04.07.2010 - 16.07.2010 13 °C
4th July 2010 – Waking up to thick fog surrounding the van, we had no choice but to wait it out until the visibility improved.
Driving back into Wanaka, we checked the road conditions with the information centre and decided to take the shorter but more risky, winding mountain road to Queenstown. BIG MISTAKE!!! Not only was it VERY icy in our little van (with no grip), but due to the gravel and grit on the roads, we managed to acquire two large chips in our windscreen... oops there goes some excess then!
Arriving into Queenstown at 11.30am, we parked up and took a wander around the stunning lakeside town on the banks of Lake Wakatipu.
With the sun shining we decided to take the gondola to the top of the hillside for sweeping views across the snowy picturesque town.
Included in our Gondola ticket was a ‘run’ down the luge track.
Kitted up with stupid, big helmets, we took the chair lift (Rach’s first!) to the start of the track and hurtled ourselves down the twisting tarmac, colliding several times!
Back in town for the evening, we drove 15 minutes out of town to a DOC campsite on the riverbank, cooked up some dinner and watched the sunset over the stunning Queenstown.
5th July 2010 – Another freezing night in the van, we woke to more ice and fog, so cautiously drove back into Queenstown. With the sun burning off the mist and warming us (and the van) up, we spent the day in Queenstown amongst the snowboarders and skiers heading to the slopes and watched the locals play golf frisbee in the park, amongst our time perusing the many shops around the town.
Unable to resist the wafting smells from a cookie shop, we sat and delved into a bucket of them!
With a couple of hours left of daylight, we decided to make the most of the heat and light and made our way as far as we could towards Te Anua before nightfall. Disappointed to have left Queenstown (our favourite city in New Zealand so far, if not the entire trip!) but looking forward to seeing more, after 2.5 hours of driving, we managed to make it to Te Anua just after dark. Checking into a campsite, we again used the camp kitchen creating a couple of delicious Hawaiian Beef Burgers and wedges. We then sat in the cosy lounge by the open log fire and watched a couple of films before reluctantly returning to the freezing van just after midnight.
6th July 2010 – Clean again after 3 days, we hit the road and headed to Milford Sound. On the way, we first stopped at The Mirror Lakes and despite the best efforts of a roaming duck and its ripple effects, we captured as much of its beauty as we could!
Heading back on the road to Milford Sound, we stopped at a few lookout points, one of which we made up a quick lunch at and as we climbed higher through the mountainous winding road, we started to come across black ice warnings.
Forced to take a more leisurely pace we enjoyed the views before arriving to Homer Tunnel and some roadside snow caves which we explored before driving through the tunnel as it carved its way through the mountainside.
We arrived to Milford Sound at 2.15pm and headed straight for the cruise booking offices, opting for the Southern Discovery boat. Managing to wangle ourselves a discount with a voucher we had found in one of the many brochures, we were soon boarding the Lady Bowen at 3.20pm.
Holding 75 people, we were lucky that as it was out of season, with only 8 people joining us! With plenty of room to roam around the deck and take pictures, we watched as the scenery unfolded around us.
Cruising through dramatic peaks, waterfalls, rainforest and lush mountains, we came across a pod of Southern Bottlenose Dolphins, (some up to 4.5m long!) which played at the bow of the boat.
We soon came across seals swimming in the water and despite the icy temperatures, we stayed outside to capture as much as we could, whilst enjoying the free tea and coffee on board to help keep us warm.
Arriving back on dry land just after 5pm, we knew time was against us so we went in desperate search of a DOC campsite. One hour later we finally arrived to a DOC spot luckily, despite a couple of hairy moments sliding on the black ice in the dark.
After diner, we braved the cold night air for some star gazing in the clear night sky; one bonus to the cold days!
7th July 2010 – After some serious de-icing of the van (and ourselves!), we cautiously made our way back onto the icy road and back to Te Anua where we stopped at the Wildlife Sanctuary to see the once thought to be extinct Takake bird, a prehistoric looking, flightless bird with only a population of 200.
Making it as far as the Cliffden Extension Bridge for lunch, we then continued on to Tuatapere and to McCrackens Lookout, in search of the rare Hector Dolphin. Unfortunately to no avail.
Instead we walked along a quiet beach nearby before driving onto Cosy Nook Village, a tiny three housed village set on the rocky coastline, with a rather amusing public toilet!
Arriving into Invercargill at 3.30pm, we took a walk around Queens Gardens and visited the various animal enclosures, housing a variety of wildlife from kangaroos to wild pigs and deer. Walking into town, we visited the infamous Indian motorbike which starred in a film with Anthony Hopkins and which Burt Munro used to set the fastest land speed record (several times) with a maximum of 206mph!
After checking with the information centre, we were told we could park up in the nearby car park for a night of free camping. Cooking up a tasty beef and pumpkin teriyaki, we demolished the last of our bucket of cookies whilst watching a film on the laptop.
8th July – Deciding that Invercargill had little more to offer, we decided to hit the road early and choose the scenic route along the coastline. Heading for Dunedin we stopped at Curio Bay via yet more ‘unsealed’ roads and we were lucky enough to see a fossilised subtropical forest in front of us, which was more than 170 million years old.
Heading for a paddle in the ocean, we spotted out of the corner of our eyes, two penguins huddled against the shoreline on a rock. Upon closer inspection, we realised that these were indeed the rarest species of penguin in the world, the Yellow Eyed Penguins! Sneaking in a little closer, we stood and watched them for a while.
Back in the van, we drove onto Purakanui Falls; a multi-level cascading waterfall.
Quick lunch in the sun then we were off to Nugget Point. Driving down the off-road track hugging the coastline, Rach spotted a basking Seal lion on the sand, so we pulled over for a look.
Continuing up the dirt track for another 16km, we finally reached the lighthouse we had been searching for and the rock formations scattered in the sea, glistening like golden nuggets.
On the way back to the van we detoured to the nearby viewing deck, where we spotted two more Yellow Eyed Penguins, hiding away amongst the vegetation.
With the daylight fading fast, we put our foot down in search of Dunedin.
Arriving into town after dark, we were unable to find anywhere to free camp, so we opted for a paying Campsite at St Kilda beach. Stumping up the $34 for the privilege we used the facilities and powered up the van whilst watching a bit of World Cup football.
9th July 2010 – Planning a busy day, we had alook around the historic town before hitting the Cadbury’s Factory for a 10.45am tour.
Greeted with a goody bag and hair nets, we spent the next two hours learning about chocolate and its history and of course tucking into as much as we were given! We did learn some facts along the way, one being that on average, 10 cream eggs are sold per person in NZ each Easter and England are the 3rd biggest consumers of chocolate (we were certainly doing our bit)!
Next on the agenda after a quick lunch was Speights Brewery Tour which Si had been looking forward to almost as much as Rach the Cadbury’s tour.
We spent an hour being shown the innerworkings of the Brewery before culminating in the bar area where we stood and poured ourselves beers for the remaining time (Rach of course restraining being the ‘designated driver’!).
With the sun setting we drove up to Otago Peninsular where we spotted a few seals, cormorants and albatrosses.
Reading that the Little Blue Penguins arrive on the beach every night to nest in season, we waited an hour in the freezing cold and rain but sadly they never appeared. Stopping briefly at the World’s Steepest Street, we decided not to risk driving it so instead made our way up on foot, puffing and panting as we went.
With the night set in, we decided to get some miles under the belt so heading out of Dunedin, after an hour we pulled off the highway in search of a DOC site at Trotters Gorge. Having taken the wrong road twice, we eventually found the site, but sadly it had been closed for the Winter. With no other sites in the vicinity, we parked up outside the closed gate and with the eerie silence around us, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere!
10th July 2010 – Waking up in the deserted campsite we realised how far away from anything we were and after an hour’s trek through the forest to a high lookout point, we then continued on to Moeraki Boulders. These strange and unexplained circular rocks line the beach and peak out from the water when at low tide.
Just about avoiding getting soaked as the large waves rolled in, we headed onwards to Oamaru to visit the Little Blue Penguin Sanctuary. Built on the seas edge, we walked around the various man-made burrows; set up to encourage breeding. Inside, there were 8 penguins resting in numerous different burrows and a viewpoint was set up in a few for tourists to see.
Aiming to be in Mount Cook for nightfall, we left the Penguins and drove solidly finally arriving at dusk. With a DOC site 2km from Mount Cook town and at the foot of New Zealand’s highest mountain (3,754m) and where Edmund Hillary honed his skills for Everest, we parked up and had a walk around the snowy surroundings.
Again with a crystal clear nights’ sky, after dinner we sat in the front of the van and watched numerous shooting starts lighting up the sky. Unfortunately with little cloud cover, the night got very cold and in our little van, we huddled together to keep from shivering all night as the ice crept its way into the van.
11th July 2010 – With our coldest night yet, we scrapped off the thick layer of ice covering the inside windows of the van and saw that our water bottles were frozen solid as well as the van’s water tank!
With the sun coming out, we left the van to thaw as we embarked on a 3 hour trek to Lake Hooker, situated at the base of Mount Cook. Over a large swing bridge, through some thick snow and icy ledges, we reached the Lake which had been completely frozen over with the glacier at the base of Mount Cook melting into it.
Back to the defrosted van, we headed on to Twizel to stock up on supplies before stopping at Lake Tekapu. After visiting the information centre, we decided to book ourselves onto a star gazing tour later that evening before walking down to the Lakes edge to capture the shimmering turquoise waters, coloured so from the glacier particles.
After walking back we grabbed a quick pasta dinner in the van, before being driven the 20 minutes out of town to Mount John Observatory. Thought to be the clearest night’s sky in the Southern Hemisphere it was stunning and luckily so clear!
With 5 large telescopes for us to use, the Astronomer guide indicated the various constellations throughout the sky and we even got the chance to view Saturn through a very powerful telescope, showing every ring so clearly it was like we weren’t a million miles away. With the knowledge of the resident photographer, Si managed to get some great shots of the ‘Kiwi’, ‘Southern Cross’, ‘Milkyway’ and various other constellations.
Dropped back into the town of Lake Tekapu, we went in search of another DOC campsite but with sketchy directions and no map, we ended up very lost and found our way onto a very icy bridge, asking directions at a nearby house. Finding we had gone 20km out of our way, we got proper directions and headed back on the right track, eventually finding the DOC campsite and parking up beside Lake McGregor for the night to relax and de-stress!
12th July 2010 –
After a little walk around the campsite, we then drove back into Lake Tekapu to visit the Good Shepherd Church which overlooks the Lake.
Back in the van, we drove onto the town of Geraldine and stopped in the famous ice cream parlour, despite the freezing temperatures! The next town was Ashburton where we stopped for lunch, before arriving into Christchurch at 3pm. After checking out the cheapest campsite in town, we opted to pay an extra couple of dollars for somewhere a little less run down!
Parking and powering up, we grabbed a bus into town and looked around the City centre, with punting on the river and lots of very British looking architecture, we could have easily been in England.
Back to the campsite for the evening, we used the free BBQ before watching some TV in the warm common lounge.
13th July 2010 – Up early, we checked out and headed to the Antarctic Centre for 10am, just in time for the feeding of the Little Blue Penguins!
Scoffing down a fish or two almost the same size as each penguin, we watched as these rescued penguins went about their daily life, now confined to the centre as due to their disabilities such as blindness and decapitated limbs, can no longer survive in the wild. We spent the next 3 hours wandering through the centre, including the Blizzard Room and its blizzard simulation with wind temperatures reaching -40°!
Finishing the visit with a ride in the Hagglund, we were taken on a course to show how this Antarctic vehicle was used to manoeuvre through the challenging landscape. Luckily it had seatbelts as we were flung and bumped all over the place, with some passengers screaming, crying and feeling sick! Heading next for Hamner Springs, after two hours on the highway, we arrived to the small Alpine village notorious for its natural Hot Springs. With no free camping allowed and no DOC sites, the only option left was to pay so booked ourselves into the cheapest one. After a wander around town we headed back to the campsite and used the facilities to get our money’s worth.
14th July 2010 – At the hot springs by 10am, we paid the $14 and 15 minutes later were lowering our cold bodies into the 35° hot pools. With many to choose from, we hopped from temperature to temperature, the highest reaching 41°!
Feeling relaxed we hit the road just after midday before taking the inland highway to Kaikoura, stopping occasionally for photos and food. Arriving into town late afternoon, we again headed straight to the I-Site centre for some activities and camping sites. Booking ourselves onto the Dolphin Encounter Tour for tomorrow morning, we hoped another 4 people would book on so the tour didn’t cancel! Driving up to Keane Point we immediately came face to face with the various fur seals lounging on the rocks and beach.
Coming across 5 baby seals, we couldn’t help but stop and photograph them, but after getting growled at by one of the dominant males, we made sure we kept our distance! After sunset we headed in search of a free camping spot, 20 minutes out of town (10 of which were on a dirt track!), we arrived to the grassy cow-laden site. Whilst parking up in the boggy grass, we managed to find ourselves very stuck, at which point we decided this was a good enough spot and we would try to dig ourselves out in the morning when the ground was frozen!
15th July 2010 – Up in the misty and frosty morning, with our fingers crossed, we started the engine and slowly tried to pull away. Sadly, the ground had not frozen enough and the back wheels spun and dug us only deeper. The only solution now, was for Si to get out and push. 5 minutes of huffing and puffing, putting cereal box cardboard under the wheels to ‘help’, the van finally snaked its way free of the mud, leaving its leftovers all over Si’s jumper!
Arriving at the Dolphin Encounter office at 8am and eager to see some dolphins, we were disappointed to find out that the trip had been rescheduled due to the strong winds. With a few hours to kill, we drove to the high lookout and watched as the thick clouds parted to reveal the snow-capped mountains which surrounded the town. We then made our way back to Keane Point car park to again watch the fur seals playing and basking in the sun.
Taking the coastal walk, we made our way to the high point on the Peninsular and we were rewarded with views over Kaikoura.
Back to the Dolphin Encounter office, we were again left disappointed as the weather had not improved. But with the weather report good for tomorrow, we decided to stick around for one more day. Chip buttys for lunch, although Rach’s was stolen mid-bite by a large, hungry seagull! Back to the lookout for sunset, followed by dinner; quick sausage pasta on the waters’ edge.
With nothing to do in the evening, Rach suggested we visit the local cinema to see the only film showing; Sex in the City 2! With no alternative for the evening, Si reluctantly agreed and paid the $10 to watch 2.5 hours of one of the worst films we had ever seen!
Driving back to a deserted shower and toilet block we had passed on the waters’ edge, we parked up for the night.
16th July 2010 – Up early and to the Dolphin Encounter office once again, with the sun shining we had our fingers crossed, but with only one other swimmer scheduled for the tour so far, the Skipper cancelled the trip due to economical reasons; not enough people to pay for fuel! Knowing there was another group booked in for 12.30pm, we hung around in hope!
At midday the company sent a plane up to confirm Dolphin numbers. Unfortunately, the Skipper determined there wasn’t enough to make the trip viable, especially now with the deteriorating weather. Really upset, after 2 days of waiting, we decided to cut our losses and head for the North Island. On the way up (after a tip from a local), we stopped at a waterfall 10 minutes walk from the roadside and filled with about 25 baby seals, playing and splashing about.
After a lot of photos, we decided to make a move and headed to Picton to catch our evening ferry back to Wellington and the North Island.
Arriving into Wellington, we headed back to the trusty disused BP garage which unfortunately had been blocked off for renovation, so we snuck into next door’s car park and parked up in the shadows for the night, ready for our last 10 days in the North Island.