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Clive & Melanie Morris - Narrowboat Folkies



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March 10th 2011 - Kaikoura

Posted by clivenmel on 13 March, 2011 at 5:22

March 8th 2011 – We took our leave of Hanmer Springs and headed back to the coast, our destination Kaikoura.  Kaikoura is a very special place, it is the whale watching centre of New Zealand! The reason for this is that just off shore there is a 1000m deep trench called The Kaikoura Canyon.  This is very close to the shore and is where Sperm Whales feed on squid, sharks and fish at depths of up to 800m!  When the whales come up to breathe that is the time when you get chance to see them.   We arrived just after lunch and checked into the local Top 10 then went for a walk up into town.  It’s a nice little town full of the usual souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants but it has a nice feel to it.  We also went to the Whaleway Station(!) to book a whale-spotting trip for tomorrow. The booking office is actually on the side of the railway track, hence the name! 


When we got back to the van we were pounced upon by a herd of hungry ducks.  We just happened to have a spare crust or two so Clive set about feeding them.  One of them was rather exuberant and got so excited about the bread he jumped onto Clive’s foot and wasn’t the slightest bit perturbed when Clive raised his leg into the air!!


Daffy Duck!


There was a campervan parked across from us in the campsite and whilst I was blogging Clive had a chat with the couple on board.  They were from Clonmel in Co. Tiperary,  Ireland. It turned out that they had actually been in Christchurch on the day of the quake, in fact they had only arrived there the night before from Australia!  They had just left their hotel room, with all their belongings in it, to go and look around the city when the quake hit!  They made a dash for the riverbank and fortunately weren’t injured.  However, all their belongings, including passports, laptop, clothes etc etc are still in the hotel, which is in the cordoned off area and nobody has access to it.  They were left with only the clothes they were standing up in!  They are now touring New Zealand for a couple of weeks and then, after a week of total relaxationin Fiji, are due to fly to Canada to visit their son.  They have managed to get temporary passports but are flying via Los Angeles and the US won’t allow anyone in without one of the new digitized passports! So they have an appointment with the US embassy in Auckland in about ten days time to see if that can be sorted out! 


We went up into the town in the evening for a meal.  Kaikoura is famed for its wonderful seafood, especially for their Crayfish or Rock Lobster. In fact, Kaikoura means “meal of crayfish” in Maori!  We did have seafood for dinner, I had a wonderful Fish Chowder and Clive had Blue Cod and chips – both were yummy!


March 9th 2011 – Kaikoura  - When we woke up this morning we couldn’t believe our luck.  The sun was shining brightly and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky!  Clive took some photographs of the mountains, they looked so beautiful with their snowclad peaks against the perfect blue sky.


Snowy peaks!


We spent a very leisurely morning, did some laundry and the inevitable blog – still trying to catch up! We had some lunch and then it was time to go!  Remarkably the weather was still absolutely fantastic.  We went around to the Whaleway Station and ascertained that things were looking good for whale spotting.  We had booked to go on the 3.30pm trip but they wouldn’t take our money when we booked yesterday in case the trip couldn’t go ahead for any reason. For example, you are guaranteed 80% of your fee back if you don’t actually see a whale, so obviously they don’t take the boat out if there are no whales around or if the weather is too rough. Today there were no problems, whales had been spotted on previous trips during the day and the weather conditions couldn’t have been better.


Before setting off we had to watch a safety video then we boarded the bus and headed for the South Bay. We were soon on board and heading out to sea – I was so excited!  We had a very knowledgeable young lady giving us a commentary and telling us what to do once a whale was spotted and then the boat suddenly slowed right down and she announced that we could all go out to the portside of the boat as there was a male Sperm Whale close by!  So, bristling with cameras and binoculars everyone took there place along the guard rail, all eyes on the surface of the sea and then suddenly there he was, blowing!


Spouting whale


Unlike other whales and dolphins who have central blowholes the Sperm Whale's blowhole is situated to the left hence the spray is at a 45 degree angle! 

I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it was to actually see this huge animal so close. The photos don’t give you any indication of size really.  However in this next picture what you are actually seeing is the whale from nose to dorsal hump, only about half his length as the latter half with the tail hangs down in the water.  We were informed by our young guide that this was a youngish whales around 18m in length.


Young Sperm Whale, approx 18m long - this only shows half of that!!


We watched this whale for several minutes and I took dozens of photos,  she then announced that he was getting ready to dive and to be prepared, as he was just taking his last big breath!  Evidently this last breath is used to oxygenate the blood then as the whale dives the air is forced up into the nasal cavity where it remains until the whale surfaces again.  The lungs, which are not actually very large considering the size of the animal, flatten completely with the underwater pressure and remain in this state until the whale breathes again.


Preparing to dive

Sure enough a few seconds later up came his tail


  Like slow motion it went up and over


 Then finally sank down into the waves

By this time there were tears streaming down my face, in fact its making me fill up just thinking about it!  I just cannot explain how amazing this experience was, only someone who has witnessed something so wonderful can understand how I feel!


Our guide pointed something else out to us just after the whale’s fluke had disappeared beneath the waves, an area of flat calm water on the surface, this is what she called the “flukeprint” it is caused by the whale diving at incredible speed through the water down into the depths of the Kaikoura Canyon. 




Well we thought we were incredibly fortunate to have seen this whale but we were told to get back inside into our seats quick as another whale had been spotted some distance away. We rushed back to our seats and were jolted backwards as the boat took off at high speed.  A few minutes later the whole process was repeated with another whale and then another and another! In fact we saw seven Sperm Whales in total.  How amazing. 


We also had another surprise in store when a Wandering Albatross came into view and flew alongside us for a few moments.  How incredible these birds are, with a vast wingspan of up to 11 feet (3.5m) and they only come ashore to breed, spending most of their lives at sea!


Wandering Albatross


The Royal Albatross which we saw last week up in Dunedin have a wingspan of approximately 9.8 feet (3m) and they looked pretty big but these are huge!


We returned to the shore very happy indeed with our very productive whale spotting trip – we certainly didn’t ask for a refund!!  That is one experience that is going to remain with us forever!


When we got back to the campsite our Irish neighbours, Anne and Liam were sitting outside their van and asked how we got on (they had been on the trip prior to ours).  We started to tell them and then Anne suggested we all arm ourselves with a nice glass of wine and make use of the picnic table adjacent to the van – that is exactly what we did and had a very pleasant evening indeed. 


March 10th 2011 – We said our goodbyes to Anne and Liam and swapped contact details etc.  We asked a fellow camper to take a photo of the four of us before we parted.

Anne & Liam Breen, Mel and Clive

We left Kaikoura and headed up the coast road, it’s a wonderful road with the most fantastic views all along the coast.  At one point Clive thought he had spotted some penguins on the beach and he quickly pulled into the side, grabbed the camera and ran back.  They turned out to be Pied Shags, which actually look very similar to penguins as they stand upright!  While he was gone I noticed a little caravan across the road advertising “Cooked Crays”!  When Clive got back I suggested he go and check it out.  The main reason why wehadn’t tried the Crayfish in Kaikoura was that they were very expensive in the restaurants!  He came back with one – this one was half the price of the ones in town!  We hit the road again, heading into wine country!  We were making for Blenheim which is at the heart of the Marlborough wine making district of New Zealand.  There are so many wineries here and many of them have open cellar doors, meaning you can go and taste and, if you wish, buy wines direct from the maker.  The scenery changed completely, from rugged mountains into soft rolling, grass covered hills.  We drove through mile after mile of vines, every reasonable spot had vines on it from the bottom of valleys to the slopes of the hills, everywhere you looked there were vines!

Vines, vines and more vines!


We had been thinking of stopping for lunch at some point and as we were driving along I spotted a sign which looked interesting - “Saltworks”!  In 2004 on our last trip to New Zealand we had taken the Scenic Coastal Railway from Picton to Christchurch, which was a marvellous journey. One of the things I remembered from this trip was passing the salt pans and here they were!  The sea water is contained in the pans and as the water evaporates the salt crystals are left behind.  They look rather strange because they are pink! 


Pink salt pans!


As we drove along this little side road we passed the saltworks themselves, you couldn’t actually go in and have a look around but it was interesting seeing the vast piles of salt outside!


Vast piles of salt!


We crossed over the very railway line that we had travelled on in 2004, parked the van and had a quick sandwich then headed back to the main road and it wasn’t long before we arrived in Blenheim.  We parked the van and went and found a bar with tables outside, Clive had a beer and I had a very nice glass of Pinot Noir, which was evidently made by the local rubgy club!!  Funnily enough, just as we were parking the van another campervan passed us going the other way, it was Liam and Anne!  They didn’t spot us though and Clive couldn’t blow the horn as he had just turned the ignition off!


After our liquid refreshment we decided to go and taste some wine!  We called in at the information centre and picked up a map of the wineries. We chose the Framingham Estate and it didn’t take very long to get there.  We tried several wines, three of which were white – we don’t normally drink white wine!  However they were very pleasant indeed.  The two reds that we tried didn’t take our fancy at all!  It was quite obvious though that this estate was mainly a producer of white wines and they were very good indeed and had received very good recommendations from famous wine connoisseurs such as Jancis Robinson!  We ended up buying a very nice bottle of Classic Riesling, not for ourselves but for a very good friend of ours, who shall be nameless but lives up near Auckland and has a little dog called Radar!!


It was time to find a campsite.  We had decided to stay on a DOC site tonight and Clive had spotted a really nice one in the DOC book in a small bay situated within Cloudy Bay.  It didn’t take us long to find it.  It was a really beautiful spot called White’s Bay.  The bay itself is named after a black seaman who jumped ship back in the 1840s, built a shack and lived with the local Maori for the rest of his life.  He was known as Black Jack White!


White's Bay


After spending some time just enjoying the beach and rescuing one of many honey bees which were crawling about on the sand all wet and bedraggled, we headed back to the van for dinner.  What a lovely meal we had, salad and Kaikaura Crayfish – delicious – accompanied by a rather cheeky Cabernet Merlot out of a box!! 


Crayfish salad - yummy!

We spent an hour or so doing some crosswords by lamplight then it was time for bed.  The night sky was absolutely amazing - black velvet encrusted with sparkling diamonds, awesome!  I knew I wouldn't need my mask tonight!

March 7th 2011 - Hanmer Springs

Posted by clivenmel on 10 March, 2011 at 21:49

March 5th 2011 – Lake Tekapo – When we woke up this morning we were so glad that we had come as far as we did yesterday and saw the lakes and the mountains in glorious sunshine because now it was grey and overcast and not very warm!  After breakfast we set off again but made a short stop further along the shores of the lake to visit The Church of the Good Shepherd as instructed by Vicki!  This tiny little church was built in 1935 in memory of the pioneers of McKenzie county and the foundation stone was actually laid by the Duke of Gloucester! 


The Church of the Good Shepherd


There used to be a stained glass window behind the alter but it got damaged and was replaced by a perfectly plain, clear glass window but with that view who needs stained glass!


No need for stained glass!


Adjacent to the church is a statue of a collie dog.  This statue, which was unveiled in 1968, was to show how much these wonderful dogs were appreciated for without them this mountain country could never have been grazed.


Statue in appreciation of the Collie dog


We resumed our journey, which was going to take us back to the coast once more.  The weather did not improve, in fact it got gloomier as the day progressed!  We arrived in Timaru where we intended to stay the night.  We made our way into the centre of town and found somewhere to park in order to have some lunch.  Just as we were getting out of the van we heard bagpipes!  Then Clive spotted someone in a kilt!  I noticed a couple getting into a car near where we were parked and popped over to ask if they knew what was going on.  Needless to say, they weren’t locals!  We were surprised however to find they were from Stirling, Scotland!!  They hadn’t even noticed the pipers so we all wandered over to the wall overlooking a large park and there were loads of pipers wandering around in groups.  It turned out that there was to have been a piping competition in Christchurch but due to the earthquake it had been cancelled. A lot of the bands had already arranged their trip so decided to come anyway and all gather in Timaru just to play for the fun of it.  Unfortunately the fun became a bit of a damp squib when it started to rain, heavily! What a shame.


Pipers in Timaru


Regarding the couple from Stirling, we ended up chatting (as you do!) and told them that we used to live in Tighnabruaich some years ago.  Pat asked me if I happened to know someone in the village called Aga Lushington – amazingly I did!!  It turned out that Aga was Pat’s French teacher when she was a school in Sterling, I was aquainted with Aga and her sister Thelma when we lived in the village – how incredible is that!!  On that note we said goodbye as the rain had really started to come down and made a dash for the van, however I had promised to contact one of my friends in Tighnabruiach to ask after the health of the Lushington sisters and let Pat know the outcome by email!


We made the decision not to stay in Timaru after all, it was far too wet to do any exploring, so after our lunch we hit the road again and got a few more miles under our belt.  We eventually stopped in Ashburton, which is a couple of hours away from Christchurch.  Once we got settled in I phoned my friend Bryony to let her know where we were and to see if there was any chance of meeting up with her the following day.  She suggested we go to their house for coffee in the morning.


That evening, around 7.30pm I was sitting in the van blogging and Clive had gone over to the kitchen to wash up.  Suddenly the van wobbled, well it sort of shimmied – that’s the only way I can describe it!  I looked out of the window and all the trees were still, there didn’t seem to be any wind. When Clive got back I asked him if he had noticed anything, he hadn’t!  Oh well, must have been my imagination.


March 6th 2011 – we set off for Christchurch after breakfast and it took us rather longer than we had anticipated.  We didn’t arrive at Bryony’s house until 11.45!  Bryony’s husband opened the door to us. Perfect timing, he said!  It turned out that poor Bryony had been called in to work to do an emergency operation!  At the time she was called out Jeremy was on a bike ride so she had had to take the children with her to the hospital.  Jeremy was just about to go and collect them so invited us in and said he would be back in ten minutes!  Whilst we were waiting for him to get back we noticed several cracks in the walls and ceiling in the kitchen, we had also noticed scaffolding on the outside of the house and a pile of bricks on the ground, which used to be their chimney!  The house had taken a bit of a beating but was still standing, thankfully!


Quake damage!


Jeremy was soon back with the children, Laura, Corin and Kate.  I remembered Laura and Corin from when Bryony worked in our department but Kate was born just before Bryony left to return to New Zealand, she is now nearly 4 and is a little cracker!  During the earthquake on February 22nd Bryony and Jeremy were both at work, Laura and Corin were at school and little Kate was at home with the nanny, Karen.  Kate told us that she and Karen stood in the doorway until the shaking had stopped, I asked her if it was scary, she said “not really, but I cried till it was over”!  Bless her! Anyway, they all seem to be coping with it very well.  Jeremy asked if we had felt the aftershock the previous evening – I asked him when it was, about 7.30pm he said, just as we were sitting down to dinner!  In that case, yes I had – that was why the van wobbled in Ashburton!!!


Jeremy insisted that we stay for lunch and soon had a lovely spread for us, including home made bread! Not long after we had finished eating Bryony finally got home, it was lovely to see her again.


 Laura, Bryony with little Kate, Corin and Tosca the dog

We didn’t want to overstay our welcome and the children were obviously wanting some time with mum so we finally said our goodbyes and continued on our way.  This time we were heading right over to the other side of Christchurch, to the East side.  We had phoned ahead to a campsite at Spencer’s Beach and it didn’t take us too long to find it.  We got settled in and had dinner then around 8.15pm we set off to visit our old friend Bill McArthur’s son Willie and his family who live at Waimari Beach.  Before we set off I suggested to Clive that we make the bed up as it could be quite late when we got back.


We arrived in the neighbourhood of Waimari Beach and were shocked at the state of the roads!  In places it was like driving over speed bumps, the road undulated like corrugated iron!  There were areas cordoned off with cones which had large holes in them too. All along the route there was evidence of the liquefaction which had occurred during the quake, grey mud and gravel everywhere!  We finally found Willie’s house and knocked on the door.  I could hear dogs barking inside but nobody came to the door.  I returned to the van and phoned Willie – he said they were about five minutes away but that his wife was in, he was surprised she hadn’t opened the door!  A few minutes after I finished speaking to him the front door opened and his wife Lee called out. She apologised profusely for not letting us in but had noticed the campervan with two strangers in and thought we were looters!!  Willie had phoned her and set her straight, hence she opened the door.


A short time later Willie turned up with his daughter Briar and her friend, they had been with him to Hanmer Springs where he was doing a gig, not to listen to him but to go and spend the afternoon in the hot springs!  Willie and Lee also have a son, Finn, who just happens to be a drummer, like our son Gareth!  He’s not into folk at all, calls it cheesy!!  Gareth feels the same way!  It was great to finally meet Willie.  His father Bill was a very good friend of ours whom we had first met when we lived in Tighnabruaich, Scotland back in the early 80s.  He was half of a Scottish folk duo called Beggar’s Mantle, the other half being Bruce Davis.  It was through Bruce that we had contacted Willie.  Dave, Willie’s older brother, also turned up with his wife Sandra a short while later - Dave bears a very strong resemblance to his father. 


Willie and Dave McArthur


We had a wonderful evening in their company.  Willie has his father's wonderful sense of humour and it was sort of like spending the evening with Billy Connolly, they are amazingly similar!  Willie is also a brilliant musician, he showed us some of his videos and he is an awesome performer.  His father was justifiably very proud of him.  Willie just would not hear of us going back to the campsite, nor would he let us sleep in the van, he insisted that we use their spare room and sleep in a proper bed!  He also informed us that they had running water and a loo, but only for pees! If we needed to do anything else we had to use the al fresco loo which was outside on the street, a portaloo courtesy of the council!!!


I have to say that through all this adversity people like Willie and his family are managing to get by and are still able to laugh.  They are some of the lucky ones, they know people who have lost their houses and all their possessions.  Lee’s parents’ house has succumbed to the liquefaction and a lot of their belongings will be ruined – they were in London on holiday at the time of the quake!  Lee and Bryony were actually in the centre of Christchurch on the day of the quake and are both very lucky indeed to be alive!


I have to tell you here of a strange coincidence.  You will have heard of the “six degrees of separation” – well how about two degrees! At one point during the evening Lee asked me where we had been earlier and I mentioned that I had been visiting a friend in Fendalton (the posh area of Christchurch!).  At some stage in the conversation I mentioned Bryony by name. Lee did a double-take and asked if she was married to a Jeremy!!  I said yes, why?  Lee’s best friend Karen is the nanny who was with little Kate in the house during the quake!  Also, Jeremy and Bryony had a house sitter a few weeks ago, it was Lee’s auntie – how absolutely incredible is that!!  Proper spooky I say!


March 7th 2011 – We had a very good night’s sleep, which was much needed as we didn’t get to bed until the small wee hours!  Well just remember, we were in the company of two Scotsmen!  When we got up Lee was making bacon and eggs for breakfast – mmmmmmmm!  Willie however was in a bit of a tiz as he had just received a text reminding him that he was doing a gig this morning and he had to be in another part of Christchurch by 11.00am!  Dave, who had also stayed the night, decided  to go with him, they both just had time to grab a sausage before dashing out of the door.  We said we would join them later, in the meantime we enjoyed our breakfast with Lee, Briar and Finn.  Fourteen year old Briar was rather upset that morning, she had heard on the news that many Christchurch schools were reopening and children were returning to school.  Briar's school was right in the centre of Chritchurch and the whole building collapsed, she can't return to school until a new building can be found.  All her schoolwork is on a laptop, which is still in the building!  Finn on the other hand goes to a different school, his hasn't reopened yet either but he of course was delighted, more time to play computer games and watch TV!!


We said our goodbyes and thanked Lee very much indeed for her wonderful hospitality.We found our way to St Alban’s Park where Willie was doing a charitable gig, a sort of morale booster for the community, which had been hit quite hard by the quake.  On the way we had seen further evidence of quake damage to houses and roads.  At one point we spotted a fissure going right across the road!




We parked the van adjacent to the park and the first thing we noticed was water gushing out of a hole in the ground, presumably from one of many broken pipes.  Remember this is almost two weeks since the quake!


Water bubbling up through the ground!


We found Willie in the middle of his performance, there was a young lad there playing Willie’s guitar. He is evidently learning guitar and Willie gave him the opportunity of playing his first live gig!  There was all sorts going on at the playing fields, including a barbecue, there were free hot dogs, drinks, chocolates and cookies – everything had been donated!  There weren’t many people there initially as the weather wasn’t brilliant but eventually the sun came out and more and more people turned up.  Whilst we were listening to Willie singing I noticed how badly the playing fields had been affected.  There were huge areas of liquefaction in evidence – its going to take a lot of money and hard work to get Christchurch on its feet again!


Silt and gravel left behind following the liquefaction during the quake


Finally Willie finished his stint and Clive and Dave went to help put everything away.  Whilst Willie was stashing his gear in the van two cops wandered over for a chat.  They weren’t accusing him of looting fortunately, just passing the time of day and having a fag! It turned out they are both Australians, over from Victoria to do their bit for Christchurch.


Aussie cops doing their bit for Christchurch


Before saying goodbye to Willie and Dave I asked for one last photo. 


Spot the hobbit!

Our friend Bill wasn’t a great deal bigger than Clive but as you can see, his boys are big guys!!  Interestingly though Dave had actually auditioned to be in the Peter Jackson's new film, The Hobbit but unfortunately he isn't tall enough!!  The little brown person with her back to us is Maddy, Dave's dog!


We were sorry to say goodbye to Willie and Dave really, it has been wonderful meeting them and we certainly wish them and their families the very best and sincerely hope they can soon return to some sort of normality in the aftermath of the quake.   Actually, we wish that to all the people of Christchurch.


Once we left Christchurch we headed in land once again, this time our destination was Hanmer Springs. It didn’t take long for us to reach this lovely alpine village and we soon got ourselves booked into a campsite for the night.  Then we headed back  into the town centre, first of all to have some dinner.  We were starving and didn’t have much on the van so treated ourselves to an Italian, Clive had a pizza and I had pasta!  After dinner we relaxed for a bit to let our meal settle then we got changed into our togs and headed for the hot springs.  We had a couple of hours soaking in various different pools, there are nine different ones.  All al fresco so we had lovely views of the snow capped mountains whilst we soaked!  Obviously we couldn’t take the camera in with us, it would have got wet, so pinched a pic off the web!


Hanmer Springs hot pools!


There were sulphur pools, which were lovely and hot, about 42 degrees and smelled of hard boiled eggs! There were mineral pools, which were a little cooler at around 36-38 degrees and made your skin feel all silky,  then there were three separate therapeutic pools with water jets to aim at different parts of your anatomy.  There were also bog standard hot pools which were just lovely to relax in.  All in all we had a wonderful time in there and finally emerged like a couple of prunes, then we ended the evening in the local pub with a pint!  What a great day.


March 4th 2011 - Lake Tekapo

Posted by clivenmel on 8 March, 2011 at 18:26

March 2nd 2011 – We left the campsite in Dunedin after breakfast and drove to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary.  This place is along similar lines to Tawharanui up in North Island where Lindsey took us at the beginning of our travels.  It is an area of land which has been cordoned off with a predator proof fence and all the predators eradicated eg possum, rats, mice, stoats etc etc thus providing a safe and natural habitat for New Zealand’s threatened forest species. When we arrived it was incredibly windy! Orokonui is quite high up and the wind made it very difficult to stand upright!  I was actually worried that the van might blow over, it was rocking and shaking so much!  Anyway, we made our way into the Orokonui centre and got our tickets then headed off into the sanctuary through a double“air lock” gate with a code to open it. I had brought my new hiking poles with me as I could see there would be steep paths to negotiate and I wanted to try them out. 


We spent an hour or so on the bush walk.  Within the forest itself we were sheltered from the wind and the whole place was all of a twitter with birdsong, it was lovely.  We arrived at one of the feeding stations and sat down to watch and wait.  Our patience was rewarded after a few minutes when a Kaka arrived to feed.  The Kaka is another of New Zealand’s parrots, it is quite a big bird.  The feeding station is designed especially for the Kaka’s, the food bin has a foot pedal to open the lid so that the bird can get at the food, only the Kaka is heavy enough to operate the pedal.


Kaka on feeding station, operating the foot pedal to open the food box!


We sat for ages watching this bird feed and drink.  First he would press the pedal with his foot, take out a piece of food then wander over to the other side to eat his prize.  As soon as he had finished eating he would go to the water bottle for a drink then back for another piece of food.  Every now and again other birds would turn up for a drink and we were very pleased indeed when a Bellbird, who had been singing his heart out in the trees above us, popped in to make use of the water bottle.  A Tui turned up as well later. 

Thirsty Bellbird


I have to add at this point that my hiking poles were absolutely fantastic, they made a huge difference when walking up steep paths and an even bigger difference when coming down as they took a lot of pressure off my knees.   Eventually we found ourselves back at the centre and went in for a browse around the shop and a coffee.  Clive bought himself a bar of soap (he has a thing about nice soaps!) and we also bought ourselves a DVD.  Then we went out into the howling wind again and fought our way back to the van, which fortunately hadn’t blown over!  It was quite scary driving back down the hill, the van was being blown around something shocking! 


The rest of our journey was pretty uneventful and we finally arrived at Moeraki and found a great campsite with a lovely view of the sea.  Again once we were checked in we went straight out again, this time to a lighthouse on a headland overlooking a beach with some very special visitors – Yellow Eyed Penguins!  These are very rare penguins indeed.  We’ve all seen documentaries and films about other penguins like the Emperor or the Jackass when you see them on beaches in their hundreds or even thousands, well with Yellow Eyed Penguins we were told we might see four or five!  They are found in various places up this coastline but only in pitifully small numbers. 


We parked at the lighthouse and followed the signs down a pathway, half way down we could see a beach over on the left with several sealions on it, however we carried on down to a viewing hide overlooking another beach and there was nobody there, we were on our own!  We got ourselves settled in, me with my camera at the ready and Clive using the binoculars, which were actually provided in the hide and chained to the wall to ensure they stayed there!  The surf was pounding up the beach and all we could see were a few seals and an odd cormorant but no penguins.  However Clive suddenly spotted one walking up the beach so I started snapping away! 


Yellow Eyed Penguin


We waited for quite a considerable time and several people had arrived to join us but no more penguins! We finally decided to head back up to the van, at least I had some photos of one penguin!  We had noticed a lot of noise coming from behind the hide and on the way back up the path we peeped under some bushes to see where the noise was coming from and spotted several penguin chicks behind a fence! Clive managed to creep under the bushes up to the fence and get some more photos.


Yellow Eyed Penguin chick


We returned to the campsite feeling very privelidged indeed to have seen these lovely rare penguins.


March 3rd 2011 – We left the campsite after breakfast and headed off to see something rather unusual!  The Moeraki Boulders.  The beach here is covered with giant round boulders up to 3m in diameter, which were formed about 65 million years ago in a similar way to pearls in an oyster shell, where layers of material cover a central nucleus or core.  Some of them have even been found to contain fossils of ancient sea creatures and some just bits of wood.  Normal boulders get shaped by the sea rolling them around but these were quite different and perfectly spherical.  They are the most bizarre things I have ever seen but I loved them.  I likened them to dragon eggs myself – it would be great if they were! 


Clive on one of the Moeraki Boulders


We spent a while on the beach amongst the hoards of other tourists who had come to see the boulders, then made our way back to the van and continued our journey, next stop Oamaru. 


Oamaru is famous for its white marble and there are a lot of late nineteenth century buildings in the town, which are really magnificent.  We found a campsite easily enough not far from the town centre then we went shopping.  We also needed a new cable for the laptop as we had been having a lot of problems with the old one.  We managed to find just what we needed in a computer shop in the town centre.  Oamaru is not just famous for its white marble, it also boasts a Little Blue Penguin colony and also has sightings of Yellow Eyes as well. So we went off on another penguin spotting expedition.  This time there were loads of people lining the pathway overlooking the beach!  We managed to fight our way through the crowds to the hide and got a good view of the beach, again nothing to see except a few sea lions!  One of them spent ages grooming itself then just sat there, like a statue!


Sea lion


We were there for absolutely ages and not a single penguin put in an appearance.  However we overheard one guy whispering to another guy that he had spotted one already in the shrubbery, having come ashore earlier! So, Clive and I reversed our course along the pathway to where we had seen him pointing and sure enough, about a yard away from all the crowds was a Yellow Eyed Penguin lying on a nest and hardly anybody had noticed him!


Yellow Eyed Penguin resting


Not far away from this one there was another one just standing there, motionless but looking very tatty indeed, it was in moult!  The funny thing was that hardly anybody had spotted them, they were all avidly watching the beach waiting to see penguins coming in from the sea!  We reckoned they had all come ashore earlier and were now resting in the shrubbery!


March 4th 2011 – After breakfast we headed into town to have a look at some of the lovely white buildings built with the Oamaru marble.  They really are very grand, especially the Opera House and two banks with Corinthean columns looking for  all the world like The Bank of England!


The Opera House, Oamaru


We then drove down one of the little side streets and parked the van, there was one place Clive really wanted to see, The Motor Museum!  We paid our $8 to get in then made our way into the exhibition, we were the only people in there.  There were all sorts of vehicles on display; cars, tractors, motor bikes etc ranging from a really old Rolls Royce to a GT40!  Clive was in his element and spent quite some time peering in at old leather interiors with a little happy smile on his face!


Austin 7 - three careful owners from new!


Personally I was more taken by a tractor towing an old caravan with stickers all over it and a map of the world on one side.  It’s claim to fame being that it is the only tractor and caravan to have toured the world! The couple who did the trip took a whole year to do it, leaving New Zealand on 14th March 1993 and arriving back on 22nd March 1994.  They covered 26,855Km  What a fantastic journey! Not sure I fancy doing it on a tractor though!!


Round the world tractor and caravan!


I finally managed to prize Clive away from all this motor memorabilia and dragged him off for a coffee and a bun before setting off on our travels once more.  We had decided to go back inland towards the mountains again before heading further up the coast, we were aiming for Mount Cook National Park. On the way we passed through the town of Duntroon and stopped off to visit the Vanished World Visitor Centre. There is lots of information here about the geology of New Zealand, which I have to say absolutely fascinates me! They also have casts of some of the many fossils which have been found over the years, including one of a prehistoric dolphin.  We had a great chat with a very knowledgeable lady and then set off in search of The Elephant Rocks, which were only a shor tdistance up the road from Duntroon.  It didn’t take us long to find them.  We parked the van and went for a walk. These rocks are basically the result of erosion which has sculpted the limestone into amazing shapes.  They are really quite spectacular.


Clive with some of the Elephant Rocks



If you look carefully at the photo above you will spot Clive, that will give you an idea of just how huge these rocks are!


We returned to the main road again and continued our journey to the mountains.  On the way we passed three huge dams which produce hydro-electricity for the South Island.  What makes these so amazing is the colour of the water in the lakes.  The strange milky colour of the water is caused by  “glacier flour”, which is the result of rocks being ground up by the force of the moving ice in the glaciers. 


Turquoise water!


Not long after we left the dams behind we got our first glimpse of the mountains and a short while later we spotted the snow clad peak of Mount Cook!  We gradually got nearer and nearer and eventually arrived at Lake Pukeka where we got a really fantastic view of the peak.  I got out of the van and walked down to the shore where there was a big boulder that I could rest the camera on, the reason being that it was incredibly windy again and I couldn’t hold the camera still!  Unfortunately there was quite a bit of haze over the lake but I still managed to get some decent photos.  We set off again and a short while later there was an even better view of the peak so I made Clive stop again so I could get some more shots – he’s very patient with me really!!


Mount Cook


Our destination was another lake, Lake Tekapo.  We had been instructed by our daughter Vicki that we must go there, it was her most favourite place!  She was there back in 1999 and has a beautiful panoramic photograph of the lake which has been enlarged and framed.  A short time later we arrived and could see straight away why she loved it so much, it really is beautiful.  Once again because of the “glacier flour” suspended in the water which reflects the sunlight, it is the most beautiful turquoise blue and it is surrounded by mountains, which currently have no snow on top unfortunately.


Beautiful Lake Tekapo


We found a campsite right on the shores of the lake and had a lovely view of the lake from the window.  There is an observatory on the hill just above the campsite and the night skies here at Tekapo are reputed to be the best in New Zealand as there is no light pollution.  Well that wasn’t the case at the campsite, I had to wear my mask to sleep because there was a wopping great halogen lamp on a pole on top of the toilet block shining all over the camp and right through the van windows!!  Night night!!


March 1st 2011 - Dunedin

Posted by clivenmel on 5 March, 2011 at 0:47

February 27th 2011 – just to carry on from yesterday, whilst I was typing the blog another campervan rolled up and took the pitch next to us.  We passed the time of day, as you do, then I continued working on the blog.  However later on after I had finished I ended up chatting to our new neighbours.  They are both retired teachers from Kent, John and Mandy.  Later, Clive and I went over to cook dinner in the camp kitchen and John and Mandy were making theirs as well.  We ended up spending a very pleasant evening with them, putting the world to rights, discussing the current education system in the UK etc etc!  They were a really nice couple and we were very glad to have met them.  We realised however that it was also nearly midnight – time for bed said Zebedee!!


We actually slept in this morning!  However nobody seems to rush in New Zealand, everyone is very laid back.  Most campsites have a check-out time of 10.00am but they never seem to enforce it anywhere!  So we had a cuppa, put the bed away and had a quick breakfast and then it was time for off – we weren’t that late really, however it did mean that it wasn’t worth stopping for elevenses – meh! No TimTams!!


We had to drive back into Invercargill in order to find the road to Dunedin. After a false start and going in completely the wrong direction we finally found the correct road!  We hadn’t been going all that long when we noticed a brown sign to Slope Point.  Brown Signs in New Zealand, as in the UK, usually mean that there is something of interest at the end of it so we decided to follow it and see where it led us. So glad we did!!  I was actually slightly mistaken yesterday when I said Bluff Point was the most Southerly point in New Zealand, it isn’t, Slope Point is! One tends to forget that South Island is actually slightly tilted so the Southernmost point isn't actually right at the bottom!  Anyway, it was a lovely view and there was a signpost telling us everything we needed to know.  A very kind German gentleman took our photograph with the sign!


Slope Point

We spent a while wandering around on the rocks and watching the waves crashing onto the shore below. It was also fascinating looking at the structure of the cliffs, it was easy to see all the different layers of sediment and rocks that had been laid down over eons.


We walked back across the fields to the where the van was parked and set off once more on our journey. We had decided to stay at a DOC site again tonight and this one was really off the beaten track!  From Slope Point we took a small side road and soon ended up on gravel.  It wasn’t too bad as these gravel roads go but we had to ensure all the windows were shut or else the van just fills up with fine dust which covers every surface! We had seen a spot on the map which we reckoned merited a visit too, Curio Bay it was called!  It took quite a while on this little back road and we barely saw another vehicle!  Finally we arrived and found that there was a DOC site here too but Clive really fancied the other one.  Anyway we went to see what Curio Bay was like and also the next bay to it, Porpoise Bay! Well, Curio Bay itself wasn’t really a bay at all, more like a flat headland but Porpoise Bay was awesome!  A really beautiful, perfect bay.  It also had another string to its bow, it was the haunt of Hector’s Dolphins!  Hector’s Dolphins are not only the smallest of the dolphins but also the rarest.  They are only found off New Zealand’s coastline and their numbers have become dangerously low.  Clive was really wanting to get off as it was still quite a drive to the other DOC site but he suggested we wait for half an hour to see if any dolphins showed up.  About 25 minutes later, during which we had been sitting patiently in the van with all eyes on the bay, Clive suddenly spotted one!  I grabbed my camera and ran to the end of the grass overlooking the bay. I set the camera on “Sport” and the next time I saw a splash I pressed the button and took four rapid shots.  I had a look and could see that I had got something but presumed it would be pretty blurred from that distance.  I carried on watching but didn’t spot any more dolphins so I went back to the van.


This is the first of the two photographs taken from the headland:


Hector's Dolphin


Imagine my delight when I finally got it downloaded onto the laptop and zoomed in to realise what a fantastic shot I had actually got!  This was so unexpected as I really was quite a considerable distance away.  I am sooooooo thrilled with this photograph.


Hector's Dolphin - close-up


We watched from the van for a little while longer but finally tore ourselves away.  We continued along the gravel roads for miles and miles and miles and I thought we were never going to get there!  Finally we arrived.  It was a very nice campsite and the Dunny was a little bigger than usual, in fact there were three altogether and even washbasins so you could brush your teeth, very civilised!  It had a really lovely view but I must say, I really wish we had stayed at the other one, I could have watched for dolphins for hours!


February 28th 2011 – We woke to the sound of cows mooing!  Clive looked out of the window and there were cows all over the beach! He got dressed and nipped off with the camera to take some photos whilst I put the bed away.  There were also some really big cliffs at this campsite and they looked quite amazing in the early morning light.


Misty Cliffs


After breakfast we left the DOC site, bumping and bouncing once again along the gravel road, fortunately we didn’t have to travel far this time before meeting the main road then we were back on tarmac, such a relief!  A short time later we passed through the small town of Owaka.  We saw something up ahead and I just had to ask Clive to stop, it really merited a photograph!


Teapotland - Owaka


There was a collection teapot outside for charitable donations, it definitely merited a donation don't you think! Its amazing what people do isn’t it!


As we had been up and off in reasonable time this morning we decided to stop somewhere and have a coffee and a TimTam, especially as we’d missed out yesterday.  Clive was doing the honours and as the kettle does not pour very well he always holds it over the washing up bowl to pour, thank goodness he does because just as he was pouring the hot water into one of the beakers the handle came off in his hand!!!


Came awf in me ‘and Sir!


Luckily the kettle itself just landed on the worktop, the handle remained in Clive’s hand!  He was so lucky, he could have been badly scalded! He hates that kettle with a vengeance and has been threatening to buy a new one almost since we set off on our travels. The trouble is the only kettles we have seen for sale all over New Zealand are exactly like this one!! Somebody has the monopoly on kettles here obviously!  I managed to grab the kettle with the tea towel and finished brewing the coffee. We later found the screw and the washer on the floor and it didn’t take Clive long to fix the handle back on, firmly!


It didn’t take us much longer to reach Dunedin and from there on to the Otago Peninsula and Portobello where we planned to camp for the night.  We drove alongside the sea for a few miles before finally arriving at the campsite. We got ourselves checked in but didn’t stop as we had decided to drive up to the headland to see if we could spot ourselves an Albatross!  There is a Royal Albatross colony here and so we couldn’t pass up such an opportunity. We arrived at the centre and parked the car then walked up the pathway and looked out to sea - well, apart from a lot of gulls and a few cormorants there was nothing to see!  It turns out that the colony is the other side of the headland and the only way to see it is to pay $30 apiece to view them from an observation hide.   I have no problem paying for things as a rule but I really thought that was exorbitant! So we didn’t do it, however we were rewarded by the sight of an albatross flying over the car park and I managed to get a few decent photos too.


Royal Albatross


We also spotted a Spoonbill and a few seals too so it wasn’t a wasted journey.  We returned to the campsite, parked the van and then went for a walk down to the village.  We had decided to have a meal out for a treat tonight so went into the local hotel and had a very enjoyable meal indeed.  When we returned to the campsite we popped into the office for some information on Dunedin and I noticed they had some DVDs for hire, I also noticed some hiking poles standing up in the corner of the reception!  I asked the guy how much the DVDs were to hire, “ah whatever you like really” he said! I then asked him if the hiking poles were for sale and if so, how much?  I have been wanting a pair of hiking poles for weeks now.  Ever since doing a bush walk with Lindsey back in Cleveden when I ended up using two sturdy branches to help me climb up the steep paths and even more so to help me get back down them again!  We have looked in lots of hiking shops and they are quite expensive, ranging between $80 -$129 each!  Again the young man behind the counter scratched his chin and said “make me an offer”!  I was quickly thinking – how much should I offer, when he said, “tell you what – give me $2 to hire the DVD and $20 for a pair of sticks”!  I bit his hand off, slapped the money in his hand and ran!


The DVD was The Lovely Bones and we enjoyed watching it on the laptop that evening.  The poles were stashed away in a cupboard until required.


March 1st 2011 – We had decided to spend the day having a really good look round Dunedin. So as soon as we had had breakfast and packed away we headed back into the city.  There was something we had spotted on the way out yesterday which I was determined to get a photograph of if I could.  It seems that the Vikings managed to get all the way over the Pacific to New Zealand - I don’t think so!! 


Viking Long Ship!


It was a lovely drive back into Dunedin along the shore and we managed to find a 2 hour parking space in the city and went off to explore.  Now for those of you who don’t know, Dunedin is actually the Gaelic (Scots) name for Edinburgh and reputedly the city of Dunedin is modelled on the city of Edinburgh in that there are streets of the same name and districts too. There is certainly a Princes Street in both cities and of course Portobello!  We wandered around for a while then found a café where we could sit and have a coffee and watch the world go by.  We noticed another café right on the corner with a plaque outside, which read:  “A place on a corner in the middle of a city at the bottom of the world” – I thought that was lovely!


Dunedin also has the most beautiful railway station which I have to say even rivals Huddersfield station for grandeur!


Dunedin Station


We had noticed that one of the roads had been cordoned off and there were some guys putting in a sound system with mic’s and speakers etc.  I asked one of them what was going on and he said that they were going to be holding a minutes silence for Christchurch at 12.51 – a whole week has gone by already since the quake!


We wandered back down towards where the van was parked but made a detour to visit a wonderful little place, Dunedin’s Chinese Garden!  It is absolutely beautiful, only tiny but like a little oasis in the heart of the city. The whole place was actually built in China then dismantled and shipped to Dunedin where it was painstakingly rebuilt. There are only three of these gardens in the world outside China, this one, one in Vancouver and one in New York!


Clive in the Chinese Garden

 We spent a while just wandering around this tranquil place, it was so peaceful and pretty, yet right outside its walls was a bustling city, amazing! 

We tore ourselves away and returned to the van then headed off to the other side of Dunedin to visit the Botanic Gardens.  We have got a few of these under our belts now; Wellington, Christchurch, New Plymouth, Auckland, Phoenix in the USA and of course Kew Gardens but do you know what, we’ve never been to the one in Cambridge and we’ve lived there for 18 years!!  Must put that right when we get back.  Anyway, the one in Dunedin was lovely, not the biggest one we’ve been to but very nicely done.


The Lake, Dunedin Botanical Gardens


One of the things that surprised us about Dunedin was how hilly it was, even more so than its counterpart in Scotland!  There are some flat parts down in the bottom of Dunedin but from there everywhere is upwards!  However there is one street that really takes the biscuit, Baldwin Street – this street is actually in the Guinness Book of Records as the steepest street in the world!  You can walk up it or drive up it if you so wish and if you do so you can then get a certificate from the shop stating that you have done so!  We didn’t attempt it but watched another guy do it in his 4WD, his wife got out first though and could hardly watch as he attempted the feat!  He made it right to the top and we all held our breath as he came back down, hoping thebrakes would hold!!  It’s a good job they did because there were a group of the inevitable Japanese tourists having a jolly photo shoot at the bottom!!


Baldwin Street - the steepest street in the world!


In actual fact this photo doesn’t really show just how steep the road is but take it from me it is very, very steep! 


After all that excitement we thought we had better go and look for somewhere to stay for the night!  We found a nice Top 10 campsite at the top of another steep and winding hill and soon got settled in, after a nice relaxing evening we had an early night.  Night night!

February 26th 2011 - Bluff, Invercargill

Posted by clivenmel on 28 February, 2011 at 23:08

February 25th 2011 – We didn’t wake up until 8.00am this morning surprisingly and some of the other campers had already left.  I had heard it raining in the night but thankfully that had stopped by the time we got up.  We had a cup of tea and some cereal for breakfast then went to explore the campsite a little more.  We wandered down to the lake shore, the view was amazing, a beautiful lake with a backdrop of towering mountains, lovely!  Still a bit cloudy but there was a little patch of blue sky which gave us some hope that the day might improve.

Lake Gunn

We were surprised at how clear the water was, you could actually see ducks under the water whilst they were dabbling.  It was really, really clear!


The clear water of Lake Gunn


The campsite itself was quite small really, some vans and tents had pitched on the shore of the lake and some in the forest, we hadn’t had a choice really, we had just grabbed the last space available which was under the canopy of the Beech forest, we were surrounded by enormous Beech trees, absolutely beautiful!


Camped under the Beech trees at Lake Gunn DOC campsite


Once again the sandflies were a major problem here, I think the ones that were here last night had all rushed home and fetched their mates!!  They were really bad this morning so we made a sharp exit!  We had contemplated driving back up towards Milford Sound this morning but as it was still quite cloudy we didn’t think it was worth it as it is very unlikely that the mist would have cleared the mountain tops, so we headed back on the road to Te Anau.  It was a lovely journey though, the road was lined on both sides by Beech forest, miles and miles of it then it finally opened out into flat grassland with mountains on either side, alas still with their heads in the clouds!


Yesterday, on the journey up to Milford Sound we had passed a sign to Mirror Lakes.  We didn’t stop at the time but decided we would go and investigate on the trip back.  It wasn’t long before we saw the sign and prepared to pull in.  There wasn’t much space to park when reached the spot, there were at least three coaches and several campervans but we managed to squeeze into the little spot that was left!  We wandered off down the boardwalk, following the signs and a short while later we arrived at the lakes, which surprisingly were quite small, in fact they weren’t much bigger than ponds really!  However, they really did have a reflective quality about them and looked lovely with the mountains in the background – once again, shame there was no snow on the peaks!


Mirror Lake living up to its name!


I had quite a job getting the photo actually, the place was teeming with Japanese tourists!  You know how they like to photograph each other in front of every view well one guy even took a photo of his wife in front of every information board!  We kept having to say excuse me to get past them and they kept bowing and smiling – so funny!


After our brief sojourn at Mirror Lake we continued our journey back to Te Anau.  When we arrived we made straight for the public conveniences for a quick pee and to brush our teeth!  That is the only problem with the DOC campsites, as there are no facilities other than the dunny there is nowhere to have a wash or brush your teeth.  We could do it on the van but then there is the problem of what to do with waste water, you are not allowed to throw “grey” water out on any of these sites.  Anyway, public conveniences in New Zealand are much more pleasant affairs than the ones at home in the UK – I don’t think I would ever consider brushing my teeth in one of them!!


Once cleaned up and after nipping to the supermarket for a few more bits and pieces we hit the road again, still heading South.  Our destination for the night being Manapouri.  It didn’t take us long to get there but once again the scenery was spectacular, mountains on the left and more mountains on the right, fantastic. I persuaded Clive to pull over so I could take some photographs.  There are range after range of mountains in the South and they all have different names.  We think these are the Kepler Mountains.


Kepler Mountains


We soon arrived in Manapouri and as there is only one campsite there we headed straight to it and got checked in.  It is a very quaint site run by a rather elderly couple, Clive said he thought she was American and her husband couldhave been Dutch!  There were lots of interesting things about the site, for a start there was the Morris Minor collection!!


Morris Minor Collection!


Secondly, when I nipped into the ladies I was surprised to find a board on the wall of the cubicle with snippets from Monty Python!!  However the kitchen facilities were very nice indeed, the dining room had lots of lovely round wooden tables and chairs, a bit like something out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears!  


Once we were settled in we went for a walk down to the lakefront.  Again, the water was crystal clear – why is that?  British lakes are always dark and gloomy looking, the water seems almost black doesn’t it.  The lakes here though are so clear you can see the bottom!  You can see in this photo of Clive and the lake just how clear it is.


Clive and the clear waters of Lake Manapouri


We stayed on the beach for a little while then headed back up to the road.  Next door to the camp was a bar – oh goody!  We sauntered over and got ourselves a couple of drinks then went to sit outside.  There were a load of bikers there too, we had seen their gorgeous motor bikes in the carpark! One couple were Canadian, the rest were from Australia, well apart from one who was born in New Zealand but now lives in Australia.  We were laughing when we heard him saying to the Canadian couple that they refer to North Island, South Island and West Island (Australia!).


After enjoying our drinks in the sunshine – yes I did say sunshine!  It had finally put in an appearance!  We wandered back to thecamp.   I went into the camp kitchen to prepare the dinner, well the potatoes and stir-fry veggies, Clive was going to cook lamb chops on the campsite barbecue. Now although I said it was sunny I didn’t say it was warm!  It was flipping perishing!  I was OK in the kitchen but Clive was feeling pretty chilly outside cooking the chops, bless! In actual fact for the last two days we have both been wearing long trousers, something neither of us have done for many, many weeks!  However you have to remember, we are now a long way South, it’s a bit like going up to Scotland at home!  We’re not actually that far from Antarctica here you know!


February 26th 2011 – we left Manapouri after breakfast this morning and continued on the road South heading for Invercargill.  This journey was in total contrast to the last week or so, it was completely and utterly flat!  I can’t believe how different it was!  Certainly over the last week we have been driving on roads with vertical sides, looking up at towering peaks!  Very soon after leaving Manapouri it just completely levelled out!  The road wasperfectly straight, barely a curve and there was nothing to see but grass,sheep and cows, with an occasional Silverbeet field every now and again!


To break the monotony we turned off at a sign pointing to: Historic Suspension Bridge!  This old bridge was amazing, its called the Clifden Suspension Bridge (not to be confused with the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol!).  It spans the Waiau River (which again is absolutely crystal clear!)  Its once claim to fame was being the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand.


Clifden Suspension Bridge, once the longest in New Zealand!


It was officially opened on April 5th 1899.  This opening was followed by a dance in nearby Clifden Hall, which evidently went on into the small wee hours!  Over time the horses and mules crossing this bridge were replaced by motor cars and the bridge remained in use until 1978 when it was finally replaced by a new bridge.


So, we crossed the river, via the new bridge and continued our journey South.  The journey was actually beginning to get boring can you believe, we hadn’t seen anything other than field after field of sheep and cows for what seemed like hours, then all of a sudden we saw the sea!  The Tasman Sea to be precise, we had finally got back to the coast. There was a view point up ahead so we decided to stop, have a look at the sea and also have a coffee and TimTam – late Elevenses!


View of the Tasman Sea as seen from McCracken's Rest


It was great to see the coast again, I’ve missed the sea!  After coffee we continued our journey and eventually we arrived in Invercargill, the most Southerly city of New Zealand.  However, we didn’t stop there, we drove right through the centre and continued on to Bluff!  Bluff really is the furthest South you can get to in New Zealand by car!  Well unless that is you go over to Stewart Island. Not everyone realises that New Zealand is not just made up of two islands, there are many actually but the main ones are North, South and Stewart!  Stewart Island however only has one road, which is very, very short indeed! It is a wildlife haven however and many people do venture over the Foveaux Strait to the island.  We decided not to in the end.  Bluff however was wonderful!  It is basically the “Land’s End” of New Zealand.  So, we have now been to the very top of New Zealand, Cape Reinga and now the very bottom, Bluff.  The distance between these two points is 1401 Km.  How do I know that?  Because there is one of those signs that shows you how far it is to everywhere, just like there was at Cape Rienga!  The compulsory photographs were taken of us both under the sign just to prove we had been there and done that!


Mel at Bluff, the bottom of New Zealand!


On the journey down here this morning we had been discussing Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand, which I am sure many of you have seen.  I asked Clive if he knew where it was that Billy had been photographed with a huge sculpture of a chain?  He, like me, vaguely remembered it being down Invercargill way but we weren’t sure just where.  Well, after having our photos taken under the sign we turned around and walked back up towards the van – there it was – the chain!   I was just about to take a photo of Clive with the chain when a guy came over and asked if we would like one together – how kind.  We said yes and handed over the camera, he took a couple for good measure.  Then Clive reciprocated and took one of him and the rest of his family.  He sounded South African to me and said he was here visiting his sister.


Clive and I with The Chain

You may be wondering what this chain is all about.  Well, in Maori legend, Maui was a legendary Polynesian voyager with god-like powers.  Creation stories tell of how he pulled Stewart Island/Rakiura from the ocean floor to be the anchorstone (Te Puka a Maui) for his canoe, or South Island (Te Waka a Maui – which means the canoe of Maui).  Thus anchored Maui was able to cast his line and haul out the giant fish which was to become North Island (Te Ika a Maui).  The chain links also symbolise a history of inter-relationships between the peoples of Bluff.  The chain seems disappears into the sea here at Bluff but reappears at Lee Bay on Stewart Island.  This story about Maui also explains the Maori symbol of the fishing hook.  Clive wears a bone one as a necklace and we also have a large one, beautifully carved out of Kauri wood, on the wall of our boat at home.

We finally tore ourselves away from Bluff and its legends and headed back towards Invercargill.  We had contacted a campsite on the journey down and booked ourselves in.  It wasn’t hard to find and we soon got settled in. Just one problem – no Vodafone signal here for the dongle!  Meh! So, I have had to wait a couple of days for a good signal in order to post this blog - now I'm behind again!!

February 23rd 2011 - Lake Gunn, Fjordland

Posted by clivenmel on 25 February, 2011 at 2:57

February 21st 2011 – continued – We decided in the end to go and see 127 Hours, it was fantastic.  We actually remember hearing about the incident on the news back in 2003 so we did know what the outcome of the film would be.  It was very well done though and we really enjoyed it, even though it is a very gruelling story and a bit gory at the end!!

February 22nd 2011 – Our son Gareth’s 31st birthday!  It was pouring with rain when we woke up so we made the decision to stay put in Queenstown for another day so Clive made a quick dash to the office and booked us in for another night.  We decided to nip down into town after lunch when it stopped raining, as I had had yet another disaster – we found my prescription sunglasses in bed with us this morning!!!  Don’t ask! We’ve no idea how they got there!  Anyway, one of the sides was broken off so we went into town to find an opticians.  We found one but they couldn’t help me as they could only offer to send them away to be fixed, which is no good as we are travelling, so in the end we went to a pharmacy and bought some clip on sunglasses to use with my normal specs.

We had decided, as the weather was so inclement, that we might as well go to the cinema again and see The King’s Speech so Clive nipped in to buy the tickets for the next showing. Whilst I was waiting outside for him I noticed a crowd of people standing outside the  pub next to the cinema obviously looking at something, so I  went to see what it was.  It turned out to be a large TV in the entrance to the pub, the news was on with the story of another aftershock in Christchurch unfolding, obviously much worse than the previous ones.  We were very shocked when we saw the footage on the TV, there was obviously damage on a much more massive scale and they were already talking about huge loss of life! We stayed at the pub for about half an hour watching the news of this devastating earthquake before going to the cinema to watch the film.  Which was of course excellent but we were feeling rather subdued nevertheless.


We returned to the campsite after the film and Clive wentinto the TV lounge to see if there was more news from Christchurch, whilst Imade the dinner.  We were really quiteconcerned as we know several people who live in Christchurch and whom we wereintending to meet up with when get there in about ten days time.  We were just hoping that they were allOK. 

February 23rd 2011 – Clive’s 59th birthday!  We finally left Queenstown, a little disappointed that for the whole of the three days we had been there the clouds had never lifted enough for us to see the peaks of The Remarkables!  Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all!  We were also still feeling very down about the Christchurch earthquake.  We were heading for Te Anau today and Fjordland.  The Southern corner of South Island is a vast place of nothing but mountains, forests, lakes and fjords.  There are no roads and nobody lives there!  Right on the edge of this vast empty space is the town of Te Anau on the shores of a lake with the same name and that was our destination. 

The drive was uneventful, the scenery awesome but unfortunately there was still a lot of low cloud around which hid the tops of the mountains.  Eventually we arrived at Te Anau and booked ourselves into the Top 10 campsite there.  It was a fantastic site, the facilities were really superb and the kitchen was absolutely beautiful, it even had an ice making machine!  Once we had got the van settled in we went for a walk into town to do a bit of shopping, which included the purchase of a backpack, the one thing we didn’t bring with us and which we could have made good use of several times. We got a really nice one, which will be very useful indeed - I love it, its got lots of zips and pockets!!   We returned to the campsite and I went off to the kitchen to make tea, well two teas actually!  We have booked a cruise up Milford Sound for tomorrow and have decided to stay at a DOC campsite afterwards.  As there are no facilities on these sites other than a dunny I thought it would be a good idea to cook a meal that we could just heat up on the van’s gas hob. So I cooked a pasta Bolognese first then once that was done and dusted I prepared our dinner for tonight – a lovely big fry up!  We have been eating very healthily since arriving in New Zealand, in fact we eat mainly salads but every now and again we indulge ourselves with fish and chips, or a Chinese or in this case bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans and mushrooms – yummy!  Whilst I was cooking the dinner a delightful lady came into the kitchen and we got chatting. Her name is Dorothy and she lives in Dunedin.  She and her husband Peter have been touring around New Zealand in their campervan for many years. She is very proud of the fact that both she and her husband have Scottish roots, their name is Engles. She also told me that they love to dance and especially waltz to the Flower of Scotland.  It cropped up in conversation that Clive and I were Folkies and she was very interested to hear about that.  Anyway, we finally said goodbye and she went off back to their van whilst I prepared the second meal.  After a little while she came back and asked me if we were doing a concert anywhere that evening!!  I said no, that we didn’t actually do concerts as such.  She looked terribly disappointed so I asked her if she would like us to pop round to their van later with the instruments and play them a few tunes – she was delighted!

First of all, I had a little surprise up my sleeve for Clive.  I had given him a birthday card first thing in the morning when we woke up, which he wasn’t expecting at all!  However, unbeknown to him I had managed to buy the nearest thing to a birthday cake at the supermarket in Queenstown where Vicki used to work back in 1999!  I had also managed to get a birthday set with numbers and a candle.  When he nipped off for a shower before dinner I got it all prepared and when he got back I sang Happy Birthday to him and presented the cake!

Birthday boy!

We had our meal and washed up then we set off round to Dorothy and Peter’s van with the guitar and the flute.  They really are a delightful couple and we were stunned to learn that Dorothy is 87 and Peter 89!  They are still dancing and still touring in their campervan and loving every minute of it. Clive sang Flower of Scotland for them and they were thrilled to bits, he also did Ye Jacobites By Name and we played a few tunes for them as well, they were really delighted.  I felt that I had to have a record of this event so I dashed back to our van for the camera and on the way back commandeered a fellow camper from the kitchen to come and take a photo of us all.

Clive and I with Dorothy and Peter Engles

We finally had to tear ourselves away as we had booked a session in the spa pool and we only had a few minutes to get back to the van and get our stuff together.  Dorothy gave us both a cuddle and thanked us very much for playing for them.  It is a lovely feeling to be able to bring a little pleasure to someone who really appreciates it.

We thoroughly enjoyed the spa, it was lovely to have a soak in hot bubbling water – I wish we had room for one on the boat back home!!

February 24th 2011 – We have been very relieved to hear, via Facebook mainly, that most of our contacts in Christchurch are OK, there was one person however that I didn’t know about.  Bryony, a former colleague of mine from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.  She and her husband Jeremy and their three children now live in Christchurch.  Jeremy and Bryony are both hospital consultants and work at Christchurch Hospital. So after breakfast I phoned Bryony’s home and was very relieved indeed when her husband Jeremy answered the phone and assured me that they were all OK!  I also spoke to Bryony and she advised me most strongly not to consider visiting Christchurch at all, she said it really isn’t a nice place to be at the moment.  Besides all the rubble from collapsed buildings there are also problems with water, electricity and of course sewage!!  We are both very disappointed indeed as we had been really looking forward to visiting this lovely city again and meeting up with various people but feel that she is right and that we should give Christchurch a wide berth as the last thing they need there is tourists!  However as Bryony also said, it’s a great excuse to come back to New Zealand again in the future!!

We left Te Anau and set off on the road to Milford Sound.  The weather wasn’t looking very promising even though the forecast had looked quite good.  We had been told by the lady in reception at the campsite that the journey up to Milford was almost as amazing as the Sound itself and she wasn’t kidding!  The scenery was absolutely spectacular!  I took so many photographs - mainly to remind us of that trip. There were fantastic blue rivers bubbling over huge boulders, there were dozens of waterfalls pouring down from huge, high cliffs, there were vast glaciated valleys and there were towering mountains all around us it was truly awe inspiring.  The mist however was getting lower and lower and filling the valleys below us!


Mist filled valley

At one point we went through a deep, dark tunnel through which the road descends quite a way and when we came out at the other side we could see the road disappearing below us in a series of hairpin bends!  We went down and down and down a long, longway!

Eventually we arrived at Milford Sound itself.  There isn’t a lot there, just a café and bar, visitor centre, loos etc and then the harbour where all the cruise boats dock.  There are lots of those!  We had commented on the road from Te Anau on how many coaches there were, Clive kept pulling over to let them pass, there were dozens!  We checked in at the desk and were told to just hang about until they called us.  We watched several other cruise companies loading their passengers on board their vessels, some of which were really big.  At this point I just have to post a photo of Clive!  Those of you who know him well will laugh at the sight of him in jeans and a hoody looking for all the world as if he deserves an ASBO!

ASBO Candidate!

Finally it was our turn and we followed our skipper to the boat we were to travel on, which was just a nice size. We were fortunate that there were only eight other people on board besides ourselves so there was no difficulty finding somewhere to stand or sit with a good view.  A few minutes later and we were reversing out of the harbour for our memorable cruise down theMilford Sound.

The weather was very disappointing I’m afraid, the sun did not put in an appearance at all and the mist never lifted, in fact it got worse!  However, as Clive quite rightly said, it did add something rather special to the trip, it was very atmospheric indeed.  This place is just incredible, there are towering, conical mountains for the whole way up the Sound on both sides and there are huge waterfalls pouring down from the tops.  This place is the wettest place in New Zealand, in fact it gets more than 5000mm of rain each year and 8000mm on the mountains, which of course drain into the Sound! It has been known to have 500mm in a 24 hour period!!! So it is not surprising really that it gets misty from time to time!  All the postcards, adverts and books show the famous view of Mitre Peak reflected in a beautiful calm sea with a gorgeous blue sky and it is glorious, like this:

Mitre Peak, Milford Sound (courtesy of a postcard!)

However, we suspect that a heck of a lot of tourists who come to Milford Sound are more likely to see it as we saw it ourselves – shrouded in mist but still absolutely stunning!

Mitre Peak as we saw it, shrouded in mist!

Our cruise was supposed to be a wildlife cruise as well.   Unfortunately it’s the wrong season for the Fjordland Crested Penguins, so we knew we wouldn’t be seeing any of those.  We did see some Gannets however, right at the very end of the Sound.  The boat hugged the Southern shore all the way to the very end of the Sound and out into the Tasman Sea then we turned around and headed back towards the Sound.  By now the mist had come down even further and we could also see that it was raining!

Rain clouds!

After re-entering the Sound we cruised back up via the Northern shore this time.  On the way back the boat slowed right down next to a large, flat rock to enable us to photograph NZ Fur Seals, sleeping without a care in the world and totally oblivious to our presence!

Juvenile New Zealand Fur Seals - Teenagers!!

Our previous encounters with the fur seals has been with mothers and young pups but these are juvenile seals, the equivalent of teenagers, who have been turfed out of the colony by their mothers and told to look after themselves!  A right lot of layabouts they are too!

The boat continued up the Northern side of the Sound until we arrived at Sterling Falls, which are evidently 151m high!  We had seen the falls on our way down the Southern shore but we were much closer now.  In fact the skipper took the boat right up to the falls so that the water was actually pouring over the bows – it was awesome!  It was also quite damp so you had to be pretty nifty taking photos!!

Sterling Falls - up close and personal!!

Finally we were back on dry land.  We jumped back into the van, took off our waterproofs etc then headed back up the road to find a campsite.  We finally arrived at the Lake Gunn DOC campsite but it was pretty full! According to the book there are only ten pitches available, well there were at least 12 campervans and tents already there!  However we did manage to squeeze into a spot not too far from the dunny!  The only problem with this site, being in a forest and near to a lake, was the sandflies!  We had to be very careful to ensure the doors and windows were all shut yet they still managed to get in!  Pesky things!

It was still raining when we arrived so we didn’t bother exploring, we just got ourselves settled in and had dinner, which was very tasty indeed even though I do say so myself! We had bought a paper earlier in the day so we again spent a couple of hours doing the crosswords and word puzzles by lamplight until it was time for bed.  Tonight it is really, really dark – no need for my mask

Night night all!

February 21st 2011 - Queenstown

Posted by clivenmel on 21 February, 2011 at 16:44

This is the second attempt!  I sat for nearly two hours last night doing this blog, first typing it in word then transferring it onto the website and downloading all the photographs, just as I was editing the very last photograph I must have some how hit a key combination which suddenly took me to a different page, I clicked "back" but it had all gone!!!  I was pretty miserable I can tell you, had to walk away and leave it, couldn't face doing it all again last night so now, here goes again!!  Thank goodness I do at least have the Word doc to transfer, at least that was saved!!


February 19th 2011 – We had our Chinese takeaway last night, it was OK but we’ve certainly had better!  Anyway, it made a change from salad. 


The clouds had lifted by the time we got up this morning and the tops of the mountains had come into view. Clive nipped out to take a photo before we packed up to leave.


Wanaka campsite


We drove back down to the lakeside and stopped to get a few pics of the lake before heading off on the road to Queenstown.  We had decided to take the scenic route rather than driving down the main highway, there was a special reason for this – its Lord of the Rings country!  We got a wonderful Christmas present from Lindsey, The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook!  What better present could two avid LOTR fans get!  This book showed us that several of the locations used in the film were not far from Queenstown and we really wanted to go and have a look at one of them in particular, The River Anduin aka The Kawarau River to most Kiwis! 


The road was quite a long way up as we came through the mountains and there was a viewpoint where we could look down and see Queenstown way in the distance and a long way below! So, we had to descend! The road was quite steep and at one point we could definitely smell hot brakes!  Clive slowed right down to a crawl using the engine as a brake and that helped a lot. At one point we could see the road below us, descending in a series of hairpin bends!


Hairpin bends!


Finally we reached the bottom and turned left, following the directions in the location guide book. The Kawarau river runs through a deep gorge and over it is a suspension bridge from where you can do a Bungy jump (if you so desire!) from A J Hackett’s Bungy.


A J Hackett's Bungy over the Kawarau River


A J Hackett and a mate, speed skier, Henry Van Asch, invented the modern bungy and this strange custom has of course now spread all over the world but the idea originated on the island of Vanuatu where a huge wooden tower was built and young men with vines tied round their ankles would leap off this structure as a rite of passage into manhood.  I remember seeing footage of this feat when I was a youngster at home watching documentaries on the TV!  Anyway we thought we would check it out, seeing as we were passing!  When we arrived there were some young people already signed up to leap from the bungy so we decided to stay and watch!  Personally I think they are all quite mad but heyho, whatever presses your buttons!!  We watched about five people do the leap, including one young lady.  I have to say all the guys yelled and screamed as they jumped but the young lady was as quiet as a mouse, not even a squeak!


Bungy jumper!


There is one particular scene in the LOTR film when the fellowship travel down the River Anduin in beautiful Elvish boats and they pass through the Pillars of the Kings, The Argonath, which are vast stone statues of two kings, one on either side of the river.  These of course were computer generated in the film onto the real walls of the Kawarau Gorge.  We wanted to see the spot so we again followed the directions.  Right opposite the exit from the Bungy car park is a little gravel road climbing quite steeply up a hillside, it is the road to Chard Farm Vineyard but also has a birds eye view of “The River Anduin” and the spot where the Pillars of the Kings was located.  Even if you are not a Rings fan the view is awesome!  To us it was just magical.


Location for The Argonath, The Pillars of the Kings


After taking loads of photos of this fantastic river and gorge we drove back down to the main road and set off in the direction of Queenstown again.  We took another little detour though, just before Queenstown is a little place called Arrowtown.  This place was also used as the location for the Fords of Bruinen, or at least for part of the scene anyway.  The ford itself is tucked away at the back of Arrowtown but other shots from the Fords of Bruinen which entailed high cliffs and a huge wall of computer generated water were actually shot elsewhere in New Zealand.  We didn’t see the spot where it was filmed but Arrowtown was worth a visit anyway, its lovely!  It is actually the site of an old gold mining village.  Gold was first discovered here in 1862 and it turned out to be one of the world’s richest gold bearing areas!  Over 7000 Europeans and Chinese came to try and make their fortune.  This wasn’t gold mining in the normal sense though, this was alluvial gold and you find it by “panning” in the river.   Today Arrowtown is a tourist haven.  All the little old miner’s cottages have been revamped and turned into shops, restaurants and pubs etc.  It is very pretty indeed. We did actually spot one young lade with a frying pan and a trowel trying her hand at panning though!


Arrowtown's main street


We found a pub called The Tap, had drink and shared a burger and chips! Well we only wanted a snack and they were huge, plenty for two!  After another wander around this charming place we got back in the van and headed into Queenstown.   We have been looking forward to getting here for a while as we have had many good reports about this amazing place.  First of all our daughter Vicki came here back in July 1999.  She was supposed to be “touring” New Zealand but when she arrived in Queenstown she took root and wouldn’t budge, she loved it so much! She was here for over three months!! Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world, every extreme sport imaginable is done here and if it isn’t its not worth doing!  There is the inevitable bungy, this time from a platform over a forest!!  There is Skiing, Jetboating along the Shotover River, Skydiving, Mountain Biking, White Water Rafting – need I go on?  Well we aren’t doing any of those things I can tell you, call us boring old farts ifyou will!  We may possibly take the gondola ride up to the top of one of mountains, where the forest bungy is!  Regardless of all that, Queenstown is also a really great place to be.  It has a lovely atmosphere, a sort of cross between Windermere and Chamonix!  It has a definite alpine feel about it and is absolutely stuffed to the gills with young people, mostly backpackers!  The best thing about Queenstown though is it slocation, nestled on the side of Lake Wakatipu surrounded by a range of mountains, The Remarkables,  which are quite remarkable!!  Of course when Vicki was here it was winter and they were all covered in snow, at the moment they are quite naked!


Lakefront, Queenstown with The Remarkables in the background


Unfortunately this photograph does not do it justice but it was very overcast and gloomy.  We parked the van and walked into the centre of town where we found a bar with live entertainment, a couple of young guys on guitars doing mainly American country stuff, they were quite good.  There wasn’t much room so we asked a couple if they would mind us joining them at their table.  They turned out to be holidaying here from America, they hail from Kansas!  We had a good old chinwag then said goodbye and headed back to the van.  We found a leaflet stuck in the windscreen wipers when we got back, advertising a new campsite in Queenstown but we had already decided to try a Dept of Conservation Wilderness Camp tonight instead of a normal campsite.  There was one about 6km outside Queenstown at a place called Moke Lake. We soon found the turn off and ended up on a gravel road heading out into the middle of nowhere!  Finally after a rather bumpy journey we arrived at the campsite, it was lovely!  A small lake surrounded by mountains and a few tents and campervans parked on the shore and one “dunny”!


Moke Lake DOC Campsite


We had a very peaceful night.  I was expecting total darkness too but the moon was full so it was still very light even at midnight!  We had no electric hook-up of course so couldn’t use the laptop to watch a film or anything, also there was no Vodafone signal out here whatsoever so we couldn’t even check emails etc but we did have a newspaper so spent a couple of hours doing crosswords and word puzzles together, it was great fun.  We do have a really great battery powered lantern which we purchased at the start of our travels in the campervan.  It’s a really good one and we are going to see if we can get one for the boat when we get back home.


This morning, just as we had finished breakfast, Mr Ranger came round to collect the camp fees. Normally we pay anywhere between $30 and $40 (approx £15 - £20) a night on a campsite, this one cost us the princely sum of $14 – brilliant!  OK so there are no facilities, other than the dunny but never mind.  One of the things we were absolutely delighted about was the fact that the fridge had stayed on all night running purely on battery power. We had placed the frozen freezer packs in the body of the fridge to help keep everything fresh in case the power went off in the night and were very surprised indeed to find that it hadn’t!


Heading back to Queenstown on the road from Moke Lake

We drove back into Queenstown and made use of the public conveniences in the town centre, which are a bit more pleasant than the dunny and also have hand washing facilities! Unfortunately the weather has really taken a dive today, its raining, quite heavily!  So we decided to checkout the new campsite on the leaflet.  It is actually on the same road as the rented house that Vicki lived in when she was here in 1999!  We checked in straight away and as it was raining so heavily we’ve stayed put.  Clive is now in the TV lounge whilst I’m here in the van blogging!  However we are thinking of going to the cinema later – can’t decided what to see though!  We want to see both 127 Hours and The King’s Speech, think we might have to toss a coin!!


February 19th 2011 - Wanaka

Posted by clivenmel on 19 February, 2011 at 3:03

Well there I was completely up to date with the blog and we go and enter an internet black hole and now I'm a day behind again! Meh!

February 18th – We had a lovely surprise last night, just after I had finished posting the blog! The cloud had llifted and we had a wonderful view of Mt Tasman and Mt Cook peeping out from behind some of the closer, tree-clad mountains.  They looked lovely with the sun gleaming on their snowy peaks.


Mt Tasman and Mt Cook

We also had a bit of a disappointment thought, we heard the weather forecast – it was going to rain overnight and throughout the day!  Ah well, we really can’t complain, we’ve been so lucky, wall to wall sunshine since we arrived in South Island really, apart from rain one night, which had all disappeared by the following morning.  The trees and plants need water so I guess we will just have to put up with a bit of rain!


However, surprise, surprise, we woke up this morning – no rain!  It was a bit cloudy and overcast but it was fine!  We decided to go and see the Fox Glacier after all.  So as soon as we had finished breakfast and washed up we headed off back into the township.  First stop was the Department of Conservation (DOC) Office for some information. Throughout South Island there are “wild” campsites.  These are places where you can stay overnight for about $7, unlike the $30-$40 we normally pay.  The difference is there is no electric hook-up and very little in the way of facilities, usually just a loo!  You must leave the place exactly as you find it, leave nothing behind, including grey water eg washing up water!  We quite fancy staying out in the wilderness so to speak, if for no other reason than it will be totally dark – I have taken to wearing a mask that I got on the plane as the campsites tend to be brightly lit, especially if your pitch is near the toilet and shower blocks as the lights stay on all night!  We got a little book showing all the DOC campsites and what facilities they have.  We also stopped off at the local shop and bought a couple of ice packs that we can freeze as we are travelling then they will help to keep the fridge cold overnight in case the battery power runs out!


Next stop, Fox Glacier! We parked the car, donned our boots and slathered ourselves with Bushman Plus, a very efficient insect repellent!  If the sandflies were bad up North they are a hell of a lot worse down here and three times as big!  Once prepared we headed off to see the glacier.  It was only a short trek, about half an hour each way.  Before we even reached the glacier we were awed by the valley we were walking through.  This valley would once have been full of ice, before the glacier retreated.  The cliffs were absolutely stunning!  Soooooooooooo huge!  To give you some persepective, look closely at this photograph and you will see the people walking along the valley floor!


Huge cliffs!


As you can see, the valley floor, which still has a river running through it, is totally flat!  Finally we came in sight of the glacier, it looked quite similar to the Franz Josef but because this one goes around a bend you can’t really see all of it at once. The terminal point or “nose” looked very similar with a cave-like entrance where the river flows out from under the glacier. 


Clive and Fox Glacier


However because we were able to get so much closer to this one we could see the sides as well, which are very interesting because you can see all the layers and contours in the ice. 



We got as close as the barriers would allow.  These are put there for your safety and some tourists who ignored the warnings and went through the barriers to get close to the ice have been killed by huge blocks of ice falling off the glacier and crushing them!  Also the river running out of the glacier sometimes surges and evidently people have been caught unawares and swept away in the past! 


Time was passing and we still had quite a drive ahead of us so we tore ourselves away and headed back to the van. On the way Clive spotted something moving amongst the rocks on the side of the path – I quickly took some photos but the damn thing wouldn’t keep still, finally it stopped briefly and I got the clearest shot I could manage.  It was a Wolf Spider, which at first we thought was just hairy but on closer inspection we saw it was carrying hundreds of babies on its back!


Wolf Spider carrying hundreds of babies!


We returned to the van and set off again, this time heading for Haast.  Soon after we set off it started to drizzle!  Once again we had been really lucky that it hadn’t come sooner and spoiled our trip to the glacier. The journey to Haast was fairly uneventful and took us about three hours.  At one point though we realised just how eventful it could have been!  We saw a sign showing that there was a diversion ahead and sure enough the road suddenly veered off to the right but not before we saw what was ahead on the original route – a huge rockfall with massive boulders the size of cars littering the road – that could really ruin your day if you happened to be driving past when it happened!!


We didn’t actually stop in Haast itself but continued on to a campsite at Haast Beach, though we didn’t actually see the beach either!  It was very dull and overcast when we arrived and we didn’t really feel like going anywhere.  There was a TV lounge cum kitchen/dining room with comfy settees available so we spent a couple of hours in there just chilling. Interestingly a large party arrived, all on bicycles and set up their tents in the middle of the campsite, there was a van accompanying them which carried all their gear.  A couple of the guys came in to make a huge dinner for them all – we think they were Russian! 


During the night it rained. Once again I had to get up for pee in the night and it was quite drizzly, I got back into bed slightly damp!


February 19th – when we woke up this morning the rain had stopped luckily but it was a bit damp underfoot.  The cloud had also lifted and we could see mountains, we hadn't even realised they were there!


Haast Beach campsite and mountains


I went into the kitchen to wash the breakfast pots and ended up chatting to a nice Maori lady.  She was admiring my Pounami (Greenstone) Koru necklace and told me that she was going up into Haast township later to see if she could buy a necklace for her son.  Evidently when a Maori boy reaches 21 he is given his first Pounami necklace, just a lozenge shaped drop, which evidently signifies his power and masculinity.  Her son is going to be 21 in August!  She also told me that her father was a pilot during the war and flew Lancaster bombers. He was based in Scarborough!  He lodged with a Yorkshire couple whilst he was stationed there and they became lifelong friends.  They used to come out to New Zealand for six months each year until they were too old to travel, she and all her 7 siblings knew them as Nan and Pop!  Sadly her father and Nan and Pop too have all passed away now.


We left Haast Beach, having never seen the beach at all and headed back to the highway.  We noticed that all the trees and shrubs along the roadside had been bent at an angle bythe strong sea winds, they looked almost as if they had been neatly clipped into strange shapes, wind topiary maybe! We also spotted this strange looking tree that looks as if its wearing a wrinkly leg warmer!


Wrinkly leg warmer!


Our journey today took us through some spectacular scenery; lakes and mountains, tumbling waterfalls, huge gorges and vast river beds - you name it we saw it!  I took lots of pictures out of the window and some were better than others!


We finally reach Lake Wanaka and the road followed her East shore for quite a while.  We had spectacular views over the lake but unfortunately as it was so overcast the photos don’t do it justice.  We stopped off in a gravelled area to make some lunch and have a cuppa before continuing on our way.  A short time later the road veered away from the lake but in only a few minutes we were travelling down the West shore of another lake, Lake Hawea.  This lake was even more spectacular than Lake Wanaka and we could see the mountains in the distance, if only it had been a sunny day it would have been absolutely stunning!  Clive pulled over at a view point so that I could get a decent photo.


Lake Hawea


At around 3.30pm we arrived on the outskirts of Waneka.  Clive had read in one of our brochures that there was a Fighter Pilot Museum located at the airport so we took a detour up the road towards Queenstown for about 7km to go and have a look.  It was a very interesting museum with lots of personal stories, photos and artefacts from both the great wars.  We were very interested to learn that a lot of the NZ pilots were actually in the Fleet Air Arm, as was our great friend Britt, Lindsey and Phillipa’s father.  He used to fly Corsairs back in WWII and many of the NZ pilots flew in them too.  We had a coffee and a bun in the museum café and watched the small planes taking off and landing on the small air strip then we jumped back in the van and headed for Waneka.  We had a drive around the town then parked the van and went to look around the shops plus popped into a local  supermarket to pick up a few staples.  Then we set off to find a campsite.  It didn’t take long, there was a Top 10 just outside town. We have decided to have a take-away tonight so are going to nip back into town as soon as I have finished this to pick up dinner!


We are heading for Queenstown tomorrow, all being well!  We are keeping our fingers crossed that the weather improves, it would be lovely if the sun came out and we could see the tops of the mountains!


February 17th 2011 - Fox Glacier Township

Posted by clivenmel on 17 February, 2011 at 3:26

February 15th 2011 - continued.  In the last blog we were just crossing over the Grey River into Greymouth.  We decided to drive into the town centre, park the van and go and see if we could find a Vodafone shop.  Since setting off on our travels around New Zealand we have been relying on WiFi, which is accessible, at a price, at nearly all campsites, however there are various companies providing WiFi around the country and some are better than others. One or two have been absolutely crap! Initially we really thought this would be the cheaper option for using the internet but we finally decided it really wasn’t!  So, we wanted to buy a dongle!  We have been using a dongle on the boat ever since we moved on board so we know the score, it’s a little more expensive here but we reckon its definitely cheaper than the WiFi option.  Well we didn’t find a Vodafone shop but we did find a branch of Warehouse, a great outlet found in just about every large town throughout New Zealand, they sell everything and I mean everything!  We were directed to the music counter by one of the cashiers when I enquired about dongles and sure enough they had one.  Luckily for us they actually had one of the Christmas special offers left which included 2GB free and also the option to get a $10 bonus just by filling in the registration form on line – sorted!  We are now the proud owners of a pretty, pearly pink dongle!!  Here its called a Vodem by the way!


After purchasing our dongle and also a pair of sandals for Clive we went back to the van and set off to find a campsite.  It didn’t take us long, there was a lovely Top 10 campsite a short distance out of town.   The facilities were awesome, TV lounge, games room with snooker tables, arcade machines and video game machines, lovely dining room, a very well equipped kitchen and a spa pool, fantastic!  We were soon settled in and the first thing I did was make use of the laundry! However, I decided not to use the tumble dryer this time as it was lovely and sunny and there was a nice breeze too, great drying weather!  I soon had the clothes line fastened up between the fence and one of the van’s side mirrors and in no time at all had a line full of washing blowing in the breeze – lovely!  That evening, after dinner, we decided to wander down to the beach to watch the sunset – as we are now on the West Coast it doesn’t matter where, we are always going to see the sunset!  When we arrived at the beach we were amazed at the state of it!  The Tasman Sea is very powerful all along this coastline and the beach was strewn with driftwood as far as the eye could see in both directions. Now I’m not talking little bits of wood here, I’m talking tree trunks!!  Not only was the beach full of driftwood, it was full of people too! Clive said it was like something out of Close Encounters!  Loads of people were just standing on the beach looking out to sea, watching the sun going down! 


Lots of driftwood and lots of people!


It was a bit of a damp squib though really, there weren’t any clouds so nothing to reflect the suns rays, it was just a big yellow ball sinking down into the sea – we didn’t even hear it hiss!


Greymouth sunset


We returned to the campervan and got into our togs as once again we got a free session in the private spa, being Top 10 members.  It was fantastic, a really bubbly spa pool and lovely and warm, very relaxing indeed.


February 16th – It was yet another beautiful dayand we decided before continuing our journey that we would nip back into Greymouth to see the sandbars.  The Grey River flows straight out into the sea here and there are two very long sandbars forming a sort of tube for the river as it meets the sea.  A few weeks ago New Zealand caught the tail end of one of the cyclones that had hit Australia so hard.  The weather and the tides were incredible and some places got more than their fair share! I remembered seeing some film footage on Sky News whilst we were at Lindsey’s about a fishing boat which had tried to enter Greymouth whilst the Grey River was in spate and there was also a high tide!  The boat should not even have been attempting to enter at all as the red warning lights were on showing that the harbour was closed.  He tried it anyway and the film I saw was terrifying really!  It is actually available on utube so if you would like to watch it put the following link in your browser, its worth a watch I assure you!


We understand that the Harbourmaster is considering prosecuting the foolhardy skipper of this boat for disregarding the red lights!


Anyway, we decided that it would be worth going to have a look at the place before continuing our journey.  However, we stopped off first at a barbers on the main street as Clive was beginning to look a bit dishevelled having not had a hair cut for quite some time!  I stayed in the van and read my book.  He soon returned, looking very smart!  He was delighted with his trim and even his beard had been tidied up too!  We headed off once more and finally found the sandbar after a few false starts and it was amazing!  We could see exactly why the boat had such a problem getting in, even on a reasonably normal day the river is running quite fast and when the huge Tasman Sea rollers meet the outflowing river there is quite a collision!  The day the above incident occurred the river, being in spate, was running a heck of a lot faster than it was today!  It is amazing that the guy actually managed to get the boat in one piece through the swell at all, he was very lucky indeed. The manager at the campsite had told Clive that he was born and raised in Greymouth and has lived here all his life, he said that on average one boat a year founders trying to get through that bar!


There was quite a swell and the breakers were roaring up onto the beach adjacent to the bar.  It was more exciting to watch really as the bar looked pretty tame today! 


Greymouth beach


We also spotted something else from our vantage point on the bar, far in the distance were the Southern Alps, where we hope to be in a day or two! 


Distant mountains


We really had to drag ourselves away from watching the waves roaring in, it was so compelling!  Such awesome power and yet so beautiful, especially as the wind whipped the tops off the waves and the sun created rainbows in the spume!  I took tons of photographs – thank heavens for digital photography!


We continued our drive down the West Coast, wowed once again by the stunning scenery on the way. Around lunchtime we arrived at our next destination, Hokitiki!  We drove down the main street, which is full of shops advertising Greenstone, bone and Paua shell carvings, some of them had factories on the premises where you could go and watch the artists atwork.  We decided to go and find a campsite first and then come back into town.


Downtown Hokitiki!


There was a very handy campsite only a ten minute walk from the town centre, it wasn’t as well kitted out as the Top 10s are but it was close to town and it had everything we needed. We got the van settled in, had a bit of lunch, then headed into town via the beach!  We had a lovely walk along the beach, which again was strewn with driftwood, which some artistic people had used to make beach sculptures – believe it or not I didn’t take any photos!  Eventually we arrived in town and first of all we went to a café which we had spotted that served Devonshire CreamTeas!  Unfortunately they only had one left so I kindly let Clive have it and I had a piece of yummy carrot cake instead – nom nom!  The lady that served us told us she was from Plymouth so could officially call them Devonshire Cream Teas!!  We spent an hour or so just wandering around the town, popping into some of the many shops, just browsing, we also watched several carvers and polishers at work creating the beautiful Greenstone (Jade) necklaces which are unique to New Zealand.  I have one which I bought on our first visit here in 2000, mine is a Koru, a stylised fern coil, which to the Maori represents rebirth or new life, I love it. Before leaving the town centre we sat outside one of the many bars in the town and had a Speight’s, this time I tried the lager, mmmmm!  We finally returned to the campsite, again via the beach. After dinner Clive read and I blogged!   I wish I could just catch up then I could do a short one each day instead of these lengthy blogs taking in several days, we’re just doing and seeing so much I really need to do one a day!


February 17th – hooray, that’s today, I'm up to date!!!


We left Hokitiki this morning and headed for the hills!  I had an email from our friend Shirley Collings who told us to watch out for the most un-PC place in New Zealand, The Bushman’s Centre, which is opposite the Puke Pub (pron. poo-kay)!  This place featured in one of Billy Connolly’s videos of his tour of New Zealand! As we had to pass it anyway we decided to stop off for a coffee!  Well, what a place! 


The Bushmans Centre


Their slogan is “You kill it, we grill it”!  It applies of course to roadkill, mainly possums, the scourge of New Zealand!  These rather cute furry animals were introduced into New Zealand from Australia for their fur, when the first pioneers settled here.  There are now about 90,000,000 of them and they are decimating the native trees and stealing habitat from kiwis, etc.  It is therefore considered a good thing if you manage to run over one on the road!  Fortunately there were normal things on the menu as well but we only wanted coffee having had our breakfast already!  There menu is a real hoot though, here it is, read it carefully!


Bushman's Menu


We had our coffee and wandered around the place reading all the very un-PC posters, cards and cuttings stuck on the walls and windows, we couldn’t stop laughing, they were all so funny! All the wooden seats were upholstered with possum fur too!  However, we had a way to go so we took our leave of this quirky place and continued our journey.  I'm not surprised Billy Connolly liked it, its right up his street!


The mountains were getting closer and closer and I kept snapping photos through the car window in my excitement, some of them are actually not bad!  We saw a sign pointing off to the left to a Scenic Reservation and a lake, we decided to go and have a look.  It was a bit of a let down really,just a lake, nothing special, however I did spot something, which I reckoned deserved a photo!


Washed out picnic?


We carried on and the mountains were getting closer and closer.  Just as we were passing a deer farm I asked Clive to pull in so I could get some decent photos of Mt Cook.  It is quite spectacular even though it only has a small amount of snow on top!  The thing to remember about these mountains in the Southern Alps is that their base is almost at sea level, so although they are not as high as the European Alps in feet, they look it because they go straight up from the flat surroundings!


Mt Cook


Finally we arrived at Franz Josef and took the road up to the glacier, the car park was almost full but we managed to squeeze in between two other campervans.  There were three different routes available to view the glacier, one was a six hour walk; one was an hour and a half and one was ten minutes, we took the latter! It was very steep and actually went round hairpin bends!  Gasping like the Coyote in the Sword in the Stone I finally hauled myself onto the viewing platform!  Once I could breathe again and my heart rate had slowed to a safe level I turned around to look at the glacier! 


Franz Josef Glacier

The glacier was named after Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria by the German explorer, Julius von Haast in 1865. The Māori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere ('The tears of Hinehukatere'), arising from a local legend: Hinehukatere loved climbing in the mountains and persuaded her lover, Wawe, to climb with her. Wawe was a less experienced climber than Hinehukatere but loved to accompany her until an avalanche swept Wawe from the peaks to his death. Hinehukatere was broken hearted and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier.  I love Maori legends.  The amazing thing is that although other glaciers around the world are retreating, the terminal face of this glacier (the bit at the bottom!) is less than 300 metres above sea level and is just one of three to be this close to the coastline!

Needless to say I took loads of photos, including the compulsory ones of us both individually with the glacier behind us, there wasn’t a soul about to take one of the two of us together!  (There will be some in the gallery soon).  Then we headed back down the path, my knees creaking and complaining all the way down!  By this time it was 3.30pm so we headed off to see the next glacier, the Fox Glacier – I think this must be the minty one with the polar bear on top!  As it happened we didn’t go to see that in the end.  We stopped off in the township to pick up a few bits from a local shop then went to find a campsite.  We found one not far from the centre and got settled in.  We are now in the TV lounge where there are comfy seats and tables with power sockets.  Clive has been reading his book whilst I got to grips with this blog, which has finally brought us up to date – phew!

So, until tomorrow!



February 15th 2011 - Greymouth

Posted by clivenmel on 16 February, 2011 at 3:48

Feb 13th 2011 – We took our leave of Motueka and took the road towards the West Coast. Immediately after leaving the town we were surrounded by fruit trees, mainly apples, some plums and lots and lots of hops!  Well they’re very fond of their beer in New Zealandand and have several breweries around the country so they will need lots of hops!  Clive’s current favourite is Monteith’s Original, on draught, which may have just eased Speight’s Gold into second place!  I have to say that Monteith’s cider is extremely good too! We also think we spotted a few fields of tobacco, at least it looked like tobacco!  Unfortunately I didn’t get a photograph of it but I couldn’t miss the hops!





The route we were following was once an old Pioneering trading route back in the 1800s and prior to that had been used by the Maori for centuries on their way to and from the West coast.  Not a lot of people know this but New Zealand had its very own gold rush!  Back in the1860s it was reported that there was gold to be found in Lyell on the Buller River and the rush was on!  It was therefore necessary to improve the route but this was not to be done in a hurry and it was several years before it was accomplished.  Finally the Government wanted a mail run established and two young farmers called Harry and Tom Newman won the tender and the very first mail run took place on 1st July 1879!  The modern road is in itself an amazing feat of engineering, it runs through natural bush-clad gorges following the Buller River. 


We finally arrived in Murchison and after stopping off at the Info office for some more brochures and a pit stop at the local supermarket for supplies we located a campsite and got settled in.  It was a really lovely little campsite, as usual there were full facilities, including a kitchen complete with cookers, hotplates, and sinks for washing up. Campsites like these are all over New Zealand, they don’t just cater for people in campervans and caravans but also for backpackers, some with tents some not, because also on these campsites are little cabins, some just big enough to accommodate a bed!  Most of the kitchens are equipped with everything you need to make a meal (except the food!) which means that backpackers only need to carry clothes and essentials, they are a brilliant innovation.  The camp at Murchison however had an added ingredient, which made it a bit special, it had a small menagerie!  There were chickens, sheep, a deer and best of all emus! I have never actually been close to an emu, or an ostrich for that matter but these huge birds were just the other side of a fence and within touching distance (we didn’t though!) and Clive actually fed them with small yellow flowers that were just out of their reach - they appeared to like them very much!


Clive and Emu (watch out Parky!!)


One of the most amazing thing about these birds is thei rfeet, they are dinosaur’s feet without a shadow of a doubt! We all saw JurassicPark didn’t we? Remember when they found the footprint of the T Rex? Well just look at these feet – look familiar!!!!


OK, its got skinny legs but it could be a Velocoraptor!


We spent a very relaxing evening and then had an early night.  I awoke during the night to the sound of rain pounding on the roof and I could also feel an odd splash every now and again! I got up to investigate and realised the skylight was fully open and the rain was coming in through the mesh! I lowered it and climbed back into bed and was soon fast asleep again – good job I had woken up though, we could have had a very wet carpet and the bottom of the quilt would have got quite damp too! 


February 14th 2011 - when we woke up in the morning the rain had stopped and the sun was shining – another lovely day on the cards!  I did remember to wish Clive a Happy Valentine’s Day by the way!


When we had stopped off in the Info office the day before we had asked about gold panning!  I have a vague recollection of a photograph of my mother doing a bit of gold panning when she came to New Zealand in 1993! The lady in the office gave us the low down and told us where to go if we wanted to do it.  She also mentioned something about a swing bridge – oh no, not another one!! 


We continued our journey through the Buller Gorge and after only travelling about half an hour we spotted a sign “Swing Bridge 4Km” – oh dear!  Clive pulled in and we donned our walking boots and hats and went to investigate. The swing bridge in question crosses the Buller River and takes you onto a peninsula which is almost circular. This was a gold mining centre back in the 1800s but is now a heritage park.  Interestingly there was an earthquake here, the Murchison earthquake, on June 17th 1929, my mother's 15th birthday!  There is evidence of this on the peninsula, an upthrust of 4.5m, which we stood on!  There are also artefacts left over from the mining days such as a miner’s cottage, old vehicles and mining equipment.  You can still pan for gold in this area too with your own pan and trowel and you don’t need a license, best of all you can keep anything you find!  We didn’t get around to panning in the end but did see somebody else doing it from a distance.  What we did do was have a lovely bushwalk culminatingin a rock scramble(!) and a view of the falls but first we had to cross that damn bridge!


This swing bridge was far bigger than the one we had crossed in Abel Tasman National Park, this one is 110m long and 17m high and the Buller River is hurtling down the gorge below it – scary stuff!  Fortunately it was a very stable bridge and didn’t swing or bounce too much.  You noticed it most when trying to take a photograph and other people were starting to cross the bridge, it was difficult to hold the camera still enough to take a pic!  Finally we were safely on the other side – phew!


Clive on the swing bridge!


The bushwalk was amazing, it was just a narrow, path with white markers stuck to trees occasionally just to keep us on the right route.  In the muddier parts there were planks to walk on.  It was really wonderful with lots of birds singing, especially Tui’s.  At one point, just before we entered the bush itself Clive spotted a large bird running up the track in front of us, it was a Weka!  We were absolutely delighted to see it as these birds are now quite rare in the wild, unfortunately it was running to fast for Clive to get a decent photo!  After walking for almost an hour we finally came to the end of the bush and in front of us were huge rock formations, between us and the waterfall!  They hadkindly provided ropes to help us over the tricky bits and at one point there was a climb of about six feet down to the lower level, again with a rope provided!  Well I certainly wasn’texpecting to be doing this at my age! 


I survived to tell the tale!


Eventually we were rewarded with a great view of the Ariki Falls and the  Buller River rushing past below us.  It was from this vantage point that we spotted the guy panning for gold just up from the falls!  Wonder if he hit pay dirt?



We finally tore ourselves away and headed back over the rocks to the track through the bush and then back over the swing bridge.  Alongside the bridge was what the Kiwi's call a Flying Fox, a sort of zipline with a seat!  Clive couldn't persuade me to cross over the river using this method so we just had to take a photo of somebody else doing it!!!

Flying Fox - er I don't think so!!!

We returned to the van, had coffee and TimTams then set off once more on our journey to Westport on the West Coast.  We followed the Buller Gorge all the way and the scenery was spectacular!  At some points the drop from the road down into the gorge was quite scary! Eventually the terrain levelled out and we finally arrived in Westport.  There isn’t much to say about Westport, it was basically one main street with the shops and restaurants on and that was about it!  We weren’t staying in Westport itself anyway, we were heading for a camp site just outside the town at Carter’s Beach.  It didn’t take us long to get there and we were soon settled on our pitch but when Clive went to plug the power line in it tripped the breaker!  He tried it again and the same thing happened!  He tried a different socket, same again!  Then another campervan drew up, a big fancy modern one, they plugged their lead in and the same thing happened to them!  Well at least we knew it wasn’t our lead!  Clive went to the office to report the problem and it turned out that the owner had just had that part of the park rewired with a new type of hook-up system installed which had some kind of phase-shift mechanism involved, which only the very modern vans are compatible with!  So, we ended up having to move to the other side of the park where the old hook-ups were - charming!  The modern campervan stayed put, he must have had a switch to enable him to get "phased"


After dinner that evening we decided to stroll down to the beach before going to bed.  It was quite windy at the campsite but still pleasantly warm.  We arrived on the beach and nearly got blown away! It was very, very windy down there and dry sand was being blown along the beach, it almost looked like water flowing.  Needless to say we didn’t stay long, we had a little walk on the beach but the sand was actually stinging our legs, it was blowing so hard! So we returned to the van and bed.  I actually woke in the middle of the night and had to go for a pee! The wind had completely died down and the sky was absolutely clear, the stars were incredible and the Milky Way was sooooooooooo bright, it was made of Jersey cream, never mind milk!


February 15th – I can’t believe its 32 years today since my dad died – he would have so loved New Zealand.  My mother certainly did, she came out for three months when she was 79 years old and never stopped talking about her trip, she enjoyed it so much. 


Before continuing our journey down the West Coast to Greymouth, we took a drive further along from Carter’s Beach to a place called Cape Foulwind!  That’s what Captain Cook called it, I believe he was there for a while and had nothing but terrible weather!!  Anyway, the weather couldn't have been better for us! We were there to visi tthe seal colony!  We parked the van and were just about to set off to view the seals when a bird ran out from the undergrowth – it was a Weka!  These lovely birds are now quite rare in areas where they were once common, so we were thrilled to see one.  However we were doubly rewarded when another one suddenly joined the first!  We have read that Weka’s will eat just about anything, including your lunch if they get the chance!  I rushed back to the van and grabbed a crust of bread which I gave to Clive so he could feed them, they didn’t need asking twice and came rushing up to him, they actually took break out of his hands!


Clive feeding the Wekas


We left the Wekas behind and headed for the viewpoint over the seal colony.  Unfortunately the breeding season is now over (Nov – Jan) so none of the big bull seals were around, just the females with their pups. There weren’t as many of those as I was expecting either, it wasn’t exactly a colony!  However we were delighted with the ones that we saw, especially the pups. It was great to see them actually nursing from their mothers too.


New Zealand Fur Seals - mothers and pups


There were a couple of youngsters in a rock pool tearing around and playing together in the water, so funny!  Also a full grown seal was cavorting in the sea and getting bowled over by the big waves but it didn’t seem to worry it, it kept shooting up half way out of the water then the next minute it was lying on its back, floating!


Finally we dragged ourselves away from the seals and resumed our journey to Greymouth, a short time later we got our first glimpse of the Southern Alps in the far distance with snow on the tops of some of the peaks!  Again the scenery was fantastic and we could see huge waves pounding up the beaches all the way down the coast.  This of course is the Tasman Sea and evidently there are very few beaches along this coastline that are even remotely safe for swimming, that was pretty obvious from the ones we passed on the way! 


We had decided to make another stop on the way to Greymouth at a place called Punakaiki (pron. poon-a-ky-eeky) where there were some amazing rock formations called The Pancake Rocks.  There was a convenient parking area and we managed to just squeeze in, it was quite busy.  Also a coach had just arrived and disgorged all its passengers who were now heading across the road to visit the Pancake Rocks so we decided to have coffee and TimTams first before setting off to look ourselves.  The car park was next to a lovely little pool surrounded by Nikau Palms (New Zealand’s only native palm), it looked just like an oasis!


Roadside oasis!


Finally the coach party returned and piled back onto their bus so we reckoned it was safe to go to look ourselves!  It was quite a pleasant walk through the bush and in no time at all we arrived at the top of the rocks.  There are also blow holes here, which are evidently at their best at high tide when there is a swell.  Well it wasn’t high tide but there was definitely a swell!  Only one of the holes was blowing and we couldn’t actually see it, only the spray that came up and drifted all over us – we got quite damp! Over on the right of the rocks however was an amazing beach and the surf rolling up was incredible!  The noise was amazing too!  The beach was made of the tiniest gravel, a bit like the stuff in the bottom of fish tanks, it was really soft to walk on!  The waves were absolutely huge but the beach suddenly fell away and as the waves retreated they hit the incoming waves, it was like the clash of the titans!


Clive watching the big waves


I could have stayed on that beach for hours watching the waves, they were absolutely compelling and the beach itself was fascinating, there were the most amazing rock formations where the limestone had been worn away by wind and water, huge overhangs where the rock underneath had been totally ground away, however we couldn't sleep on the beach so we had to keep going unfortunately!

Finally we reached the bridge over the Grey River and were awed by the rock formation on the other side, obviously the result of some great upheaval back in the annals of time!


Incredible rock formation on the approach to Greymouth


We drove over the bridge and on into Greymouth itself but I am going to leave it there and continue in the next instalment as I have a crap signal and its taking forever to download the photos! Don’t go away - I'll be back, soon!