Monday 1 May Papamoa Beach
Had leisurely breakfast & the man in the caravan came for a chat for 2 hours!! He could talk for England & he did!!! He was a painter/decorator & had been living with his wife in the caravan whilst waiting for planning permission for the house they were going to build. His adult daughter had played for NZ in underwater hockey (aka Octo Push) which we had never heard of as a sport.
Keef had caught the sun as his face had gone a bit red. We went for a walk round the campsite & to the local shop where we bought icecreams. Keef cooked pasta carbonara with bacon, leftover lamb & spicy sausage. It was extremely cold in the van overnight even though we had a duvet (a thin summer duvet).
Tuesday 2 May Papamoa Beach to Lake Taupo
We left the campsite at 9.10am after cereal & toast for breakfast. Drove through Te Puke, a town surrounded by kiwi fruit farms. We had visited Kiwi 360 World 10 years ago. Saw some men going to pick the kiwi fruit which is packed & sent all over the world. Along the coast route we saw Whale island & White Island, which is a live volcano in the sea. Took some photos of the volcano belching smoke. Drove through Whakatane, a busy & prosperous town which has a 40% Maori population according to the tourist book. The town boasts a waterfall which is in the main street. Today there was no water running down the rock face. The town was busy with lots of shops, cafes, a cinema & theatre.
We turned back to see Edgecumbe, a rather tatty town which had recently been flooded by Cyclone Cook, which we’d seen on the news whilst in Auckland. A bridge had been damaged & lots of homes flooded when the Rangitaiki River burst its banks due to very heavy rain. We left the coast & took a small inland road through forestry land. Men were felling trees with chainsaws & loading up lorries with the logs. Further on there was a sign saying the road was closed but we asked at a garage & it had just re-opened that lunchtime. The river had burst its banks & washed away the road, so the local council had put down tons of gravel to rebuild it.
Stopped for lunch by a beautiful picnic spot by Lake Aniwhenua. The trees had autumn colours & we ate lunch on our chairs outside as it was so warm & sunny. There were a few other motorhomes there as well. The lake had a small concrete dam & the water was channelled through a sluice to create hydro-electric power. The power station was accessed across the top of the dam & was cleverly hidden in some trees so not visible. We decided not to walk to the power station but it was a lovely picnic spot in the middle of no where. Went on to Murupara, a small residential village with a secondary school where all the school kids had finished for the day & were walking home. Rather a rundown town we thought & no jobs for people in that vicinity.
The road passed through dense forests & then we came to a thermal area where steam was rising from water in a ditch at the side of the road. Other steam vents were also visible in the area. This was because we were south east of Rotorua. We took a side road through Broadlands ( dairy farming area) & Rotokawa. We arrived in Taupo at 4.45pm & parked in the town. Bought some boysenberry icecreams & walked down to Lake Taupo. Saw some long rowing boats & in the distance the massive volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. Some had snow on the summits & low cloud. Taupo had not changed much at all from when we’d visited twice before in the summer but it was quieter today as it’s Autumn, so no crowds.
The lake is huge – the biggest in NZ & Australia. The evening was drawing in as we were walking around & it was getting chilly. We left Taupo & drove along the east side of the lake towards Turangi. We spotted a reserve by the side of Lake Taupo where other motorhomes had parked up for the night. It was free to stay & motorhomes that were self-contained were allowed to park there for up to 4 nights. We parked our motorhome right by the lake edge & watched the sun go down beyond the volcanoes. Had soup, cheese & biscuits for dinner. The waves lapping against the shore were quite loud – we were only about 5 feet away from the edge of the lake.
Wednesday 3 May Lake Taupo to Whakapapa
Left at 10am & drove around the lake towards Turangi. We spotted where we did trout fishing by a bridge & stream 10 years ago with Craig, Phoenix & Doug. Brought back happy memories of our holiday together although we never did catch any trout! Taupo & Turangi are allegedly the best places in the world to do trout fishing. At Turangi we got fuel, shopping at New World supermarket & some lovely steak & cheese pies at the local bakery, which we had for lunch later.
After Turangi we took the road to Rangipo & then the Desert Road across bleak moorland. We stopped the van for lunch at a lay-by with a view of Mt Ruapehu (2,797m high) in sunshine. However, the clouds/ drizzle/mist set in & the weather turned nasty. Whilst we were sitting having our lunch in the van there was a cracking noise/ big thud under the van. Must have been an earth tremor as there were no other vehicles around. No cracks under our van. Suddenly the weather improved with blue sky & clouds in the distance so we decided to go to Whakapapa Village & camp there for the night. We drove through Waioru, a NZ army base & army museum in the town & turned off to Ohakune, the carrot capital of NZ with a naff giant plastic carrot plonked in the middle of the town. K took a naff photo.
The weather changed again – raining & misty. Could hardly see the volcanoes - Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings) or Mt Ruapehu. Went past the Chateau Tongariro & arrived at 5pm at the campsite in pouring rain. It cost $42 with electric hook-up to stay but good facilities & hot showers. It rained all evening non-stop. We had to switch on the electric blow heater provided by Britz as very cold.
Thursday 4 May Whakapapa Village to Hastings on east coast
Had hot showers & breakfast. Went to the dump station to get rid of our waste water & fill up with fresh water & saw Chris & Allyson there! We thought they had left Whakapapa heading to Taupo but they were there for 3 nights. They had done the 6½ hr Tama Lakes walk which luckily was in good weather so got good views of the scenery. Craig, Doug & Phoenix had done the same walk 10 years ago which took them 7 hrs return as they went for a swim in one of the lakes before returning. The campsite at Whakapapa had not changed one bit after 10 years. Nice to catch up with C & A over a coffee in the local café after we had all looked at the local visitors centre opposite. K & I bought a poster of Tongariro N.P aerial view of the 3 volcanoes for $22. Chris & Allyson said they had visited Rotorua, then west to Waitomo caves & then SE to Tongariro National Park. They were off to Taupo next & we suggested they drive the road to Mt Ruapehu where there was a ski resort & chair lift to get the view. Also we told them about the free camping by Lake Taupo & suggested they visit Hukka Falls.
We had planned our route to head towards the Pacific coast as the weather was better there. We drove back through national Park village, Ohakune & Waiouru again, & then to Taihape where we got fuel. The helpful lady at the garage filled up our gas container (cost $5.78) even though we’d only used up 1/5 of the 5 litres in the container when full. We assume that Britz had filled up the gas cylinder before our trip but had no way of knowing if this was so. Sunny weather & warm.
After Taihape we took a route across country towards Hastings on the Pacific coast & Hawke Bay. The road was called ‘Gentle Annie’ & was not marked as a tourist route. This route was fab – it went through spectacular scenery for 161 kms, some of it gentle green hobbit hills & across the Rangitikei River. We stopped for lunch at Moawhango, a small Maori farming community with a Marae. Sheep & cattle in the fields & at one point the road was blocked by a very large flock of sheep being moved to another field by a man on a quad bike & his sheepdogs.
A lot of the deciduous trees such as maples & poplars (both not native to NZ) were turning lovely red & yellow autumn colours. Traffic on this road was negligible with a few cars. As we crossed the Ruahine Range the mountains & deep valleys increased & the road was winding & a little bit steep in places. We could see the Ngarurora River hundreds of feet below us in the valley. The mountains were covered in forest & logging was in operation in some places. We thought that apart from Northlands & Tongariro National Park, this road was the most scenic in North Island & well worth the drive.
We ended the journey through Flaxmere, a semi industrial town, & then on to the Top 10 campsite in Hastings, a coastal town, where we arrived just after 5pm. The campsite was almost empty so we were told to choose our own pitch. We went to get some fish & chips locally & ate them back at the site – lovely Blue Cod fish with crisp batter & chips. Now it was getting dark before 6pm. Checked our e-mails & I downloaded some magazines on my i-pad. It rained during the night & I was woken up by another earth tremor/ sharp jolt in the early hours. Had another tremor at 6.40am – Keef slept through it all!!! This was the third earthquake I felt in North Island. They don’t call New Zealand the ‘shaky isles’ for nothing!
NB Looked up the Hastings earthquake –I felt some aftershocks following a ‘moderate’ quake which took place 17 days earlier on 17 April at 5.32pm. It was 4.6 magnitude & the epicentre was 30kms SE of Hastings & was 26kms deep. This earthquake was felt in Auckland & Christchurch.
Friday 5 May Hastings & local area
After a leisurely breakfast we headed into Hastings to go to the bank & do some shopping. Hastings is a very green town with lots of shrubs/trees/ hanging baskets & water fountains. The railway line runs through the town square & crosses the main shopping street. We chatted to a lady in the tourist info centre which was situated in part of an old department store. The store had been re-built after the massive earthquake (7.8 on the Richter scale) which decimated Napier & Hastings on 3 February 1931 at 10.47am. Both towns were levelled & 256 people were killed in Hastings. She said that the ground sank by over a metre. In the town of Napier the quake caused a huge fire which razed it to the ground.
Hastings has had other big quakes – 6.9 on 16/9/1932, 6.1 in 1951, 6.1 in 1993. 5.9 in 2008 which caused $5 million in damage as the epicentre was only 10kms south of the town centre.
The tourist info lady also told us about another disaster which hit the town in August & September 2016 when 5,200 residents fell ill from a water-borne disease called campylobacteriosis. This was the largest outbreak of this disease to have ever occurred in NZ. She also told us that Hastings was on a high tsunami alert following recent earthquakes in Japan & Indonesia. All along the NZ Pacific coastline there are tsunami signs advising where to go to quickly reach higher ground. The signs also inform people about signs to look out for if there is a quake that lasts longer than 1 minute or if you cannot stand up as this could lead to a tsunami wave hitting the shoreline. There are also tsunami sirens that sound if there is danger of one occurring due to an earthquake. www.geonet.org.nz lists earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides & tsunamis in NZ. Rather a woeful story about this town, but we found the people there very chatty, helpful & friendly. We met a retired man who had emigrated from Southampton with his parents when he was a child & had settled in Hastings.
After doing some food shopping at Countdown, we drove to Te Mata, a 399m high peak above Hastings & Havelock North, which we had visited some years ago. We remembered the road to the viewing area car park at the top was very narrow & twisty. The views from the top were spectacular & we ate our lunch up there. It was a bit windy but very sunny & we could see the top of Mt Ruapehu 2,797m high peeping over the Ruahine Range 1733m high & Hawke Bay. Hang gliders jump from the top but no one was doing it today. Well worth a second visit.
After Te Mata we visited Ocean Beach & had a walk there – few people around & a lot of empty holiday homes (bachs). Then on to Waimarama & Bare Island with a rocky bay & more holiday homes. A sign by the shore warned of rips, wash backs & large holes in the sea bed by the rocks so dangerous for swimming. We called in at a small private campsite near there to possibly stay there that night but it was more expensive than the Top 10 in Hastings & did not look good. We decided to return to the Top 10 site for another night & arrived at 4.30pm. We had some filter coffee & some tropical fruit cake which we’d bought in the supermarket today.
Saturday 6 May Hastings to Waipukurau
We re-visited some gardens again at Duart House in Havelock North. The roses were out this time & smelt lovely. Palm trees, orange & lemon trees & the Virginia Creeper on the verandah rails was a glorious red colour (see photos). We last visited the gardens about 10 years ago. The house is owned by the local council & is only used for wedding receptions & bookings for parties, meetings etc but the gardens were free for anyone to look around. A croquet club use the lawn at the side of the house. The house is surrounded by more modern houses but it’s a lovely heritage building, built in c1854 by the McLean family who were sheep farmers.
Then we drove to Arataki Honey Centre in Havelock North & watched a film about bees & enjoyed sampling 12 different types of honey on display. We saw bees in an indoor hive & could sample various products made from Manuka honey such as body lotions, hand cream etc. Manuka honey is expensive & prized for its health benefits & its anti-bacterial qualities. The bees collect the nectar from the pink flowers of the Manuka Tree (Tea Tree), native to NZ. A very educational & enjoyable visit.
Then we drove to Kairakau Beach through sheep stations, green hills & twisty roads that had earthquake cracks (some were repaired by filling in with tar. This beach was by a river outlet with small cliffs. The Pacific Ocean waves were quite strong & the beach had a lot of driftwood & tree branches thrown up on it by storms. A lot of the houses at Kairakau were holiday bachs & the community was virtually deserted. We walked along the grassy shore & noticed that one of the homes had a sign on the fence which said ‘Here lives a friendly fisherman with his best ever catch’ which we assumed was his wife!! There were various mosaic murals around including a tiled mosaic sofa, a hopscotch squares game for kids & a blue & white mirror in the disabled toilet.
We had lunch here & the weather was very sunny with a slight breeze. Some children had made some wigwam huts out of driftwood on the beach. There were some motorhomes parked at one end of the beach but we decided as it was only 4pm not to stay here for the night, even though it was free to camp. The area was level with the sea & ‘designated a high risk tsunami area’ plus the rocky cliffs were behind the motorhomes so a bit dodgy if there was a quake. We drove on to Waipukurau & stopped at a small campsite in town overnight.
This town was on Highway 2 & was inland from the ocean. We did a Skype with Doug, Phoenix & Charlie & it was lovely to chat together & catch up on news. Charlie was very chiry & bouncing around in her T-shirt & nappy… what a cutie!! She asked us where New Zealand was & we told her it was in the sea a long way from Singapore & that her Mummy & Daddy had been there a while ago. She wants us to go with her to the big water park with a splash area for children, when we stay with them in June.
Sunday 7 May Waipukurau to Eketahuna
After breakfast we went into Waipukurau & got a few food items from Countdown & some fuel. We then took a minor road through lovely scenery & sheep stations to Porangahau. There were a few houses, pub, school & a red & white painted church. Took the road out towards Pourere on the coast but the winding tarmac road turned to gravel & we decided to turn around rather than risk a possible puncture.
We then took another minor road to Wimbledon, which was a tiny community with a primary school & outdoor swimming pool. A farmer stopped in his 4WD to ask us if we were OK as we were parked up on the grass verge. Nice of him to check if we had broken down & if we required assistance – this wouldn’t happen in England.
Visited Herbertville on the coast which we’d not been to before. A very long beach with driftwood logs & tree branches & some tall cliffs named Cape Turnagain by Capt Cook when he changed direction whilst mapping the coast. We had lunch here but couldn’t access the beach because of a stream & the gravel road led to private land. Saw a huge white wooden house set back from the road which was probably built by the first settlers called Herbert in the 1850’s. The place was named Herbertville after this family. This area sees few tourists & felt like the back of beyond. There is a NZ fur seal colony here.
We carried on driving along the minor road back to Wimbledon & turned left towards Ti Tree Point, Weber, Waione and Pongaroa. These places were so small – only 1 or 2 houses & mainly sheep stations. Very twisty, hilly roads. By the time we got to Alfredton (only 1 house + shearing shed) it was beginning to get dark & it started to drizzle with rain. We rejoined Highway 2 at Eketahuna & found a campsite near the town.
This was one of the most unusual campsites we had stayed in, mainly because of the other campers. There were women dressed in medieval costumes around the camp kitchen & then they all walked off to the woods to start a bonfire & do some drumming & feasting. They invited us to participate but we politely declined. We thought they may have been Pagans & they had been staying at the campsite for the weekend. Luckily the drumming stopped at 9.40pm & the campsite became very quiet thank goodness!
Keef did a lovely dinner of salmon fishcakes, spiced kumara & corn on the cob. For dessert we had Tip Top boysenberry icecream & nashi pear. Tip Top have been making icecream in NZ for 80 years & the boysenberry one is the best flavour we think. There was a bit of a mission to getting this icecream into our motorhome ice box. Keef had bought a 2 litre tub of this icecream from the supermarket this morning but was disappointed to find that it didn’t fit into the tiny icebox part of the motorhome fridge. Not to be stumped about this problem he then cut up the icecream into 6 equal portions & using a fish slice put them into 6 plastic food bags. Genius…. they fitted in the icebox.. hooray! We had the sliding door of the motorhome open & a couple walked past the van & were no doubt puzzled why he was shovelling icecream into plastic bags. We just love that boysenberry icecream.
10.20pm – those Pagans are banging their drums again! We should ask for a discount from the camp fee because of the racket.
Monday 8 May Eketahuna to Martinborough
Without saying a word about the noise in the woods we meekly paid the campsite fee of $16 including electric hook up, although the facilities weren’t anything to write home about. We thought the female campsite owner looked a bit pagan-like too unless she just liked to look scruffy. Keef overheard some of the pagan women asking the owner where they could get wi-fi!!
At 9.45am we went back into town in search of a bakery & noticed that there was a big sign which said ‘Real Kiwi Country’ & to prove it there were statues of 2 very large kiwis (the birds) artfully displayed. Reminded us of Aussie town naffness. The town was so small that it took a minute to drive through but perhaps that was a blessing! Most of the shops were closed so Keef got some pies in the Four Square supermarket. Saw a building built by A.F.Herbert & Sons Ltd 1898 – probably the sons of the graziers from Herbertville.
We drove from Eketahuna on Highway 2 to Masterton which we’d visited before. Quite a big town with many shops. I had read that a settler called Joseph Masters had been in the area & the town was named after him – all these settlers had ideas above their (sheep) station. I wanted to find out where he came from originally as Masters were my ancestors. So we went to the i-site (tourist info) & the lady there said there was some info online (she googled him) but it didn’t say his origins.
She referred us to the Art Gallery & Museum called Aratoi which joined on to the i-site building. This was a brilliant museum which had lots of cultural & historical exhibits about the Ngati Maori people from the Wairarapa region. This geographical region includes Masterton, Carterton, Featherston & Martinborough areas to the Pacific Ocean.
There was a room with oil paintings of Maori people painted by a British portrait artist who got them to sit for him. The detail of their clothes, jewellery (greenstone), cloaks & tattoos was amazing. They were painted in the mid- 1850s – 1870s & the Maoris were all from the Wairarapa. There were several women who were senior members & one was a chief of the iwi (tribe).
We also saw carved wooden hair combs, a wooden canoe, fish hooks & other day to day objects plus a cloak made from kiwi feathers sewn onto a woven fabric backing. Apparently it was only the chief who wore the kiwi feather cloak. The museum showed historical information about how the English duped the Maoris into selling their lands for 1d (i.e one old English penny) an acre. Millions of acres of land were acquired for this paultry sum. Shocking. The Maori people were told that they would get medical assistance, schools & protection in return, but in fact they got very little.
These descendents are now seeking redress through the NZ government. The museum had documents which showed what happened & some of the British settlers crowed about their gains. Quite shameful how the British (mainly English & Scots) basically took all this land from the Maoris on behalf of Queen Victoria. The first Maori Parliament opened in 1897 in Greytown in the Wairarapa region but this was for them to conduct their own governance.
After the museum we drove the motorhome to the local park (established in Victorian times) where we were told there was a statue & information board about Joseph Masters (there had been no mention of him in the museum). It turned out he was not from Dorset (as my ancestors were) but from Derby, where he was born. He lived in Rugby, trained as a cooper & emigrated to Tasmania with his wife. After a few years they moved to New Zealand where he set about being a land agent in the Wairarapa area. He set up a school as well.
Set off for Castlepoint on the coast. Saw lots of sheep stations, some of which were for sale. At a shearing shed we saw sheep being dipped & sprayed yellow by their tails. Scenic twisty road with lots of filled in cracks from earthquakes & some landslides in a few places. Sometimes the edge of the tarmac road had given way & dropped down the hill so had to be cordoned off. The hills were very green with lots of streams & a main river. The road bridges are single track only so vehicles have to give way & wait for others to cross depending on the road sign.
Sunny & warm today & again the autumn colours on the trees were lovely. We stopped at the historical village of Tinui which had a tiny policestation & an old gaol that was no bigger than a shed. It also had a school, post office & telegraph station. There was a pretty white wooden church which had held the first Anzac Day memorial service in NZ for local men who died at Gallipoli in WW1. The village lost 7 men in that battle.
Castlepoint was a small town with holiday homes, a lighthouse on the point, campground & fish & chip shop. It was originally named by Captain Cook who saw a massive rock on the shore & thought it reminded him of castle ramparts so he called it Castle Rock. The lighthouse was only accessible at low tide. We had lunch by the main swimming beach & then had a walk. The beach was covered in white cockle shells. The waves were gentle here, unlike Herbertville where they crashed on the beach sending seaspray up into the air.
The sand was very fine on the bay near the lighthouse (on the dunes). There was a strange ring of rock which almost blocked this bay. The information board described the story of two missionaries (one was Rev William Williams from Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, who knew my settler ancestor John Edmonds – they both fell out big style) & they were trying to sail across the Cook Strait to South Island. Bad weather caused them to shelter in this bay which they called ‘Deliverance Bay’. Williams had a missionary brother called Henry, who I’ve already mentioned translated the Waitangi Treaty into Maori. Both men had been sent to NZ under the auspices of the London Missionary Society(LMS) to preach Christianity to the Maoris. My ancestor & his family had left Swanage, Dorset to do the same under the LMS but was a stonemason working for the mission in Kerikeri. Both Williams brothers had set up mission stations (such as Kerikeri) & schools & they learnt to speak the Maori language fluently. There had been some resistance from the Maoris in North Island when the earliest settlers arrived & blood was spilt on both sides, but in the Wairarapa there had been no bloodshed.
We drove from Castlepoint to Riversdale Beach, another sandy beach with white shells & loads of driftwood. This community was mainly holiday homes but it did have a Surf Lifesaving Club by the beach. We then went on to Martinborough along country roads & arrived in the dark. Found the Top 10 campsite which was brand new but quite compact. The kitchen & facilities were excellent. The dump station for the toilet cassette was outside the site on the roadside. Opposite the campsite was a vineyard & the road turned to gravel just past the Top 10 entrance. The lady in reception told us that the previous night’s temperature was only 2c. The wine growers are currently doing the winter pruning of the vines.
Tuesday 9 May Martinborough to Wellington
After breakfast we dumped our waste water in the place provided outside the campsite & headed into town. We had a wander round looking at all the up-market shops together with up-market prices. You could tell that they were expensive because they called them selves ‘providore’, ‘boutique’ & ‘gourmet’ plus assorted French sounding names. We saw a gourmet butcher whose signs outside the shop said ‘vionson meatballs’, ‘beff sausages’ & ‘chicken kababs’ – the shop was called Scotties Gourmet Meats. The butcher may have been dyslexic. Outside a bank we saw a pair of wellies parked by the doorway.
A bright sunny day & warm. The old general store was damaged in an earthquake in 1942 & it was rebuilt but without the big glass shopfront. Now it’s a Mitre 10 (D.I.Y), a Four Square mini supermarket & a clothing shop. We bought some toilet blue liquid from the Mitre 10, cost $26. We chatted to an Irish employee there who was very friendly – he had met & married a NZ girl in London. The centre square & diagonal roads leading off it were designed to form a Union Jack. A man was just taking down some small white crosses in the grassy centre from Anzac Day – a lot of men from this town died in the wars & every cross had a name on it.
We then went on to Lake Ferry, a tiny community of mainly holiday homes plus a café at the edge of an inland lake with a narrow spit of land separating it from the ocean. The bay was very wide (Palliser Bay) & we then took a tarmac road to Ngawi, a Maori community near Cape Palliser. To get to this place we passed sheer rock walls & high pinnacles on one side with the sea on the other. The ocean looked a beautiful blue/turquoise & the beaches were black volcanic sand. The fishermen kept their boats, tractors & earth movers hauled up at the top of the beach next to the road to be safe from storms as there was no harbour. The men were fishing for the beautiful paua shells (abalone) which were sold to the jewellery/ craft industry. We saw lots of broken paua shells on the beach, but although we searched we didn’t find any whole ones. Traditionally Maoris use this irridescent shell as eyes in their wood carvings.
We wanted to carry on along the gravel road round Palliser Bay to Cape Palliser itself (which is the furthest point south in North Island) but had to turn back. The ruts in the gravel were so bad (caused by tractors) that the motorhome was shaking violently even though we were crawling along slowly. Even our teeth were rattling. Disappointing as we couldn’t make it to the Cape as I wanted to see the seal colony there. On the way back we took a photo of a small wooden house with a little verandah/ balcony decorated with hanging paua shells strung along the front.
Returning to Lake Ferry we took the road to Featherstone, across the Ruamahanga River where there were signs warning of possible river flooding. Luckily it was dry weather, as sometimes they close the road. We then crossed the Tararua Range by climbing up a steep & twisty road with hairpin bends & sheer drops to the forest valley below. We would not want to do this route in heavy rain or at night! Rather a scary drive (which we had done on a previous visit to NZ & I had forgotten about it).
We headed towards Wellington & followed the wide Hutt River, arriving at the Top 10 campsite at Lower Hutt at 3.50pm. We were meeting up with Chris & Allyson & the lady on reception said that they had checked in an hour earlier. They had come from a different direction – Highway 1 on the west coast. They sent us a Facebook message to to say they had gone into Wellington on the bus to have a look around.
I did some laundry although grey clouds were building up, & I risked hanging it up on the rotary washing line overnight. We sent C & A a message saying we had arrived – we had pitches next to one another. We found that the campsite had totally changed for the better from 10 years ago- the reception included a motel complex & the kitchen, BBQs & shower/toilet blocks had all been completely re-done. This site cost us $45 per night per pitch & we planned on staying 2 nights, ready to catch the Interislander ferry to South Island on Thursday.
When Chris & Allyson returned we cooked them spaghetti Bolognese & then had boysenberry icecream. We had lots to share about our respective travels since we’d last seen each other on the 4 May. C & A were tired as they’d done a lot of walking round Wellington.
Wednesday 10 May Wellington
I collected the washing which was dry, so luckily didn’t rain overnight.Chris & Allyson did a lovely bacon & egg cob on the BBQ for breakfast. They wanted to go back into the city & as K & I had spent a week there 10 years ago we decided to do something else & we agreed we’d all meet up later in the day in town. They got the bus in to the city & we drove along the harbour front to Eastbourne, a residential community with houses literally 6 feet from the waters edge or perched high up the steep wooded hillsides. Not ideal as Wellington has regular earth trenors & was affected by the massive 7.8 quake last November (2016) in Kaikoura. Two car parks were damaged & there were cracks in office buildings & homes. Kaikoura is a lot further south of Wellington (159 mls) & on the east coast so surprising that Wellington felt the earthquake.
Keef & I went for a walk along the harbour beach & I picked up some lovely shells. There was a monument to the terrible ferry disaster that occurred on 10/4/1968 during a violent cyclone (Giselle) which hit Wellington. The vehicle ferry, ‘Wahine,’ ran aground on a reef just inside Wellington harbour & 51 passengers & crew drowned when the ferry sank that day.
We drove back along the harbour front, past the ferry terminal, to Lyall Bay. This bay & beach was situated next to the Air New Zealand runway at Wellington airport which was built out towards the sea. We watched planes arriving & taking off over the sea – it wasn’t a long runway but the planes did not look that huge. The passenger terminal sign said ‘Welcome to the middle of Middle Earth’. Watched people surfing in the bay & then we went to have a coffee & snack lunch at a modern café called ‘Loose as a Goose’ – strange name. It had plate glass windows to get the best views of the bay, surfers & runway strip.
We drove the motorhome back to the campsite, changed into jeans & shoes (only the 2nd time on this holiday that Keef has not worn flip-flops). Caught the 2.50pm bus into the city. It took ages going round Lower Hutt & Petone shopping areas – 50 mins when it was so quick by motorhome. We walked from the middle of the city down to Te Papa museum/art gallery but then we got a phone message from Allyson saying they had left Te Papa 45 minutes ago to walk towards the famous cable tramway up to the scenic lookout over Wellington.
We thought that while we were at the entrance to Te Papa we’d have another look at the Maori Marae & exhibits, the stuffed kiwi birds, the earthquake house & volcano footage of eruptions in NZ. Also had a look again at the Waitangi Treaty original documents (translated by Rev Henry Williams (plus there was a photo of him). Keef & I did not spend long in Te Papa as we had visited it before for 2 days as there was so much to see. Unfortunately the oil paintings of Maori people were no longer on public view as the art gallery part of the museum was being refurbished. The staff told us that the paintings were available to view on the Te Papa website. This museum is one of the best ones we’ve ever seen.
We walked to Shed 22 Mac’s Brewery on the harbour front. Keef had a beer & I had a lime daiquiri cocktail. Chris & Allyson joined us there for a few drinks before walking to Courtney Place to find an Indian restaurant called ‘Saffron’. Couldn’t find it so instead we went to one across the road called ‘Great India’. We had a great Indian curry meal & all ate too much, although Chris & Allyson had not had any lunch so were very hungry.
The original owners of the restaurant had emigrated from Leicester & their two sons now run the business as the parents had retired. As we came from Nottingham we got special service! Good food & then we all staggered across the road to get the 9.30pm bus back to our campsite. A cloudy & mild night but no stars. Aiming to get up early to catch the 9am ferry to South Island tomorrow so set our alarms.
Thursday 11 May Wellington via ferry to Nelson, South Island
Got up in the dark when our alarm went off at 5.30am. Had showers. Raining. For breakfast had fruit juice & ½ banana each. At 6.45am we all set off for the ferry port as the last boarding time closed at 8am. The traffic along the harbour road was bumper to bumper & Y & I were worried that Chris & Allyson were not following us as we couldn’t see them in the rear view mirror as a lorry was directly behind us. Rush hour traffic into Wellington obviously starts before 6.45am. Good job we set off early for the ferry port. Saw a lorry accident where it had gone into the back of a car. Journey was a bit tense but we actually got to the ferry in plenty of time & sat in the queue waiting to board.
We didn’t board until 8.30 (could have spent longer asleep) & the ferry left dead on time at 9am. Noticed several lorries carrying sheep & cows boarding the ferry. At the end of the 3½ hour voyage the car decks smelt awful! Had breakfast on the ferry & as it was still raining & windy outside we stayed in the lounge area. The sea was slightly choppy but not enough to cause people to be seasick. We were told that the winds were northerly today so it would be a good crossing across the Cook Strait. However, if the wind had been southerly then this would be a bad crossing.
We relaxed & chatted for most of the journey & then chatted with a Kiwi couple from Wellington who were going to South Island for a long weekend. The 3½ hours went very quickly & the scenery coming into Queen Charlotte Sound was great. The captain had to reverse into the dock at Picton. Not a big town & the high hills were covered in dense rainforest as it was still sub-tropical vegetation – tree ferns, palm trees & creepers.
We drove along the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive along all the inlets towards Havelock but it was a shame that the rain & low clouds spoilt the magnificent views along the winding road. We stopped in Havelock to have lunch at ‘The Mussel Pot’ restaurant in the main street. Apart from being the world capital of green lipped mussel farming in the bays, the town was very small. The restaurant also did other items on the menu apart from mussels. Keef & Chris both had a giant saucepan of mussels cooked in wine, garlic & herbs with chips which they really enjoyed. I had a toasted chicken, salad & mango salsa sandwich & Allyson had fish, chips & side salad. Lunch was very enjoyable & the lady serving us was very friendly & knew all about mussels & farming them.
We carried on our journey through hilly forests, autumn coloured trees & pouring rain. The road was rather scary as we climbed up a mountain range with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet on the side of the road. Finally got to Nelson & the Top 10 campsite. Felt it had been quite a drive & the rain had been so heavy in places that the windscreen wipers could hardly cope. Had a well-earned cup of tea & rest. I caught up with writing this diary as I was 3 days behind & Keef saved his photos from the camera memory stick on to his laptop.
Friday 12 May Nelson to Kaiteriteri
We visited the WOW museum in Nelson (World of Wearable Art, classic cars & a few motorbikes). K & I had been before but it was so good that we were looking forward to going again with Chris & Allyson. It was even better this time with the displays of imaginative clothing/ costumes/hats/headgear & shoes – thought it was simply stunning. Impressed with the creativity & effort put into the costumes which were entered into various categories of a competition open to anyone across the world. The WOW idea had originated in Nelson with a woman starting a competition of ‘wearable art’ in 1987 & the museum opened in 2001.
We saw the entries for 2016 –winners & runners-up in each category plus a few other entries. A guy from Derbyshire won 2nd place under the Film & Costume section with an amazing outfit for both a man & woman. Some of the selected entries & winners were really unusual – e.g a costume featuring paint brush bristles dipped in many paint colours & another had black plastic cable ties secured on black plastic tubing to create a 3D dress. All the exhibits were brilliant & there was also a film showing in a mini theatre of the 2016 awards show held in Wellington. It wasn’t just a fashion parade but had dancers, music & an animatronic tiger which sang Major Tom by David Bowie & a Frank Sinatra song.
We then walked through to a large exhibition area which displayed vintage & classic cars from around the world. The cars were fab, especially the 1950s USA ones & the lovely vintage cars – all in immaculate condition. There was an additional large exhibition area which had more modern 20thc cars which the museum had acquired. Some were purchased in good condition & others needed renovation. We watched some people renovating an old Mini & another car. We were in the museum well over 2 hours & all of us enjoyed it as it was so different from the usual museum The NZ people certainly like quirky, humorous & imaginative things. Even their letter boxes & homes are quirky i.e the house by Wellington harbour which looked like two brown glass beer bottles.
After the museum we drove to Countdown to do some food shopping. Had lunch in the motorhome next to Nelson’s local beach & then went for a short walk on the beach which was a long sandy crescent overlooking Tasman Bay. Nelson has a small airport & the planes were taking off & flying over the beach & out to sea.
We all drove to Kaiteriteri which is at the south end of the Abel Tasman National Park. The area has a lot of apple & other fruit orchards. We booked in for 2 nights at the campsite right next by the sandy beach & it had changed a lot since we were last there (we camped in our tent). Keef & I had a stroll along the beach & read the information boards about the New Zealand Company wanting to set up a colony in Kaiteriteri after Wellington & Nelson. It also described the first meeting between the Maoris & English settlers. Again land was bought from the Maoris for next to nothing - token goods such as 1 gun, 1 axe, tobacco & a pipe were given as gifts to the local chief.
After dinner Keef tried to book a boat excursion to the Abel Tasman National Park on the laptop but the wi-fi cut out twice so we decided to buy our tickets the next morning as soon as the kiosk opened. Quite a cold night – we all went off to the bar next to the campsite. They had a log burning stove which was cosy. Had some drinks but the bar closed at 10pm.
Saturday 13 May Kaiteriteri & Abel Tasman National Park
Got up at 7am. After breakfast Keef went & got our boat trip tickets from the operators Wilsons, who do a day trip along the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park. K & I had done the same trip before but thought it well worth seeing again. The Wilson family have been running this trip since 1841 & our trip cost $72 or £36 each for the whole day. Chris & Allyson wanted to do a boat trip + hike so they wanted to get their tickets separately when they could find out the options available that day – this was because some of the coastal walks were not passable due to tidal timetables. Allyson took ages getting their tickets & they were last on the boat- luckily the captain delayed 10 minutes.
The trip was sunny but windy up on the top deck of the cruiser & the sea was calm. Because of the speed of the boat it felt cold – good job we wore our waterproof jackets. Lovely scenery along the coast & the boat crew let people off on some stops on route so they could do walking or kayaking. Saw Split Apple Rock in a small bay – a large granite boulder, 135 million years old, which had split in half down a natural fault line. The coastline had lots of islands, coves & sandy beaches. We saw some NZ fur seals on some rocks on an island. At Totaranui the boat turned round & headed back. All the coastline was granite rock with trees & hills in the distance.
Chris & Allyson, plus some other people, were dropped off at a halfway point called Tonga Quarry & they walked 4.1 kms towards the boat pick up point at Medlands Beach. We saw a small cave by the shore & then Keef & I landed at Medlands Beach. Took lots of photos & then we walked 1.2 kms to Bark Bay, the next beach. The path above the rocky shore had partly collapsed at one point so we edged carefully close to the steep wooded bank.
There was a Department of Conservation campsite with camp kitchen, a picnic area & flushing toilets at Bark Bay, which had a lovely sandy beach. Keef & I had lunch here on a picnic bench with a view of the bay & noticed that the tide was rapidly going out. This coastline has one of the highest tidal fluctuations in the world (according to the Wilson’s tourist leaflet). At high tide some of the beaches cannot be crossed. Some walkers who had tents & rucsacs passed us heading north & they were obviously doing the 4-6 day Abel Tasman trek. One girl with a rucsac was walking on her own.
We walked along the sea inlet & saw a kingfisher catch a small fish. It was very peaceful & relaxing here & the air was so pure that mosses hung from the trees. Three hours after the boat dropped us off we re-boarded it back at Medlands Beach. Chris & Allyson had enjoyed their walk & we returned to Kaiteriteri. The whole trip lasted 6½ hours including the lunch break. On the return journey Keef & I sat downstairs under cover to keep out of the chilly wind. We noticed that most people sitting downstairs were engrossed with their phones rather than looking at the scenery & even when the boat went close up to the seals basking on the rocks.
Saw a pale pink sunset over the bay from the campsite. After dinner we all thought we would return to the bar for a drink but there was a wedding reception & the outside area had a TV with rugby on & a packed out audience. We walked to another bar next door which was part of a nice looking restaurant. Unfortunately the lady behind the bar told us that they couldn’t serve alcohol without food due to their licence & the kitchen had just closed. So we went back to our motorhomes & had an early night as we were going to drive to Murchison the next day via St Arnaud (a ski resort). A cold night again but we kept the electric fan heater on low all night.
Sunday 14 May Kaiteriteri to Murchison
A sunny day today. We left at 9.30 after doing water refilling, & dumping waste. We drove along minor roads heading south through Woodstock (had one farm only), apple orchards & hop growing areas. Beautiful autumn colours on the trees & very low cloud in the valley – took some photos. I thought that it seemed that the clouds had fallen out of the blue sky! We drove parallel to the Arthur Range mountains & stopped to take photos. We took the small road through Golden Downs to St Arnaud. Lots of alpine houses & motels in this village. Keef & I remembered we stayed in a log cabin here when we were travelling around South Island with our tent.
We stopped for a lunch break at Lake Rotoiti just outside the village & saw a mass of very large black eels from the jetty. People were feeding them bread. Also saw two swans & lots of ducks. The lake was very clear so you could see the bottom & the mountains surrounding it reminded me of a lake in Canada. Last time we were troubled by sandflies biting our legs but the local council had covered up the sandy shoreline with large gravel so much better now. We had a sandwich & cup of tea in the motorhome.
Went to Lake Rotoroa & we all did a nature walk & had to cross two streams. The tree trunks had black moss & one had tiny white mushrooms (took photos) & the branches were dripping with green moss hanging down. After that we drove along the mighty Buller River to Murchison, where we stayed at the Kiwi Park campsite on the edge of town. Saw a helicopter landing & taking off nearby – probably doing scenic tours of the river gorge. Very cold at night. We played cards after dinner.
Monday 15 May Murchison to Kaikoura
After breakfast I fed the small rock wallaby through the paddock fence. Very cute wallaby – gave it some lettuce & cabbage. Keef took a photo. We picked up more fuel in Murchison & then followed the Buller River along to a swing bridge which crossed the deep river gorge. Cost $10 each & once we had crossed the bridge we did a circular walk through trees & shrubs. There was a waterfall & we went past old gold mining machinery. Saw a marker high on a tree which showed the level where the floodwaters rose to above the rocky sides of the gorge. Also saw a marker where the earth had been pushed up 15 ft by the earthquake in Murchison in 1929. The quake was 7.4 on the Richter scale & 17 people died.
We took the road past the Victoria Range on the right to Springs Junction. We stopped at a petrol station & bought some steak & cheese pies before continuing our journey to Waiau & then on towards Kaikoura on the scenic Alpine Pacific Highway. The road still had a lot of damage from the Kaikoura earthquake last year but the damage but was slowly being repaired. A lot of bridges had been affected too & we saw landslides & even hillsides had completely collapsed.
We booked into the Top 10 campsite which looked brand new – probably refurbished as the buildings were all wooden. We all walked into town to get some fish & chips. Found out that our plan to travel south from Kaikoura on Highway 1 was thwarted as this road was closed for 12 days. Unfortunately this meant that we had to return on the same road the next day. We had picked up a notification leaflet on the Interislander ferry which said that Highway 1 was now open, so contradictory advice for travellers.
Walking through town we noticed some earthquake damage to some shops, some of which were propped up with scaffolding & the old hotel was roped off. The night was quite cold & I was glad of my gloves that I’d bought on North Island.
Tuesday 16 May Kaikoura to Christchurch
Went along the beach road out to the seal colony. There were lots of big waves pounding the rocks & we noticed the smell of sewage which was coming from rock pools near the car park. The sewage pipes from the nearby public toilets must have been cracked from the earthquake. Because of the sewage leakage from the sea the Council had imposed a total ban on any fishing from the date of the earthquake until further notice. The fish (with chips) we ate last night must have been transported to the town from elsewhere. It showed how a major earthquake not only affects buildings above ground but gas, water & sewage pipes under ground too. The views of the bay were lovely as it was sunny & we saw some seals on the rocks & a few basking in the sun on the boardwalk next to the other end of the car park.
We left Kaikoura on the same road we arrived on (it was 88kms long) but were held up by a very large herd of Friesian cows which were being moved alongside the road on the grass verge for several miles to another field. The cows sometimes crossed the road in front of us & some even stood in the middle of the road!
Eventually we got to Wairu & turned towards Parnassus. Highway 1 from this point southwards was practically deserted. We were on a temporary bridge & next to it was the original bridge which was very badly damaged by the quake. It had a huge crack, the side had fallen away & the crash barrier was broken & buckled.
We soon came to a wine growing area. The traffic increased as we reached the outer regions of Christchurch. We were trying to hurry to get to the Britz office to get some repairs done on our motorhomes & exchange our bedlinen & towels. Chris & Allyson’s van needed a new headlight bulb & brake shoe plus a tyre jack as the other one had broken. Our van needed the sat nav replacing as the one screw remaining meant it kept wobbling around on its bracket & twisting upside down. Also we asked for a replacement light bulb for inside our van plus a manual for the Mercedes Sprinter.
Britz staff took both our motorhomes away into their workshop for the repairs whilst we sat & had coffee & hot chocolate (free). We were told we couldn’t have the instruction manual as there wasn’t one (for previous hires with Britz we always had a manual in the glove box). Keef & I also decided to ditch our two folding chairs & outside table & pedal bin as we found they took up too much space & we weren’t eating & sitting around outside anymore.
Once we had sorted out our vans we drove to the Top 10 campsite in Papanui, Christchurch. It was quite a busy site & had an indoor swimming pool (which we didn’t use). A coach load of noisy school kids arrived the same time as us to check in at reception. They were screaming & shouting until it suddenly went quiet – someone must have told them to shut up.
Wednesday 17 May Christchurch
Keef did a full English cooked breakfast in our van & then we all got the bus near the campsite into Christchurch. The bus station looked brand new & very modern. I asked a man for directions to Cathedral Square & when we got there Keef & I were shocked at how the 2011 earthquake had changed the city compared to our visit nearly 10 years ago. The cathedral was a ruin & fenced off as unsafe to walk near. Tall weeds were growing in the paving & all the lovely bedding plants & flowers were no more – looked very sad. Lots of buildings were still being knocked down as they were beyond repair after the 6.9 quake.
There had been a previous quake in 2010 in the area which was 7.8 but it was the 2011 that had caused so much devastation to the city & suburbs & 185 people died. The large loss of life occurred because the quake hit at lunchtime on a weekday. One building collapsed to dust & two buses were completely crushed by falling masonry. The epicentre was in Lyttelton harbour near the SE suburbs & there were thousands of aftershocks up to a year later. This was the port for Christchurch & after 2011 no more cruise ships visited. There was another minor quake in 2016. We remember the road to the harbour being very steep downhill & a lot of homes were severely damaged there & had to be demolished.
There were a lot of vacant spaces in the city centre where buildings had collapsed. However, there was a lot of re-building going on with a new library, bank & conference centre started & work ongoing. There were signs of Christchurch’s re-emergence from the disaster but after 6 years things seemed very slow.
We walked to see the Avon River where before the quakes tourists could get a punt ride but now this area looked so neglected – the grassy banks used to have manicured lawns with flower beds but not any more. Christchurch was proud of its floral displays in the past but other things are more important now.
We all took a vintage tram ride round the city & the commentary from the tram driver was very good. The trams only started running again a couple of years ago. The city centre by the cathedral looked deserted apart from a couple of other tourists, when K & I saw it before the quake it was so vibrant & bustling.
We went round the whole tram route once (it took about 40 minutes because it was going slow) & then we got off at the shopping area where shipping containers had been pressed into service as temporary shops. After the 2011 quake the council brought in the containers to act as temporary shops & cafes. They were painted bright colours & had glass sides & looked very good. There was lots of art work painted on city walls & sculptures too. The mnost evocative ‘sculpture’ was ‘185 white chairs’ to represent every adult & child who had died – awful to see a white baby car seat, a toddler’s high chair plus old style white wingback armchairs for elderly people. Some tourists from around the world had died too – the cathedral partly collapsing probably caused a lot of deaths & injuries.
Chris & Allyson went off round the shops & we arranged to meet them later in the Quake City museum which covered the 2011 earthquake. Keef & I found that apart from the factual details about the event & its aftermath, the most poignant part was the section on people’s first hand accounts & of the search & rescue afterwards. The specialist rescue teams came from Australia, the UK, Japan & Singapore. Although New Zealanders were used to tremors & quakes they were shocked at the devastation caused & loss of life. Chris & Allyson arrived at the museum some time after us & they had to hurry through as the museum was about to close.
We all walked to the new church built entirely out of cardboard & then went for a meal at a Mexican restaurant. Apart from the rain the previous evening & this morning it was dry all day in Christchurch although it was overcast. We had some light rain from 5pm . We got the bus from the bus station back to the campsite. We did a lovely Skype with Craig & family (it was Bill’s 70th birthday today) & Phoenix & Charlie joined in too.
Thursday 18 May Christchurch, via Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika
We departed Christchurch & got more fuel. Headed west towards Arthur’s Pass but at the airport roundabout Chris & Allyson who were following us missed us turning off. We thought they must have seen where we turned & we carried on but further round the airfield we realised they weren’t behind us. There was no response from them when we called them on the walkie talkie. Got worried after waiting a few minutes, then we turned back & returned to the roundabout but couldn’t see them anywhere. Eventually managed to contact them & they had got lost but were OK. We met up with them again when they turned up at a bakery a few kms further along the road which was famous for pies!
We drove from the east side of NZ to the west coast across Arthur’s Pass, the highest pass over the Southern Alps. In the past Keef & I had done the road journey before in rain & mist & had also taken the return train trip from Christchurch to Greymouth as well. Arthur Dobson had surveyed the Pass in 1864 & the road was built the following year which was quite a feat. The road linked Christchurch with the goldfields on the west coast & it took 1,000 men to build it. As we drove through the National Park we stopped & took lots of photos as the scenery was spectacular & the weather was sunny with blue sky. The mountains were about 2,000 m high & some had snow on the top. At Arthur’s pass village/railway station we met up with Chris & Allyson again & did a short walk to a waterfall just outside the village called Devil’s punchbowl.
Prior to that Keef & I had gone into the tourist info centre & saw a display about the Cobb & Co stagecoaches that did the same journey from coast to coast in 3 days. The coach with 5 horses held 9 people inside & 8 rode up top. In the old days the journey on rough stone tracks must have been arduous & hair-raising, especially going through gorges & steep inclines. Nowadays the road trip takes 3hours 50 mins from Christchurch to Hokitika, although it took Keef & I longer because we kept stopping to admire the scenery & take lots of photos.
After Arthur’s Pass (2,275m above sea level) we went through Otira Gorge where a modern bridge/ viaduct snaked through on huge concrete support legs. We were lucky that the journey on this occasion was such good weather. At the end of the highway we turned left to Hokitika & Chris & Allyson had decided when we were at Otira Gorge to visit Greymouth. We arranged to meet up with them at the campsite.
Hokitika was a small town with lots of crafts people doing glass blowing, art & carving greenstone. K & I drove to the beach as the wind was extremely strong & we watched the waves of the Tasman Sea crash onto the shore. We drove to the campsite just out of town called Hokitika Holiday Park & met up with C & A at the check-in desk.
After a cup of tea, Allyson, Keef & I went off to see the glow worm dell when it got dark. It was outside the town & we parked & walked up the path & saw lots of glowing tiny white lights in the darkness amongst the vegetation. The glow worms are the larvae of the gnat fly & produce a tiny white pinprick of light. Massed together it looked magical. I nearly bumped into 2 other people who were watching them by the fence as it was pitch black. Luckily we took a torch & Allyson had the flashlight on her phone to find our way.
The campsite had a well-equipped kitchen & lounge area with sofas & a gas fire. As it was very windy & rainy we cooked & ate our dinner there as it was so cosy. After dinner we discussed the route for the remainder of our holiday. Very windy night & heavy rain.
Friday 19 May Hokitika to Franz Josef Glacier
After breakfast we went back to see the town again & the rough seas & gales had died down. Drove along the highway to Ross, a heritage gold mining town which had some old wooden Victorian buildings. We wanted to go into the museum & look around & Chris & Allyson decided to go straight to the glacier to do a long walk.
Keef & I saw a replica of a huge gold nugget that had been found in the hillside by the town – it weighed over 2 kg. The museum was small but interesting & there were lots of old photographs of the miners & information about the goldrush which brought prospectors from all over the world, including Australia, UK & China. We watched a video about the town & gold mining. A coach load of tourists from China came through the museum to have a try at gold panning in the sluice at the back. The museum lady told us that as gold retrieval techniques improved & better & more mechanised equipment was used, open cast mining methods were used. There was a massive hole in the ground (it looked like a quarry) behind the museum & a residential street where gold was extracted.
Keef & I walked along the heritage trail & saw the open cast mine had been filled in with water. There was still gold mining going on outside the town (another huge hole being slowly excavated). The local newspaper article in the museum stated that the mining experts estimated that Ross was sitting on $700 million worth of gold!!! It could end up like Kalgoorlie in W Australia with a huge super pit next to the little town.
We stopped again on the highway at Harihari to read some history boards about a 21 year old Aussie called Guy Menzies who decided to fly solo across the Tasman Sea from Sydney to New Zealand without telling anyone, not even his parents. He had told everyone he was going from Sydney to Perth! He wanted to be the first person to attempt the flight in 1931 & nearly had a disaster with storms, running out of fuel & poor visibility. He was aiming for Blenheim on the east coast of South Island but instead survived a crash into a swamp at Harihari on the west coast. The plane was recovered & was displayed under cover in a small building – it looked not much bigger than our motorhome! He joined the NZ airforce & his plane was shot down in Sicily during WWII.
We stopped to have lunch by a river where the glacial water was an unbelievable turquoise colour! It was raining but occasionally the sun came out. Saw three separate rainbows today. Caught a brief glimpse of Mt Cook’s peak, covered in snow, but then it was covered by cloud.
Drove on to the Franz Josef Glacier which was not far from the coast. Nice route through ferns, tree ferns & some palm trees. We parked our van & followed the path to the lookout but we were astounded to see that after 10 years the glacier had retreated so far back up the valley that it was small & high up on a cliff. Big disappointment. When we had last seen it there was a huge mass of ice that covered both sides of the valley floor & there was a wooden viewing platform at the base. Now the path had extended to along the valley floor so it took 1½ hours to get to the base of the cliff & return. Good job we saw it when we did years ago because global warming has obviously had a big effect on the glacier melt & retreat, with less snow to keep the glacier moving forward. We decided to look at our own old photos of the glacier when we got to the next campsite.
The rain was constant & we decided to go to the Top 10 campsite just outside the village. Chris & Allyson arrived at the site reception the same time as us. Still raining, although not that cold. Still autumn colour on the trees. Winter doesn’t officially start until 1 June!
Saturday 20 May Franz Josef Glacier to Haast
Quite cold during the night – weather forecast said it was 0c in the village overnight. After breakfast we went into the village to buy a few supplies such as milk & cereal whilst C & A went off to the Fox Glacier for a walk. We also picked up more diesel. Very sunny this morning with blue sky. We drove to Fox Glacier & saw several waterfalls down a sheer rock face by the river. There was a small lake by the car park which was an azure blue & so clear you could see stones on the bottom. We saw from the photo on the information board that the Fox Glacier had receded enormously from 2008 to 2014.We visited it in 2008 & the glacier reached down to the valley floor but now it was high up & miles away. Keef’s knees were very painful yesterday on the downhill bit of the path to Franz Josef Glacier, so the steep path down from the car park area to the valley floor he couldn’t manage. They should install a zip wire for pensioners. As we had seen it before (when it actually looked like a glacier flowing into the valley) we decided to move on to Lake Matheson.
Did the same walk as last time round the lake which was beautiful with the dripping mosses & ferns on the trees. A young couple from Melbourne took our photo with Mt Cook & other mountains in the background which had snow on the peaks. We took their photo too. Had coffee in the café/restaurant by the lake.
We continued our journey with temperate rainforest on either side of the road – green ferns, tree ferns & the odd small palm tree. Strange to see such lush vegetation & tropical palms with huge mountains over 2,000 m high with snow. We stopped at Bruce bay for lunch in the motorhome & watched the waves. Lots of driftwood washed up on the beach with Rimu trees behind. This beach was voted one of the top 10 beaches in New Zealand. The road went through the valley with huge mountains on our left & the sea on our right. We paused at a viewpoint called Knights Point & saw a whale & calf out to sea. First we thought it was waves crashing over rocks but realised that the object was moving. The whales were moving near the surface & I saw them through our binoculars when they came up to breathe. The smaller of the two whales kept very close to the other one. We later learned that they were humpback whales.
Stopped at 4.45pm at the Top 10 campsite at Haast, which was a new site added to an existing motel in 2011. Tried to do some laundry but both washing machines were being used. C & A had arrived as we were off to the laundry so that was good timing. They had enjoyed their day walking to the glacier & the Lake Matheson walk. The sunshine has been lovely today & only a light breeze. The electric hook-up for our van did not work so we had to move pitches as the staff on reception couldn’t fix the problem. After a cup of tea & chat about our respective day, Keef cooked the dinner tonight.
Laura & Ben’s wedding was in Brighton Pavillion today. We sent them an e-card with love & best wishes.
Sunday 21 May Haast to Wanaka
When I went to have my shower I had to switch the heating on in the Ladies as it was very cold overnight. The facilities at the Top 10, incl kitchen & lounge area, were all within a metal aircraft hangar with very high ceilings. The resident cat (which was so huge it looked like a dog) was purring & rubbing against our legs obviously looking to hitch a ride in our van. Chris & Allyson said they were going along the highway to Wanaka & we agreed we would meet up at Wanaka Top 10 campsite. K & I decided to drive along the coast to Jackson Bay which we’d not been to before. The small road took us over bridges where there were metal gantries suspended over the rivers. The fishermen suspended fine nets into the river to catch whitebait. There was a house selling whitebait along the route.
The road was virtually deserted & we went through a few very small communities with one school, a few holiday homes & a farm. Very sunny weather today & glorious views of some snow capped mountains. The sea was calm & Haast beach had an estuary too big to cross. Lots of driftwood cast up on other bays.
Just before we reached Jackson Bay at the end of the road I looked out to sea with our binoculars & saw a whale. It was splashing on the surface & I saw its fluke. Keef saw it as well. We drove the last few kms into Jackson Bay township where there was a café, a few houses, public toilet & lots of lobster pots & sheds. The place was deserted & peaceful with lovely views of the bay & mountains. We walked to the end of the long jetty to see if we could get a better view of the whale but we were at the wrong angle.
Jackson Bay had a Maori settlement there for 700 years & the people caught seals for meat & used the bones for fishing hooks. Then the whalers arrived & also killed seals for their skins. The seals had disappeared but we were pleased to see the humpback whale at least. A fantail bird landed on Keef’s arm & then kept flying around & over us – they are such friendly little birds with no fear of humans. I read somewhere that they are drawn to humans walking because insects are disturbed which they can eat.
We left Jackson Bay & drove through Haast Pass which had amazing scenery & majestic mountains. We had our lunch in a picnic rest spot & then carried on to Lake Wanaka, which we’d visited before. This massive lake is the biggest on South Island & had a twisting road along one side. Some of the rock face had been blasted out in order to build the road, which was finished in 1995 to Wanaka town. Picture postcard stuff & the mountains on either side of the lake made a perfect backdrop. Then the road skirted along one side of Lake Hawea towards Wanaka. We stopped several times to take photos as it was so sunny. In the shade of the mountains the temperature dropped & it felt chilly. We went into Lake Hawea township & I remembered we had called in at the general store/ café for an icecream about 10 years ago.
We carried on to the Top 10 campsite on the outskirts of Wanaka & arrived at 4.45pm. It turned very cold & it was going to be -2c overnight according to the lady in reception. We were now in the mountains & about an hour from Queenstown & The Remarkables (ski area). The ski season does not start until June & there are still some lovely autumn tints on the trees. Yet at Jackson Bay on the west coast we saw hydrangea shrubs in full bloom & huge tree ferns, but now the vegetation has turned to alpine within 194 kms.
Monday 22 May Wanaka to Queenstown
When I got up this morning there was a thin layer of frost on the picnic tables but not on the grass. Very sunny though. After breakfast we all drove into Wanaka & did some food shopping in New World supermarket for the next few days. Chris & Allyson then went off to Queenstown while we had a quick look around Wanaka which had expanded since we were last there. We agreed to meet up with C & A at Queenstown Top 10. K & I then took the scenic route on Highway 6 towards Cromwell & then Queenstown as we had spent 3 days camping in Queenstown Top 10 & had a good look round the town & did the Lord of the Rings tour round the whole area including Arrowtown.
We passed vineyards, cherry, apple & pear trees in the valley with huge mountain ranges either side of us (some of them had snow on top). We crossed the 45th Parallel which is the half-way latitude meridian between the Equator & the South Pole. Took some photos of the sign at the side of the road.
In Cromwell, a former gold mining town, we stopped at a bakery & then had lunch. We drove to the historic part of Cromwell which was established around 1860 as a Cobb & Co stagecoach stopover from Dunedin to Queenstown, a journey of 2 days. There were many stone walled houses with tin roofs & chimneys & were open to the public (free). There was a general store, livery stable, a newspaper office & printing press, plus some small shops & cottages. Also we saw some old wagons, bicycles & an original Cobb & Co stagecoach. Cromwell is situated on Lake Dunstan & is very scenic with the mountain backdrop & autumn colours on the trees. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds & warm in the sunshine.
We drove on towards Queenstown along Highway 6 & followed the Kawarau Gorge & river. We could see some of the old gold workings along the upper regions of the gorge (called the Otago gold rush in the old days) & then stopped at Roaring Meg rapids. Further up the river a hydro-electric plant had been built but wasn’t visible from the viewpoint at Roaring Meg. The gorge got steeper & the road snaked along the edge – good job Keef couldn’t look down as he was concentrating on driving.
We stopped at AJ Hackett’s original bungy jumping bridge by the same gorge. We watched from a viewing balcony at AJ Hackett’s a young couple doing a tandem bungy & then another man bungy jumped & actually dipped in the river 43 metres below. The jumpers were then lowered into a rubber dinghy & taken to the steps at the bottom of the gorge. A new zip wire experience had been introduced in 2010 which went across the canyon quite a long way. We chatted to a female employee on the viewing deck & she offered to take our photo.
From the gorge the road went past more wineries & cheese factories & we went straight to the Top 10 campsite near the Shotover River. We noticed that after 10 years the whole region had expanded with housing estates & vineyards (there were none in 2008). Also the campsite had become much smaller because the land had been sold off for housing. The wonderful camp kitchen/lounge was still the same though. Also there were new shower areas. I did some laundry but there was no wind & the sun had disappeared so I took it off the line later & left most of it in a bag in the motorhome & pinned some up inside the van. Chris & Allyson arrived after dark & Keef cooked butter chicken & rice in the camp kitchen. Then we all sat round the cosy wood burner fire on the sofas. As we were planning to leave early the next day we went to bed early.
Tuesday 23 May Queenstown to Milford Sound
It’s Craig’s 35th birthday today (we sent him an e-card & a money transfer towards a new bike). Overcast skies. I woke up at 6.15am so decided to get up anyway. We arranged to meet up at the campsite at Milford Sound in the evening. Keef & I left the campsite at 8.15am heading to Milford Sound which was 291 kms away. We knew this would be a 5 hour journey at least & more with rest stops & lunch break. We found that rush hour work traffic was coming into Queenstown at that time but luckily we were going in the opposite direction. Queenstown counts as a city now with its own domestic airport & sprawling residential areas.
Once we had passed through Queenstown, the views of The Remarkables & Lake Wakatipu were amazing. Queenstown itself, though not attractive, is surrounded by spectacular scenery. Adrenalin sports lure mainly young people to this area & there are lots of ski areas. The lake is massive – narrow but very long with a dog-leg halfway along. The road hugged the lake all the way to Kingston & then we went through a valley with small townships & sheep farms. We saw the remains of snowfall near an old railway bridge which now forms part of a cycle route. Highway 6 ended when we turned off towards Mossburn.
We had a delay with cows on the road being moved to a new field (they were beef cattle) & the people moving them had a job to keep them together. At Mossburn we took Highway 94 to Te Anau, which was still the same as we remembered it – we had camped 2 nights there before. We had a coffee & then walked past the shops to the huge lake called Lake Te Anau. There was a jetty with a tourist boat which did excursions & a float plane. Te Anau town is at the southern end of the lake & water taxis ferry hikers to the Kepler Track & at the northern end the Milford Track ended by the lake.
We spent about an hour in Te Anau which broke the journey up. The road followed the massive lake for miles & then headed through grasslands with high mountain ranges all around. The route map showed the distance between Te Anau & Milford Sound was 121 kms, but the travelling time was 2 hours.
We entered the Fiordland National Park & there was no habitation anywhere. A true wilderness region & still unspoilt, apart from the road to Milford Sound which half a million tourists travel to view the Sound which ends in the Tasman Sea. The valley floor where the road went had yellow grasses & red tullock grasses & small lakes. The mountains were covered in a light dusting of snow almost like someone had sprinkled icing sugar on them. There were rest areas & short walks to small lakes & waterfalls.
At one rest area there were some Keas, small alpine parrots, who were entertaining the tourists with their antics. They were hopping around & occasionally flew on top of a car. Their wings are red underneath & their backs have green/brown feathers. They have very sharp beaks & eat plants & nectar. They have become used to humans & vehicles & cheekily perch on mirrors looking inside. They are looking for humans to feed them & it’s unfortunate that they hang around tourist rest stops. The Dept of Conservation notices advise tourists not to feed the parrots & today we saw no one feeding them which was good. Food such as bread is very bad for their digestive system. The Keas are rather cheeky birds & can be quite destructive by ripping rubber trim from car roofs. Luckily our hired motorhome does not have rubber trim on the roof!
We decided to do some of the short walks on our return journey to Te Anau the next day after seeing Milford Sound. Keef & I had lunch organised in the van in a rest area when the Keas became so pesty that we had to put the stuff in the sink & quickly drink our squash in order to drive away to escape them.
We stopped just before the Homer Tunnel (dug out of the mountain by pickaxe from 1936 to 1954). We watched the Keas again & then on the other side of the tunnel the road zig-zagged down the steep mountain to the valley below. The waterfalls cascading down the sheer granite rock were impressive & bridges crossed gushing streams strewn with huge boulders.
When we arrived at Milford Sound we decided to check out the cruise terminal before we went to our campsite for the night. Apart from a member of staff in the booking hall there was no one there at all. We took a look at the cruisers moored at the dock & as Keef had already booked & paid for our tickets (+ C & A’s as well) online in Wanaka we wanted to find out what the boarding time was for the next morning. We were told to arrive by 10.10am for the 10.30 trip. We had booked a nature cruise with Real Journeys, a local family run company who had been operating the cruises since 1954. We were told to collect our tickets at the desk the next morning.
Keef & I walked along the wooden boardwalk which had wonderful views of the Sound & Mitre Peak, which is one mile high. The tide was out & there were no other tourists around. However, seeing 27 coach bays at the cruise terminal led us to think that the 10.30am trip was going to be packed, although we were out of the main tourist season. We drove back along the road & saw where the staff that work at Milford Sound lived. They lived in little houses right next to the airport strip.
We went to the campsite to check in. Keef had already booked & paid for both van pitches in Wanaka in case it was busy. It was called Milford Sound Lodge – a motel in the trees with a restaurant & bar & also pitches set amongst the trees with electric hook-up for motorhomes. There were unisex toilets cubicles & showers, with a good kitchen & dining/lounge area for campers. There was nowhere for tents to be pitched. The cost of each pitch was $54 for 2 people+ motorhome.
We arrived about 5.20pm & made a cup of tea. C & A arrived when it was dark. They had done two of the very short walks on the Milford Road – Mirror lakes & The Chasm. We all had a good day driving to Milford. As the camp kitchen was busy with other people cooking their meals we ate in Chris & Allyson’s van & then we had a game of cards. The campsite was full up so good job we had booked ahead & this was the only campsite there as well. We had some light rain overnight but it wasn’t cold.
Wednesday 24 May Milford Sound to Te Anau
Drove down to the car park near the cruise boat jetty & then walked along the boardwalk. Keef collected our tickets from the cruise desk in the terminal. Our cruise boat was called ‘Milford mariner’ & it had masts but the sails were tightly furled. The boat was quite large & had several decks with an indoor lounge area & some bench seating on the upper deck. The boat left at 10.30am & the trip lasted 2 hours. It was a nature cruise & there was an excellent commentary by a guy who knew about the sea life, geology, plants etc.
The day was sunny with not much wind, but as there had not been much rain there weren’t so many waterfalls. When Keef & I did the same trip previously the waterfalls were amazing because of the torrential rain on the journey from Te Anau but we were lucky as the cruise then was in bright sunshine. One of the waterfalls called Sterling Falls, was as tall as a 50 storey building but it was dwarfed by the huge sheer rock walls of the fiord. The magnificent scenery was awe inspiring & jaw dropping – no wonder it’s considered to be one of the natural wonders of the world.
We spotted a dolphin jumping in front of the boat’s prow. The boat steered us very close to one of the tall thin waterfalls. We were told that the fiord was 16kms long & Milford Sound received 9.2 metres of rain last year. The average rainfall was 7 metres per annum & it rains 200 days of the year on average. So it’s one of the wettest places on earth & we were lucky to visit today in the sunshine.
The Aussie guy doing the commentary told me that humpback whales go past the fiord as part of their migration route but on one occasion one whale got lost & ended up close to the boat jetty. Luckily it managed to steer back out to sea. He said that on another occasion a pod of killer whales came into the fiord.
The boat headed out to the head of the fiord & we saw another dolphin (although it may have been the same one we saw before) & two albatross (a smaller variety). We did not see any seals on the journey out to sea because of the sheer rock face but on our return we did see four NZ fur seals close-up which were basking on a flat rock. Despite the fact that the sides of the fiord were solid granite rock it was surprising that there was a lot of greenery with mosses & plants clinging on.
On the return journey back to the cruise terminal, Keef & I had a coffee in the saloon lounge & then went back on deck to see the Bowen Falls. The guy doing the commentary told us that a woman had para-glided off the rock cliff into the water & survived. He didn’t explain hoe she got to the top of the sheer cliff!! We all thoroughly enjoyed the cruise & scenery & were pleased we went with Real Journeys which was well worth the price – we felt so small compared to the towering cliffs of the fiord.
When we were walking back to our vans we saw a white heron in the water at the edge of the fiord. Keef & I wanted to do some of the short walks on the way back to Te Anau & Chris & Allyson had already done these yesterday so we agreed to meet up at the campsite at Te Anau. Keef & I stopped at The Chasm & did the 20minute circular walk to a narrow channel between rock walls and boulders where water was gushing through. A small bridge went over the stream & it was so wet that the trees had moss growing on the trunks & dangling from the branches.
We returned to our motorhome for lunch & a Kea hopped over to see us. Luckily this parrot wasn’t quite so pesty & we watched him whilst eating our sandwiches. We stopped again on the other side of the Homer Tunnel to watch the Keas. Two of the parrots were attacking a plastic sack on a workman’s truck which they were oblivious to & then the birds flew to our mirrors & were looking in & trying to peck at the rubber trim (I checked later & there was no damage). Then they flew to the roof of our motorhome & we could hear them scampering along. Some other people in a car next to us had their rubber trim on their roof peeled halfway off by one naughty parrot.
We stopped to take photos on route & then did the 5 minute Mirror Lakes walk further on. This boardwalk was next to some small ponds which had fallen logs & leaf debris in the bottom. This created a dark background for the mirrored image of the snow capped mountains.
We arrived at Te Anau Top 10 campsite at 4.45pm having stopped at the local supermarket to buy some provisions. We had camped there in the past & some of the roses on the trellis dividing some of the pitches were still in flower. The main kitchen, TV room & shower block were still the same but a small two shower/ two toilet block & kitchen had been added near to our pitch. We all had our meal in the kitchen & then had a cup of tea & played cards. Quite a busy day & very enjoyable.
Thursday 25 May Te Anau to Dunedin (Portobello)
Chris & Allyson decided to backtrack & head north to Queenstown as they had not seen everything the other day. This was a 168km journey & they were planning to spend the night at Queenstown again. They were going to meet up with us again at the Portobello campsite on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin on Friday evening.
Keef & I went from Te Anau to Gore through farmland, with mountains in the distance. We stopped briefly at Gore. Then we stopped for lunch at Balclutha & had fish & chips. The fish was Blue Cod which was delicious & the batter was nice & crispy. We then headed north through Milton to Dunedin. We went to the Kiwi Parks campsite at Portobello on the winding road round the famous Otago Peninsula which created a massive harbour & port. The port was called Port Chalmers which was on the other side of the peninsula & halfway along from the city.
We checked into the campsite at 4.20pm & then drove on to the furthest part of the peninsula called Taiaroa. We wanted to book tickets to see the Little Blue Penguins, which are the world’s smallest penguin. We had seen them here on our previous holiday in South Island but wanted to visit again. Penguin viewing took place at 5.30pm (dusk) at Pilots Beach. We parked & bought our tickets from the Royal Albatross Colony shop. It cost $30 (£15) each to see the penguins & we had to wait for about 25 minutes before the guides/ wardens took us down lots of wooden steps & gravel paths to the wooden viewing platform. There were three female guides who gave us lots of information about the penguins.
These little penguins can travel up to 25 kms out to sea to feed all day & then return to their burrows once it got dark. There were only about six people with us so we all got a good viewpoint. Saw a large seal on the rocks by the little beach (Pilots Beach) but he slid into the sea before the penguins arrived. The main threat to the little penguins is sealions which eat them.
About 5.45pm the first penguin appeared followed by several others. They waddled right past us from the sand & rocks on the beach & then jumped up a shelf on the sand. Then they disappeared into the grassy sand dunes to the safety of their burrows for the night. They were so adorable & cute as they were very small & they squeaked & shrilled to one another. Eventually more penguins arrived – altogether we saw 24 Little Blue penguins come out of the waves & come up the beach past us to their burrows. We could see them very clearly as there was soft lighting under the wooden platform where we stood, which the wardens said was the equivalent to moonlight so did not worry the penguins.
Each penguin knew where it was going for the night. They rest in the sand dunes & then go out again from 2am onwards to fish but sometimes they stay in their burrows. We drove back to the campsite & felt happy that we’d seen the penguins in their natural habitat – a lovely experience.
Friday 26 May Portobello, Otago Peninsula
Weather sunny today with blue sky. After breakfast Keef & I drove along the peninsula road & we stopped at Taiaroa head again but this time walked down to the viewing platform on the ocean side. Couldn’t see any whales or seals but saw a Royal Albatross wheeling high in the sky. We returned to Harwood (residential area) by the sea & looked around. Saw a small glass fronted cupboard on a pole printed in tiger stripes – very intriguing & quirky - inside were books for people to exchange.
We drove along Weir Road, a gravel road, to Papanui Inlet where there were herons in the shallow water as the tide was out. We then headed around the inlet on the narrow gravel road & took another road to Hoopers Inlet, another tidal area & parked at Allans Beach. Some farmers were doing sheep shearing & their sheep dogs were very well trained. Signs on the beach warned of sealions being dangerous if you got too near as they could charge & bite you.
Unfortunately there weren’t any sealions but the beach was lovely with fine sand. Spoke to another tourist who said that a tourist information lady had advised him that there were sealions in Sandfly Bay. We drove up Highcliff Road which we had remembered was very twisty, narrow, with sheer drops to fields below. There had been some ‘wash-outs’ where rain had washed the edge of the road away. We parked at the end of Seal point Road & looked out from the cliffs to the sea. The beach was a very long way down & the path was too steep for Keef’s bad knees to cope with. Also there was a shallow river to wade across in order to get to the beach. It was too far away to even see properly through the binoculars.
We decided to go into Dunedin at 4.20pm & saw Chris & Allyson driving towards us but they didn’t notice us waving. They had driven from Queenstown today, a distance of 237kms. We drove around the city centre & then through the Botanical Gardens & up to Signal Hill to get superb views of Dunedin & the whole peninsula. We had forgotten how steep the road was up Signal Hill (last time we were in a car). Dunedin is surrounded by steep hills & some houses were perched rather dangerously on the edge of the roadside with a sheer drop down to the bottom of the valley. Dunedin is in an earthquake zone being on the Pacific Rim.
The streetlights were just beginning to come on & Dunedin looked very pretty by the harbour. We drove down Blacks Road in the city suburbs which was very steep but the steepest street in the world officially is Baldwin Street which was two streets away. We sensibly parked at the bottom of Baldwin Street which is 1:2 gradient (or 1:2.86 to be precise) according to the city council & Guiness Book of Records. This certainly was a steep residential street!! We saw the famous Dunedin railway station again from the outside. Apparently this Victorian building is the most photographed in all of New Zealand according to the city tourist brochure.
We returned along the Otago Peninsula road to the campsite & were surprised to see that C & A were in the campsite as we thought they were going to see the Little Blue penguins at 5.30pm as Allyson had asked us about it. Chris cooked Thai chicken curry with rice. A cold night.
Saturday 27 May Portobello to Oamaru
Bright & sunny today. After breakfast we headed back into Dunedin & looked at some of the art work painted on the sides of city buildings. C & A had only arrived at 4.30pm so they had not had a chance to see the peninsula. They wanted to do a walk & we told them the beaches to visit where sealions could be found. We warned them about the scary Highcliff Road, which was unsuitable for large vehicles like lorries.
Dunedin has had some earthquakes – in April 1974 they had a quake that was 5.0 & in June 2015 a moderate quake of 4.7 did some minor structural damage. The epicentre was 30 kms west of the city. Local people get used to these occurrences & are blasé. Keef & I drove along the other side of the Otago Peninsula looking back at Portobello & then we veered left on route 88 (missing Port Chalmers, a container ship terminal), climbing to get a fantastic view of the massive Otago Harbour.
At a viewpoint at the top there was a stone column monument commemorating Robert Scott of the famous Antarctic expedition who died on the return from the South Pole but was beaten in the race by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen who famously got to the pole first. Scott & his crew left Dunedin harbour in 1910 headed for the South Pole. A statue of Scott was in Christchurch but it fell in the recent big earthquake & was taken away to be repaired. Strangely, lots of hens & cockerels were wandering around the lookout car park area.
We took a narrow road to Long beach, which we walked along. No sealions there but still a beautiful bay. Didn’t see any whales today – apparently humpbacks head north from Dunedin having travelled down the west coasts of North & South Island. Also Southern Right Whales & Sperm Whales can be found off the Dunedin coast.
Drove on to Oamaru via a scenic loop road by the sea. We decided to go out to the coast at Oamaru to see the Yellow Eyed penguins at 4.30pm. They can come ashore to their burrows in the steep shrubby cliffs any time after 3pm. We parked our van & walked along the cliff path to the hide where we waited patiently until we saw one just at dusk around 5.15pm. There was a cold wind coming off the sea & we were glad of our coats & warm clothing. There were several people viewing the penguins from the hide.
There were five breeding pairs plus two other penguins, when years ago there had been 400. The Yellow Eyed penguins are becoming rarer. The penguin we saw came ashore on the sandy beach, then paused before turning & returning to the water. The penguin did this twice so obviously felt nervous about leaving the ocean. There were some seals asleep on the beach which may have made it cautious. The beach is closed to the public between 9am & 3pm so as not to disturb the penguins.
The hide we were in was made of wood with little wind protection but it did have a roof & it had great views of the beach. As we walked back along the cliff path I saw another penguin waddling ashore (although it could have been the same penguin again!) My feet were getting cold & I was glad I had my gloves on.
We went to Oamaru Top 10 campsite to check in. Allyson joined us in reception as we had just arrived together at the site. They said they had done a long walk on the Otago peninsula. We knew that the road journey tomorrow was going to be about 4½ hours to Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsula, southeast of Christchurch, so we turned in early.
Sunday 28 May Oamaru to Akaroa
Another bright sunny autumn day & it wasn’t that cold overnight. We looked around the town which had some heritage Victorian limestone grand buildings with very detailed stone carvings. Nowadays no one can afford to have this sort of craftsmanship done on a building. Saw the vintage train running through the town from the harbour depot. It only operates on a Sunday & lots of families with kids were riding on the two carriages. Keef saw a man dressed as the fat Controller on the station platform. There were a lot of steampunk sculptures around the harbour area & in the children’s playground. Oamaru was once a thriving town with its harbour, grain stores, customs house, opera house & banks all in very grand stone buildings.
We left Oamaru & took Highway 1 through Timaru & stopped for a sandwich at the salmon fishing town of Raikaia. Then we drove on to Akaroa, on the Banks Peninsula, which was a small township with French street names & a French influence. We walked around the town & on the jetty – it seemed very quiet as the shops were closing. In fact several shops had been shut up for the winter. Some of the cottages were very pretty with roses around porches & white picket fences.
We went to the campsite & Chris & Allyson arrived later. The pitch was sloped with muddy grass & the kitchen & shower block were exactly the same as when we camped there in our tent years ago. The campsite needed refurbishing. We ate dinner in the kitchen to use up the remaining food but it was cold in there. The ladies showers/toilets were cold as someone had left the window open. After dinner we played cards in C & A’s van.
Monday 29 May Akaroa to Christchurch
Chris & Allyson had not had a chance to look at the Banks Peninsula as it was getting dark when they arrived in Akaroa so they wanted to see it in the morning. We all had to hand back our motorhomes to Britz in the afternoon.
Keef & I drove towards Lyttleton, but went over the hills rather than to the harbour, and then on to Christchurch. The sea mist & low cloud meant that visibility was poor. Some of the passes over the hills, such as Dyers pass, were very high with winding roads & steep drops at the side. The summit was called the Sugarloaf, which was 496 m high.
We went to Pak n save supermarket in Riccarton to get some croissants for breakfast in the motel. We had booked the Apollo Motel, 288 Riccarton Road, Christchurch. We had a quick sandwich lunch & then did our packing in the van by the motel. Chris & Allyson did their packing at the campsite but we decided to wait until Christchurch because our large heavy bags would have fallen off the motorhome seats.
We dropped our bags off at the motel & then delivered the motorhome to the Britz depot/office near the airport at 3pm. The staff there gave us $38 back as we had complained in the Auckland office that the gas cylinder was too small (compared with what we had in the Aussie Britz motorhomes). We had filled it up in North Island even though it wasn’t empty. Keef & I got a shuttle bus back to the motel from Britz. The driver told us that after the damaging quake in Christchurch there had been a year of small aftershocks continuously every 20 minutes. They could have another big earthquake again at any time.
Had tea & a chocolate muffin when we returned to our room in the motel & put the heating on. Met up with C & A & had a nice meal at the Lone Star restaurant. Went to bed at 9.30pm as the next day we were getting up very early to go to the airport. We saw on the TV that an amazing display of the Australis Borealis was seen all over NZ south of Christchurch last night with the most beautiful colour waves. Apparently Dunedin & Signal Hill was one of the best places to see it. Went to bed at 9.30pm as the next day we were getting up very early to go to the airport.
Tuesday 30 May Christchurch to Sydney & on to Singapore
Got up early, had our showers & all crammed in the taxi with all our luggage at 3.45am to go to the airport. It was still dark outside & chilly. The family who ran the motel provided the car which was driven by their son. Our Qantas QF138 plane was supposed to depart for Sydney at 6.05am but was late leaving. At Sydney airport we all had a coffee & said our sad farewells to Chris & Allyson after an amazing four month trip. They were catching a plane to Hong Kong to spend a few days there before returning home. We were flying to Singapore to spend two weeks with Doug, Phoenix & our lovely 2 year old granddaughter Charlie, before we too headed for home. Really looking forward to seeing our family again.
Wildlife spotted in New Zealand
Green Praying Mantis, weka (bird), 3 kingfishers, eagle, dead possum, bush turkeys, black swans, large black eels, fantail birds, pet emus & small wallaby at campsite in Murchison, whales, rock wren, Kea alpine parrots, 2 dolphins, NZ fur seals, small albatross, white heron, grey herons, Little Blue & Yellow Eyed penguins, seals.