Thursday, 15 December 2016

Week 35 - South Island NZ, West Coast road trip

Our final evening at the farm was spent with Richard and a good old lasagne. Richard told us another of his poems, quite possibly my favourite, inspired by his bike ride down the South West Coast of New Zealand it was both funny and insightful….he was also kind enough to gift us with one of his poetry books, which I’m sure will keep us entertained on the road.

We headed out of the valley and began our journey to Westport, this time we went through the thickest forest with views of the mountains in the distance. The stunning greens looked beautiful in the sun, and were emphasised every so often by the crystal clear river that flows along side the road every now and then. Though there are a few hairy parts of road, take for instance the one car only bridges (thankfully, some of which have traffic lights) and the one way cliff corners, which to be honest are a death trap, the roads so narrow and there’s no way anybody could see you coming on the sharp turns, I’m just glad that it was quiet when we were there! 

The plan was to camp at Lyell camping ground, roughly an hour from Westport, but as we didn’t pass any supermarkets we were foodless and hungry so we decided to continue on until we found somewhere to stock up on pasta and porridge. Turns out you’ve got to go a bloody long way to find food, all the way to Westport in fact, there was noway we could be bothered driving back to Lyell so it was into the I-site we went for more information on the area. The lady was brilliant she recommended a cheap campsite not far from the centre, told us where to the find seals and made Kyles day when she told him about a surf competition that was on the next day. 
Jack’s Gasthof is a small campsite located 23kms from Westport, complete with outdoor shower, picnic benches, restaurant and sandflies but for $8 per person we weren’t complaining. We got there early, as with most cheap or free places this campsite filled up quickly and there are limited spaces, though this does make for a quiet nights sleep. It was a shock to the system going back to camp stove food after so many delicious meals (and puddings) but Kyle made a good effort and the chicken and noodles were pretty edible. Exhausted from the long drive we made our bed up, arranged all of our shit in the front of the car and hunkered down for the night.

Rain hasn’t factored too much in our lives for the last 7 months, but man did it rain the next morning. We were woken to the sound of pounding downpours hitting the roof and windows. We put off the inevitable for a good hour but I soon became desperate for a wee and a little bit hangry, so it was a mad dash to throw all of our shit back into the boot of the car, drive to the loo and find somewhere for breakfast…there was no way the stove was coming back out. I tell you what else we haven’t had to bother with, colds, but man did I come down hard with a snotbox for a nose and razor blades in my throat, it was like I’d been hit by a truck, there was no way I was going back to that campsite in the rain feeling this shit. I was buzzing when over breakfast we found a reasonably priced homestay in Westport named, Wayne’s World, a giant old house converted for backpackers, complete with kitchen, hot showers, beds and no sandflies….buzzing!! Wayne and his wife, Juliana, are nice, funny hosts and want nothing more than for you to feel welcome in their home. 

We didn’t want to waste a day so decided to take a trip to the coal mining museum, which if you’re into that kind of thing would be great, but for us it was a waste of $20, we were in there 10minutes and 8 of those minutes were spent watching a film! Luckily, the rain ceased and the sky turned a little blue so we decided to head to the seal colony at Cape Foulwind, although free and filled with tiny seal pups the experience wasn’t as good as the one which we had at Cape Paliser simply because we couldn’t get as close to the seals, but for any animal lover on the South Island it is definitely worth a visit, you also get some great views over the bay.

Turns out the rain didn’t cancel the surf competition either, so whilst we were down that way we went to Tauranga Bay, which on a hot summers day would be a beach lovers dream, and watched some of the older people surf whilst the kids collected their awards from earlier in the day at the stand opposite. I could tell that Kyle was getting itchy feet watching all the people catching waves, but with black clouds fast approaching there was no getting him in the water, but we did find him a skatepark where he passed an hour on his penny board….there is some practice needed on this kind of board mind.

I thought that I’d feel amazing after a warm shower, a hot honey and lemon and a good nights sleep in a comfy bed, but I thought wrong, I still felt like utter shit. Nevertheless, we had a day of exploring planned and it was an early rise to get us on the road before the rest of the tourists. The journey from Westport to Hokitika takes you along one of the most beautiful stretches of coast line, and even on a rainy morning we could see why people loved it, the limestone rocks and tropical trees are reminiscent to those that line the roads in Southern Thailand. Our first stop of the day was in Punakaki to see the blow holes and pancake rocks. By this point it was pissing it down and we were in full wet weather gear, I was not in the mood at all to get out of the car and view something that was going to make us even more wet…but I did and to be fair it was pretty impressive. The waves surge round the rocks, splashing up to create a similar effect to a chimney and the pancake rocks are pretty cool too, though quite eroded now if you want to see them you probably need to get there sharpish.

By the time we got to Hokitika we were both feeling like death warmed up, and we were not in the mood to camp, resulting in us spending a good 2 hours trying to find somewhere cheap to stay….turns out the influx of Chinese tourists makes this tiny town expensive, so we were out of luck. Not keen to admit defeat and waste the day moping, we made our way to Hokitika Gorge. It was brilliant, a short walk through the forest and over a rope bridge led us to ice cold milky blue water, fast flowing along the river from the mountains. The vivid blue is striking thanks to the minerals from the rocks and glaciers, though as nice as it is to look at, I don’t think that I would fancy swimming in it. 

With nowhere to stay we settled for camping at Lake Mahinapua, a little expensive at $13 per person, but surrounded by beautiful scenery and forests walks, it was a good place to stay with only 6 other cars there. Over breakfast we were joined by a Waka (a native bird), who was something of a thief. He managed to make off with a sachet of coffee, an onion and almost got my lemon but Kyle was quicker than him the last time…the cheeky little bastard.

One of my favourite things about NZ has been the freedom of driving around at our own pace and enjoying some of the spectacular sights along the way, that was until a stone hit the window screen and cracked it, it now looks as though there’s a glass spider in the middle! We must have stopped at every garage on the way to our next destination but nobody could help us, instead we opted on a DIY window repair kit for $83 dollars.

Driving to the Fox Glacier took us through marshy forests, that made the trees look as if they were floating, and onwards into the Alps….now I know that I’ve said a lot about snowy mountains but nothing has compared to these. Mount Cook looked amazing, with snow covering the top and Lake Matheson, a brilliant blue contrast below, we stopped twice just to enjoy this impressive view. The second time we stopped we met Marcus, a nice guy who works for one the helicopter businesses in the area, he told us all about positive and negative ions, and let us play with his dog…I was too busy with the dog to take in much of what he was saying, but I do know that the ions work in reverse. 

We skipped Franz Josef having heard it was a tourist hot spot and opted to visit the quieter Fox Glacier. So I had a blonde moment when it came to the glacier, after seeing all the brochures I expected more snow and ice and essentially little icebergs, turns out you only get these if you fly to the top of the mountain in a helicopter…bloody knew we should have gone in one. Though I’ll give it to the Fox Glacier, it was pretty impressive to see the ice frozen on the way down the mountain and the fast flowing river below, I’d like to come back in Winter as I reckon it’ll be even more impressive then. 

From the glacier we made our way to camp, this time it was at Gillespies Beach, an old gold mining settlement with short walks with old relics from the mining days. I was well happy that we’d chosen to camp at a beach and buzzing coz it was sunny, but when we arrived I was left disappointed as it was windier than Wellington! Still this campsite was a lot cheaper at $8 per person, shame about the drop loos though. Bed time for all campers at most campsites seems to be 9pm, though this is not through choice it is simply down to the sheer amount of sandflies on the West Coast…it’s actually crazy, our little car looked black there were that many hanging onto the window, it was like a scene from a horror movie! Things didn’t improve in the morning either, with it being overcast the little twats seemed to have multiplied, just moving our belongings from the front of the car left my legs looking as though I had chicken pox, I was not a happy bunny.

With breakfast at the campsite being a total right off we pulled into the Fox Glacier viewpoint not far from town and enjoyed our porridge with an amazing view, even passers by stopped to tell us how jealous they were…if they’d tried the food I doubt very much that they would have been. Before we left the glacier township we attempted to repair the window with our $83 DIY kit, what a piece of shit, after 2 attempts and half an hour it looked the same, if not worse than before…I think it may need a real mechanic to take a gander. Whilst waiting for the window to set I also decided that I probably couldn’t live in this part of NZ you’d have to be far too organised, I mean, the weather is that indecisive you could go to work in shorts and flip flops but have to take wellies and rain jacket in your bag, just incase.

Our plan was to head to Haast, find somewhere to stay and something to do, but (no offence to the people of Haast), there’s actually not much there, except a shop, a DOC site, a few walks, 1 pub and a few totally overpriced activities. Rather than moan about it, we continued on another 90km to Wanaka and it was an amazing drive! We went through rainforests, along the side of rivers and up and over mountains, stopping at various landmarks along the way. One of which was Fantail Falls, a beautiful waterfall set back of the road with the clearest water flowing beneath it and views of snow topped mountains in every direction, if it hadn’t of been so cold I think both Kyle and I would have dived straight in for a swim.

I genuinely feared for my life on the drive to Wanaka, Kyle’s a good driver but there was so much to see that it was making his head spin around like the exorcist, he didn’t know where to look…he did try and reassure me that he judged the road first but you can never be too careful. The only way I can explain the sights we have seen is by telling you a little story, I am a huge Made in Chelsea fan and was well chuffed when Kyle said that we could go on a day trip to Chelsea whilst we were in London, only to be left disappointed when we arrived as Chelsea doesn’t look anything like what you see on the TV, they must use every Instagram filter going to make that show. Now NZ in pictures makes you think that they must use every Instagram filter going, well I can tell you that they don’t, it actually looks as pretty as the pictures, you constantly feel like you’re driving around on a postcard. That feeling couldn’t have sprung more true when we came over a hill to the most spectacular view of Lake Hawea and the surrounding mountains, a must do that should be on everyones bucket list, it literally left us both speechless! 

Trying to find a parking space in Wanaka town reminded me of a busy day around Lake Coniston, Cumbria, it was packed, and the spaces only give you two hours. Wanaka is the cutest town and again beyond picturesque with a fantastic feel, we both fell in love within 5 minutes. The ever so helpful people at the I-site suggested a few camping grounds to us but our decision was easily made after they handed over a 15% off voucher for the Lake Outlet Holiday Park. Set just outside the town, this campsite offers spaces for the same price as the DOC sites ($13 per person, $16 without a voucher) with the addition of a kitchen, BBQ’s and hot showers and every space has a great view of the lake and mountains. We decided to spring for a cabin, a little Christmas treat as we were both still feeling a little shit, I was actually buzzing to have a real bed and heater, it was too bloody cold the evening before! 

After a full day on the road and a huge meal, (beef and noodles made on the stove) it was an early night for us both, and we managed to sleep pretty damn well in our cozy little hut. The morning brought sunshine and a little warmth once you’d looked past the wind, so we took ourselves off for a stroll around Lake Wanaka. Alas, the weather didn’t last long and soon came rain, not much change there then, so a mad dash to the car and a drive round the corner took us to Puzzling World for the afternoon. Made up of illusion rooms, a great maze and lots of puzzles it was an entertaining hour…I’m sure most people could pass more time there, but it is habit of the two of us to rush stuff, and we actually managed to complete the outdoor maze pretty quickly.

I’m glad we booked the cabin, it kept us warm and dry during a relatively wet and windy evening, plus it was nice to make Kyle watch Alice in Wonderland again. Though check out was pretty easy we were keen to get on the road to Queenstown so were up and ready long before we needed to be. The short one hour drive took us up and down some of the steepest mountains yet, so steep in fact that we had to go around about 10 hair pin bends on the final descent, I’m so glad that I wasn’t driving.

The rain didn’t stop all day, so our first day in Queenstown was spent wandering in the wet weather, exploring the town, overlooking the river and dodging the vast amount of tourists…this has got to be one of our busiest destinations in NZ so far, it is crazy busy! Lunch was enjoyed in a fancy pants restaurant, only as the lunch special was on, but still it had lovely views of the lake and mountains, and the food was delicious, a nice treat after all that camping and cooking! We checked into our new hostel, Sir Cedrics Southern Laughter, with old school decorations and cozy little rooms with my favourite, a heater and settled down to watch a film over a $5 Dominos, (fat bastards).

Being the adrenaline junky he is, Kyle couldn’t leave Queenstown without doing a bungy, and thanks to the discount site BookMe we were able to get him a good price at AJ Hackett’s, The Ledge. To get to the bungy we had to go in my favourite, a gondola, up the steep mountain to the top…great! The queue was huge too, but we passed the time by trying to work out if the guy in front of us was Jeffery Dean Morgan (Neegan from Walking Dead). Turns out it was, and he was just trying to enjoy a family holiday with his wife and son and was humble enough to join the queue with the rest of us, I felt sorry for them all though when some teenage girls started crying in his face…I mean you can see the guys with his family, back off!

I hated every minute of the journey to the top, but I will admit once we made it the views over Queenstown were spectacular! After checking in for his bungy jump, Kyle joined the rest of the brave people out on the ledge, whilst I waited with the rest of the wimps on the viewing platform. I was shocked when it came to Kyle’s turn and he just threw himself off into a swan dive, even the lads working were impressed, he was over the moon with his little self afterwards and is already thinking of doing another. 

To celebrate Kyle’s bravery we’ve spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine, at the pub. Like England, the beer gardens in Queenstown seem to fill up on a hot, sunny day, and most of the clientele are English wannabe hipsters. But we have loved Queenstown, it’s got a great feel and its amazing to be in your shorts with views of snow capped mountains in every direction you look. Tomorrow its back to the car and a night of camping before exploring Christchurch, I’m hoping we find some more exciting things to do.


Love Carrie xxx