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Published: October 19th 2009
Double Rainbow RoadIt was during a brief look at our up-coming schedule that we had a sudden realisation that our original plan for New Zealand simply was not going to work. Trying to see both islands, starting and ending in Auckland was going to be near on impossible to achieve in three weeks. So we made a quick stop in an internet cafe and booked an extra flight to take us from Auckland to Queenstown in the south island. So now all we had to do was travel the length on New Zealand once instead of twice!
On the road in our van
The South Island
On arriving in Auckland after a quick-ish flight from Sydney it was instantly apparent that we had made the right decision as the rain was beyond torrential! So the very next day we caught our flight to Queenstown and to very different weather conditions - snow! Landing in Queenstown quite literally takes your breath away. The plane makes a couple of fairly steep turns on its approach to the airport and before you are really aware of what is happening you are flying between the most beautiful snow capped mountains that you have ever seen.
Once in Queenstown
the landscape becomes even more stunning. Our hostel was perched on the edge of Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by snow capped mountains. We quickly headed into town to explore, grab a hot drink and buy a few more items of warm clothing. Queenstown is truly picturesque and we were spoilt with the blazing sun and perfect snow. After one night of enjoying the apres ski bars and the comfort of a hostel we found ourselves back at the airport, to pick up our new home! Having had such success with the camper in Australia we decided to book ourselves another to explore New Zealand. This time however we were going without the added comfort and space of a high-top van and had opted for speed and compactness instead. Basic is somewhat of an understatement but cheap it definitely was and with a free ski pass included we were laughing. Well we were until we tried to unpack out kit into it!
We stayed one more (very cold!) night in a campsite in Queenstown before the urge to hit the road again overcame us and we headed south. The drive was simply incredible, and to be honest pretty indescribable. After
a short hold up involving a few hundred sheep and a couple of awestruck hours of driving we found ourselves in Invercagil. This pattern followed for two days until we had completed a smallish loop back to Queenstown where we headed out past Arrowtown to the Shot Over River.
It's fair to say that Queenstown and it's surrounding area is the home of most of New Zealands extreme sports and with this in mind we made our way to the Shot Over Jet. Although this may sound unfamiliar to you, you do know what it is. Think back to any NZ tourism advert you have ever seen and you are sure to remember pictures of a jet boat racing at break neck speed very close to canyon walls while performing 360 degree spins and negotiating white water. Well that is the Shot Over Jet. An adrenalin fuelled twenty five mins later we were left exhilarated, stunned and perhaps just a little wet! Smiles all round! The Shotover Jet seemed however to set the pace for the next few days as no sooner had we arrived at the river it was time to move on to the town of Wanaka
and the Treble Cone ski field.
Wanaka is again set next to a lake and if possible even more stunning than Queenstown. After a little investigation we discovered that skiing in NZ would be a pretty approachable affair. We could spend our nights in a campsite with hot showers and a kitchen (a must when the temperature is in the minus figures!) In the morning it was a mere twenty min drive up the mountain to Treble Cone where there was ample parking, ski hire, a restaurant and the bottom of the first chair lift.
Having skied quite often up until the age of 13 but not once for the past twelve years i was a little uncertain of my ability and therefore booked myself a private lesson to find out. Andy was new to skiing and Treble Cone gave him a great beginner package including a 2hr lesson to get stuck into. The weather was perfect and unbelievably quickly it all started coming back to me. At lunch time i found Andy grinning from ear to ear - we were both hooked! Three days later we left the mountain for the last time, exhausted and
broken but blissfully happy, neither of us can wait to get back in the snow!
Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo and Christchurch
Leaving Wanaka we headed in the direction of Christchurch with a few de-tours in mind, the first of these being Mt Cook (the highest peak in New Zealand.) As soon as we turned off the road and headed towards the mountain the weather changed and the sceneary suddenly became dark and moody. Therefore we kept our visit pretty brief, having just a quick coffee in the mountaineers cafe before escaping the threatening clouds and fog. This was our first encounter with New Zealands lightning quick weather changes but it certainly wouldn't be our last. Even though we had already spent a week driving through New Zealands incredible landscapes we were still shouting "WOW!"every time we went round a corner. Before setting up camp that night we made a stop by the beautiful lake Tekapo. Here yet again we were bowled over by the vast unimaginable view. On the side of the lake we found a statue of a Collie dog on a large plinth. The statue was erected in respect of all the sheep dogs that work
the hard landscape of New Zealand, and it suited its location perfectly.
The following morning we arrived in Christchurch, which has a strong old English feel to it. Here we happily spent the day pottering around the arts centre and botanical gardens. The later was bursting with daffodils and snowdrops announcing the arrival of spring while the rivers were full of pretty boats being punting up and down. After exploring Christchurch which lies on the East coast we decided to head to the West coast via Arthurs pass through the mountains and the national park. However as we set out the skies opened and we knew we had a challenging drive on our hands.
Arthurs Pass, Greymouth, Lewis Pass and Hanmer Springs
The journey through the pass took us several hours and saw us climbing and dropping through the vast mountainous landscape. Although the view was some what obscured by the clouds and rain this only added to the imposing atmosphere. The Pass soared up into the sky on either side of us as we followed the course of the river. When we finally emerged the ground flattened out but as we headed for the coastal town
of Greymouth the rain became torrential.
The weather in Greymouth made it very difficult to do the town any justice and after an hour in a coffee shop it became obvious that the rain had no intention of letting up. We took a brief tour of the town in the car, stopping only quickly here and there for photos and then there was little else we could do except hit the road once again and hope the weather improved enough to allow us to get out of the camper in the next place we stopped.
After the washout in Greymouth we headed back in the direction of the mountains realising that the only way to escape the rain was to head back towards the East coast. We chose this time to drive through the mountains via Lewis Pass, some 100km or so North of Arthurs pass. The drive east was every bit as stunning as the drive West and early the next morning after a good nights sleep we arrived in the small town of Hanmer Springs. The town is one of the main locations of thermal pools in New Zealand and having spent the last week
and a half in a tiny van we practically fell through the door and into the hot water. There were around ten different pools of different shapes and sizes all filled with natural spring water. However Hanmer Springs is a highly geothermal area which heats the ground and especially the water. The pools ranged from 28 - 41 degrees and the setting was idyllic, deep in the country side surrounded by tall trees and snow capped mountains. Luckily for us the clouds finally cleared and we were able to bathe while also soaking up the sun. We wiled away four hours soaking in varying degrees of sulphuric water, (which has a rather strange smell of eggs!) watching the steam rise into the crystal clear mountain air. We emerged mid afternoon sparkling clean and rejuvenated, ready to continue East.
Our next stop was Kaikoura a town well know for its surplus of wild marine life. Sperm whales live there year round and the water is literally teaming with dolphins. Practically every shop and cafe had fresh crayfish for sale but none of these were the main reason we visited the town. Kaikoura is situated at the base of
a small spit of land and a short drive out along this spit to the headland brings you within arms reach of another inhabitant - seals! We spent several hours walking along the cliff tops, enjoying the view. This vantage point enabled us to look down into the clear blue sea and watch the seals playing in the water or sunbathing on the rocks off shore. It was a truely beautiful spot and from hear we continued our journey North on the twisty coastal road, past countless large well known wineries and eventually to Picton.
Picton and the Marlborough Sounds
In Picton we booked ourselves and our little green camper onto the ferry to Wellington on the southern tip of New Zealands North island. We still had a couple of days left so we set off into the sub-tropical never never land that makes up the Marlborough Sounds. Here the land reaches out into the sea in a maze of jaw dropping spits of land often around 100 - 200 kms long, covered in dense forest. The tiny roads wound us in and out (up and down!) of countless hidden bays and coves. After several hours of exploring
we discovered a really pretty campsite on the waters edge and enjoyed our favourite meal of Chilli wraps!
The ferry to Wellington took us three hours and is well known for being one of the best "cruises" in the world. The Views as you sail out through the Marlborough Sounds takes your breath away and entering into Wellington is a fantastic welcome to the North Island.
The North Island
Our first morning on the North Island saw the weather turn on us again and after an hour wandering around Wellington in the rain we gave in and headed for Te Papa. This is New Zealands national museum, full of natural history, cultural history, art and Maori traditions, all spread over six floors. Here we learnt about earthquakes, the migration of the Maori from Polynesia, local history and the effect of European settlers in New Zealand. Te Papas large glass entrance hall gazes out over the sea which unfortunately showed us the deterioration of the weather all too clearly. By 6pm we were blown out of the museum into gale force winds and sideways rain - why had we parked so far away! When we were finally
safe in our camper we headed North out of Wellington hoping to cover a decent amount of kms before setting up camp. However it soon became clear that this wasn going to happen as the weather became so bad that we were struggling to keep our van on the road! We gave up, found a good parking spot and literally crawled into the back without opening any doors. Now, to cook dinner in our little camper you had to stand outside, open the boot and slide out the single camping hob; this was quite simply not going to happen. Instead we had a feast of cornflakes, gingernuts and ginger beer all without once stepping a foot outside!
Lake Taupo and Rotorua
Thankfully by the following morning the wind and rain had eased off a little and we were able to continue North up the desert road to Lake Taupo where we would truly enter geothermal country. The beautiful lake is simply gigantic (a surface area of 616 sq kms) and was formed by an enormous volcanic blast 26,500 years ago. From here we continued North along the Thermal Highway which is scattered with volcanic and geothermal places of interest.
We decided to visit Wai-O-Tapu as we had heard a lot about the various sights within the park. We spent around three hours following the paths and it felt as though we had left Earth behind and were walking on the surface of the Moon, or perhaps even Mars! We were surrounded by craters the size of double decker buses, houses and beyond! Steam was rising from the ground all around us and the air was filled with the stench of acidic sulphur. Mud pools bubbled happily next to lakes of unimaginable colours which were often nearly 100 degrees at the surface! The final pool is known as "The Devils Bath" and to say it caught us of guard is putting things lightly. It is literally, luminous yellow and green as if vast vats of toxic waste had been emptied into it. Trying to convince our brains that it was in fact naturally created was almost impossible and we left the park in sheer awe of mother nature.
We also visited Te Puia in Rotorua which is a both cultural and natural experience. Our guided tour taught us about local Maori legends and the highly regarded Maori skills of
carving and weaving. Our Maori guide also attempted to teach our group the true pronounciation of he areas name and a childrens stick game with little success but a lot of laughter. Te Puia also contains two stunning active geysers and two rather timid Kiwi birds all of which were fascinating. We ended our visit with a full Maori Welcome ceremony before entering a traditional village temple and being treated to traditional song and dance.
After spending a little time exploring Rotorua we once again headed North, this time in the direction of Taranga and the Bay of Plenty. Before leaving the U.K. we had been given the contact details of a relatives daughter, Polly who lives just North of Rotorua and with very short notice (our fault entirely!) we managed to arrange to visit Polly and her family. We had found New Zealands North Island to be not as stunning as the south but the drive out to Pollys was an exception. Not long after leaving the highway we found ourselves amerced in lush green hills and hidden valleys. After half an hour of driving in awe we found the house and were given such a warm welcome
Out for a ride
Staying with Polly and Jeremy.
North of Roturua
that we felt as if we had gone home for the evening! After enjoying the spring evening sat outside with a glass of wine we sat down to dinner with Polly, her husband Jeremy and their two daughters Sophie and Alice. We were treated to a feast of fresh lamb, veg, potatoes and even Yorkshire puds! After two and a half weeks of surviving on tinned soup we were simply bowled over! The following morning, after the best nights sleep in weeks we took a walk with Polly around the farm. Polly asked if I would rather ride than walk. Of course I jumped at the chance and spent the hour long stroll on horseback while Polly and Andy walked beside. All to soon it was time to leave the farm behind and hit the road again. We took the coastal road around the Bay of Plenty and continued north to the outskirts of Auckland.
As with most visits to major cities on this trip, by the time we reach downtown Auckland we had a load of mundane jobs to take care of before we could explore. These jobs unfortunately took most of the day and by
the time we had achieved them we had seen most of the city centre and already tired of it. The following day we gave the city a second chance but by lunchtime we realised the city itself had nothing of any real interest for us. We returned to our campsite feeling a little underwhelmed and having now sent home the majority of our warm clothing, the next days flight to Fiji suddenly could not come soon enough!
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