3 - 6 November
03.12.2016 - 05.12.2016
First, two corrections:
1) Maori population of NZ - I misheard as 40%, but it's actually 14% - quite a difference, sorry. Of that percentage, almost 90% live on North Island - just yesterday, an Australian touring only South Island expressed to me her disappointment not to have seen any Maori, easily explained by those stats. The most recent census showed that Asians are poised to replace Maori as the second largest ethnic group within the next decade. 2) My Kiwi accent advice has taken a bit of a hit - we heard a radio-advert asking if "you need a new beard for Christmas", which seemed fair enough, until the narrative made clear it was about beds, thus a bee-ed... I've been told it's simply a regional accent, but have also enjoyed "beast" rather than "bist" for best 😊
Saturday 3rd - continued with my long drive southwest on virtually traffic-free roads, initially through luscious but hillier farms and wineries, followed by much swooping and swirling through densely-forested hills along the edge of the Kahurangi National Park. Time was pressing on as I navigated the dramatic Buller Gorge road through to Westport, with my fuel-gauge well below the recommended quarter level, but no open filling-station seen throughout the entire route. Hooray, edge of town ad for 24hr BP...except today it had closed at 7pm, now 8pm...Relieved to find another garage just before it closed, diesel a third dearer than I'd become accustomed to paying on North Island!! Relieved to have a full tank anyway, as already knew no further fuel for 100km, but pressing south along the coast with the ever-lengthening daylight. Then good old satnav announced road south "Unsafe. Avoid" - but there is no alternative route...Saw a freephone number for NZ Road Info - called expecting recorded message, only to speak to very helpful man, I think in Auckland, but able to tell me a landslide and roadworks meant it was now passable - what a great service.
Quite a distance before the road hit the coast, but when it did, it was a good craggy coastline, lots of small bays and beaches and ever-increasing erosion. Reached target of Punakaiki Beach Campsite at 9pm, still just light, reception still manned. Receptionist interested to see inside motorhome - or did she simply not believe there was only me in it, as charge is per person?! Suddenly a thump and considerable rocking of the vehicle - someone had reversed into the side and then sped away. Luckily the damage is only scuffing and I have full insurance, but quite a shock at the time.
Sunday 4th - early start to see the Truman Track and the Pancake Rocks - both striking examples of coastal erosion, and the latter still a bit of a puzzle for geologists. If only I'd managed to work out why my photos won't upload, I could show you - sorry! Briefly had my first Chinese encounter of the day - family very interested in motorhome and gave them a 'guided tour' - mother mainly traumatised l'm driving it myself and solo. On southwards through Greymouth = non-descript, then into Hokitika, location for 2013 Man Booker prize-winning novel, 'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton, which I now have to read, simply because I love this small town! It was built on NZ's gold-rush in the 19th century and still has many gold shops, but also a fantastic beach strewn with driftwood from the Tasman Sea, including huge tree-trunks and stumps. There is an annual festival to create artworks from the driftwood, which are then left until the sea reclaims them. Great waves and riptides on a very long beach of very dark brown and glittery sand. Yes, photo required again...
On south to Glacier Country, arriving at Franz Josef at 5pm. Advice is to take the glacier-access walks either early or late in the day, as there is always cloud in the middle, so I was in perfect time for a late-afternoon one-and-a-half-hour stroll (4miles?), as the cloud dispersed to order. It is a rough path, but like all paths in NZ, well-marked and it was still very busy. Various photo-opportunities along the way, so camera in and out of pocket, where my glasses were, as I'm no longer finding them ideal to wear all the time. End of path - signs to read, need glasses...where are they....? Searched all three pockets several times, as one does, because obviously a missing object will eventually magically show up if we look in the same place enough times...Careful return walk, scanning ground all the time, hoping someone may have seen them and placed them somewhere obvious; also still continuing pocket-search...! Half-way back and by some waterfalls, where I had definitely taken a photograph, start scanning larger area. Second Chinese encounter: "Are you looking for glasses? We just put some on a trail-post" - daughter dashed off to retrieve them and yes, they were mine!! A little worse for wear, but still wearable. What was the chance of that??? I was so relieved and couldn't help but make the Chinese connection - the only day I have spoken to any - paying it forwards indeed 😊 Anyway, the glacier is quite dramatic, but perhaps a bit of an anti-climax for Europeans who have visited the Alps. Still a lovely evening, so I drove the next 25km to the Fox Glacier Township - a much smaller settlement, described as more like a small Alpine resort, with which I concur. Just a few hotels, cafes and bars and a nice little campsite in the evening sun, ready for an early start.
Monday 5th - 0900 and on the path to the Fox Glacier, much less visited, but actually a more dramatic setting with a more interesting but shorter access-walk. The higher-level blue ice is visible from a distance, but at the end of the path the only the lower area is visible and is much grubbier with accumulated rubble etc, so quite disappointing for some. On my return walk, a Japanese family, including a quite elderly lady, asked me how far it was to the glacier, because they just wanted to touch the snow, and simply could not believe that would not be possible - it is the reason they visit... Next stop Lake Matheson - famous mirror-lake, although generally only early or late in the day, so I didn't really stand a chance. Oh well, I had a great brunch at the award-winning cafe and enjoyed the approx four mile walk through the rainforest around the lake.
Back on the road and necessary to return the same way - again no alternate route exists. Couple of hours back to Hokitika and a stunning afternoon. Explored a local lake with Freedom campsite, but having been warned the weather was due to break overnight, didn't settle. Fish and chips is popular in NZ and I'd noticed the local shop always seemed to have a queue, so gave it a try. Most fish served are found only in NZ, so I took my Rig and Elephantfish to the beach - both very enjoyable white fish, no other illuminating observations! Enjoyed the sun, sea and sand, but forced myself back in to the driving seat, as the next phase was to cross the mountains and I didn't want it to be in poor conditions in the morning.
Good road east towards Arthur's Pass, mainly without much interest until Otira Gorge, the hardest part of the pass to create between the mountains, requiring an avalanche-shelter over the road at one point, followed by a sweeping viaduct. Both features have viewpoints above, both of which I utilised and in both of which I was delighted to meet up with several Kea - large, green mountain-parrots, unique to NZ South Island. Signs warn they are fearless and inquisitive and not to leave car-doors open, as they will hop inside! They seem to jump on all vehicles - and apparently sometimes tear rubber from windscreens - I found them most entertaining, more so as I had not expected to see anything like that.
On into the mountains, but I found the road quite disappointing, as it is so good and surprisingly fast overall! Having driven many twisting, challenging hillsides during this holiday, this was notably the first road above the tree line, but the scenery was reminiscent of various areas in northern England/Scotland/Wales. It's also a very long way with very few facilities and I knew I would be Freedom camping. Not keen on first option by the railway in the uninteresting tiny village of Arthur's Pass, not that I can imagine there would have been any trains at that time. Next option Klondyke Corner - a large area where everyone else seemed to be camping in cars and treated me with some 'suspicion', so onwards again. Next site was definitely Lake District-y - pleasant lakeside site with lots of other motorhomes, so settled for night and a definite change in the weather - windy and much cooler.
Tuesday 6th - early start again, still sort of disappointed with the remarkably good mountain road, but enjoyed the scenery without finding it spectacular. Suddenly out of mountains. Another good breakfast-stop - The Yello Shack cafe in Springfield. Cafe-food would be my downfall if I lived in NZ - most places bake their own savoury pies and pastries of all types, massively better than the most widely available commercial pasties etc in UK. On to Christchurch to find a campsite and wait for Tom, who is working in the city this week. Opportunity to shower and do my laundry. Afternoon wandering round the city with Tom looking at the progress with the recovery from the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. Extraordinary to see the mix of brand new buildings, cleared areas in temporary use as car parks, construction, fenced-off closed buildings, collapsing walls, the remains of the collapsing cathedral - which some still hope to somehow save, the transitional Cardboard Cathedral built on a base of shipping-containers, the pop-up shopping-mall created from shipping-containers, the containers holding up collapsing buildings for the time-being. Works of art, formal and informal, proliferate to lift the city; a particularly touching memorial of 185 white chairs is to represent those who died, including a baby's car-seat and a high-chair for the two youngest victims.
We enjoyed a meal in C1 Espresso, resurrected from the rubble and reopened in a grand former post office - 3 'sliders' = mini-burgers are served in a metal tube fired from the kitchen through a system of tubes across the ceiling and down the walls to deliver your order to your table. Back to the motorhome for wine and chat, before Tom returned to his motel to leave me to catch up with this blog. Tomorrow I'm booked to swim with dolphins at Akoroa (to the east of Christchurch) - I hope they turn up.