Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Zealand

Whilst in Australia Gaz managed to convince Tara that a Campervan would be the best option for traveling around New Zealand. The weather had been unseasonably mild in southern Australia, and we thought New Zealand would be the same. We were wrong, and Gaz was suddenly very unpopular.

We landed in Christchurch in flip-flops and quickly set about wrapping ourselves in every item of clothing in our backpacks before setting off in search of our hostel. Our hostel’s previous incarnation was a jailhouse, but with a lick of paint and some comfy bunks the owners had successfully turned it into a very comfortable place to stay.

We spent our first afternoon wandering around the city of Christchurch and taking in the main sites before treating ourselves to a gourmet curry in the Two Fat Indians restaurant. On day two in Christchurch we headed out of the city to the excellent Antarctic Centre. The centre acts as the starting point for nearly all Antarctic expeditions. In addition to some informative displays it also houses a colony of blue Penguins and a Antarctic storm simulator (which wasn’t too different from the weather on the streets of Christchurch).

We collected our Campervan from Jucy Rentals on the Wednesday morning, and drove straight to The Warehouse (a discount shop in New Zealand) to stock up on woolly hats, socks and some eye-catching thermal underwear. The first stop on our itinerary was a Gondola just outside of Christchurch. The views from the top were nice, but it probably wasn’t worth the expense for anybody that has travelled in a Gondola before. We then travelled onwards to Mount Cook and eventually arrived at Glentanner campsite in pitch darkness. The stars overhead were amazing that night and it was the brightest Southern Cross that we’d seen in our time in the Southern Hemisphere. We awoke the next morning to discover that we were surrounded by snowcapped mountains. From the campsite we drove the final few kilometres up to Mount Cook and went for a walk in the snow. The Hermitage Hotel at Mount Cook has a checkered past in that it has burnt down numerous times in a short period time, so we were glad to see it was still standing when we returned from our walk. We treated ourselves to coffee in the hotel before hitting the road again. The drive from Mount Cook down to Dunedin was breathtaking at every turn, and our journey was regularly interrupted for photo stops.

We arrived in the student town of Dunedin in the late afternoon, and embarked on a short walking tour before checking into our campsite. The next morning we made the short trip over to the Otago Peninsular and spent a few hour hours watching and learning about the rare Royal Albatross that nest there.

From Dunedin we drove over towards Te Anau, stopping enroute at the Elephant Rocks (the setting for several scenes from the recent The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe film). On arriving in Te Anau we quickly located the pub and settled down for a few beers, before adjourning to our campsite to cook ourselves dinner. The next morning we set off for Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a stunning Fiord on the western coast of New Zealand. The steep mountains that bank the Fiord create some magnificent scenery, including several large waterfalls, and the waters are teeming with wildlife such as seals & dolphins. Our return journey to Te Anau from Milford Sound also brought some excitement because the diesel gauge on our van dropped far more quickly than it had done on the outbound journey. The diesel indicator light came on about 30km outside of Te Anau and we were forced to coast down the hills in neutral to save fuel. Thankfully our Campervan (who’d been named Lucy) managed to limp into the petrol station under her own steam, though we’re convinced that we drove those last few kms on diesel fumes alone.

From Te Anau we drove onto Queenstown, and as it was Saturday night we decided it would be inappropriate if we didn’t test out a few bars. We’d arrived in Queenstown on the second day of their Winter Festival (a celebration of the start of their ski season), and hence the town was awash with people ready to party. Our first stop was Minus 5, which is a bar constructed entirely from ice. Here Gaz learned the hardway that you shouldn’t lick your glass if it is constructed from ice. The higher levels of Carbon Dioxide in the bar make the alcohol in your drink more effective, and a shot and cocktail in there set us up for a heavy night. In addition to a light head, we also managed to acquire two Aussie girls in the bar and they became our drinking companions for the rest of the night. Our next stop was the Boiler House bar which warmed us up, and also saw the start of the Tequila slammers. We vaguely remember going to a hip-hop bar after that, but the rest of the evening is pretty vague in our memories. Our digital camera contains a number of pictures that we don’t even recall taking, but we look pretty happy in them so the rest of the night must’ve been good too. We also treated ourselves to an argument over a pot noodle, probably our first (and most pointless) barney of the trip so far. Our hangovers the next morning were monumental, and despite our best efforts we didn’t make it onto the ski slopes of Cardrona until gone 2pm. Gaz then managed just one hour of snowboarding before having to retire to the mountain restaurant, and Tara’s time on the piste was even shorter than that. Getting to the slopes had been hard work and we’d discovered that our campervan (Lucy) wasn’t the best vehicle for traversing icy mountain roads. We decided that we should make use of our snowchains on the way down, and (after 45 minutes of swearing) Gaz eventually managed to coax them onto the rear wheels of the van. We made it down the hill safely, and then discovered that taking off the chains was an even muckier and more difficult than putting them on. We decided at that point that we’d make do without them for the rest of our journey around New Zealand.

From Queenstown we drove north up to Wanaka and stopped for lunch. We then drove on up to Franz Josef village via the Haast Pass stopping off at Thunder Creek and Fantail Falls on our way. The Franz Josef village was our base for touring the magnificent Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. These glaciers are unusual in that that they flow very rapidly (well, for a glacier anyway) through rainforests. The last thing you expect to see in the middle of a rainforest is a 14 kilometre mass of moving ice. We walked up to the Fox Glacier unguided in the morning, and in the afternoon we joined a tour of the Franz Josef glacier which took us up onto the ice mass. Climbing the glacier was a fantastic experience, and with the aid of crampons and tough hiking books we navigated up and over the glacier and even through tight crevices in the ice. Our return trip from the Glacier involved crossing an icy cold stream which filled our boots and left us with mild frostbite.

From the glaciers we drove further north to Hamner Springs, with a night’s stopover in the seaside town of Greymouth. Greymouth was a rainy version of Blackpool (with less glamour), and we felt the name was appropriate for this overcast town. Hamner Springs is home to thermal pools, and was a great end to our travels in Lucy. We spent several hours soaking in the hot mineral pools, before indulging in a sauna to dry ourselves off.

We dropped Lucy off in Christchurch the following morning and then made our way to the airport to catch a flight up to Auckland. Initially we thought we’d made a huge mistake by choosing to tour New Zealand’s south island in a campervan during the middle of winter, but it worked out really well. The van gave us the freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted. We also quickly learnt how to keep ourselves reasonably warm in the van even when the temperatures outside were sub-zero. Furthermore, our van was fitted out with a microwave, fridge and gas hob, which meant we could save ourselves money by not eating out.

In Auckland we decided to go in search of some local culture, and found some in the form of a local comedy club. An extremely drunken kiwi heckler called Errol taught us that the key ingredient in Kiwi culture is alcohol. Its probably inaccurate to describe Errol as a heckler though, because he wasn’t so much abusing the comedians as conducting a slurred interview of them from his spot in the audience. Nobody in the room (including the comedians) was sure if Errol was just drunk or mentally disabled, and eventually they staff had to pretend that the show was over in order to get rid of him.

On our second day in Auckland we ascended the SkyTower (the highest structure in the southern hemisphere) in the morning, and went to a Maori song and dance demonstration at the Auckland museum in the afternoon. We then picked up a rental car and drove up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands that evening, and checked into the wonderfully cosy Mousetrap hostel.

We continued our pursuit of New Zealand wildlife the following morning by going on a dolphin watching cruise in the bay. The dolphins remained elusive though, so we weren’t able to swim with them as planned. We were, however, treated to some beautiful scenery and some angry weather as we island-hopped around the bay. Just north of Paihia is the Waitangi treaty ground. The Waitangi Treaty made New Zealand a part of the British Empire, guaranteed Māori rights to their land and gave Māori the rights of British citizens. A Frenchman had been on the verge of claiming New Zealand for himself, so the British signed the Waitangi treaty in 1840 to spite him.

From the Bay of Islands we headed north to Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet to generate huge waves and some seriously windy weather. We then drove onwards to the Kauri forest to check out some big trees, and make a visit to the Kauri Museum in Matakohe. This was far more interesting than it sounds on paper, with the highlight being an animatronic tree cutter called Trevor that scared the living bejesus out of Tara when he came to life. From the museum we drove ourselves back to Auckland to catch our flight to Santiago, Chile.

New Zealand was a lot of fun, and despite our initial temperature-related apprehension we really enjoyed touring around in a campervan. Travelling in New Zealand was a little bit too easy though, and we’re looking forward to getting out of our comfort zones again in South America. The language-barrier alone is going to a challenge, as we can’t remember a thing from the 8-week Spanish class that we took before we left.


Paddyrick said...

Hey, New Zealand winter in a campervan. What is that like. We did it last Summer and it was epic! We are thinking about doing it again in October. How cold is it at this time of the year down there? We are ooking at booking something similar to the Jucy van from a site called

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