckon below the many walking tracks in and around Picton and on the outskirts of town, you'll find one of the main access points to the Queen Charlotte Track.
For wining and dining, there's no shortage of good restaurants and bars to enjoy a few drinks and a decent meal, especially if you love fresh seafood.
House sitting in the Marlborough Sounds
Six days, two dogs and a Tui in a tree
Our house and pet sit was located in magical Moetapu Bay, a cautious 45 minute drive from Picton along Queen Charlotte Drive. Renowned for hairpin bends and narrow lanes, this winding road affords lush green views of native forests at one turn and aquamarine waters at the next.
We spent six wonderful days with two adorable English Springer Spaniels in a secluded property right on the water's edge and were regularly mesmerized by our surrounds.
A haven for native bird life, we were delighted to wake up to the sound of birdsong each morning and see the Bellbird and Tui birds feeding on the fruit trees around the property.
Spoiled for choice with day trips on offer in this stunning region, we enjoyed a couple of outings to the galleries and art studios hidden away at the top of steep driveways.
And a drive to the small town of Havelock (not to be confused with Havelock North) didn't disappoint. Known as being the home of New Zealand's green-lipped mussel industry, we were glad to score a table at the world famous Mussel Pot Restaurant for a truly delicious bowl of mussels!
Another highlight of our time spent in the Marlborough Sounds region was a day cruise on board the Pelorus Express – the mail boat which departs from Havelock on a daily basis, providing the residents who live on the outer islands with their mail and produce delivery.
It can be a full-on day but if you love being on the water and nature as we do, it's an excellent way to explore the complexity of the waterways and to catch sight of the migratory Gannet and Shag Rock bird colonies.
Wellington – a cultural and eclectic delight!
Last stop Wellington and what a fabulous city it is! Sure, it gets windy and it often rains and you do need to layer your attire accordingly for a day out and about, but there is a LOT to see and do both indoors and out, so don't let the weather deter you.
An incredible coffee and food culture abounds in Wellington as does the craft gin and beer bar scene. Cuba Street is the buzz of the city, vibrant and happening almost 24/7 and there are alleyways which lead you to amazing restaurants, art studios, book shops and boutique vintage design and clothing stores.
Along the waterfront you'll find regular entertainment and events and a visit to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is a fascinating insight to the Maori history and culture. And if weather and time permits, don't miss a trip on the cable car for great views and Zealandia Eco Sanctuary for close encounters with nature.
Will we go back to New Zealand? Absolutely, as soon as we have the opportunity.
guest post - jane wilson
Jane is semi-retired from working in the travel and creative industries. With an eye for quirky things she admits she can't live without a good coffee! Since her partner Dan took early retirement three years ago, they've been enjoying a part-time house sitting lifestyle which complements their shared love of travel and photography. You can follow Jane on Instagram
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Last updated on September 12th, 2020