31st December 2016 (Wellington to Abel Tasman NP – 224kms)
Fortunately I seem to be no worse for wear and can walk on my foot without limping! I lost a small amount of shin skin and gained a little bruise on my knee but given what could have happened, I am very lucky. So today was not hampered and we set off for the Inter Islander ferry trip. We were charged with buying a glass dolphin for mum from the ferry souvenir shop (no luck) but other than that, the plan was to enjoy the trip. Boarding the ferry was unremarkable and we parked the camper squeezed in among the big motorhomes and went up the stairs with the crowds.
I am averse to being on boat and hoped to just not feel too sick. The key is to keeping your head up and your eyes on the horizon so we headed to the front of the vessel and watched the North Island disappear as the South Island came into view, trying to judge the entry point (with some precision as it turns out). The trip isn’t overly long but long enough for a coffee and then some light lunch, both of which were ok. Thankfully the crossing itself was calm and we arrived at a higher latitude on the South Island than we left on the North Island. Geography is a funny thing.
Thanks to the earth quake in November the road directly to Christchurch via Kaikoura remains closed so we joined the many folk disembarking on the only road out of Picton. I’ve said it before and I need to say it again, unfortunately we had no time to stop here so we have to add this town to our “next time” list. In fact we didn’t stop at any of the wineries in the region either, preferring to make our way to our campsite where we could both partake of a drop or too. As with other roads we’ve traversed, the drive to Nelson was windy with each right hand bend remarkably like the last right hand bend, until I felt more motion sick in the car than I did on the ferry. Eventually we arrived in Nelson and restocked the camper with good food, ready to head for Abel Tasman to see in 2017.
Our campsite was our first with a glimpse of the ocean and although we arrived late we had the chance for a lovely evening walk. The tide was out a long way so there was loads of exposed beach and the setting sun lit up the sky in gorgeous colours, below the low lying cloud. A great way to experience the start of a new year which can only bring good things for us both. The atmosphere was festive and our fellow campers had the music on so we settled in with a few L&P cocktails to watch the fireworks light up the sky. I hope you all had a wonderful start to 2017 too.
1st January 2017 (Abel Tasman NP)
The condition of staying in this NP is that you book a tour or activity so we decided (back in August) to take the water taxi to Bark Bay and walk back to Anchorage via the swing bridge and the lagoons. A nice thing to do on News Years Day right? We opted for the first taxi there and one of the last ones back which adds a little excitement because you get to ride in the boat, on the trailer across the sandy beach to the water’s edge, towed by the tractor. Not something that would be permitted in Australia but loads of extra fun! It’s a sight to see the tractors driving out to the water across the sand flat and then being left there, with their trailers attached, waiting for the returning tide. The tractor drivers and boat launchers are quick and skilled. I had a seat on the outside of the boat (as opposed to the aisle) and had a great view as we motored the calm waters around to Split Apple Rock. It looks just like a split apple. Fortunately the calm didn’t last long and we were wave jumping and crashing through big seas across the bay to the ocean mouth to have a look at some lazy seals before heading to our destination. The taxi ride was thrilling and a highlight of the day. By the time we arrived I was soaked in seawater and the rain was tumbling down. A quick change into dry hikers and a warm fleece and we were off on our 14k walk. Did I mention that bit????
We figured we had enough time but didn’t count on having to take the long route around the bay, thanks to the full tide. With that in mind we tried not to dilly dally but we had a chance to see the gorgeous lagoons, swing on the bridge and eat our lunch on a rock overlooking Torrent Bay. Next time we need to walk to Cleopatra’s Pool (there’s just too much to see and do). We were really lucky that the weather cleared almost as soon as we started walking and even heated up a little so by the time we made it back to Anchorage we were hot and tired but I was thrilled by the walk and our achievement. The sights are gorgeous and the trails are good. I’m only glad I wasn’t carrying a pack up some of those big hills. Maybe next time …
Our ride home was slightly calmer than our ride there and I was entertained by a fellow traveller who kept dozing off, performing the head droop and then being jolted awake as we crashed over a wave. I have trouble sleeping if it’s not dark and silent and I’m not lying down, so I don’t get how people can sleep like that. Our return to Marahau was complete with a trip in the boat towed by the tractor. The Newby was looking decidedly tired but I convinced him we needed a beer in the beer garden so we grabbed a shady spot and enjoyed the cold, fresh taste of our reward! We chatted to some locals who gave us another perspective on the earthquake in Christchurch and put me onto the GeoNet app that has been busy ever since. (Now safely back in Australia I can report that the app sends an alert almost every hour. It seems as though the November 14th earthquake is planning to have as many aftershocks as the Christchurch earthquake of 2011. Scary stuff). It’s not ‘til you’re in a place that you take notice of things and being in NZ has made me look at information about earthquakes like the Richter Scale and earthquake depths and so on. Eventually I dragged The Newby back to base camp where he promptly crashed out on the bed for a well-deserved sleep before dinner and another shorter walk to try to stash a geocache. What a huge start to 2017 and another great day spent in New Zealand.
2nd January (Abel Tasman to Carters Beach – 265kms)
Time to shift the camper again and another 10am check out we almost missed. We decided to have a look at Split Apple Rock from the beach and found our way to Split Apple for a nice walk although the beach was packed with various tours and individuals soaking up the sun. Our next stop was to try to find this illusive glass dolphin in Motueka (still no luck) before we made a plan to head for the west coast. The weather was just not with us and we thought we may be able to outrun it and had also seen that there is a low key jet boat on the Buller River. Worth a look. We were still ok for supplies but then we saw the signs for fresh berries and couldn’t resist so we turned into the driveway of a roadside home and entered a world of quirky stuff and tasty berries. Our purchases included the sweetest raspberries, strawberries and boysenberries. Just divine!
It seems our plan to drive out of the rain was backfiring slightly as we made our way to Murchison to book the jet boat. As luck would have it there was “room for you” on the 3pm ride so we continued on the way to the river and had our lunch in the camper as the weather held off. As I said before I was keen to experience this but not with hordes of others so I was hopeful we wouldn’t be joining a long queue and waiting for loads of disembarking passengers to move so we could enjoy our ride. As you can see from the pictures, we almost had it to ourselves and the scenery was amazing. Our guide, Mad Mark runs this small business (Buller Canyon Jet) and provides a fantastic experience. He is knowledgeable about the river and its history as well as giving riders a thrilling experience. The ride starts within the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge attraction which has some other crazy things you can do. It’s set in bushland and while we waited we finally got to see the Tui! What a great thrill in itself and something I was looking forward to seeing in the wild. We also got to see the big fat pigeon as well as a small finch.
But back to the jet boat. With only 4 of us riding we had a very personalised trip and got up close to waterfalls as well as heading into side streams of deep water. Mark explained the gold rush history of the area and assured us there is still gold in them there hills. He gave us time to photograph and to take some cool video while he blasted us along the river. What a hoot and way, way better value than the densely populated options at Huka Falls and in Queenstown (as we saw a couple of days later). Lucky for us the rain stayed off and we had a dry ride that we didn’t spoil with a swim in the river, although the crazy mob before us did. Too cold for me. Back on the other side of the swing bridge (that’s two in as many days) we headed for the camper and the coast, driving into some awful weather along yet another windy road, close to overhanging rock faces covered in overhanging ferns. The river bed we followed all the way to the coast was littered with tree debris, including limbs, trunks and even whole trees. It was starting to dawn on me that much of this area is drowning in water much of the time. Not something you want on your holiday. Tonight we had a cozy spot in a sea side caravan park, in wet weather. So glad we were in the camper and not in the tent across the other side of the park.
3rd January (Caters Beach to Hokitika – 200kms)
Thanks to the lovely ladies and their quirky roadside stop we had a delicious breaky of pancakes and fresh berries this morning before dodging the rain to use the facilities and heading off down the road. The plan was to spend the night in Greymouth but the rains against us and the local advice is to drive on through there, so the new plan is to head further on. But there seems to be a fair bit to do along the way. First things first though – coffee. We chose to have a look at some more seals and have our coffee at Cape Foulwind which turned out to have foul weather, no seals and a closed café. Instead we kept on heading south and found a roadside coffee van (and got the tip about Greymouth) before stopping for a geocache just south of Fox River. This spot is part of the penguin proof fence, like our rabbit proof fence, but designed to stop the poor penguins becoming road kill. Here’s hoping it works. The beach here has some great rock formations and the cliff faces on the other side of the road had long waterfalls flowing over them. We collected some jade from the beach, undertook a fruitless search for penguins and headed back to the camper to get dry.
Our next stop was the Pancake Rocks (pancakes twice in one day) and blowholes where we had lunch in the camper, out of the bad weather before making the quickest visit on record around the cold, windy and rainy rocks and ocean. Having ticked that box we went for a look at Punakaiki cavern and the glow worms. Now we know what we’re looking for we could see strings of their poo hanging right in front of us. Trying to photograph it was a challenge with me ending up covered in mud from leaning on the cave wall. It’s just going to be one of those wet and muddy days. With that in my head we kept moving south and eventually outran the weather, arriving in Greymouth to restock our food supplies.
I suspect the locals were right about Greymouth so we kept on moving along and came across the most unusual road / rail bridge. Even now I have no idea how it works but without warning we found ourselves on the railway tracks. That’s simply because the road and rail traffic going in both directions, share a one lane bridge!!! I guess the light was green (used if a train is approaching) as we approached and we also made sure no oncoming cars were already on the bridge. Apparently it’s the last remaining bridge of its kind in NZ and is to be replaced in 2017. Before we knew it we were off the other side. They say it’s a sight to see when there are cars, followed by a train, followed by cars. Not far from there we encountered our second train / car intersection where the rail lines runs straight through the middle of a roundabout. In fact there are two roundabouts like this and once again they completely took us by surprise and left us astounded. I’m starting to see why people say “only in New Zealand”.
After a longish day in and out of the car we finally made it to Hokitika. We hadn’t heard of this town before and so we had no idea what to expect but we were both pleasantly surprised. The open beach is wild and littered with debris, giving the town the perfect opportunity to host an annual Driftwood and Sand Sculpture Festival. That’s cool. It’s also the home of many NZ jade outlets that attract busloads of people. Green isn’t my colour so I wasn’t particularly attracted to the outlets but I still think it’s cool that you can collect it from the beach and then have it carved in town. I just bought mine home as dull green rocks. Although we had enough food we chose to finally partook of the famous NZ fish and chips and we weren’t disappointed. Porky’s takeaway beside the swimming pool served us up a great feed and we spotted a cheeky weka running from bush to bush while we ate. So cool! As the evening came to end we walked back to the campsite past the signature hydrangeas and agapanthus that are everywhere in NZ gardens, along with the letterbox with a flag to show the postie has been. Such a cool thing; I want one. Back home we crossed the road to the glow worm dell, with many other people. This is a freeby on the side of the highway that was really glowing the night we visited. It was wet and muddy but worth it all the same and definitely a cool reason to be in Hokitika for the night. In the daylight there is a useful information board that tells you everything you need to know.
4th January (Hokitika to Fox – 265kms)
Our exit from Hokitika may have drawn some attention thanks to a series of geocaches about the Flintstones that we decided to pursue. The quest for the coords kept us up late last night but the search was equally as crazy with us doing loops of the town and scratching in bushes and other public places. But eventually we had them all (a very cool cache) and grabbed a quick coffee before we headed east to the gorge. We would both be very quick to agree that Hokitika has earned the right to its domain name on the internet. It is indeed www.thecoollittletown.com and we loved it so much that we chose it as the spot to leave minty behind. Here’s hoping he has a long and healthy life and we get to use his leaves in our cocktails sometime in the future … but for now, onwards.
After a short and very picturesque trip we came to the gorge which is a pleasant and short walk (thankfully dry today) to the swing bridge over the amazing aqua water. There were lots of people here but we still had the chance to enjoy the beauty of the place and spotted another weka nosing around the car park. Heading out of this attraction we decided to stop at the Kowhitirangi memorial to take a look and eat our lunch. Before arriving we had no real idea about the place but after eating we wandered over for a look. The reality is confronting and realising you are standing at a place where people needlessly died is very sad. The long and the short of it is that Stanley Graham shot and killed 7 people, before a massive manhunt was undertaken to find him and he was killed. You can read about it if you go there. There’s not much there but an eerie feeling …
The plan for the rest of the day involved travelling to Fox Glacier via Franz Josef Glacier. We took a slight side detour to Okarito to have a look for the Kiwi (still no success) but did manage to spot some Tui’s flying across the sky in front of us. The weather is certainly hampering us and the beach here was as wild as any. There is an interesting story about the Blue Whale that washed up on this beach back in the early 1900’s and how it ultimately ended up in the Canterbury Museum. After reading about that in the boatshed at the lagoon we headed onwards to Franz Josef, arriving there in the mid afternoon as the crowds were leaving. Seems to be the way with us on this trip. Lucky there is so much daylight.
We decided to walk as far towards the glacier as you are allowed and set off to see what all the fuss is about. The viewing area was quite close to the actual glacier and we had a good view of the waterfalls and streams along the way. Evidence of ice was also everywhere, as well as the effects of ice long since melted. The walk was longer than I anticipated and reflects the retreat of the glacier. Here’s hoping that it will again advance and that we can see it again someday. With the day progressing quickly we made a hurried road trip over the mountain to Fox township where we are staying for two nights. The break from driving will be nice and fingers are crossed for a helicopter ride onto the glacier. As with all our other plans made in Aus our pre-booked site was waiting for us and we had a really nice spot backing onto trees, alongside the BBQ area where we cooked some homemade pizzas and enjoyed a beverage or two. The cold and damp are becoming a bit of a pain. It is summer after all. It could be worse though, we could be in a tent like the young people across the way. Tent campers seem to be the big users of camp kitchens, both for cooking and eating but also for hanging out. I’m glad we have our cosy camper for that. Before bed we attempted to book a helicopter for the morning but the choppers have been on the ground more than in the air thanks to the weather so there is a backlog. Fingers crossed we can get something tomorrow.
5th January (Fox)
Thanks to the driving and the amazingly hectic (but fun) schedule, we have exhausted ourselves and so a long sleep in seemed needed. With no reason to rush we leisurely enjoyed breakfast and showers before a coffee in the local café. Finally we made it to the chopper shop but the lack of aerial evidence of hairypopter activity spoke volumes and while they took our names, we weren’t overly optimistic … Indeed the re-checking after lunch proved that no landings were happening (try again tomorrow before you leave) so we opted to hire a bike and ride to the glacier instead. The ride is lovely but appeared to be harder than we both anticipated. Perhaps the holiday diet is taking its toll. We persevered and made it to the carpark where we chained the bikes and walked to the glacier. As though the ride didn’t hurt enough, the last bit of the walk was tacked on to kill me. Straight up! Time to stop eating and drinking! The view here was great but the glacier could do with a wash. We were closer to Fox than we were to Franz Josef, with a shorter (if steeper) walk.
With a great photo of the two of us in the camera we decided to attack the ride home. I don’t think either of us was looking forward to it. What we didn’t realise though was that in fact the ride to the glacier had been uphill. As soon as we hit the path back we were racing. As I said it’s really pretty and we free wheeled most of the way back, looping through the glow worm dell in record time. We were both excited by the ride and thrilled that we weren’t as unfit as we initially thought so having returned the bikes we decided that wedges and beers were in order to celebrate! So much for stopping eating and drinking. Refreshed and suitably tired we headed back to the camper and enjoyed an afternoon and evening of sun and drinks as we watched the pigeons and kea in the tress around us. There are so few birds n NZ that their appearance is noteworthy. Here’s hoping for a resurgence in their numbers some time in the future.
6th January (Fox Glacier to Queenstown – 453kms)
With high hopes we raised ourselves early, hoping the best of the day may be in the morning and we could hitch a ride on the chopper. Once again though, the lack of skyward activity suggested it was unlikely. We gave it our best shot but the decision was made not to spend the day in Fox with our fingers crossed but to head off to Queenstown and plan something else instead. First we drove out to Lake Matheson and had a quick march around. The view wasn’t great thanks to the clouds but what we did notice was a newer and lower snow line than the night before. No wonder it’s cold. Nothing for it but to grab a hot coffee and head along the way. We hatched a plan to book into the Skyline restaurant for date night tomorrow and decided to add the haka show. As it turns out this is going to be cheaper than the helicopter would have been so here’s hoping its good.
Almost all of this morning was spent on the road in pouring and unrelenting rain that we just couldn’t outrun until we finally arrived in Wanaka where we got some fuel (just enough to get to Queenstown) and enjoyed an award winning pie by the lake, as the siren erupted yet again. Finally it dawned on me that the siren is a call to emergency staff just like we had when I lived in coastal NSW (not the dreaded earthquake warning). No wonder no one seems rattled by it. Sure enough the wail of other sirens heading off in the direction of an accident somewhere punctuated the air. Keen to keep on to Q’town we hit the road only to be turned around half way into the 67km journey. An unfortunate collision between a motorcyclist and a motor vehicle closed the road. The fear of every traveller is that this will happen so we were grateful that we weren’t involved and sad for the occupants. Given the delay we had time to enjoy the Cardrona Hotel, a great spot to grab a really cool cache, see the underground gold mining shaft (look down on the bar room floor; its covered by glass) and enjoy a softie in the beer garden with a few other folk. We also had time to take in the cute church and the Bra-drona. I have never seen so many bras and it sort of gives the thong tree in Lancelin a run for its money.
Eventually we decided to backtrack to Wanaka and head to Q’town the long way around which proved to be ok as we were taken past the marker for the 45th parallel. At this point we were half way between the equator and the South Pole and that calls for a photo and a cache. That knocks off another parallel in the southern hemisphere and by all calculations neither of us have been any further south than here. Back in the car The Newby was silently stressing out about the fuel situation. Recall, we only put in enough to get to Q’town, not factoring a back track and a detour. The road is very windy with a completely different landscape of sharp peaks and masses of wildflowers. Living on the edge, we made it safely to Q’town, before the GPS took us up the side of the town and down again. Scenic but not exactly direct … who knows why it does these things but it’s far from reliable. A few more side streets and we eventually rolled into a very packed and very expensive camp site. Actually it simply resembles a carpark with no room to put out an awning (not that we had one) and very little room for table and chairs. Being short, we were able to utilise room at the back of the site, behind the vehicle but there is no privacy here for anyone.
Despite its name, there is no view of the lake from any of the sites, adding to my disappointment. There is a view of the skyline behind and we could here squeals of delight from the luge riders. After an early (for us) dinner we trotted down into the town centre for an ice cream and a look around. It was certainly busy and everything was open for business creating an inviting atmosphere. Having said that, being on the later end of the 40-55 age bracket we seemed to be among the older ones out and about so we grabbed a bottle of something to drink and headed home for an early(ish) night.
7th January (Queenstown)
For the second time in three days we had a lovely long sleep in which may seem like a waste of time but we’ve been doing so much that barely a minute hasn’t been occupied. After breakfast we hit the shops and bought the requisite gifts (toy kiwis all round) and I got a kiwi charm for my Pandora. We both bought a new jacket each, in anticipation of even cooler weather in Milford Sound (but I’m hoping to be proven wrong) before we headed for a wander along the Queenstown Trail into and around the Queenstown Gardens. Instead of a true lunch (given that we had breakfast when most were lunching) we grabbed a wee puffy toot and headed onto Perky’s boat. This really cute floating bar and coffee shop allows you take your own food on board if you buy their coffee, so we did. Unfortunately the weather precluded sitting on the deck but we loved the inside table, the service and the view. From here we were truly grateful we had ridden the Buller River jet boat as we watched boatloads of 16 people leave the jetty while more boatloads waited onshore with their jackets on, in anticipation of their ride. Not the personal and scenic experience we had that’s for sure.
After our lovely day in Queenstown we went home to change and headed for the Skyline. The trip up is reminiscent of the gondola in La Paz and just like then, I was really nervous. But we were there quickly and enjoyed a look around and out on the open deck for some great photos. We were lucky to find a window seat back inside and ordered a drink while we enjoyed to view before heading into the Haka show. This was a great interactive experience where girls were invited to have a go at the Poi dance (I didn’t volunteer) and guys were invited to have a crack at the Haka. The Newby jumped at the chance and did a great job of looking scary (and loved it). The crowd is small and every seat is a good seat. If you want to go to see a Haka I can recommend this one. After the show we headed into dinner and enjoyed a fabulous feast of food from a number of different options. Like the Haka, I can recommend this restaurant for dinner. We tried to get a later seating but it was booked out. Having said that, the earlier seating was a good option. We got to see Queenstown from on high and the night was overcast so nothing was lost – no stars to see. The trip down was in the lovely twilight and we got to see the small city light up. Back on terra firma we had a short walk before heading home to bed in anticipation of the trip highlight – Milford Sound tomorrow …
8th January (Queenstown to Milford Sound – 304kms)
Another early day but hopeful of lots of great experiences in the highly regarded Milford Sound. We headed out of Queenstown and stopped not long after in Garston for a coffee and to stash a cache hidden along a lovely walk past some great “families” placed there for the entertainment of cachers. Some people go to so much trouble. The coffee place was in an otherwise quiet spot. You have to wonder why or how but perhaps the road gets busy later … or was busy earlier. Next stop was Te Anau for an amazingly scenic cache. Despite my hopes, the weather continued to be damp and dreary so we had to choose a strategic spot for lunch, out of the wind, by Lake Te Anau. The site is historic as well as picturesque so I took advantage of the photo opportunities. Time to move on and we eventually made it to the Mirror Lake where we stopped for a look, as well as the fields of beautiful wildly growing flowers.
The road to Milford may only be 287kms but it’s a day trip, thanks to the windiness and the weather. The road even has a 1.2km tunnel. It doesn’t bear thinking what may happen to anyone in there should an earthquake strike … but we made it safely through as has everyone else that’s been through there since it opened in 1953. On the other side we were not greeted with clear skies and dolphins spinning in the water, but there were Keas, patiently waiting for cars to stop at the red light. Having just cruised through, we couldn’t stop there but we did stop at The Chasm and there were Keas waiting there to say hi. Their game plan is simple … wait for a new car, approach all politely and say hi, climb aboard and start eating the car. But wait, here’s some new people that don’t know us, lets go see them. And with that, they’re gone. Except for the one that was busy striping something from underneath the Landcruiser. He better hope the owners don’t see him.
Back to the other sites, we took a short walk into The Chasm, an amazing series of low waterfalls that have carved the rocks into smooth, deep holes. You can see them from easily traversed walkways and bridges over the rapidly running water. Back in the car park, the Keas weren’t interested in us, recognising that they’d already met us. So we headed down the road to the end of the line for a look. The really crappy weather meant that there was almost nothing to see except even more waterfalls so we headed for the accommodation, checked in and settled down for a quiet evening and eventually another good night’s sleep.
9th January (Milford Sound)
We were really really hopeful of a bright, sunny day for our combined cruise and kayak but unfortunately we just didn’t get lucky in the weather department. Nonetheless, we got ourselves ready, packed the warm and weatherproof gear and walked down to the jetty in time for our lunchtime boarding. The reality of Milford Sound is that the entire area is a rain forest so the fact that it rains over 200 days in the year, should surprise no one. The locals take the opportunity to remind the tourists of that at every chance they get and also point out the advantages of the being in the Sound on rainy days. As the boat set off, we rounded the first corner to a massive waterfall and saw many more throughout the trip. We also saw the spinner dolphins, some seals and a few more waterfalls. Unfortunately we couldn’t see the top of the sound walls but we did get a sense of the sheer size, when an ocean liner entered the sound. Apparently the Ovation of the Seas was here last week and looked like “a toy boat in a bath”. I guess its somewhere else we have to go back to …
But not all was lost. Between what we saw on the cruise and then then the guided kayak tour, we had a great time. The boat docked at the underwater observatory where we were offloaded to prepare to paddle. We were completely kitted out in weather proof gear, with boots and caps before boarding our vessels in a convenient dry dock. Our guide was a young man who knew heaps but didn’t overwhelm us. He took us around the edges of the sound to view the waterfalls and sheer sides, before we glided past some rare blue ducks. The entire time the rain was falling from the sky but the water was calm and the experience was fabulous. We got very close to the waterfalls and a slight break in the clouds revealed the glaciers. Fortunately we had set off early so we got an extra long paddle before making our way back to the observatory for a look under the water. Surprisingly there is lots to see and although the day was overcast, the visibility underwater was excellent. All too soon we were back on board then back on dry land, headed for the bar in the caravan park and a drink to celebrate our lovely, if very damp day.
10th January (Milford Sound to Dunedin – 490kms)
I have to be honest and admit that I was so keen to get away from Milford Sound. I am not a wet weather person and thank my parents every day for emigrating from the UK to Australia. Our clothes were damp, the mattress in the camper was wet, the ceiling was covered in condensation and my mood was bleak. So I was happy to get cracking and get away from the waterfalls and rain. The trip away from the Sound was a happy time for me, especially as we exited the tunnel on the east side to see rays of sunshine on the glaciers. We stopped for The Newby to add to his private collection of panos and the Kea came to say hello. It landed on another car and proceeded to eat the rubber seal. The car owners were quite perturbed by it and had no idea how to stop it. One person was trapped outside the car while two others couldn’t get out. The Kea was delightfully destroying their property and I was highly entertained but eventually I walk over and shooed the naughty bird away. It didn’t go far, just to the sign post to await the next unsuspecting victims.
Back in the car we headed for Te Anu for a final shop then did a really big drive across the country, gathering geochaches and listening to iHeart radio. As The Newby drove I messaged our local radio station back home, that we were listening to them via the magic of the internet, and requested a shout out. Happily the DJ obliged and we were wished a great day, much to the surprise of The Newby. I doubt anyone at home heard it but we did, 5000 kilometres away. Much of our long day in the car was spent enjoying the idiosyncrasies of NZ. Like for instance the fact that the section between the towns of Gore and Clinton is along the Presidential Highway. We also picked up a few geocaches with The Newby heard to say “I’m glad there’s nothing in NZ that can kill you” as he disappeared into the scrub on at least one occasion. Finally the first leg of our trip was done (326kms) and we rolled into Balclutha with me navigating us to the intersection between James St and Paisley St. The reason, I hear you ask? The Newby’s first name and his home town. With our photo taken we chose a lovely spot for lunch and finally enjoyed the sun. The real sun. In fact it has been following us all day, since we left the ranges behind. My mood instantly and permanently improved too. I imagine that no one was more pleased than The Newby.
After lunch we decided to push on to Dunedin and managed to cover many k’s in the one day. But we also conquered the massive walk down to Tunnel Beach and were thrilled to get up close to yet another seal and to see the ocean crashing into the land and creating such an amazing landform. There are in fact two tunnels, the man made one you walk through and the landform created by God. A word of warning though, the walk back to the car is a cracker. The hardest one of our trip so far. Rolling into Dunedin we decided to head out to Sandfly Bay to try to spot the penguins but the reality of another lengthy and hard walk, late in the day deterred us from trying (along with the moans of returning walkers). After a quick gaze at the beach we lost our way to the caravan park and enjoyed dinner before heading out for a stroll to grab some caches. Unfortunately what started as a stroll ended up as a major walk with us lost and bad weather setting in. The Newby didn’t have his phone and mine was running low on charge. The map was suggesting a very long walk when The Newby spotted a path with a sign to home. Just as I was really starting to worry. Finally we made it home and clocked an amazing 21000 steps! A huge day with so much distance covered in the car and on foot.
11th January (Dunedin to Oamaru – 164kms)
Unfortunately there was no sunshine on Leith to start our day but it didn’t stop us from tackling the worlds steepest street. This is a cool thing to do and, along with many others we made the climb Baldwin Street and enjoyed every minute of it. Its only 350m so you get an idea of the gradient. Its tough on the legs and lungs, and I wouldn’t want to own a house along it, although it would make it easy to attend the annual Jaffa rolling competition. A walk like that is worthy of certification and coffee, both of which we collected at the bottom. Next stop was Signal Hill which we chose to do in the car. This spot gives a great view over Dunedin and was the perfect place to drop off our last remaining and stunning geocoin. It’s safe in the bush with the Tuis flying overhead and we headed off for the suburban tour of Dunedin, for the sake of photos – Roslyn for a friend with the same name and Brockville for the football stadium in Falkirk, Scotland. Finally we left Dunedin and found an amazing lunch spot overlooking Karitane. We shared the spot with the cows and the sheep emerging from the mist rolling in from the sea. The breaks in the weather and the brilliant sunshine revealed a fantastic vista of beach and rolling hills steeped in history, evident in names like Old Man Rock and Old Woman Rock. After Cape Palliser, this would have to be my second favourite lunch spot.
After lunch we were back on the road headed north with the sun slowly emerging to brighten our day. We stopped for a quick loo stop along the way and found ourselves at “auto loo” that does everything except wipe the bits that need wiping, including serenading you to the tunes of “what the world needs now”. We both emerged from our respective receptacles in fits of giggles. Onwards we turned in to Shag Point and found, as you would expect, many shags along with many seals and seagulls. We were still hopeful of a penguin sighting, but it wasn’t to be so we pushed on for the Moeraki Boulders and shared them with millions of other tourists. They looked great though and are definitely worth the stop. Finally we pulled into a caravan park in Oamaru with enough time to get the mattress off the bed and dried in the sun. We also threw the sheets on the line and I’m happy to say we slept in a dry bed on our last night in the little camper.
12th January (Oamaru to Christchurch – 265kms)
Today is our last full day in NZ so we needed to hatch a plan quickly. We decided, after a little drive around Oamaru, to make a bee line for Christchurch and hire a car from the airport, return the camper, book the Segway tour for tomorrow, and then head out to Aoroka this evening. I had read about it in the lonely planet and it seemed that missing it may be a mistake. So we zoomed up the highway, with just one stop conceded for coffee, and made Christchurch in good time. Unfortunately Jucy rentals were as slow as a wet week so we spent far too long there but eventually we had the keys to the Hyundai and off we went to (sadly) return the camper. True to their word the company refunded a days hire, we showed them things about their camper they didn’t know, packed our possessions into the car and headed into the city proper.
Now I had no idea what to expect but I didn’t expect what I saw. Christchurch looked and felt like a ghost town. We were both truly shocked and left wondering what we were doing here. We quickly found our hotel as it is one of only two tall buildings in the city. As we were to discover, it was in fact the only tall building to remain after the earthquake demolition was completed, the other building having been constructed following the earthquake. After checking in we both decided that the depressing sights of Christchurch needed to be left behind, so we jumped in the car and headed for the beautiful Banks Peninsula. If only we had more time … a saying we have said many times over these three weeks. This is a magnificent part of the world and, although it was a quick trip, I am so glad we did it. We took the Summit Rd and cached along the way, absorbing the views and lamenting the lack of a camper. We descended to Aoroka and had fish and chips as we recited our best and worst of NZ, mindful that we still have half a day tomorrow. On the way home we stopped to create a coloured sand jar memento and then drove back to Christchurch and our hotel to pack for the trip home.
13th January (Christchurch – 261kms in the Hyundai)
As they say, all good things must come to an end. If only we had more time. But typical of us we planned to squeeze something into the last hours of our trip and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before wandering through the sad streets of Christchurch to Hagley Park. On the way we were trying to imagine what must have happened on the day of the earthquake. The park is near the hospital and has a landing pad for the helicopter so I was envisaging it full of casualties. As it turns out this wasn’t the case …
Right on cue, as we arrived at the netball courts, our Segway guide scooted up to us on a machine, dragging another behind him, introduced himself, and took off back to his vehicle to collect another machine. Neither of us have segwayed before so we were excited and a little nervous. But very quickly I got the hang of it (and got told to stop trying to help The Newby get the hang of it) and soon the 3 of us were off on an earthquake tour of Christchurch. It was an amazing experience and everyone on the streets wanted to be us. Graeme told us all about the devastation of the earthquake and the recovery. As it happened the quake struck on a February afternoon in 2011, where most kids weren’t in school. Its epicentre was only 10k from ChCh and it was a very shallow quake. Hence there was a lot of damage to the city, which was already quite damaged from a quake in September 2010. Unfortunately 185 people lost their lives, many in buildings that simply collapsed, having been damaged in the earlier quake. Only slightly more people were seriously injured but there were many walking wounded. When I asked Graeme about the hospitals response (being the nurse that I am) he said that people were either killed or unharmed. There wasn’t a lot of in between.
Our tour actually had a very positive feel and left us feeling better about ChCh and glad we visited. We saw the Anglican cathedral and the temporary cardboard cathedral, the 185 white chairs, danced at the pop up disco and scooted through the restart mall. We heard the stories and a perspective on the recovery, and afterwards agreed that there is lots of hope for ChCh. Graeme was a wonderful tour guide and a past nurse who worked in the same hospital as me in Sydney, although some years apart. If you’re in ChCh do this tour and meet Graeme as he genuinely “feels better for making your acquaintance”. As for ChCh, as Graeme says, it’s the safest place to be in an earthquake as everything, every building, every structure is now rebuilt to the highest known, earthquake proof standards. Good luck ChCh in what’s left of your recovery.
With just an hour or two left in NZ we had lunch and the best salted caramel slice at Penelopes Deli and Cakery in the mall, then drove out to have a peek at the place where the liquification occurred after the quake, before dropping the little car back at Jucy and heading for the airport to go home. This has been a fantastic trip and a once in a lifetime experience. We both enjoyed (almost) every minute, and have started trying to work out how we can come back another time. I’ll admit it’s not a cheap option to tackle it the way we did (the costs are all here), nor is it a relaxing getaway but then NZ is as good a place as any to leave my hard earned dollars and they want you to have an adventure around every corner. Thanks New Zealand for having us. I feel better for making your acquaintance.