New Zealand Thoughts

Now we’ve safely moved on to Oz, I can put down a few random thoughts about how we found New Zealand. People always say that Kiwis are a friendly bunch, but to be honest I don’t feel like I met enough of them to tell (lovely Loveridges aside!). It may have been due to use having the kids and a campervan, but we were very much in our own little bubble, tootling through the countryside. When we did get to some form of habitation (which is pretty thin on the ground anyway) most of the people working in the tourist areas are Brits and other travelers.

One thing we did see plenty of though was New Zealand’s roads. There are big posters up everywhere urging safe driving with the slogan ‘New Zealand’s roads are different’ – and they are. Outside of a mile or two of dual carriageway near the major cities everything else is at best two lanes of bumpy tarmac. The state highways still have ‘One Lane Bridges’ that you have to stop and give way at every mile or so. Its not unusual for a highway to have un-controlled level crossings or random stretches of gravel. The country seems to be in a constant state of war to maintain the little road it has – lots of South Island had a major road repair happening every ten miles or so – up near Kaikoura there was more road-work than road in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake. Most of the road works had people at either end controlling the traffic with little stop/go signs – must be a dull old job! The other thing we noticed was traffic – or total lack of it. I think the South Coast was quietest and we would often go an hour on a highway without seeing another moving vehicle (except all the diggers, graders, steam rollers etc. performing the road repairs). The road up to Milford Sound is renowned for being busy and its true – at one point on our drive we were in a queue of five or six campervans and cars!

The overall impression I got from NZ though was of how unspoilt large chunks of it are, and how determined they seem to be to keep it that way. Perhaps half the land has been trashed to provide grazing for sheep and cattle and another big chunk has gone to farm pine trees (very fast growing apparently). The remainder however is totally wild in a way you don’t really see in Europe. In lots of places thick forest or snowy mountains stretch off as far as you can see in all directions with no roads and only a couple of hiking paths cut in to it. I’d love to go back and do some of the longer ‘Great Walks’ out in to the National Parks at Queen Charlotte Sound, Abel Tasman and Fjordland. It also left me with an unexpected feeling of sadness and loss for how much damage human beings have done to the rest of our environment – its not until you see such a massive chunk of untouched nature that you appreciate quite how artificial our whole landscape is back home. Its sad to think how quickly we’ve ruined the half of New Zealand that is all pasture and pines in just a hundred years of (European) occupation. I also found the whale watching surprisingly moving. Seeing whales is something I have always wanted to do but had sort of assumed that they would be pretty much extinct before I could afford either the time or money to see them.

Speaking of the short period of Western occupation – I adore the Kiwi attitude to history. They seem to love it despite (or perhaps because) they don’t have very much of it. You often saw road signs pointing off: ‘Historic Place 10km’. No need to explain what the ‘historic place’ is – they just assume you’ll want to go and find out. Or perhaps its kept vague because when they do explain you can feel a little underwhelmed; I think the least enticing offer was a 5km walk to ‘an historic watchtower’ which the small print admitted was built in the 1960s! Still, at least I can feel that we’ve got an historic farmhouse in Willingham to come back to!

Kayaking

We went kayaking in Franz Joseph. We drove to a kayak centre, got geared up and drove to the lake. We went on a glacial lake. The lake was cold like ice but very clear, I could see fallen tree trunks on the bottom. We kayaked to Echo Bay. Echo Bay is a brilliant place to echo.

 

At the end of Echo Bay we went in to a creek and got stuck a few times. The creek was full of trees, flax and moss. It was damp and cloudy so we couldn’t see mountains.

 

We reached the end of the creek and tried a spicy leaf called horopito. It was a bit like eating very spicy chillis. To get rid of the taste, I drank some lake water then we went back. On the way we stopped to see some waterfalls. They were smaller than I thought they would be. The waterfalls were really only trickles of water. I enjoyed it but it was hard work except for the times I lay down and let Mum do all the work!

Kayaking

On one lovely damp morning we went kayaking because all of us had been good the day before that. We had decided I was going with Dad, Cara with Mum and Jago with Jonny. Then we drove all the way to the kayaking centre and our guide was Jonny. Next we all put our gear on which was warm and when it rained it pattered on your hat. When we started it was peaceful but when we went a little further it got harder to paddle. It felt like the water got thicker and it definitely got deeper. I think I enjoyed it more because it was my first time kayaking on a lake and because on the sea you cannot see such a good a view. Suddenly we were half way, we stopped, Jonny gave us some spicy leaves, then we had a Muesli bar and some water to cool down.

Not long after we set off again and had a photo taken, then we came to a mini waterfall. All of us went bang straight into each other literally! When we finished I felt very wet and thought I would like to do it again even though I was so damp. My arms couldn’t do anything more after so much paddling!

Kayaking

After the Able Tasman national park we went to pancake rocks which were some rocks that were piled on top of each other to make it look like lots of pancakes stacked up. We then drove up to a place called Franz Josef where we did some kayaking.

 

First we drove to the place where we got into the van and the guide ( called Jonny ) drove us to Lake Mapourika where we were kayaking. The guide pulled up next to the water so he could get the kayaks in easally. He then gave up some clothes we had to get into. There was a thing called a skirt that we put around our waist, a life jacket, some gloves that went on the padles and a waterproof coat and trousers. We then got in our kayaks. I got in a red one with the guide, Cara and Mum went in a yellow one, Dad and Piran got another red one and the  other 2 people in the tour with us went in another yellow one. The guide pushed us into the water and we set of.

We paddled into the lake and round a small bend. The guide told us we were going to go down the edge of the lake instead of the middle. We went round the lake and came to a small bay called ehco bay. In it there was a small river thing. We went down the river all the way to the end where we ate some leaves that were very spicy. Next we went back down the river and out the bay. We then went back seeing lots of waterfalls. After we saw the waterfalls we went into another bay where we got a picture. Then we went back across the middle of a lake. When we got back to the van that we came in we got all of our clothes and got into the van.

Kayaking was really fun and I enjoyed it lots but it was hard work paddling all the way.

Week 5 continued- Southland

With ongoing wet and windy weather forecast for the rest of week 5, we decided to spend our time driving the Southern Scenic route from Dunedin round to Te Anau, allowing us to see the coastline despite the rain and stop as and when the weather allowed. The morning we left Wanaka was cold with snow having fallen overnight as low as 400m. As we drove to Dunedin across the hills, the kids were very excited to see snow on the ground and we couldn’t resist stopping for a snowball fight on the way. That was the extent of our winter for this year! It was great fun, but after 10 minutes we were all soaked through and freezing cold, and happy to clamber back into Fritz to warm up and continue the drive.

We reached Dunedin at lunchtime having left the mountains behind us, and headed in to the town to explore. It had a very Scottish feel to it and felt very familiar and homely; I liked it. We spent a short time at the Settlers museum where we experienced what it might have been like spending 3 months downstairs on a boat from New Zealand to the UK, living in cramped quarters, all in one room. Not many of the children survived, and I think I would probably have gone stir crazy stuck in there for such a long time. Our museum trip was followed by a tour of the Cadbury factory which basically involved eating large amounts of chocolate. A particular highlight for Piran! His favourite bit was the ‘chocolate lunch’ where they got to help themselves to cups of molten chocolate and mix it up with crushed oreos and hundreds and thousands before eating it/ smearing it over their faces in excitement. We headed just north of Dunedin to camp at Long Beach for the night. It felt just like Cornwall with hills, cliffs and a beautiful beach, and Ben managed to find a Little Blue Penguin hiding in a cave- a lovely place to stay.

Thursday morning was fine for a few hours and we enjoyed a run on Long Beach before heading back in to Dunedin for the day. The kids and I had a successful shopping trip finding some presents for Ben’s birthday, following which we decided to visit St Clair, a hip surfing beach with a heated, open-air, salt water swimming pool. We had a good morning swimming and watching the surfers. There were inflatable toys in the pool including a small boat which provided much entertainment trying to tip each other out of it, and it was wonderful swimming in warm water for a change! It didn’t take long for the rain to return though, so we holed up for the afternoon in a pub and nursed drinks, ate puddings and played lots of games of Hearts together. Very relaxing. We ended the day at choral evensong at Dunedin Cathedral with a peaceful hour listening to a very traditional service of choral anthems and chanting, with only 2 other members of congregation!

We headed south from Dunedin that evening before stopping at Toko Mouth to sleep, a small town down the end of a 15km unsealed gravel road where you can camp for free on the recreation ground. This could have been a great stopping place with plenty of space to play, however by now the wet weather and spending lots of time in Fritz was getting a bit much for us and we were all getting quite grumpy! On top of the stresses of us all needing a bit of personal space, we had had several nights of the kids messing about at bedtime and going to sleep later and later, with progressively more challenging behaviour particularly getting angry/crying/sulking if they didn’t get the usual ‘treats’ associated with being on holiday such as buying souvenirs, eating out, getting ice creams etc and being rude and uncooperative if asked to do any schoolwork/ helping with chores etc. This was definitely the hardest part of our trip so far and we had to think about how to change the children’s expectation of our time from ‘holiday’ to ‘normal life’ whilst acknowledging that it IS more like a holiday for all of us and we want to enjoy our time with more fun activities and treats than we have been previously used to. The following day we introduced a ‘merit’ system where they can be awarded merits 5 times a day (breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, bedtime) for good/ helpful/ kind/ generally positive behaviour, and earn treats if they get enough merits each day. So far so good and we have noticed a big improvement in behaviour. We just have to remember to keep on with this system!

The next few days we covered roughly 600 km in Fritz, driving along the South coast in search of seals, sea lions, Hector’s dolphins and sea birds amidst the downpours. We managed to see plenty of seals, shearwaters, terns and cormorants at Nugget point, where we had a very blustery walk out to a lighthouse and enjoyed the contrast of the wild and stormy sea crashing on the rocks, compared to the calm at the white sandy Long Beach just a couple of days before. We had a long walk at Surat bay, a wide beach that is usually covered in sealions but whether because of the stormy weather, or simply because they had heard our boys were coming, there was not a single sealion there for us unfortunately. We did enjoy skipping with a long piece of seaweed that was very strong though, had fun ‘popping’ the seaweed pods like bubblewrap, and the boys had plenty of time for sword fighting with sticks again. We finished up at Curio Bay for the evening, where we had better luck spotting a yellow eyed penguin than we had had finding sealions, thanks to Jago’s eagle eye. These penguins are extremely rare and there were only 2 nesting on the beach, usually only visible when returning to the nest in the evening after a day’s fishing. We were lucky enough to arrive just as the second penguin was hopping back looking like a superhero with his yellow eye mask and black cape. Curio Bay is also the site of a fossilised forest which was fascinating- you can easily see the tree trunks including the detail of the grains of wood, perfectly preserved, but hard and rocky to touch instead of soft and warm like wood. With so many places to freedom camp in South Island, we avoided a holiday park again, staying at the recreation ground in Waikawa just a few km down the road. This part of South Island really is set up for freedom camping, with plenty of places to stop, dump your waste water and refill your fresh water, and by now we felt like a well-oiled pit stop machine, with Jago in charge of the toilet, Cara the waste water and Piran the fresh water. Excellent for saving a bit of money before heading on to Milford Sound and Queenstown!

On Saturday we made the very long drive from Curio Bay all the way to Te Anau. For the first time in 5 weeks we were pretty unimpressed with the scenery as we bypassed Invercargill- completely flat and reminiscent of the Fens. It was a relief to reach the South West corner and start to see the Alps again, stopping for lunch at Gemstone Bay and all selecting a few choice gemstones for our collection. As we headed north again in to Fiordland we left the last of the bad weather behind us and felt our spirits lift as we emerged once again into beautiful scenery, gorgeous sunshine, and much happier moods and behaviour all round, looking forward to the week ahead.

Week 4 to 5- The West Coast

The end of our 4th week in New Zealand coincided with the arrival of 10 days heavy rain, strong winds and low cloud. I have been told that the West coast has amazing views but really all we saw as we drove was the low hanging mist, and the wild sea. Early on we had one moody stretch of drive with steep vertical cliffs either side of us as we drove along the river, with waterfalls rushing down the cliff faces, that really suited the weather conditions and I suspect it wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic on a sunny day, but most of the time the rain didn’t add anything to the journey and was so intense that we couldn’t stop for many of the walks we had planned. The end result was that we covered a huge distance in a relatively short period of time.

Spending many hours driving was wonderful for me and Ben, enjoying listening to music, chatting and looking out, seeing the scenery from the front of the van, but it inevitably led, at times, to boredom and bickering for the kids sitting in the back. I had hoped the long drives would be opportunities for learning and long conversations together, but it is too noisy in the back to have a conversation with someone in the front, and unfortunately both Ben and I get travel sick after much time in the back, hence the children were pretty much left to their own devices a lot of the time. They played a lot of cards, mostly Hearts, Rummy and later on a new game invented by Jago at the Cameron’s Flat camping site on Haast Pass called ‘Flat’, interspersed with a song and dance called ‘Shuffle Mummy’ as the cards got passed backwards and forwards to be shuffled. They spent many hours having great hilarity at a ‘beauty contest’ which essentially involved them taking off their tops and stretching their armpit skin to see who was most beautiful. A great comment as we drove and told them to admire the view was ‘what view? All I can see is mountains…’. It was certainly a challenge spending so much concentrated time together in a confined space but thankfully we’re all still talking to each other at the end of it!

After leaving Abel Tasman National Park we stopped overnight at ‘Hope Saddle lookout’, a freedom camping spot on the road to Westport, where we had a hint of mountain views but visibility was only a few hundred metres. We carried on to Punakaiki, arriving early in the day, with the thought that at least Ben could take advantage of the weather to get some work done. Whilst he caught up with some bits, the kids and I donned our waterproofs and braved the weather to view the Pancake Rocks, stacks of rocks with strange weathering that has created the visual effect of piles of thin rocks piled on top of each other. We rewarded ourselves with some time indoors at the visitor centre and of course some pancakes for tea- delicious!

We had planned to spend a day walking around Punakaiki but decided to carry on travelling as the weather wasn’t up to much, and headed on to Franz Josef the following day, stopping at the kiwi centre in Hokitika where we enjoyed a couple of hours observing kiwis in their dark, dimly lit home, stroking eels and fishing for crayfish as well as seeing some of the jade that is famous in this area. We camped by the banks of Lake Mapourika, just outside of Franz Josef, one of many lakes in this area formed by melting glacier, and Jago couldn’t turn down the opportunity to swim in a rare 15 minutes without rain- brrr! We could even seen Mount Cook in the distance for a short while! Needless to say, nobody else joined him.

We explored Lake Mapourika further the next morning, with a guided kayak tour to make up for missing out on kayaking at Kaiteretere. It was incredibly quiet and serene, even with the children as companions, and a fabulous wet weather activity as we really didn’t notice the downpours once we were wrapped up in our lifejackets, waterproofs, gloves and hats! Cara was surprised at how much like hard work it was and I don’t think it quite lived up to her adrenaline-fueled expectations after all her zorbing, luging and white-water rafting, but we all really enjoyed it and it was definitely one of the best family activities we have done for entertaining everybody. It was so nice to be out and doing something again after just a couple of days cooped up in the van- it is a small space for lots of people when you’re not getting out much!

We had allowed a couple of days in our schedule to see the glaciers at Franz Josef and Fox, but again visibility was so poor with no signs of letting up that there didn’t seem any point in hanging around. One fine day of sunshine was forecast for the whole week, and we wanted to enjoy that day walking in Mount Aspiring National Park, so we again decided to press on with our journey down South whilst the rain continued. We stopped for a quick walk at Fox glacier (a shorter walk and you can get closer to the terminal moraine) and managed to get away with only a 10 minute downpour and a reasonable view of the glacier before heading on with our travels. We warmed up in a cafe further down the road, and then started the fabulous drive along the Haast Pass at early evening, just as the rain stopped and the cloud started to lift. The drive along a narrow river valley with sheer cliffs on either side, with waterfalls running down them, and snow capped mountains behind, was absolutely stunning and a wonderful reward after days of cloud and drizzle. We decided to stop on Haast Pass itself, freedom camping at Cameron’s Flat, a stunning lookout en route. It was absolutely freezing cold, and we awoke to fresh snow on the peaks, but it was totally worth it for the beauty and tranquility as we emerged in the morning to clear blue skies and the best breakfast view we’ve ever had!

Wishing to take advantage of the beautiful day we pressed on to Wanaka early on Monday morning, hoping to get a full day walking the Rob Roy glacier track in Mount Aspiring National park along the Matukituki valley. We stopped in at the DOC centre to pick up a map, who advised us that the walk would not be safe after so much rain and snow, and suggested we climb Rocky Mountain instead, a domed peak just outside Wanaka giving 360 degree views down the valley to Mount Aspiring, snow topped mountains and Lake Wanaka. We took their advice and had a very rewarding stomp upwards with the best lunch view imaginable. Perfect! We headed to a holiday park in Wanaka afterwards and booked in for 2 nights, knowing the wild weather would be returning again and planning for Ben to get a day’s work in once the cloud returned. We spent most of the following day hanging out at the campsite, although Cara and I managed to venture out for a very wet and windy bike ride around Lake Wanaka, feeling very virtuous and thoroughly deserving of the hot chocolate and cake that we rewarded ourselves with in one of the lakeside cafes. There was no sign of any of the mountains that had been there the day before, just low hanging mist once again! The boys stayed behind to play football and sword fight with sticks, their new favourite pastime. That evening Cara and I took advantage of the campsite hot tub and had some lovely relaxing girls’ time before bed talking about all our favourite things so far. It was amazing to think about how much we have done in such a short time and incredibly difficult to choose the highlights!

On Wednesday morning we awoke to yet more snow on the tops of the surrounding mountains after another freezing cold night, and more wind and wet weather expected. We decided that instead of continuing South to more mountains and Fiordland, we would head across to the East coast at this stage and loop back to Queenstown via the South coast, so that we would be spending the cold, wet weather on lower ground, wildlife spotting, and return to the higher ground when the cloud lifted. So it was that we left Wanaka on Wednesday morning bound for Dunedin. Despite the week not going exactly to plan, kayaking on Lake Mapourika, the beautiful night at Cameron Flat reserve, and the fabulous walk up Rocky Mountain in the Mount Aspiring National park are amongst the most wonderful memories of South Island so far. The scenery here really is awe inspiring, so long as you can see it!

Abel Tasman

   We did a two day walk in the Abel Tasman national park. We got a ferry to Tonga Quarry, on the way we saw dolphins and fur seals. The dolphins jumped out of the water and put on a show for us! The seals just sat on rocks and swam in the sea. We got off the boat with our rucksacks, we were carrying all we needed for two days! We walked through a forest until lunch. Our lunch spot was near a Maori sculpture which Jago and Piran spent a long time kicking. When they got tired of that we went and explored the bay.

After lunch, we walked on and found a suspension bridge. We walked along it, near the end of the bridge I spotted a seal. He was rolling around and scratching his head. We carried on walking. A few hours later, when I was just about to give up we reached a wonderful sandy beach. The sand felt warm under my feet. We ran down the beach and found the dormitories. In the room there were bunk beds and lockers. We slept with three other people. I got changed into my swimming costume and swam with Jago and Piran. When we got out we played with pictures, taking strange panorama photos. Then we had dinner and went to bed.

 

 

In the morning, we set off early and walked to Apple Tree Bay for lunch. Dad fed some apple core to some seagulls so they all attacked us! We kept walking and at about 3 o’clock we arrived at Marahau and got the bus back the rest of the way. I felt tired and thought I was never going to be able to get up off the seat of the bus!

Abel Tasman National Park

After Picton we had a drive to the Abel Tasman National Park where we went to a campsite. At around 4pm we packed our rucksacks for a night at a hut in the national park. The next day we got up early and drive to a car park where we left the camper van. We then got the ferry to the bay where we were dropped off. On the ferry to the bay, we saw seals and dolphins. The dolphins jumped out of the water doing flips but all the seals did was sit on the rocks.

When we got dropped off at the bay, we started walking. About 1 hour later, we stopped at a golden, yellow, sandy beach for a muesli bar. The beach looked nice but when we got on it, it was full of sandflies so we quickly went on. We walked for abit longer, then we had lunch. After that we walked all the way to the hut, only stopping to look at views. When we got to the hut, we found a dormitory that had bunk beds and lockers then we swam, had dinner and then went to bed.

When we woke up, we swam again then headed off for the second time. We walked for an hour then we stopped on a bench for another muesli bar. We walked on for another hour seeing lots of views When we all started to get tired we stopped for lunch. After that we kept walking all the way to where we got the bus back to the campsite. The walk was really nice and we saw lots of views. At the end I was really tired but it was worth going!

The Two Day Walk

It took quite a long time to pack up all of our food and treats. Our rucksacks were really big and heavy. Then we went on a one hour ferry where we saw dolphins and seals. The dolphins put on a show where they jumped out of the water. I liked them. We started the walk next. We walked and walked and walked. At our first stop we had a chewy choc chip muesli bar each for elevenses on a soft white beach where there were lots of sandflies. We moved on as quickly as we could because we were getting bitten. Then we walked some more, then had lunch. We set off again and crossed a suspension bridge. We looked down and first we saw one seal. Jago named him Bob. Next we spotted another one and Cara named the seal Seally. It was fabulous seeing the seals so close. Then we came to a beach with golden, soft sand called Ancorage Bay. There was a hut with bunk beds inside and you could stay the night and we did. I slept at the top.

On day two of walking I woke up, got dressed and had breakfast, then we all had a quick swim in the sea. We started to walk for a few hours. It was harder on the second day because all of us were exhausted from the first day. When it was time for lunch, we ate at Apple Tree Bay where there were lots of Wekas. Wekas are a flightless bird and they go around stealing stuff. A man said that somebody got a blue camera stolen by a Weka. Luckily we didn’t have anything stolen! When we finished the walk we got a bus to the campervan. I took my rucksack off in an instant then we did not do a lot of walking for some while. It was hard doing such a long work but I enjoyed it and I was proud of myself.

 

A Big Bike Ride

On Tuesday the 24th of October 2017, I woke up, got dressed and had breakfast. Next Cara, Jago, Mum, Dad and I drove to a place where you could hire bikes. Dad and Cara went white water rafting and the rest of us went on a big bike ride. On the big bike ride I was wobbling at the start, then I got balance. At first we went the wrong way so to encourage me and Jago we bought some treats and whilst Cara was white water rafting she got chocolate fish. Chocolate fish have chewy strawberry flavoured marshmallow.

We rode along the same river that Cara and Dad were white water rafting on. Before the bike ride I was not sure if I could do it but in the end I managed to do it. I fell off the bike quite a few times. It was a little bit hard. I hurt myself a lot but did not give up. I kept going and now I really do enjoy bike riding.