A ferry ride, hitch-hiking, housesitting and couchsurfing had brought me not only to the South Island but to a point where I was ready for another road trip adventure! Many camping road trips around the North Island had made me an expert at this point. I had all the gear necessary. I even lined up my mode of transportation for the next month—a funny green car begging for a pet name. The only thing I had left to do was find a travel partner!
Once I found one, the first road trip of New Zealand’s South Island began. We jumped in the waves at a beachside campsite, drove on the scenic route overlooking the Northern fjords, and wild camped beside a cool, clean river behind farmland. This was the beginning of my adventures with Frogger the car.
Meeting my new travel buddy
Backpackerboards.co.nz was successful yet again at finding me a travel buddy. Apparently, German travelers haunt the site because it set me up to road trip with another German traveler! This time it was Birgit, a woman from southern Germany. She spoke little English, but I learned she is a social worker back home and, most importantly, she had the right attitude about what to expect during the trip ahead. After a short talk over coffee in Christchurch, she was in!
We agreed to travel North along the east coast, then West to do the Abel Tasman Great Walk. Then we’d head down the west coast and make our way to Queenstown where I’d be meeting Carolina and Birgit would continue her adventure on her own. We set out from Christchurch a few days later.
I had reserved a car to transfer for free (including a free tank of fuel!) from Christchurch to Picton where we would pick up our actual rental car for the trip. We were excited to find the transfer car was a new, very flash Holden from Budget.
With two days to make the transfer, we had enough time to drive up the east coast and stop over at a camp site to break apart the trip.
The Eastern beaches were beautiful—strewn with round stones, grey driftwood, and craggy peaks jutting out of the water. The first time I drove by these beaches I was distracted talking to the Maori guys who had given me a ride to Christchurch. This time, I could stop at my leisure to soak it all in.
One beach had loads of dried driftwood, stacked in piles or configured into tiny beach huts. Stones were laid in creative patterns and messages we even written into some of the planks. Driftwood makes for the best hiking sticks. I picked out one for each of us to use on our upcoming Abel Tasman hike.
After a night spent at the Okiwi Bay campsite, we made it up to Picton where we dropped off the transfer car and picked up a very economical hatchback I had rented for a month. To my delight, the car was a bright green color. “Cool!” Birgit said.
Jumping in the waves
The nearest campsite wound back along a long, dirt road atop cliffs overlooking the eastern coast in Rarangi. When we arrived at Robin Hood Beach camp, we found a nice spot to pop our tent under some trees, shaded from the sun and shielded from the light wind.
Immediately, we strode down to the water to take advantage of the sunshine. The waves broke just a few meters into the bay. We jumped around in them until we were too tired to continue. Then we sunned ourselves dry, made dinner and settled in for the night. The waves lulled us to sleep for the two nights we stayed.
Driving the Northern fjords
A woman at the Picton i-site informed us of several walks we could do in the northern fjords. She told us they were $10 per person to do these walks. Both Birgit and I made a face to each other. Why pay when there are so many amazing, free walks to do all over New Zealand? Plus, we were planning to pay to camp overnight on the Abel Tasman Great Walk in a few days. Instead, we decided to drive along the shore and see it from the comfort of our new green hatchback.
Mist stretched across the waters below as we drove along the steep, windy hills with only a thin guardrail between us and deathly drops to our right. This was Queen Charlotte Drive—the scenic 40km route from Picton to Havelock.
This drive is famous for its views of Marlborough Sounds, the northern fjords of the South Island. Even on this grey day, we had to stop along the way for photos of the gorgeous bays and inlets below us.
We stopped at a small beach and port town for a break—I just love these small New Zealand seaside towns. Everyone was out enjoying the day despite the intermittent sunshine.
How Frogger got his name
Our new car was definitely being tested on this route—and many others in the following days. The South Island is known for its roads with steep inclines and hair-pin turns. I found myself cheering the car on—“Come on! You can do it!”
At one point, Birgit yelled out with her strong German accent, “Go Frog!” I burst out laughing at this. I had already been thinking of a name for the car. “Frogger is what came to mind for me!”
Like the old video game, Frogger leaps across traffic and picks his way down New Zealand roads. The name fit him perfect.
“Go Frogger, go!!!!”
Mills Flat camp
Eventually we turned South from Havelock toward our next camping destination. Mills Flat was a spot way out behind farmland back in Mt. Richmond Forest Park. The campsite was 4-wheel drive access only, little did we know.
We arrived to find a clearing where a river ran across the way. With no lily pads or logs to leap onto, there was no way Frogger was going to make it across! We decided to play it safe and set up camp in the clearing. Although this was considered “wild camping,” we did have access to a toilet by crossing the river—either by foot or swing bridge—to the actual campsite some 500 meters back into the forest.
This camp ground was great because of the many trails to explore and clear, crisp water source. We could have a shower in a deeper part near where we set up the tent. The water was some of the cleanest and sweetest I had ever tasted. Even though the water was ice cold to get into, I didn’t mind—it was refreshing in the summer heat. Anyway, I needed to shower. Birgit and I were really roughing it on this trip—no hostel stays for us so far and we were 4 nights in!
Tomorrow, Birgit and I would be making our way to the town of Nelson where we would locate the geographical center of New Zealand. All the while, we were keeping our eyes on the weather in the Abel Tasman region. We wanted to be certain we would enjoy a hike and overnight stay there—at one of New Zealand’s best beaches.