We spent a night at a carpark at Punakaiki where a big sign of “No Camping” annoyed us at first glance. Below this “no Camping” sign there was small tiny print “unless self-contained vehicles”, which made us eligible. Hah, lucky we had a closer look at it. Our almighty campervan with shower, greywater tank and toilet – Thank you! We had a short rainforest-river walk before dinner to move a bit. As the sky got darker that evening we observed more and more mad looking dark grey clouds moving towards us. Luckily there was almost no rainfall during the night. When we got up the next morning the sky looked even more furious. We “packed” our things (the good thing is: we never really have to pack our things cause it’s all in our van) and left towards the northern end of the civilized West Coast. As we drove the rain has gotten more and more heavy. We had a short look at the seals colony at Cape Foulwind near Westport (we witnessed about 20-30 seals, maybe, thought there should be over 200 – they might have been out in the ocean feeding? Who knows). As we got sick with the rainy, wet weather and driving all the way up to the very northern end of the West Coast at Karamea town wasn’t really an option to us, we decided to head inland to cross over to Nelson/Tasman region (which is known as NZ sunshine state and supposed to be warmer). The day ended up being a driving day. The rain never even stopped for a minute and heavy downpour was the norm which made driving slower and more tiring. As we drove through endless bush land we eventually saw some farms every now and then and were wondering once again like many times before while passing dozens of kilometers in this region: who are those people living in this remote place with such hostile weather? One’s for sure: we’re not the ones going to buy one of the many properties on sale in this place! We camped near the main road and got more and more upset with all the rain. Camping below 10 degrees with everything being wet in- and outdoors (a short cooking or staying in the van lets water condensate inside of the van within half an hour and turns our home into a stalagmite cave) is certainly not that much fun. We started to miss our times in Western Australia where blue skies, eating outdoors and sunsets accompanied by comfortable temperatures replaced this kind of feelings.
To YinRus’ surprise she survived the night camping at South Pole (in her point of view). Well, to be honest, even he, the Swiss who’s used to cold weather, was shivering during the night and slept with his thickest woolen socks and fleece jacket. We stared to boil some hot tea in recent days to allow ourselves at least one source of warmth. After having breakfast looking like stiff, frozen creatures wrapped in our jackets, we drove further north. As we reached the Tasman area and saw the mountains in the area we were no longer surprised about us shivering in the night: most hills around us were snow-capped a few hundred meters above our altitude. A short consultation of local “experts” in the visitor center in Motueka brought us the idea to camp at a basic DOC campsite half way between Motueka and Takaka on the Takaka Hill to see some of the local sights there. As we reached the high plateau we entered a gravel road and past the posted signboard “…not suitable for campervans…” with a smile. We especially reconfirmed with the visitor center before and they meant it’s perfectly fine. The road itself was rough but ok and nothing different from other roads we have driven, BUT there was this reckless lady bus driver crossing our way after a few kilometers. Although we were driving uphill and should have had the right of way she pushed us to reverse more and more and forced a crossing at a place where it wouldn’t be possible. What happened had to happen and our car got stuck at the water table. Roman tried to free the van from this hopeless situation and, worse comes to worst: the car ran out of battery and couldn’t restart after a few trials. That was it: GAME OVER. She tried to go and get help while he stayed at the car. The wind was blowing hard with temperatures shortly above freezing point. God bless Giles, a local mountain biker in a 4WD whom YinRu asked (looking helpless) to help us. After towing us and jump start our battery (2 hours past in the meantime) we could finally move again independently. What upset us most: 100m behind the place of our incident there was a bay to cross in the direction of where the lady came from (she must have known) and yet she did not want to reverse. As we didn’t want to force our luck we discontinued the road, drove to the other side of the valley and set up our camp just the very minute before it got dark at a free campsite. Arriving at the parking in search of a good spot a repetitive coincidence happened once again: the unique Hugo-campervan (a campervan which we saw for around 5 times the last few days) stood there. We popped in at their place to celebrate this endless hide and seek. We enjoyed dinner squeezed in together in our van with Marta and Eudald from Barcelona and had a good time accompanied some beers and white wine until later that evening.
The merry gathering helped us to forget our afternoons’ incident…at least until the next morning. After another shivering night (poor YinRu has not slept well for 4 nights already) we tried to hit the road again. Turning the car key didn’t even get the starter to tick once. Nothing happened at all – our starter battery was completely empty. We managed to find help from a local again (obviously no rental company provides jump starter cables for their vehicles so we depended on non-campers). After a short search for the designated service partner of our rental company in the village of Tanaka we were informed that this garage was no longer in operation. After a few phone calls with our rental company we finally brought our Wendy to the doctor. Technical diagnoses indicated that there was no issue with the starter- nor the house battery but with the entire system (Apparently household appliances like water pump, fridge and lights are supposed to use the household battery and are isolated from the engine starter battery. Not in our van and so the starter battery got killed slowly but steadily). The issue couldn’t be fixed on the spot. As we were asked to drive 100km back to a specialist we decided to follow our initial schedule and stay one or two more days in the area. Fingers crossed we will find a helpful local every morning. At least the Abel Tasman National Park rewarded us with nicer weather (though not warm but mostly sunny), nice beaches and clear waters. We set up camp at a quiet, though remote place 15km inside of the park in its only official campground. Todays’ shower was a highlight after some light hiking along the beach. Since we didn’t want to use our batteries (incl. water pump) we showered at the campsite. The showers were ice cold (…and thats quite bad if outside tempreratures are around 13 degrees and its windy trust us). We both took a shower no longer than 2mins and hoped that the night will at least be a bit of a warmer delight…
…shivering while getting up, ice crusts on the grass and a sip of water (from a bottle we left outside of the fridge during the night) colder than the drinks usually served straight from the fridge: it was 3 degrees that night and definitely the worst we had to overcome so far. We thought we are going to travel NZ in autumn, not winter. Well, anyway… The reason for these low temperatures was obviously a clear sky during the night which allowed a beautiful day to follow (and another beauty that unfortunately one seldom gets to enjoy: ultra clear night skies offering great views on the milkyway). We had our bread rolls and muesli in the sun before departing for a good hike in the National Park. After crossing the next bay at low tide (many hiking paths lead trough short sea-passages which can only be crossed two hours either before or after low tide) we climbed a small hill, discovered some forests and remote beaches while hiking for 4hrs. A short lunch prepared by our star chef YinRu helped us to re-fuel before driving back towards Takaka late afternoon. The first 12 kilometers out of the Park took us amazing 40mins (windy gravel road). Our aimed spot for the night was a nice boat club area at the harbor front with sunset view. As we got there we saw that toilet and shower facilities would be closed at 5pm (it was 4:45!). We parked the van on the spot, grabbed a few things, donated the required 2 dollars per bath and rushed to shower…and wow: that was good. A hot shower with good water pressure! Ahh! As we got back and wanted to set-up our camp an older man already staying there told us about the rules in this place and that we are not eligible to stay there overnight. He meant this place is restricted to camper association members only. He continued to tell the same stories to others arriving. Although official signposts didn’t mention anything like that we followed his request and left (we are still not sure whether he was right or only wanted his peace…). We stayed at a free parking at Pupu-River a 15mins drive away from there sipping some beers with a German couple who was forced to leave the boat club area as well and deliberated over the fact whether the man’s words were justified or not.
Thursday brought as another beautiful day with a sunny start after a cold (but definitely not as bad as the one before) night. In the morning we went to visit the Pupu-Springs, a lake with spiritual significance to the Maori which is known for its incredible clear water (the average water visibility is over 60m – compare: laboratory osmosis water has 80m and superb diving conditions usually around 20m). We found the lake not to be that special, it was nice but not that special. More like a small pond with good marketing as an attraction. As we were overdue with our doctor consultation for Wendy (you have read about the battery incident two days before) we drove back over the hill to Motueka. We found the electrical specialist pretty fast and they were kind enough to start checking our car about an hour later. They came to a different solution of the problem: instead of a failure in the electrical system they found the starter engine to perform badly and using excessive energy to start the engine. The specialist informed our rental company about their opinion and suggested to further observer the starting engine by removing it. Apparently Wendekreisen didn’t like their idea (mainly due to its cost we believe) and decided not to fix anything and left us with the car as it is (very customer friendly, isn’t it!?). Fingers crossed we will be fine for the next two weeks. We continued further east to Richmond where we shopped some chocolates and nut bars to put in Giles’ (the guy who helped us with the car on the mountain) letter box together with a thank you card. We put our camp up about half way between Nelson and Picton where it was for once not as cold and we could even eat inside of our van without wearing jackets. Tomorrow or the day after we are intending to ferry over to the north island (hopefully we get a good bargain at the counter in Picton. So far we heard of ferry prices of around 300 NZD for a van and two people!). We were pretty excited about seeing the North Island soon – could it be very different from South Island? Friendlier petrol prices? Etc etc.) PS: We decided not to name Wendy Wendy anymore, because it is a too cute name for a car that just died twice on us. So now it will be referred to as “the car” “the camper” “the campervan”, anything like that.