*Thanks to Jucy for helping Matt, Emily and I make this road trip possible. Find out more at Jucy USAand follow them on social media @JUCYworld.
I LOVE a road trip; since Matt and I sold our campervan we’ve not had much of chance to go on van adventures. So when the opportunity popped up to plan a road trip with Jucy Campers in California we jumped at the chance. This was our first road trip with Emily who is 21 months old, so we wanted to make sure we did it right. The Jucy Trailblazer was the perfect size to accommodate the three of us without feeling too big. At night, Emily slept in the main part of the van with me, while Matt slept in the penthouse. We hired a car seat from Jucy as ours did not make it out on our flight from London, it cost a very reasonable $40. We found it took a bit more organisation to camp with Emily than we had been previously used to when it was just us; but we soon got into the swing of things. Emily loved hiding up in the penthouse and really enjoyed the freedom of exploring the campgrounds we stayed at. I love Jucy’s vans, you can’t miss the green and purple branding, it’s a real head turner. We got asked about our van by passers-by a lot, it seems it is quite an uncommon thing to see a small campervan in America. Big RVs with pop out sides towing cars are a very popular choices and made our Jucy van look like a baby in comparison! One huge positive of having a smaller vehicle is that it is perfect for navigating the small and winding national park roads as well as being able to fit into any campground or parking space you like. It might be compact but that doesn’t mean there is no space in these eye-catching beauties. Let me tell you more….
The Trailblazer sleeps four, the roof pops up to form ‘the penthouse’ and inside there is a very comfy double bed. A ladder attaches to the outside of the van for very easy access and it all zips up tight making it very cosy at night. I loved waking up in the morning, unzipping and admiring the view. If there is only two of you then sleeping up top means you can leave the rest of the van set up for ‘day use’. Downstairs the van has two bench seats with a fantastic amount of storage underneath and a table which can be stowed away too. The kitchen is in the boot and comes equipped with everything you need. Storage cupboards, two gas stoves, a chiller and a sink. Pots, pans, crockery cutlery and a bottle opener are all included. As is a duvet, pillows, blanket and towels, this is a great bonus as I’ve found in the past that this is something that not all hire companies provide free of charge.
First things first choose a rough route, you can book campgrounds before you go or if you prefer just rock up and see if there are spaces available. During peak seasons I would definitely recommend pre-booking campgrounds as popular ones often get reserved months in advance. Reserve Californiais brilliant for booking national park and state beach campgrounds. Search in the area you want to stay in and it’ll show you all the nearby campgrounds, it has an interactive map too. Visit California is a great website for planning and researching your road trip in California.
It’s always a good idea to check driving rules and regulations in the country you are visiting. In America they drive on the right hand side of the road and you can turn right on a red light. Also check tolls, these can be paid for online. If you are planning on driving over the Golden Gate Bridge make sure you pay for the toll using this website:goldengate.org
I always choose campgrounds with pitches that have a fire pit, there’s nothing like cooking on a fire by the beach or keep warming on chillier nights while stargazing.
There are often ‘camp hosts’ at campgrounds, they live on site and are there to help. You can usually purchase firewood from them for your campfire too. A lot of pitches in national park and state beach campgrounds come with benches and fire pits.
I find buying all your essentials once you’ve picked up your camper is a really good idea. Head to a supermarket for all your food supplies and firewood. That way you know you have everything you need for your road trip without having to worry about stopping later on in your journey.
It’s a good idea to buy water and keep a supply with you as national park and state beach campgrounds don’t always have drinking water.
Be sure to fuel up well in advance of getting low. Sometimes fuel stations can be few and far between, especially in more remotes spots such as Point Reyes National Seashore.
Starting in Marin County we picked up our van in Oakland and dropped it off in LA. Both collection and drop off was really straight forward. From Oakland we drove north to Point Reyes and worked our way down the coast towards San Diego, covering over 1000 miles in 7 days. *The route we chose had to be adapted slightly due to the wildfires in California and because of part of the Big Sur being closed after a land slide last
*The Big Sur re-opened in July 2018, two months ahead of schedule, so you can now drive all the way along this epic stretch of road.
Point Reyes National Seashore
After picking up our camper in Oakland we headed up north to Point Reyes National Seashore and stayed in an area called Inverness. This part of California is unlike any other I’ve been to before and reminded me of the Scottish Highlands; I guess quite fitting with the name Inverness too. Inverness felt like something out of Dawson’s Creek, dreamy sunrises over water inlets with rickety old wooden piers and rolling hills in the distance. It was so very tranquil, the days were sunny, if a little chilly and in the evenings all you needed was a jacket, beanie hat and campfire to warm up. Don’t miss the Cypress Tree Tunnel, it’s a very popular spot for photos and produces a very Instagrammable image! Point Reyes Lighthouse is also a must visit, the 308 steps are well worth the climb down and back up again. The views of nothing but uninterrupted ocean are out of this world. During whale season it is the perfect place to sit and stare out to sea on the lookout for these majestic creatures. At certain times of the day the lighthouse is open so you can have a look inside and learn a bit about its history.
The walk up to the lighthouse has incredible views of the rugged coastline, even on a foggy day you can’t not be impressed by the untouched beauty of this place. A short drive from the lighthouse near Chimney Rock elephant seals lazily snooze on the shoreline. This was on our itinerary but we completely forgot to stop there, so make sure you do!
I’d definitely wear layers on a trip here, the day started off warm but quickly changed to fog and drizzle. We warmed up after climbing back up from the lighthouse but quickly chilled down again.
On the way to Monterey we chose our route so we would get to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, It was such an awesome experience to drive over this iconic structure. We of course found somewhere to stop for photos too. There are viewpoints either side of the bridge, we stopped at Fort Baker. Check out Seven Places to Gaze at the Golden Gate Bridgefor more locations.
Monterey is a gorgeous seaside town famous for sea lions, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row. Take a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf and say hello to the sea lions, spend half a day exploring the aquarium and grab some lunch on Cannery Row. The waterfront street was once home to sardine canning factories and has kept much of its old industrial charm. I loved the aquarium and taking photos on Cannery Row, although a little touristy it was nice to soak up the atmosphere.
The Big Sur
This part of Highway 1 is undeniably one of the most stunning drives I have ever done. Rugged coastline, turquoise ocean and miles of open road. This stretch of the drive is pretty remote, forest on one side and coast on the other. *It’s worth noting that part of it is currently closed due to a landslide in 2017. But don’t let this stop you from planning an adventure along the Pacific Coast Highway, it can still be done. Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls are both beautiful must sees, the whole route is just so scenic and a photographers paradise. Plaskett Creek Campground opposite Sand Dollar Beach is a wonderful camping spot. Pitches come with a bench and fire pit. The campground has basic facilities with no showers but it’s worth it to be able to wake up to amazing views and complete silence. There are a whole host of campgrounds and lodges to stop the night at as well as eateries, we loved Big Sur Roadhouse.
If you are driving from the north you can still explore a lot of it and visit the famous natural landmarks dotted along the route. It is currently closed at Ragged Point. Either turn back on yourself or take a detour along Nacimiento-Fergusson Road back onto Highway 101, although the latter may not be the safest route to choose. The road is narrow and winds up through the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. The views are stunning but it is often only wide enough for one car and with a sheer drop off the edge of the road it is definitely not a route for larger vehicles or the faint hearted! We chose to drive back on ourselves and pick up Highway 1 at Monterey. Check this website for updates on the road closures along the Big Sur: bigsurcalifornia.org
*The Big Sur re-opened in July 2018, two months ahead of schedule, so you can now drive all the way along this epic stretch of road.
Carmel by the Sea
We briefly stopped in Carmel en route to Morro Bay. I adored this up-market seaside town, full of quirky side streets and oldy worldy homes. Clint Eastwood was once the mayor of Carmel, he also used to own the Hog’s Breath Inn, a quirky pub in the town. Don’t miss Carmel Bakery, they make delicious sandwiches and the array of cakes and sweet treats inside are to die for!
We didn’t have a lot of time to explore Morro Bay as we arrived late afternoon and left early the following morning. We camped at Morro Strand State Beach Campground, overlooking the beach and Morro Rock; it’s a lovely spot. I loved getting cosy by the campfire while watching the waves roll in and waking up to the sounds of the ocean. Being able to step straight onto the beach was awesome and Emily loved hunting for sand dollars.
Carlsbad, Encinitas and Cardiff by the Sea
We spent a lot of time in the Carlsbad area as we stayed with family for Christmas while we were on our road trip. I adore the surfy town of Encinitas, every other person is a surfer and there is a brewpub on every corner. Our favourite was Bier Garden, Baja fish tacos with a beer here while watching the world go by was a real treat! Cardiff has beautiful beaches, the famous Los Olas Mexican restaurant and a campground on abluff overlooking the ocean. Carlsbad is a great spot for stand up paddle boarding. We picked up boards at Sun Diego surf shop, first time rental is just $2 for a board and wetsuit. It’s two blocks to the beach so you might need a couple of rest stops on the way but it’s well worth it. We spotted dolphins and seals while on our paddle boards which was amazing to see!
The campground at Lake Jennings is another of my favourites, overlooking the lake it’s a peaceful spot with gorgeous views. Around 30 minutes drive east of San Diego the lake is a great base for exploring the city. Reserve a pitch overlooking the water, get the campfire going and relax with a beer in hand.
Packing essentials for camping:
Tea bags: Always at the top of my list for camping, you can’t beat a proper British cuppa!
Torch, tea lights and fairy lights: It’s handy to have a torch to light up your camp at night or to get to the toilets when it’s pitch black. Tea lights and fairy lights are of course optional, but I love making the van and our bench look a bit shabby chic and cosy in the evenings.
Anti-bac hand wipes: Good for cleaning the ‘kitchen surfaces’ and for your hands when cooking. Also a good cheat instead of washing up!
Zip lock bags: Handy for storing open food and keeping your van tidy.
Portable charger: Good for charging your phone, although the Jucy vans have USB ports so you can easily charge on the road.
Although there is ample storage I’d definitely recommend packing as lightly as you can. A lot of privately owned campgrounds often have washing facilities so there is the option to do laundry on the road.
There’s nothing like a road trip in a campervan. Having the freedom to go where you like and when you want is the best. Plus being able to stop at anytime along the way with all the essentials in the back is an awesome way to have an adventure. California was made for road trips and Jucy vans are made for exploring!
I always share the good parts of my travels and trips but rarely do I mention the bad bits. Whilst I have been lucky and not experienced too much in the way of bad events on my adventures so far, I thought I would share a very unfortunate day I had while Matt and I were on a road trip in New Zealand. Every trip surely has to have a bad day and this is mine…
Day 11 of travelling around New Zealand’s South Island we were leaving Queenstown around lunchtime en route to Te Anau. We’d made the decision over breakfast that morning to go to Milford Sound, to break up the journey we would stop over night in Te Anau. The drive was around three hours and with a trip to a glowworm cave booked for 6pm we were keen to get on the road. Stopping for fuel on the outskirts of Queenstown I took the opportunity, as you do to go to the toilet. I had my purse with me and not wanting to put it on the floor I rested it on the hook on the back of the door. All fuelled up we set off, driving along the winding road we stopped to take photos along the way of the gorgeous scenery and the mesmerising blue waters of Lake Wakatipu. An hour into the journey I noticed my credit card was in the pocket of my jeans, pulling it out I went to put it in my purse. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have my purse and I knew exactly where it was! Heart pounding and now heading back the way we had just come I hurriedly searched online for fuel stations in Queenstown, desperately trying to remember the name of the one we had been in. Thankfully I found it along with a phone number. I was relieved to find out that my purse had been found and put in the garage safe, but I had a lot of cash in it and was hoping it would still be in there. It seemed like the longest hour back to Queenstown, pulling in at the fuel station I jumped out and ran in. I was so grateful to the staff for keeping it safe and was relieved to find all the money still inside. Drama over it was back on the road and my turn in the driving seat. We were now pushed for time and were rushing as we wanted to get to Te Anau before 6pm. Half way there I admittedly was driving too fast, with no one else on the road for miles and miles it was easy to get carried away and attempting to make up for the time we lost I sped on. Unfortunately over the brow of a hill a police car passed us in the opposite direction, before I knew it the vehicle had turned around, lights flashing and appeared behind us. Pulling over I started to cry knowing I had gone above the speed limit. The police officer was very nice about it all and could see how upset I was, we even joked about what a bad day I was having after explaining about leaving my purse behind. But of course there are no excuses, I was speeding and I got a rather hefty $90 fine. Continuing on the road I was still upset and now angry with myself for having been so stupid, lesson learnt I stuck to the speed limit and we arrived at our campground in Te Anau with just enough time to cook dinner and have a rum and ginger to calm my nerves! Although the last thing I felt like doing was going on a trip it turned out to be a really great adventure, exploring caves with under water rivers and floating around in a boat in the darkness staring up at hundreds of beautiful glowworms; it was a happy end to the day!
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling? Let me know in the comments below…
The Big Sur stretches roughly from Carmel to San Simeon along California’s stunning coastline for around 85 miles. It doesn’t have an official start or finish, so I thought this quote from the Lonely Planet guide to California summed it up perfectly: “Big Sur is more of a state of mind than a place.” I had read so much about this beautiful stretch of coastline along Highway 1 before I arrived in California but I didn’t expect it to be so cut off from the rest of California, it is literally one winding road with ocean on one side and rocky cliff overhangs or forest on the other. There was pretty much no phone signal on the entire route either. This is something I actually love when I’m away, that feeling of being totally cut off from the rest of the world for a short time to just be able to completely focus on new surroundings, take it all in and relax.
Matt and I drove Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I would really recommend driving south along the Big Sur with the ocean on the right hand side. All the lay-bys and viewpoints are on this side of the road so it makes it a lot easier to pull over and pull out again when it is busy.
There is so much to see and do on this part of the Pacific Coast Highway, it could be done in one day but the road is pretty small and slow with sharp corners at times. Plus with plenty of viewpoints along the way you definitely don’t want to rush. We stopped for the night at a campground, it really added to the experience.
Here are my 9 favourite things to do…
1. See elephant seals
Point Piedras Blancas is the place to stop to see an elephant seal rookery. Elephant seals can spend up to 10 months at sea and are able to dive an incredible depth of 1000 – 3000 ft. Males can grow up to 16ft in length and weigh as much as 2300kg. These magnificent creatures are huge and very noisy! Watch males tussling in the water for rights over females while the rest snooze and laze around on the sand. Grunting, snorting and belching are to name just a few of the strange noises that can be heard coming from the beach! For more information check out: www.elephantseal.org.
2. Have a glass of wine at Nepenthe
This lovely little spot has two options for eating and drinking, Nepenthe Restaurant or Café Kevah. It is the perfect place or excuse to have a rest on your drive with an afternoon beverage and a chance to take in those stunning views. Both eateries are situated high up with gorgeous views of the rugged coastline and Pacific Ocean. Matt and I chose to visit the restaurant, as it was higher up, the only trouble was the sea mist had come in and through the fog we could see nothing! Still, it was nice to stop off and have a glass of rosé.
3. Whale watch
There are plenty of opportunities to go on organised whale watching trips along the coastline, Monterey is a great place to book from. We were lucky enough to spot whales all along the Big Sur. If you want to save some money pull into a viewpoint and just watch the horizon. To see whales breaching is an incredible sight, or even just a slight peek of a tail slipping gracefully under the water. Whale Watchers Café at Gorda Springs Resort was a marvellous place for breakfast on the road. With ocean views from the café we ate a hearty breakfast and got to spot whales too.
4. Bixby Bridge
This bridge is a very famous landmark on the Big Sur. Built in 1932, it is one of the world’s tallest single span concrete bridges standing proud at 280 ft high. Driving south there is a lay-by on the right hand side just before the bridge, although usually very busy with tourists it is definitely worth stopping to take a photo of this very impressive structure. Whilst I loved this bridge there are others very similar along the route so stop at one of those for views without lots of other people around!
5. Go for a walk
There are so many great areas to walk along Highway One; Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was one of my favourites. Rugged coastline with kelp forests home to sea lions and sea otters make for an exciting walk. The park has mapped out trails with plenty of history, hike to Whalers Cove where a whalers cabin still stands and is now a museum. As well as walking, buy a permit to snorkel or dive amongst the kelp beds, awesome marine life and underwater caves await. If you are camping in a state park keep hold of your permit as this can be used to park for free in other parks and reserves.
6. Pitch a tent (or park up in a van)
One of the cheapest ways to stay overnight on the Big Sur is to camp. We hired a campervan through Wicked Campers and loved having the freedom to explore and stop where we wanted. We stayed overnight at Plaskett Creek campground, just over the road from Sand Dollar Beach. Cooking on a campfire and stargazing was a brilliant experience. The campsite cost a total of $34, a bargain compared to the hotels along the route. There are quite a few campgrounds along the Big Sur, my advise would be to book in advance during peak seasons as pitches at the more popular sites can get reserved very quickly. Having said that a few of the campsites do offer a limited number of pitches to simply turn up and pay for on the day. Take plenty of layers if camping, as it gets quite cold when the fog comes in.
7. McWay Falls
This iconic waterfall is definitely worth stopping for, found in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park this beauty is 80ft high and cascades onto the beach below. Park up and follow the half-mile trail to the coast, you can also spot whales at this picture perfect spot. I saw so many images of this iconic beauty before the trip and loved seeing it in real life. Benches along the trail allow you to sit and take in the beautiful views.
8. Watch the sunrise at Sand Dollar Beach
What could be better than watching the sunrise over the ocean with fog hanging over the hills behind and not another soul in sight? Waking up early in our camper we strolled over the road from Plaskett Creek campground and straight onto the bluff overlooking this crescent-shaped bay. The waves looked iridescent in the low light and the stillness of the early morning was incredible. I wish I had, had a surfboard with me as there were some great little peelers breaking out there!
9. The drive
The Big Sur is an iconic route, remember don’t rush the drive, take your time and enjoy! The road can get busy at times and often people behind us wanted to drive faster, so we just pulled over and let them carry on. Whether you experience it in the sunshine or the fog it is an epic journey and a blanket of fog hanging just above the coastline made for awesome photo opportunities. Pull over at every opportunity and take in the scenery. There were fresh fruit stalls at a lot of lay-bys; one day we bought avocados, blueberries and figs. It was so nice to have a picnic with local produce and stunning views. Mustangs seemed to be a popular choice of ride all along this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, cruising with the roof down looked like a very cool experience.
After a 6 hour drive covering 223 miles from Los Angeles in our very cool Wicked campervan we arrived at Lodgepole campground in Sequoia National Park. Reaching the park we stopped at the ranger hut and paid the entrance fee. I was surprised to learn there was a 45 minute drive further to the campground, after such a long drive I thought we had arrived! The final part of the drive was beautiful though and made up for the fact that I was done with sitting still for so long. The road got smaller as it started to wind higher and higher up into the park. Driving through the Giant Forest we got our first sighting of the huge trees that Sequoia is famous for. At some points on the drive, if you looked down you could see tree trunks below and looking up the trees continued well above the road, just incredible. We continued driving higher up until we arrived at Lodgepole campground, here at 6720 feet above sea level the air felt fresh and clean.
Pulling up at the ranger hut to check in, I noticed a sign showing that there had been 5 bear break – ins in the campground during the past week. I had read about black bears in the area and the need to put all food and scented items in a bear proof box 24 hours a day…I was excited and apprehensive all at the same time about stumbling across a bear and this made it feel all the more real, but I still didn’t think that I would actually be lucky enough to have a bear encounter….
Sequoia works hard to make everybody aware of bears with notices in toilets about being careful with rubbish and stickers on bins reading ‘care for bear’. There is the possibility that if they break into cars they may have to be put down if they become aggressive, by knowing this it made me want to be very conscientious and look after the bears.
We found our pitch amongst the trees, complete with a bench, fire pit with a grate for cooking and a bear box, the rush of the nearby river could be heard in the distance, what a fantastic welcome. I wasted no time in putting most of my belongings into the bear box just to be on the safe side! As we settled into our surroundings the light began to fade and the smell of campfires filled the air encouraging us to set up our own. Lodgepole has a very handy shop within driving distance so we already had our firewood ready to go. All of a sudden we heard the sound of a car horn followed by banging and someone shouting, Matt and I both looked at each other and said at the same time ‘BEAR!’ Rushing over to where the commotion was happening we heard someone saying it was a mother and baby that had been nearby and we just caught a glimpse of them disappearing into the woodland high above the noisy campers. If you come across a bear the best thing to do is apparently stand your ground and make as much noise as you can to scare them off. This explains all the noise we had heard. I couldn’t believe we were only an hour into our stay and had already had a bear sighting, it finally started to sink in that they really were around us! Settling back around the campfire I felt a little uneasy peering into the darkness wondering what was watching us. With nothing but the light from the fire the star trail above was just stunning, laying back on the bench and looking skyward it looked 3D, almost like I could touch each star. Listening to the distant crackles of campfires made me sleepy and after cooking steak and veggies on the fire we retreated to our cosy van for the night.
The following morning we woke up early and sat planning our day with breakfast and coffee. Matt was having a look down towards the river when all of a sudden a bear appeared and strolled along very near to us. He or she didn’t seem to notice us, it was such a special moment as with no one else around we were the only ones to see this beautiful creature. I was not expecting that at breakfast time!
With a plan decided we put on our walking boots and jumped into the van. The first stop was to see General Grant Tree at Grant Grove. This beauty is the second tallest Sequoia tree in the world at 268 feet high by 108 feet in circumference, it is huge and very difficult to get a photo of the whole thing! The tallest by the way is the General Sherman Tree also in Sequoia, standing at 274.9 feet. My advice would be to get to Grant Grove early, we arrived mid morning and it was very busy. The General Grant Tree Trail is a short paved trail leading past the Fallen Monarch, a giant hollow Sequoia you can walk through from one end to the other and then continues past General Grant. Interestingly in the 1800s it was used in many different ways from a hotel to a stable for US Cavalry horses.
Next we decided to drive to Buck Rock lookout a fire lookout tower sat up high at 8500 feet. From what I had read in the Lonely Planet Guide to California it has fantastic views but we didn’t quite make it there….we got to an unpaved road which became very dusty and full of potholes, although it was only a couple of miles to the lookout the potholes were never-ending. So, Matt and I decided to leave the van and attempt to walk the final few miles, but in the midday sun it was just too hot and for some reason I had an uneasy feeling; there was no one else around and I had a bit of paranoia about bears! We got round a corner and did spot the tower in the distance, it looked incredible perched high up on a rocky outcrop but was just too far in the heat. There were also huge plumes of smoke from wildfires that were just incredible to witness. Feeling defeated we reluctantly gave up and missioned back to the van, we hadn’t been walking for that long maybe 45 minutes or so but I was really pleased to see our van! We found a shady spot for lunch and drove back to Lodgepole where after checking back in to a new pitch (it was so busy I had to reserve two separate sites) we strolled along the gorgeous alpine stream within the campground and had a chilly but refreshing paddle.
The following day it was my birthday, what a novelty it was to wake up in Sequoia, I had bought a few presents and cards with me from home to open too. With a 5 hour journey ahead of us to San Francisco we were keen to get back on the road but also wanted to make the most of this beautiful National Park, so a birthday hike to Tokopah Falls was on the cards. Setting off early on the 1.7 mile trail to avoid the heat of the sun the walk started just a stones through from where we had been camping. Following the river along through the trees watching out for bears, the walk was very varied. We strolled past alpine meadows, scrambled over rocks and marveled at the huge granite rock formations high above us until we arrived at the falls. We didn’t see another soul on the journey and were pleased to see the falls that marked the end of the trail and still no one else around. It really felt quite magical to be the only ones there. We reached the end of the path and clambered down the huge rock face to sit right by the falls, although not as powerful as probably during the winter months it was beautiful to see and sitting back to take in the view from where we had just walked, the valley between the canyon was clear to see. It was such a birthday treat! The day got even better as we were walking back we stopped for a glug of water and peered down to the river where we spotted a bear….we watched in silence as it crossed the river and started to walk up the embankment towards the path we had just walked along. Holding our breath we took a few steps back as it crossed right over the track and into the undergrowth on the other side. We continued to watch it as it snuffled and foraged. If it had smelt us it didn’t let on. Such an awesome sight!
Tips and tricks:
The $35 entrance pass into Sequoia lasts for 7 days.
I made an online reservation for Lodgepole campground before arriving which was $22 a night.
Fuel up when you can as fuel stations can be few and far between, Stony Creek Village had fuel pumps.
There was pretty much no phone service in the park, if you are desperate Stony Creek Lodge had free WiFi.
Lodgepole has a well-equipped shop, make sure you buy your firewood there and don’t bring it in from somewhere else, this helps to prevent the spread of disease.
There are coin operated showers at the visitor centre in Lodgepole, make sure you’ve got some quarters handy!
I loved everything about camping in Sequoia, the sights, the smells, and the sounds. Sequoia National Park is perhaps overlooked compared to others such as Yosemite, I had not heard of it until I started researching. I also read how busy Yosemite can get during the summer so I opted for Sequoia instead. Give it a go, believe me you won’t be disappointed.
I am now back from my adventures, over my jet lag and excited to share all the experiences from my road trip on New Zealand’s South Island.
Matt and I collaborated with campervan hire company Jucy; I’m looking forward to putting up links to my work for them very soon. We had a Jucy Cabana van, it was small and compact with everything we needed, really great to drive and pretty economical too. It came equipped with snow chains, DVD player and a ‘kitchen’ in the boot that consisted of a gas stove, storage space with crockery and cutlery and a small chiller. It also included a duvet, pillows, linen and towels. All ready to go! Our Cabana didn’t have electric hook up so if you are in New Zealand during the winter months my top tip would be to purchase hot water bottles; they were a lifesaver at night!
Hiring a car or campervan is the best way to see this diverse island; it gives you the freedom to see and do what you want and to create your own adventures. We started out from Christchurch and drove towards Lake Tekapo; I have to admit during the first 2 hours of driving we felt quite underwhelmed by our surroundings, fields and fields of sheep and scenery that reminded us of the UK! That all changed though as we got closer to the mountains. Miles of straight road and snow-capped mountains led us to Lake Tekapo…more about this beautiful place coming up. From Lake Tekapo we drove to Queenstown, then to Te Anau, Milford Sound, back to Queenstown and then onto the west coast where we stopped at Hokitika and finally back to Christchurch.
I thought I would write about my favourite experiences on the South Island, so if you are planning a trip yourself make sure you don’t miss these out on your agenda…
Lake Tekapo was the first place we stopped to camp. The campsite, Lake Tekapo Holiday Park was lovely and our pitch had uninterrupted views of the lake and the mountains. I loved waking up to the beautiful scenery and eating porridge outside in the chilly, fresh air. The colour of the lake is worth a mention, a mesmerising soapy blue; this comes from the minerals left in the water from past glaciers. The small town was a short stroll along the lake and had a convenience store, a few nice coffee shops and a handful of bars and restaurants. Our favourite was Mackenzie’s a nice, cosy bar and restaurant and a great place to escape the cold! This was the first time in our trip that we came across Monteith’s craft beer and cider. We tried a tasting paddle, perfect for sampling a few drinks at once! Lake Tekapo Springs just along from the campsite had three hot pools an ice rink and a tube park. We ice-skated and went tubing, which basically consisted of jumping on a round tube and zooming down the 150-metre snow slope! It was brilliant fun and pretty exhilarating!
A lunch stop by Lake Oahu:
There were so many stunning lakes that we came across on our road trip but Lake Oahu stood out for me. Leaving Lake Tekapo behind we drove past Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook National Park where we had fantastic views of Mount Cook from the road and stumbled across a salmon farm. We stopped to have a look around, fed the salmon and bought a salmon and cream cheese bagel and some sashimi all produced from the farm. We wanted to find a nice spot to enjoy our high country ‘catch’ and that’s when we came across Lake Oahu, it was a bit of a mission off the main road but well worth it. We sat on the edge of the lake enjoying our sashimi surrounded by nothing but mountains, lake and silence. The silence was incredible I don’t think I’ve been anywhere before where there was so much stillness. Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the best and this is a really special memory of mine from the trip.
We booked a boat trip on Milford Sound with Jucy Cruize. It was 1 hour 30 in total, we cruised all the way along to the Tasman Sea, past a beautiful waterfall and incredible scenery. Milford gets around 8-10 meters of rainfall a year and is counted as one of the wettest places in the world, we were extremely lucky the day we went as it was sunny and dry. It is also known for sandflies, we were lucky with that too as there weren’t too many of them around!
Te Anau Glowworm trip:
Te Anau is a small town in the Fiordland situated on Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on the South Island. It is a good place to stay the night if you want to break up the journey to Milford Sound. From here Matt and I went on a brilliant trip to the Te Anau glowworm caves, only accessible via a 25 minute boat trip across the lake. Ducking down to enter the cave system we were greeted by the loud sound of rushing water. The cave has 7 km of passages carved out by alpine water, so clean that we got to taste it from the cave! Following the underground stream through 250 metres of the cave past waterfalls we eventually got into a small boat and drifted into the darkness leaving the rush of water behind. All became silent. Floating in the glowworm grotto it became very tranquil and looking up all I could see were the green lights of hundreds of tiny glowworms. No photos were allowed in the caves to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness and so as not to disturb the glowworms. We booked our trip through Real Journeys who have an office in Te Anau right by the lake. It was a pretty special experience and one I would definitely recommend.
Queenstown is a very cool place indeed. Nestled between all the key ski fields, The Remarkables and Coronet, also relatively nearby are Treble Cone and Cardrona. We unfortunately only got to spend two nights there so didn’t get to do and see everything that we wanted to and there is so much to do! Snowboarding was high on our agenda; we booked a day trip to Cardrona from Queenstown. It was a full day on the snow and lots of fun. In the evenings we enjoyed relaxing in the bars and sampling the local alcohol! My favourite was Monteith’s cider, which I first tried at Lake Tekapo. I love New Zealand’s pub culture it seemed very similar to the UK and very social. One night we ate at The Cow, found on Cow Street. It is slightly hidden away but well worth finding. We stepped inside and were welcomed by a warm cosy atmosphere, and lots of character. An open fire, candlelight and bustling atmosphere made the tiny pub feel very cosy. A tasty simple Italian menu featuring pizza, pasta, one dessert – ice cream sundae and a good wine menu was just what we needed after a day on the snow.
We also ate at Fergburger, which is obligatory if you are in Queenstown and picked up takeaway fish and chips from Aggy’s Shack a small hut by the lake. It has got to be the best fish and chips I’ve had in a long time and that’s coming from a Brit. We also ordered a portion of green-lipped mussels, they were huge! There were all sorts of interesting things to order too such as smoked eel and sea urchin. Definitely worth a visit.
Things we didn’t get time to do in Queenstown included the Skyline Gondola, which goes up to 450 metres above Queenstown to the top of Bob’s Peak. I would loved to have seen the views from there! A jet boat ride on the Shotover River, panning for gold in nearby Arrowtown and wine tasting. With lots of unfinished business we’ll have to go back!
Helicopter trip over the glaciers:
A Helicopter trip over Fox and Franz Josef glacier, past Mount Cook and a snow landing high up on a mountainside was breathtaking! The views of the glaciers from the air were incredible, icy blue in colour and enormous in size. The beauty of these natural wonders blew me away. We flew over mountain ridges and very close to Mount Cook. It was such a surreal experience, I tried not to take too many photos so I could just enjoy the moment and take it all in. I also spotted people at the top of the glacier and walkers huts with red roofs high up on the mountaintops. A helicopter in front of us looked so tiny in perspective to the mountain! We booked this trip with Glacier Helicopters it was 40 minutes in duration, which is the longest one you could do at a cost of around £200 each. Although pricey it was worth every penny!
My Favourite drives:
The Crown Range to Queenstown is an epic route with its zig zagging mountain roads and at 70km above sea level it is the highest route in New Zealand. It must be a pretty hairy drive in the depths of winter! The views of Queenstown, Arrowtown, vineyards, Lake Wakatipu and the mountain ranges are awesome and definitely worth stopping at the various viewpoints for photos.
There is a maximum speed limit on major roads of 100km/h, make sure you stick to this and others as the police are pretty strict at enforcing the speed limits. Always allow yourself longer than planned to get to destinations due to the nature of the roads. For example some have frequent landslides and may only have one lane open, mountain roads can be steep with hairpin bends, or there could be avalanche warnings. Along with factoring in extra time to stop off to take photos and admire views. If there is someone behind you driving a bit faster just pull over, we did this a lot, it made the drives much more enjoyable. But generally the roads are so quiet we often drove for miles and miles and even hours without another car insight.
The drive to Milford Sound is a fantastic one; the road through the Homer tunnel at around 100 kms from Te Anau is pretty interesting; it stretches for 1.2km through the mountain, at a height of 945 meters above sea level. If you are going to visit Milford Sound I really recommend driving yourself, it’s 4.5 hours from Queenstown so a coach trip means a very long day but if you drive yourself you can break the journey up. We drove from Queenstown to Te Anau stayed the night, then got up really early the following morning and drove to Milford Sound. Without stopping it’s 2 hours but allow extra time as there are some spectacular viewpoints and short walks to some beautiful waterfalls. It was worth going there for the epic drive alone! Be sure to fuel up in Te Anau as it is the last place to get fuel on the road to Milford Sound, there is none at Milford either.
Arthur’s Pass was another great drive, we did this last on the way back to Christchurch, stop for a hot drink and cake at Arthur’s Pass village and look out for Kea, these large parrots are very nosy and extremely clever; make sure you watch your food around them as they will do their best to nab anything edible from you!
I had heard so much about the stunning scenery in New Zealand before I went but I was completely blown away by its beauty and ever-changing landscape, from lakes and mountains to coast and tropical rainforest, I just couldn’t stop taking photos! Whatever you choose to do in New Zealand you won’t ever be bored. I did and saw so much on my short trip but there is still so much more I want to see and do out there, I will definitely need to visit again!
If you have already been I’d love to hear about your favourite NZ experiences…
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