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Published: November 15th 2016
Hello from our camper van (a camp site with wifi - who knew?!), where we have just completed nearly a week of touring over 1000km through the magnificent but currently extremely wet South Island in New Zealand. We hand back our trusted friend tomorrow, yet are still looking forward to another fortnight before moving onto Australia.
Not having really been bred as a camper myself, I was a little sceptical when Vicky booked us into living in a vehicle as big as our flat's en suite bathroom for part of our trip. The inevitable rain, veruca ridden showers, luke warm dinners and limited sleep that I'd experienced on my few previous ventures had drummed out any kind of desire to indulge in the activity ever again. This didn't look set to change on our first night here, where we arrived, in the pouring rain of course, to our first site which was nothing more than a soggy field. On finding a 'spot' overlooking the adjacent lake in near darkness, we realised the van was slanted (making sleeping even more impossible), however on attempting to move the van it appeared we were free wheeling, completely stuck in the mud. Given the near darkness we resolved to sort it out in the morning, and it was only thanks to a helpful Dutch couple that we were able to drive out without the embarrassment of calling out roadside assistance.
Despite all my doubts and misconceptions however, since then we have had a super time, and have become quite attached to our van (or 'Jucy Jasmine' as she has become known). We've seriously discussed doing a similar holiday around the UK in the future, such is the fun we've had. A steak dinner has even been cooked in the 'kitchen'!
The route we have taken has broadly taken us from the city of Christchurch, roughly a third of the way down the east coast of the island, inland to the alpine region (close to Mount Cook), and then all the way south to Queenstown and Milford Sound. We will hand back the van in Queenstown tomorrow, before completing the remaining loop around the island by car. We've found it has been a great way to see the island - there is very much a friendly 'camper culture' here - and have stopped off at countless look out points to see the lush and dramatic scenery.
The real highlight of the last few days has been our visit to the 'Fjordland' National Park, and more specifically Milford Sound. Even despite the persistent rain, seven metres of which occurs over 200+ days a year there, Rudyard Kipling's assessment of the place as being the eighth wonder of the world gives some clue towards its sheer majesty. Accessible on land only via a 120km, single windy road which was completed as recently as the 1950s, we drove up and then down some magnificent glacial landscapes, with steep sided valleys towering high either side. After stopping at a nearby campsite overnight, we took a two hour boat cruise the following morning, which took us through the sound and out into the 'Roaring Forties' of the Tasman Sea. With trees clinging to the steep rock faces, hundreds of small waterfalls flowing down the cliff sides, and the mountain peaks shrouded in cloud, it was an eerie but beautiful scene, reminiscent of something out of Lord of the Rings or Jurassic Park.
On a more sombre note, thoughts must go out to those who have been affected by the earthquake this week. Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, greater than the 2011 Christchurch disaster, the quake and resulting aftershocks and landslides have caused significant damage in the north of the island, with two confirmed dead. Some settlements have been cut off completely by road, including the town of Kaikora, where 1200 tourists are stranded and are being airlifted by the military to safety. We are currently in touch with our various hosts who we are due to stay with in the area to understand if their accommodation is still viable. Our trip aside, we hope the communities affected make a speedy recovery and can get back to normal as soon as possible, despite the $1 billion price tag already put on the rebuilding estimate.
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