Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: South Island

The great New Zealand adventure – the long and winding road

Well hellooooooo lovely people I know you have been all hanging out waiting for the latest update so here it is. We are now officially on the North Island and on the final stretch before flying home at the weekend. On Friday we said good riddance to Queenstown (one of our least favourite places so far) and headed for Dunedin and the prospect of some live rugby.

Arriving in Dunedin we were greeted by a campsite looking like a St. Georges flag bomb had gone off and was almost at bursting point. They were that full they had even filled the rugby pitch next door. Which essentially meant very strained facilities and a big change from the peaceful quiet sites we’d become accustomed to. It was also, grey, wet and cold so felt even less inviting.

Friday afternoon also saw us fail spectacularly in our attempts to see penguins in the wild. There are a few beaches where they land here, but you can only see them at dusk, we arrived at 2pm and saw diddly squat. When they were arriving we were probably giving the wee girl a bath. Wild penguins is something I’ve always wanted to see and this could be my biggest regret of the trip.

The next day was saturday which meant that there was a farmers market on at the station during the morning so we go out early and walked into town (it was a 45 min walk but so nice to be out of the van for a change). The market was pretty cool, it wa in the car park of a very grand victorian train station that was in immaculate condition.

The market also gave me an opportunity to try a whitebait fritter, something we’d heard about and at this time of year is in season. A slightly odd thing eating very small fish that have been mixed whole with cream and then fried, 9am was also perhaps a little early for it. But I’ve been on a few rugby tours so my stomach is made of sterner stuff, the lady of the manor’s on the other hand….

The original plan was for the lady of the manor and Matilda to join me at the rugby in the evening but given the weather they stayed put in the warm (ish) van and I went alone. The stadium in Dunedin is quite unique in that it’s fully enclosed with a see through plastic roof and plastic grass. Impressive place and a nice environment to watch a match which we won convincingly of course. I also have to give a mention to the New Zealand army band who were the pre match entertainment. They were AWESOME, rather than the usual stuffy performance there was ballet dancing, the YMCA, a haka and even a maul all performed by smart musicians in red uniforms. A breath of fresh air.

I may also have headed for a bar after the game in the hope of cheering on the frogs as they beat the all blacks. For the first 10 minutes it was looking good and the potential to be the perfect night. But alas it was not to be.

The next morning was one we had been dreading, we had to drive virtually the full length of the South Island to catch our ferry to the North Island. Conveniently this was also the night that the clocks changed so we lost an hours sleep as well. We left Dunedin at 6am and headed north for Picton a journey of 714km that took us 10 hours in total with 2 hours + of stopping. A mighty trip but one that was actually pretty easy. The roads are so quiet and you never get traffic so apart from when you go through towns you are just cruising along. (some of the cruising ‘may’ have been a little too fast, a fact confirmed by the polite, apologetic policeman who gave me a speeding ticket and hoped it wouldn’t ruin our holiday).

Some amazing scenery along the way helps, plus having done the trip north of Christchurch once already we had earmarked a couple of places for stops. A cafe in Cheviot was particularly good, great food and a log burner going! Matilda was her usual cool self and amazingly remained happy for the whole trip, it can’t have been fun for her sitting in a car seat for so long.

Despite the vast majority of the journey being in sunshine we arrived into Picton at 5pm in a hail storm that turned into torrential rain. Always fun getting  camper van set up for sleeping in that sort of weather. As often happens with the weather here within an hour it was clear sky and the night was absolutely freezing.

Finally on Monday morning we caught the ferry from Picton to Wellington which is a great journey in itself winding through the various islands AND we saw a dolphin which caused much excitement on the boat. We spent most of the trip up on deck getting some fresh air as the lady of the manor isn’t the biggest fan of boats.With Matilda wrapped up in her one piece snow suit it was a very pleasant trip.

We are now getting very excited because on Tuesday we are meeting up with my little bro who lives in Auckland. He’s driving down to meet us in Napier and we haven’t seen him for 18 months so will be awesome catching up.

Stay tuned for the next update in a couple of days. Napier, vineyards, hot pools and some sunshine on the menu we hope.

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!