20.06.2010 - 03.07.2010 15 °C
Sunday 20th June – Touching down at 3pm on Auckland’s cold and cloudy runway as we headed through to Customs, Si noticed one of the lanes was reserved for the 'England Rugby Team' who were playing later in the week! Hoping to get a glimpse, sadly they didn’t arrive until after we had gone through Arrivals and with our campervan waiting for us, we couldn’t hang around. After a quick introduction by the Apollo Team, we paid over the hefty NZ$7,500 excess and were cautiously on our way by 5pm.
Driving into the night and heading South out of Auckland, we stocked our fridge and cupboards with some essentials and continued on to the town of Hamilton in search of somewhere free to park up for the evening. Finding a quiet car park on the banks of Lake Rotorua, we made dinner and converted the dining/seating area in to a double bed – for the first of many times to come! Compared to our basic Hippievan from Australia, this was luxury, we could sit up, stand up and even cook inside! No more soggy sandwiches!
Monday 21st June – Up at 10am and after a cup of tea and cereal we walked around Lake Rotorua before heading back to the van and planning our route for the next few days, using the many free maps and brochures we had grabbed from Apollo’s office.
On the road our first stop was Matamata where the location for the Shire of Hobbiton is located, within The Lord of the Rings film.
Sadly we hadn’t anticipated a $60 per head charge so after some deliberation, decided there were other attractions we would rather spend our money on. After a quick lunch in the car park, we drove through the winding roads and took in the stunning green and mountainous scenery, until we reached the town of Rotorua.
Renowned for its sulphur hot springs, we walked amongst the bubbling, stinking pools scattered around a public park.
We then explored the rest of the town before deciding to go to a traditional Maori show. Heading for the nearest backpackers, we got discounted tickets and after parking up the campervan, we were picked up at 6pm and taken to ‘Mitai’; the Maori village. Soon we were offered a few canapés, after which we were shown around the makeshift ‘village’ and shown where our dinner was being cooked by the traditional method of ‘Hangi’ - buried underground and steamed over hot rocks for hours.
Next up we walked through the forest to the river where we watched the Maori Warriors arrive on a ‘Waka’ (Maori wooden canoe) before heading to a stage to watch the villagers perform various dances, fights and the infamous Haka.
Here we were also told about the history, meanings of Maori words and the tattoos worn by men and women. Next on the evening’s agenda was the Maori meal – a buffet of steamed meats and vegetables, followed by some tasty deserts. With our Maori guide saying that three plates worth was a good 'Maori' portion, Si rose to the occasion and piled his plate high, refilling it the required amount! The end of the evening was signified with a walk back through the forest to view the glow worms, lighting the way to the sacred lake.
After a great evening out, we were dropped back to the backpackers where we picked up our van and found a nearby Lakefront spot to sleep for the night.
Tuesday 22nd June – Waking up and pulling back our curtains we were shocked and amused to find a truck load of tourists staring back at us from a ‘Quack Tour’ bus.
Quick breakfast and we were on our way to the Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland, 20 minutes south of Rotorua. First up we walked to Lady Knox geyser which erupts at 10.15am daily, spurting hot sulphurous gas and water up to 20m high.
We then embarked on the 3km walk through various thermal craters, boiling pools and hot springs, always with the smell of sulphur, lurking at every turn.
Back in the van we drove an hour down towards Taupo and stopped to check out Huka Falls to see the powerful waterfall cascading 40m of water per second!
On our return to the van we bumped into a Welsh couple we had previously met, who told us about a free campsite just out of town on a river. Driving into Taupo, we headed for the Lake front to see the largest crater lake in the world, formed 600 years ago by a volcanic eruption and at the size of Singapore, it was truly spectacular.
After watching the sunset on the snow capped mountains surrounding the lake, we drove to the free campsite and cooked up a warming curry on our indoor cooker before finishing off with another Tim Tam Slam.
Wednesday 23rd June – Woke up early and joined the Number 5 motorway bound for Napier. Arriving at midday in preparation for the New Zealand Maori vs England rugby that evening, we headed to Kennedy Holiday Park and had a much needed shower (our first in 4 days!). After lunch in the camp kitchen, we walked into town and checked out the art deco buildings that lined the streets which had been built after a big earthquake in the 1930’s. Back for dinner at the campsite, we whipped up a quick pasta dish to line the stomachs and were joined by a hungry cat!
Soon we headed to McLean Park stadium for the exhibition match to celebrate 100 years of Maori rugby. Taking our place on ‘the hill’ in the small stadium, we stood cheering amongst the families of Maori and a small smattering of English fans.
With a great game of running rugby, England just came up short losing 35 – 28 in the dying seconds.
Entertained by the game but disappointed by the result, we walked the 15 minutes back to the campsite.
Thursday 24th June – With Si waking up at 1.30am to watch England play Slovenia, it was a subdued atmosphere with just two other supporters in the campsite TV room – still, England scrapped through with a 1 – 0 score!
Both up at 9am and after a camp breakfast we headed South through a small town called Hastings and on through Route 52 to discover the longest place name in the world: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikmaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu!
Back on the empty country lanes we passed the rolling green fields, even getting caught up in one or two New Zealand traffic jams!
Arriving into Masterton we stocked up our cupboards and fridge before heading on to Mount Holdsworth to a DOC campsite (Department of Conservation) where you pay a small fee and enjoy very basic facilities in a bush setting (i.e. compost toilets and rarely running water). Veal teriyaki for dinner (yes, it’s different but our meats were always from the ‘going out of date’ discount section!). With the rain pouring down outside we settled in our van for the evening.
Friday 25th June – Waking up at 10am we decided to tackle one of the many walking trails that led from our campsite.
Opting for the Mount Holdsworth Lookout walk, we walked solidly for an hour up steep hills but disappointingly were met by thick fog blocking out any of the supposedly ‘picturesque’ views. Back down and still feeling energetic, we walked down to the river before heading back and hitting the road just before midday. Today’s destination was New Zealand’s capital city; Wellington. After a couple of hours driving we pulled over and cooked up baked beans on toast – Si’s favourite. Continuing onto Wellington, we headed up the steep and winding road to Mount Victoria lookout but due to the rain and cloud, the views were not as impressive as we had hoped!
With nowhere obvious to park for the night, we continued our search on the outskirts of the city and on the verge of giving up, pulled into a Shell garage to ask if we could park there for the night. With a deserted and vandalised BP petrol station next door, we parked up amongst the broken glass and prepared dinner; pumpkin curry.
For the rest of the evening we continued to sift through the mountains of brochures and arranged the rest of our trip in New Zealand, booking our crossing to the South Island for tomorrow morning.
26th June 2010 – Alarm off early although Si had already woken up throughout the night due to the drunken people wandering and shouting around the van. Quick change then headed off to the Interislander queue to board the huge cross channel ferry.
Billed as one of the most stunning crossings in the world, sadly with the thick fog and cloud, we saw very little scenery so took a seat in the bar and watched some World Cup football. Arriving into Picton at 11.30am, we disembarked and headed straight to Blenheim where we had a wander around the town centre. Back on the road we stopped in the village of Havelock which having read its title of ‘The Mussel Capital of the World’, we had to test the theory and luckily enough it was lunchtime!
Steamed Green Lip mussels in a Thai green sauce for Rach and grilled with cheese and bacon for Si. It was a huge and mouth-watering treat!
Next stop on the Road Trip was the town of Nelson, with its stunning waterside location, we wandered the Pier and watched the amazing reds of the sunset over the snow-capped mountains.
After a stroll along the beach, we decided we would push on to Motueka for a night stop. After asking some locals, we were directed to a beachfront campsite for just $5 and settled in for the evening.
27th June 2010 – Greeting the morning with a walk along the beach, we then visited the town centre and took a look at the Sunday Market, stocking up on some fresh produce for the van from the local farmers. After visiting the I-Site (information centre) for some ideas of where to visit in the Abel Tasman National Park, we chose to head first to Kaiteritera and upon climbing up a steep mountain road, we were met with a small beach village. We then continued on to Pupu Springs; the largest natural springs in Australasia and notorious for having the clearest water in the world.
After a 15 minute walk through the forest we were rewarded with the turquoise crystal clear lake.
Two hours of solid driving barely seeing another person or car all the way, we arrived to the very North Western point of the South Island known as Farewell Spit. Taking the ‘unsealed’ road (which is actually forbidden in hired vehicles), we slowly made our way to Wharariki beach.
Parking up we walked the 20 minutes through lush green, sheep-filled, rolling fields and stumbled upon a massive white, sandy, deserted beach.
As we made our way to the waters’ edge, we caught a glimpse of something moving in the corner of our eye and noticed in a distant rock pool a colony of baby sea lions, splashing and playing under the watchful eye of an adult, sitting in the rocks above.
We spent the next hour captivated by these endearing, energetic creatures and eventually heading back to the van, over the sand dunes before the dark set in. Driving solidly until we made it to the village of Pohara and the only campsite around, sadly for Si they didn’t have Sky TV; no football tonight! After a delicious meal of Thai sausage and mash with the camp facilities, we headed to bed for an early night ready for an early awakening!
28th June 2010 – 2am wake up call and Si was desperately searching the internet for a link to watch the England vs Germany match. After a shockingly bad 4 – 0 loss, Si wish he’d just slept straight through like Rach. Up at 9am and having our first shower in 4 days; we slotted in the 50c coin for 6 minutes of hot water then saying goodbye to the friendly manager, we headed to our first stop Waihui Falls, again more unsealed dirt tracks – we were beginning to realise that most of New Zealand’s best sights were located down these ‘forbidden’ roads. After a 30 minute walk through thick forest, over a suspension bridge, we arrived to the impressive cascading waterfalls.
Back tracking down to Motueka via a few impressive lookouts, we again visited the I-Site centre for a few more ‘must sees’ then drove back through to Kawatiri via a lunch stop next to the vineyards full of roaming sheep.
At Kawatiri we parked up at the free DOC Campsite and followed the 30 minute walk around the old railway line, through the pitch black tunnel and back to the van as night fell.
While Rach Skyped home to wish her dad a very ‘Happy Birthday’, Si made spaghetti bolognaise with some delicious New Zealand Lamb mince.
29th June 2010 – On the road by 8.30am we arrived into Murchison at 9am and after a brief stop, continued on to Cape Foulwind to see the Kekeno fur seals colony which resides on the cliffs.
With around 80 of them; sunbathing and playing on rocks, we stood and watched for a while before making our way to Punakaiki. Famous for the ‘pancake’ rocks, these natural rock formations were formed 30 million years ago and looking like ‘stacked pancakes’ were an impressive and unusual sight.
As we continued along the coastline road, it was impossible not to stop at every scenic lookout to admire the stunning landscape. After a brief stop in Greymouth to stock up on food and petrol, we continued onwards to Hokitika for a look around the quaint town. We took a stroll on the black-sand beach before making our way to a DOC campsite on Lake Mahinapua.
After watching the sun set reflecting in the still lake, we headed back to the van for dinner and planned our next days’ route.
30th June 2010 – With the sun streaming in, we pulled back the curtains and saw the pastel pinks of the sky reflecting in the lake with the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps gleaming in the background. Taking one of the walking tracks in to the forest for 30 minutes it wasn't long before we were getting hungry and turning back for breakfast!
Back on the coastal road by 10.30am, we again paused at many lookouts and snapped away before arriving into Franz Josef at midday. We promptly signed up for a 4 hour afternoon hike over the Franz Josef Glacier and at $105NZ each it wasn’t cheap but it was something we both wanted to do. Quick sandwich before we got kitted up and with some of our Everest hiking gear (still on us!), we only needed to borrow the crampons before the expedition began. On the tour bus with our group, we headed to the closest drop off point to the glacier ready for our 20 minute bush walk, after which we emerged into the open and only 2km away from the glacier terminal!
Here we were split into groups dependent on walking speed and fitness. Eager to get to the glacier, we were in the first group and after just 40 minutes we had reached the face where we donned our crampons and ascended up the ice.
For 2 hours we walked over the ice, under tunnels and through crevasses naturally formed over time, it was an amazing experience and not half as cold as we had expected! With our guide cutting through the ice with a pick axe to lead the way,
Back in Franz Josef town, we decided to treat ourselves and checked into a luxury campsite for the evening with its attached spa and hot tubs – we thought we deserved it after our trekking! Grabbing the box of goon and a bag of Doritos, we headed for our private spa for an hour of relaxing. Rejuvenated after the spa and a warm dinner, we then spent the rest of the evening chilling in the TV room.
1st July 2010 – Checked out at 10am after a lovely hot shower, we drove onto Lake Matheson, notorious for its mirror lake reflecting Mount Cook and the surrounding Southern Alps ranges. After walking the one hour track around the lake, despite the slightly overcast weather, we still managed to get some good shots.
Back at the van, we headed to the Fox Glacier an hour further on.
Walking the track up to the face of the glacier, we noticed a very different look to the glaciers’ terminal, a much more rugged and steep face and we were glad we had chosen the Franz Josef to explore. Needing get to Haast, we jumped back in the van and made our way via a couple of lookout stops at Knights Point, Lake Peringa and Ships Creek where we walked through the rainforest and onto the beach scattered with driftwood.
With the sun setting we made our way through the spectacular mountainous scenery eventually arriving at a DOC Campsite of Pleasant Hut at 6pm and paid the $6 fee.
2nd July 2010 – With temperatures dipping well below freezing during the night, we woke up to an ice covered van. Parking up in the sun to defrost, we had a walk around the surrounding forest and river before cautiously returning to the icy winding roads.
After sliding the van on ice through 45°, we took even more care on the steep decent down to our first stops Thunder Falls and the Blue Pools. An impressive and powerful waterfall followed by stunning clear pools of bright blue water reached via a suspension bridge.
Back on the road and with the sun warming the tarmac, we carried on until we reached Lake Hawea and the amazing lookout point above it.
Stopping at Lake Wanaka for some lunch, we sat in awe of the breathtaking Lake and mountains that surrounded us.
Arriving into the town of Lake Wanaka at 2pm, we parked up at the lake front and wandered around the modern ski resort. With the sun shining, we watched locals and tourists feed the eels from the Pier.
After visiting the I-Site centre, we decided skiing was a must and booked Rach on a One Day beginner’s course and got Si a One Day pass for the advanced slopes at Cardrona Alpine Resort 40 minutes away. After gathering all of the hire gear we needed, we grabbed some supplies for the van and made our way to the Outlet Campsite, down a huge dirt track but set on the edge of the lake. With the van powering up and the temperature freezing, we made our way to the small, warm and cosy kitchen and cooked up a warming chilli con carne whilst chatting to a group of French travellers.
3rd July 2010 – Up early at 6.30am, we got showered in the dark then scrapped off the ice from inside the van and left the campsite ready for a day of skiing! Following many other vehicle lights, we made our way up to Cardrona Alpine resort, 40 minutes drive from Lake Wanaka centre. Through tight twisting and very steep uphill roads, at times we didn’t think our campervan would make it and were beginning to regret taking it up there, especially considering everyone else seemed to be in a powerful 4 wheel drive!
Thankfully arriving just after 8.30am (in one piece!), we got kitted out for ski’s and boots and with Rach’s lesson not until 10am, Si went off to explore the Ski slopes while Rach sat in the cafe and waited for her group.
Rach was a natural and thoroughly enjoyed the day, despite some very painful and ill-fitting boots to begin with, and after lunch (and some new boots!) had mastered the snow plough! Si loved getting back on the slopes and tackled as many challenging runs as he could manage, exhausting every slope by the end of the day. The 4pm lesson end came around very quickly and after a couple of runs on the beginners’ slope together, Rach impressed Si with her quick progression and hadn’t fallen over all day! Taking the steep, treacherous road back down the mountain very cautiously, we made it back to Lake Wanaka and had a drink in the vibrant town. It would have been easy for us to spend more time here but with so much more to see of New Zealand we wanted to continue. With the van powered up, we opted for another DOC campsite just out of town in Albert Town.