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Day 23 – Haast to Queenstown

Our day started with the sun streaming in through our camper-van windows – at 8am the temperature was already at 12c. The vista was superb with the dark mountains washed at the top with glistening snow. Our journey today would take us from Haast on state highway 6 through Mount Aspiring National Park and through some stunning views. We have seen some great sights and we had remarked how complacent one can get when you are seeing such views every day. In my mind I had committed to look for that extra wow factor as we were driving and I was not to be disappointed.

We seemed to stopping every few kilometres to look at the view and take pictures it just got better and better as the journey went on. Our journey took us through a number of passes and gorges which were just awe inspiring. So many different verses of scripture kept flooding into my mind about the awesomeness of God’s creation. The Sandy Patty song – The majesty and glory of your name also kept jumping into my mind as well. Here is a link to the lyrics – http://www.lyricstime.com/sandi-patty-the-majesty-and-glory-of-your-name-lyrics.html

Our coffee break was taken at Makarora – what a place to live and work. Here we were able to sit in relative silence and look all around us at the magnificent sights – the coffee and apple and cinnamon muffin were rather yummy as well. We hadn’t got much further on the road when we hit a traffic jam!!! Well not really I think there were 10 vehicles in the jam – all because the road was blocked due to a major rock slip. There are probably no better places to be held up for around 20mins than where we were – alongside Lake Wanaka. The picture opposite is the view we had – not bad eh??

We got chatting to one of the workmen and we learnt a little of what had happened and how they were dealing with it. He explained that this is a common occurrence all the year round and that every day someone drives this particular route to check out potential for displacements. He said that not that long ago the road was closed for 2 days due to  big rock fall and the guy who had been checking the route that day ended up on the wrong side of the fall and didn’t get home for 2 days. The 20mins seemed to go very quickly and we were on our way again.

Lunch was taken at Albert Town which is about 8k outside of Wanaka. The picture opposite is the backdrop to this growing township. The whole of the area is seeing an increase in real estate with property and land prices very reasonable – you would get quite a lot for an investment of around £200K with outstanding views thrown in.

Our journey on from Wanaka took us through a very large wine growing region – it must be the second biggest in the South Island after Marlborough. We then entered a journey through a long gorge which lasted for around 30km. This area was very rugged and river below us was fast flowing. We passed Kawarau Bridge which if you are brave enough you can bungy jump from a suspended jump pod over a gorge. You’ve guessed it I just kept driving as this is just not my type of adrenalin seeking thrill.

We passed through the relatively fast growing conurbations of Cromwell and Frankton as we arrived in to Queenstown. Queenstown is situated on the northeast shore of Lake Wakatipu backed by the Remarkables range. I can quite understand why they got that name as the sight is remarkable.

After settling in at what will be our stop over for the next 4 nights we decided to take a trip on the Skyline Gondola. The ride goes up to Bob’s Peak and rises 450m (1,476ft) in just 730m (2,400ft). The views were breathtaking (literally for me!!!) of the panoramic vista of the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. I don’t know what it is but I did find it quite scary as I looked out beneath us! At the top there are a range of other things you could do such as go even higher on the ski lift and ride downhill on a luge or not for the fainthearted a bungy jump from The Ledge – a pod overlooking Queenstown.

If you look close enough at the picture you will see someone was brave enough to literally run and throw herself off ‘The Ledge’ and hurtle earthwards until the bungy yanks her back up. I don’t know what she felt like but I can tell you my legs became a bit like jelly and I felt a little cold sweat come over me as she jumped.

 

Time for us to go I said to Brenda knowing that we still had the journey back down in the gondola to contend with. So after some purchases in the gift shop it was back to the docking station to climb aboard our gondola. Was I scared – of course not. I think Brenda was really unkind taking this picture and making me include it in this blog lol. In all honesty the ride in the gondola was a great experience and I’m glad I did it as the views were worth it.

The weather has been outstanding today with temperatures peaking at around 22c with little breeze around. It has been our most memorable journey to date and one we will not forget quickly.

Day 22 – Franz Josef to Haast

Our plan for today was to stay around Franz Josef and chill out and maybe do a short walk around the area. Well we decided to take ourselves off to Fox Glacier and walk that area and we are so pleased we did. It is quite different to Franz Josef and we got much closer. In fact we got to within 100m of the end of the glacier and it was an awesome sight. Fox Glacier is the largest of the glaciers in NZ. It is possible to walk on the glacier but only with guides and it takes most of the day to undertake this hike. The other alternative is to go by helicopter and you get to land on the snow at the top of the glacier. There are only a few flights each day that do this and these are generally booked up in advance. Anyway I have an innate fear of flying in a helicopter so this was out of the question.

The walk through the glacial valley was more amazing than yesterdays was at Franz Josef. The landscape is quite different and there was evidence of recent rock and ice falls as well as what the river surges have down as water hurtles down at the peak of when the snow is melting. The colours and shapes of the boulders and rocks was fascinating. The picture opposite probably doesn’t do justice to the colours this piece of rock had within it.

Both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are unique in that they descend from regions of perpetual snow to rainforest that is close to coastal areas.

The panoramic view looking down from the Fox Glacier through the glacial valley is awesome and is quite reminiscent of pictures I’ve seen of the moons landscape.

It was after we had completed this walk that we decided to change our plans for staying around Franz Josef. We set off for Haast which was going to be our next stopping off point tomorrow. It was going to be about a 2hr drive and doing this today which would allow us the opportunity to do one or two other things that we would have liked to have done but thought we might be short of time when we got to Queenstown later in the week.

We drove through rainforest for around 60km without seeing much other scenery and then as we rounded a corner there in front of us was a fantastic view of the Tasman Sea. It was like a mill pond and we pulled across to have lunch overlooking Bruce Bay. It was so peaceful and tranquil.

Something we have noticed about many of the beaches is the amount of tree roots, stumps, branches and in some instances whole trees that litter the top end of the beach, and Bruce Bay beach was no exception.

We continued our journey along state highway 6 which predominantly hugged the coast though we did do a bit of twisting and turning and climbing up and descending down but the views from time to time were spectacular.

We arrived in Haast which is at the top west end of Otago and Southland region. Haast is a tiny community on the coast where the wide Haast River meets the sea. In our guide books it is described as little more than a stopover and supply point for people travelling between the West Coast and the southern lakes. Apparently it is a good area for river fishing and surfing (not at the same time of course). We were also advised to fill up with fuel before driving over the Haast Pass to Wanaka! So I duly did though at $1.74 a litre it was nearly 20cents a litre more than we were paying elsewhere!! I wonder if the petroleum companies are sponsoring these guide books! The holiday park we are staying at is by far the most remote we have so far experienced. But as the guides stated it is little more than a stopover for us as we travel through to Queenstown tomorrow.

Day 21 – Greymouth to Franz Josef

Our journey today would take us 170k further down the west coast of the South Island to Franz Josef where we plan to stay for a couple of days to explore the area. It was a fairly uneventful journey with the Tasman Sea on our right and the Southern Alps on our left. The sea was much calmer than yesterday and quite blue. There was little in the way of mountainous driving only one significant pass though the descent was rather twisting with a number of ‘s’ bends which saw us literally doing 360 degree turns.

Our coffee stop was at place called Harihari one of the many one street towns that we have driven through over the past 18 days. We had a rather delicious cake which was a mixture of bran and muesli topped with a butte icing – very moorish but we were good and only shared one piece.

Our purpose for stopping off at Franz Josef was to see the glacier – so after checking in at our appropriately named Mountain View Holiday Park we set off in search of the glacier. The Franz Josef glacier is one of 2 with a 35km of each other. The other is the Fox Glacier. For some years the glacier has been retreating, however in 1985 it began advancing again. We had about a 15 min drive before we set off on foot for a 45 minute walk to the base of the glacier. This walk was amazing as you really get to experience the scale of the breadth of what the glacier would have been like tens of thousands of years ago as the walk is on the glacial valley. All along this walk there were large and small waterfalls streaming down from the mountains that rose above these were at times really spectacular.

We were able to get within 500m of the end of the glacier – its depth is enormous! It’s hard to describe in words the awesomeness of this part of God’s creation. The faces are roped off to prevent people being caught in icefalls and river surges. After spending around 15 minutes at this veiwing point we made the return journey back to the car park. Whilst the temperature was around 13c it was quite warm walking so I decided it would be good to cool down a little under one of the waterfalls. The water streaming down was powerful and very very cold – I think some of the people around thought I was mad standing under this torrent of cascading water but it was a great experience (and I really don’t care what people think anyway!!).

Day 20 – Kaikoura to Greymouth

Before we bedded down last evening we skyped with Martin and Sephi (our gorgeous and chatty granddaughter). It had been 2 weeks since we had last chatted on line. It was great to see them – Sephi had so much to tell us and was proudly showing us the postcards we had sent her. She also took photo’s of us on her dad’s iphone – she is so IT savvy! Martin and I tried to hold a conversation but there was little we could do to make ourselves understood with Sephi and Brenda in full flow!!

Well the wind and rain had subsided during the night and we woke to  beautiful blue sky day. We had wondered what the backdrop to Kaikoura looked like as it was enveloped in heavy cloud on our arrival and throughout the day. Well we were stunned when we emerged from the camper-van and saw the view opposite – we had no idea that this is what was covered in the clouds! The air was crisp but the sun was helping to warm us up.

The first leg of our journey was to take us to Hanmer Springs along state highway 70. What a fabulous route to follow. We had views like the picture opposite on our right hand side whilst on the left hand it was totally green but as spectacular.

We arrived in Hanmer Springs which is a thermal resort and made for the hot pools to indulged ourselves in the hot springs. The thermal pools have been in existence for over 100yrs – Maori’s call the springs Waitapu (Sacred Waters). It was lovely to relax in the warm waters with the air temperature at around 14c and the sun shining. The hot spring water mixes with fresh water to produce pools or varying temperatures. I remarked to Brenda that it is like relaxing in a bath but with water staying at the same temperature and not cooling down.

After a lovely healthy lunch, well it was for me, we set off on our next leg of the journey which would eventually take us to Greymouth. We had no idea what to expect as we were traveling over and through Lewis Pass. The only way to get to the west coast from Hanmer Springs is either across Arthurs Pass of the Lewis Pass. We chose the Lewis Pass as it was a much shorter route for us to take.

The Lewis Pass is at the southern end of the Southern Alps and ‘snakes’ west from Hanmer Springs to Mauria Springs and Springs Junction. Our guide book informed us that the Lewis Pass is not as dense or steep as Arthurs Pass but we found it to be spectacular as we first climbed slowly up to the summit following the river which was slowly disappearing below us then driving downhill for around 30km. We took a quick refreshments break at Springs Junction before embarking on the final leg of todays journey.

We have had to contend with lots of different things as we have been on our journey – trying to take in the stunning views, coping with very little traffic on the road (lol), sometimes driving in some extreme weather conditions e.g. rain and wind, steep and winding roads.

However, today was different, we were held up by cattle being moved from one field to another. It was fun watching the stockmen on their quad bikes assisted by about four dogs trying to keep the cattle moving. It took us around 10mins to get through this lot.

We arrived in Greymouth which is the west coasts largest town with a population of circa 10,000. For whatever reason it is known as the ‘Big Smoke’ and has a proud gold-minng history. We thought about ‘panning’ in the river but decided to give that a miss.

The holiday park we are staying at sits right on the edge of the shoreline and we have great views, and sounds of the crashing waves, of the Tasman Sea. It reminds us very much of the north-east coast we were brought up in.

The sea was rather grey and angry and the beach is made up of either shale or pebbles. We did take a walk along it and though it was a little blustery it was nice to be out in the fresh air and rather invigorating. We should sleep well tonight!!

Day 19 – Blenheim to Kaikoura

Well it had to happen after what was probably the sunniest and hottest day of our holiday so far we woke to rain. It was fairly consistent throughout the whole of the day and at times the wind became quite strong especially as we drove along the shoreline. It was so strong at times that I had to drop the speed we were travelling as it was gusting over the hills and buffeting the camper-van.

Our journey today was one of the shortest so far – 130km. We initially did a long climb out of Blenheim then after the descent it was fairly level as we followed the shoreline and railway for the majority of the journey. There was very little in the way of populated areas during the journey. It’s very barren and mountainous towards the middle of where we were travelling.

Had the weather been better the views would have been really nice!! There were some lovely bays though the sand was mainly volcanic so quite black. This coast line is good for surfing though we didn’t anyone out there today as the weather and wind was far to hazardous.

This part of the coastline is also populated with many different birds, seals, dolphins and whales. We saw plenty of birds and seal but none of dolphins or whales. The weather seemed to be pleasing the seals as they where basking on the rocks and generally having fun. It appeared at times that they were having a good laugh at us humans standing in the wind and rain watching them play!!

The purpose for choosing to visit Kairoura was to go whale watching. We have heard so much about this being a special experience so you can imagine our disappointment when we found out that all the trips had been cancelled due to the weather conditions. The sea conditions were dangerous with huge waves and a wind speed of 25 knots out in the area we were to sail in. The conditions for tomorrow morning are going to be similar and we need to be on our way no later than 11am to get to our next destination so looks like we will miss out on this experience.

There was little we could do – we thought about going for a walk but the rain was incessant and it’s not much fun ‘tramping’ in those kind of conditions. So we drove to one of the may lookout points and sat and watched the seals play and the birds using their skills to surf the wind. A truly miserable, cold, wet and windy day. Reminded us of our friends back in the UK who have been experiencing this weather off and on all year!!

So it’s going to be a night of reading etc as the weather has well and truly set in for the evening.

Day 18 – Motueka to Blenheim

For the first time this holiday we had to retrace our journey of the previous day by 110k. However, we got to see the area differently things. Our total journey was to be 160k from Motueka which is part of Kahurangi National Park to Blenheim which is in the Malborough region. We travelled through the Rai Valley which has some stunning sights, through Havelock which is renowned for green lip mussels. These are delicious tasting meaty mussels and Havelock has a massive mussel farming industry. Passing on through Tuamarina and the Wairau Valley we arrived into Blenheim through the NZ’s largest wine producing area.

Blenheim is the largest town in the Marlborough region and has steadily grown with the development of the wine industry. Grape planting was started in the early 1970’s and it is estimated that there are nearly 70 wineries operating in the area. We had booked an afternoons wine tour and were picked up just before 2pm and taken on our trip around 4 very different wineries. There were only 6 of us on the tour, a young couple from Singapore, a mother and daughter from Brisbane and ourselves. At each winery we got to taste around 5 or 6 of their selected wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot.

It was the first time we had done an organised wine tour so and didn’t really know what to expect. However through the skills and knowledge of our driver and each person at the wineries we were taken through a fantastic learning and tasting experience. There were very few wines that we didn’t like. My favourite of that we tasted was a Hunters 2006 Sauvignon Blanc oak barrel aged – I’m generally not a great fan of white wine but this was outstanding. It has a subtle twist of oak to its taste. It has consistently been selected as one of the top wines by those in the industry .I duly bought one to bring back home, along with another couple of wines that were up there with this one.

On our return journey the driver suggested that we could call in at a chocolate making factory – it wasn’t a massive production unit at all but a small concern. This was a delightful place although you only get one tasting chocolate. These chocolates are all hand made and we could see them being manufactured, hence the price reflected this!!

So we finally arrived back at our holiday park with our purchases having had a great afternoon. Another massive benefit of going on such as tour is you don’t drive and therefore any restrictions on what you drink is eased.

We wound down by having a relaxing spa before taking ourselves off to eat at the local pub – having a drink or two of beer as well!!

Day 17 – North Island to South Island

The alarm woke us at 6am and we readied ourselves for leaving the holiday park by 6.30am to make the short trip to the Interislander Ferry terminal on the outskirts of Wellington. It was interesting to note that the rush hour had started and there were many cars and bicycles already heading into the city. We duly checked in and then sat for about an hour waiting to be called forward to drive on to the ferry. There are regular ferries throughout the day to Picton on the south island. Our’s was to leave at 8.15am and timed to arrive at 11.30am (which it did exactly). The day had started quite misty but by the time we sailed the sun had started to make an appearance and within a short time the mist had fully lifted and the sights of Wellington and surrounding areas were plain to see.

The ship we boarded was previously known as The Pride of Cherburg and we had previously sailed on it out of Portsmouth on at least 2 occassions! Now it is known as the Kaitake.

The Captain informed us of the route and also that the weather was going to be good and there was little wind and he expected that it would be a very smooth crossing.

We had been told and also read about how this crossing is one of the most spectacular in the world and because weather was so good we were not to be disappointed. It’s really difficult to describe what we experienced and how this rather large ferry was manouvered through what seemed like a narrow channel. The views were stunning, the waters crystal clear and the skills of the Captain in taking the ship through ‘s’ bends was staggering. The picture opposite is the wake of the ship coming out of one of the ‘s’ turns!

Our crossing was incredibly smooth bearing in mind how difficult sailing Capt Cook had found navigating these waters a couple of centuries ago.

So we berthed at 11.30am and within 20mins we were on our way to northern most tip of the South Island. The first part of journey took us up and down some steep and winding roads before dropping down to run along the waters edge before again climbing up and down some more quite challenging winding roads. This pattern continued for some 100 or so kilometres before we eventually settled into some quite flat terrain. We had initially planned to reach Golden Bay, just up form Able Tasman, but we eventually settled on cutting short this part of the journey and decided to stop overnight at a holiday park in Motueka. It is interesting how many people we have met from the UK who now live here in NZ. At this park the receptionist we met had lived all her life in Bracknell until moving to NZ.

After a walk into the town centre and a visit to one of the local pubs we spent the evening plotting our time in South Island and then booking online those trips that we wanted to go on. So unless anything changes (and that is always possible) we know exactly where we will be and what we will be doing for the next 14 days.