Clearly we didn’t learn lesson 1 of campervan-ing. After already leaving my hiking booths behind once in New Zealand I did it again on the first morning in the South Island. This time we didn’t realise until we were about 3 hours down the road and so the boots that have taken me across African planes, down the Grand Canyon and up Mount Doom are no longer with me but most likely in the bin at Mistletoe Bay, New Zealand. I blame the rain that came on strong over the course of our first night on the South Island, it also rained on our first night on the North Island (when the boots were only momentarily forgotten), and so to keep them dry they were pushed further under the camper. Out of sight out of mind. Despite the loss, and the rain, we’ve had fun exploring the Sounds of New Zealand’s southern island. The Sounds being the wide water channels that follow out to the sea between high hill ranges. Our campsite at Mistletoe Bay was perfectly positioned on the Queen Charlotte walking track to do a bit of hiking to enjoy the views before the clouds rolled in.
When the weather arrived we headed away from the Sounds and Picton, where our ferry had landed, and down into the South Island. Peering through what can only be described as torrential rain, we made it to Abel Tasmen where we met up with our friends from Cardiff; Sally and Tomos, who are fellow campervan-ers to explore the South Island together. After patiently waiting for the grey weather to clear as we were promised it would we hired out a couple of twin kayaks to explore the Abel Tasman national park by sea. At this point, 3 days into our southern island exploration it was clear that this was going to be the moe spectacular island scenery wise. Everywhere you look huge mountains spring out of the sparkling blue waters, and Abel Tasman was no exception. We paddled along the coast and around an island home to many seals, the kayaks giving us a spectacular vantage point to watch them sunbath, swim, play and fight.
Heading back in land we found an empty cove to paddle ashore and stop for lunch. After getting eaten alive by sand flies we decided to head back the way we’d come to end our day. Our kayak hire rep had told us to perhaps bring extra clothes in case the lovely weather turned, at the time we couldn’t believe we would have anything than glorious sunshine all day. However, as we paddled back, the sky became ominously grey infront of us and the sunshine we had begun our day in was short lived after lunch. Thankfully the rain Worthing the clouds held off just long enough for us to get back to our start point, load the kayaks into a trailer and head back to head quarters where we could shower and clamber back into our trusty campers. (Sally and Tomos’ is a bit plusher than ours, but it’s not the size of the campervan…)
Continuing south we had a lovely day driving along the western coastline of the rough pacific sea. The scenery continued to stun as we rolled the campers up and down more hills past rocky cliffs that had been oddly shaped by the strong waves to create coves, blowholes, pools and locally named “pancake rocks” which had layered effects making them resemble, I suppose, stacks of pancakes although if they’d been served up in any American diners we visited I don’t think the USA would be the worlds superpower. We ended the day in Hokitika, the last town before the highway curved inland and off the coast, where the clear sky let us watch the sun set over the ocean from the back of our campers.
After a few days of driving we had gotten far enough south the be amongst the Southern Alps. As our car windscreen soon found out when it went head to head wth a falling rock and came off much worse. The rental company have given us the all clear to keep going with the crack that runs the width of the windscreen wipers as long as we’re cearful. At the moment it’s out of our eyeline and not letting in water so that’s good enough for us. The mountains were now high enough to be snow capped, despite only just coming out of summer suggesting that the snow is there year round. An early morning alarm was set to take us to Lake Matheson for some photo ops of Mount Cook and its reflection on the still early morning lake. After the sun had risen high enough to begin whipping us a breeze that rippled the reflection we headed off to find some glaciers.
The Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers are two of New Zealand’s biggest and flow down to close to sea level (not as close as they used to, but luckily for us they haven’t receded too far yet). Suzanne and I decided against taking a helicopter up onto them, instead just hiking to both of their terminals along spectacular Glacier carved valleys, which were wide and flat framed by rounded hills and had silver rivers running through them. We could walk to within 400m of both without risking our safety, which we were repeatedly warned was at risk now that the glacier are receding so fast making them quite unstable. Luckily, the giant rivers of ice were so big 400m was more than close enough to get a good look although we were perhaps a bit jealous of Sally and Tomos who had returned from a heli-hike upon the Franz Joseph with beaming smiles and equally beaming photos of ice caves and crevasses.
After a few days of rest bite, or at least days that had some prelonged sunshine, the torrential rain was back. Accompanied by some winds strong enough to wobble the camper a little when we were trying to sleep. But despite the obvious annoyance that rain brings at anytime but especially when you have to walk across a car park to the toiled, this wet weather actually was quite welcome. We were taking the Haast pass, away from the glaciers and the west coat inland and were told this drive was best done after or during some rain so that you could enjoy the waterfalls. We’ve seen a few water spectacular waterfalls since we left Gatwick in 2016, but none that actually fell from the hills onto the roads we were driving on! We hadn’t realised that rather than boosting existing waterfalls, heavy rain actually creates new ones! The hills all around us were filled with water cascading down their steep slopes finding he quickest route to the Haast river the could. No concrete road, campervan or even tree was stopping the, as we found out when Suzanne had to expertly manoeuvre our trusty home on wheels around a land slip that had been partly cleared, but mainly left in the road. I guess untill it stopped raining. To be fair I wouldn’t want to be out working in that weather either.
Once across the pass, the weather eased and we came up on the shores of Lake Wanaka before arriving in the town of Wanaka itself. Still a bit miserable we headed inside to Puzzle World which boasted the worlds first super maze (we also had 10% discount codes and it was still raining, which was probably a bigger draw than the maze). After enjoying the illusion rooms we went out to tackle the maze. 20 years of university education between the 4 of us we expected to fair resonably well. No such luck. We were stuck in the thing for over 45 minutes running into dead end after dead end before finally cracking it and getting out before night fall.
When the clouds cleared we were already pitched up at our campsite (a cricket pitch where the shower block was the changing rooms but at $5 per person one of the cheapest we’ve stayed at) and probably not quite ready for the drop in temperature that was understandable given we had moved closer to the South Pole and now in May which is the beginning of their winter. Suddenly the extra price that comes with a posher campervan didn’t seem so big, but at least we are in a solid structure rather than a tent. We survived the night with a few extra clothes on, but the sunshine was very welcome the next morning! Heading back towards the west coast our destination, Milford Sounds, was only 50 miles away but the roads meant we had a 350km drive to tackle. We managed about 300 of it before pitching up to a very basic department of conservation campsite. Once the sun had set the cold was even more obvious, again we survived the night but woke up the frost on the ground at 7am when we set off on the last part of our drive to Milford Sound for a boat ride around the sea valleys. The two hour boat ride was spectacular, despite being mainly in cold shade for most of it, we saw huge cliffs (including the largest in the world at over 2000m!), more seals, more waterfalls (which the boat sailed us in to) and some very friendly and playful dolphins who swam right up to the bow of our boat and gave us a little show. So despite the cold, not a bad way to spend a Friday!