A Travellerspoint blog

February 2017

Kia ora New Zealand

Christchurch

overcast 19 °C
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Our descent into Christchurch was very bumpy due to heavy winds despite the sunny weather. Immigration was no issue at all – we even had a chat with the officer about traveling. But customs proved to be a challenge, as already expected. Even though we had eaten all fruit and vegetables before entering New Zealand, we still had a bit of food with us and we also had our hiking boots. The customs officer wanted to inspect all of the shoes and also decided that our pack of rice needed to be inspected before we’d be able to import it. In the end a single one of the shoes had to be disinfected. After a couple of minutes of wait, we had our shoe and also the rice back. We were warned once more about a 400$ instant fine in case we had not declared something and could then proceed to the x-ray machine. All good…
At the terminal, we got within 10 minutes our most urgent needs settled: a new and instantly activated SIM card valid for the next eight week and some leaflets and brochures from the information center. With that we were just in time for our shuttle to the rental company.
Having decided rather late that we wanted to rent vs. buy a campervan in NZ, we did not have too much choice in regards to availability. We were happy to get a rather cheap deal with Lucky Rentals. We were well aware that we’d not be having a luxury camper, but were still rather unexcited upon seeing our new home for the next seven weeks.
After all, our ‘Roadie’ has already done more than 495,000 km in his lifetime. While having all the promised features like a fridge or cooker, it was cheap in many ways. Once more we realized how lucky we had been in Australia with our Drive Beyond which featured brand names for all the equipment that came with it. Here we had to deal with the really cheap version of everything. Eventually after having checked the sixth camp chair, we had three together that we deemed fit enough to survive the next seven weeks.
Still, we had been very clear that despite the fairly high price tag of camping in a campervan, that’s how we wanted to travel: being outside most of the time while still being sheltered from the NZ rain. And if that meant that we had to reduce our luxurious standards vs. our van in the US and the 4WD in Australia, so be it.

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After a first stop at McDonalds to get our empty stomachs filled, we headed to our first campground for the night. And being used to Australian prices for campgrounds, we were in for quite a shock, as a comparable campground in Australia would have cost us maybe 33 AUD vs. the 58 NZD we were paying here (and AUD and NZD are almost the same in terms of exchange rate). Wow! At least food shopping seemed to be similarly priced than in Australia. In other words: still much more expensive than in Germany, but at least not much more than what we’ve gotten used to in the last couple of weeks.
In the end, the rather expensive campground was an excellent choice after all. Sam and Max met Rudi and Michi, the first Austrians travelers we got to meet since back in Sedona. They had their last night in Christchurch before leaving the next day back home to Austria. And we were the lucky ones to get everything they had left over from their three weeks of traveling: lots of food, some plastic storage containers, toilet paper, beer and cider. And best of all, they also had quite a list of recommendations for us in regards to places they liked and where to go. Thanks!
The next day was dedicated to getting some more supplies. After having checked a couple of camping stores for lights, we eventually found exactly what we needed at a hardware store. We also bought new Crocs for Max – this time in yellow such that we might be able to spot them more easily in case he’d forget them somewhere again.
As expected, central Christchurch was dominated by vast empty spaces, lots of road cones, steel supported crumbling buildings and gigantic construction sites. Even though the last big earthquake took place almost six years ago, it will still take a very long time for its destruction to disappear. Those areas of the city which have been rebuilt already were quite impressive. We marveled at some of the new architecture displaying ostentatiously the structural reinforcements intended to withstand future earthquakes, some buildings were restored seemingly without changes vs. how they looked before.

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Max had been looking forward very much to that evening, as we picked up his new bike. We had already placed a bid on TradeMe – the NZ equivalent of Ebay – back in Perth and secured a used kid’s bike for Max. The bike worked well and Max was very happy to be mobile again.
On the way out of town we discovered a special deal on CamperMate and decided to stay in the luxurious Christchurch Top 10 holiday park after all. And it proved to be an excellent decision. For one, we were once again the lucky recipients of quite a couple of leftovers other campers did not need anymore. And even more importantly, Max made a new friend, 4-year old Leo. And while the two of them played blissfully, we got to talk at lengths with his mom Simone. As we soon learned, they moved from Germany to Timaru four years ago. Hearing how they like their new home country, we were looking forward even more to the coming weeks of exploring New Zealand.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:01 Archived in New Zealand Tagged town plane bike campervan earthquake customs Comments (0)

Mountains and the sea

Banks Peninsula: Little River, Akaroa, Pidgeon Bay, Motukarara; Timaru, Pleasant Point

semi-overcast 23 °C
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After learning from Simone about the heavy rain down south, we were easily convinced to rather spend a couple of days on the Banks peninsula before heading south ourselves. When picking the route to our planned campground for the night, I chose a scenic route along the northern coast of the peninsula. When picking the route, I had not realized how mountainous the area would be and how steep the roads were. On the last climb up towards Pidgeon Bay, the road eventually turned to gravel and got even steeper than what we had driven on so far.
When deciding upon the route, I was not quite aware of how hilly Ends in gravel road – too steep vs. what our campervan can manage. And most likely I was still spoiled from the luxury we had in Australia with a 4WD that would take us almost anywhere. Contrary to that our cripple campervan was definitively not laid out for that and before too long started smelling funny. Given the age of the motor and knowing that on a gravel road we’re actually not insured, we turned around. Before heading down though we took some time to enjoy the scenery and the countless sheep in the hills surrounding us. The rain was falling quite heavily by then and even though we could still see down into the bay below us, we could only guess how nice the view might have been on a bright day.
Turning around meant going all the way back along the twists and turns we had come on and sixty kilometers later we found ourselves at the campground in Little River. As it started raining soon after we arrived, we were thankful that we have a camper and not just a tent. And one more thanks was uttered the next morning when the next episode of rain showered us.
At least the rain did not stay for the remainder of the day. Later that morning we were able to explore the nature reserve surrounding the campground. We explored the big swing, the giant mudslide (which is only in operation after heavy rains) and the boardwalks including the movie set for ‘The Stolen’, a 2016 film.

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From there we headed to Akaroa. By the time, we got to see the Akaroa harbor below us, the sun was shining brightly and we were treated to a breathtaking scenery. We probably had seen similarly nice views the day before, but the cloudy and dark day did its best to hide the wow effects. We soon spotted a cruise ship in the bay. Since the damages to the Lyttleton harbor in the most recent earthquake, Akaroa is new port of call for cruise ships. And there are lots of good reasons for people to visit Akaroa. For one it’s beautifully located in a bay surrounded by mountains and its French heritage makes for great what if scenarios. What if the French had arrived just a bit earlier before the treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6th, 1840. Even though the French settlers arrived just a couple of months too late to buy the peninsula or even all of the South Island, they stayed and that’s how Akaroa got the charming French influence from.

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As pre-warned by our guidebook, the small town was simply overrun by the cruise passengers. As we neared the jetty, we realized that the ship lying out there was the Celebrity Solstice, which we had seen a couple of days earlier in Sydney Harbor – what a small world!
As the center of town was so crowded, we headed to the outskirts of town to the local skatepark. Located right next to the bay, it was quiet, nice and pretty there. While Max got his exercise needs fixed for the day, we prepared lunch and lazed in the sun.

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From Akaroa, we took the scenic drive along Summit Road winding its way along the top of the former volcano that created the peninsula. We had alternating views into the Bay of Akaroa and the Eastern bays along the outside coast of the peninsula. After our failed attempt of yesterday, today we managed to reach the campground at Pidgeon Bay. We got a spot right next to the water, enjoyed the nice weather and the fact that our great spot cost only 10 NZD.

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The next day we had to get our old camper all the way back up the hill again. We noted that with two cruiseships lying in the harbour, probably Akaroa was even more crowded today than yesterday. Then we headed down towards Little River. Already two days earlier we had noticed signs advertising the ‘A&P show’ to take place that Saturday. While we had no clue what that meant, we were sure intrigued to find out.

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It turned out that ‘A&P’ stands for ‘agriculture and pasture’ – a classical local show for anything related to farming. At first a display of old steam engines caught our eye along with some big construction equipment that fascinated Max. But much more importantly, there were all kind of local competitions taking place: there was horseback riding, dog agility, sheep dogs rounding up sheep, timber sports, and even sheep shearing. In addition the fire brigade offered a demonstration on how to extinguish burning oil including how not to do it, there was a free food tasting and lots of street vendors.

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We did not get bored a single minute, as there was continually something going on. And best of all: the locals were simply having fun, betting against each other and showing off what they love doing. Sam even got asked if he was willing to participate in the sheep shearing, as a group of guys needed one more person on their team in order not to lose a bet. Sam kindly declined and watched with the same amusement as us.
Luckily the sun did not burn down as brightly as the day before and even better: it only started raining in the evening once we had arrived at our campsite at the Motukarara racetrack.
Also the next morning was simply wet and consequently we skipped going into Christchurch for the World Buskers Festival as originally planned. We rather rang up Simone and pre-warned her that we’d be heading down to meet them this afternoon.
Driving through the Canterbury Plains to Timaru was a rather boring experience. The heavy rain blocked out the view to the mountains completely and the endless fields lined by tree-high hedges were not able to compensate.

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In the afternoon, we arrived in Timaru and we were greeted already outside by Leo and his sister Lilou. Max and Leo disappeared upstairs as soon as we arrived and were not seen for the next two hours. In the meantime, the rest of us enjoyed afternoon tea, had pleasant conversations, played dice and enjoyed the view of the sea. Simone and I even took a walk outside despite the drizzling rain. We were sad to leave that evening, but who knows: maybe we’ll manage to meet in Germany when they’ll visit in 2018.

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It was only a short drive to Pleasant Point where we stayed for the night. Despite the rain, Max headed off with some boys to go biking. Sam and I agreed once more that we were happy to have our campervan and being able to sit inside, well protected and comfortable.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rain horses volcano sheep cruise dogs bay harbor timber steep shearing Comments (0)

Aoraki – the cloud piercer

Lake Tepako, Lake Pukaiki, Aoraki / Mt. Cook, Waitaki Waters

semi-overcast 21 °C
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The weather gods were in a good mood and provided us with the perfect weather for a drive into the mountains. There was hardly a cloud on the sky and thanks to the heavy rains and cool temperatures of the last days, the mountain tops were covered in snow.
I can easily admit that good weather is important for me and that I enjoy traveling in sunshine much more that in bleak conditions. Quite frankly, on a cloudy day we might not have even realized how beautiful our surroundings are. The road was windy and before too long we reached the higher reaches of the rather dry Canterbury Plains. And surprisingly, we even got to pass a house on the way.

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Lake Tekapo’s waters were stunningly blue. While the famous Church of the Good Shepard was overrun by package tour tourists, just a bit further away there was no one. A bit further on Lake Pukaki glistened in rather turquoise colors with Aoraki / Mt Cook in the backdrop. It was super windy, but thanks to the sun still pleasant.

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On our way towards Aoraki / Mt Cook along Lake Pukaki we stopped a couple of times. With every stop, the scenery changed and seemed to surpass the previous views once more. Eventually we stopped for lunch in one of the smaller viewpoints along the road, as we wanted to take in the view without having to share it with dozens of other people. It was just perfect.

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When we were ready to tackle the road again, we headed right to White Horse Campground and secured a spot for the night. We parked just a few steps from the trailhead for the Hooker Valley Track. What a great day hike: we passed along the Hooker River steadily climbing the valley, crossing three swingbridges in the process and eventually were rewarded with perfect views of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.

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The only sad note about the track was the realization that – just like in Canada – also here the glaciers are receding rapidly. We had a great view of the Hooker Glacier, but knowing that just a few years ago there was no lake but a much larger glacier did put a damper on the otherwise glorious outing.

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Already in the evening, we noticed how the mountain tops were starting to get covered in clouds, a process that continued the next morning. We headed to the National Park visitor center to learn a bit more about the history, geology and wildlife.
On our drive out of the valley, we did turn back a couple of times and were thankful about the fabulous weather we had the day before. With the clouds the view was not nearly as nice as it had been.
We stopped for lunch in Twizel. A bit further, there was a salmon farm and we got to feed the salmon, which provided us with nice views of the enormous fish.

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The drive from the mountains all the way to the sea was very pleasant. We passed along rivers, some hydro power stations, through quaint towns and lots of agricultural land with countless sheep. At the very end of the Waitaki valley, not far from the beach we stayed in a pleasant campground.
There we also met the first Romanians since we’re on the road. And while they were super nice, I was utterly disappointed that I have forgotten so much of my Romanian in the last five years. While still some time ago, I was talking Romanian any time I tried to address someone in French or Spanish, it seems that I am overdue for some practice.
The next morning, we enjoyed sunshine and pleasant temperatures. Max played with his new friend Sam from Berlin, while our Sam headed to the beach and was amazed about the dunes of stones.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged salmon park church mountain lake national hike swingbridge Comments (0)

East coast towns

Oamaru, Hampden, Moeraki, Dunedin

semi-overcast 20 °C
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We had heard nice things about the town of Oamaru and soon realized ourselves that everything we had heard was true: there were nice buildings, a very positive atmosphere and a bit of funk. After all, Oamaru is also the location of the ‘Steampunk HQ’, a gallery dedicated to all kinds of fun metal exhibits.

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From there it was just a couple of steps to get into the old town featuring the first buildings of the settlement dating back almost 150 years. We were thrilled to find a good bakery and browsed through some of the galleries, workshops and stores. Eventually we ended at our usual destination of choice: the local skatepark.

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When trying to extend our parking ticket, Sam realized that we had gotten fined for parking in the wrong area of the carpark, where it is permit parking only. Given the two equally unsuitable choices of paying by check (something I have ever used a single time in my life) or NZ internet banking, I headed to the office to get the fine sorted right away. After paying the fine, I also wrote an appeal explaining that our mistake had been a misunderstanding. Carols, the helpful lady at the desk, referred me to the head of the respective department. I explained to him that I would have parked correctly if it had been clear about the difference between ‘permit only’ and ‘pay and display’. And he agreed that this might be difficult from someone with a different mother tongue coming from a different background. I was pleased to get my 40 NZD fine refunded and very happy – life is fair after all.
As we left Oamaru a bit later, we took the scenic drive along the coast instead of just following the highway. A good choice, as we got to see long empty beaches and a very nice coastline.

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Once we had secured the last powered campsite at Moeraki Boulders Campground, we followed the recommendation of the friendly Swiss owner to go to Katiki Lighthouse. And we were in fact lucky to see four of the very rare yellow eyed penguins up close. They were on their way from the beach to their hides along the steep coast. Underneath them were a couple of New Zealand fur seals lazing in the last rays of sun. And there were even a couple of little pups around as well. We loved our excursion and were happy that we had gone.

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After a couple of unsuccessful trials in trying to locate the Southern Cross, we finally succeeded that evening. It was the first real clear night since we had arrived in New Zealand and we just had to look up to see the signature constellation that is also featured on the flag.
The next morning, we hiked from our campsite along the beach to the Moeraki Boulders. While the beach was deserted, the boulders were crowded with tourists making pictures with and on the boulders from all possible angles. And indeed, the boulders make for a great photo motive. Still, we did not mind heading back and having the beach for ourselves again after a hundred meters. And anyhow, we did not want to linger too long to avoid getting trapped by the tide coming in.

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Lucky us that we returned early enough. Otherwise we would have been hiking back in the rain. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon, reading and writing in the campervan while Max was playing outside with his new friend Basili.
The weather forecast for the next day did not foresee much better weather, but at least it was dry until we left our first stop at Shag point where we got to see seals again. From then on it was raining heavily.

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At least that way it was easy to decide what to do in Dunedin: we headed to the Otago Museum and had a relaxed and dry afternoon discovering the many exhibits and watching a show in the planetarium called ‘We are stars’.
A short spell without rain tempted us to head into town to sit in a café and do some shopping. As expected, we got wet on the way back to the car, but at least we were well fed and had new stuff to wear. Even though we passed lots of beautiful buildings, the weather was too miserable to take pictures of the otherwise very beautiful town. That evening we stayed in a suburb of Dunedin at the Wingatui racecourse - essentially a parking lot with an adjacent amenities block located next to the race track.

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Surprisingly enough, we woke up to a beautiful day the next morning. After some grocery shopping and lunch at the local skatepark, we headed into Dunedin once more.

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And what a difference vs. yesterday: we got to see the beautiful railstation, the churches and Victorian buildings around the main square Octogon and were blissfully soaking in the afternoon sun. Given the Scottish heritage of Dunedin, a young bagpipe player provided the perfect ambience.

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A pair of Chinese dragons reminded us of Chinese New Year with the Year of the Rooster starting. That made us realize that the Chinese holidays might be the reason for so many Chinese people traveling. Initially we had assumed that the Chinese just prefer New Zealand vs. Australia, but it might in fact rather be linked to the period of the year.

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Eventually we headed to the Beachlands Speedway. Intrigued by a sign entering Dunedin ‘Races every Saturday, we had found out that there was a stockcar race with following demolition derby going to be taking place. That sounded like a lot of fun. After all, we had tried already in the US to see if we could see a stockcar race, so this was the perfect opportunity.
We were there early enough to be able to take a tour of the pit area where the teams were getting their cars ready. Some of them looked nice and polished, whereas others had obviously been part of a number of crashes already.
We picked front row seats and were anxious for the races to start. At first we only got to see trucks making round after round to prepare the track. But after an introductory grand parade of all race cars, the first race started with the 'streetcars'. It did not take long for us to realize that our front row seats might not have been the smartest choice. As of the first round, we were bombarded by pieces of dirt flying at us. And despite the strong fences between us and the track, we thought it might be a good idea to get a bit more distance to the track. After all, the racecars tended to get into battles. Looking at the cars, this was pretty obvious that this would be happening. And as expected, some of the cars ended up slamming the concrete wall lining the track. That was very loud and we definitively did not want to be in the trajectory of any parts flying around.

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At the end of the first race for the streetcars, we also realized that those cars that are not able to leave the track anymore, do not necessarily need a tow car to tow them out: usually there's just another one of the racers pushing them out. The tow trucks were busy enough with the more severe cases anyhow. As next classes started their races, we soon learned to distinguish the stockcars, mini stockcars or saloon cars. In total, there were seven classes. Each of them got to go for three races, such that by the second and third round we already knew what to expect.

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There was always something going on. In some classes like the saloon cars, it was exciting to follow who's leading the race and how the second and third were battling to lead of the race. In other classes, like the streetcars, it pretty much did not matter who's leading and who not. There all was about the crashes. And sometimes it was a mix of both, like in the mini stockcar class.

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At the end of those 21 races came the demolition derby in which five blue cars fought five red cars to the point when only a single blue car was functional and able to take the checkered flag on a winner’s tour around the track.

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Even though it got pretty late by the time we left, we all agreed that it had been an awesome day and something we would have had a hard time to see back home. Long after all other campers, we arrived in Wingatui. But as we had been there already, we knew our way around and soon fell into a deep night’s sleep.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rain penguin town museum race seal rail boulders stockcar Comments (0)

The very South

The Catlins, Invercargill, Monkey Island

semi-overcast 18 °C
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After almost two weeks on the East coast of the South Island, we were ready to discover Southland. We did not take the highway, but ventured along the Southern Scenic Route through the Catlins. Our first stop was Kaka Point. We admired the fact that the lifesavers were on duty with flags posted along the beach despite the cold and rainy weather. Surprisingly, there was not a single swimmer but two surfers enjoyed their ride in the water.
By the time we reached Nugget Point, luckily the rain had stopped and we were able to take the nice hike to the lighthouse and back. The seals were not only laying lazily at the beach, but some of the also ventured out into the sea and jumped dolphin like in the waves.

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The drive was very nice – sunbathed rolling hills with the ubiquitous sheep dotting the landscape. Due to the heavy wind gusts, we were forced to drive very slowly anyhow and consequently had lots of time to enjoy the scenery.
The hike to the Purakaunui Falls was short but impressive, as it led through a dense rainforest. For the first time, since we arrived two weeks earlier, this felt like classical New Zealand as you would imagine it. The ferns and silver fern trees are just special and in our mind strongly connected with New Zealand.

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We camped in Papatowai close to the estuary. It seemed to be low tide, as it was easily possible to walk all the way to the beach. Even though the water was absolutely clear, it was heavily stained by the tannin from the rainforest.

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The next morning, we realized that the tide was even much lower then as the estuary seemed to be almost completely dry. So we headed off quickly to make sure we arrived in Curio Bay while the tide was still low. We wanted to make sure that the rock platform with the petrified remains of a Jurassic forest was still accessible.

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Once we had excessively explored Curio Bay, we headed over to Porpoise Bay for our lunch break. Even though it is just around the corner, the wide sandy beach there seemed like worlds apart. After a while we realized that there were not only some swimmers and surfers enjoying the surf in the bay, but also a pod of the small (and rare) Hectors Dolphins.

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On our way to Waipapa Lighthouse, we passed Shole Point, the southernmost point on the New Zealand mainland. That made us realize that we were just further south on our planet than we had ever been before. After all, New Zealand is further south than Africa, Australia and Tasmania. With the obvious exception of Antarctica and the islands of the Southern Ocean, one can get further South only in Chile and Argentina. And while we have been to both countries before, we had not gone that far South.

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For the night we stayed at the Lignite Pit Café. Its obvious feature is the former pit of lignite (admittedly we had to look up what that is and found out that it’s just the scientific way of saying ‘brown coal’). For the last couple of years the pit has been transformed by a garden lover into a marvelous place featuring secret places, lookouts, bridges, islands set around the water filled former pit. Both Sam and I agreed that while we loved the place, our mothers with their love of plants and gardening would have probably appreciated it even more.

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The next morning, we enjoyed the heat and the sunshine in the morning. And luckily we did so, as just a bit later when we reached Invercargill it started raining heavily. We used the opportunity to do some shopping, but then quickly headed out of town.
As we passed some stretches of coast line and a lake, we wondered how nice the landscape might look in more favorable weather. But the grey day did not help to set a nice scene. Consequently, we ended up at our free camp at Monkey Island Road without further stops. That left enough time there to keep ourselves busy in the camper (once again congratulating us on renting a camper vs. camping in a tent) by playing Lego, publishing the blog and reading.
In the evening the rain stopped for a short while, just enough to allow us to hike to Monkey Island during low tide. We were treated to the light of a beautiful sunset. Sam used the opportunity to test his photography skills. Eventually it got too dark and we returned to the campervan just in time before it started raining again.

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The next morning it was dry and we used the opportunity to hike along the beach. It was extremely windy, but wild and beautiful.

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Continuing along the coast, we realized that it is probably always so windy there. At least all bushes and trees were clearly oriented towards inland. With those last impressions, it was time to wave good bye to the Southern coast. The almost impenetrable Fjordland Nationalpark was waiting for us.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged coast beach island garden forest seal lighthouse dolphin fern petrified pit Comments (0)

In sandfly habitat

Manapouri, Te Anau, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Wanaka

semi-overcast 18 °C
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After two weeks of touring the South Island we started turning Northwards. Our first stop was at Lake Manapouri. After a pleasant lunch in the sunshine, sheltered from the wind, we took a hike along the lake shore. The lake is beautifully set surrounded by mountains. We considered ourselves lucky to see it in sunshine. With the wind the lake was white capped.

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While the lake in Te Anau did look very similar, the town is certainly much more developed and more touristy. After a couple of days of staying at rather basic campgrounds, it was time for luxurious campground again. We enjoyed all amenities: the jumping pillow, wifi, hot showers, a large kitchen and a very comfortable cozy TV lounge.
Most likely all of those luxuries were the cause for our late start heading off to the Milford Sound. But maybe we were just a bit lazy that day. We did not get far before being stopped by the police – just like every other vehicle leaving towards the Sound. We’re not absolutely sure what the reason for the controls were. At least in our case, the officer exclusively checked if Max was restrained in an approved child seat (thanks again, Carol!) and if I was buckled in in my middle seat as well. We were all ok and allowed to continue without further ado – contrary to the busload of Asians in the other lane.
The landscape we passed through, reminded us a lot of the Alps – but without all the villages you’d have every couple of kilometers in Austria or Switzerland. It might have looked like that maybe some 100 years in the past.

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The Mirror Lakes were beautiful indeed. It was just important to make sure that the ducks are not in the way of creating the perfect reflection with their ripples on the water.

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We had planned to hike to Key Summit along the first kilometers of the Routeburn Track. For the first part through the wonderful native forest it was still cloudy. Once we reached the treeline, we were greeted by sunshine and enjoyed beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

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After that highlight of our day, we continued the drive to Milford Sound. Luckily, we were heading there so late in the day, that we were not bothered too much by the traffic. At the traffic light before Homer Tunnel there was not even a line in front of us. Luckily the tunnel is one-way only. Despite the missing traffic on a second lane, it is still quite an adventure, considering how narrow, steep and badly lit it is with water dripping down all along.
The tunnel delivered us right to the lower end of the Cleddau Valley headwall and from there the road twisted and turned losing altitude quickly and eventually opening up to the Milford Sound. By then the initial sunshine had disappeared and we wandered beneath heavy rain clouds along the foreshore of the Sound (which actually is not a sound, but a fjord). Our guidebook specified three typical views of Mitre Peak. I'm afraid we missed the 'best' scenario in bright sunshine. But at least we even got to observe the 'mystic' Milford turning into the 'rainy' Milford.

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By the time, we reached the boat terminal, it started drizzling, so we opted against a cruise. We decided to head back in the rain to our home for the night, at the Cascade Creek campground. At the wait for the traffic light at Homer Tunnel to turn green, we even got to see some keas, the famous mountain parrots.

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We parked in the spot we had reserved earlier in the day, but were not too impressed to realize that some other campers must have exchanged our anyhow dilapidated camp chairs against their even worse ones. The friendly round-the-world travelers from UK and USA that parked close to us claimed not to know anything about the chairs, so we decided to believe them and to rather join them in lighting a fire in the rain.
The next morning, the changeable weather was fine again and after a hike to Gunn Lake through an ancient gnarly forest, we enjoyed the nice drive back to Te Anau.

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From there we continued our journey to Queenstown. The drive was nice and there were only few other cars on the road.

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In contrast to the drive, Queenstown itself greeted us with a major traffic jam – probably the worst we’ve had since Yellowstone. At first, we assumed that there was a festival or something special going on, but the cashier at the supermarket confirmed to us that this is just what Queenstown is like. Passing through town, we noticed hordes of people forming long queues outside the restaurants and were happy that we had opted for a campground outside of town at Twelve Mile Delta.
Twelve Mile Delta is located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu along the road that leads to Glenorchy. That is also where the Routeburn Track ends, part of which we had hiked a couple of days earlier. We had driven 258 km to get to the campground from our last base at Cascade Creek – even though the direct distance is merely 44km.
The campground there is not only a good base to explore Queenstown, but is also nicely set along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. In addition, it features one of the filming locations of Lord of the Rings just a few minutes of hiking away. The Ithilien camp, where Frodo, Sam and Gollum watch a battle with Oliphants, was turned here. We tried to find it, but quite frankly it did require some imagination. For sure it is another good reason to watch the trilogy again at some stage.

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Despite the fact that we’re simply no city people, we do like to wander in towns from time to time. E.g. we had really enjoyed the couple of days we spent in Perth or Sydney. But a crowded town, full of tourists is definitively not at all what we enjoy. Consequently, we passed through Queenstown without further stops (except those caused by the heavy traffic).
After a quick stop at the Shotover River to see one of the jetboats pass by, we headed to the Kawarau Bridge. This is where AJ Hackett started the first commercial bungy jump in 1988 from the then 108-year-old bridge. We enjoyed watching not only the people jumping, but also those cheering from the viewpoint next to the bridge. Sam was tempted to give it a go. After seeing that this would lighten his wallet by 195 NZD, he decided that for that money he’d be able to rent a motor bike for a couple of hours which seems a much better value vs. the thrill of a couple of moments.

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On our way towards Wanaka, we got to drive along a nice river gorge, see some of the Lord of the Rings scenery, passed by the remains of former goldfields and orchards and vineyards.

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We immediately liked Wanaka. We found a parking spot right next to the lake. As it was very windy, we were happy that the skatepark was set back a bit vs. the lake. While Max worked off his energy, we took advantage of having a fairly good network connection to upload some pictures and another blog entry.

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Eventually we headed off along the shores of beautiful Lake Hawea. The 6km gravel road to the Kidd’s Bush Campsite was definitively worth the effort. We were rewarded with a beautiful spot, got to do some people watching and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the lake.

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Talking with the camp host, we realized that there were so many locals around, as they enjoyed a long weekend. On Monday, February 6th New Zealand is celebrating Waitangi Day, their national holiday commemorating the Treaty.
Many people had arrived with their boats in tow and they were taking them out onto the lake. Some just for fun, others trying to catch some trout or salmon and others pulling their kids or friends behind on waterskis, couches or inner tubes. And despite the campground being full, there was a really nice atmosphere - especially as the sun started setting.

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A beautiful spot indeed... And while it would have been very inviting to stay there for another night, we wanted to take advantage of the excellent weather forecast for the next day to get over the Haast Pass and to reach the West Coast.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:52 Archived in New Zealand Tagged lake cruise bungy waterfall tourists sound pass jetboat hole fjord sandfly Comments (0)

Westland or should we rather say Wetland?

Haast Pass, Jacobs River, Fox Glacier, Hokitika, Greymouth

rain 20 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

From the northern end of Lake Hawea where we had stayed for the night, it was only a short drive over to Lake Wanaka. After a nice drive along its shore, we started heading up towards the mountains.

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After having talked to an English traveler the night before, Sam had all of our excursions for the day planned out. The first stop was at the Blue Pools. We hiked 15 minutes through pristine forest to reach a swingbridge. After hiking along a bit further, we got to a second swingbridge spanning the Blue Pools. Their color was amazingly blue and the water crystal clear. Still, the main attraction proved to be something else: we got to watch a whole group of youngsters jumping from the swingbridge into the water underneath. It was not nearly as high of a jump as the bungy jump we had observed the day before, but this time without a rope. And surprisingly enough, there seemed to be much more hesitation and thrill involved in doing the jump into the holes. Quite a crowd had gathered around the swing bridge to applaud and it was great fun.

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Hiking up towards the car park, we came across a busload of German tourists. Looking at the age group and their immaculate trekking outfits, I told Sam that I’d take a bet that up in the carpark there’d be a Rotel bus (the German travel company that is famous for having their travelers stay overnight in rather small sleeping compartments in the back of the bus or in a bus trailer). Up at the carpark, I was disappointed to see only a ‘normal’ bus, but Sam pointed out the ‘Rotel’ sign to me quickly enough. And later that day in Haast we saw the sleeper unit of the group: a full-size truck trailer converted into the usual sleeping setup. We were happy to travel independently!
Eventually we reached the Haast pass. It’s named after Austrian explorer Julius von Haast who made the crossing back in 1863. Up there we were greeted by the sign ‘Welcome to Westland’. Sam rightfully pointed out that it might as well be more suitably named ‘Wetland’, given its infamous amounts of rain of about 5m annually.
Thanks to the rain in the last couple of days, we were rewarded with waterfalls showing off the full force. After a first stop at the Thunder Creek Falls, the valley started opening up and the narrow valley with its steep sheer-sided walls gave way to a rather wide valley with the road gently snaking along the riverside.

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The Roaring Billy Falls were our next excursion. While the falls were nice, the actual highlight was the walk there. We passed through a wonderful forest of large fern trees and felt like dinosaurs might be lurking just behind the next curve. Down at the river we spent some time skipping the perfect flat stones on the river. It had been a good decision to do this part of the journey on a nice day!

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All along the road we saw lots of vintage cars. After wondering for quite a bit what was going on, we talked to a couple and found out that it was the Timaru vintage car club having an outing doing a tour of the South Island for a week. It looked like a lot of fun. Probably it would be not nearly as much fun when it’s raining – after all many of the cars had no real rain cover!

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In Haast we were lucky to fill our tank before the next stretch of almost 170km without a gas station, but were surprised to find out that there was no mobile reception. For the first time in years I did buy a phone card and used it to call our campground for the night to reserve the last powered site. Sam was so surprised. He checked twice why I had bought a new SIM card, before realizing that this was a really old fashioned phone card like the ones I used when I was still studying in Munich.
Having our campsite secured for the night, we could take a leisurely stroll at Ship Creek. We got to see and touch our first Westcoast beach with its round pebbles and rough sea. We did both walks, starting with the Dune Lake Walk which led us through sand dunes and stunted forest to a nice viewpoint of the beach. The Swamp Forest Walk was as swampy as expected and featured enormous trees. Once more, a great stop on our way.

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At Knights Point we appreciated the nice view of the coast before the road headed inland for a bit. Still, we continued to make only slow progress, as the road continued to feature more curves than straight stretches. Heading north, we did get glimpses of Aoraki / Mt. Cook and it felt much longer than just those two weeks when we stayed just on the other side of it.

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Later than expected we arrived in Jacob’s River at the Pine Grove Motel. Two weeks ago, we had stayed just on the other side of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.
There are two ways how we could get back there. By car the shortest route would lead us via the Haast Pass and would take 439 km. The direct route would be just around 40km by hiking up the Copland Valley Track to Welcome Flat Hut and from there crossing the flanks of Mt Cook an effort which should only be undertaken by serious mountaineers.
We only realized later that in fact the Copland Valley track was temporarily closed that day due to the projected heavy rains of up to 150mm. And we can confirm: indeed, it was raining heavily.
As we arrived in Fox Glacier, we did get a nice view of the top of glacier from the viewpoint south of the bridge before heading to the glacier itself.

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Despite the rain, we also hiked up to the viewpoint above the glacier to see its lower end. Despite the 450m distance to where the glacier currently ends, it still looked very impressive. And it is - together with its twin glacier Franz Josef a bit further north – the only glacier in these latitudes coming down so close to the ocean, surrounded by rainforest.

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When hiking down again, a ranger passed us and upon reaching the carpark we realized why: he had closed the hike due to the heavy rains and subsequent risk of flash floods.
A bit further on, after passing through Franz Josef Glacier we left the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and simultaneously also the Te Wahipounamu Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area which encompasses 2.6 million hectares of wilderness.
We drove to Hokitika in pouring rain. The rain was atrocious. Once we had reached the dry heaven of the camp kitchen, none of us was keen to run back to the camper van to get something. Max played with the toys he found in the camp kitchen while Sam and I took turns on the laptop and read. And we were also there just in time to watch the final part of the Superbowl. What an exciting game and an unbelievable catch up of the New England Patriots winning 34-28 after the Atlanta Falcons had been leading already 0-21.
It rained until we went to bed that night. Our weather app recorded 49mm of rain for the day. After all the wettest place in NZ and one of the top 10 in the world is just a couple of kilometers away from Hokitika. Cropp River – a tributary to the Hokitika River - gets over 11m rainfall in an average year, with records of 18m in a single year and over 1m within 48h. Just for reference: the wettest place in Austria gets 2,5m of rainfall per year.

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The next morning we could hardly believe our luck: it had stopped raining! So we could finally go into town. Hokitika is mainly known for its jade carvings and we checked out one of the local workshops and galleries. We did check out how comfortable one can sit on a jade bench costing 220,000 NZD, but decided against it. We rather opted for a nicely painted stone featuring a kiwi for 3 NZD. Chatting with the artist, we found out that the stone is actually called ‘Grauwacke’ and might similarly be found in the German Harz. We immediately suspected that we might be talking with an emigrated German, but in fact he was South African.
A couple of doors further, we visited a glass blowing workshop and got to watch how the cute penguins on sale are made. It was great fun to watch and we admired how quickly and nicely the artist was creating the penguins.
Down at the beach we got to admire lots of driftwood sculptures which had been created as part of the annual driftwood festival just a couple of days earlier. It was fun checking out the various sculptures and deciding which one of them we liked best (every one of us had another favorite).

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Even though Max had been interested in seeing the workshops and the beach, clearly this kind of sightseeing is not his favorite pastime. So we made sure to provide him with some sights that are sure to please him. We stopped at the skateparks of Hokitika and Greymouth. In the latter, he managed to his big delight to trade his bike for a skateboard (at least for a couple of minutes) and really enjoyed trying out the skateboard.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 01:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea rain beach lake river glass waterfall pool swamp forest dune jump drive pass Comments (0)

Pancakes, Blowholes, Rivers, Fern Trees, Seals and Eals

Punakaiki, Westport, Nelson Lakes National Park, Blenheim

sunny 23 °C
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Punakaiki is famous for the Paparoa National Park and more specifically for the Pancake Rocks. We stayed at the only campground in town, the Punakaiki Beach Camp. I had stayed there already once before: almost to the day 15 years I had been part of a ‘Hiking New Zealand’ group touring the ‚Westcoast Wilderness‘. Surprisingly enough, there was a tour group of ‘Hiking New Zealand’ staying at the campground – what a coincidence.
We got a great campsite, right next to the beach with a perfect view of the sunset. Despite the great spot, we still ventured out that evening. Only seldom there is an opportunity to have the high tide coincide with sunset, i.e. the perfect time to visit the Pancake Rocks with its blowholes.
It has still not been confirmed why the sediments that created the pancake rocks formed such layers. Whatever their cause, it definitively provides a good base for erosion creating nice formations. The sea was properly at work for millions of years and as a consequence, we were able to wonder at sheer cliffs, natural inlets, tide pools and blowholes. Some of the rocks were washed out in wild forms, making them look like faces or animals.

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And indeed, while the first impressions had been nice, sunset brought a whole new dimension into the scenery.

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The next day we hiked along the Pororari River. It was a beautiful day and we were happy to walk mostly in the shade of the trees along the river banks. The hike was beautiful and the track did lead us through different terrain providing views of the river. While its waters are clean, it looks stained in a dark red / brown tone by all the tannins coming from the various plants along its sides.

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Anyhow, we got to see lots of different plants and animals along the way. The ferns and the possum sleeping along the path won the beauty prizes for flora and fauna.

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But also the landscape was spectacular and we enjoyed the vistas of the rainforest on both sides.

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At the swingbridge we eventually turned around, but not before heading down to the river and skipping some stones.

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Back at the campground we walked the couple of steps from our spot down to the beach. Max headed directly the only other child at the beach, a one-year old baby. To facilitate translations, I went over and we got chatting a bit. Nina was German, traveling with her husband Antonio and daughter Nelli. It did not take long to find out that Antonio is from Zaragoza and even knows a friend of mine. Pilar is also from Zaragoza and was part of the group of friends traveling to NZ to participate in a wedding those 15 years ago. The world is a small place after all!

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That evening we stayed ‘home’ and enjoyed our great spot at the beach. We watched the breakers coming in and eventually went to sleep to the sound of the waves underneath a starry sky.

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Before leaving the Paparoa National Park, we still wanted to explore the Punakaiki Cave. We headed into the cave well equipped with headlights. It was fun trying to figure out where to go. Despite the rather small size of the cave, it felt like a big adventure. At the end of the cave, we turned our headlights off and found ourselves in absolute darkness. Well, almost. There were a couple of tiny glowworms at the roof of the cave - nothing spectacular, but still a nice surprise.
Our original though was to head straight up into the mountains along the Buller River. The heavy rainclouds hovering over the mountains, easily convinced us to change our plan and to rather spend more time on the sunny coast. The choice was easy to just take the turnoff to Tauranga Bay to see the big seal colony there.

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In Westport, we (or rather Max) checked out the local skate park. As it started raining, we packed our stuff and headed into the mountains. We were positively surprised to realize that the rain only lasted for a couple of minutes and that we got to see the Buller River and its Gorge in bright sunshine.
As we passed through Murchison, we suddenly encountered lots of traffic. The road along the East Coast via Kaikoura is still being closed in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake. Consequently all traffic from the ferry in Picton towards Christchurch or anywhere else on the South Island is using that one road. It was fascinating to see which efforts have been taken to increase the capacity of the road by adding second lanes to one way bridges.
We stayed overnight at West Bay in Nelson Lakes National Park, supposedly featuring the clearest lakes in the world. While we were not able to verify that statement, we did get to see some old and big eels in the lake which live under the boat ramp next to the jetty.

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On the way to Blenheim, we got to stop multiple times for roadworks, always managed by roadworkers holding up ‘Go’ or ‘Slow’ signs. This made us slow indeed and we took quite a while until we reached the Blenheim area with its famous vineyards.
We did not stop at a cellar door for wine tasting, but still got a variety of wines to taste. The local Pak n’ Save store had three winemakers offering tastings of up to four wines each. And they were successful with their activity indeed. We liked one of the wines so much that we decided to get a bottle of Chardonnay we had tasted. Let’s see when there will be a good moment to enjoy it!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 00:04 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunset river cave hike seal pancake skate blowhole Comments (0)

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