Day 24 – Mt. Cook to Queenstown via Twizel (Pronounced “T-WHY-ZWEL”), Lake Wanaka, lots of Bras and the greatest mountain pass ever, in our opinion

day 24

Morning came and the strong winds went.

A lovely breakfast later and we were off on the next leg of the journey and a short-ish drive south down to Queenstown.

The drive along Lake Pukaki was blessed with clearer skies and shimmering water, and again, we were amazed at the colours reflected off the lake. We had some time to look at it as we were stuck behind a “sheep traffic jam” for a while.

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At the foot of the lake, we headed off towards Twizel (No, not “Twizel” as most people would say it, but “T –why-zel”?? Why??), and our first obligatory coffee break. Twhyzel, on arrival, looks like a town one would expect to see in Alaska. No idea why that picture embedded itself in our minds, but we both felt the same so it must be true! (Funny, as neither of us have been to Alaska. What does that say?) It was almost as if the ice had held on to the buildings and places and refused to let go. We found a wonderful coffee shop called “The Musterer’s Hut” on the outskirts of the town, which easily rivalled The Pour House in Hahei Bay, done out in retro “70’s meets schooldays” chic. Coffee and vegetarian muffins were to die for. A well recommended stop right at the entrance of Twhyzel and immediately off SH 8.

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RV topped up with diesel and we were off again down to Lake Wanaka, some 70kms further south. The hills open up on the route down, as mountains ease to the east and fade away to the west. This allows the clouds to come over from the west for the first time and by the time we got to the turn off, SH 8A to Lake Wanaka, it was raining. (Actually, for those who are interested, there is a short cut to Wanaka off SH8. Just after Tarras, there is a small road to the right called “Jolly Road”, which cuts off about 30kms and re-joins SH 8A closer to Wanaka)

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We stopped briefly at “Puzzle World”, which is a well-known tourist destination, but due to the weather conditions, we didn’t try the maze. We can’t really comment about the place. Some people like it, we were not overly impressed. Horses for courses.

Lunch was beckoning, so off we went into the town itself. Wanaka is a small town snuggled onto the foreshore of the lake, which at first, we thought was not overly large, but by the end of the holiday, we saw it from the other side and were able to grasp its sheer enormity. 42Km long, which is not to be sneezed at.

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Whilst we had no preconceived ideas about the place, finding a certain place at a certain time allowed us to have one of the nicest encounters with a human being we have experienced. We stopped off at a lovely corner cafe called “Kai Whaka pai”, meaning “Food made good”. Lots of people were spilling out onto the tables placed outside (Which generally is a good sign). We arrived and aimed for a table that people seemed to be keeping away from. On it, sat an older, grizzled, bearded, unkempt looking man, an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth and a casual “otherworldly” look to him… We sat down and introduced ourselves to him.

“Hello, do you mind if we sit here?” (Being British and therefore, polite to a T.. or “P”)

“Not at all. I hope you don’t mind me smoking?”

So started an unlikely conversation with a man we connected with completely.

Darryl was, in a word, a “Kindred Spirit”. He was a jade sculptor and over the years had amassed huge quantities of jade, had his own helicopter (as one does!) and had been given a personal invitation to do a few large pieces for Christchurch, for which he was rewarded most handsomely. He then had an epiphany of sorts and decided to give all his money, possessions and worldly wealth away and moved to a quiet house in the wilderness to carry on working with smaller pieces of jade to sell to the local market. His works for Christchurch, gave him more than NZ$ 1 million, but he preferred to give it all away to a local charity, as, in his words, he had enough and others didn’t.

He spoke about his beliefs, both political and spiritual, which were very interesting and I am sure we spent over an hour just chatting to him about life, the universe and everything. A special moment. A special man. You may find him there if you are lucky. Most refreshing.

Speaking of which, he did mention that the lake was partly fed by a spring of crystal pure water, which not many people knew about. We stopped off at the spring after saying our goodbyes, and also to say goodbye to the lake for the time being. We had hoped to meet him a few days later on our return leg back through Wanaka at the weekend craft market, but alas, the market didn’t happen so we never did again. Maybe next time. If you see him, say “Hi”.

Queenstown was calling. I had heard about a fantastic approach route called, “The Crown Range Road”, so we headed off towards it with anticipation. The approach to the Crown Range Road is via Cardrona Pass, which in itself, is a lovely route and well worth travelling along, if nothing else other than to see the most quirky thing we have ever seen.

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On arriving at the start of the Crown Range Road, at Cardrona Pass, we saw a line, disappearing off into the distance, of hundreds and hundreds of bras all fixed to a fence! The “Cardrona Bra Fence” even has an article written about it on Wikipedia for crying out loud! At one stage, we believe, there were almost 1,500 bras festooned along the fence and the local council were up in arms about this “flagrant and crass attempt to display art in a new fashion!” Read up about it on the many web sites dedicated to “ladies fashion” in the area.

Sweet As……..

If anyone knows the real reason why this has occurred, almost by osmosis, we would be most interested to hear. It is almost as if Route 66 came to NZ and a memorabilia lane was created. I am sure that more and more people will continue to contribute to this strange sight on Cardrona Pass.

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The route down into Queenstown from Wanaka, is via the Crown Range Road and, without doubt, was probably one of the nicest routes we travelled on during our stay. It cuts through the Cardrona Mountain Range, then dives steeply down, via hairpin bends, towards Queenstown itself. Suddenly, this windy road opens up and you are hit by this vista overlooking Queenstown airport and through to Lake Wakatipu and the mountains beyond. (Yes! Yet more mountains). And all the Lupins were starting to come out. Their colours and fragrance were heavenly.

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By the way, you are NOT allowed to pick them from the side of the road and have them in your RV. Absolutely NOT. It is forbidden!!!

Green fields and tiny trees, dots for cows and sheep and little “toy-town” houses dot the foreground. It is a place where you simply have to stop and take it all in and capture the moment if possible, through photography.

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Once down the mountain pass, you drive along Lake Wakatipu to get to Queenstown, and what a beautiful town it is. As many towns in New Zealand seem to be, Queenstown also nestles between mountain and lake. Tourist shops and “exhilarating event” shops battle cheek-by-jowl with coffee shops and the harbour. We fell in love with the place immediately. Even the Top 10 motorhome park reflected the area’s quirkiness with ethnic sculptures and over large pictures dotted all around the camp. We spent quite some time browsing through as shop called “Yaks and Yetis”, which is well worth a visit, selling loads of curios and eastern sculptures and figurines.

The Harbour was quaint and small with lovely craft kiosks and coffee shops surrounding it. The church was unusual in that it was made of solid stone as opposed to the normal timber we had seen elsewhere. Also, the coffee shops around it had interesting names, such as “Vudu Café” and “Halo Coffee Shop”, which we found most amusing.

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That night we strolled through the town, unafraid, relaxed. Finding a small health food shop, we finished up with a lovely meal, then it was a walk back to the RV, a catch up of how “The Hobbit” was doing on our DVD player, then off to bed and dreams.

Night night

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Day 23 – Mt Cook again and a wind that blew the sales away!!

day 23

As we had been doing a lot of travelling recently, we decided to take some time out in this lovely spot (who wouldn’t?) and drove back down to Mount Cook Village for a quiet spot so that Mitch could continue her revision, and I could wander around the shops and museum pieces in the main hotel.

I went outside for a bit to look at the clouds and the mountains and I was amazed to see how the clouds seemed to create a halo over Mount Cook as if it had its own micro-climate. Also, no matter how hard they tried, the bank of clouds coming in from the west, cascading over the mighty mountain range, kept on being pushed back, just as if LOTR had been based on a mass of armies camping at the foot of the mountains, just picking off these pesky marauders coming in from the west.

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The hotel hosts the “Sir Edmund Hilary” Museum and whilst there, we took the benefit of this place and got some history about the area. In particular, we loved the film about the ascent of Mt. Cook with its inherent dangers, as well as a 3D movie of the area, which blew us away. Afterwards, a great short film about black holes was also equally interesting.

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Actually, it was just as well that we decided to chill out today, because the weather turned sour and cold and the wind was blowing up a tempest. I went to the RV half way through the day, now parked to the rear of the hotel, and watched, quite amused, as some poor Chinese people tried to get their luggage out of the car only to see it blown down the road by the wind. When one of the people ran after the first wayward article, the other got the second piece of luggage out of the car, with the same results. Not that I am being mean, but it was quite funny seeing these two run backwards and forwards, almost commanding their luggage to stand still, as the heavens decided to play a dance with their luggage.

Hee hee… Not funny at all, of course. Those poor people… and their 15 pieces of luggage…..

That evening we treated ourselves to a lovely buffet in the hotel. Mitch was in her element as there were loads of choices for vegetarians and the food was delicious. We had a choice table right by the window looking out towards the Mountains themselves.. bliss.

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We did see some alien lights in the sky again that night, but this time I didn’t send the image to my parents. That would have been tempting fate too much.

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That night, we freedom camped at the foot of Hooker river, along with a few other RVs. By now, the wind had reached epic proportions and we were buffeted through the night. I slept like a baby. Mitch didn’t. Poor thing.

Tomorrow, we were off to our next adventure, and were going to be surprised by 12,000 bras…. I will say no more!

Night night

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Day 22 – Lake Tekapo to Mt Aoraki – Mt. Cook

day 22

Another lovely clear day greeted us and we left early, heading off to our next , and much closer, encounter with Mt. Cook (Mt. Aoraki), the tallest mountain in New Zealand.

Permanently draped with snow, it gleams down onto the valley and we were heading there today. Yippee!

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We drove down SH8 and encountered one of the strangest man-made structures in the area. Tekapo Canal was carved out of the landscape by the Electricity Board and its sole aim appears either to allow a Salmon farm, some 20km away, to be fed with fresh water, or act as an electricity generator for the area. In any case, seeing the canal snake its way through the landscape without any concern about contours or the local environment around it, was very strange indeed.

As you turn off SH8 and head north up SH80 towards Mt. Cook, The Mount Cook National Park starts to reveal its grandeur more and more , running the length of Lake Pukaki. As we got closer, the foothills were taken over slowly by large mountains, which in turn were overtaken by huge lofty, snow-capped mountain ranges forming the backbone of the South Island. Called “The Western Ridge”, these mountains travel from Abel Tasman in the north, all the way down to the Fjords in the southern areas, and effectively help to stop inclement weather from infiltrating into the country from the Tasman Sea to the west.

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Lofty, grand, austere. Many adverbs could be used as we got closer to Mount Cook Village and we couldn’t wait to get there and start our walk up Hooker Valley. Mt. Cook Village lies at the foot of the Mt. Cook Range and appears to be a paradise for backpackers. A Hotel, YHA, Backpackers hostel and houses, all nestle into the hills. This little village seemed to support a great many people and it even has its own school for the children of the local residents.

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We parked up and after consulting our maps, donned our walking boots and started towards Hooker Valley. The Hooker Valley trail is a relatively easy 2 to 3 hour tramp on prepared paths and climbs a mere 80 vertical metres during this time but spans the Tasman River 3 times on its way up to the Hooker Glacier, our goal for the day.

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The walk itself tracks a number of mountains before you arrive at the foot of Mount Cook. The sheer steepness and overhanging glacial sculptures of these mountains, seemingly within finger grasp, were at once both amazing to behold and fearfully passed lest one of the massive ice walls decided at that moment to release itself from the grasp of the mountain and hurtle down to say “Hi” to us.

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The walk slowly reveals more and more of Mt. Cook and eventually we came to the lake at the head of Hooker Glacier. The lake has small ice floes in it which have all been weathered by either the water itself, sun or rock erosion and their shapes and colour were all wonderful. We stayed there for about an hour then made our way back.

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I must admit, the walk and the scenery one is introduced to during this time, must make it one of the nicest “bang-for-your-buck” experiences, particularly as it is free!

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That night, we stayed near Lake Pukaki. We decided to have a BBQ again. Bad mistake! It seemed that every mosquito NOT resident at Orere Point, had migrated to this spot, and of course, news travels fast in mosquito world! They were obviously told by their northern cousins that I was tasty meat, so I was bitten mercilessly again. No fair!

Night night

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Day 21 – Geraldine to Lake Tekapo, Mt. John Observatory and an introduction to one of the darkest places on earth

day 21

A short drive today, heading west on SH79 and SH8 on the way to Lake Tekapo, (pronounced “Tee-Ka-Poo”). The weather was brilliantly clear and I was already getting excited about the opportunity the night was about to offer.

I had always wanted to come to this particular area to see the dark sky at night and experience seeing the Milky Way again, which I had not seen since leaving South Africa, a long time ago. I love the stars at night but most people don’t get the opportunity to see them as they live in or near cities, which all pollute the air with light. Here, in one of only three “dark sky reserves” in the world, there was every chance of seeing a wonderful night sky.

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We arrived at Lake Tekapo and rather than stop off straight away at a motorhome camp, we headed off up to the famous Mt. John Observatory, which overlooks the lake. The Observatory has a Café and a viewing area, but to get to it, one has to drive up a tight, steep, winding road, which in itself, needs nerves of steel and good brakes. Arriving at the top, we walked up to the Café and gazed out over the lake below us.

What a view!

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Lake Tekapo is fed by a glacier and snow run-off, and the pressure of the ice over the rocks as the glacier makes its slow way down the valley, causes a rock flour to develop, which is so fine, it doesn’t settle in the water but hovers just beneath the surface. This fine sediment acts to bend the sunlight that falls onto the water, creating a deep azure and turquoise blue shimmer. For the two of us, this view was breath-taking.

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From the Observatory viewing gallery, we were also able to see the distant Mountain Range off to the west in which Mt. Cook could be seen. This was to be our next port of call and we breathed in the expectation with delicious gasps as we looked at the snow-capped range through the telescope.

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We booked a slot at the Observatory for that night (11:30pm – 1am! Gulp) and went back down the steep windy road, smelling the brakes again.

Before heading off into the town, we detoured along the Lake looking to see if there were any decent Freedom spots to overnight at. Whilst the sheep came out to greet us and the lake threw us some strange sights, there was no spot to camp, so we headed back to Tekapo.

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Back in the village, we made enquiries at the Lake Tekapo RV camp for that night and then drove over to one of the most famous viewing spots in New Zealand.

The Church of the Good Shepherd sits on the banks of the Lake and is a photo shoot, if ever there was one. Unfortunately, time was not in our favour as when we arrived, the site was teeming with coach loads of Chinese tourists, all clicking away with great gusto. Rather than a quiet, reflective opportunity, it was like being attacked by a horde of loud buzzing bees so we couldn’t experience the tranquillity that a spot of this nature should give. Oh well. As long as they were happy.

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A lovely pizza and G&T later and we headed off to the local night sky office to hear that the clouds were due to come in that night and make the viewing difficult or perhaps impossible. Grrrrr.

However, the weather man got it wrong that night and we eventually trudged out of the RV, head torches flashing in the night, and got onto the bus to take us up to the Observatory and the evening’s study tour.

The sky was perfect!!!! Stars were out….. So was the Fullest of full moons! Aaaaarrrrggghhhhhhh.

The full moon, in a place of almost complete darkness, is very bright! As a result, although the sky was clear, the moon light obliterated the Milky Way completely and also took out a lot of the other stars we could have seen, but we still had a lovely evening and saw many constellations through the large telescopes used at the Observatory. The evening is a definite excursion and well worth the money and the late night to see so much beauty in the night sky.

We learned how to find the Southern Cross and find true south. We saw an amazing Nebula called “The Tarantula Nebula” and also had the privilege of having a renowned night-time photographer visiting the place at the same time as us, and she took some time-lapse pictures on our camera for our memories. Beautiful.

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We were both moved by the shear enormity of space.

Didn’t take us long to fall asleep once we got back to the RV.

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Night night

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Day 20 – Kaikoura to Christchurch through “yellow brick” mountains, then off to Geraldine via the longest, straightest, most boring road ever

day 20

We left Kaikoura and headed south for the 2 hour drive to Christchurch. We wanted to see what this town was doing since the earthquake in 2011 and, if possible, support its endeavours.

Driving through the Greta Valley, just north of Waipara, we were struck with the row upon row of foothills, all covered in bright yellow brush, filling the whole area with colour and vibrancy.

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As mentioned earlier, Christchurch suffered a tragic earthquake in February 2011, killing 185 people and injuring several thousand in the process. It levelled a significant area within downtown Christchurch and the inhabitants had been working to create both a lasting legacy as well as a new centre since then. As a result, when we arrived, whole city blocks were cordoned off and covered with scaffolding. New buildings were being erected and there were road works everywhere. It was a strange experience, and stopping off at the “ReStart Mall, a “Container City” complex that had sprung up on one of the demolished city blocks demonstrated how the local community were attempting to rebuild their city and their lives.

We left Christchurch after a beautiful Pizza from Base, a small shop trading out of one of the containers in the Mall, and continued heading south on what was, the straightest road we have ever encountered, Mile after mile of ruler-straight roads lead out of Christchurch in all directions and even secondary roads were straight for tens of kilometres. We are not quite sure who the City Planner is/was, but I would suggest that some variety in the road pattern should be considered. Unfortunately, this endless straightness made the journey onwards incredibly boring, so much so that as afternoon drew on, we decided to change our route plans completely, and instead, rather than head off down to Dunedin, we headed inland up route SH79, stopping at a lovely quaint town called “Gerldine”. The sun was still up so we took the bikes down and explored the town by bike, stopping at the iCentre, which is the information centre for the area as well as doubling as a mini sales place for local produce. It was also our first encounter with the influx of Chinese people who come to NZ on holiday. The iCentre in Geraldine was filled to the brim with them, all looking at things to buy.

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Geraldine was also the first place where we sadly, came across a local Kiwi, who was a bit of a moaner. Most people we came across were friendly and willing to help us if we were lost etc. Here, we were pushing our bikes down the footpath to lock them to a cycle stand, when some grumpy old man decided to say, “foot paths are for walking on, NOT cycling!” Shame really, that he hadn’t noticed that the only way to lock our bikes up on the cycle stand provided, was to get up onto the footpath with our bikes, to reach the cycle stand. Well done you, whoever you are

I suppose every country has these type of people?

The motorhome camp was absolutely perfect. If you are considering stopping over in Geraldine, we would recommend the ”Geraldine Kiwi Holiday Park and Motel”. Lovely owners. Clean grounds and utilities. Well worth bedding down there for the night…. Just don’t go cycling on any pavement!

For now, we wanted to get some shut eye as tomorrow, we were heading off into Mountain territory!

Night night.

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Day 19 – Kaikoura, Ohau River (again! – The baby seals were soooo nice), PuhiPuhi River and a freedom night right next to the Pacific Ocean

day 19

Early morning…. Rain again! Where is the sun when you want to get a tan?

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Still, there was a good coffee shop opposite the motorhome camp, so it wasn’t all bad!

Today we were considering going on a whale watching cruise, which Kaikoura is famous for, but the weather had turned bad and, at NZ$ 186 per person on a boat which would probably be in quite rough seas, we decided to pass on this and instead, after a lovely breakfast, drove back to Ohau river to see of the seals were still there.  They were!

Actually, SH1, near Kiakoura, is an amazing road, hugging the coast and the foothills and battling with the railway line as well for supremacy. Nice route to travel on.

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Another 30 minutes of enjoying seeing them in their natural habitat, before we drove to PuhiPuhi river, near Kaikoura for a bit of a “stretch the legs” walk. On the way there, we passed a lovely boutique hotel, “Hapukulodge”, which was set up as a series of tree-houses looking out over a large lawn on which hundreds of deer were allowed to wander freely, whilst on the other side, one had an uninterrupted view out over the Pacific. Sublime!… but too pricey for us. Maybe next time.

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The road along PuhiPuhi river is very bumpy and gravelly, and the strangest thing was seeing post boxes dotted along the road, with no houses or accommodation to be seen anywhere. We eventually stopped where we felt that to continue would be bringing us into difficulties, should we need to turn around in the RV.

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We walked up the river course and were astounded at its emptiness. For some reason, the river was almost completely dry (an occurrence we would see in many rivers whilst on the South Island). Rocks and pebbles were hop-scotched all over the place and a bit of boulder hopping was called for by the two of us. Rain started again and we turned back.

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As we approached the RV, we saw a young goat, dead amongst the boulders, as if to remind us that all the idyllic scenery also had some reality interwoven into it.

A small drive out of the valley and the sun came out, so we drove along the coast for a bit and had a light lunch on the pebbly beach. Mmm yummy.

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That evening, rather than go back to the motorhome camp in Kaikoura, we decided to park up in a small cutting looking out over the Pacific Ocean and as the sun slowly set, with Mitch catching up on some studies again, this little Hobbit man could be seen sitting sedately outside on a chair, protected from the wind by the RV, and holding a lovely glass of white wine in my hand, meditating into the early evening.

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The sky had turned sombre and it was the first real opportunity we had to see the distant snow-capped mountains which we were soon going to be travelling to, to enjoy. Lofty. Majestic. Beckoning. Austere.

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The sound of the ocean waves crashing on the foreshore, right next to our RV lulled us into sleep that night. Freedom camping, if you can find the right spot, is certainly worth considering from time to time.

Night night

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Day 18 – Masterton to Wellington at 5 in the morning, an introduction to the South Island via the Fjords and a moment of sublime pleasure……

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It’s very dark at 4:30 in the morning!

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We departed by 5am, saying our goodbyes to Fi and Justin and set off southwards to hit Wellington by 7:30am. The roads were even quieter than normal and we made good time, slowly seeing the sun rise over the eastern mountains. Arriving in Wellington, we were travelling in “commuter time”. Cyclists and cars already on their way into work. We were struck by the amazing view (again) over Wellington Harbour and the mountains beyond. Cruise liners were slowly coming in to berth as we lined up to wait our turn to board the ferry.

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Wellington lies nestled into the hills, sprawling down to the harbour and must be an amazing place to work in.. All those views to inspire you!

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Mitch was a little worried about the possible swell during the ferry crossing. We had been advised that the crossing could be quite hairy, but today the sun shone on us and the waters were as mild as a summer breeze. Before we knew it, we were entering the Fjords of the South Island and they greeted us with sunny skies and these amazing sweeping hills all cascading into Queen Charlotte Sound on our way into Picton, It really was a lovely approach into the South Island and is well recommended. (Assuming of course, that the crossing is equally mild!)

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We decanted off the ferry at Picton and stopped for a quick coffee there. There is a delightful shop which had a placard proclaiming, “Picton’s Husband Day Care Centre”. Made us chuckle.

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Picton itself was a typical sea side small town with a few shops, but for us, we had a long journey ahead of us so we left shortly after the coffee and headed south down SH1 through Blenheim on our way down to the first potential stopping point at Waima River, just below Ward.

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We had been advised (by the Frenzy guide) that there was a seal colony 90 minute’s walk from the Waima River and we thought it would be good to stretch our legs at this point. However, by the time we arrived it had started to rain so we carried on, hoping to see some seals at least on the route down. We were not to be disappointed and, in a few hours, little did we know that we were about to have an encounter that will stay in our minds for ever, and probably was the highlight of our holiday!

Travelling further south, we wanted to get to Ohau Point, just north of Kaikoura. Again, the Frenzy guide recommended that we could see a seal colony there, but even before we got there, we could see the seals off on the rocks, so we stopped to take a few photos of them sunning themselves on the rocky beaches. (Well, it wasn’t sunny but you know what I mean?)

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The main desire though, was to stop approximately 1 kilometre north of Ohau Point, at Ohau River because we had read that a waterfall and pool existed here, some 5 minutes’ walk from the road edge and , if one was very lucky, one might find wild baby seals in it from time to time. The Frenzy Guide author had written that in the “20 times he had visited this place, he had NEVER seen any baby seals”, so we were trying not to get too excited about the possibility of seeing any. I must admit, that with the rain still coming down, I didn’t really think that any seals would be there……..

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But, I was wrong!

We parked at the entrance to the river and immediately crossed over SH1 and headed off along a small path towards the sound of the river. And as if Heaven’s gates had opened, we were greeted by at least 8-10 baby seals all playing in the water, jumping over each other and nipping each other, seemingly oblivious or unworried about us arriving on their turf. There was no-one there. We could not believe it. Here they were, not more than 2m away from us and not afraid. We just had to stop and stare and just take in this wonder.

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The river enters the sea here and climbs up a boulder-strewn course, with a plunge pool, some 150m further upstream, which is fed by a large waterfall. The baby and juvenile seals all clamber up the river and finish up in the plunge pool. It is almost like having a playing field for kids, where mum and dad know their kids are safe, thus allowing them to go off hunting for food. The climb itself, for the baby seals, must be a feat in itself!

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We moved on up to the plunge pool and there, another 15-20 juvenile seals were playing and splashing and diving under the waterfall. It was simply amazing and so humbling just to watch quietly as they played.

And then……

Mitch sat down at the water’s edge just to observe them from low down. One of them looked over to her from the depths of the pool, then slowly, ever so slowly, started to swim closer and closer to her. Checking out this “strange creature” whilst still appearing to be unafraid. The pup came within inches of Mitch, stayed for a few seconds, whilst Mitch, in her shock, stayed glued to the spot, not daring to move. The brief encounter was an electrifying moment for the two of us, but then the seal, having checked her out, jumped back into the water to go and play with its mates.

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Mitch was a little disappointed that she had “bottled it” as, for her, it was such a moving experience. I tried to reassure her that the seal coming to her in the first place was amazing anyway and that perhaps another opportunity would arise.

I sat down then, and another pup came over to me a gave my fingers a sniff, its whiskers brushing my hand before springing back to play again with the others.

We must have stayed there for a good 20 minutes. Seals and us, undisturbed by other humans, just watching them, before we sadly turned back downstream to continue our journey. But not until we had said our goodbyes to the first group of seal pups we had met at the river entrance previously.

Mitch again sat down near the edge of the water and this time, another pup came up to her, getting closer and closer, sliding through the water with ease, reached out to her now slightly outstretched hand…. And touched her extended hand in greeting…. Just for a moment.

Human and wild animal connected across the field of communication.

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It is a small thing, but for us, this quiet time with these wild, beautiful seals, and seeing their “acceptance” of our respect of their place and therefore their acceptance of us, was both humbling and exhilarating and we will never forget it!

We got back into the RV and drove on down the few kilometres to Kaikoura, quiet, happy and with a strong sense of peace embracing us.

Night night.

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Day 17 – Coffee in Masterton and lots of animals

day 17

The day dawned bright. Justin had to go to work early. (He gets up at 4:30 each morning to get the area all ready for his workforce. Such dedication) Fi took us into town for a lovely breakfast and coffee whilst Jack reluctantly went to school. We would be seeing him later.

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Fi had offered to take us to Jack’s school later that afternoon for a “meet the pets” day, but before that, he came home and introduced us to his pet… a calf!

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Then it was off to the school. There were calves, lambs, goats, horses, cats, birds. Fish… probably a rabbit or two, and dogs. All waiting to be cuddled. We had a field day. One of Mitch’s wishes whilst in New Zealand, was to hold a lamb, so today was right up her street.

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Afterwards we went back to Fi and Justin’s house for a slap up BBQ that Justin was organising, Our first experience of eating Paua, a very sought after crustacean. Apparently, in New Zealand, you are only allowed 10 per month! So these large, expensive mussel- looking animals, were a delicacy. They were expertly prepared by Justin whilst Mitch and Fi put the world to rights over a bottle of wine or two.

Before we knew it, it was 11pm and, what with a very early start ahead of us the next day, we went to bed and slept like babies.

Little did we know that the following day would give us The most memorable and moving experience of the whole trip and that in one of the most presupposing place in New Zealand

Night night

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Day 16 – New Plymouth to Masterton to visit friends, and Herbie, the SAT NAV goes freaky

day 16

New Plymouth felt a bit of a dive after the hype of the evening before. Wet and windy, the motorhome camp was unwelcoming and we couldn’t wait to leave. Besides, we had a long-ish drive ahead of us again and Mitch was champing at the bit to get down to Wellington to meet up with her age old friend, Fi, and her family. (Not “old” in terms of age, I hasten to add… )

We set off and drove south below Mt. Taranaki to make our slow way down to Wellington and a Ferry Crossing to the mysteries of the South Island. For 70km we drove south and in all that time, we were able to view Mt. Taranaki as slowly the clouds lifted and eventually “she” was able to be seen in all her glory. A fantastic mountain….. all on its own. Like a girl on the dance floor that no-one wants to dance with! Very strange. Mt. Taranaki is huge!!!

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Hitting Hawera to the south of Taranaki Bight, we continued down the coast eventually getting to Wanganui. Today we were travelling down to Masterton to meet up with Mitch’s friend, her husband and their son. From early on in the day, the text messages between the two of them had been flying…..

“I simply can’t wait”……

“I am so excited!”….

“Another few hours and you will be here. Amazing!”

Now. For the record, let me start by saying that I had been led to believe that Masterton was IN Wellington and, as we were ultimately heading there to join the ferry, I assumed that Masterton was on the outskirts of Wellington and hence why we couldn’t actually see it on the map we brought along with us to check against “Herbie”, the SAT NAV. Well, on leaving Wanganui, the typical driver has 1 of 2 routes to choose from to get down to Wellington. 1 is via SH1, which does appear to be the more direct route south, AND, is signposted, “Wellington”. The other route is via SH2, which appeared to be much longer and meant travelling over another mountain range and went completely off track before eventually heading back towards Wellington…………. And DIDN’T have “Wellington” signposted.

For some reason, Herbie was indicating that we should take the MUCH longer SH2 route and, as I wanted to get Mitch to her friend’s house as soon as possible, I wanted to take the logical direct route, down SH1, after all, it did mean we would get there earlier and this was a contributing factor, right????

I overruled Herbie and we turned down SH1 just after a town called, “Bull”. (I should have seen the warning signs then)

At this stage, Herbie, being a pedantic sort of SAT NAV, decided to advise us that we were travelling in the wrong direction and promptly added 5 minutes to our estimated journey time and told us to turn back. I ignored it. I fully expected Herbie to update itself at any moment, apologise profusely for being such a wuss and re-calculate itself with a better time and shorter distance….. It didn’t

Bulls became “Carnarvon”

No Change

Carnarvon became “Oroua Downs”

Still no SAT NAV change and by now, an additional 45 minutes had been added to the ETA and Mitch was starting to question my sanity over that of the SAT NAV!!! Hah!!!

Just why was the bloody SAT NAV not changing? Couldn’t it see by now that we were on the direct route and therefore the correct one, Stupid thing!!!

The battle of the wills between “Call-me-stubborn, passenger” and “Herbie, call me, About-to-be-thrown-out-the-window, SAT NAV” carried on.

At Himatangi, now some 30km from Bulls, I looked again at the paper map to question my decision earlier…. Bad mistake…

I turned the page to look down route SH2…..

Masterton jumped out of the resultant page, NOT, as I had thought, as an area nestling snugly in the bosom of New Zealand’s capital (where it should have been!), but some 120km north of it, all on its own and now separated from us by a massive mountain range with no roads over it, AND on a completely different Major Highway than we currently were on.

In fairness, once I told Mitch the error of the SAT NAV’s way (never my fault of course!) and that we would still be driving for another hour and a half rather than practically be at her friend’s house by now, she did calm down and forgive me……. Sort of.

We turned off SH1 at Himatangi and drove back to reconnect with the route we should have taken in the first place to enable us to get over the mountain range on the only road crossing it. I mean, Which country DOES that??? Only one road??? Ridiculous. We had lost almost 90 minutes in travel time and the text messages were reaching “I am going to kill him” proportion.

Herbie was smirking!

I had to contact Fi and explain that “we” had gone wrong but that I had spotted the mistake and we were now back on track. However, as we had been led to believe that Masterton was IN Wellington, it wasn’t really all our fault now, was it?

Oh yes! Small point. As we had thought that Masterton was within striking distance of the ferry crossing, we had booked a nice early 8:30am start, before the winds came along and blew a Hooley across the straight, having to be at the ferry terminus at 7:30. Doable… normally….

But now, with 120km to drive to get to the ferry, a 7:30 arrival time meant having to get up at 4am in the morning to ensure we made the booked crossing time!! Neat! NOT Sweet Asssss

We eventually got over the mountain range, out onto SH2 and drove south again down to where Masterton actually IS. Text messages started reverting back to excitement mode, flying thick and fast….

“You are about 10kilometres away. So excited”

“Watch out for a police car that has just passed us.”

“Are you driving and texting at the same time?”

“No, my son, Jack is texting. I am telling him what to say as we are driving up to meet you.”

You get the picture?

We arrived at their lovely house, 1:25 minutes late, but the welcome and hugs and, Oh my goodness, a Bath, certainly put paid to all the hassle I had to endure because Herbie was being a right DIV……

Note to self: Listen to the SAT NAV in a foreign land because it does know where it is going!

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Fi, Justin, her husband, Jack, their adorable son, Milo, the dog, 3 lambs and a calf all welcomed us to their lovely home.

When we arrived, we saw the strangest thing. (if the previous “strange things” were not strange already) The sky turned a sort of pinky red on the skyline and almost looked like a large space ship had landed just over the horizon… I didn’t send this picture off to my parents…. that would just be mean!

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The evening disappeared in a whirl of catching up with every piece of history that had happened since the two of them were together. Was so nice to see them animated and happy.

Justin, you are a diamond. Fi, Thank you for being such a pleasure and making us feel so welcome. Jack, thank you for not grabbing the steering wheel and pulling us into a ditch when we went for a little spin! And Milo….. Woof, woof.

Tomorrow we were going to be invaded by sheep, calves, chickens, dogs and quite a few Pizza boxes AND be introduced, for the first time, to Paua (pronounced Power) cooked over a hot BBQ.. mmm yum yum.

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Night night

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Day 15 – The RV hand over, Auckland closed down for road works, beautiful sunset and flashing blue lights in our mirror

day 15

It was the day of the RV swap-over (sad to see this lovely vehicle go). We naively thought that the change-over would take no time at all, after all, it was just a few clothes and some shopping, right?

Wrong

It took 2 hours to switch vehicles. Having to find new places to store things in the smaller vehicle, bumping into things that weren’t there a few days ago or tripping over hazards that were in different places than the first vehicle, all took their toll and we finished up with a few bumps and bruises. Mind you, the road diversion we came to prior to arriving at the Wilderness Motorhomes offices didn’t help! It was as if the road services had plotted the night before to ensure that any turn in to their offices was subtly diverted, and we spent a long time getting very familiar with the same streets over and over again.. Bit like Ground-Hog day without the comedy.

Once in the smaller RV, we headed off south down SH1 and had a mere 350km to go that afternoon. “Sweet Assss.”

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We were now heading down towards Wellington (Where the second friends were located) and rather than try to hit that length in one day, we had decided to split it up. Otherwise the 700 km plus distance between Auckland and Wellington would have had us chewing off the new door rubber and gibbering like Smeagol.

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Today we were driving to new Plymouth on the west coast. It nestles under Mt. Taranaki (which, as mentioned earlier, can be seen from the Tongariro Crossing) and looks a lot like Mt. Fuji in that it is almost perfectly cone-shaped and keeps on going up and up into the heavens.

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The drive down was fairly uneventful other than when we hit the west coast beach road (SH3) near Mokau for the first time and had to stop to gaze at the Tasman Sea again, this time with the waves breaking onto the blackest sand we had ever seen, anywhere. I mean, really BLACK! Very unusual.

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A perfect snap shot moment including an old derelict house on the opposite side of the road, which would make a lovely watercolour picture when we can find the time…

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We worked out that we had about 50 minutes of sunlight left at this stage and decided to try to get to New Plymouth to see the sun set over the “western sea”…. BAD MISTAKE!

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The road soon turned inland and we switch-backed over a wonderful mountain pass through Mt. Messenger, with yet more stunning views of mountains and trees, steep inclines and the lovely smell of brake pads wearing down to nothing…. No sign of the ocean. For mile after mile we traversed through this wilderness glancing, when we could, off to the west and noting the time left till sunset. 30 Mins left approx…. 20km to go…. 15 mins left… 10 km to go…

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It seemed as if the race might just be won by us as we (the “Royal We” of course) were testing out the speed ever so slightly on the final stretch, yet still keeping within the speed limit…… ish!

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Next thing we knew, a friendly police car coming in the opposite direction turned on its “blues-and-twos”, and turned back on itself, behind us…. Surely this was for someone else. Who ever heard of an RV speeding? I… (ooops) we, slowed slightly to allow the copper to go past us (considerate people that we are) but he stubbornly refused to go past and it slowly dawned on us that perhaps we were the focus of his interest and the flashing blue and red lights.

The sun set in the west, 3 minutes too soon!!!!

We stopped…. I got out…….

“You were doing 93 in an 80kph zone, sir. Were you aware of this?”

“No, Officer.” (I was not about to tell him that our SAT NAV had told us emphatically that we were NOT speeding, as that would get me into a whole heap of trouble)

“You are tourists, aren’t you?”

“Yes”, I said, hopefully

Then he remarked, “Look, even your partner is saying you were speeding!” I turned to look at Mitch who had stayed in the RV, who was now gesticulating at both ourselves and the SAT NAV saying, “it says 100 here!”

Of course, both the Officer and I thought she meant I was driving at 100kph. Aaaarrrrghhhhh. Quickly, I went back to the RV to find out what she meant, wondering what New Zealand prison cells felt like to sleep in. Mitch was just pointing out that the alleged limit, as defined by the SAT NAV, for this road, stated that we could, if so able to, travel at up to 100kph. NOT how fast I was actually travelling.

Phew! Heart beat, slow down. Breathing. Ease…

He looked at us and said, “Be careful out there.” Got back in his car and drove away.. What a nice man!

We got to New Plymouth, too late to see the sunset, tired and ready for bed. Our friendly SAT NAV had rescued us that day, but as you will see tomorrow, even IT has a bite if you choose to ignore it……

Stupid thing!!

Night night

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