On to Franz Josef and Hokitika

It’s a long drive to our next stop, Franz-Josef Glacier and we took our time, stopping at the Gates of Haast to take some photos of the spectacular white water tumbling over huge blocks of rock.

We also stopped at Knight Point to take some coastal photos of the blue sea and sky.

After that it was on to the village of Franz Josef Glacier. We parked up at the Top 10 Holiday Park there, in a tiny spot which wasn’t much more than a parking space but they were pretty fullso we had to make do.

We drove back into the village to buy fish and chips which we then ate in the car park of the glacier itself.

The cloud had come down so you couldn’t see much and we decided to come back the next morning to take some photos. The village is full of people trying to sell you guided tours or helicopter trips but we decided those were pretty much out of our budget (and in the latter case, not great if the weather is bad).

The next morning was slightly clearer and we walked to the Sentinel Rock viewpoint to take some photos.

Franz Josef Glacier

After that we drove up to Hokitika, near Greymouth where we stayed at the Shining Star Holiday Park where they have emu, goats, alpacas and pigs in fields close to the park.

The park also gives easy access to the beautiful beach which is strewn with driftwood and flat pebbles.

Arrowtown, Wanaka and Possums

The next morning we popped back into Arrowtown to look round the shops and found some very tempting offers in some of the shops, and stocked up on even more warm clothing.

I also popped down to the Arrow River which was used as one of the locations for the Ford of Bruinen in “Fellowship of the Ring”.

Arrow River, or Ford of Bruinen

The shops here are naturally full of Merino wool clothing, which is wonderfully warm. Some garments such as hats, gloves, scarves etc are a mix of Merino Wool and possum fur.

The possum was introduced to New Zealand for its fur in the 19th century. Unfortunately, it took to the country rather well, having no natural predators and lost of tasty vegetation. There are estimated to now be over 70 million possum who collectively eat 20,000 tonnes of vegetation each night. They also put pressure on native species by eating their food etc so are not well liked in NZ. The possum seems to have little road sense, we must have passed hundred of them squashed on the road, and possum fur is not treated with the distain that most fur attracts in the UK.

From Arrowtown we drove on to Wanaka, along the Crown Range Road, through the old mining town of Cardrona, which is now famous for skiing and the ‘bra-fence’. The bra-fence is a fence along the side of the highway which, since 1999, has sprouted several hundred bras making it almost as much a landmark as the old Cardrona Hotel.

Wanaka is a small town by a beautiful lake which is building a reputation for outdoor activities including skiing. Our campsite was a little way out of town but had a field right next to it full of sheep and a few alpacas in another nearby field. We watched the sheep doing sheepy things and cooked some food before turning in.


The next day we drove on to Queenstown, another beautiful drive, with amazing views over lakes and mountains. We parked at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Queenstown which, wonder-of-wonders, had WiFi internet access available across the whole site for a not unreasonable fee (NZ$15 for 24 hours).

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

We had a wander round Queenstown which is quite a large and busy town; it reminded me quite a lot of Whistler in Canada, and has that same ski-resort feel, but is as active outside the skiing season as it is during. Lots of shops selling outdoor gear and we took advantage of some end of season sales to pick up some more warm clothing.

On Tuesday we went on one of the famous Jet Boats onto Lake Wakatipu and into the Karawau and Shotover rivers. The jet boats can be easily spun 360 degrees, and the driver took advantage of that several times, showering the passsengers with spray. The boats can also float in just 10cm of water so can whiz along close to rocks in very shallow parts of the river. Quite exciting but not really as good as we’d expected, expecially for the price, NZ$79, about 30 quid each.

We still had lots to do on Wednesday and started it with a visit to the Bord and Wildlife Park where we saw several kiwis. The kiwi is nocturnal so is kept in darkened huts with low red light so that visitors can see them. They really are as cute as they look, walking with a peculiar gait and probing the ground with their long bills. We also saw some keas in the park, these are large grey/green alpine parrots with a reputation for stealing things and ripping bits off cars. A few days later we encountered some wild keas but they left us along. The park also houses a variety of rare local birds such as the Morepork Owl, various teals, ducks, and the wood pigeon; they have a huge, friendly specimen there.

Next to the Park is the entrance to the Skyline gondola/cablecar system. We went up to the top where there’s a particularly naff resturant/souvenir shop complex as well as a concrete ‘luge’ run. We didn’t spend long up there, admiring the views over the town but then heading back down.

On the way out of Queenstown is Deer Park Heights, an area used for several scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy films. We drove up there (NZ$20 per car entry) and parked by the Korean prison at the top, built for the 1986 Disney film, “The Rescue”. It’s very strange to drive up a gravel track in New Zealand and come face to face with a Korean prison!

From the car park there we walked to the mountain tarn used to show the Rohirrim fleeing Edoras in the films, and admired the excellent views pf The Remarkable Mountains towering over the lake and town. If we’d known the views were going to be so good, we wouldn’t have bothered with the earlier cable-car ride.

Mountain tarn, Deer Park Heights

Deer Park Heights is also home to a varity of exotic animals; we encountered lots of goats, a Tibetan yak (which was incredibly calm and intelligent-looking) and some American Bison (one of which sneezed all over me). We stopped at another LotR location and watched the goats running up and down the rocks close to where the Path of the Dead exited.

As time was getting on we decided to spend the night close to Arrowtown, only 5 miles from Queenstown, but a world away in feeling. The town is an old gold-rush town and still has alot of the original buildings and does a great deal of business in being quaint. We had excellent pizza at the Pesto Pizza Restaurant before turning in for the night.

Milford Sound

About time I did some catching up with telling you all what we’ve been up to.

A week last Sunday we set off from Te Anau for the two hour drive to Milford Sound.

The drive to Milford was amazing; a vast variety of landscapes unfolded as we rolled along. We had frequent breaks to take photos of lakes, plains, mountains, waterfalls, fields and flowers. We also drove through the Homer Tunnel in Fjordland close to Milford. That was first sizable tunnel I’ve driven through as was quite scary, being very dark even with headlamps on. As usual there were crowds of camper-vans along the road, as well as lots of coaches ferrying people to the Sound from Queenstown etc. We definitely made the right decision in using the van, as we could stop where and when we wanted en route.

Arriving at Milford Sound after driving through mountains and valleys, we parked in the free car park (along with lots of other camper-vans) and went over to a cafe to book tickets for a cruise. We had half an hour or so to kill before we set off so made ourselves lunch from the food in the van. We then wrapped up warm, as the cloud was hanging ominously over the Sound.

We had booked with Mitre Cruises who run smaller boats than some of the companies, and we got prime seats on top of the boat as we set off into the Sound.

I really cannot do justice to the place in words, and even the photos can only give you the slightest idea of how magnificent Milford Sound is. The mountains tower over the water, dwarfing even the largest cruise boats. Waterfalls cascade down the sheer cliffs into the water, showering the boats in spray.

Milford Sound isn’t really a ‘Sound’, it’s a fjord, but that didn’t stop the guy who discovered it from naming it after Milford Haven, his home town in Wales).

As we moved westward along the Sound the weather got heavier with cloud hanging lower and a heavy drizzle falling on us. We moved down to the back of the boat where we were lucky enough to see a small family of dolphins swimming only a few metres from the boat.

Milford Sound

After about an hour of the breathtaking scenery, and watching Yellow-Crested Penguins jumping around on the rocks we reached the Tasman Sea, where we were around 800 miles from Tasmania. As we reached the open water the weather had changed again, changing to brilliant blue skies and sunshine, quickly drying the seats on the boat.

Heading back in brought us back into the damp, but we were able to watch New Zealand fur seals basking in the sun, as well as getting closer to some of the fantastic waterfalls.

We were lucky to experience such a variety of weather as it gave us different views of the Sound in light and gloom, damp and dry. As the rain came down, new waterfalls sprang up in the cliffs, and surrounding mountains, painting stripes of white foam down the rocky mountainsides.

Waterfall on Milford Sound

Two hours after setting off we were back on dry land, thrilled to have done the boat trip and still unable to believe how stunningly beautiful the place was.

The drive back was great, the new waterfalls and damp rock changed the landscape again and the roads were quieter (and they’re not exactly bumper to bumper at the busiest times).

Back to Te Anau, and on to the Red Cliff Bar and Restaurant for an excellent meal. The LotR cast hung out there during filming nearby, and there’s a signed t-shirt hanging on the wall to prove it. Great little place and with fab food at good prices I can see why it would be popular.

The Van Trip 2 – This Time It’ll be Dry!

Wednesday morning dawned warm and bright. We took a cab down to the Wicked Campers centre in Christchurch and met Jason who was to sort out our van for us. Jason was without a computer (due to problems with the machine) and had to do everything with fax and phone, but held up well despite the pressure of constant phone calls etc.

We were to have Darth Vader, a Mitsubishi van with “Darth” painted on one side and “Vader” on the other, with a picture of Darth on each side. The front has “Wicked” sprayed on, and the back says “Speed and the force will be with you”. They have some great paint jobs on the vans, including a fab Jimi Hendrix one. We were fortunate not to get the van named “Dick Heads”.

Darth Vader - our Wicked Camper

The rental charge works out at about NZ$80 per day, which is about 35 pounds.

After picking up the van we drove round the corner to the “Pak’n’Save” supermarket, biggest on the South Island apparently. We picked up some groceries there to go in the cool box in the van and then drove through the one-way system of Christchurch to a bookshop to pick up a decent map.

By now time was getting on so we decided to only go as far as Timaru, a couple of hours drive down the coast. We stopped at the Top Ten Holiday Park there and spent our first night in the van.

We were surprised that the bed in the van was quite comfortable, wider than the one in the VW we had in 2004 and we slept very well.

On Thursday we set out quite early and stopped for a snack at a hillside viewpoint above Oamaru with a spectacular view over the bay and Pacific Ocean.

The next stop a little later was at the famous Moeraki Boulders, which are a number of perfectly spherical boulders washed completely formed out of the cliff face. There are some boulders which are still intact and a number of broken ones which give you a glimpse of the internal structure of the stones. There are also a couple of boulders still sticking out of the cliff-face.

Moeraki Boulders

As with all the locations we’ve visited in NZ, there were quite a few other campervans parked nearby, mostly rented, but none as funky (or small) as ours.

On the road we attracted waves, honks and smiles as we steered “Darth” down highway 1.

We pulled into the city of Dunedin which is built across several very steep hills, and spent a night at the Dunedin Holiday Park.

On Friday we spent the day in Dunedin, first doing a tour of the old Speight’s Brewery, which was entertaining, informative and included samples of their various brews at the end. After a spot of lunch at the brewery restaurant we made our way over to the next tour, CadburyWorld! Another informative tour with more samples of produce, and glimpses of Crunchies being packed and chocolate buttons being made. Then it was on to another campsite in Dunedin, another of the Top Ten Holiday Park locations.

Saturday saw another early start, this time with rain pouring down from the heavens. Back on to Highway 1 and down to Gore where we turned onto Highway 94. A brief stop at Balfour for lunch and then onward towards Te Anau. As we got further West the scenery grew increasingly spectacular with snow-capped mountains rearing in the distance. Rather than go straight to Te Anau, we divert to Manapouri to see the lake there, which certainly justified the detour with more mountains backing a beautiful lake with islands. This area was used in LotR to show the Fellowship heading south from Rivendell.

Manapouri Lake

Lots of pictures uploaded – Melbourne and New Zealand

Bye Oz, Hello NZ!

We had an early start on Sunday as our plane was due to fly to Christchurch at 9:30am. We arrived at the airport at 8am and spent the next 50 minutes queueing to check-in at the Pacific Blue desk. What a difference to the Virgin Blue domestic check-in which can be done electronically from kiosks around the terminal. The flight was due to board at 9am and at 8:50am we still had to pass through security and immigration. In the end the plane was delayed as there were quite a few people still behind us at the check-in desk, but it made the whole experience really tense as we rushed about to try to everything sorted out. As Pacific Blue is a budget airline we had to sort our own food and drinks out or buy them on the plane, which again added to the stress.

We finally made it into the air about 30 minutes late, and the journey passed uneventfully giving a great view of Melbourne as we flew over on the way out.

On the way in to Christchurch we flew over snow-capped mountains and green countryside, before landing at a chilly Christchurch Airport.

Christchurch is, as everyone will tell you, very like England. The architecture is very similar and the layout of the land and streets etc is very familiar. It’s been quite cool so far, topping out at about 20ºC though the sky has been mostly clear and sunny.

We’ve done a bit of shopping here, buying some warm clothes for the next few weeks and stocking up on recent CDs. I’ve picked up a couple of local ones, Fat Freddy’s Drop which is dub/reggae and Module which is electronic/dance stuff. The campervan we were due to pick up the next day has a CD player so we should be heartily sick of the CDs after 3 weeks on the road.

Vic bought some more wool as she was in danger of a) running out and b) ending up with a scarf 18 inches wide and only 12 inches long. The ladies in the craft centre in Christchurch were all very impressed with her efforts and said that she must be a natural.

I also bought the “The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook – Extended Edition” which is a superb photo guide to locations around NZ that were used in the film, including information about where various sets were built etc.


A bit of catching up to be done.

Last Wednesday we flew from Sydney to Melbourne, where we were booked into the Melbourne Metro YHA. The YHA was good, friendly staff and a pleasant room all fairly close to the city centre.

We spent some time looking round Melbourne city centre, and found some great places to eat, especially down Lygon Street which was full of people just back from the races. The famed Melbourne Cup had brought the country to a virtual standstill on Tuesday and there were other races on through the week. Lots of ladies tottering about in high heels and slightly ridiculous hats.

We visited the Olde Melbourne Gaol which held and was the execution place of the infamous Ned Kelly. For some reason, the Australians have elevated this sheep-rustling murderer to be a folk-hero. His famous home-made suit of armour is possibly one of the best indicators of the man, covering his head and body with reshaped plough blades. He was captured after being shot in his unprotected legs. Probably not the brightest criminal in the world then. His armour can be seen at the Victoria State Library close to the Gaol.

Old Melbourne Gaol

The Gaol was interesting, if a little gruesome. They have the original scaffold, nooses and other hanging equipment as well as flogging triangles and a cat o’nine tails on display along with the stories of some of the more infamous inmates. Capital punishment was legal in Australia until the mid-1970’s.

On Friday we paid a visit to the Immigration Museum and the National Gallery of Victoria where there was a visiting exhibition from the Tate London. As it was my birthday we had a nice meal out and Vic bought me an iPod nano and a couple of Sudoku books to celebrate. Vic found a great little knitting shop called Marta’s Yarns in the middle of Melbourne, and after a quick demonstration by the very helpful assistant she bought some needles, wool and a “getting started” leaflet.

On Saturday afternoon we took a tram down to St Kilda Beach, which was great. Lovely sunshine, though a bit windy, and nice cafes on the beachfront. We watched people kite-surfing, walking their dogs and rollerblading there.

St Kilda Beach

By this point Vic had knocked out quite a few rows of her first knitted item. She decided it would be a scarf (though it’s quite wide) and has taken to knitting like a duck to water.