March 3-11, 2007
Taking our time in the morning, we drove up to the base of the Tasman Glacier. Well we couldn't actually drive all of the way there, we did have to hike about 20 minutes to the top of the glacial moraine so that we could look down on the lake, the icebergs and the glacier.
Heading back out, we stopped in the town of Mt. Cook to run some errands and then drove the 50km back to the main highway. Along the way, we stopped once again to admire the color of Lake Pukaki and to have lunch. Continuing east to Lake Tekapo, also beautiful but with a different jewel-like green, we stopped to watch the tourists admiring the Church of the Good Shepherd and a statue to the collie dog. We continued on through the quaint towns of Fairlie and Geraldine, finally making camp at the Bridge Reserve at Arundel. This was a nice park along the Rangitata River that had bathrooms and tables and was free! Once again we met Kiwi campers who liked to visit and share stories.
The next day we visited the Peel Forest which is among New Zealand's most important indigenous conifer (podocarp) forests. The forest consists of totara, kahikatea and matai trees. There is a huge totara tree in the forest that is somewhere between 800 and 1,000 years old and its circumference is 9m (28ft). We continued on our way and stopped at the beautiful Rakaia River Gorge to have lunch. We drove literally to the river's edge and pulled out our chairs. We watched the comings and goings and relaxed for a while.
We continued on and arrived in Christchurch mid afternoon. Nothing much was open on Sunday afternoon, but we walked along the Avon River watching the punters glide along and we found a bagpipe competition going on in a park and watched the precision marching and playing of the groups. We had a nice dinner out and then had to find a place to spend the night. Thinking that since we were in a city, we would stay in a campground, we followed our map to a "holiday park". As soon as we saw the campground, we started having misgivings - it looked like a resort, complete with a swimming pool with screaming children, and the "camping" spaces were little more than parking spots. After telling the receptionist we didn't need any special services (like electricity) she informed us that the cost would be $33.00NZ! After picking our jaws off the floor, we politely declined and left to find another spot. We ended up spending the night in a quiet parking lot compliments of the Bank of New Zealand.
The next morning we ran some more errands and then spent the afternoon getting an oil change and lube at the Fuso dealer. We make sure that we keep up with the truck maintenance because we don't want to be left stranded on the side of the road!
The next two days were spent visiting with some "new old friends" in Christchurch who were introduced to us via the internet by a friend from home. Turns out, Phil and Kerry were involved in the world record breaking run of the "Flying Kiwi" a sidecar motorcycle that broke the world speed record back in 2005! And our friend Craig who introduced us is the American who bought the "Flying Kiwi", brought it back to the U.S. and broke the American speed record last Sept. This coming September, Craig is going to try to break Phil's world record! Anyway, we spent a wonderful couple of days wandering around the city, eating traditional Kiwi food and swapping stories about motorcycles and travel.
One of the few things we would like to improve about the Fuso is our gas mileage. One of the suggestions Phil had was to remove our front drive shaft. So after Phil helped Don with some covers for the exposed ends, we removed the drive shaft and we'll see if it improves our mileage.
After spending the last couple of days in Christchurch, it was time to head north again. All of the sudden, it seems that our time in New Zealand is starting to run out. Having about two weeks to make it back to the North Island and up to Auckland, we called our contact at Bluebridge Ferry and made reservations for the boat back to Wellington in two days time.
Driving up the eastern coast, we visited the wine making region in Waipara. Our destination was the town of Kaikoura where boat trips to see whales and dolphins are offered. We decided to stop a bit early after we passed several nice camping areas along the water. We chose the Goose Bay-Omihi Scenic Reserve which was right on the water, although also just off the roadway and near the train tracks. Surprisingly though, the sound of the surf really muted the other sounds. Right after we parked, we walked down to the water and found two beautiful paua (abalone) shells.
We did drive on through Kaikoura and found it to be a cute town. Some imaginative soul decided to build a great viewpoint on top of the town water tanks at the highest spot on the peninsula. Looking out from the top we could see the ocean on both the north and south sides of the peninsula, a really nice view.
This being our last day on the South Island, we visited the beautiful wine region at Blenheim and Renwick. There we saw rental bicycles with custom bags to hold bottles of wine, interesting. It was a beautiful day as the promised rain storm never materialized. We then drove the last hour to Picton where we had to check in for our ferry at 7 am. We drove past town and found a nice park and campsite where we spent some time talking with a couple of scullers at the boat club, then watched as they balanced themselves into the narrow boats and launched into the bay. Turned out that our nice campsite wasn't so nice as we were kicked out by a private security guard at 9pm, a first for our time in NZ. We simply found a new spot a mile or so down the road toward town.
The ferry trip back to Wellington was uneventful but a bit colder and rougher than our first crossing, so after watching the seals for a time we found seats inside. After arriving in Wellington, we went to Te Papa Museum. The Te Papa is referred to as the Museum of NZ and its exhibits celebrate the country and its people. There were exhibits on the immigrants and their effect on the country. Our favorite set of exhibits where the Maori collections. These collections include Maori artifacts, stories of their migration from Polynesia and includes a marae and other Maori buildings. It was fabulous. We camped at a nice turn out along Baleana Bay in Wellington.
In the morning, we watched high speed boats zoom by as they practiced for a race that afternoon. We then joined the throngs of bicyclists, joggers and exercise freaks as we did our coffee walk along the shoreline. Driving north out of Wellington, we saw a bunch of boats and water skiers then found out that the World Championship of water skiing was taking place. Never a dull moment in Wellington.
We read about the Mt. Bruce National Wildlife Center where the Department of Conservation (DOC) has been breeding native birds to return to the wild. They have a nocturnal kiwi house where we got our first and probably only sightings of the kiwi. The nocturnal house is designed so that it is night inside while it is day outside. This way visitors can see the kiwi as they are only active at night. We also saw Kakas, which are a type of parrot; and 30" eels in a stream. There were other aviaries where we saw other rare birds that we had been unable to see in the wild. We camped at a great free spot, the Anzac Scenic Reserve north of Norsewood.
Getting an early start the next morning, we drove into the town of Hastings so that we could visit their Farmer's Market. There were stalls selling just about everything imaginable, but the best part was that most of them were giving free samples! We sampled avocados, venison sausage, olive oil, pickled peppers and 6 different types of cheese. We purchased some of the avocados, a loaf of bread and some raspberries. We would have liked to buy more, but little more than a week left in our trip, we didn't think we could eat the large quantities that some of the packages came in.
After visiting the market, we drove through Hastings to admire the beautiful Art Deco style buildings. Hastings and the nearby town of Napier were destroyed in an earthquake in 1931 and both towns were rebuilt in the Art Deco style popular at the time. The buildings have been lovingly maintained and were really enjoyable to look at. Leaving the town, we visited our last winery region in New Zealand. The grape growing areas of New Zealand are really lovely to drive through with the last fields of vines and all the wineries have been in nice buildings. I would also say that they are quiet except for the loud booming of the noise makers they use to scare away the birds that can quickly decimate the grape crops. One of the vintners told us that he likes to tell his guests that they are filming a war film nearby, that's what it sounds like.
Following our map, we then took a roundabout way to the coast and found, once again, another free campsite on the beach. This one had signs posted that allowed a two night stay for motorhomes , but allowed no trailers or tents. We couldn't figure out the restriction since the site had both bathrooms and tables, but since we are in a motorhome, we didn't put too much thought into it. We found a nice spot at the end of the beach, while all the other motorhomes clustered in a circle in the center. Go figure.