Exploring New Zealand’s South Island by Camper Van – Part 4

Fur seals play on the rocks near Westport on New Zealand's South Island.Cape Foulwind near the community of Westport on New Zealand’s South Island is an ideal place to watch fur seals frolic in the surf, hop from one rock to the next and sun on the rocks.

We were driving along Highway 6 when we pulled over for a scenic overlook of the ocean and all of a sudden, the rocks moved.

We could have spent all day there!  The seals barked at each other and played in the surf. It was simply Mother Nature having fun on a beautiful spring day.

Fur seals play on the rocks near Westport on New Zealand's south island.

Photographing fur seals on New Zealand's South Island near Westport.

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Exploring Pancake Rocks on New Zealand’s South Island

Pancake Rocks on New Zealand's South IslandReally, we could have spent all day sitting in the sun and watching the seals. But we also wanted to reach Pancake Rocks, a part of the Parapoa National Park on the South Island’s west coast. It’s a quick 20 minute loop around through this unusual rock formation, but when you’re tagging along behind a photographer, 20 minutes can easily turn into an hour.

Pancake Rocks look exactly as the name implies. Tall spires look like pancakes stacked on top of each other. A combination of the ocean’s forces and seismic action about 30 million years ago created these things. As you walk, you don’t really understand why, but just amazed that it did.

There, too, we spent more time than we intended, but who can tire of the ocean splashing and slowly carving holes in limestone rocks? We spent the night at Greymouth instead of Hokitika, not as far south on coastal Highway 6 as we had planned. This stretch of road has been called one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world. 

The Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers in New Zealand

An aerial view of the wilderness on New Zealand's South IslandThe next morning, we were eager to explore the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers, but it was not to be. Dark clouds unleashed a spring fury for several hours, so we drove on.

But, as we approached Lake Wanaka, the skies cleared and suddenly filled with colorful parachutes. We were driving beside the Wanaka Regional Airport, so we turned in to see about a flight-seeing tour.

Our dilemma was which flight-seeing tour to book — one with glaciers only, one with Lord of the Rings filming sites, one that included a cruise and Milford Sound. The budget and time constraints prevailed, so the hour-long glacier tour was it.

Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island

Lake Wanaka is a pleasant vacation community on New Zealand's South IslandWe had a couple of hours to kill, so back we motored into the town of Wanaka. Mike – our campground host this night – said Lake Wanaka is one of those places that, in the heat of the summer, people can be found running to the water, stripping their clothes off as they go.

I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating, but we picnicked by its shores and reveled in the stunning beauty of yet another pleasant New Zealand community.

Flight-Seeing Around New Zealand’s Milford Sound

An aerial view of the waterfalls near Milford Sound on New Zealand's South Island.Then, it was time to return to the airport, and the second bout of good fortune for the day. Due to a conflict in scheduling, our plane was required to go to Milford Sound much farther south on the South Island to pick up a couple from Great Britain.

A cruise ship on Milford Sound on New Zealand's South Island.So although we had paid for just a 60-minute flight, we received almost two hours in the air, plus a little time to explore Milford Sound. Our flight took us over snow-capped mountain, glaciers and waterfalls, and a valley where scenes from the Lord of the Rings triology was filmed.

A very good day indeed in the skies above our little Maui camper van.

Tools for Exploring New Zealand’s South Island