Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Category: The great adventure (page 2 of 2)

The great New Zealand adventure – the wild west coast

*wrote this a few days ago but only now have we finally got wi-fi good enough to post.

Well hello, since the last blog we have travelled about 800km from Nelson right at the top of the South Island down the west coast to Queenstown. We spread it over 4 days but even so it’s been more about looking out the window admiring views than really getting out and doing things. The vast majority of this driving is through valleys and forests as far as the eye can see with the occasional small town along the way. DSC_0050There were more than a few scary, windy roads through the mountains with massive drops on one side and the only protection for the car a small wooden crash barrier. These types of road are a particular favourite of the lady of the manor who spends most of the time squealing and telling me to slow down and if the drop is on her side leaning over and almost preventing me steering. It was pretty breathtaking at times though, the sheer scale and remoteness of the area is mind boggling.

Despite the lack of big items to tick off the ‘to be seen’ list it has been a very pleasant few days with someDSC_0015 notable highlights. Sunday night in Greymouth was at probably my favourite campsite so far, we were welcomed at reception with the words “pick which ever pitch you want, we’re so quiet it doesn’t matter” PERFECT! Nothing better than a camp site virtually to yourself, even if it can be a little bit like the shining sometimes, plus this one was situated right next to the beach so we of course chose a pitch as close to the beach as possible. Our van was no more than 10 metres from the beach and although it wasn’t particularly sandy there were lots of crashing waves and a beautifulDSC_0034 sunset. Falling to sleep with the sound of waves in the background is magical and even better given the lack of any other noise in the area.

The highlight of the trip south of Greymouth was passing through the small town of Ross where in 1900 and something they discovered New Zealand’s largest gold nugget, a mighty 2.7kg which of course had a name – Honourable Roddy. This is somewhere close to the amount of gold in the lady of the manor’s second engagement ring (yes 2nd she ‘lost’ the first one). There is a mining museum in the village with a replica of dear Roddy, we didn’t stop.

DSC_0075After another hour or so’s driving south of Ross we arrived in Franz Josef, home of the glacier. A mighty impressive glacier it is too, it can move at a speed of up to 5m a day 10 times faster than the feeble European ones. A glacier isn’t something you get to see every day and you can get pretty close to this one, so we headed for the car park. We loaded the wee girl into her rucksack carrier and headed off for glacier base camp. Now you can sign up with a guide and get higher up the glacier and while Matilda does like an adventure this was probably one step too far even for her.

DSC_0097It was a brisk 45 minute walk to base camp across a dry river bed which if the warning signs were to be believed could fill with flood water any minute. But the Kiwi’s have a healthy attitude to health and safety (see comment above on crash barriers) and let you carry on regardless. It was a very cool experience despite the icy wind in the valley (and yes I spent the whole walk cracking those sort of high brow jokes) and also a bizarre contrast between the lush rainforest vegetation on one side and the massive block of ice on the other.

Franz Josef was also pretty much the midway point in our trip so we decided to treat ourselves to 2 nights in a motel rather than the van. We thought it’d be nice to have a bit more space and a toilet that didn’t involve going outside. Wrong. Big. Fat. Fail. Lovely rooms to stay in and nice bathroom and showers, the only draw back being that the walls and ceiling were so thin that you could hear every word of the conversation the people next door were having, whenever someone walked across the floor above us it sounded like an elephant and to top it all off you could here people weeing. Altogether a perfect environment to try and get a 5 month old baby to sleep and then sit in the near darkness trying to read. Oh and the the mattress on the bed was so crap you spent the whole night trying to stop yourself rolling into the middle of the bed. Unsurprisingly we checked out first thing the next day and in a very un-English manner demanded a refund.

So we were back in our campervan and actually very cosy and happy, perhaps this is the solution to avoiding noisy neighbours? I’m also starting to see the attraction of houseboats….

Lake MatthesonAll disappointment and anger were forgotten within 5 minutes of getting out at our next stop however, Lake Mattheson had been flagged by all the guidebooks as a great place to get out for a walk and a photo. If you get a still day you get an amazing reflection of Mount Cook in the lake water, we had a slight ripple but all the same a picture perfect location. A 1 hour walk around the lake also meant that we had earned our coffee and cake at the cafe in the car park. As I tweeted at the time I don’t think there can be a more beautiful place to drink coffee, plus I had the best piece of carrot cake ever to go with it. Heaven.

DSC_0037We had a stop off in Haast last night and now (Wed) we’re in Queenstown. It’s quite strange being in the middle of a busy town after so long in the middle of nowhere and empty campsites. In Haast there were 5 campervans on the site, tonight there are 50+ on a site that is smaller. I could reach out the window and almost touch the van next to us. It’s also quite odd walking around in a t-shirt and seeing people carrying ski’s! It’s almost the end of the skiing season here but there is still some snow left and plenty of people seem to be taking advantage of that.

This is also the capital of adrenaline activities being the birthplace of the bungy jump, there are even people paragliding off the hill next to us. We however shall be having a far more leisurely day tomorrow taking in the sights and drinking a hot chocolate or 2. Even without having a baby with us I don’t think many of these crazy activities would tempt me, I don’t really see the attraction of jumping off a bridge with an elastic band tied to my leg.

Next stop Dunedin and some rugby.

P.S spotted this en route, kept me amused for hours (The lady of the manor is called Alex)

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The great New Zealand adventure – Abel Tasman

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The end of our first week in the land of the long white cloud (and the flat white coffee) and expectations were high in the fun bus. On Saturday we were scheduled to visit Abel Tasman national park, voted the number 1 thing to do in New Zealand by the New Zealand people themselves. So no pressure then. However what we failed to realise as we left the campsite and headed up there was that the only way into the park is by boat. We thought we could just park up, have a little walk with the wee girl and take some photo’s, oh no, bookings were required. Thankfully being early season this was easily solved and we could catch a 12.30pm boat.

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We headed for the car park and prepared a packed lunch as instructed (no boarding without one) and covered ourselves in insect repellent. As an aside have you ever seen James Bond having to do that? Does he have natural bug repelling skin or something? Anyway, back to the story. We set off on the boat (which also happened to be Matilda’s first boat ride, we’re ticking off the firsts on this trip) and sat mesmerised by the colour of the sea and the many different coves and beaches en route. Quite honestly this was not the coast line I was expecting from New Zealand. You could easily mistake it for somewhere in the much hotter and more exotic. It was breathtaking and the trip had only just started.

DSC_0130Our friendly boat (Pilot? Driver? Chauffeur? Captain? Chap?) dropped us off at Armitage bay, you can see for yourselves that this could be some sort of deserted island, in fact I think we could quite happily live our lives there. We dragged ourselves away from this beautiful beach and did a short walk of about 3 miles up to a look out point and back around again in a loop. Nothing too strenuous but good to get the blood flowing and probably far enough when you’re carrying a budha baby. Matilda amused herself chewing her fingers and blowing raspberries at me, completely oblivious to the scenery around her.

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Then with an hour to spare before the return boat home we sat on the beach to eat some snacks and let Matilda have a play, turns out she quite likes the sand. God help us when she can crawl or run, I think it could get quite tiring visiting the beach. It was amazing seeing the excitement in her face as she felt the sand in her toes and fingers. We had to work hard to stop her eating it though.

 

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We only did a very short walk in one park of the park, but you can do a 3-5 day walk along the full length which would be simply amazing. Or if you prefer you can sea kayak along the coast. There are campsites and huts run by the national park dotted along the coast to stay in. I’d love to come back when we have older children and have a go at that. If the small piece of coast we saw is anything to go by it would be well worth it and one hell of an adventure.

DSC_0160Next stop the west coast and some glaciers!

The great New Zealand adventure – wine valley

Driving up the south island we of course made time to stop in the Wairau valley near Blenheim to sample a few wines. Both the lady of the manor and I are big fans of Kiwi reds so this was the perfect opportunity to indulge ourselves, a fair reward for sleeping in a campervan I reckon. However we wanted to make sure that we didn’t just go to the well known names, most of them you can buy in the UK anyway so what’s the point in wasting valuable time tasting them here?

Despite this our first stop was Cloudy Bay, which no doubt many of you have heard of and is probably the most famous vineyard in this area (which doesn’t of course mean they make the best wines). We started with their whites and the bulk of the white they will sell is Savignon Blanc, which as with pretty much all the Savignon Blanc in this region is full of fruit and often tastes of gooseberry. These were good but nothing exceptional, the most interesting white we tasted was a late harvest Riesling which is a sweet, almost sticky wine. Very tasty.

We also tried their reds and did a comparison between their blended Pinot Noir and a single vineyard one. I have to be honest and say that the difference was too subtle for my taste buds to really distinguish between but enjoyable to tasted all the same. We purchased a bottle of the single vineyard Pinot Noir and also one of the late harvest Riesling. Hopefully these will survive the trip back to the UK and we can pair them with some roast Beef (or maybe venison) and then some good cheese for desert with the sweet wine. I’m actually salivating a little at the thought of that already.

Then next 2 stops were smaller vineyards that we hadn’t heard of but that the people at Cloudy Bay recommended based on our wine tastes. I will only write about one here because quite simply it was amazing. Hans Herzog is run by a Swiss couple who moved there to grow grapes that they couldn’t in Switzerland and what was most interesting was that although they do grow Pinot Noir and Savignon Blanc as you would expect they also had a large number of much more unusual grapes. We tried a selection but the ones that stood out were the Italian grapes Montepulciano and Nebbiolo , we were lucky that they had a 2004 Nebbiolo open that was so smooth and deep in flavour after just a few years in the cellar.

We didn’t have the room to buy anything from here but we plan to try and source some when we’re back in the UK. They also had a very nice looking restaurant (they used to have a Michelin starred restaurant in Switzerland) and a holiday cottage if you feel like some pampering, perhaps not with a 5 month old?

The wine valley here is easy to get around and very short distances between vineyards, I also noticed that a number of people had been on tours that collected them from the campsite, a good way of solving the designated driver issue!

The next stop on our magical mystery tour is Nelson and then on to the Abel Tasman national park.

Oh and Matilda had her first go in a high chair while we had lunch in one of the vineyards, most exciting and she loved it to.

The gallery – a happy memory

As we’re travelling (have I mentioned we’re in New Zealand? Just a couple of times perhaps?) I wasn’t planning on getting involved with the gallery but then I saw someones post and what the theme was and just couldn’t resist.

These photo’s were actually taken today, this must be a first for me, but I think is absolutely perfect. Today we are in Hanmer Springs, it’s been a glorious spring day; clear blue sky, a chilly breeze, snow capped mountains all around and the icing on the cake, a thermal spa on our door step. With Matilda her usual chirpy self this morning we decided to take her to the spa and give her her first experience of swimming. She LOVES the bath, it’s her favourite time of the day and she spends the time shrieking and splashing and laughing to herself. So we hoped she would feel the same about a really big bath.

The spa is an impressive set up with a more than 10 different pools all with different temperatures and features. We found a quiet one tucked away that was relatively cool and gently stepped in. She wasn’t very sure at first, partly due to adjusting from the cold air (there was a frost last night) but she soon got into it and was splashing and smiling.

Today will stay in my memory for a long time, a perfect moment as a family with all the stresses and worries of the world forgotten. I don’t think there could be a more beautiful setting to do this in either. In fact we may just stay here. Forever.

The great New Zealand adventure – first days

Well we made it, as I type this we are tucked up in our camper van on a camp site in Hammer Springs, New Zealand. The flights over were actually pretty good, Matilda did really well and apart from the take off at Heathrow really didn’t cry much at all. Full marks go to both Heathrow and Singapore airlines for the special treatment they give to families. Heathrow have a separate line for families to go through security, much quicker and more relaxing. Then Singapore airlines pulled us out of the queue at the gate and took us straight to the front to have boarding passes checked before letting us board the plane before anyone else.

The stopover in Singapore for 11 hours was a god send, we checked into the terminal hotel and managed to convince Matilda to sleep for 6 hours. It was then just a mere 9 hour flight to Christchurch. So almost 22 hours of flying with no major incident and we were almost done. But Matilda had other ideas, queue some projectile vomiting all over me and the wall and the seat and the floor.  A perfect end to the flight and made even more pleasant by not having a change of clothes. I spent the next 3 hours until we had our camper van stinking of baby sick.

What we also hadn’t reckoned on was queuing behind about 60 rugby fans to get our camper van. I tried playing the tired baby card to get priority treatment to no avail. They did have a barista in the office making free coffee though so I caught up with my days quota of flat whites. When we finally got our van we headed into Christchurch to have a look around and do some food shopping. Now you may think that England is expensive for food but you haven’t seen anything. we spent almost £100 on food that would have cost less than £60 in England. Not a good start to the holiday.

Driving around a city that has been wrecked by an earthquake is a very strange experience, the whole of the downtown is closed off still. I didn’t take any photo’s as it didn’t seem quite right, but I felt almost cheated that we didn’t get to see the city properly.

It was then on to the campsite for our first attempt at getting the beds set up and our stuff unpacked. In theory this van is designed for 4 adults but there is no way you would holiday in one with that many. It’s just about fine for the 3 of us, but even that is hard at times. Matilda has her own double bed in the roof and seems to have now adjusted to the time zone and is almost sleeping through the night as normal. That first night she was up about 4 times and we were awake from 4am with her. As a result all 3 of us crashed out by 6pm the first 2 nights.

Since then we have been down to Banks Peninsula, had a walk around the parks in Christchurch and then today driven to Kaikoura to look at the seals and tonight we’re in Hammer Springs, home to natural hot thermal pools which we shall be checking out in the morning. There has been some pretty scaring driving so far along mountain roads with sheer drops on the side and just a rickety wooden fence to stop us toppling over. The lady of the manor is a particular fan of this type of road judging by the shrieks of excitement coming from the seat next to me. We even did part of the journey today through the mountains with it snowing. It was at this point that I was glad we hadn’t hired a really big camper van.

It’s 8.30pm which means I’m ready to hit the sack and try and catch up with some more sleep, besides which there isn’t much to do when you’re in a campervan with a 5 month old baby who is sleeping! But here’s a few photo’s from the last couple of days to keep you going, will post more later in the week.

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