The Van's first outing - Christchurch to Dunedin
Dunedin, New Zealand
Wow, its cold in New Zealand! We left Christchurch and headed towards Akoroa. We were told it was a beautiful little French village on the shore, with French cafes and street names. It's on a peninsula on the east coast and took a few hours to drive there and really wasn't what we expected. We saw two French street names and that was about it, but we had a wonder along the shore and explored town before decided to head over the mountains to Oktapi Bay to camp for the night. The drive over the mountains was pretty scary; we got stuck in low lying cloud and couldn't see more than a metre in front of us with sheer drops to the sides. We arrived out on a deserted camp ground right on the beach which was beautiful - lucky really because there was no way we were driving back over the mountain the same day. We found that in a deserted camp ground where it gets dark at 6 there isn't a huge amount to do. We sat in our van having a few beers, then a few wines which was nice. We went to bed under our huge duvet and two fleecy blankets. In the morning it was very obvious this wasn't enough and we would need to seriously rethink! It took a lot of effort to get out of bed but we soon warmed up.
We headed further south following SH1 until we got to a place called Geraldine. We had stopped here on our way to Christchurch and San bought some cheese from one of the local shops which she really liked so she was keen to stop here again. We camped at a DOC (Department of Conservation campsite) right next to a river. DOC campsite range from very basic with long drop toilets (but are free) to more advanced places with showers etc. but are still normally cheaper than other places. We added sleeping bags and roll mats to the bedding tonight which helped a lot.
The plan for the next day was to head to Omarua to see some penguins. On the way we went to explore some Maori cave art but couldn't really see it because of all the graffiti around it and stopped at something called the elephant rocks which were used in the Narnia films (we're not sure where they were used). After stopping for lunch outside of what turned out to be a school with all the kids running up the fence to watch us eat, and then moving a little up the road to finish eating we got into Omarua. There are two penguin colonies here, yellow eyed penguin and blue penguins, they both come ashore just before dusk. You can see the yellow eyed penguins for free; they are a much smaller colony only about 6 in the winter so you're not always guaranteed to see them. There were four seals on the shore waiting for the penguins to come back but we managed to see one appear on shore and waddle to his cave. We think the rest were waiting for the seals to move away.
We needed to find a slightly nicer camp for the night as a shower was definitely in order; we found one about a 10 minute drive along the coast. It had a communal room with a huge fire so we were cosy and warm for most of the night. I think we have sorted bedding now (we bought some extra hot water bottles) and just need to tough out the last couple of weeks of winter and it should start getting warmer but it is very hard to get up in the morning. San is finding ways to motivate me though - like opening up all the doors on the van to cook breakfast or make tea!
I had soaked some of my shoes walking to the other side of a river and very smartly left one on the roof the van to dry whilst we were having breakfast. It wasn't till early afternoon I remembered and the shoe had definitely been lost along the way!
We wondered into Omarua the next day and it has a great Victorian precinct which has been redeveloped to look older (yes I know that seems odd) but they have some great shops down there including a limestone carver where we got a cool little ornament. The second hand book store even wrapped San's books for here with brown paper and string which she was very impressed with. That evening we went to see the Blue Penguins. You have to pay for this but are guaranteed to see some and in winter the colony is about 70, in summer it gets up to 300. We grabbed some great seats and saw them come ashore in small groups of ten or so and then slowly creep up the shore until they saw the seals. They waited for the bravest penguin to go first and then all ran behind him as low as possible, some even used their flippers and ran on all fours. They were about a metre in front of us and then ran into their huts. The more penguins that arrived, the more noise they made shouting at each other and guiding each other in. On the way back to the campsite we had to stop at the Penguin Crossing for some blue eyes penguins. After a couple of hours we had seen 64 penguins waddle in which was good for this time of year. We went to find a free campsite that night but had to find it in the dark which took us a long time so new mission is to try and be camped before the sunsets!
The next morning, we went back into Omarua from our free camp site and went to the old bicycle shop where they will teach you how to ride old penny farthing bikes. The owner was fully dressed in Victorian clothing and was great at teaching us. We started on a half size one to get the idea, It's really hard to steer and peddle and if you go slow the whole thing falls over. San was a natural and went straight up the full sized one and flew around. I get there too but after a while went too slow and fell off banging my knee on the concrete pretty hard marking the end of my ride. (A few x-rays later, nothing broken but just badly bruised and not be used) However we were told we are now officially a wheelman and wheelwoman which is a title you can only get if you have ridden a penny farthing solo with no help. After that we went to Steam Punk HQ which is a brilliant place. As one of the employees told us, it's a new messed up take on steam engineering and it was scary and interesting and well worth a look - check out some photos of the train from hell, zeppelin and their other creations!
The next day, we headed towards Moeraki to see the boulders, they were really odd, giant spherical boulders on the beach meant to be formed naturally with lots of cool stories as to how they occurred. They look like giant marbles scattered on the beach. We wondered up to the Moeraki Lighthouse which doubles as a yellow eyed penguin reserve and saw loads coming ashore, much bigger than the blue penguins we had seen a few days ago but still very exciting. We walked to the end of the peninsula and found lots of seals, they were all scattered and sleeping around the beach. Seals are nocturnal and sleep during the day to conserve their energy so they can hunt at night. There were some cubs splashing around and playing which was a beautiful sight.
For the next three nights, we stayed at a great campsite with free hot showers - strange what makes something qualify as great now we're in a campervan! The first day we arrived here, the weather was beautiful and we sat out on our camping chairs and read our books, unfortunately the next few days have been cold, windy and wet. We are trying not to traipse mud into our van but it's difficult.
Off to Dunedin tomorrow.