8 - 10 December 2016
08.12.2016 - 10.12.2016
Thursday morning - very low cloud, heavy rain - no further sightseeing worth attempting around Acoroa - straight to Christchurch to meet Tom and head southwest. Not a great journey with the conditions, but not a scenic route at that stage anyway and a long way to go. Minor stress of very long distance through not much, so fuel becoming an issue - bit of a diversion to ensure not a much bigger problem! Coincided with improving weather and perfect conditions by the time we reached the blue lakes, first Tekapo, then Pukaki. Extraordinary turquoise shades caused by glacier sediment, although obviously also need blue sky for the full stunning effect. Hard to believe they're natural and whole scene made even more remarkable by sweeping fields of wild lupins - predominately purple, but also lavender, pink, peach, lemon. In fact, they go on for miles and miles, lining the roadsides, filling valleys, stretching as far as the eye can see. Broom is the other species doing the same thing in other areas, and both are regarded as "noxious weeds", but they look absolutely amazing at this time of year. Wild flowers lack variety overall - North Island was mostly foxgloves and buttercups, as well broom.
Early birthday greetings to Josh (Number Two Son) - NZ is 13 hours ahead of UK and 21 hours ahead of Las Vegas, where he was actually born - the fun of time-zones.
Final drive along the western edge of Lake Pukaki into Mt Cook National Park, scenery improving all the time, but once again somehow odd to be on a fast, good road into a mountainous region. The drama increased with the cloud burning off to reveal snow-topped peaks and glaciers at the head of the wide valley we were penetrating. We were hoping to find available Freedom Camping within the Park, and didn't expect to arrive at a complete village of varied accommodation! Also a sizeable ranger-controlled campsite, so not Freedom, but toilets and running-water provided, and all at the foot of not one, but several glaciers. Minor compromise was that I'd failed to recharge Tom's awesome camera, so we accepted we'd be without great photos - I'm a point-and-shoot pocket-camera or iPhone person, photos uploaded or otherwise! We were then thrilled to see the camera unexpectedly charge via the 12v USB adaptor, as we thought the transformer was necessary - evidently not so. Hoping for a clear night-sky with no light pollution, but cloud rolled back in again.
Friday 9th - Awoke at 0200 - yay, clear sky, which I enjoyed alone (Tom had suggested setting the alarm, but in the event was simply too tired and couldn't wake up sufficiently). Milky Way visible, several satellites, two shooting-stars. 0600 beautiful sunrise on glacier, but then watched the cloud rolling in along the valley - back to sleep and woke again at 0730 to thick fog all around. However, by 1030 a beautiful day and we joined the hordes - well, not quite that bad....following the path and suspension-bridges to clearer and closer views of more glaciers, rivers, lakes and Mt Cook - this is a very popular visitor destination and not yet the busy season, which will commence on Boxing Day for two months. Anyway, a rewarding and enjoyable 3 hours. If planning a trip to NZ with time/distance constraints, don't worry about missing out the west-coast glaciers if you can come here - these are not as big, but there are more here, just as, if not more, accessible. A problem with NZ is lack of circular routes or roads generally, given challenging terrain. I'm glad to have been able to visit so many of the best-known locations, but not all are as spectacular and/or unmissable as may be suggested - although some of us have that curiosity that likes to see for itself, rather than wonder what may have been missed!
1400 on the road for our next long journey into Fiordland - 450km (280miles) yesterday, roughly same again today. An amusing side to driving a motorhome with km on the clock is the feeling of keeping up pretty good speed - 90 is the legal limit for larger vehicles, 100 otherwise, so actually travelling at 55-60mph, but with the illusion of going so much faster! So, quite a distance south to Cromwell, then west to Queenstown, south again to
Lumsden, final leg west to Te Anau - a very pleasant, quite remote, small lakeside town, usual population of 3500 trebles in the busy 2 months, good base for Milford and Doubtful Sounds. Pleasant campsite - decided to book their luxury minibus/Milford Sound cruise for next day. Found highly-rated, unassuming-looking Redcliff Cafe for dinner - turned out to be award-winning restaurant = excellent dinner.
Saturday 10th - 0800 minibus departure = only us as passengers, so very personal! It's another 100km north to Milford Sound, again a busy road, as another top NZ destination. Weather dull, forecast not great, but the locals insist it is better to see the deep valleys and sheer cliffs in these more atmospheric conditions. As it rains 200 days a year, perhaps they have to say that!? The cloud partially lifted, so we could still see all but the peaks. Very dramatic scenery much of the way, added bonus of keas (mountain parrots) en route. Busy terminal at the Sound - a departure every 15mins, different size boats. We went for a smaller one - max capacity 70; nature cruise, so more highlighted points plus commentary along the way. Quite cool and wet much of the time, but not disastrous conditions and even occasional hints of clearance on the way back in from the Tasman Sea. We both braved the drenching of nosing into a waterfall. And I braved having a full conversation in German with some other passengers - very rusty, but it went well - I must try to practice more.
Again, if you're planning a trip, it's a visually-dramatic road and self-drive to the terminal is fine, although apparently parking can be tricky in the busy two months and cruise-tickets will need to be pre-booked. The 100km journey from Te Anau is likely to take 2-3 hours, allowing for traffic and stopping off at viewpoints, and many tourists do not allow enough time, so crashes are not uncommon in the race to try to catch the booked sail-time. At other times, there's likely to be space on some sailings, even if you have to wait a little. There is actually a campsite there, but I'd guess it fills quickly, and there are also some Freedom Campsites along the route. Many buses travel from Queenstown, but it is a 13-hour day-trip... We are not doing a Doubtful Sound cruise, but again its a whole day, as it is necessary to take a lengthy ferry across a lake to reach the sound - tomorrow we'll take a look at Manapouri, 20km south of Te Anau, from which the connecting ferry sails to reach the road to enable onward-transfer to Doubtful. NZ is a country which sometimes requires considerable time and effort to visit the best-known sites.
Relaxed end of day; sun came out, but also a cool wind. My first real experience of astonishing strength of NZ sun, about which Tom had warned me - sitting outside wearing jeans, conscious of my legs burning - through the jeans!! Astonished to see the redness, though not actually severe. Tonight has been about packing and generally sorting things out - motorhome-return in Queenstown tomorrow afternoon. Forecast a bit iffy for next two days, but hopefully enough clearance to enable our skydive, also Queenstown, on Monday.