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Published: July 31st 2009
We've got our own wheels - and our own home again (even if it is rented!). As with most visitors to New Zealand, we decided the best way to see the country (well, the South Island at least) was to hire a campervan. Some may say we're mad to do it in the middle of winter, however we got one with its own gas heater that has done an admirable job of keeping us toasty overnight (even in below zero temperatures). It also has a shower and toilet inside so no midnight dashes in freezing temperatures to go for a pee! Being self contained also means 'freedom camping' - basically spotting a beautiful place and pulling up to spend the night right there!
We arrived in Christchurch from Australia and promptly spent a couple of hours being shown around our new home - thankfully it also came with a manual as neither of us have done this before and having to be in charge of all your waste when we're used to it just going down the drain was a new experience (its not so difficult once Dave got used to it!!!). We had thankfully decided to stay overnight at
a powered campsite on the first night, just in case. Most things worked fine, and after a quick trip back to the rental company to sort a few minor problems, we were off.
Hamner Springs looked like a nice place so we headed there first - turns out there's not much there so we left the next day and found a beautiful road down to Kaikoura, back on the East coast. The waters off New Zealand get very deep very quick so they get a huge number of Sperm Whales (usually spotted miles out to sea in the deep water), as well as Hump Backs and Dusky Dolphins. We had been given some whale watching gift vouchers as a wedding present (thank you to the Brum lot - you know who you are!) so headed out to sea and saw lots and lots. There were whales and dolphins and some birds that looked very nice but not being twitchers we have no clue as to their species! All in all a brilliant present to have.
That night we were feeling very brave so decided to freedom camp, except it was already dark and we had no idea if
there would be somewhere to stop. A few miles up the road, we saw a sign for a picnic spot so pulled over and tucked ourselves away from the road. The next morning we awoke to quite possibly the most spectacular sunrise we have seen, over a beautiful lake - what a wonderful suprise!
We headed off after breakfast to Renwick - in the middle of Marlborough wine region. So what do you do on a sunny winter afternoon in Renwick? Hire a couple of mountain bikes and cycle (in a progressively more wobbly manner) around as many wineries as you can for free tastings! It was a great afternoon, but we were very tipsy by the end of it! We took the van back round the following day to buy a few bottles of the tastiest wines to keep us going round the rest of the South Island.
Next stop was Nelson city, a nice little town to have a wander round the shops and Saturday market, before we headed Southwards to Lake Rotoroa. We have been taking advantage of the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites on many occasions, as they are very cheap and usually in
very remote and beautiful areas. We camped next to the lake, then got up the next day and drove round to Lake Roititi to walk up Mount Robert. The walk was absolutely wonderful - blue skies and forest paths to start, then 2 foot deep in snow at the top with amazing views of the lake below.
We drove further on and stayed at another DOC place in Lyell, the highlight of it being spotting a Kiwi bird in the wild. This is almost unheard of as they are an endangered species, are very shy and only come out at night! Sadly by the time Gayle had turned around to get the camera it had diasppeared off into the trees again - damn! After helping to pull a fellow camper's car out of the trees the following morning, we headed for Hokitika, calling in to see some rocks shaped like pancakes on the way (imaginatively called Pancake Rocks!).
The following day we wanted to go for a nice walk, but it seems the 'wild' West Coast had other ideas and it rained all day - a good day for getting a few miles under our belt. We finished
at Franz Joseph Glacier but it was too wet and cloudy to get any good photos so we drove back out of town, found a nice freedom camping spot by a lake (just because we could!) and went back the next day in the sunshine. We also managed a short walk around another lake to try and burn a few more calories (carrying your entire larder around with you does mean eating almost constantly!).
The following day was another wet one so we piled on the miles towards Wanaka, and camped by another lake (can you see a theme here?), before heading into town the next day. Wanaka is on Lake Wanaka and next to a range called Treble Cone where you can whizz down the white stuff on a couple of planks should you desire. We drove up the mountain (on a steep gravel road) and had a hot chocolate whilst looking out for people wiping out on the snow. There were fantastic views of Lake Wanaka from the top, as it was a beautiful clear day.
We'll spend the night in Wanaka then head off on our journey back to Christchurch, before visiting the North Island
for a few days...
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