Published: May 15th 2012May 12th 2012
Apologies for the delay since the last blog. There isn't as much internet access in a campervan surprisingly :-) We had an awesome last week in Japan, spent mostly in Kyoto. So glad we had so much time there. Absolutely beautiful gardens, lots of temple tramping and shrines in the wooded areas. Very pretty - shame I can't put the pictures up just yet. Hopefully soon. Met a lovely lady at the beautiful hostel we stayed at too, who bought us some cherry blossom tea on her trip to Shikoku - a flower in every cup! Will definitely miss the Japanese people, they made the trip much more relaxing and enjoyable just by being so friendly.
We've been having a great time driving around New Zealand and both done really well considering we hadn't driven anywhere properly for two years! We think we've knotched up around 4300km, which is pretty good practise for a month. The roads have been very varied too - windy 15kph-limit bends, long wide straight stretches at 100kph, pitch black country lanes... apparently they don't believe in street lights here! Thick gravel on the "unsealed" roads for 30km - slowed us down a bit! Only had a collision with a fence post when trying to reverse in a campsite. Luckily that's the worst of it! Glad we got the excess insurance anyway! The van has been great and it felt like home. A bit sad to leave it today, but then also quite happy to have a bedroom that isn't also a kitchen.
If you want to check it out: http://wilderness.co.nz/our-vehicles/dart-2
I won't rave about the food quite so much in NZ as I did on Japan, mainly because I did the cooking! But we managed to have a BBQ (in the dark) one night, toasting marshmallows for pudding! And we've had some great steaks and lamb cooked on our little stove, so it hasn't been too bad! The campsites have been pretty good too. We were going to try more "freedom camping" - i.e. by the side of the road - but the first couple of weeks were quite cold and rainy, so we wanted to heater on, and hot showers. There aren't that many places to stop either, so the campsites were good places to head for at the end of a long day driving. Most had nice showers, spacious kitchens, and laundries. A couple that we stayed at even had hot pools that we could use for free, and I don't mean a 4 person jacuzzi - big swimming pools full of 37C water! That was great!
I won't bore you with our full itinerary, as we stopped at about 4 or 5 places every day. We've had about 3 or 4 days of heavy driving - say 5 hours driving on those days so not too bad, but the rest we have spent lots of time stopping for short walks to waterfalls, down streams or across beaches, so that broke up a lot of journeys. The scenery is beautiful everywhere, and so varied. And the country is really well set up for campers and walkers. Lots of paths marked everywhere, and well sign posted, even the 6 day walks are laid out and clearly marked - luckily or we might have ended up staying a bit too long! To give you an idea of where we have been, we have driven the following rough route:
Around the South Island - from Christchurch down to Dunedin, to the Otago Peninsular, then on to Invercargill. Up to Te Anau, Queenstown and revisited the glaciers at Fox and Franz Josef. North to Blenheim, Nelson and Picton to get the ferry to Wellington on the North Island.
Across the North Island - First to Napier and Hastings to see the art-deco style buildings and feel like we travelled back in time. North to Taupo, Tauranga, Matamata for a visit to Hobbiton, and on to the Coromandel peninsular. Onwards past Auckland to Owera, Omaha and others for the beaches before coming back to Auckland to fly out.
Queenstown and the glacier towns hadn't changed much since our last visit 5 years ago but the glaciers themselves didn't look as good this time. Further away and a lot more brown and dirty - we had a nice clean Fox Glacier to walk on last time!! It's amazing how much they move, probably about 500m-1km in the last 5 years. So we were glad we had already seen them. Franz was also closed to walkers this year as it is too unstable, so anyone who walked on it before, you got there at the right time.
We watched penguins come out of the sea on the Otago peninsular at dusk, blue penguins coming out in groups of 10 and yellow-eyed penguins one by one. Very cute, and amazing to watch. The little blue ones are the smallest in the world, and were quite entertaining to see running across the beach in little huddles and stopping to wait for each other. Glad they showed up though as it was pretty cold when it got dark!
We have had amazing weather every day except for a day walking on the Routeburn track - 8 hours walking in almost constant drizzle wasn't nearly as fun as it sounds :-) but the scenery was great. Eoin made it the last kilometre to the lake at the top of a hill while I ate lunch in a little cave I found! Says it all really. We did a lot of other walking in much nicer weather - around the Queen Charlotte track to the north of the South Island, and around Abel Tasman national park. We spent a day kayaking at Abel Tasman too, stopping on 3 or 4 beaches in between to sit and watch to wildlife. Lots of seals and sea lions playing nearby - babies too!
We both went riding at Waihi Beach - second time ever for Eoin and he managed to trot and canter down the beach with us and not fall off or lose control! We trekked through the estuary through mangrove-like swamps, then down the beach while the horses dodged and shyed from the waves coming in. Then we waded through deep water to get back across the estuary at high tide - up to our knees! Lovely hot day and lovely horses. Had a thoroughly great time - got a CD of photos so hopefully some will turn out. The lady who took us out gave us a hug to say goodbye!! Finished the day with a hot pool too, of a different kind. Went to Hot Water Beach, where you literally dig a whole in the sand to get hot water and sit and chill. Absolutely great to sit at sea level watching the surf and be nice and warm - luckily we found a ready-dug hole too, so no work for us!!
Hobbiton was great fun, especially when the film is coming out soon. Glad it has been filmed too - they redid the little village ready for the new film, so if we had visited sooner we would have just seen empty film set shells. The Hobbiton we saw was very realistic and pretty much as they left it when they stopped filming - complete with props too! The photos will show it all, so hopefully get to put them on soon. Reading the book at the moment too, so just great timing! The tour was quite funny though, as the guide kept saying "I'll wait here for you to get your picture of this... and then get a shot of that... for the ideal photo opportunities" It was quite cheesy!
We are in Auckland now and spending a day in the city tomorrow before getting our flight to Beijing at 10pm. I think we're 11 hours ahead of the UK - writing this as 9:30pm Tuesday night. Thinking of you all. Best wishes for birthdays, good news and plans. Thanks for your messages, and stay in touch. (If you want it to be quick, seeing as our internet access hasn't been great, I receive texts for free - just might take me a while to reply!)