Although I have already posted in my blog comments and photos referring to this visit, I have decided to produce one post covering the tour more fully. So here goes.
This trip started when I flew into Auckland from Sydney, Australia, on February 26, two days after the Christchurch earthquake.
I had planned to drive to Wellington, and then down the east coast of South Island all the way to Invercargill, visiting Milford Sound, before returning by whatever other route I fancied at the time. I had 15 days for the trip, so wanted to have easy driving days of a few hours, and lots of time to explore byways and meet people. By the way, you must excuse the fact that the text and the photos in this post are not always in sync. It’s my lack of experience in blogging but I hope you can figure out where is what, and find your way through.
Not wanting to stay in the city of Auckland (I dislike big cities in general) and as I was arriving on an afternoon flight, I had pre-booked a motel in Ngaruawahia (love the place-names in New Zealand). I have found that if one is arriving anywhere later than early afternoon, and planning to stay at a motel, it pays to book ahead, rather than find only “No vacancy” notices. It’s much easier on ones temperament if one knows that one of the booked rooms is yours. Anyway, I found the motel, which supplied all that I required, but then discovered that Ngaruawahia was quite a small town not blessed with an abundance of eating places, but finally found an acceptable meal in a pub. New Zealand pubs are a reliable source of food, always acceptable and sometimes excellent.
Rather than drive directly to Wellington I wanted to take a couple of days to explore and see the real New Zealand, rather than that to which tourists are directed, so headed for the west coast and New Plymouth, passing through such places as Otorohanga, Te Kuiti, and Waitara. Much of this road is along the coastal cliffs, so beautiful sea views and many places to stop and relax, providing the weather is fine; which it was.
So early afternoon I drive into New Plymouth and look for the “I-site” sign. For those who haven’t toured in this part of the world there is an excellent system for finding accommodation. Most towns and cities have at least one I-site, and often more, but one arrives and is greeting by the people on duty, more often than not a very pleasant young lady, who will inquire… what sort of room you need,( ie. cooking or not)…what suitable beds….how much you are expecting to pay. This person will then show what is available in a price range, and you take your pick. The I-site then books the room you choose, takes the payment, and gives a voucher and detailed directions to the motel. You present the the voucher at the motel reception desk and you are directed to your room. I’m sure similar systems are in place in other parts of the world, but in New Zealand it works exceptionally well. The I-site will also book ahead to other places on your planned tour if you wish, and it was at this time that I was warned that, because of the quake, and the need for accommodation for so many Christchurch people, all motels and hotels on the east coast of South Island were fully booked.
I had planned to travel down the east coast of South Island, stopping at Kaikoura, a town I had visited previously, but this was now not possible, so obviously a change of plans have to be made. Must study the map so I know where I’m off to once I leave the ferry at Picton, South Island. But still more than a full days travel before I have to make any decisions. In the meantime the motel for the night in New Plymouth is fine and plenty of places to eat here. Don’t really remember what or where I ate, but for sure I ate.
Next morning away south. Again very much along the coast with lovely views and places to go through, like Stratford with it’s campanile. I wasn’t there at the right time to hear the chimes, but stopped for a coffee across the road and got a picture of the tower with it’s clock.
Also through Wanganui and Levin, and back onto highway 1, and so on to Paraparaumu, a quite small town where I planned to stop for the night. At one of these places along the way I stopped for lunch of a pie and a pop.
Gotta tell you about these pies. Every community has a “Bakery”, and these bakeries sell, among other delicious things, these pies. Snack for one person size, actually a good snack, flaky pastry crust, hot… sometimes too hot, fillings of various meats, also catering for the vegetarian, and of all that I sampled I never found one that was not delicious. A pie and a pop (or whatever beverage) made a perfect travelers lunch. No waiting and not expensive either.
I also spotted a botanical gardens, probably the same place I stopped for lunch, and had a relaxing wander taking photos along the way.
And so into Paraparaumu, find a motel, and eat. Don’t remember but likely fish and chips. It seems everywhere has a fish and chips shop. A variety of fish, most of the names I never saw before, but all good, and a generous serving of chips. Hey, a good filling meal for $6.00 NZD. I found my way to the beach and got this pic of Kapiti Island. Note the lack of crowds on the beach…. And this was a nice warm day.
It's March 1st and I'm heading for Wellington and the Interislander Ferry to sail to South Island. Someone said it was a twenty minute drive but allow time for the traffic, so I allow ample time, and a good thing I did. The traffic is move a meter, stop, move another meter, stop again. The twenty minutes becomes an hour but eventually we leave the commuters and drive into the collection area for the ferry. I'm not the first there but not too many ahead of me, and time to stretch and enjoy the sunshine. There's boats to watch, large and small, and I'm a people watcher too. It's my interest to wonder where they are from and where they are going. I spot a ramp up ahead and took a pic of it while guessing how fast you have to go up the ramp to jump to the other side. (Just the way my mind works, folks). Eventually the ferry comes in sight, (It's large), and finally backs into the dock.
It takes roughly 30 minutes for the ferry to unload, and another 30 minutes to reload. Two trains, numerous trucks and buses, several motorcycles, and hundreds of cars. As I said, this ferry is large. I don’t have to go up the ramp I was fantasizing over, in fact I don’t go up any ramp at all as I am going on the train deck at dock level. An easy drive on but three floors of stairs to climb (yes there's a lift/elevator) to the lounge deck where there are restaurants and bars, and also the view. Seems we have some school trips with us also for the three hour ride. Once out of harbour the passage is between a series of headlands and islands, never out of sight of land, just beautiful scenery all the way, and the occasional ferry going in the opposite direction.
I must tell you about a very moving incident on this ferry ride. It’s exactly one week after the Christchurch earthquake, and we are told over the PA system that at exactly the same time to the minute as the quake we are asked to observe two minutes silence to remember those lost. All passenger services are closed, and right on the button the ship’s horn sounds, and for two minutes not a sound is heard other than the throbbing of the ships engines. Even those school kids, who seconds before had been running and yelling as kids do, were totally silent until the horn sounded again. There had been a request for all traffic in New Zealand to stop for this two minutes, and after experiencing the almost eerie silence on the ship I can well believe that this actually happened.
So the ferry trip is over and it’s back in the car and through Picton, South Island. I have decided to head west after going though Blenheim, and head for Westport and then on down the west coast. As Westport is a fair drive away I phoned ahead and booked a motel there. The views are lovely, and the road is ok but it seems that New Zealand repairs their roads during tourist season, (sound familiar?) and with the extra traffic, as all tourists are on the same diversion as myself, the roadworks signed 30 kph do a good job of slowing traffic. As those who know me are aware, 30 kph is not my favourite speed to drive. I finally arrive in Westport and find the motel, and then head out to find supper. There’s a fish and chip place looks good, and it’s close to the sea shore, so fish and chips near the beach it is. It’s good, as usual, but the helping of chips is more than ample, so some are offered to a few gulls who are waiting impatiently. Maybe you are not aware of this, but gulls, when fed, let out a call which must carry for ever, and within seconds reinforcements arrive. Bedlam reigns until the chips are finished, but there must have been a thousand gulls fighting for every scrap. Would I exaggerate???
Next morning I head south down the west coast. This is the rain forest area of New Zealand, and what do we find in a rain forest??? You got it… Rain !!! Sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes light, and very occasionally none at all, but an ample helping of rain. I called into the Fox Glacier, and I know I took at least one photo, but can't find it anywhere. It'll turn up one day when I'm not looking for it. I have my eye on a spot on the map called Haast for one overnight stop, which will leave me an easy day from there to Te Anau, my jumping off point for Milford Sound; the next planned part of my tour. Lots of places along the way to stop and explore. Seal and penguin viewing spots, interesting rock formations. I also come across a pub for sale at one spot I stopped for a break. Only trouble ??? it's closed. Them's the breaks.
And so on through such towns as Greymouth, Hokitika, and numerous small towns and villages, while every passing lane is under reconstruction, and the rest of this road is a collection of twists and turns, and up and down, and one must just follow along after the vehicle in front, and try not to get too frustrated. Eventually see a sign for Haast Township. Turn in looking for the town, and here we are. A motel, in fact two motels, and a convenience store. The road in takes a couple of turns, all to the left, and back on the highway, all of 300 meters. Oh wow; but the motel has vacancies and it’s that time of day, so good enough. Oh yes the convenience store is also a diner, and they do fish and chips. Fair enough, but no ATM, no internet, no bank, no fuel station. Has to be the smallest place I stopped. Oh yes…. no photo. The motel was fine by the way.
From Haast the road turns inland past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Wanaka looks to be a nice little town, and I have a night to spare, so I find a motel and have a wander around. Next morning on south past Lake Wakatipu, and the road finally turns west to Te Anau. Lovely scenery all the way, but those interminable roadworks with their 30kph signs, and on and off rain also. Hard to admire the view when driving through that. Te Anau seems to be in existence solely as a place to stop the night before driving to Milford Sound, and caters very much to the tourist trade with restaurants and cafes of every type. I got a pizza at a very genuine seeming Italian place and the pizza was very different to any I have had before, but very good. Quite and experience. This was the one time I had to stay in a hotel ans there were no motels available. Just less convenient when getting luggage from car to room and back out. Also no toaster to make my breakfast toast, so had to get breakfast out. It was fine but different. Once again I know I took photos in Te Anau but they have vanished.
Google Earth tells me that from Te Anau to Milford Sound for the cruise will take me 1hr 23mins. I inquire at the hotel front desk and am told "90 minutes but allow for the traffic". . The road for that part of the trip was busy… twisty….had roadworks…. Not designed for F1 speeds, and that would be the driving required for the 90 minutes suggested on Google Earth. At one spot it was such a twisting, steep, narrow road that to stay behind the vehicle in front my car was stinking of hot brake pads. Along with all the normal road hazards to get to Milford, there is a tunnel. It seemed several hundred meters long, room for only one vehicle so lights at each end, and the road surface is anything but highway quality. All one can do once in the tunnel is to follow the vehicle in front. Scarey. I allow a good two hours and have to run from the parking lot to catch the cruise boat. Hey, I’m no longer at run-for-the-bus age…. Luckily the captain knew I was on the way so he was there waiting for me to check in.
The cruise was just fantastic. I expected a crowded boat but in fact there was all sorts of room. Free coffee too. The cliffs on each side of the sound drop straight into the water, except for the odd corner where there were rock ledges for seals to bask on. It seemed that every few yards (meters?) a waterfall either plunged directly in, or cascaded down the cliffs amid clouds of spray, throwing out rainbows wherever the sun hit them. It was a sunny day so lots of that. There were other cruise boats but not enough to spoil the views. Kayaks and fishing boats also.
The mountains on each side soared into what clouds there were so in many places it appeared that the mountains wore white hats. The tour took us right out to the Tasman Sea which pushed waves in large enough to feel the boat heaving; and this was no little dingy. Finally we turned back toward Milford, and in places ran very close to the cliffs. Also we went past a restaurant which apparently has no road. Just water access, and if one wishes you can be dropped off, have a meal, and catch a later cruise boat home. A novelty for sure.
Finally back to the dock and ashore again. I'm so glad I didn't miss this cruise. . A long way to come but worth it.
Once more on the road, again through Te Anau, and with no deadline the driving is more relaxed, but the tunnel is still there and still scarey. Then south toward Invercargill. It’s been a tiring day already so just want to get there and find a motel. The only place of any size along the way is Winton, and likely I might have fueled up there but that would be all. Invercargill at last and the I-site then the motel. Quite an impressive place, so much so that I actually took a photo of it. As you can see it had been raining. I remember stocking up at a supermarket here but can’t remember where I ate. Unusual for me. Maybe something from the deli and ate in my room.
On the map you may get the impression that Invercargill is on the south coast. In actual fact there is a drive of twenty kilometers further to the south to Bluff, and a viewing point which claims to be the southernmost point of South Island. There is another small island, Stewart Island, which is even further south but I wasn’t planning on going quite that far. Got a photo of it in the distance, and also a pic of a signpost which shows directions to all sorts of places in the world. Viewing spots here for seals and penguins also , and seals were plentiful, but of penguins there was not a sign. Wrong time of day or time of year? I have no idea. No.... the south pole was not in sight :)
OK… I’ve achieved the object of the exercise and explored to the southern tip of New Zealand, and now I head east and north to travel up the east coast of South Island. I have received the good news that, with those from Christchurch whose homes are still standing are able to return home, and those who were no so lucky, are finding more permanent accommodation, so the motels and hotels are again available. My next goal is Dunedin, and the highway leading there is highway 1, so it should be fast and easy driving. How gullible I am !!! I find I’m in a stretch of the twistiest, most up and down, narrow highway so far encountered. Beautiful scenery where one looks down from a sharp, narrow corner, into a valley hundreds of meters below, protected from the drop by a wire fence, and with the ever-present roadworks at 30 kph with which to contend. No chance of photos here folks. Sorry ! So on through Mataura and Gore, Balcalutha and Milton, and finally more reasonable highway with sea views, to Dunedin, a city with strong Scotts background, and a center of education, so very much catering to students from all over the world. The city centre is The Octagon, and would you believe, they are resurfacing the streets? Chaos is not the word to describe this, and parking is almost non-existant, but I eventually squeeze into a spot only half the size my car requires, and find the I-site. Yes, a motel room is available, and after weaving through the maze of “no entry” signs and orange cones, I’m in. At least here in Dunedin the sights to see are all very local. Of this I’m delighted, as I have no desire to move my car again until I am heading out on the road north. I spot a magnificent building which turns out to be city hall, and also a pub advertising lamb shanks and guinness. Sounds like heaven and proves to be as good as it sounds. “To die for” is the phrase which comes to mind. Here I must apologize to any Scots who might read this, as I omit to get a photo of Robbie Burns statue, which sits in the centre of the Octagon. Looked at it, read the inscription, but failed to click the camera. Shame on me.
I think I’ve had it with twisty, narrow roads, and decide to head up highway 1 for a while. I still want to visit Kaikoura; It has good memories; but look for a spot not quite that far for my next overnight. Ashburton seems to fill the bill for distance and direction, but just through Palmerston there is Shag Point, a lookout spot for seals and penguins. I would love to see those funny, non-flying birds in the wild, but again, lots of seals but not a sign of the illusive penguin.
Oh well, the scenery is great. I take a stretch break in Oamaru, the place where they quarry a beautiful, light yellow, soft rock, much used in buildings in this part of New Zealand. There are also sculptures in this same rock beside the road where I find a parking spot. Oamaru also offers a botanical garden and a wander beside a placid stream. I love the peace of it all. The sculpture is two children looking down onto fairies and animals. Makes me think of Peter Pan.
But I must continue north, so off again beside the ocean and through Timaru, then Temuka and Winchester, and so to Ashburton. Once I’ve found and checked into a motel I decide on something different in the way of meal preparation, and yes I can use the barbeque. So off to the supermarket, and I return with a steak, potato, and fresh corn. Less than an hour later everything is cooked to perfection, the steak nearer medium than the medium/rare which I prefer, but still delicious. Maybe you should know that I do all the cooking at home, so preparing this meal is no biggy, but it’s still a welcome change to eat non-restaurant food.
A good night’s sleep and once again on the road, toward Christchurch this time. Not along the coast now but fair enough scenery, across the Rakaia river, and very soon the approaches to Christchurch. There’s no chance to visit the devastated city. The last thing they want right now are tourists gawking at the destruction they are struggling to clear up. Traffic is guided through the outskirts and then again onto Highway 1 and I continue north past Kaiapoi, through Cheviot, and on to Kaikoura. Again the road follows the coast so ocean views on my right, and mountain views to my left. This is the Seaward Kaikoura Range.
I had booked ahead for a motel in Kaikoura, just to make sure there was accommodation available, and having picked a place from the guide book I was informed the price would be $70. Of course one wonders what a $70 motel will be like, as a common price is $100 or more. What a surprise when I arrived !!! What I get is a self contained suite, on the bottom floor of a house, which has a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean, and away to the north a view of snow capped mountains. I am welcomed as if I am returning home, and even given the use, at no extra charge, of a washing machine all to myself. I just had to take a wander along the seafront and into town, remembering the week I spent there a few years back. No, it hasn’t changed; it’s still beautiful. Had to get a pic of the novel sign for the motel, also one of the mountains to the north of the town, and you know me, can't resist a sunrise taken from my front door at the motel.
It’s a short drive from Kaikoura to Picton for the ferry back to North Island, so lots of time to stop and view the sights. . Got some shots of rock formations and sea views, but once again no penguins. Those little critters are illusive. And sorry again folks for my inability to get the text and pics in sync.
Lots of small places along the way, but the only one of any size is Blenheim, then on to Picton and the ferry. Once again I’m fated to be on the train deck, so once again the climb up 3 decks to the lounge, but this time no memorial sessions, and I’m not aware we had any school trips on this one either. I got some shots of Picton as we left. Not a big place but very busy with the ferry traffic.
Also I will show a pic of a wind farm spotted from the ferry on the southern tip of North island. There were loads of these massive windmills along the hills,you can see them if you look closely.
What we did get this time was dolphins, quite a lot of them, but I still don’t know if they were South Island dolphins saying bye, or North Island dolphins welcoming us into Wellington. Fun to see anyway but not close enough or posing enough to get a photo. Off the ferry after the three hour trip and LOOK OUT !!!! We got traffic. I had almost forgotten what serious traffic was and many of them are anything but patient. Must forgive them as they were going home after a hard day at the office.
My target for today is Upper Hutt. Not a long drive but it’s been quite a long day, with the three hour ferry ride, plus the waiting time at Picton. One has to be at the dock at least an hour before sailing time. Finally I find the Upper Hutt motel and it’s fine, so get a meal and settle in for the night.
It’s March 10, and I have arranged to meet Sonya Spellers, an internet friend, and Trish Penn whom I have met before, in Auckland on 12th. Trish is the good friend who showed me around Auckland on my first visit to New Zealand, and we have met up a few times since then, so I have two and a half days to do whatever. I decide that Napier and Thames are convenient overnight places, and which fit in with the time available for the rest of my tour. On the road again and great weather for the drive east and north, through Masterton, and between the mountain ranges, Tararua on my left, and Puketoi and Waewaepa on my right. Beautiful country and good highway all the way, through Waipukurau and into Hastings; no not the one remembered for the Battle of. Time here for a wander round the city centre and a visit to an art centre. I spot an I-site and drop in to book a motel in Napier, which is really just up the road. Hastings is a great place to explore, with lots of traffic free wandering area and fountains and things. And a clock tower of course.
Finally away for the last bit of highway of the day into Napier. The directions given me by the charming young lady at the Hastings I-site prove to be perfect; they generally are; and the motel is just fine. A whole evening to spare so I get a meal and decide to visit yet another botanical gardens. The garden is fine but very much on the side of a rather steep hill, not relaxing wandering at all, but good for a few photos.
I decide to take a look at the Napier sea front. Flatter walking but no clean sand to walk on here. All that I found was gravel, and hard walking too, but a few memorable sights there too, such as Pania of the Reef. There's a legend there of course but, sorry, I don't know it. I'll bet google does.
Finally I followed the road along the shore and back to my motel.
There’s an area to the east of Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula, popular with Aucklanders as a resort, and although time restrictions don’t allow me to tour this area, I decide to at least take a look at the town which acts as a gateway to the region. After all it’s sort of on my route anyway. The town is Thames, but to get there a viable road goes by Taupo and Taupo Lake, so why not take another look here? so from Napier I head north along the coast and then turn west on highway 5 for Taupo. Just north of Taupo is Huka Falls. I visited the falls on a previous visit to the area, but decide it’s worth another look, and it’s only just off the highway anyway. The only trouble with Huka Falls is that every tourisrt just has to go there so it’s always a crowd. Pay toilets too, which is a blast from the past. I guess these things have to be paid for somehow. The rush of water, through a comparatively narrow gorge, is tremendous, as it flows from Taupo Lake to the valley below and to Lake Aratiatia, in the process generating a major part of New Zealands electricity.
And so on northward, through Tokoroa and Pataruru, Matamata, Te Aroha and Paeroa, (You just have to love the place names…. I do anyway) and so to Thames, on the Firth of Thames, an inlet from the South Pacific.
Thames is no big city, and doesn’t even pretend to be, but it’s a pleasant enough place, catering to the tourists with a main street lined with cafes and restaurants. I found the old standby, a pub which served an excellent chicken curry and a glass of guinness….maybe two glasses. It went down well. I just had to take a photo of the sunset as seen from my motel. Just a silhouette, but it caught my eye at the time.
Next morning I explored a walkway along the shore, but the tide was out so just an expanse of mud flats. Lots of birds though. Time to head for Auckland, and much of this drive is on highway 1, and traffic. Oh boy, was there traffic? I found out later that much of it was heading into the city for a rugby final. New Zealanders love their rugby.
I was in good time to pick up Trish and go visit Sonya, but as this is covered in the post which shows directly below this one I won’t go over it all again. It was a great trip and I’m glad I made it. I might come back again one day.