Our hitchhiking friends Alex and Lea decided to stay at the White Horse Hill Campsite, where they would do some further hikes under the shadow of Mount Cook. We packed up our gear and took the road along the side of the mineral blue Lake Pukaki, then turned right onto Highway 8, and down towards Wanaka – another easy drive, on another clear sunny day. It was on cousin Jenny’s recommendation that we had picked our route down to Lake Wanaka. However, we decided to set up our next camp at the Kidds Bush DOC campsite, which was secluded and right on the edge of Lake Hawea. Alex and Lea had recommended the Campermate App, which Nikki had downloaded onto her phone. This would be the first of many locations that the app guided us to.
The water had a deeper colour than Tekapo and Pukaki. This was because it was 392 meters (1286 feet) deep. Taking a swim was particularly refreshing, and if you kept your eyes open it felt like you were bathing in Optrex. Leading off from the site was a trail called Sawyer Burn Track, which we duly explored. First we went up through forest, which reverberated with the unremitting shrilling of countless crickets. The pitches seemed to change as we went through the layers, and then abated as we got above the treeline, where we caught sight of the far reaching views over the lake. We turned right and followed the markers which guided us for two hours along an occasionally precarious track towards the Sawyer Burn Hut (one of 950 such DOC huts). This one was empty and by no means as grand as Mueller Hut (see previous post), but it was weather tight, and contained an intentions book. One of the previous guests had taken the time to inscribe the legend ‘Not all that wander are lost’ on the door. Having reached our goal (and of course not being lost), we headed back along the track. At the top of the forest we turned up to get even better views of the lake, before heading back down through the noisy crickets.
Having enjoyed some of the southern lakes, it was time for us to cross the Southern Alps and brave the West Coast. We had heard about the famously unfriendly sand flies that occupy the region, and knowing that we liked sand flies even less than mosquitoes, we stocked up on DEET based insect repellent at a store in Haast. We then drove up Highway 6 to Fox Glacier, and turned left to Gillespies Beach, where Campermate had informed us of another DOC campsite. Putting fashion considerations to one side, we made sure that we were fully covered up before exploring the beach, which had a unique ambience. The West Coast has a rugged weathered feel and cloudier conditions, which created the cool grey hues. The beach was like a mass graveyard for foliage washed down the rivers during floods, and washed back up as huge pieces of driftwood. Some of the pebbles had been arranged in piles by some mysterious hand. The sand flies danced around us, but our defenses were effective.
Next day we took the walk from the site to the seal colony. The seals could just be made out lying on some rocks out at sea, but the walk would have been worth it even without seeing them.
Franz Josep Glacier was a little further up the coast. For some reason we decided to take the half hour rocky walk up to the viewing point in our flip-flops.
One of the joys of driving around the South Island is the lack of choice. Once you are on the road, there are few decisions to make. The highway took us up to Hokitika, a coastal town with all of the necessary amenities.We found a campervan site, where our hosts let us pitch up in their front garden. A good and cheap version of fish and chips was served up by the strangely named Porky’s Takeaway, and enjoyed by the seafront. Then we had to choose a hostelry within which we might find something to wash it down with. First we tried Stumpers, which was okay, but had no atmosphere and weird wifi, so we walked down the street to The Railway. They had no wifi but the landlord let us use his personal wifi, and they made Nikki a cup of tea just to be friendly. In fact they couldn’t do enough for us, and there was a ‘lively’ atmosphere, as well as room full of slot machines (just in case). The manager of our campsite informed us the next morning that The Railway was for people who were only interested in drinking. He also informed us about that Winston Churchill had made some very poor decisions during World War I, particularly in relation to the Gallipoli campaign. I think he was expecting me to be shocked at the thought that our national icon had a checkered history. I was not, but it is significant that both Australia and New Zealand came out of that war with loyalty towards their own countries ahead of the empire, whose relative military power would diminish through the course of the 20th Century. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. It signifies the birth of a national identity for two wonderful countries. The name is also given to the ANZAC biscuit, which is a wonder in itself (syrupy coconut, oaty goodness). The Railway was the best bar in town though.
The geologically unexplained Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki were a welcome stop off point on our trip further up the coast. We spent some time watching the sea surging through the rocks and up through the blow holes. We also spotted some hector dolphins surfing the waves.
Highway 6 took us inland, where the road followed the Buller Gorge. At one of the bends we found Berlins Cafe, which offered food, drink and a place to pitch our tent. A marathon race was being run the following morning.
We had met a couple of the runners in the restaurant the previous day – seasoned athletes from England. Part of me envied them running through such a gorgeous landscape, but once the road was clear we headed off (in the car) for our next campground – Totaranui in the Abel Tasmen National Park at the top of the South Island. A long. windy and bumpy gravel road leading into a campsite was something that we had become used to, though I was still travelling too slowly for the locals, who were keen to get by. We pitched up a stone’s throw from a beautiful golden sandy beach. Nikki asked a couple who were strolling along it what the blue blobs were, as we had seen several washed up. We were told that they were Portuguese Man o’ Wars, but that you would be unlucky to get stung by one in the water. We carried on talking for another twenty minutes, until we thought it might be a good idea to introduce ourselves. They had the same names as us! Nikki and Pat recommended a walk up to Separation Point, where there was a seal colony and on to Whariwharangi Bay. We set off the next morning, and bumped into New Zealand Nikki and Pat again. Having agreed to pop in for a cup of tea on our way back, we carried on up the exquisite coastline. Lunch at separation Point was taken in the company of the seals, before we moved on to Whariwharangi Bay, where we bathed in the water and the sunshine. From a distance, we thought that we had seen penguins, because the bird walked with their bodies upright. They were in fact shags, birds that hunt fish by diving from the air and then maneuvering their bodies towards the pray underwater.
Our stay in Totaranui had been sweet, but we had a ferry to catch in Picton. On the way, we stopped off in Motueka where Nikki had a hair cut (her first of the trip). Luckily there was an ice cream parlour, which kept me occupied while the coiffeuring was taking place (my hair care routine has been limited to shaving it all off once a month).
We had to drop the car off in Picton, before catching our ferry which would take us across the Cook Strait to the North Island. I was a little sheepish, as I had reversed the car into a fence post, and put a small dint in the bumper. The manager at Omega Picton took pity on me, and only put a small dint in my bank account. We arrived in Wellington on a sunny afternoon (not typical for the city), and took the bus to the city center, where we found our accommodation – Wild Zebra Backpackers. Because of the tourism boom, and our failure to plan far enough ahead, we had been left with a choice between ridiculously expensive five star luxury, or an affordable (though overpriced) bed in a grotty dorm room. Some people had been living there months. We stayed two nights.
Wellington is a good looking city, with well dressed, high ranking government workers mixing with lawyers, and the like in the smarter bars around the harbour area. Our preference for food and drink was The Grand, on Courtney Place. They had a cheap lunchtime deal, good steaks, and a friendly barman from Preston, who kept compensating us for the most minor of issues (I can’t even remember what any of them were) with free drinks! Another highlight was a trip to the National Museum, which helped us to understand the complex history of the country. The natural history of islands was covered, along with the human history, and interactions of the two. We also went to the cinema, where we saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. For me, the film was a return to form for the franchise. Nikki sat with me very patiently, resisting the urge to ask me about what was going on in the plot, so I could enjoy my ride.
Our bus to Napier drove out from under the haze and drizzle, which often engulfs the capital city, and on towards the sunshine that the Hawke’s Bay area is famed for. There was one stop off point at a well used roadside cafe. It had the usual amenities, as well as battered mussels, which was a first even for me. We were going to meet some very good friends of ours, Ange and Lou, from our home city of Leeds, who had come round the world to catch up with far flung family. They had already visited Ange’s daughter, who had been trying out the lifestyle that Australia offered to young doctors; and they were with Lou’s younger sister Jodie, who had chosen the lifestyle that New Zealand offers a young family, with her husband Adie and their three lovely lads.
Ange found us on the street where the taxi had dropped us off, and instantly commented on our additional jewellery that had been acquired along the way, before giving us a big (much needed) hug. It was a very warm welcome, and we are grateful for the hospitality that Jodie and Adie extended to us. Soon enough Ange and Nikki were bantering away, with myself and Lou sitting back and enjoying the show. Jodie and Adie made us fell like old friends, and the three boys were all stars with wonderful Yorkshire/ New Zealand accents (the Yorkshire part was inevitably on the fade). Jodie told us that they had been there for two years and it still felt like a holiday, and Adie showed off his drive to work which was on clear roads with sun glistening sea on one side and verdant hillsides on the other. Their New Zealand dream was coming true, and Ange and Lou had demonstrated that though their love ones may be far away, they are not out of reach.
Our visit coincided with Napier’s Art Deco Festival, which was held to celebrate the city’s recovery from a devastating earthquake in 1931. The fact that most of the city was rebuilt around that time gives the city a destinctly 1930’s feel, and once the fancy dress goes on and the pristine period cars show up, the whole city enters a time warp. My thing was definitely the cars – they had been loved and were being showed off at there very best. The airshow was good, as were the flapper dancers, and a live big band rounded off the festivities. We could not imagine better friends or a more wonderful family to have shared it all with.