Last hours on the South Island, windy Wellington and the not as wet West Coast of the North

Starting the day after camping at Alfreds’ Stream (That’s really not a place to remember, just a free campsite next to a river) was accompanied by typical autumn magic. As we resized_IMG_8240got up and had our breakfast the area was covered with thick grey fog. Around 9 o’clock the grey mass started to dissolve in patches as the sun got stronger and stronger resulting in mystical patterns of mountains, forests, blue sky and eventually some fog. We drove all the way to Picton through the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive and stopped every now and then (sometimes intentionally at lookout points, sometimes involuntarily because of cyclists from a race blocking the narrow and windy road along the shore). Having arrived in Picton we directly headed to the ferry terminals. Since we were about half an hour before noon we were somehow pretty sure we would get a ferry the same afternoon and be camping on the North Island by the evening. To our surprise all the ferries were booked until the next day at noon time due to a cancellation in the morning which caused a big backlog to transport everyone. We got a ticket for a ferry the next day at 1:15pm for 265 NZD. The afternoon we lingered around in the small yet lively township enjoying a good lunch, for once not self-cooked but in a restaurant. As we were in desperate need of a resized_IMG_8249proper camping to wash clothes and charge all our electronic devices we went to a commercial campsite for the evening. After a friendly conversation with Walter from the North Island who was travelling with his dog for five months in his own country, we realized that we had a small ceramic heather in the back of our car that we never used (it only came to our minds since the man mentioned that he’s usually heating his tent up to 22 degrees when it gets very cold in the night). We were pretty excited about using our heather for the first time. Wow, that was cozy. Too bad we can only use it when camping at powered sites…

YinRu started her last day on the South Island with some symptoms of a cold: badly blocked nose, dizziness from ear pressure and not a lot of energy. We therefore just resized_IMG_8274had a short stroll around the esplanade and waited for our ferry to depart. About an hour before departure we checked in at the dock (we definitely had to queue up at the tourist’s’ lane). We were surprised by all the goods and vehicles using the ferry as a means of transport: Huge trucks with double combinations of refrigerated food trailers, tour buses full with passengers, truck loaded with cattle and horses etc. etc. The ferry experience was a memorable one for YinRu, who wouldn’t forget the ride so short yet so “painful” after all. The Cook Strait is known to be one of the roughest straits in the world and well, it did live up to its reputation. As soon as the boat cruised on the open ocean outside of the shelter of the sounds the yet calm ride came to an end. Suddenly people started to walk zic zag to get from A to B and the moved hard up and down. Some started to walk around looking like ghosts and soon we knew what happened to them. Already feeling unwell, YinRu began to look pale instead of yellow after some 30minutes or so. She visited the toilet multiple times during the 3hour ride and had to throw up 6times. Felt like dying towards the end, her only “console” was hearing that she was not the only one doing this sort of business in the toilet… She was never happier to be able to get back to the camper and drive out of the ferry then this time. We heard later our ferry cruise was considered “of moderate bumpiness”, we wondered how it would be like if it was “very bumpy”. Anyway, Wellington welcomed us with grey sky and heavy winds upon arrival. We were resized_IMG_8286somehow prepared for it as we read in Lonely Planet “cold, grey Wellington breaks at least a few days a year out in t-shirt weather with some sun”. Since Wellington is NZ capital and a proper city with all the trimmings our campervan didn’t come in that handy for an overnight stay (Who’s going on a city trip with a campervan?!). We were able to find a yet matching spot: A carpark at the citys’ very centre for 20 NZD for 24hrs. Well of course it was not a campsite but at least we would have all the attractions within walking distance. After parking the van we had a short walk up and down hipster Cuba St. and enjoyed a Malaysian dinner (someone she had to force her appetite a bit, how surprising…).

Wellington aka Windy Welly, proved to us early Sunday morning that it was not as bad resized_IMG_8325as it has advertised itself the evening before: we enjoyed some sunshine (although it was still windy) and a superb breakfast with probably the best hash browns we have ever eaten. After a walk along the esplanade we visited the Sunday market. The kiwis seem to be very certain about what they buy and where. We have probably never seen so merchants informing about resized_IMG_8321their goods being gluten free, organic or spray free than here. The fruits though all looked so fresh, colorful and healthy. Later we threw ourselves into a cultural hotspot: the Te Papa museum, NZs national museum and known for holding the country’s best exhibitions. Some exhibitions were quite interesting and interactive in a fun way but the 6 stories tall building offered still too much to see and we are not that big museum friends. We rather like to eat food and enjoy scenery, exactly what we did next. After a Malaysian lunch (surprising huh) we resized_IMG_8353drove to look out point at Mt Victoria. The exposed view point in the city itself offered stunning views over the city before we left. We drove a good half an hour north to camp at a beautiful free site near Mana directly at the ocean. We were somehow happy to have left the city. It just somehow feels wrong to be in a million-city with a campervan.

Although we could certainly feel that temperatures have slightly increased on the North Island there is one phenomenon about the weather we did not quite like since having arrived: the wind! The strong winds from the very time we got into Wellington have not eased a bit and were probably the strongest were we had camped that night. The lady “next door” (we shall call it next motorhome) meant that the weather is nice and the wind not too bad – anyway, we thought we were going to be blown away. Since our travel guide did not recommended any breathtaking attractions the next 150km to the north along the west coast at all we basically drove our way further. We had a lunch stop a nice picnic area combined with some walking along the shore of Queen Elizabeth Park which was nice but nothing spectacular. As we made resized_IMG_8393our way all the way north to Wanganui we witnessed the most volatile fuel prices we have ever seen. Within 50km they plummeted from 1.95 NZD/L to 1.67 NZD/L (too bad we have just fueled up before starting the journey) and fixed around 2 NZD/L again. Arrived in Wanganui we headed to the free camp spot described in our app called Victoria Park. Having arrived there we tried to find someone to confirm with us whether we could indeed camp there or not: it was certainly a very nice park with a cute little lake, many birds, walkways and facilities BUT, is this really a place where we could camp in the middle of a city? It was literally a carpark where locals park when they go for a jog around the lake! We could only ask some teenagers who meant it’s perfectly fine to camp there. We watched the parks’ beautiful selection of birds (in a cage they were) before settling finally. If you are ever going to buy a bird, go for a yellow (or Sulphur) crested cockatoo. They are very playful dancing in front of you and can say things like “hello” and “how are you”.

Tuesday we woke up with some mixed feelings on the carpark, had a good breakfast and went to play with the birds again. Roman saw them dancing together the evening before so we were hoping that they would entertain us a bit this morning. But well, apparently these birds were not so morning active. We guess instead of them entertaining us, we entertained them by saying “hello” again and again and tried to dance like them. Hope no one saw us doing that! Later we went to Wanganui town which was a bigger city for NZ backcountry standard but nothing much to see. We spent a bit of time in town checking the internet speed 😉 Later we started a detour along old resized_IMG_8403Wanganui River Road. Instead of a normal highway, we chose to travel along the river which was windy, narrow and slow at certain places but hey, we were on holiday and we had time. Who would not want to see beautiful scenery instead of highway? It was indeed a very rural area with rain forests and pasture farmlands in between. It felt abandoned to a certain extend as there were very few people and tourists. We only passed by small villages with few people living, no shops or gas stations along the road. What we did not expect was that it would have so much wildlife and animals. We felt like we were in zoo: we had to share our road (and eventually stop) for cattle which somehow were running free on road, peacocks, goats, sheep and pigs. Apart from the road condition, the animals were also a reason for driving slow as we did not want to hit them. We also worked out our muscles a bit and had a good 2hrs walk to Atere viewpoint. With the frequent hikes we had even YinRu, the Tofu lady, could do a moderate hike like this with 400m of altitude gain without complaining. Later we had our night spent at camping in Pipiriki after having some difficulties locating the DOC shelter that was mentioned in the brochure (apparently there was no campground but next to picnic area camping was tolerated).resized_IMG_8427

Of shivering nights, car break-downs and finally some sunshine

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 IMG_7348_edshort 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 IMG_7360_edcolony 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 IMG_7393_edproperties 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). IMG_7396_edWell, 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 IMG_7401_edTasman 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 IMG_7415_edreverse 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 happIMG_7420_edened 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 getIMG_8207_edting 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 IMG_8119_ed 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 vaIMG_8157_edn 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 mentioIMG_8146_edn 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 IMG_8216_edand 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.IMG_8233_ed

From Central Otago to Fjordland and We(s)t Coast

Thanks to the luxury of having a proper camp site with all those neat facilities like hot showers or kitchen amenities including water boiler and toaster (well we do have all those things in our van but we hardly get to use it since they only operate on 240V for which you need a powered campsite) we decided to have a lush start into Friday before hitting the dirt tracks with Camerons’ 4WD. Bacon, omelet, coffee and tea as well as toasted bread was on the menu. After this royal start into the day we boarded Camerons’ truck and went to discover the real wilderness of NZ. He showed us some nice hilltops and lookout points and we had enriching conversations about how life’s like in NZ. Oh boy those tracks would be nothing for our campervan! If we were to drive our campervan on this track we would be stuck like after ten minutes. It was a funny IMG_0402_edexperience for Yinru as it was her first time on a 4WD like that and it was a surprise that she did not scream during the drive. Late afternoon some laundry and wine drinking was on our busy schedule before having dinner and meeting various other “permanent” visitors from Germany, France and Japan who are on work and holiday visas earning some money in the vineyards.

After stopping at Cromwell for two nights we were desperate to hit the road again and follow our route to one (or most probably THE) highlight of NZs’ spectacular landscape: Milford Sound. This stunning fjord located in the south west corner of the South Island attracts most of NZ visitors and is far off from civilization. A drive from Queenstown (the main gateway to the fjord, located about 50km of Cromwell) takes a good 300km drive (which means 600km return). We have already planned earlier to get into Milford on Sunday this week since that was the only forecasted “not rainy day” (Which is a rare opportunity not to miss since the area receives about 8’000mm of rainfall annually – that’s more than 3 times the amount of Singapore or 6 times the amount of Zurich). Saturday was therefore mainly a driving day with some general shopping to refill our stocks after 5 days. We coincidentally met the two ladies from England on the road there again – what a small world – and reached a basic DOC campsite (well other than a space to park and a smelly toilet there’s nothing on such a campsite) late afternoon. Temperatures dropped to around 5 to 10 degrees and we were happily sitting inside our comfortable van drinking some wineIMG_6326_ed to warm us up while seeing others camping in tents warming their hands at small fires (which were more smoky than burning since the wood they collected was mainly wet). We went to sleep early since there was really nothing to do and we intended to get up early to avoid crowds and tour buses at Milford Sound.

The night was shivering cold and sleep not the greatest. Zero degree line was around 1’000m altitude that morning so we assume the place we slept enjoyed about 5 degrees. We woke up at 7:30am: grey sky, thick fog and misty drizzle falling down from the sky. Everything was soaked in water, wet and cold. We had a short breakfast in our warmest clothing incl. the thickest jacket and socks we had and hit the road around 8am. 10mins after we left we were already glad that we came all the way (600km return) and suffered the shivering cold: breathtaking sharp mountain peaks opening up  between magical layers of clouds and fogs. Unusual, yet a bit creepy dark forests in lush greens all covered with a thick carpet of moss wherever there was space free on a branch. The last 30km on the Milford Road itself was an attraction itself. A 1.5km long one way tunnel with water dropping inside and hundreds of meters tall cliffs covered with sIMG_6342_ednow at the highest peaks. We saw many spots we wanted to stop but only allowed ourselves one lookout point since we wanted to get to the sound and pick an early boat. Our Mazda and the driver had to work hard for 1.5hrs (for 30km! so imagine how narrow and curvy this part has been) to reach our target. Once arrived at the parking areas (we were certainly not the first ones) we were even more certain that it was worth to come here. A magnificent scenery of sharp mountain peaks, all covered with forests and other plants growing wherever the rocks offered space, standing tall and reflecting in calm water laid peaceful in front of us. We took the smallest cruise boat available from Mitre Peak (80$ per person for a two hours cruise – 70$ is the benchmark for a good tour. The boat had 66 seatsIMG_6419_ed but only around 25 were booked. Pretty “private” again) and started to cruise the Sound around 30min later. What followed was one superlative after another. One peak taller and more mysteriously covered by clouds than the other. Waterfalls, hundreds of meters tall. Endless forests. The two hours cruise passed by very fast with two occasional showers for YinRu; one from ocean waves and another from waterfalls. Feeling like what we saw was almost like a dream we left the sound again (not only because there was nothingIMG_6771_ed more to do there but also because we knew it would be snowing the next day down to 700m so we didn’t want to get stuck on the pass with our van). On the way back we were one of the very few cars driving away from the sound. On opposite direction dozens of huge tour buses came in the area brining hundreds of tourists for a cruise. We were happy having had a peaceful time in Milford Sound and enjoyed stopping every now and then on the way back to see all the lookout points on the way back. The evening we camped at Manapouri with great lake views. The night was shivering cold again, around 7 to 10 degrees with almost 100% humidity.

Longing for warmer weather we started our ride back northwards to the center of the South Island. On our way we were friendly enough to pick up a young guy who was hitching. Josh from England accompanied us for about 2hrs sharing his experiences about New Zealand in the past 5 months while being on work and holiday visa. The day was basically a driving-back day – what might sound IMG_6796_edboring isn’t in New Zealand. The scenery changed dramatically from wet, fog covered farmlands in the south to endless lakes situated between “mad” looking mountains to New Zealand’s highest sealed pass road with spectacular panoramas over central Otago. We arrived just before dusk at our destination in Wanaka (actually we stayed in Albert Town, but yeah, who cares. You probably don’t even know where Wanaka is J). Heavy winds and pouring rains were on the evening program near the Clutha River. It was funny to see others driving their cars to the toilets not to get wet IMG_6860_ed(what camper are they?! We, of course, changed to shorts, slippers and rain jacket and walked there). The temperatures were a bit warmer and above 10 degrees so even YinRu thought she would be able to sleep well again. She did and was a happy baby again. And the next morning rewarded the wet night with blue skies and beautiful autumn scenery.

New Zealand is a beautiful country. So beautiful that the proud Swiss might even agree: okay, this might even be more beautiful than Switzerland. Magnificent mountains everywhere, each one looking different, as if they have different emotions. Lakes so IMG_6835_edhuge that you’d think they were endless. Climate so fast changing, you don’t know what is coming up next. Sunny this moment, windy next. Full of surprises, everywhere. Even at the petrol station at Wanaka it was a surprise to see the price for a liter of petrol to be NZD 2.10! In other cities petrol range from 1.92 to 1.99. See, you get the picture of the “individuality” of the places and surprises you find in life 😉 We accepted the fact that petrol prices for the next few days on the road would only be more “surprising” and refilled our Wendy there (Wendy is the name for our Campervan, derived from name of car rental company Wendekreisen and the car obviously not very powerful when accelerating hence a lady). Other than looking IMG_6873_edaround in Wanaka and soaking in the beautiful views, we also filled our day with good laughs. We had a fun outing at Puzzling World, a place for all ages to find fun in solving puzzles, looking for way out in a huge 3DMaze, and challenge the mind with optical illusions etc. (even there toilets were creepy, with 3D paintings on the floor giving you the feeling your falling down). It was really funny to try to walk through a tilted room where the ball rolls upwards instead of down. It is hard to explain, if you have time, make sure you visit Puzzling World once in your life…only few hours away from Malaysia or Switzerland 😀 Since the day was sunny and warm we hanged around at Lake Wanaka for some time before a scenic drive to the upper head of the same lake for night at a free campground and having a good shower in our Wendy (ok it sounds weird- showering in a woman?). We were the only ones at the campsite at first IMG_6893_edbut later that night some youngsters came and joined the party. They were actually not allowed to camp there as they did not have a self-contained campervan but well, when you are young you do all kinds of things even if you should not. Even when your mommy tell you not to eat that candy you would eat it. Anyways we are driving towards West Coast of NZ tomorrow and are pretty excited about it. We don’t know what awaits us as on West Coast other than there will be dozens of kilometers driving without passing by a single village, lush greens and rainfall in abundance (about 10 times more than the east side of the NZ alps). We will see how surprising things are!

Westland, the bottom third of the West Coast, a mix of farmland, rainforest and Glaciers is where we were heading next. The name WETland would actually fit it too, thanks to its great rainfall (with about 5m annually not as high as Milford Sound but still double to four times the amount of our hometowns). Lush greens, cows and sheep happily chewing their grass away everywhere. The drive from Wanaka to Westland was scenic, IMG_6966_edwe made a few stops to take photos on the way of crystal clear rivers, thin waterfalls, narrow one lane bridges and dark rainforest as we drove past Haast Pass Highway. After arriving at Haast, we decided to drive further to Jackson Bay which is about 50km south of Haast at the very end of NZ West Coast civilization (There are no more permanently inhabited places further south along the coast). The scenery along the drive changed rapidly: from half-desert plants like cactus to dense rainforests in just 5mins, no wonder this area is a world heritage area. Reaching Jackson Bay, a small little town (we mean it, it is really small) we had our best fish and chips by far. We walked off the extra calories from the fries IMG_6982_edduring a short forest walk and were positively surprised that at the end of the track we were at a completely remote beach (the rest of the pathway was closed due to a storm so we had to walk back). It is definitely representative of NZ too that the scenery is ever changing that you don’t know what awaits you. The contrast of landscape is huge here. Who would expect a walk through rain forest where one can see snowcapped mountains in the far and reaching a beach at the ocean in the end? After spending some time at Jackson Bay we decided to drive back in direction of Haast and find somewhere to camp on the way. It turned out to be, well, not a very wise decision. We drove for some time and in between were happy thinking that we found a nice spot to camp but they all had this “No Camping” or “Private Property” signs. Disappointed we continued all the way back to Haast and asked some locals there if we could do freedom camping. One of the three locals said No, the other two said Yes, so we decided it was alright to do freedom camping (we would probably have done it anyway). Upon the recommendation of a confident local, we went to Ship Creek where camping was allowed, but, when we reached the spot we found this evil “No Camping” signboard again. It was getting dark and we did not want to drive any farther so we pulled up a spot off the road to camp. Not a very wise IMG_7080_eddecision again: we were apparently the “intruders” to some mosquitos home. We woke up in the night hearing mosquitos and to our surprise we saw dozens of them! They must have entered from somewhere. Our campervan was not “mosquito-proof” (main suspect was the slide door as it was not tight enough on the corners)! After busy killing the mosquitos we both tried to sleep again but of course it was not easy not knowing how many mosquitos would be entering as we slept. However besides the evil mosquitos, we got to see a wild owl in the night! It used its big round eyes to look at us while we “watered” the plants.

“The horror of mosquitos” would describe our night/morning best. Not being able to sleep well after knowing our campervan had holes where mosquitos could enter, we got up early. To our HORROR, we saw COLONY of mosquitos in campervan!! We were busy killing them and we both killed at least 100mosquitos (we’re not exaggerating, each one of us lost count at 50 kills) That definitely was unforgettable. We still get shivers when we think of the mosquitos’ colony. However, we started our day very early since we could not sleep anymore. We had a IMG_7097_edshort stop at Lake Paringa which was very lovely and mystical. The mist was clearing up slowly in the morning and with some clearing fog hanging on the lake surface it looked wonderful. If we would have driven a little farther the evening before we would have been able to camp here and probably without the company of mosquitos. But well who would have known? The two famous Glaciers, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, were on the schedule today the 9th of April. We had nice weather to visit the glaciers today as some parts of the walkway could be closed if weather wasn’t good. We went to Fox Glacier first and then the Franz Josef. Both nice but Franz Josef, the big brother, being more magnificent. You just feel so small when you stand in front of the glaciers and realize once again how great Nature is. The walks to both Galciers took about 3 hours. The timing of the visit could not be IMG_7163_edbetter: the moment we walked back to the car park at Franz Josef we started to feel rain drops. The next minute it was pouring! Come to think of it, we probably have to thank mosquitos for waking us up so early 😉 We camped at Lake Mapourika/MacDonalds (same same but different MacDonalds guys) near the Glacier. The rain did not stop until the next day. We actually had a good time in our campervan observing some other campers setting up tents and such and were thankful of the simple things in life: having a roof above our heads. That was our new hobby, the next morning we had our good fun observing other campers preparing breakfasts, cleaning tents etc. After morning observation we drove to Hokitika, the next big town on West Coast. There was even a big supermarket and a good pizza restaurant there! We had our lunch at Fat Pipi Pizza which was good but had nothing to do with European pizza. The weather was still not clearing up yet so we IMG_7239_eddecided to reward ourselves with a good shower today after a week (we certainly did shower but in our van it’s really more a cleaning than showering). We needed to charge our laptop and other stuff so we spent a night at Hokitika Kiwi Holiday Park – the first time after a week in a campsite. We had a good wash of ourselves finally after a week! Scrub scrub scrub! We got to meet two bikers from England who decided to cycle all the way from North to South Island of NZ. They did 2400km in the past five weeks. Maybe one day when we lose our minds we would do that too. We enjoyed the “luxury” of being in a civilized town with internet and uploaded some photos (sitting in our car, next to a wifi hotspot at 9pm after visiting a glowworm place). Please go and like the photos if you have not.

On SIMG_7188_edaturday we woke up feeling refreshed and started the day with a big breakfast: bacon, omelets, bread and hot tea! Heaven! We checked out at 1030 (instead of 1000) and went to visit the Hokitika Gorge. The Gorge was supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful with milky turquoise water due to the “glacier flour”. Though it was not raining, the water looked less spectacular as it was not sunny enough. Well, one cannot be too greedy ya, this area receives up to 16.6m of annual rainfall so why should there be blue skies on that very day 😉 After visiting the Gorge we drove all the way to Greymouth. Realizing that Greymouth is a dirty IMG_7296_edmining town with nothing much to see, we had McDonalds (first time in NZ!) and left. The famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at Punakaiki were next on our schedule. It may sound a bit rush of schedule but the places were not far apart and we were trying to get there before the weather turned bad. West Coast has most rain in NZ so having  rain is pretty normal here. IMG_7305_edBut as a tourist having rain just means more trouble to go to each spot and since almost all attractions are “nature-based” one relies on rain-free time to do sightseeing. We were lucky to be able to see the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes when it was still a bit sunny, and, more importantly: shortly after high tide. The rock formation was definitely unique. Formed over millions of years, the rocks looked like stacks of pancakes. The Blowholes were amazing and cute at the same time. It did blow! (Ok get your minds straight)! The water would be pushed through a hole like a chimney and be blown to the air when there was enough water and force. It’s hard to explain, please refer to the photos attached. There’s even a sound when the water gets blown out.IMG_7265_ed

Welcome to Kiwi Paradise

On 28th of March 2015 we boarded a Kangaroo Flight (Qantas) and continued our journey to Christchurch, the Kiwiland, New Zealand. New Zealand has always been a fascinating place for us, being on the exact opposite end of the world (seen from Europe) we know very little of this country. We had a one hour delay on our flight but since we would have five weeks’ time ahead to explore we didn’t worry too much about that. J YinRu was pretty lucky with her seat and had a 2year-old behind her who apparently has affinity for touchscreens. We arrived in New Zealand at 1am. When we went to Australia and we thought Aussie’s custom check was particular and annoying, we would correct our statement after experiencing the NZ’s boarder check. So the cute little custom dog we had in Australia followed us here, and caught us for having two apples and a banana. We did declare all the foods and fresh products we had so we were not fined, the apples and banana had to be confiscated though. We had in total 3 individual controls to get through the custom: the dog, a custom officer manually screening the bags and another x-ray of luggage. Our hiking shoes were also checked if they were dirty. We finally got out of airport looking like tired backpackers who did not pack their luggage well (after they checked everything we did not have time nor the patience to pack our luggage nicely obviously). Roman was pretty happy arriving at NZ as things look of good standard (and expensive) as it is back home. A happy boy enjoyed drinking fresh and tasty tap water here, and colder weather pleased him too.

We woke up to lovely weather the next day, sunny and a comfortable 18 degrees (however as soon as the sun sets, it gets cold so fast that only a pullover or cardigan would not be enough to keep you warm!). We got up late and searched for a long time resized_IMG_5619for breakfast as the town was not so busy and did not offer a lot. The next two days we spent some time browsing in Christchurch, witnessed how much damage earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 brought and have permanently changed Christchurch. One could see remnants of Earthquakes everywhere in city center, buildings have collapsed, the once proud Cathedral of Christchurch partly destroyed, etc etc. In fact we reckon the entire city center of Christchurch is now one big construction side. However some nice graffitis around the city has brought some colors and life back in city. There was only one tram line in the city center and it even passed through a shopping center where we had our breakfast so it was pretty funny to eat a sandwich and see people waving at you out of a tram passing by 1 meter away from you. We did some essential organization stuff like walking 2hours to gresized_IMG_5615et to a telephone shop (for an NZ SIM card) only to find out that it was closed in the end and enjoyed the botanical gardens of Christchurch (one of the few sights not being destroyed). We wanted to have some dinner at a restaurant on Sunday, walked for 20minutes and realized that the restaurant did not exist anymore. The place is now a construction site so apparently the building collapsed during the earthquake. The address written online was just not up-to-date. By the way, we saw some funny guys with black rope and long long beards who look exactly like Gandalf in Lord of the Ring, some Maoris, and many people with tattoos in the city and found them all amusing.

On Monday the 30th of March we went to collect our “new” campervan and yaaay, that would be our house on wheels for the next five weeks! We were curious how much resized_IMG_5638space this campervan would provide as it has a toilet/shower in a van measuring about the same than the one in Australia. At first glance the campervan looked “more used” than the one we had in Australia, but still looks cool. With around 185’000kilometers on it’s wheels it travelled much further than the Apollo we had in Australia with only 74’000km on the back! We went for some general (mainly food) shopping (always the first thing to do after getting a campervan) and drove on to Banks Peninsula, a small town called Akaroa located about 80km to the south east of Christchurch, for our first evening. We took some time resized_IMG_5662to install ourselves in our new home the same evening after arriving at Akaroa, amazed that we’d have hot water heated by engines to wash dishes, hot showers and portable toilet for small/big businesses in here (in emergency). However, it took some effort to get our bed installed but we’re sure once we get the “fling” of it, it will be pretty fast. We were very excited about our new home on the wheels! And excited about refilling petrol because petrol is significantly more expensive than Australia and we initially planned a route with way more than 3’000km! One good thing NZ route inital planthat we can be happy of is that in NZ it is officially allowed to be camping in the wild on non-private properties if you have a self-contained unit. Which means if we want to, we can park up at a public campsite (free or cost a few dollars only) the whole time. So our first night with our new camper of course for free.

Akaroa is a small town near Christchurch that is pretty well known for its stunning landscape and wildlife. Since the Harbor Lyttelton which was nearer to ChCh was damaged by an earthquake, Akaroa recently attracts more cruises and tourists. The town’s vicinity offers amazing views of some mountains created by volcanic eruptions some 8million years ago (with Akaroa laying in the crater itself which is flooded with seawater today) and some wildlife that is only seen here in south NZ waters. Hectors dolphins, with its population of around 7500 individuals, are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world. Blue penguins are also the smallest penguins in the world and can be seen here. Late evening we searched for tours to have a cruise the next day. We called Tony (a tour operator) at 10pm the evening before to book for a tour that was at 10am the next day. He was prompt enough and so we could join this well-worth tour.

The morning of our boat tresized_IMG_5677rip was grey and overcast with misty clouds hanging around on all the hills (crater walls) around us. After a short breakfast inside of our van (outside was definitely too cold for us this morning) we got to the main wharf and met Tony and his dog Fluffy on board his boat. Only two other couples (all four of them in the age of retirement) were on the boat so we had nearly a private tour. Tony (a probably 1.6m “tall”, bold guy living almost alresized_IMG_5749l his life in a small little village next to Akaroa and who prefers to commute by rowing with a boat to his workplace) shared many stories and facts about the area and his life while cruising around the bay with us for 2.5hrs. We got to see some local mussel and salmon farms as well as wild seals, cormorants, albatrosses, blue penguins and, highlight of the cruise: Hectors Dolphins surfing around our boat numerous times. During the boat ride, Tony showed off his fishing skills and caught a fish within 1min! No joke it was that fast! Tony showed us how to fish NZ-style, the very fast NZ style. The day started off with grey sky and drizzles, when the tour ended it was blue sky and sunny. The down side of such a tour: we both do not havresized_IMG_5726e the strongest stomachs. We were both encouraging each other not to throw up when we were on the boat and we managed not to. As soon as we were back on land, YinRu did not feel sick anymore and was already craving for fish and chips. We drove back to “mainland” and south to follow our initial route after lunch. After around 2hrs and a part of it on shitty gravel road for about 20min we arrived at a village called Hakatere at the ocean for an overnight stay. It was a pretty weird, so called society-town, village. We went to pay at the caretaker’s home but the caretaker was not at home but he did leave some chickens outside to watch his house for him. At the beach there was a huge colony of cormorants and it stunk like hell from the brids’ poo (something like old dead fish and bird pop – we hope you get the impression how it would smell like). In the evening we checked the map of NZ and realized how big the South Island is (eeehm, how far did we drive the last two hrs? What? Only this?) and decided to cut out some of the stops of our intended route and to continue differently. While we were cooking dinner two locals stopped by. The first young fisher guy gave some advice on where to go and what to see and obviously disliked all Australian stuff. The second visitor stopping by our van was a grandpa who told endless stories for about half an hour (stuff like that he was going to sell his house to marry in four years when he will turn 80 or that he was going for knee operation). In the end he said: Enjoy your trip in paradise! …and off he went.resized_IMG_5796

We woke up in paradise the next day, still alive and not eaten by the Maori villagers or the birds from the colony, but in beautiful paradise with fabulous weather, blue sky and 20+ degrees. What more could we ask for? After having breakfast at paradise, we drive inland to central Canterbury. The hills got bigger and bigger and they soon became high mountains. Somehow not many plants were growing in this area, it had very dry vegetation with only few bushesresized_IMG_5811 and trees and the rest were mainly dried grassland.  After about an hours’ drive our jaws dropped when Lake Tekapo offered some first views on its crystal clear water. The views got even better as we went up to almost 1’000m high Mt. James to overview the area. Lake Tekapo felt more like an appetizer after seein the next of these two glacier lakes: even more jaw dropping Lake Pukaki proudly situation in front of snow covered, 3’700m tall Mt. Cook. resized_IMG_5868We were so blessed with the weather to be able to view Mt Cook with clear blue sky and a reflection on water as we were told by a tour bus driver that 70% of people coming here only see (or actually don’t see) Mt Cook because of its heavy cloud cover. We spent the evening and overnight at a scenic parking with the lake. Once again we realized how blessed we are with our self-contained campervan as we could stay in areas where most tourists couldnt. We tried out the showers which are not too bad – practical but not the same as normal of course. It was not the mresized_IMG_5878ost spacious one ever. And you try to save water so it has to be veryyy efficient! We were surprise that two people can easily shower using less than 30l of water. In the evening we had some gin and tonic with two girls about our age from Iran and South Africa who live together in London (apparently a couple) and ended up in bed late.

We bet not many people have experienced waking up surrounded by tour buses. Well we have! The next morning we were woken up Chinese and Japanese tourists jelling at each other where to pose for the perfect picture. The tourists were so loud (sad to say mainly Asians, some Indians even played their pop-Bollywood music loud. Geez!), we couldn’t sleep any longer. At least we got our revenge by having our underwear in their souvenir photos. They must be very happy about the nice contrast of our underwear hanging to dry with Mt Cook as background (ok it was not so bad. The underwear were decent ones. I mean they were not really in their photos no worries.).

After having a breakfast with tourists around us we drove through nowhere land on State route 8 to the Southern Alps part. It was a hilly/mountainous drive for 2 hours with resized_IMG_5892only 2 or maximum 3 villages on the way. We arrived in Cromwell (a tiny town with a population of about 3’000 and some of best wines from region, even well-known worldwide for its excellent Pinot Noir) early afternoon. It was our first time to visit a proper campsite with toilets/laundry etc. since we got to NZ. The campsite is managed by YinRu’s friend’s boyfriend and his family. So we were warmly welcomed and could stay the night for free. We had some wine tasting atresized_IMG_5923 a scenic house overlooking endless wine yards. We bought a bottle of (maybe overpriced, we don’t know) nice Pinot Noir to support the local economy. In the evening we had some long chatter with our new friend Cameron. It was once again interesting to see how different people of different regions speak, for instance the friend of ours, southlander, says “egg” as “uugg”. We are not linguists and hence not able to explain it well but the vowels were shorter or flat. Well google it and we are pretty sure you will find some good examples. As Cameron was free the next day we decided to have some fun 4WD track driving in the area the next day to experience the real wilderness (hopefully YinRu’s stomach will remain strong…).