Monday, May 9, 2022

South Island Road Trip New Zealand 2020

And We’re Off

July 27th – August 6th

The Southern Alps

Liam at the helm of our trusty steed
And so on July 27th we boarded our Air New Zealand flight and winged our way from our base in Whangarei to Christchurch on the south island arriving around 10am.  

After completing the necessary paperwork at the Britz depot and a hands on tour of the van itself we were off. First stop the supermarket and then on to our pre-booked “Top 10” Holiday Park for two nights and a celebratory tipple of Champers. Our adventure was about to begin.

View from The Gondola

We spent three days in Christchurch doing all the touristy things which included taking the city tram ride to see the sights, riding the Gondola 862m to the top of Mt Cavendish to take in the views of the southern Alps, the city landscape and the town of Lyttelton and its surrounds. 

Sadly the fog rolled in as we reached the top of the cable car ride and a good hour later it was still as thick as pea soup. The best we could do was to wait a while longer and enjoy lunch and the exhibits that were on offer up there. The fog never did lift so down we went. It was a real shame as the views from up there would have been spectacular.

Stunning Architecture

Botanical Gardens

Queen Victoria Statue

Riverside Centre

The following day we took the very winding and steep road, Liam was not fussed on that road at all, out to the historic town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsular some 80km from the city. 

This cute little French influenced town sits on the side of the lake and is full of cafes and restaurants, renovated facades and nicky nakky tourist shops. 

Having been settled by French pioneers way back it is French right down to the street names and heritage houses. From here it was another taxing 80km drive back to Christchurch after which Liam enjoyed a well earned couple of drinks!

French house Akaroa

Akaroa Harbour

Silo Accommodation

Snowy Mts heading north
So now that we’d settled into our RV and had provisioned up it was time to head north along SH1 on the east coast to our planned Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite at Marfells Beach near Cape Campbell. And what a great setting. The campground was right alongside the beach and had all the amenities we needed, showers, loos, picnic tables and BBQs all for just $8 pp. It was a steal. 

Friendly workers along the way

Marfells Beach Beach Campsite


As we soon found out some DOC campgrounds have a host person while other more remote sites run on an honesty system where you put your fees in the envelope supplied and into the money box . These campgrounds are scattered all over both the north and south islands and being the time of year we were travelling there was no need to make a reservation.

A little further north is the town of Blenheim, the gateway to NZ’s  famouus Marlborough Wine Region. Here we caught up with cruising friends Brenda and David who we’ve  know since our time in the Mediterranean. They still have there boat Bandit but our now land lubbers and Vintners running Whitehaven Vineyard. We had a lovely evening with them reminiscing on times gone by. Whilst in the area we also popped into the Cloudy Bay cellar door and saw two of our other favorite vineyards, Matua and Stoneleigh.

Dinner with Brenda & David

The Barrel says it all

View over Picton 
Leaving Blenheim behind we had a pit stop in Picton then it was on to the picturesque Queen Charlotte Drive around the Marlborough sounds and through to Nelson for a replacement house battery as the current one was in its death throws. We were now heading across the top of the south island and on to the west coast, stopping overnight for free camping along side the Buller River and taking in the Swing Bridge across the Buller George the next morning. 

 Swing Bridge over Buller Gorge

The bridge is the longest swing bridge in New Zealand and spans the river at 110m and is suspended 20m above the rushing waters below. 

Liam has a fear of heights so he sat this one out while I toddled over the wire swing bridge which really does swing and along the the Faultline loop walk, taking in geological and historical sites dotted throughout the heritage park, including Whites Creek Faultline which was the epicentre of the 1929 Murchison earthquake where the ground rose 4.5 m. It was nice to get out of our van and  stretch the old legs I must say.

Skinny blind corners
One lane bridges were everywhere

Moving further west we had a squiz at the township of Westport but decided to push on down the scenic coast road SH16 to Pancake Rocks in the Paparoa National Park. 

This entire stretch of coast is just vista after vista, bend after bend. Pancake Rocks rates very high on the tourist attraction ladder and to put it simply it’s weathered layer upon layer of compressed limestone rock, known as stylobedding, which is continuously pounded by the unrelating Tasman Sea. And yes as the name suggests these rocks really do look like stacks of pancakes.

Beautiful but rugged coastline
 It’s a wild place on a very inhospitable coastline complete with massive surging blowholes and you really do get a sense that Mother Nature does indeed rule the roost here.

Pancake Rocks

Next up on our agenda was the coastal town of Greymouth some 46 klms further south. This is the largest town on the entire west coast sprouting all the major supermarket chains, petrol stations and everything else that the smaller towns lack. It’s more of a pass through destination rather than a destination itself. Mind you it is the end of the line for the 223klm Tranz Alpine rail journey which begins over on the east coast in the city of Christchurch. It is rated as one of the world’s greatest train journeys.

Having done some provisioning and refueling we headed a few K’s out of town to Brunnerton the site of the Brunner Coal Mine.

Back in March1896 an explosion ripped through the mine killing 65 men working there, almost half of the underground workforce. The cause some said was determined to be a charge that was let off in part of the mine where no one was supposed to be working but many miners not involved in the explosion said that it was Fire Damp, methane gas which forms when decaying plant material turns into coal which then becomes explosive when mixed with a certain amount of oxygen.

Brunner Mine

At the mine

There was no damage to the above ground buildings at the site as the explosion was so deep inside the mine itself. When the rescue crews arrived they found that railway line and trucks were twisted and smashed.

The brick kiln

The explosion was huge and some bodies could only be identified by their clothing The Brunner Mine disaster was the deadliest mining disaster in New Zealand’s history. The mine closed in 1906, however there are still a few structures at the site including the coke ovens have been preserved at the historic site.

Rather than rush off down the coast road again we decided to spend the night in Greymouth. The council have a freedom camping park right on the shores of the beach and so far this little spot tucked away for those in the know was yet another winner. Thankyou Greymouth council.

Hokitika would be our next stop. The cute seaside town is well known for it”s three day driftwood arts festival during January and for its beautiful buildings built during the gold rush era of the 1860’s. 

The main street

After a lazy wonder through the streets and a bite of lunch down at the beach it was time to find a spot for the night. 

As the town has a strict no overnight camping rule we headed 10kls south to the DOC campground at beautiful Lake Mahinapua. 

We settled in just metres from the waters edge and gazed across the lake to the snow covered alps in the distance. Such a tranquil setting and we had it all to ourselves.

Camping at the waters edge

Up early next morning we were off to visit the West Coast Treetop Walkway.  

We booked our tickets via the Grab One site which offers discounted tickets to many tourist attractions throughout NZ. We saved $12 on each ticket using this site.

The walkway opened in Dec 2012 having taken just five months to complete. Built in Australia then shipped to the west coast it was assembled using cranes and 13,500 bolts and took just six weeks to put the massive structure together.

 It was designed by the same engineer and architect team who built four similar structures in Australia. The walkway meanders through the treetops at a height of 20 mtr above ground, its a very enjoyable stroll which took us about 45 mins from go to wow. 

The birdlife and lookouts had fabulous views but the best was from the top of the 40 metre observation tower. Needless to say Liam didn’t venture up it with me.

Looking down from 40 metres

Liam happier down here

From here we drove out 33klms to the Hokitika gorge but on the way out the heavens opened and by the time we got to the carpark it was torrential. We sat for an hour and then abandoned our plans and headed to our campground at Hans Bay–Lake Kaniere for the night. We’d try for the gorge again tomorrow.

Above and below on the way to the Gorge 

Cows ambling across the road

The morning brought clear skies with a backdrop of snowy alps. We packed up the van and headed back out to the gorge and this time the gods must have been smiling on us.

What a view to wake up to
Mt Cook in the distance

Half a million years of glacial movement has carved out this porcelain white ravine and hues of turquoise water sparkled in the sunlight.

Bridge over the gorge
The aqua waters of Hokitika Gorge

It didn't take long to take in the sights and we were soon back on the road to Hokitika for a late breakfast and then on to famed Arthurs Pass. 

So stayed tuned for the next installment of our South Island road trip.




Tuesday, April 26, 2022

South Island Road Trip New Zealand 2020

July – September 2020

With the Covid lockdown finished and NZ’s borders firmly remaining shut to any overseas visitors the tourism industry across all sectors was bleeding badly.  Something had to be done and quickly. So a campaign was launched to entice Kiwis to “See Something New, New Zealand”. AKA go checkout your own backyard.

Can't wait to climb on board
During the month of May advertisements flooded our TV screens, radios and newspapers with amazing hotel deals, discounted flights as well as a host of outdoor activities. 

But the one that grabbed our attention the most were the next to nothing deals on Campervans and RV’s.

 These particular deals however were only being offered to NZ drivers license holders. So what do resourceful Aussies do.. we got off our butts and applied for a NZ license and viola the RV doors were flung open to us.

The Layout of our RV

After pouring over the various companies, van sizes and amenities offered we settled on a  7.2 m  Britz “Frontier“. 

It could accommodate six but as we like a bit of space figured this would definitely suit us down to the ground especially as it had two separate seating areas, the dinette behind the drivers cabin and one at the rear with wrap around seating.  

So we booked it on June 9th with a holding deposit of $1, ( paying the remainder a couple of days before our pickup) and started counting down the days until our adventure would begin.


Monday, October 11, 2021

                                            July 2020 “Life goes back to Normal”

The 4th July rocked around and it was time for yet another party, this time to celebrate American Independence Day.  

Held in the grounds of Riverside Drive Marina the Cruiser’s Band played everyone’s favourite tunes until just after sailor’s midnight at 9 pm.

The entertainment included some open mic tunes as well as a sparkly show of midriffs from the marina girls who’d been taking Belly Dancing classes, it was quite a show. 

With a plethora of pot luck dishes, complimentary beverages and BBQ, no one left hungry.

During the early part of July, we hit the bitumen for a two week road trip with our American best buds Vandy and Eric from S/V Scoots. As far as plans went we’d be heading south of Auckland with no agenda that was set in stone. Having sussed out and booked a couple of  Air BnB’s for the first few nights, we loaded up their car, affectionately known as Baxter and hit State Highway One.

Maori painting on Mt Maunganui

Our first stop was “sunny” Tauranga although it really wasn’t living up to it’s name when we arrived with the rain tumbling down and all. 

After a longish drive pretty much all day we checked into our accommodation for the night ready to explore the sights of Tauranga and it’s surrounds the following day.

Setting out early we headed to  Mt Maunganui, climbing the 232m steep sided extinct volcano which has awesome views across the entire coastline of the of the Bay of Plenty. 

With well marked hiking trails crisscrossing the mount there was no excuse not to see it all.

Eric, Vandy & Liam on the trail at Mt Maunganui 

Lunch was at one of the many eateries down in the beachside town and then we headed off to the Classic Flyers Aviation Museum just out by the airport. 

Filled with dozens of aircraft types both working and static along with memorabilia from a bygone era, the self guided tour was worthy of the $15 pp entry fee and the couple of hours we spent there.

Crazy paddlers
The following morning we stopped for a cuppa with a former colleague of Liam who lives just out of town and is the source of many of Liam’s forwarded jokes.
If you are on Liam’s joke email list then you for sure would have seen the email address of Bruce in Sunny Tauranga. It was great to catch up with Bruce and Maureen and enjoy their hospitality once again.

From Tauranga we followed State Hwy Two along the winding shore and deep fast flowing gorge of the Waioeka River which is a kayakers paradise in these parts. And yes, we did see a few paddlers along the way and concluded they were all nuts.

On the deck at Vineyard Vista 

Arriving at our Air bnb Vineyard Vista in Hexton we couldn’t have been happier. The former family home sat at the end of a small country road surrounded by farmland and vineyards complete with automatic lawnmowers, aka sheep. After the hustle and bustle of the big smoke of Tauranga it was a welcome change to hear nothing but the odd bleat of sheep. Ahh the serenity.

Day four saw us stretching our legs just down the road in Greys Bush Scenic Reserve which is one of the most popular and accessible Dept of Conservation reserves in the Gisborne area.

The reserve is a nesting, resting and feeding habitat to a plethora of both native and introduced bird species including Magpie, Kingfisher, Gold Finch and the list goes on. Seasonally the rare North Island Kaka can also be spotted. A full circuit of all the tracks in the reserve only took around an hour.

Citrus groves everywhere

Next we were off to Gisborne, winding our way past  the many citrus orchards along the way. Gisborne which sits on the edge of the Bay of Plenty seemed  to us a slow paced city. In 1769 this was the first part of NZ sighted by Cpt James Cook.

Captain Cook Memorial
As a result of fertile soil and hot summer temps a large wine industry has sprung up in this region. This area is famous as a Chardonnay producer.  Along with the vines the surrounding hills also support a booming forestry industry. 

The Gisborne harbour port of Eastport is the second largest log exporter in NZ. Each year it exports between three and five million tonnes of logs.  A lovely waterfront walk graces the foreshore and a memorial to Captain James Cook with an adjoing garden dedicated to Sir Joseph Banks is just a short stroll further on.

Three hours south at Hawks Bay is the bustling Art-Deco city of Napier, here we made camp for two nights. Back in 1931 Napier was hit by a massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Lasting just two and a half minutes the inner city almost completely demolished with 258 lives lost. 

The quake raised some areas of the surrounding land by two metres turning roughly 4,000 hectares of sea-bed into dry land. The enormous task of rebuilding the city is the reason for the Art Deco flavour of Napier today. That style of architecture was chosen not only for its beauty and simplicity but also because of its strength.

There was a lot to see and do during our stay here. Starting off we signed up for the Art Deco tour. We strolled the streets with our tour leader who imparted a wealth of knowledge about the style of the buildings and their facades.

The Daily Telegraph building was definitely one of the major players of the show with it’s zigzags, fountain shapes and symmetrically patterned fa├žade.

Another favourite was the National Tobacco Company building which combines Art Deco with motifs of Art Nouveau. Roses, bulrushes and grapevines framed the elegantly curved entranceway. 

There were dozens of the soft pastel facades dotted around the main streets and all you had to do was look up to enjoy what was on offer.

After pounding the pavements we moved on to the Hawkes Bay Museum where we took in the excellent earthquake exhibition and accompanying film. The lookout up at Bluff Hill gave us a birdseye view over the bay, the port, the city and the beautiful snow capped mountains beyond

Another big hit with us was the National Aquarium of New Zealand.  It is home to over 100 species of aquatic and land animals from both New Zealand and around the world.

 One of the main attractions is the huge glass fronted Oceanarium where divers put on an amazing show while feeding the various assortment of reef fish, sharks and stingrays.

Meanwhile over at the Penguin Cove exhibit we got an up close view of the antics these ever so cute little blue penguins as they dart and dive happily through the water.

 There are a plethora of other exhibitions as well, including Coral Reef, Rocky Shore, Reptiles and Amphibians and Native New Zealand Icons, just to name a few. You need to put aside at least 2-3 hours to fully explore place.

While we were in the Napier area we also visited Mission Estate, NZ’s oldest winery. Formerly a seminary owned by the Marist Order it is now Hawkes Bay’s largest winery. Tastings cost $10 pp but you do get to go home with a boxed souvenir embossed wine glass and the wines weren’t half bad either.

Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand was to be our last main destination and here we’d rented a house for two nights. It was a huge place  with views over the lake complete with a log fire. 

As the weather was rather chilly we made very good use of the fireplace. The Taupo region, like Napier also had lots to see and do.

The highlights for us was taking a lake cruise to the ten metre high Maori rock carvings etched into the cliffs of Mine Bay, stopping at Wairakei Terraces and immersing ourselves in the varying degrees of naturally thermal heated silica pools (sorry no photos as it was a bit risky taking the camera in with us) followed by a stroll through the geothermal park known as Craters of the Moon.

Next up was the former site of the Aratiatia Rapids where the hydroelectric power plant of the same name now stands. I say former as the Waikato River was diverted slightly to accommodate the hydro plant, and the gorge where the rapids once flowed is now dry. However being present as the mighty Wiakato River hydro flood gates opened releasing thousands of litres of water into the dry gorge below had to be seen to be believed. It is truly spectacular.

The gates open three times a day in winter and four during the summer months. As an aside there is a scene from The Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug which shows the dwarfs escaping from their captors by hiding in barrels which were thrown downstream in the Aratiatia Rapids.  And  for the finale of this region... that was witnessing the immense power of rushing water as it is squezzed into a narrow chasm, then dropping 10 metres over the Huka Falls to the calm waters of the Waikato as it wends its way 425 klms to the west coast and the Tasman Sea just south of Auckland.

Us at the top of Huka Falls and below is a tourist jet boat at the base of the falls

Enjoying the spa at our accommodation in Raglan

Leaving the Taupo region we ventured south stopping at the Tongariro National Trout Centre for a quick but interesting visit before making our way north for our second last night of the trip in the seaside town of Raglan.

Our final night was spent just south of Auckland  before arriving back to Whangarei where GWTW was waiting patiently for us the following afternoon.

We had a fabulous trip in company with friends Eric and Vandy from “Scoots” who we can’t thank enough for all the laughs, the fun times and the lion’s share of  all the driving. Thanks guys, we can’t wait to do it all again somewhere, sometime in the future.