Days 6 & 7

Day 6. Saturday 11 November.

Having trouble uploading photographs, so will post text and follow up as we can with images.  Grrr!

Although the campsite is quite crowded (and late arrivals creep in, and out, fairly regularly) it remained pleasantly quiet. That’s probably partly because there are no fires allowed, and it’s too cold to be outside for long. There’s a vast assortment of rigs, from tiny one- person tents to large 6 berth campervans. So far, no caravans, although we have sighted retail outlets for them. The other notable absence is Grey Nomads – apparently here called Grey Ghosts.

On a perfect sunny morning (again) it was time to head towards Dunedin, via Twizel and Omarama. At Omarama we passed a glider airfield, and T had an idea. After a coffee at a mobile barrista in town, who provided great coffee, good stories and a fair amount of cheek, T decided that’s what she would like to do. D opted to provide ground control. As a side note, the barrista told us that Grey Ghosts generally don’t have a good reputation in NZ, as they reputedly take free camping to a new art form, and avoid paying fees for facilities and usually have no home base…sounded a bit like ‘trailertrash’. He was familiar with a different culture in OZ, where folk take to the road for months/years, but the freecamp mentality is not such a put-down there. Maybe it’s got something to do with the vastness of OZ and the driving distances.

The flying outfit, Southern Soaring, was able to squeeze a half hour flight in. T’s pilot Dan (looked about 17, but claims ten years flying experience) was from Yorkshire, here on a working holiday – four years ago. A very comprehensive briefing, including how to operate the parachute (and for those who were in Noosa last year, this time T didn’t pull the cord handle to check whether it worked).


It took a while for the tow plane to get high enough to let go but after the ‘release bang’, T felt the silence in the big blue…except for the air rushing in through a small window opening and then the birdlike ping ping ping sound which meant we were either ascending or descending with the thermals. After some minutes of circling and rising/falling (like a rollercoaster, which T never chooses to ride), Dan said we’d just go straight. The airsick bag was visible in a side pocket. T passed on the offer to have a go at the control stick (Dan said that he often was sick when guests took control! – and T was aware that Dan had just finished a quick lunch in order to take this flight). There were mountains and lakes and fields and fortunately thermals (since that’s what kept us up). T wondered if birds have the unpleasant feeling of head & stomach connection. The soaring/gliding silver bird that had caught T’s eye at Mt Cook this morning had prompted the glider idea but T was looking forward to getting feet on the ground again and was relieved when Dan announced that it was time to land. T decided that if she were a bird, she would have to be a kiwi or an emu or the little brown ‘hopping bird’ which has been at our various campsites ( except she can’t hop, either!)

After the flight a somewhat queasy T thought that a road trip might be alright. Dan had recommended stopping at Benmore Lake, which we did, to have a very short walk along a breakwater. This was the first time we’d observed watercraft activity on lakes – although T had noted them as she passed over in her glider.

We stopped at some Maori rock paintings along the way east – very simple, mostly black and red, and largely lines. It was sad to see that they had been extensively damaged by carved initials etc. and had also been cut away and taken to various museums. They are now protected by steel cage barriers, and some have been removed and placed in museums, we presume (it wasn’t stated) because the sandstone cliffs are wont to collapse. We hope they weren’t removed haphazardly.

The afternoon’s chosen driving route deliberately took us through Duntroon – it was quicker than the other place, and infinitely more pleasant! In NZ we have now also been through Albury, Holbrook, Weston…..just to mention a few.

On to Highway 1, heading for Dunedin, but not tonight. Stopped at a dump site at Pukeuri to find no tap connector for the fresh water tap (we carry several in our rigs at home!) so tried to fill the water tank by D holding the end of the hose up the tap. This is at best a partially successful technique.

So on to Herbert, where we are perched in a DOC (Dept of Conservation) forest campsite (Glencoe) about 2 km out of town, sharing a lovely grassy area with just one other campervan containing a Canadian girl and a German girl who have just finished working the snow season in Wanaka, have bought the mandatory daggy van and are now doing the tourist thing.

Our connection to the internet has so far been intermittent, as free wifi hasn’t been readily available (free camping doesn’t include free wifi – nor, so far, has paid camping!). We’re on a Telstra international day plan, which gives 100 mb per day, but that doesn’t provide much flexibility. Today, for example, D got onto Google to sort out some refugee email issues, and that used up pretty much all the capacity. Perhaps we should just revert to postcards and letters?

 Day 7. Sunday 12 November.

A very cold night! Retraced our route from yesterday looking for a restaurant called Riverstone, highly recommended by Lonely Planet, for a brunch treat.

D has scrambled eggs with truffle oil and streaky bacon, pleasant enough, while T had blue cheese caramalised onion pork sausages (three!) which were outstanding. Both meals were re-enjoyed regularly throughout the day.

Back to Oamaru to visit the small Farmers’ Market and wander through the old Victorian harbor precinct. This area had been restored only thirty years ago, having been ignored since its heyday at the turn of the century, when the city over-reached itself and the hoped for continuing prosperity vanished. Fortunately there was insufficient funds to demolish these lovely buildings, so they’re now having a revival as a hip market place.

Heading for Dunedin, stopped for today’s highlight at Moeraki Boulders. Lonely Planet advised it was a 45 minute walk along the beach from the village, but that information was out of date, as there is now a café and a 5 minute beach walk to the boulders. Of course the threatening skies opened, accompanied by a driving wind but the pics tell it all. The boulders are ‘concretions’ in sedimentary material formed 60 million years ago and subsequently raised above the ground.

South again, sticking to the scenic routes rather than the main highway, Route SH1. At Dunedin branched off on the northern arm of the Otago Peninsula to a little village called Aramoana, located at the northern head of Otago Harbour. Wikicamps told us of a free campsite at the village’s Reserve, but we couldn’t accurately find that, so parked in a sealed parking area overlooking the beach and salt marsh flats – hoping we wouldn’t be asked to move right along. Directly opposite, on the southern head of the peninsula is the albatross breeding sanctuary (a visit there tomorrow) but we’ve already had a preview with the help of the little binos purchased at Arakoa (because we’d forgotten to bring our proper ones from home).

Late afternoon walk along the beach and over the saltmarsh flats, with an icy wind blowing but fortunately no rain. Imagine there’ll be no other crazies out this way tonight.

Day 5. Friday 10 November.

Brilliant sunshine on a cold morning, but the lake-mountain views were marvellous. Where shall we go today? Mt Cook, only 90 kms of driving to tickle the battery, with lakes and mountains the whole way. A brief stop 10 km from Twizel to take in the view and get the hot smoked salmon for tonight’s pasta. Plenty of tourists (lots of Japanese groups who seem obsessed with selfies and photos of ‘here I am with the mountain/lake behind’.)

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Passed 2 helicopter–flights points and T didn’t ask for a stop (yet). With such perfect flying conditions she must be saving up for something really special.

After excellent coffee at Old Mountaineers café (we qualified for half of that title) we learned that there is a campground so decided to investigate. Yes, there are lots of day-trippers but we were advised that it quietens down at the end of the day.

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It’s now evening and we’ve earned the salmon pasta after a 3+ hour walk along the Hooker Valley towards Lake Hooker at the foot of Mt Cook. It was reminiscent of Alaska/Canada terrain, with fast glacial streams and snowy peaks. For T the highlight was probably the Mt Cook buttercup.

Upon return to our campsite (nicely levelled with rocks under the wheels, as ramps aren’t included in the kit) it was time to share a wine with Beau and Bonny, American neighbours from South Carolina.







Day 4. Thursday 9 November.

Daybreak and brilliant sunshine – but yes, the night had been very cold. Somewhat startled to discover the showers were 50 cents in the slot, given fees paid last night, but at least they were long!

After a quick shop in town, headed south towards Timaru, a port city. Opted to park near the information centre and then look for a coffee fix. After passing on a few offerings, stepped into Sopheze, which was very busy, and a simple order of two coffees and a piece of walnut cake (buttered and wrapped in plastic) was stuffed up. Ah well.

The town centre maintains its Edwardian facades, newly painted. The sculpture garden at the Aigantighe Gallery was worth a detour.

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The afternoon sky threatened and T wondered whether heading west to the Alps was wise but the vista was a delight as we passed through Pleasant Point, Fairlie and then to Lake Tekapo. Dairy farms gave way to deer and then the landscape became alpine, windswept and treeless. At the lake we paused to admire the range of blues and to visit the old stone church, but beat a hasty retreat in the face of the hordes of Japanese selfie-takers and chatterers in the ‘quiet’ worship space. The afternoon colours and snow-capped mountains kept enthusiasm high.

The narrow road west was buffeted by very strong winds, making the journey uncomfortable. Each time a large truck passed, it created a windbreak that threw forward direction askew – that can be somewhat disconcerting! Arrived at Lake Pukaki, and wended our way past many fellow campers to a quiet spot sheltered from the wind. Fellow freedom campers continued to come in over the next few hours, but all of them chose to pass our little sheltered nook to join the masses of others that were camped on the edge of the lake. Great views, but they’ll probably have an interesting night if the wind gets up. We are sharing the site with a couple of car loads of campers – when they arrived the boom-boom music started up (oh dear!) but that died down. They have ignored the No Fires signs and have enjoyed a little camp fire from the plentiful pine cones.

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New Zealand 2017

Day 1. Monday 6 November.

A wet day in Canberra to farewell us. Our dear friend Keith arrived early to drive us to the airport, to be there well ahead of time. As always happens when you plan ahead, there were no queues and we entrusted our luggage to Virgin and Air New Zealand, hoping that both bags would arrive at our destination: they had worked together on our trip to Norfolk Island to ‘misplace’ T’s bag for almost a week! Having arrived with plenty of time to spare, the inevitable happened: our flight was delayed by an hour. This hour was then taken off the time we had to transfer to the international terminal, get through Immigration (oops, Border Control Force) then through security – usually a long drawn out process in Sydney. But the gods were smiling on us – we whisked through in record time, the only worrying moment being when D was asked to step out of the quick line and be processed by an officer. Apparently the electronic screening didn’t like the look of him (not really surprising).

So, on to ANZ for the two and a half hour flight to Christchurch. By 6pm we were a bit peckish, having missed lunch in the delayed flight but no meal for us, as we’d apparently chosen the miser option, so we had to then buy some refreshments to keep us going. A pie and sandwich were not as appetizing as the aroma of the chicken vindaloo, but a pinot calmed T. Arrival and processing smooth, even though D had declared an amount of fishing gear, which wasn’t inspected. The Kiwis apparently think he has an honest face, even if the ABF don’t. Into the Sumida Airport Hotel for a quick snack of ham and pineapple pizza, wedges and chips, (the sort of stuff that D regrets almost immediately)

washed down with a Pinot and CabSav Merlot. The details are there only to demonstrate how desperate we were for food.

To bed, but not to sleep. D had dreadful pain in his left hand, and his tossing and turning and moaning kept T awake – well, more awake than usual. The quake of 2011 was rumbling on (or so it seemed in a bed where every movement ricocheted). A most unrestful night.

Day 2. Tuesday 7 November.

An early start not least because our 10 AM pick up was actually really only 8 AM according to our body clocks. The hotel provided a shuttle to the Maui base, a huge activity, buzzing with people getting their vans. The sight filled us with dread – was there going to be any free space on this island?

Processing was smooth, efficient and comprehensive, so we were on our way to Countdown, the NZ equivalent of Woolworths. Stocked up (yes, including wine) and then on our way. A couple of false turns, but unlike in Alaska, none were up one -way streets.

Headed for Akaroa, a ‘French’ settlement about 90 kms SE of Christchurch. We plan to be here just one night – tomorrow a dreaded cruise ship comes in, with 3000 passengers.

We parked in a free camp area on the boat ramp – when we arrived there were five others; as the day and evening wore on, all those travellers (or so it seemed) who had picked up their vans earlier in the day arrived in dribs and drabs. It’s a bit like being in Coober Pedy again, but with a bit more elbow room. Only self- contained vehicles are supposed to use the site, but there is a great variety of rigs, from couples in the back of station wagons, families in small Juicy vans to large bus-like rigs.

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Green lipped mussels tonight, in a tomato and (NZ) white wine broth.

Day 3. Wednesday 8 November.

The rain and wind arrived with a vengeance overnight – the van rocked and rolled as large gusts buffeted us. Still raining steadily at daybreak, so took the only sensible option: a long sleep in. The weather started to clear around 1030, and we moved into town for a quick croissant and coffee breakfast – it is, after all, reputedly ‘French’. The upside of the bad weather was that the cruise ship couldn’t off load its passengers as the sea was too rough, so we had an hour or so of quiet time until the passengers dribbled in.

The free museum was a delight, starting as recommended with an excellent overview documentary tracing the history of settlement, from the first indigenous peoples to the European explorers and colonists. And just like the recent discussion in Australia, this country was also ‘discovered’. The documentary portrayed a far easier occupation than ours, although we suspect that might be somewhat disputed. Certainly the Treaty of Waitangai was a good outcome – although the Maoris argue, with apparent justification, that the English language version and the Maori language version differed significantly when covering the issue of indigenous tribal sovereignty. This was not resolved until recent years.

Leaving town we took the scenic Summit route taking in the terrain of the 3 volcanoes that form the peninsula – a narrow winding road with barely enough room for two vehicles to pass – but the views were magnificent back down towards Akaroa and on the other side of Banks Peninsula. 50 shades of green……

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Took a turn down an even narrower, steeper road into a little village called Okains Bay: it was about three buildings and a cultural museum. Another gem, with a range of displays from Maori culture to the early settlers.

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Latish afternoon by now, so after a brief stop at Little River and a quick view of their wonderful NZ art gallery, on the road to try to find that elusive free camping area. Back through the outskirts of Christchurch, then south towards Rakaia, heading towards Rakaia Gorge. The suspicion we’d had was confirmed: this was all beautifully organized agricultural land, without a single opportunity for a stealthy overnight stop! Decided to head for a little town called Methven, at the foot of the Mt Hutt snowfields, where we have called in to the campground, which is quiet and hardly occupied. Now there is only the bleating of sheep to bother us, as it is also the showgrounds. Snow-capped mountains and rushing glacial rivers remind us of the Canadian Rockies.

And it is cold.