▨ Jamie McHale

Welly, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Tekapo

Road trip on the East of South Island · April 2023

We arrived in Wellington after a few days layover in Sydney, still jetlagged, but happy to be on the road. We stayed at my brothers house in Hataitai, although he was away the week we arrived. He very kindly lent us all we needed for the next month with Jack on the road.

Wellington is a great city. I’ve stayed here with Douglas several times before, and spent a day or so with Harriet too. We walked at Lyall Bay, took in some city sights and ate out at Pickle and Pie and The Picnic Cafe at the Botanics for lunch.

I went with Harriet and her mum to visit Katherine Mansfield House. I confess that I’ve not read much of her work, but the house and her life story were pretty interesting.

After just a couple of days in Wellington we woke up with the sun in order to catch the Interislander Ferry. I pottered around, we rushed, and were literally the last car let on. The ferry between Wellington and Picton is a beautiful journey. It seems like a quick hop across the Cook Strait and then the ferry winds through the Tory channel and past the hills and bays to Picton.

Sunrise in Wellington

We headed straight from Picton to Blenheim where we took a wander. The center is just off the highway, nice covered walkways, shops and places to eat. The town center looks well cared for, with some interesting sculptures along the street. We stopped at Herb & Olive Cafe for lunch.

Blenheim Sculpture

South of Blenheim you hit the east coast. The beaches here are beautiful. We stopped in for refreshments at The Store and beach at Kekerengu. We headed down to the beach and walked on the dark grey sand amoung all the driftwood.

The road winds down the coast alongside a railway, maybe one day we will take the journey. It was very scenic! We stopped again at Ohau Lookout north of Kaikoura. There is a large seal colony there, which was fun to watch. We were driving late in the day, so the sun was going down and clouds created layers of blue and grey along the mountains.

We stayed at the Kaikoura Peaks eMotel (Airbnb listing). There are only a few rooms, very simple, but nicely done. It was perfect for a quick stay. We got takeaway fish and chips from Coopers Catch in town, before trying to settle Jack to sleep.

The next morning we drove along the coast to the Kaikoura Seal colony. Although the weather was overcast there was a lovely walk up the hill. The route gives you good views over the colony and bay.

After the morning walk we drove south. The sun came out, and we stopped at Number Eight Cafe in Cheviot for lunch (recommended!). We arrived in Christchurch late in the day. We stayed in an Airbnb near the tramway in a small mall. We grabbed a takeaway from Sakimoto Japanese Bistro which was in the mall. The bento boxes were excellent.

The next morning I took a run through the center of Christchurch along the river, managing to drop my phone and backtracking for a km or two to find it. The center of Christchurch is still recovering after the earthquake. I still haven’t got a handle on the vibe of the city. There are vacant lots and still some abandoned buildings. We headed out for brunch at Unknown Chapter Coffee Roasters, which was near a cluster of “shipping container” shops and cafes.

The rest of the day was spent driving to Lake Tekapo. As we are travelling with a baby the journey always seems to take much longer than expected. Feeding breaks, nappy changes, pauses to alleviate some crying: a four hour drive takes all day. We stopped in Ashburton at Kelly’s Cafe and Bar, and arrived at Lake Tekapo in golden hour. The scenery was stunning, with a beautiful calmness down at the lake. The last time I was in Tekapo it was snowing, and I hadn’t even been able to see the lake!

We walked into town for dinner, the restaurants were busy, but by coincidence there was a street food event happening. We got burgers from a chinese burger van, and walked home in the dark. Our Airbnb was the Garden Tower by the Lake, located right next to The Church of the Good Shepherd. After settling Jack I went out and took star photos at the lake side. Tekapo is part of a dark sky area. The Church is a popular night photo destination, and I caught some interesting shots as tourists illuminated the building with the light from their mobile phones.

The next morning was fresh and sunny. We ate breakfast and watched the mist and clouds lift from the hills. There was a bit of an autumn chill in the air. Down at the lakeside we walked around the Church together, as Harriet had looked after Jack the night before.

Mid-morning after grabbing coffee and cake at Reflections Cafe we headed round to hike Mt John. This was Jack’s first hike in the hiking backpack. We hiked out and back to the Mt John Observatory (see this on Strava). There is a cafe at the top, but it was shut as it was off-season. The views over the town and towards the mountains were stunning. The lake was so blue in the sunshine. Jack coped well with the hike, although he was still a bit small for sleeping comfortably. We paused in the shade at the top.

Once we were down the mountain we grabbed sandwiches from Foursquare and then drove south. The mountains and lakes were glourious in the afternoon sun. We pulled in at Lake Pukaki viewpoint to admire the mountains. We reached Cromwell in the late afternoon, ready to spend a week with Harriet’s family.