New Zealand

For our third and final leg in New Zealand we had another car relocation to move us from Christchurch to Dunedin from where we’d be flying out. This time we were more luckily with car type, getting a very comfortable Toyota Aurion to drive. We did most of the drive in the dark, planning to camp half way.

Naturally, our last night of the trip simply wouldn’t be complete without some kind of incident. While looking for the campsite I attempted to do a simple three point turn on a fairly wide tar road. The front wheels went off the tar and lo and behold, the car was stuck. The ground by the road was fairly flat and covered with grass but was hiding an increadibly soft mud beneath. Who would have thought the car was front wheel drive anyway?

After getting stuck initially, I ignored the warning bells going of in my head and after a few stupid manuevers we were further off the tar and completely stuck against the grassy verge. We were at once both increadulous and amused at how we could be so stuck and at the same time very annoyed that we were. After a huge effort at getting us unstuck involving lots of sticks and grass and gravel and digging and even a car jack, Sophie, being the female, got fed up and did the clever thing, going over to the house across the road to ask for help. There, she was greeted by 4 burly men playing poker, who had no problem pushing us out of the muddy mess we’d made. They were really nice, the mum even offering for us to stay at their place if the campsite was too chilly.

We arrived very tired at our final campsite to spend the last night of our epic journey. The next day we stopped and the very cool Moeraki boulders before proceeding to Dunedin airport for our flight out. We boarded the plane without trouble, and after a very pleasant flight with Air New Zealand we arrived at Brisbane Airport. Back in reality.

Over the next six days we took our camper van in a big loop up and through the Lewis Pass across to the west coast then coast to Greymouth, and pack across via Arthur’s Pass. There were several highlights along the way.

On our second day we stopped at an almost unmarked rest spot that was recommended by our guidebook. It is on the Lewis river and a short walk along the river takes you to several very basic and completely uncommercialised rock pools. They sit by the river, fed by a hot spring. We stayed the night there and snuck out in the dark with a bottle of wine for a dip in the hot pools. It was just beautiful, the pool being a perfect temperature.

As nice as that night was, we had another surprise in the morning when we woke up and looked out the window. Huge fluffy white things were floating down from the sky. They were so big that at first we thought they must be some kind of airbourne seeds, but sticking our heads out the window we quickly discovered that it was in fact snow. Some of the flakes where as wide as my finger and the delicate 6 pointed pattern was clearly visible. Not to miss the oppurtunity, I quickly dragged Soph out of bed so we could have another dip in the hot pools. The river had dropped during the night to reveal another, even warmer pool. So we lay in the pool, this time with snow coming down all around.

Further up the pass the snow had accumulated and there was a beautful layer of fluffy snow over everything. We did a walk into the gorgeous beech forest there. It was all green with moss everywhere, all covered with a layer of snow. I think I would have to rate it as one of the more beautiful walks we did on the trip.

On reaching the coast we paid a trip to the evocatively named “Cape Foulwind” for our first look at the West Coast. It was wild and beautiful, every bit as nice as the Big Sur, and there were actually walks along it, and paths down the beach! We had sundown there before heading down the coast to Punakaiki. Since we were arriving there at night we decided we may as well check out the Punakaiki Cavern, which is meant to have glowworms. However, a terrible navigational error resulted in us going a few kilometers down a dirt road that did not lead to the cavern. Too tired to drive back out again we simply slept there.

We woke up to find the entire windscreen coated with a thick layer of frost, on the inside. Similarly the grassy fields and shrubs around us were completely iced. It was very pretty, albeit chilly. We quickly packed up and headed out to get to the Pancake Rocks for sunrise. They were really interesting, ocean and rain carved rocks that apparently resemble huge piles of pancakes; the fat American ones, not the thin French ones. Amounst the rocks are blowholes that send up huge explosions of spray and eerie holes that whistle and howl as the waves come through below.

The rest of the day we spent there walking down one of the rivers and exploring more interestingly carved rock on the Truman beach. Once again, I would have loved to do some of the longer tracks through the park, but alas we had only one day.

In the evening we scooted further down the coast to Greymouth, were we had a highly enjoyable tour of the Monteith’s Brewery. We found out all about the beer making processes involving such interesting things as worts, mash tuns, hop backs and lautering. Of course it was all followed by some very excellent beer, after which we were not quite in a fit state to drive. Thus we were forced to get out the cooker and prepare our dinner in the Monteith’s parking lot while we sobered up.

The next day took us through the Arthur’s pass. It was a miserable day, so we weren’t able to really appreciate the views, but did do some nice but very wet walks through more lovely mossy beech forest and saw some really nice waterfalls.

Luckily for us we were blessed with a perfectly clear day on our last day so were able to take in the spectacular mountain scenery on our final drive to Christchurch. The road goes across plains with snowy peaks all around. This was the “Lord of the Rings” stuff that we were hoping to see in New Zealand. It was stunning. Although everything was much smaller in scale what we’d seen in the Americas, it was no less beautiful and it’s great knowing that we have such amazing landscapes waiting for us just a short flight away. New Zealand was amazing. We’ll definitely be back.

Arriving in New Zealand was almost like arriving back in Australia. The accents were not quite right, but we found many things to be similar. The suburbs of Auckland could easilt be suburbs in Brisbane and many of the Aussie labels can be found in New Zealand too. Sophie was very excited to be able to buy some Vegemite.

Us having lived in Zimbabwe/Australia our whole lives, we’d always been under the impression that New Zealand was an incredibly cold place. We had this picture of a landscape covered with waist deep snow, but in fact, after our exposure to the climates of some places in South America and the States, the New Zealand winter was surprisingly bearable and there was no snow to be seen.

We were picked up at the airport by my old friend Pippa at the horrific time of half past five in the morning. She deserves a medal for this. For three nights we hung out with Pippa in Auckland, exploring some of the city and also travelling a bit north to some amazing black sand beaches, however we spent most of our time at the house recovering from our hectic time in the States.

From there, we pickup up a rental relocation. These are cars that the rental company needs moved to another depot, so they can be rented for a minimal amount, but need to be moved to a particular location within a particular timeframe. Ours was Auckland to Christchurch, so we had four days to drive the car down the length of North Island and a good chunk of South Island. On the booking reciept I was excited to note that our car type was listed as “BMW 3 Series or simialar”, but it turned out to be a Ford Mondeo. Not really similar at all. But still it was a comfy drive, albiet expensive with fuel at NZ$1.80/litre. There was a quite a lot of driving but just seeing all the rural scenery along the way made it worthwhile.

Rotorua was amazing, with sulphurus smells and clouds of geothermal steam rising all over the place. At Kersene Creek we spent a bit of time trying to find a hot pool to swim in. There were hot springs all over the place, but all were either too hot or too cold. Still, it was heaps of fun traipsing through the bush and trying to build pools from rocks while being scorched and chilled at the same time. We did find a beautiful hot creek near Lake Taupo the next day and had an amazing hot bath in the morning mist.

From there it was on to Palmerston North, where we stayed the night with another mate of mine. He took us up to see the wind farm up in the hills where we watched the huge 35m windmills spin eerily as the sun went down. The view of the landscape up there was amazing too. Later we had fun night with him and his mates, but after “Flight of the Conchords” it’s so hard to listen to a New Zealander say anything while keeping a straight face. The next morning we drove the last of North Island to Wellington, jumping straight onto the ferry to Picton.

In Picton we stayed with some really old family friends, who we worked out, I hadn’t seen for fifteen years! They own the “Creek Pottery Gift Shop” and the pub “The Flying Haggis”, so if you’re passing though, stop in for a beer at the Haggis.

The next day we were taken on a most lovely tour of the wine growing area near Picton. The Marlborough Region produces some great wines and we stopped to sample many of them, as well as having a really delicious lunch at one. The area itself was beautful with its rows of wines, trees aflame with autumn colours and distant blue mountains in all directions.

We had another great night drinking wine and reminiscing all of the stoies from when I was a boy of 12 living in Malawi. The next day though we were up in the dark to complete our last leg to Christchurch. We stopped briefly at Kaikoura to have a coffee and see a colony of New Zealand seals. As usual we arrived with just a few minutes to spare. At the depot we exchanged our relocated Ford Modeo for a rented Campervan and immediately set off again.