Saturday 11 February.
Up very early to get to the airport for 6.45am for our next Qantas flight from Sydney to Christchurch, New Zealand. The 3 hour flightwas actually shorter due to wind being in the 'right' direction. We were collected at the airport by Discover NZ Motorhomes and taken to collect the Motorhome. We had researched motorhome/campervan hire in NZ extensively and decided on this company because we particularly liked the layout of one of their vans. We chose a six berth motorhome even though there were only 2 of us because we were going to be in it for just over a month. We knew what living in our VW campervan was like for a few weeks (cramped but cosy), but this was our holiday of a lifetime and we wanted a little bit of luxury, well, space! It had a large bed over the cab, a kitchen along the middle of one side, a dining/table area & shower/toilet along the middle on the other side, and a U shaped sofa plus another table across the whole of the back of the van. It had panoramic windows all around the back of the van and in the kitchen & dining areas.
After an hour of paperwork/demonstrations of how everything worked and general chat, we were off!! We were so excited that neither of us had really listened when Ariel had told us which direction to take out of the depot and so we just waved merrily as we passed her going back the right way! To the supermarket it was, to stock up on $360 (about £180) worth of supplies. Some items are cheaper but most of them are around 1 and a half times more expensive, especially food.
Martin drove us around the outskirts of Christchurch - we will visit on the way back through to see the earthquake damage. We were headed north to Hanmer Springs, but had no idea when sunset was so stopped around 7pm at Hurunui (60 miles from Christchurch) when we saw a sign for a Campervan Park. $24 (£12) for the night including electric hookup (and we also got to use their toilets and showers instead of using up our water!). We celebrated our first night with a steak meal.
Sunday 12 February
After a short lie-in we awoke to a beautiful sunny morning. We had slept in the large bed over the cab, which had been a bit of a pain to make up, and had been even more of pain to get up and down the ladder, because it had narrow ribbed steps that hurt our feet!! (We'll try the sofa bed tomorrow.) After checking the windows & vents were shut, and the electric & gas were switched off, and we had topped up with water, we finally set off for Hanmer Springs. At the first nice view we stopped and had breakfast, overlooking a gorge with a river running through it.
At Hanmer Springs I collected lots of leaflets at the i-site (tourist information centre), of places we knew we wanted to see and some we didn't yet know about. They also had the Dept of Conservation Campsite lists (which we thought would be in the motorhome, but weren't) for campsites run by them; only a few dollars per night, usually more basic than a commercial site, but that was ok because we were self-contained. Hanmer Springs was a Thermal Springs Resort, well set up for tourists but not too commercialised. We didn't partake of the thermal springs today, there would be plenty of time for that all over New Zealand.
Driving along the Lewis Pass we were following the river on a wide flat plain, with mountains either side of us. The road then climbed steadily upwards to the peak of the pass and then wound steadily back down the other side. After lunch at another nice view we carried on towards Murchison, stopping for a few photos of Maruia Falls. Murchison is the home of the New Zealand Kayaking School on the Buller River, as well as the longest swing bridge (rope bridge) in NZ. The scenery today has been fantastic; tree covered mountains everywhere you looked. It only gets better so we are told; Sam and Laurie were in NZ in November for a couple of weeks.
At Murchison we stopped for the night at the Riverview Campsite. Only $30 (£15) and $5 (£2.50) for an hour's internet to check e-mail, get the football scores and upload last blog entry (not enough time for photos as well that time sorry). The campsite was quiet and nearly empty (nice), it was the only one (of three) in Murchison that didn't have a glossy advert in the leaflets. The facilities were a bit 'tired' but everything worked ok.
Monday 13th February
A cooked breakfast to prepare us for the day ahead, but perhaps that wasn't the best thing if we were going to be swinging about on a rope bridge…?! It was early enough to be quiet at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge and we paid our $5 each to go across it to the island on the other side. It was a modern version of a rope bridge, being made from steel cables and metal foot grids instead of ropes and wooden slats, but it was still high over the river and long enough to be swaying as you walked across it! We walked round the island paths for about an hour, watching the river flowing around the rocks on the island shores, checking out the miner's cottage (about half the size of the motorhome) and waiting for the jet boat to whizz past. It had got busier whilst we were there and we had to navigate two way 'traffic' on the 1 foot wide swingbridge. The adventurous (or impatient) visitors took the quick way back across the river on the zip wire, either seated or 'superman' style head first, for an extra $30. We gave that a miss today.
Getting back in the van, we followed the Buller River as it got wider and deeper, to Westport where it met the sea. Westport, like most of the small towns we had been through was a linear town with a wide main street full of shops, banks & cafes etc and the houses hidden behind the main street. We had lunch in one of the cafes and then continued along the coast to Taurunga Bay to see the Fur Seal colony. The small colony is there all year and we were at the right time to see them with some pups. From Taurunga Bay we followed the coastline to Punakaiki. This part of the coastline was just as scenic as the Australian Great Ocean Road! At Punakaiki we stopped to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowhole. The Pancake Rocks look like stacks of pancakes piled on top of each other. They are limestone rocks but the information boards said that even the experts are puzzled as to how and why they have formed these layers, and just in this particular spot. The Blowhole is where the sea has eroded underneath the rocks and created a hole that it spouts up through at high tide. At the beach near the Fur Seal colony we had worked out that the tide was coming in and we might have enough time to get to the Blowhole at high tide and we did! Anyone who has watched the sea long enough (or done a Geography Sea Project) knows that every so often there is one wave that comes stronger and higher than the few before it (we couldn't remember the wave number though). We waited several minutes before we saw the first 'blow' and were still there for the next two as well. For each of them we were there on our own as most visitors got tired of waiting for something to happen and left. The sky started to cloud over and it looked like rain, so we headed to the Beach Campsite in Punkaiki for the night $31 (£15.50), lush showers! It was the only one in the town and was pretty full. We could hear the sea but not see it, as the campsite was surrounded by a high hedge of New Zealand Flax. It was only a minute's walk away though and we had a quick look at the beach before tea. Hopefully it will be a sunny day tomorrow for a better look.
I forgot to mention that both the Fur Seal Colony and the Pancake Rocks & Blowhole were FREE to see. Each had excellent boardwalks and tarmac paths to get you to the perfect viewing platforms with information boards.
Tuesday 14th February
(Happy Birthday to my lovely Nanny who is 90 today!! Lots of love xxx)
Lots of rain overnight and awoke to a grey cloudy day. Off to the Te Miko Bead Studio that we had spotted just before we stopped yesterday. Lovely handmade glass beads by Carolyn Hewlett. I bought a greeny brown 'Koru' bead on a silver necklace. Koru is a Maori word meaning new life/gowth/unfurling. It is represented by the tip a of a fern leaf unfurling (a New Zealand symbol), which I thought was a very apt souvenir as we are in the rainforest area surrounded by tree ferns. Although it is very green in this area due to a high amount of rainfall - you can't have rainforest without rain - there are splashes of colour provided by bright orange crocosmia/montbretia and African Lillies in blue and white sticking up like huge lollipops from small mounds of thin leaves. There are masses of pampas grass plumes everywhere too, but a bit smaller than the ornamental ones in the UK.
As a passenger I get to look around a lot and have noticed the mail boxes. In NZ (and Australia) they have mail boxes like in the USA. Some are just by the garden gate and others are miles away from the front door, or must be, because we can't see the house they belong to! Som are 'normal' plastic or tin mail boxes with the little flag on the side, and other are a bit more adventurous and have made features of them. I particularly liked one with cow horns sticking out of the side (pic to follow).
Travelling towards our ultimate destination of Franz Joseph, we went through Greymouth and on to Hokitika. What a brilliant place! It is a premier place for artists and craftspeople in NZ. We parked near the beach as I wanted to see if the driftwood sculptures I had seen pictures of on the internet were still there. Most of them had been reduced to piles of sticks on the beach but the word Hokitika was still there (photo to follow). There were several galleries and gift shops in the town, but first we went to SOCK World & Museum!! A tiny two roomed shop which had a sock machine museum in one, and socks, some made on the vintage machines, for sale in the other. I bought a pair of vintage machine knitted socks in blue & purple and Martin got a pair of Merino & Possum Fur ones. Toasty!
After lunch we visited one of several Jade shops. New Zealand nephrite jade, also called Pounamu by the Maori, only occurs in the South Island. In the shop you could watch craftsmen carving the jade and in one of them have a go at it yourself for a price. The next place we visited was the National Kiwi Centre. The Kiwi, a nocturnal, flightless bird about the size of a chicken, is a National symbol of New Zealand. It is a rare endangered species and very few New Zealanders (or Kiwis!) have actually seen one. There were only 2 in the Centre, a male and a female, and they are very shy. As there were only about 6 visitors (all English) in the centre, the Keeper caught one for us and brought it to the glass of the dimly lit enclosure for us to see it. Cute! No photos I'm afraid as they weren't allowed. There were other creatures in the centre including giant crayfish (lobsters), turtles, and 100 year old eels.
The last place we visited was the Glass Blowing Centre. Unfortunately we just missed the last demonstration but were able to see the colourful displays in the shop. My favourite piece was a glass chess set, where all the pieces were Penguins of different types, sizes and in various poses. Only $900(£450)!
As we carried on down the coast the weather closed in and so did the mist. We knew we were in big mountain country but couldn't see them. Stopped in Franz Joseph Rainforest Campsite for the night where the motorhome has its own little cubicle of rainforest all around it. We tried an unsuccessful Skype to my family hoping to say Happy Birthday to my Nan, but the connection was not good enough so had to make do with the phone.
The weather forecast is better tomorrow so hopefully we will get to see the mountains and maybe the Franz Joseph or Fox Glaciers.