I’m not going to have a chance to upload any photos from my camera so this will just be a text based, but rather detailed, account of my day to day journey through New Zealand – for this post, adventures in the South Island.
I was up at 5am to get to the airport and check in, but with the 3.5 hour flight and time zone difference this day was just about getting here and picking up my campervan. The flight with Air New Zealand was good, and although slightly cheesey I was amused by the Lord of the Rings themed safety video!
The ‘campervan’ is just a converted people carrier but that’s what I booked and let’s be honest I don’t need a huge amount of space. It does have a small gas stove, sink and small water tank so everything I need really. After stocking up on a lot of cheap food, tins and such, the rain came in for the evening sonibfound a suitable place near the beach and got my first night’s sleep.
Luckily the rain had moved on and I awoke to a clear sky sunrise at the beach which set me in a good mood for my journey ahead. The weather is much more like an English summer here, cold mornings with the only real warmth coming from sunlight itself. I’m finding it very pleasant though and the lack of sweat is welcome.
The main part of the day I explored the city, which is still recovering from the devastating earth quakes back in 2011. There is still a lot of construction work as well as closed or pot-hole ridden roads. By chance there was an international flower show about to get underway so the town centre was filled with various displays and animal bush sculptures (I’m sure there’s a word for them?).
The Canterbury Museum gave me a good introduction to Maori culture and also had an interesting exhibition on street art which included many pieces by Banksy. Just outside I wandered the vast botanical gardens, still in full summer bloom. Overall the city seemed quiet, but definitely in a good way.
Upon leaving the city I sought somewhere for an afternoon walk and found my way to Peel Forest. There were many walking tracks but I chose to go via a ‘big tree’ and then uphill to Acland Falls. The climate and vegetation feel much more European than everywhere I’ve been thus far of course, but atvthis stage it is very welcome.
Once again with the evening came the rain also, so I took the time to drive south along the coast to be nearer my next intended destinations.
I spent the night at a campsite named Glencoe, out in the sticks somewhat and very peaceful with a river flowing through nearby.
Glencoe and Moeraki
After a surprisingly long sleep I awoke and felt decidedly naturery. So what better way to spend the morning than bathing in the river? Well it was slightly foot numbing, but a great way to wake up!
Feeling refreshed I headed out to nearby Moeraki beach, famous for it’s collection of remarkably spherical boulders, somehow set amidst fine beach sand. There were a lot of tourists and photo takers but it was a good sight as I was passing through.
Further along was Shag Point, home to both seal and penguin colonies. I wasn’t lucky enough to see any penguins as I believe you only really see them returning from the sea at dusk, perhaps I shall manage to elsewhere. But I did see plenty of the fur seals! Mostly lazing around the rocks but one or two were playing in the cove waters. Animals make me smile at any time, but to see them in the wild like this was truly wonderful.
Taking its name from the old version of Edinburgh this city did have quite a Scottish feel to it, no doubt from the heritage of its founders. The Otago Settlers Museum explained more and showed how the colonists integrated with the locals and built up the city. The town square, or rather octagon, was filled with market stalls and surrounded by old buildings and a church. Another pleasant city in all but again I moved on down the coast to find a good camping spot, on the beach once again, this time at Ocean View Reserve to the south.
After continuing the scenic drive south I took a small detour out past Kaka Point and on a rugged road to Nugget Point. Here on the jagged rocky shoreline was a lighthouse and down below yet another seal colony. The area, and perhaps even the whole east coast thus far, does remind me a lot of various places on the British Isles and the changeable weather enhances this reminiscence too.
Back on the road and cutting my way across the breadth of the island would lead me to the west coast and perhaps more altogether Nordic landscapes.
With only a couple of brief stops I was soon into Fiordland and finding somewhere to stay for the evening. Unfortunately there is no ‘freedom camping’ in the area so I had to pay for my first time at a campsite! I suppose it will be worth it for a hot shower in the morning though. The site is right on the shore of beautiful lake Manapouri and I had time to walk and explore the area in the hours before dusk. It was wonderfully peaceful and quiet walking amidst the trees and stopping for occasional views across the calm waters to the mountains beyond. I look forward to the coming days and some more serious wandering.
A short drive away was the town of Te Anau and lake of the same name, today bathed in glorious sunlight and clear skies. With such good weather I embarked on a 5 hour return walk through the forested banks of the river Waiau out as far as Rainbow Beach and the swing bridge there that hangs high over the rushing waters. This river was actually used in Lord of the Rings for aerial shots of the Anduin river, and it was as beautiful as they make it look in the film. It’s always hard to describe properly the wonderment of walking the woods, but in such peaceful green surroundings it’s difficult not to feel something.
The return walk was a little tiring so I rested a while at the nearby wildlife centre, home to many native birds and waterfowl. Then began my journey along the road towards Milford Sound. Is there much better than driving magnificently scenic roads with your favourite tunes blasting out?
With so many amazing view points along the road it was difficult to know where to stop, but I eventually settled in the camp site on the southern shore of Lake Gunn. Once again the pure natural beauty is hard to put to words, I really can’t wait to show people photos. High mountains line the whole horizon and moss covered forest walks lead to rivers and lakes. There is very little or indeed nothing in the way of settlement or buildings. In fact along the entire 120 or so kilometre road to Milford Sound, which you have to drive back along too, there is not a single petrol station and mobile phone signal is non existent.
The forecast is not set to continue as wonderful as today was, but hopefully it will not worsen enough to deter me from any of the numerous mountainous walks along the road ahead.
Up to make the most of the day I headed further along the road to The Divide, a car park for a couple of different walking tracks. My choice was Key Summit, about an hour’s ascent into the mountains. As the walk continued the contrast of hot skin and cold air became more apparent, and towards the summit the winds hastened and the rain came in with an icy feel. Though different from the previous day there was still much beauty to be found, with clouds roaming the snow capped peaks beyond and grand views of the misty valleys below. Though nearly 1000m in altitude it was still dwarfed by some of the surrounding ranges, visible from the short alpine nature trail around the summit. On the return route there was a short turn off down to Lake Howden so I took the opportunity to stop there for more photos.
The next stop was to see the fast flowing falls where the water from high Lake Marian comes down. By this point the rain was persistent and looked to remain for the whole day. Now, most journeys often have a moment of stupidity, and after today I can hope this was the only such moment…
After arriving and deciding to see if the rain wanted to ease at all before I viewed the falls, I took to reading a book and promptly fell asleep. With my lights still on. And so of course later came the impending realisation of the matter, but too late. So there I was in a car park off the main road, with the nearest phone signal about 80km away, in pouring rain and only 2 other cars around but no people. After a while, with the help of a pleasant American couple, we flagged down someone else who although also didn’t have jump leads did suggest that there was a camp and shop back where they’d come from that may prove helpful. So I can’t thank this Aussie couple enough, as they drove me back down the 8km gravel track to the camp where we did manage to find jump leads, then drove me back to the car where we managed to get me on my way again!
With most of the afternoon gone and the rain still constant I thought it best to end the day there and drive back to the same camp site as before to reflect on my idiocy and hope for better weather the following day when I could finally get to Milford Sound itself.
Waking early to find the rain had subdued, I travelled along the winding undulating road towards Milford. It was a misty morning and I passed many waterfalls along the way including a stop at The Chasm. Through a tunnel in the mountain and alongside many landslide sites I found myself arrived. Down at sea level I was no longer in the mist but the clouds lingered above and around the towering mountains all around. It is a spectactular place to be and is very reminiscent of my times in Norway. After some short walks and many photos and reading that the area gets nearly 7 metres of annual rainfall on 200 days of the year I decided it was unlikely to clear for any different views, so began retracing my route back to Te Anau and then on towards Queenstown.
The further from the fjord I drive the more clear the skies became. A short while before Queenstown I chose to stop at a site at the southern end of the lake, in what was now hot afternoon sun. With such a beautiful outlook across the lake I thought I may as well linger for the evening and sleep the night too, as there was not the usual no camping signage around. I lazed in the sun, took a cooling dip in the lake and proceeded to make some dinner before sitting on the beach and waiting for the sun to hide on the horizon.
Waking to a cold but clear morning I drove along the lake shore and into Queenstown. This is probably the adventure capital of the country with numerous opportunities for paragliding, bungy jumping and skydiving to be found. But for me, I was content with just enjoying the surroundings. An uphill walk through pine forests led to a magnificent viewing platform over the town and lakes below. There was of course a cable car up and down, but what’s the point in that. It was a glorious sunny day so I stayed for a while to take it all in.
After heading back down for lunch I continued the afternoon with a more leisurely stroll around the town and on to the gardens, situated on a small peninsula jutting out into the lake.
As I’m trying my best to spend my nights at cheap or even free sites I definitely had to leave the expensive touristic Queenstown. The road wound its way through the region’s vineyard valleys and I also made a stop to find another Lord of the Rings location; the Anduin river again, but in the gorge before the Falls of Rauros. Anyway, on to free camping once again by the water on the windy shore of Lake Dunstan. Not quite as pleasant and peaceful as my previous nights as the large area seems home to many caravans, the kind who have brought their whole household and TV satellites with them.
Into Wanaka for breakfast by the lake with the ducks, then for some exercise out at one of the nature reserves. Seemed like a nice enough town but I had a reasonable drive ahead of me with many places to stop off, first being the other nearby lake of Hawea for a cooling swim. The road then turned back towards the north end of Lake Wanaka with some great views in the sunshine of another clear summer day.
Mount Aspiring National Park
Every day I seem to be on another wonderfully scenic drive, this time through another national park area. I didn’t stop for any long walks but there were plenty of sights and short trails to stop off for, firstly at Makarora. Following there was The Blue Pools, Fantail Falls and Thunder Creek Falls. All shared similar qualities, that of the crystal clear water running down from the mountains and glaciers beyond. I hoped to reach the glaciers themselves the following day whilst the weather remained favourable, so continued my drive through. As soon as I departed the mountains I found myself overlooking the sea, I had reached the west coast. Not far from there I settled at Lake Paringa for an early night.
The morning mist was a sure sign of a clear day ahead and good conditions for a spectacular dawn, so first thing I took myself to nearby Lake Matheson. The haze was already lifting as the sun crept over the mountain tops, but I hurried the walk along the lake and managed to capture some of the magic from the view points. The lake was almost perfectly still and situated as to reflect the peak of Mount Cook amidst the rising mist of the newly sun-warmed waters. A wonderfully peaceful start to the day.
On to Fox Glacier itself, which is slowly retreating back up the valley it once created. So there was a reasonable walk along grey and rocky ground, up to within a hundred metres or so of the terminal face. It was only possible to go further with a guided tour, but I was happy to marvel at the great icy formation from there. This was actually my first time seeing a glacier so it was quite an enjoyable sight.
In the realm of many glaciers I moved on to perhaps the more famous and larger Franz Josef. Once again the speed at which the glacier has risen back, evidenced in photos, was remarkable. It wasn’t possible to get quite as close without guided tours again, and to reach the ice itself helicopter was required, making it somewhat noisy for us walkers below. The colours here were mesmerising though, from harsh greys, to ice whites and in the right light glowing azure blues. All in all a great day of reveling in nature’s beauty.
The evening led me further north and to a much needed resting place, outside the small town of Hokitika, on Lake Mahinapua.
Paparoa National Park
A short journey up the coast road and I was at Punakaiki, a small village but famous for its rock formations. Named the ‘Pancake Rocks’ after the oddly formed layers of limestone, the towers stand tall around the bay and caves that at high tides become ocean blow holes. There were other short walks around too offering views out to sea and along the jagged shore.
Further along I made a stop to see another seal colony at Tauranga bay. There were plenty there, lazing around on the rocks, so I managed to get a few good photos from the cliffs above.
My route then led me back inland, winding alongside the river Buller as it cut deeper into the land becoming a gorge. As well as more fantastic views I came across New Zealand’s longest swing bridge, spanning over 100 swaying metres across the river far below, not for those uneasy with heights.
Kawatiri would be my campsite for the night, good value for money when it costs nothing. There was also an interesting short walk around the area, over an old bridge and through a disused railway tunnel from the days the country was first trying to connect north through to south.
Pelorus River & Sound
Back amongst bigger towns once more I restocked on some supplies in the morning at Nelson before getting back out for my last day on the North Island. The best place on my route seemed to be the Pelorus River Reserve where I enjoyed a forest walk and a swim in the river, which was remarkably warm but probably because of its shallow depth.
Following the river to the coast I was greeted with great views over the bays and inlets of the Sound all the way along to Picton. And so this was my final destination for for this island, an early night awaited and then on to the inter island ferry at first light. To the north!