Hello from New Zealand.

28.4.2012 to 2.5.2012

We arrived at Brisbane Airport on a rainy Saturday morning. Thanks to Ken for the lift. After what seemed like endless queues and checks, we were finally in our seats and making our way to NZ.  After a very smooth flight we arrived in Christchurch, to be met by Max’s cousin John and his wife, Jane.  John took us for a tour of Christchurch the next day. It is so sad to see the devastation caused by the earthquakes. There is a massive amount of work to be done to get the city back to what it was. Whole suburbs have been left derelict, residents having to move away and make a home elsewhere. On Monday we picked up our motorhome and set off. Headed east first to the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa and surrounds. Already marvelling at the scenery, our first sight of the Alps in the distance with a light dusting of snow was very exciting. Next day, we headed west.  Found an interesting area, Castle Hill Conservation Area, with huge outcrops of soft limestone. Our next campsite was at Cave Stream Reserve, with a magnificent view of snow capped Alps right in front of us. Woke up to a very cold morning with the windscreen well coated with ice. It’s a great drive through the Selwyn Region to Arthurs Pass. Pulled into the Viaduct Lookout for a cuppa. It’s absolutely freezing by now, but exhilarating at the same time. Then another surprise, as if the scenery wasn’t enough, a Kea joined us for morning tea. A greenish parrot-like bird with a very long curved beak that he uses to toss rocks around. Max had given him a piece of cracker and the rocks were going every which way so that he could get at the crumbs. Making very good time, and still marvelling at the scenery, we turned off the road and headed for Reefton via Lake Brunner. There a lot of lakes in the area, all good for a bit of bird-watching. One thing we did notice, though, was that garbage tins and water are in short supply. We had to fill the kettle from Lake Brunner for our lunch. Pure water, though.  There are a lot of areas available for free camping , but there comes a time when you need power and water. So, on to Reefton Motor Camp.  Reefton is very picturesque, with old timber buildings, relics of a gold-mining past.

3.5.2012 to 9.5.2012

Left Reefton on a very foggy morning and headed back to the east coast. Very scenic route, with views to the Alps and wide rocky river beds. Seeing a lot more pasture now with sheep and cattle. Flat land is a premium in NZ, cattle and sheep literally graze on vertical slopes. Autumn foliage is beautiful.  Reached the coast  and found a campsite at Paia Point, just metres from the water. Then were surprised by the sight of a seal snoozing, we almost fell over him! Just gave us a lazy look and went back to sleep. The next day onto Kaikoura. The road and the rail line are so close to the shoreline, with tunnels through the headland. Then all of a sudden, a great view to the snow-capped  Alps, so close to the coast. Stunning! The Alps seem to come right to the edge of the town. Stopped for morning tea at Hapuku, and found more seals just feet from our door. Amazing. Our own personal viewing. Very scenic route north, with beaches of dark gray sand.  Then the Marlborough district and acres and acres of grape vines. On to Blenheim and Picton and Queen Charlotte Sound. The  ferry for the North Island leaves from Picton. The Sound reminded us of the Hawkesbury River, but on a much larger scale. Lots of secluded inlets and waterways. Found a great free camp at Mahau Sound.  Evidence of a storm here, a fair while ago, with massive logs of driftwood and a wrecked catamaran. Heading now for Cape Farewell, at the very tip of the South Island. On the way found the Polorus Swingbridge, hidden in a small rainforest area. It crossed a swiftly flowing creek. I managed to negotiate it without getting too wobbly in the legs. The coast not that attractive, with mud flats as far as the eye can see, at low tide. Boats left high and dry! Overnighted at Takaka, felt like fish and chips for tea, served to us by a fellow Queenslander! The drive to Takaka a bit hairy, having to drive up mountains and down again. Took a side trip to Anatoki Salmon Farm, where you can fish for free, catch as many salmon as you want, or can, have the fish cleaned and filleted, all for about $19 a kilo. Max caught four good sized fish. A lot of people there, the place was buzzing. Got to Cape Farewell, the longest sand spit in the world. Could only view from a distance, as it is a protected site. Back south now to Motueka, to pick up the road to Murchison and the west coast. This drive was particularly scenic, apple, pear, cherry and kiwi fruit orchards for a good part of the drive. And no mountains!  You’ll see the photo of the very odd looking camper, a strange sight and not the only one we saw.  Pulled into Lake Rotoroa, hidden away and a popular fishing spot.  Followed Buller River, which carves it’s way through a deep gorge. Tirora and a one lane road and rocky overhang you felt you could almost touch. Finally reached the coast, and made our way to the Tauranga Bay Seal Colony. Mother and baby seals here, and a treat to see, but our close encounters still the pick. Came across some odd looking birds, the Weka or Maori Hen. Very inquisitive. The next day, another must-see, the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. Strange rock formations, seemingly stacked one on top of the other. Another odd sight was the Nukai palm, a native of NZ, the most southern growing palm in the world. The west coast is very wild and rugged, with rocky outcrops in the sea, not unlike Victoria’s southern coast. Now at Hokitika, where yesterday was so warm and sunny, we didn’t need a jumper, and today has dawned wet and miserable!

10.5.2012 to 15.5.2012

Still at Hokitika, went for a walk after lunch to check out the town. Marvelled at the sight of the snowy Alps still so close. The beach has gray sand and is littered with driftwood.  Max thinks they should tidy it up! The next day we made for Glacier Country. Scenery now changing to dense rainforest right down to the road. Pulled in near Whataroa River for morning tea. Turned out to be a base for flights over the glaciers. As it happened, a helicopter had just landed and two guys got off, carrying rifles. They had come over from Toowoomba for some deer hunting. Small world. The water in these rivers is the colour of green glass, so clear and clean. Arrived at Franz Josef Glacier, and after about a 45 minute walk, over black rock and shingle, came across a great river of ice.  Amazing. Met a guy on the way, who was from Casino, and got to chatting. He came in handy for photos, and we returned the favour. Then to Lake Matheson, renowned for it’s reflective quality in photos. After a short walk through rainforest, came upon the lake. Not impressive as lakes go over here, but it’s true about the reflections. Like a mirror. Found a camp not far from the lake, got ourselves sorted, then turned and saw the view. There was Mt. Cook, with a huge glacier coming down the mountain. Can only assume it was Fox Glacier, we were camped not far from the village. Spectacular. On then to Haast, still rainforest, with the odd waterfall thrown in. Then Wanaka,  and sheep and cattle country. Lake Wanaka is fairly impressive, with a great drive right along it’s shoreline. After an overnight stop, we set off for Mt. Cook and Lake Tekapo.  When I said there was’nt much flat land, this area proved me wrong. Dry, grassy plains with grazing merino sheep. Up through Omaramo, Twizel and Lake Pukaki, the water a beautiful blue, then Mt. Cook. Mt. Cook is impressive, but I think you’d have to see it mid-winter to better appreciate it. Down the road again and on to Lake Tekapo.  A lot busier here, tourist wise, but again I think the winter scenery would only add to the area. I must say, though, that the day was just glorious. Down the road again, another overnight stop and on to Cromwell, then Queenstown via  Arrowtown. The Cromwell  area was just lovely, vineyards, fruit orchards, it reminded us a lot of Stanthorpe and New England. Pulled into Queenstown and nearly had a heart attack. People and traffic everywhere. Nowhere to park and the cost of a campsite  unbelievable. So a new plan, and decided to make our way to Glenorchy.  Well, we are now cosied up in our van in paradise. What a beautiful little village, magnificent scenery, nestled in a little valley surrounded   by snowy Alps. From here we were able to do the Dart River Jet Boat Safari. We did that today, and what fun that was. A 4WD drive, with stops along the way to check out film locations for Lord of the Rings, Vertical Limits and Wolverine, just to name a few. Then a walk through pristine beech forest, and then the boat ride. Up the Dart River as far as we could go, and then back to Lake Wakatipu at Glenorchy. Even an old scaredy cat like me enjoyed it, the 360 degree turns were awesome!

16.6.2012 to 18.5.2012

Left Glenorchy on a very cold morning. The snow had come further down the mountain. Icy drops falling from the sky. Driving through Queenstown, more signs of a snow fall during the night. Will this be the day I finally have my first experience of snow? On the road now to Te Anau, and there it was! The paddocks, trees, everything covered. Fantastic. Pulled into a rest stop for our morning cuppa, got a snowball in the back, initiation, Max said. So, I finally got to play in, touch, and yes, even taste, snow.  By the time we reached Te Anau, there was not a sign of it! The next day did a bus tour and cruise to Milford Sound. On the way stopped at Mirror Lakes, remarkable for their reflective quality, and  The Chasm, beautiful beech forest and waterfall.  Not a good day to be out on a boat, very cold and windy. Didn’t spend too much time on the deck. But had a nice lunch and saw some great scenery. On the road again, heading south towards Invercargill and Bluff. Took the road less travelled and followed the coastline. Weather a bit wild, found Mullet Bay and the Cosy Nook Fishing Village. Little fishing shacks, built very close to the shore. Since it was blowing a gale by now, I would’nt think they would be used too much in Winter. Found a motor camp at Bluff and settled in for the night.

19.5.2012 to 25.5.2012

Took the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island, an hour across the Foveaux Strait. Not a good day, weatherwise, so a bit concerned the trip might be a bit rough. Turned out to be very pleasant, not many bumps at all. Did a bus tour around the Island. Another hidden gem of NZ. Bushland, secluded bays, very picturesque. Had some lunch, then holed up in the ferry terminal to escape the biting cold! The sun finally came out on our return trip to Bluff. Max was able to buy a dozen of the famous Bluff oysters. Apparently these oysters are to die for. Not being an oyster lover, I just took his word for it.  Carried on with our journey that afternoon, left Bluff, heading East. Got ourselves a bit lost, needed fuel badly, and ended up heading in the completely wrong direction. All turned out OK, found fuel and a place to stop for the night, so panic over!  Came in very cold, so off to bed early, with a few extra layers of clothes.  We could barely poke our noses above the quilt. Set off the next morning, found our way back to the coast road. Came upon the Mataura River, lined with little fishing huts, some complete with chimneys. Now in The Catlins, green rolling pastures right beside the coast. Beautiful area. Even saw the odd magpie. I’m not sure how they came to be living in NZ! Found Slope Point, the southern most tip of the South Island. Trees bent double with the wind. Did lots of sightseeing, calling in to every lookout and point of interest, including Curio Bay, where there is an ancient petrified forest. Imagination required here but interesting just the same. Long, golden beaches on this coastline, popular for surfing. Since we were very close to Balclutha, decided to introduce ourselves to Max’s cousin Alison and her husband Norm. Had a lovely visit with them. At the end of the day, took the road inland and found a campsite for the night. Woke up at about 4am absolutely freezing! So glad the van had gas heating, that went on, but took a while to stop shivering. Next morning there was a very heavy frost. The road took us into Central Otago, another fruit growing area, also pine plantations. Then the countryside changed again and became very rugged with lots of rocky outcrops. Found a road that went to a little historical village called St. Bathans, beside a lake. An old goldmining area, with a few old buildings and even a haunted hotel. Walking round the lake, in a pocket of shade, leaves and grass were still covered with frost at 3pm. After an overnight stop not far from St. Bathans, on the road again to the coast to check out the Moeraki Boulders. Strange round boulders lying on the beach, formed the same way as a pearl, layers covering shell or bone. Fell out of the cliffs onto the beach eons ago. Very odd. Down the coast now, through Palmerston and on to Dunedin. Found our way to St. Kilda Holiday Park, near the Otago Peninsula. Booked ourselves a trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway. The train makes it’s way through the river gorge, over bridges and viaducts, up into the hills with views of the Alps. A real masterpiece of engineering, with construction beginning in1879. Dunedin has some magnificent colonial buildings, the Anglican Cathedral, Town Hall, Court Buildings and the Railway Station. Did a drive right to the tip of the Otago Peninsula hoping to see the the Royal Albatross, but no luck. Amazing scenery, though.

26.5.2012 to 29.5.2012

The day of the reunion, very cold, but a brilliant sunrise. Looking  forward to meeting the family. Had a great day, with Helen and Les arriving from Sydney, everyone so friendly and welcoming toward their Aussie cousins. Had already met David and Elizabeth, Grant and Pauline and John and Gaye, so knew we were in for a good time. Afternoon presentations by John Forrest and Max, on the Forrest Family, then tea and biscuits. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. A lovely buffet, with lots of conversation and “getting to know you”. The next day, another gathering at Jackie’s house, for a delicious morning tea. Thank you Jackie for the lifts. Then final farewells and time to make our way back to Christchurch. On the way  stopped and had a look at Oamaru, the breakwater, an old wharf covered  with literally hundreds of shags and an interesting colonial precinct. Found a rest stop for our last night on the road, by the Waitaki River, under the shade of gum trees! And views to the snowy Alps. Beautiful. Then Christchurch, packing our bags, cleaning the van and delivering it back to the yard.  Another delicious meal and early to bed, ready for our flight the next morning.  Special thanks to John and Jane and Kirsten and James for making us feel so at home. Also, again John for the pre-dawn airport run. A great flight home, thank you Ken for picking us up from the airport. We drove nearly 5000kms exploring this wonderful part of the world, I have to say a must-do on everyone’s travel list! Met our fabulous NZ cousins, and just had a great time.


Max & Robyn