Day 17. Wednesday 22 November.

An intended quick dash to Nelson to sample some culture and creativity was slowed by multiple road maintenance sites. We arrived at the WOW (World of Wearableart) Museum around midday. The museum is an unusual mixture of wearable art (no surprise there) and vintage cars, with a fairly hefty entrance fee. However, T was not deterred and spent a whimsical hour with the art/design/costumery of the 2016 WOW competition entrants. This event has been going for 30 years and attracts entries globally. Exhibits included here are made from plastic, felt, rubberbands and …..any and every kind of material can be used and a recurring section of the competition is devoted to the bra. D amused himself with a newspaper and reported some world and local events to T, who decided that it had been better indulging in the world of the fantastical.

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Nelson is a maintenance stop, the last before handing back the van next Monday in Christchurch. Loads of washing done and hung under a threatening sky and we were off to walk into the city centre to look for the promised creativity. We didn’t really find it, with Trafalgar Street, the reputed location, mainly made up of the usual sort of familiar retail outlets.

Down one side and up the other didn’t add to our cultural store, but did result in two books and a haircut for D and two trousers for T.




At the end of Trafalgar Street was Trafalgar Square, and at the top of the hill was the Anglican Cathedral, a rather somber grey granite edifice, which was similarly austere, but not forbidding inside and the organ was being played.





The steps leading up to the Cathedral (into Trafalgar Square) were a great contrast, and, despite the climb, more inviting to continue upwards.


Towards the end of our rambling T did discover a hand weaving store, but the on-duty manager had shut up and was rushing away to get to her yoga class in three minutes. Only thing for it was to cross the road to Mac’s and have a craft beer: the Route 1881 American Pale Ale, which was delicious. What a joy it was to sit outside without the biting bugs….but come 6:30 back at the campsite, here they are again!

Sandflies….and sandflies…

Day 16. Tuesday 21 November.

‘You reach a certain stage of life when you can easily become irrelevant’, said D as he watched another late-arrival at the Lyell (ghost town) campsite tonight. With that he proceeded to do his ‘Ove’ thing once again, offering advice to the latest registrations, as the young hippie couple filled out the form while trying (unsuccessfully) to keep the wretched sandflies around their ankles at bay. The book/film ‘ A Man Called Ove’ is a gem and D plays the part (almost) perfectly, apart from the grumpiness…..well, occasionally including the grumpiness.

The day started with T offering quilting advice to Doreeta (camp host) while Doreeta’s guy got on with campground tasks. Doreeta figured this would earn her guy some fishing time (he had bought some new flies the previous day and was eager to trial them). T had mentioned the previous evening while checking in that she was a quilter and after that she was targeted!

Then we moved up the west coast, calling in at Hokitika for an extended morning tea stop, consuming coffee/treats and accessing internet at the Ramble + Ritual café, recommended by Lonely Planet, who got it just right. Hokitika seemed to be the greenstone capital of the west coast…studio/retail outlets galore, with the Tasman Sea almost rolling into the CBD, held at bay with rocks and driftwood. Several hours passed visiting galleries/studios, marveling at the variety of greenstone and sourcing tonight’s dinner ingredients (fish curry).

Back on Route 6 then Routes 7 and 69, then back on 6, north-east cross-country toward Nelson. Rainforest gave way to dairy and timber country and patches of straight road. At 6 pm it was time to pull up at Lyell, above the Buller River, the site of a 19th century gold-mining village, where the excellent information boards tell stories of rogues and ruffians and a feisty ‘Biddy the Miner’, 4 feet 1 inches of Irish Protestant, who lived with two men (we learned nothing of them), drank whisky neat and smoked the strongest tobacco and outlived the guys to the ripe age of 86. Go, girl!

Our hopes of evading the sandflies were short lived: as many if not more than lower down. T spoke to a woman camping on the next level down (we’re Lyell Heights, of course) who has suffered as many bites as D.

NZ has been a delight. The local people have been invariably hospitable (we could make other comments about visitors), the infrastructure has been in very good order, provision for campers has been excellent, and driving has been stress free – no angst, tail-gating, fingers raised or horns blaring. The occasional lapse by D has been taken in good humour or ignored: most of the questionable traffic incidents have involved visitors (insert stereotyping of visitors from our immediate north here).

Two days without the Internet

Day 14. Sunday 19 November.

Who would have thought that we’d need to put the aircon on? The morning was bright and clear and by midday the temp was around 25. Folk picnicking at Lake Wakatipu were dipping their toes in and by the time we got to Wanaka it was full immersion.

The morning was spent beside Lake Wakatipu, D still tried for that elusive fish (still eluded) and T ambled along a beech forest track. Queenstown was still humming – probably always does, so we passed through in the early afternoon, stopping only for fuel, joining a queue.

Just had to stop at a viewing point for the river called ‘Roaring Meg’. We found out later that there’s also a Pinot Noir named after her! Part of the legend of the river is that Meg’s dancing hall partner, more subdued, had a stream named after her too; “Quiet Annie’. D’s mum was Meg, and her next older sister was Anne.


Along the road to Wanaka we stopped at an art glass gallery where we listened to the tale of the artist who’d returned to NZ from 16 years glass-making in the Daintree. She and her husband had found that age had crept up on them and they had found themselves too old to apply for Aust citizenship (and the associated benefits/ healthcare). So they had reluctantly returned to NZ and set up at the Otago space, hoping that enough passing traffic would happen. The gallery set up was bright and light, very new and there were some nice pieces but we kept our hands out of our pockets.

Wanaka was a lower key Queenstown, so there was no urge to stay longer. The DOC Information Centre helpfully advised of several campsites heading north towards the Mount Aspiring National Park, so that’s where we’re headed.

The scenery remains impossibly beautiful, as does the weather. Tonight we are beside Lake Wanaka, at the top end, with the Haast Pass and the west coast ahead.

View over the lake is serene – the view over the campsite is cluttered!

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Day 15. Monday 20 November.




We are not early risers but we are aware of campers departing, so when there was a much bigger engine noise this morning, it was time to peek around the curtains….to find that a Chinese tour bus had nudged into the corner against the little grey car in the previous photo. The very elegant Chinese tourists must have been up since sparrows and now needed a wee break…they were able to view the daggy tenters/motorhomers up close and personal.


The Dept of Conservation campsites we’ve stayed in have been, without exception, terrific. Facilities clean and working, no rubbish and very orderly. The only quibble, nothing to do with DOC, is all the other campers, who fit into the parts of a chaotic quilt – a cornucopia of accents, ages, sexes, vehicles……you name it! We’ve arrived at DOC campgrounds in the late afternoons, thinking we have huge space all to ourselves….around 6pm some others arrive…around 8pm more and so it goes till after dark. This is very different from Australian camping behavior where folks are settled by 5pm and have a fire lit, wine poured and are ready to exchange travel stories from the day. We have had only one campfire and people generally stay within their vans.

We had a lovely chat last night with a young German mother (baby was 12 months) who had travelled through Australia as an 18 year old with two other mates on a working/travel visa and mostly picked fruit, as well as seeing ‘all of Australia except the bit between Perth and Adelaide.’ Her little family is now doing 40 days in NZ.

First stop today was Blue Pools – and we’re starting to run out of suitable adjectives for the scenery. At this spot, the big brown trout just ‘hang’ in the crystal clear waters unperturbed by the onlookers on the suspension bridges above. Grrr.


Through the Haast Pass, needless to say narrow, steep (in places) and windy.

IMG_0319At Haast township D had a pie, so when we stopped 30 mins later at The Curly Tree Whitebait Company, the whitebait pattie was for T. This tiny fish is harvested during a 10 week season, ending mid–November, but what a lunch treat it was….just fish, bound with an egg and cooked on a bbq ( looked like a fried egg, which T will never do) served on a slice of bread with lemon and salt…delicious!


A brief stop to check the Tasman Sea conditions in almost tropical weather and of course the Danes were there first, with thousand dollars+ binoculars and scopes narrating the movements of an apparent orca, which they said you could only see through binoculars. Of course D (with his $45 Tasco binoculars) and others could see nothing but the rocks below.

Then to Fox Glacier. We walked a valley path for about 500m to the viewing area, about 500 metres from the base of the glacier, to view a distinctly dirty glacier, due to the nature of its travels. A sign showed the extent of the glacier in 1750 and again in 1990. T vaguely recalled the reach of the glacier back in 1972…what a changed environment! We compared Fox to the glaciers we’d seen in Canada/Alaska, which, when calving into the waters of coastal sounds, were pristine white and blue.


Our final stop at around 6:30 was at another DOC campsite, this time with a temporary resident manager who had as many Dad jokes and puns as D – a bit of competition. D wondered how this guy goes with the young European women, who don’t seem to understand D’s jokes, even though they are very funny indeed.












Day 13. Saturday 18 November.

We’ve become accustomed to the presence of motor homes, and caravans are rare, so this morning’s neighbour was worth another look…fancy, pinot to go! thought T.


Time to head north to Queenstown – about 180 kms. A coffee stop at Five Rivers, which consisted basically of the coffee shop, but featured on the map. Later towns, much bigger (with at least two coffee shops) didn’t make it on to the map.

Then we hit the bottom of Lake Wakatipu.


Queenstown is the adrenalin capital of NZ and we arrived for a double shot as it was Q Marathon day. We arrived at about the five-hour mark, so some runners we saw were a bit slow, but D in particular was happy to admire their effort and accept the road delay due to bridgework and runners crossing. T had the wheel and D said ‘Just keep going, through the town centre’…well, she did, past the throngs queueing for presumably free hamburgers, and the closed off side-roads. There was nowhere to turn around, so toward Glenorchy we went. The road wound along the lake and of course the next marvelous mountain/lake vista was upon us. T thinks ‘you just can’t get enough of these views’.




Arrived at 25 Mile Camp Creek campsite mid afternoon, to find just one other camper, so selected a good site overlooking Lake Wakatipu. After an amount of jockeying into position, we were set, so T decided to go for a walk …………… and found that someone had been here before us.






Two hardy swimmers braved the cold waters of the lake, but didn’t stay in for long!





D has finally taken the plunge, got a one day fishing licence online, and began to beat the waters of the lake with the successful lure from the Patagonia trip. One strike, but D was so distracted by looking at the view (and perhaps not really expecting it?) that the fish managed to get off before the hook was struck.




A few others also decided to take the plunge and ventured into the water in swimmers…at 10 degrees all year round, it’s hardly attractive, but to each his own…

Saturday evening in sandfly central and D is thrashing the lake one more time……same result.











Day 12. Friday 17 November.

The smoky fire kept the Namu (NZ sandflies) at bay, but once out of its cover they (only the females) bit with a vengeance. The cabin was given a spray with insecticide, but some managed to survive this chemical assault, and made sure we both woke up with multiple, itchy bites.

Milford is today’s destination, a pretty good road but the signs tell us it is 110 kms and that we should allow two hours. That turns out to be fairly accurate, but it also allows more relaxed time to enjoy the scenery: the mountains, lakes, streams, rock faces weeping from on high and beautiful forests of beech and black coral trees.

A stop at The Chasm along the way to marvel at the power of water that has shaped and carved intricate forms into the rock bed of the stream, by forcing and tumbling pebbles to create an eroding machine.


At the tunnel entrance we have a short stop ( 6mins) while uphill traffic has the right of way. There, we see a pair of Keas, scavenging for food scraps. Such ferocious beaks!


Arrived at Milford to a windy day and many, many others and were put off taking a cruise by the crowds – Doubtful Sound had been just right.


So, back to Te Anau to take an evening Glow Worm expedition and to buy some insect repellant.

The boat ride across Lake Te Anau was suitably picturesque in the early evening.


Then some information about the life cycle and behavior of glow worms                  (apparently they love sandflies) and into the caves. The roar of the underground river was one thing but the total darkness in sections where the gondola was pulled through was something else. And of course the cave roof dotted with the tiny lights of the worms was a bit of magic. Interestingly, people from various language groups adhered to the English instructions re ‘silence’ and ‘no photos’.

Back across the lake to town, it was time to find the pizzeria:just the thing for Friday night…marinara with extra anchovies. And the pinot is a terrific Mud House 2015 from Central Otago. Tomorrow it’s off to Queenstown.

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Day 11. Thursday 16 November.

Where to today? Let’s go to Te Anau and then along the Milford Rd. Well the venison pie at Te Anau was seriously good and T retraced steps to the little Anglican church ‘St Michael and All the Angels’ where she had wondered about sleeping on the porch 46 years ago…but, as happened, she slept on the floor below a bunk in the very full YHA next door. And the porch no longer exists – replaced by a ramp for the mobility challenged: how appropriate!

After the pie treat, T took the wheel and it was time for D to be scared. The road to Milford is a gem, mountains, lakes, beech forests.

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A short, quiet walk at Mistletoe Lake (first picture above) through one of those beech forests and then a stop at Mirror Lakes (second picture above) to watch ducks squabbling and two big trout patrolling…then camp was pitched at Cascade Creek beside the stream (with two squabbling trout!) at about two thirds of the way to Milford Sound. It’s the last of the Dept of Conservation campsites (cheap & basic) before Milford. Scavenged firewood and a fire place complete the idyll. We make enough smoke to keep the sandflies down, but the potatoes cooked in the coals are a fantastic complement to the Porterhouse steaks and tomatoes, all washed down with NZ red wines. Does it get any better?


And D wasn’t scared by T driving. But no internet at Cascade Creek, so this posted back at Te Anau.







An Uplifting Day

Day 10. Wednesday 15 November.

Fiordland National Park has rain on 200+ days each year, with an annual average of 9 metres – this year it was 11 metres. That’s where we’re going today. What are our chances?

It is a perfect day, hardly a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Paradoxically, the bus driver on a later part of the journey tells us that the view and the rain forest are magnificent in the wet, and it has in fact been dry for a few days.

We walk down a forest track for 15 min from our campsite to board the first boat leg on Manapouri Lake and the camera starts clicking. 45 mins later we disembark at the West Arm (underground power station at the top of the lake). The power station is at its half-life, and transformers are being replaced over the next 4 days so there’s a bit of road traffic happening (50 tonnes at a time, requiring two prime movers at the front to pull the trailer, and one behind to push). WA power station was built in the 1960s to provide power to an aluminium smelter. It draws water from Lake Manapouri, drops it through tunnels etc, sends it through the mountains and then pours it into Doubtful Sound. An amazing piece of engineering, even by today’s measures.

And at the power station we board a coach and drive 45 mins over Wilmot Pass the most expensive road in NZ at $80 per square metre), marveling at the towering rainforest which is anchored to the vertical granite mountains through a carpet of moss, lichens and liverworts. These soft green mounds are a giant sponge, soaking up the 9 metres of rain and allow the next storeys of plant life to grow.


We hear that this is virgin forest, ancient wilderness that has had no genetic modification over millions of years. The habitat provides for fish and birds only…there are few other places on the planet which are still in this pre- mammal stage of evolution. Needless to say, it was the arrival of Europeans who introduced alien species (rabbits, then ferrets, stoats and weasels to control them) that stuffed it up, resulting in the extinction of several native bird species. The birds were flightless because they had no predators, apart from the Maori, and were vulnerable to these introduced hunters, who developed a taste for this easy prey.

Then onto the next boat at Deep Cove to motor up Doubtful Sound to the Tasman Sea.



The granite mountains, some with a little snow still, the forest in its 50 shades of green, the hanging valleys….and all carved by ice!


We stop in at a little cove to check out the Blanket Bay Hotel. When the National Park was created, some enterprising cray fishermen realized that it started at the high tide mark, so built this infrastructure below that line! The law was immediately changed, but the ‘hotel’ continues to operate as a station and transshipment point for the fishermen.




At the entrance to the Sound (40 kms of motoring), we see seals, sea lions and a bit of magic with humpback whales and finally a pair of Fiordland Crested Penguins standing sentry on a rock. Then it’s time to repeat the journey in reverse.

On the homeward stretch T sits next to a tiny Peruvian lady who mentions early into the conversation that she is travelling with a group of Chicago University alumni (and she’s not happy with the group). Her husband had worked there and they all talk about their jobs….blah, blah, blah. In fact this is her third husband ‘I don’t kill them, I scare them’ she says. The day has not been good for her because she has just received news about the death of her sister in New Jersey and is now trying to change flights to get home early. The tour guide was working overtime to get new flight bookings. It was a reminder that travel is not always a joyous thing and how wonderful it is to have empathetic assistance at difficult times.




Sitting outside in the evening writing this blog, and we’re sharing the space with bitey little sandflies, who invaded our van this morning. And a few feathered friends…





Dinner out tonight at the Church. This one has walls and is perhaps food for thought? Hairven was transported to Manapouri from????? And we’d heard earlier today about Rimu, the native pine formerly used for construction and furniture-making (now preserved). The church/pub was totally Rimu. Our host was the ideal ‘minister’ and while the food was (very acceptable) ‘pub’ the experience was overall very satisfying.

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