Rainbows, Glaciers and adrenaline rushes!!!
22.06.2012 - 17.07.2012
So after a long and teary goodbye to my cousins we headed for Wellington once more for the Ferry. With Escape Campers you get a discount on the Bluebridge line classing you as a car rather than a van, and thank god because otherwise I think it might have bankrupted us!! We ended up getting the 1.30 because the weather was too bad in the morning for the ferries to run but it was still a bit of a hairy crossing with huge waves running in between the North and South islands. Once you’re into the Sounds on the top of the south island though the sea goes calm again. The Sounds are stunning!! Literally breath taking and this was only from the ferry. I wish we had had more time to spend there but because we got the later ferry it meant we had to sacrifice the half day we had planned. Once we got to Picton we took a wrong turn and ended up a bit geographically embarrassed ending up at the info sight...... It’s got loads of maps for the south island there and DOC camp site maps, so worth a stop in. once we got our bearings we headed to the nearest Doc site about half an hour to forty five mins north west of Picton. The first one is Momrangi Bay, and the cheaper one that we stayed in is in Aussie Bay. Aussie Bay's a really nice spot, basic but beautiful to wake up to. Keep an eye out for Kiwis too we had our first encounter when i nearly crashed the van trying not to hit it.....
After a quick fish in the morning we were off again towards Nelson. There’s a lookout point called Cullen Point that has amazing views of the Sounds but it’s a bit of a trek to get to the highest point, worth it though. Once we got to Nelson we found out that the Pass south was closed because of too much snow so not thinking that much of Nelson we headed for Kaiteriteri, again North West. It’s really pretty but a little backwards?!?! There’s meant to be surf up that way but no luck, loads of wineries and cider places to stop in though. After an extensive search of the coast line we gave up and headed to the pub. There’s a free campsite in Motueka just on the coast and really easy to find, its next to the swimming pools in the sea and looks more like a car park than a camp site but it’s got BBQ’s and toilets. The next morning we attempted the pass, stocking up on essentials beforehand of course...... $5 dominoes strikes again...... The pass is really nice to drive not to technical and you go from green meadows and forests to snow caped peaks and white wonderlands and then down into what seems to be dense jungle and forests again. Take it easy though there are lots of blind corners and no fuel stations. Bullers gorge Swing Bridge is worth a little looky if you’re going Westport way, huge suspension bridge with zip wires and things. Westport itself is more just a pit stop after the pass crossing as there’s not much to see but it does have places you can stock your van up cheap. There are also some good surf spots at the harbor mouth if you catch the tide on the push. Just south about forty mins is Charleston, there is a cheap powered camp site there and a couple of Doc, needless to say we opted for the heater!!! It’s freezing.
The next bit of the drive was costal and is probably one of the most picturesque areas i have ever driven through, it’s also rated one of the top 10 in the world to drive!! Loads and loads of Surf to be had as well!!! Make sure you stop at the Irimahuwerd view point, you can’t miss it with a name like that, it gives you views of nearly the whole costal road, primo photo spot and cheeky lunch stop. Also just up from there is the Truman Track in the national park which takes you to a secluded little beach with a wicked little overhang waterfall and a totally secluded little beach. Punakaiki Cavern as well is just off the road and is a really impressive cave system; make sure your torch has batteries though...... We ended up not being able to go too deep. The last stop on the highway before it heads back inland is the Pancake rocks!!! A must see. Basically a load of rocks stacked like pancakes but if the seas a bit stormy like it was for us the water smashes up between them and launches into the air. once we had finished at the Pancake rocks we headed for Greymouth, again just a little town with not much to do but about 30 min’s south is a secret surf spot with long running waves and totally deserted, from there you can get amazing views of the mountain ranges. We settled for the night in Hokitika, well just north, again opting for power to get our heat on!!! you literally can’t miss the camp site, I cannot remember the name of it for the life of me but, it did have a whopping big white and red sign saying CHEAP POWER SITES so just look for that.....
So we headed further south trying to out run the storm that we had been dragging with us from the north island stopping at the lakes and viewpoints we headed through Hokitika, Ross and Okarito ending up at the Franz Joseph glacier. Beware when you’re looking for Okarito of taking the wrong turn into the National Park, we nearly rolled the van when we hit one of the bridges with more speed than we anticipated...... the beach was worth it though. The Camp sites in Franz are really expensive and you definitely need the heater on!!! I decided i wanted to do the Sky Dive over the Glaciers.... Wooooop ....and somehow managed to combine booking it with our camping. All the camp sites run off commission on stuff like that so if you book the sky dive through them they will usually give you a free night’s accom too. Once we had sorted where we were staying we went and did the walk to the Franz Joseph Glacier. You can’t get right up to it unless you pay one of the tour companies or jump the fence like i did but the half hours walk is well worth it the glacier is impressive!!! Check out the hot springs there too, not too pricy and a really nice way to start your night, once we were sufficiently prunified we headed for a drink to polish the night off.
JUMP DAY!!!! The Sky dive was by far one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. Clear blue skies, a shaky looking plane, 13000 feet and a guy strapped to my back!!! 50 seconds of free fall and a tandem sky dive instructor that looks like Roach out of Point Break, all in all one of the most memorable experiences i have had!!! Worth every penny!! Once i had got my adrenaline fix for the week we headed down to the Fox glacier, personally this was my favorite hitting it just as the sun set makes the walk feel like you’ve just walked into Lord of the Rings and then when you round the corner and the glacier comes into full view its breath taking. You can get a lot closer to this one as well, do not miss it. with not long before we lost the sun we headed for Gillespies Beach, a free Doc site with an amazing beach and access to some of the lakes that give you some of NZ standard brochure photos i.e lake Matherson, try to catch it in the morning with the frost over the lakes it’s an eye opener.
Aware the weather was starting to catch up again we gunned it for the Haast Pass stopping at most of the view points and some of the walks of course, my recommends are Lake Moeraki, Monro Beach (bit of a walk but there’s penguins at the right time of year, we were in the wrong time nice walk though) and Knights Point. Make sure you fuel up before the Haast Pass as fuel is a major rip off, we got stung!!! Crossing the Pass is really good fun but a little sketchy. Icy roads and other bad drivers make it interesting, nearly lost it behind a gritter!!!! That’s how bad the ice can be. We broke the journey up by stopping at the water falls and the blue pools (swim if you’re man enough it’s a glacier run off!!) it took us near on 3 hours to warm up after. The drive through the pass is picture post card though with amazing view after view, i think we must have taken about 100 photos!!! After clearing the pass we headed for Lake Wanaka for a cheeky snow board at Treble Cone, super cheap and a really nice place to board even this early in the season!! The camp sites are expensive around Wanaka so we hid Lu in one of the back compartments of the van and paid for one person.... ooops cheaper though! On the front by the lake there’s loads of nice bars too. If you get there early enough in the year you can still drive up to the bottom lift. It was like driving on the clouds. You start the dirt track in grey miserable weather then you go up through the clouds and emerge into this blue skied playground, it was almost empty as well with the ice not becoming noticeable till some of the runs started to get shadowy. Starting to run short on time we decided to drive to Queenstown overnight to save time. Not taking into account the ice and extra time it takes to drive at night we made it 3 quarters of the way and camped for free at the Kawarau Bungy sight car park...... then drove in in the morning before anyone got there.
Queens town is AMAZING it’s like an adrenaline junkies play ground with pretty much every adrenaline buzz sport available at your fingertips / Visa card!! You can also do the 3rd highest bungy in the southern hemisphere, The Nevis 134 m..... How can you turn that down..... I even did a second jump. We spent the night in town sampling some of the local beers and spirits and then had a small 4th of July party with some Americans which consisted of standing around a camp fire drinking Bud and eating burgers. The next day we decided to walk to the top of Sky Line that overlooks the whole of Queenstown with amazing views, we even managed to blag a free lift back down in the sky line….. it’s not hard luckily they don’t check your ticket at the top. Cookie time and Ferg Burger are NZ famous and are well worth a look in, the burger was the size of my face!! After spending a few days in Queens we headed for Dunedin and the home of Speights beer.
Dunedin has got some really good surf spots around and the water is a little warmer than the west coast, check out St Claires beach for a nice break...... still caved and bought some booties though as my first surf lasted all of thirty mins before i couldn’t feel my feet. We spent the next few days surfing and seeing what the town had to offer. The Otago Peninsula is worth driving out to for albatross and penguin sightings, got the albatross but still no penguins!!! There is a second beach on the peninsula called Sandfly Bay about a half hour walk loads of sea lions and from the penguin hide at the end of the beach we caught our first glimpse of the o so elusive penguins!!!! We nearly gave up after our two hour wait but it was worth it, they are like kangaroos in the way that they just jump up the rocks. We managed to camp for free in Dunedin as well just using car parks and residential areas no one seemed to care. After one last cheeky surf and a stop off at the Cadburys museum we started to head north stopping at Shagg Point, we stopped for a funny photo but then found out it’s just a type of bird that looks a lot like a penguin, disappointing….
From there we headed to the Moeraki boulders, huge spherical chunks of rock and to an amazing restaurant called Fleurs Place in moeraki village, all I’m going to say is that it was like a foodgasm. The restaurant is just next to the pier overlooking the sea, really picturesque. It is world famous, Rick Steine has even done a cook book on her!! There’s a really good and cheap camp site there called Moeraki village Holiday Park and if you ask nicely you can get directions to a really good penguin hide by the light house, Katiki Point. We headed further north.
On the way north we stopped off in Oamaru to see the SteamPunk HQ which is a working museum where they’ve taken anything and everything metal and turned it into working steam stuff from trains to colideascopes, bizarre. They were closed by the time we got there but the owner is a really nice guy and showed us the train on fire and stuff… There’s more Penguin spotting to be had here too...... yes we have a bit of an obsession with penguins...... but don’t pay for the sanctuary as its a bit of a rip off go to the scenic reserves up on the hill for guaranteed sightings, or beating that just stand outside the fence at dusk when all the penguins are coming in we had about ten off us there. The next stop was Christchurch.
Not wanting to get into Christchurch at night we ended up free camping in a residential area in a town just outside called Ashburton. The next day when we got to Christchurch we were stunned by the amount of damage and destruction the earth quakes had done. The RED zone looked like a bomb site and was zoned off so you could only walk around it unless you paid for a tour. We decided we wanted to look around Christchurch properly before we left so we jumped back into the van and headed for Kaikoura. We spent a few days in Kaikoura surfing and building bonfires and generally just chilling. Its really bohemian up there with a slow pace of life. Also one of NZ biggest seal sanctuaries just to the north and we saw killer whales and dolphins just off the coast line. We also did the peninsular walk way, which is part of the seal sanctuary; it gives you amazing views all the way up the coast line. You can scale the cliffs there to get down to the beaches to get a close up look at the seals; the climb back is sketchy as hell though. Realizing that the surf wasn’t going to improve though we headed down the back roads to Hamner Springs, crazy windy roads but like anywhere in NZ the scenery is worth it.
Hamner Springs is a really good day out, we spent almost four hours in there!! There are fifteen thermal pools ranging from freezing up to forty five degrees and three huge water slides, one which you use a rubber ring and it fires you out into a bowl which then spins you around in circles and then spits you out the end with your swim wear around your nipples. Admittedly we spent most our time on the slides but the thermal pools are a nice to relax in, especially when it’s cold!! If we had had a bit more time we would have stayed the night there as its quite a picturesque little town but hey ho so we started to head back to Christchurch.
Just North of Christchurch in Spencerville we stopped and free camped in the residential areas again as we wanted to hit up the Adrenaline Forest. It’s a bit like a play park for adults. With over 6 km of high ropes challenges ranging from simple rope bridges to huge zip lines and sliding snow boards it makes for a challenging and exciting 3 hours. There are 6 courses to complete all ranging in difficulty and height the last one being 30 meters and obscenely difficult. A little shaken up but totally buzzing we decided to try and fit in one last surf in Sumner.
Just outside of Christchurch it made for the perfect little place to stop the night before we dropped the van off, and conveniently it’s also one of the best places to surf in Christchurch. Even though it was a little crowded the waves were perfect and breaking super clean!!! My last surf in NZ lasted almost three and a half hours and had Lu wondering if I had been drowned but it was by far one of the best surfs I’d had in NZ apart from in Ragland, what a way to finish this amazing country!!
We wanted to enjoy the last night in the van so we decided to go and get a huge smorgas board to eat in the van with champagne to see the old girl off right. So we found ourselves a little spot in a residential area overlooking Christchurch, which at night is stunning from a distance, and ate cheese and salami til we passed out. The next morning we found a car park and packed all of our stuff back into our bags, which seemed to have doubled since we unpacked. As it turns out trying to pack six weeks of stuff, ship a surf board back to the UK, drop your bags at the airport, give the van back and look around Christchurch in one day was quite ambitious. We managed to fit it in though just making the drop off time for the van. The guys at Escape Campers are really good and I would definitely recommend using them, everything is just quick and easy with them. Turned out as well that we had broken the record for the total amount of distance ever covered in his six years of working there weighing in at 6032km in six weeks 2 of which we were at my cousins!!
Looking around the Red Zone in Christchurch was a real eye opener to the amount of damage and destruction caused by the earthquakes. A lot of the really damaged buildings have either been pulled down or are hidden under a network of supports and scaffolding poles. We must have spent half an hour watching this giant digger with a claw going at the side of one of the office blocks. The amount of flowers and messages of support for the peoples families that died are phenomenal and just goes to show the amount of community sense in NZ. To cheer ourselves up we decided we would walk back out to the airport passing through the botanical gardens, four bars and a cinema we eventually arrived at around one in the morning. We figured with such an early flight there was no point in getting a room for the night so we were going to try and sleep at the airport, apparently everyone does this!! They actually have a person whose job it is to walk around all night telling you can’t lay down and that you’re not allowed to sleep here so we spent most the night playing hide and seek with that guy, eventually settling down with a group of other travellers, safety in numbers and all that. The flight was on time.
Bye Bye New Zealand we will see you again!!!
Loz x x x x