The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville
From Picton we drove down the east coast of South Island to Kaikoura, seal watching on the way and enjoying the warm weather. It was a little worrying that the camp site instructions at Kaikoura included "what to do if the tsunami warning sounds". From there we set off westward across the mountains and stayed in Hanmer Springs, where we enjoyed an afternoon in the hot pools at the spa. Then we continued across to Greymouth and a visit to Punakaiki to see the amazing Pancake Rocks. At this point the weather decided to show us who was boss and we had a rather wet night at South Beach, just south of Greymouth. Fortunately we were warm and cosy in our trusty campervan. We drove down the coast to Franz Joseph, experiencing the dubious excitement of crossing a river on a bridge designed for cars and trains! You drove along the tracks and trusted that the signalling system worked and you didn't come face to face with a train coming in the opposite direction. By the time we reached Franz Joseph it was raining again but we explored the village and visited the information centre (including St James’ Church featured in an earlier issue). It is very much a village purely for the tourist industry. We stayed at the Rainforest Resort where our campervan bays were all cut into rain forest and, if we didn't line up the van just so, we opened the door onto our own baby tree fern.
The next morning we took the plunge and set off to walk to the glacier in drizzle. It was a worthwhile trek but by the time we got there it was pouring. Colin was going for “hard man” award being the only one out there in shorts and all terrain sandals - until a chap passed us in flip flops (he was a “local” and they usually walk around in bare feet so I suppose flip flops were a concession). Thank goodness for a camper van in the car park - dry clothes and hot chocolate! We decided to go to the coast and the weather cheered up so we were able to walk on the beach and have lunch by the lagoon at Okarito. By the time we got back to Franz Joseph the sun was out and the helicopters to the glacier were flying. The next morning we knew the weather was better before we drew the curtains as we could hear the helicopters at 8am! Sure enough the mountains now had tops and we were able to see Mount Cook on our drive down to the Fox Glacier. The walk up there was far more pleasant in sunshine. Global warming was brought home to us in a big way. The glacier has retreated from the car park - a 20 minute walk - in Colin’s lifetime.
Then we started off for Wanaka - quite a drive, but very easy on good roads with hardly any traffic. We filled up with diesel at Haast as there are dire warnings about the lack of fuel stations over Haast Pass. It was a great scenic journey with lovely rivers and waterfalls to stop and see. Then we arrived at the top end of Lake Wanaka and drove halfway down before the road cuts across to Lake Hawea. The scenery is spectacular and there are lots of photo opportunities (spoiled on a couple of occasions by a 2 car Japanese family who barged in on all the best spots and then took daft photos of themselves in front of beautiful mountains and lakes). We liked Wanaka very much and had breakfast on Sunday at a café down by the lake before setting off in the direction of Queenstown. We were driving through vineyards and orchards now. The grapevines are all wrapped up in nets to stop the birds pinching the crop. We delayed our coffee stop because as we drew into the layby we realised there were 3 coaches there! How glad we are - we then stopped in the Kawarau Gorge at a café/restaurant you reached over a swaying footbridge. It turned out to be run by a vintner so we finished up wine tasting and having some lunch - and buying a couple of bottles! He was an interesting guy and we enjoyed trying a crisp white wine named after his daughter, Chelsea. His rosé is as good as our favourite Provencal ones. Continuing down the gorge we stopped to watch the bunjee jumping at Kawarau bridge - apparently the birthplace of commercial jumping. They are all mad!! It is also a Lord of the Rings film site, and you can imagine it all, with a bit of CGI thrown in.
We booked into a camp site in Arrowtown and then drove into Queenstown through the Shotover valley where they jet boat and bunjee jump. Queenstown was glorious in sunshine but very busy - lots of agents for all the activities and Lord of the Rings trips. We went up to the Skyline Centre in the gondolas and enjoyed the views from above - even bungee jumping into a gap cleared in the forest (even more mad!). We returned to Arrowtown and strolled through the main street which is very old time Gold Rush style. It even has a preserved Chinese settlement from the days when the Chinese came to make their fortune in the gold field so they could return to China and buy a farm and be self sufficient.
Next morning we drove through farming country (lots of deer farms for venison), to Te Anau, and on up to Milford Sound. The road building through this country side was remarkable and relatively recent. It took years to connect Milford Sound with the rest of NZ, other than by boat, and needed a tunnel cutting through the mountain. The biggest hindrance was avalanches so a lot of research has gone into warnings and pre emptive action. Unfortunately, Milford Sound doesn't have a lot to offer, other than boat trips and man eating sandflies. The camp site is by the river and will be OK once they have finished off the construction of additional pitches. It is filled with little cabins (glorified containers!) which have 2 beds and nothing else in them (rent-a-shed). Facilities are good but they are obviously struggling to meet demand - we were glad we had pre-booked. Sadly the sandflies forced us to sit inside with every window closed as the pesky little insects seemed to be able to get through the fly screens.
The next day we set off into Milford and had breakfast in the car park as there is a distinct lack of facilities in the town. A business opportunity perhaps for anyone wishing to set up a mobile café or burger bar. We knew it would be busy so wanted a space for the day as we were booked on a 3 hour cruise. Once on board Lady of the Sounds we were served with a BBQ lunch and were heading off down the fjord. It is absolutely spectacular - mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, forests etc and fabulous cloud formations. You can't begin to describe it. Our trip included a visit to the underwater observatory - a floating pod that you descend (60 steps!) to view life underwater in the fjord. It was a brilliant piece of engineering and has lovely sights. By developing “window boxes” of sea floor flora they were able to provide us with views of corals, anemones etc while various fish swam by on one side, while on the other you saw the natural creatures on the rock face of the fjord. The prospect of another night in the company of sandflies meant we decided to set straight off, back to TeAnau.
Colin and Rosemary Monk