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Published: August 26th 2008
After a 9hr flight we arrived in Melbourne and were told it was only 8˚c, a far cry from the heat of Bangkok, and we’d hired a campervan!! We were told to go up the international transfers escalator which took us straight up to the security stop before duty-free. As we were just about to leave the security area Nick got pulled to one side, I went to follow and was told to go on into duty-free. He had to read a sheet of A4 paper, empty his backpack, be patted down and have a detector brushed over him. When he was finally allowed to go he came over and told me he’d been randomly picked to be checked for bomb making traces! We were pretty glad we didn’t go to the firing range in Cambodia with our friends! We had an 8hr wait in Melbourne airport before our 3hr flight to Christchurch. When we landed in Christchurch there were really strict checks on what you were bringing into the country, and you had to go through a biosecurity check before leaving the airport. We stayed at a hostel in the centre of Christchurch for two nights before going to get our campervan. Whilst in Christchurch we went shopping for some trousers and jumpers, visited the museum, walked around the botanical gardens, ate some chips in Cathedral Square and walked the tram line.
Luckily when we went to pick up our campervan we were first in the queue as the introduction took about 40mins. They checked our liscenses (not very thoroughly) and took us to look around the vehicle. We were shown how to use snow chains, although she said we shouldn’t need to use them, and given some DVDs and an MP3 adapter. Before we set off we were also told the very strange NZ rule that if you want to turn left and a car on the opposite side of the road also wants to turn left then they have right of way. Our campervan is called K2 and is just the right size for us. It’s got a fridge/freezer, DVD player, gas cooker/grill, double bed which turns into 2 seats and a table, sink, storage cupboards and a small electric fan heater. We’d decided to head toward the West Coast through Arthurs Pass (NZ’s highest village) on our first day which should have been about a 3hr drive. The weather was beautiful and as we got out of Christchurch we noticed a massive snow-covered mountain range…The Southern Alps. As we got closer to the mountains the weather got progressively worse and eventually it started snowing, we started thinking about the snow chains and after another 10mins we were flagged down and told we would have to put our chains on if we wanted to carry on. The snow was really heavy now and the wind was really strong so putting the chains on was a nightmare; Nick eventually took over as my hands had gone numb! We did consider staying where we were but loads of cars were going on and the traffic controller said as long as we went slowly we’d be fine…yea right! The car in front of us hadn’t put chains on and soon started sliding all over the road, we took it slowly and after a few bends had to stop as the car had crashed into the side of the mountain! As we started to come down the hill our camper started sliding into the mountain as well, it was really slow but still really scary as there was nothing we could do about it! As we sat there waiting to get round the corner a little bird that looked like a parrot came and sat next to my door, it just looked up at us really inquisitively (we later found out it was a Kea which are native to South NZ) it was so odd. There were so many of us just sliding all over the place that soon enough people were crashing into each other; Nick and I just hoped we didn’t crash as we had a £1000 excess and it was our 1st day!! We eventually made it to an avalanche shelter and considered staying there in our camper for the night but after speaking to some people coming from the other direction decided to go on. Another elderly couple we spoke to said they’d been hit 3 times and it was her birthday! After moving 30km in 3hrs we eventually made it unscathed to our campsite!
After a very eventful first day driving, our second day was spent relaxing next to a log fire playing scrabble and watching the Olympics (Nick beat me at scrabble which I was not happy about!). At 6pm the news came on and said that the recent snow in South NZ was the worst they’d had in 40yrs, that Arthurs Pass had been closed because of the bad weather (and stayed closed for 3days), the snow was 1metre deep in some places and there had also been an avalanche on the road! We were glad we hadn’t stayed in the avalanche shelter or we’d probably have been stuck there in the freezing cold for 3days!
The weather started to get better so we decided to move on to Punakaiki on the West coast where you can see the ‘Pancake Rocks’. The drive along the coast was really nice and you could see the typical huge waves and rough seas of the west coast. From the road the rocks at Punakaiki didn’t look that interesting but once you walked down a little track there were stacks of flat pancake looking limestone rocks. It was actually much more interesting than we’d expected and as the seas were really rough there was a really good blowhole spitting sea water high up into the air. We decided to walk back along the beach and got soaked in the process as it started hailing/ raining before we managed to get to the camper! I was not enjoying the NZ weather so far!
There wasn’t much else to do in Punakaiki so we set off for Hokitika a couple of hours south. The campsite there was really nice and even had a llama farm! It was really sunny so we went for a walk along the beach and watched the sunset. The next day was really sunny as well so we decided on a 4hr walk around Lake Kaniere which was about 18km away. As we were driving toward the lake we saw a sign which said ‘Lake Kaniere, Water race walkway - 4hrs’ so we stopped and set off on our walk. We walked through an old mining area and followed a man-made waterway through the surrounding rainforest. It was really pretty but after 1½hrs we were starting to wonder where the lake was. After another hour through forest we reached a sign saying ‘Lake Kaniere Walk - 1hr’ and finally thought we’d reached the lake…no such luck. It was another hour until we actually reached the lake and then we realised we still had to walk back to he van! Neither of us had done much exercise for a while and after nearly 3hrs walking we were aching all over. We did take a few minutes to sit and appreciate the lake which was beautiful as it reflected the mountains which rose up around it. We then started the long seemingly never-ending 1¼hr walk along the road back to the van.
As we were still aching slightly the next day we drove to Lake Mahinapua for breakfast and sat out in the sun admiring the amazing views of the Southern Alps reflecting in the enormous lake. We also drove to Lake Ianthe and read out in the sun for a couple of hours, it was nice not to be cold for a change! The toilet there was one of the worst I’ve been to (and that’s saying something!), from the outside it just looked like a porter loo but when I opened the lid there was a massive pit underneath the toilet where everything just dropped down into, I’m still not sure whether it gets cleaned out?! That evening we made it to Franz Josef glacier and stayed in a nice campsite with a hot tub! Obviously the first thing we did was jump straight in; it was so hot we only stayed in for about 15mins but we were warm for the whole night.
Although it had only been a day since our last walk we didn’t want to waste any time and decided to do the Callery Waiho trail from town through Callery Gorge to the Franz Josef glacier and back - 3½hrs. The walk took us through some beautiful scenery and all different types of terrain until we eventually reached the glacier itself. We walked up Sentinel rock to get a better view and found some information boards which said the glacier had been increasing and decreasing in size for centuries and it showed some pictures of the glacier over the last century; we couldn’t believe how much it had grown and shrunk over the years. That evening we met some New Zealanders whilst cooking dinner and arranged to meet them in the bar later on. When we got to the bar we were surprised to see that pints were only $4 (£1.25) and wine was only $2.50 (£1) so we spent our evening drinking and chatting in the nice warm bar. We were going to go glacier hiking but the weather got much worse and my legs were aching again after 8hrs walking in 3 days!
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