Dinarte drops us off at the airport. We left 3 days late because I was sick. I'm still not feeling 100%.
Short day (literally). We are in flight, and cross the international date line.
We arrive at Auckland at about 7 in the morning. Threw away some beef jerky before going into customs, after seeing posters warning of the fines for bringing in all meat products. Someone almost walks off with Eric's backpack. He had an identical one, and was looking at Eric's. The government cleaned our boots for us - they ask you if you're bringing hiking boots with, and if they're clean. If you say they're not, they take them and clean them off, and return them to you clean in a nice plastic bag. Apparently there's a big concern about introducing foreign seeds.
Then we go to Britz campervan rental place. We have a brand new camper van! Eric learns to drive on the left side of the road. It works out very well. I usually remind him when we start out - "Okay, we're driving on the left now". We drive south on Highway 1. Very scenic, green contryside, almost tropical it seems, unusual trees and plants everywhere. We stop at a grocery store called Pac and Save.
I really like the houses in New Zealand. They're smallish, not in huge developments, simple and clean looking. Doesn't appear to be a lot of new construction. Then drove to Taupo, stopping at one place to get some ice cream (not very good). Stopped at the AA in Taupo, got lots of maps for the South Island. Then to a campground (“motor camp”) on the east side of Lake Taupo. We were exhausted after not sleeping very much on the flight over. Cooked pasta dinner in our little kitchen and then slept.
Chatted with some Kiwis in the campground. Very friendly bunch, had been coming to this campground for 30+ years, mainly for the fishing. Apparently the Department of Conservation is trying to remove the campground and replace it with a park. One of the couples was in their 60's, but had only just this year taken a tour of the South Island. They said it was magnificent. Drove on to Tongariro National Park. It was cloudy and rainy, but with just enough patches of sunlight that we could take a couple walks around the visitor center (which was without power for some reason) Took the "mounds" walk, which is apparently caused by the same volcanic forces that caused that type of formation at Mt. St Helens. Stopped and made up a little lunch along the side of the road - very convenient to have the campervan. Continued south, stopped at a DC 3 airplane made into a cafe. Very cool looking. We had some tea and cakes there. Also stopped at a little town - Tagehere? In general, things don't appear as prosperous as in the US. It’s very scenic, lovely, green, hilly. But for instance the little arts and crafts store that we stopped in had a concrete floor.
Continued south, extremely windy. Driving past an area where roadside trees protected us from the wind, you really notice the blast of wind when you're out in the open. Then stopped at a little beach town called Paekakariki. Kind of like Santa Cruz. The beach was very uninviting, though, brown and very wavy. Drove straight in to Wellington. Walked around what appeared to be the main restaurant area, but it seemed very deserted. Dinner at a Malaysian restaurant. The presentation of the food was a little plain compared to what you would get in the US, but it tasted fine. Then spent the night at a campground in Lower Hutt. Had a hard time finding it.
Sunday, December 30
Did some planning in the morning, then drove into Wellington, rode the cable car to the top and then walked down through the Botanical Garden - very beautiful. Back into the downtown area, went to the Te Papa museum. Very politically correct and very Maori. Took the Lynx ferry to Picton. It's a catamaran, unfortunately, which means there was practically no deck area to enjoy the scenery from. Met some Americans from Virginia on the ferry. He said he was in commercial real estate, and was traveling around Asia/Pacific for 4 weeks now. Kind of a grumpy guy, complained that the prices weren't that great (we think things are quite cheap) and the food wasn't great either.
A note - of course they're famous for this, but almost every single Kiwi that we've met has been incredibly friendly and helpful. Very pleasant place to travel, no problems at all.
Did some more grocery shopping in Picton, then drove the windy costal road to Havelock. It was a few too many tight curves for our campervan, but we made it. Stopped for the night a little lookout point just outside of Havelock. Great little spot, private, great views.
Monday, December 31 (New Years Eve)
Drove to Nelson, stopping for a peanut butter and jelly sandwitch breakfast at a place called Canvastown. In Nelson, we walked around town, stopped at the Cathedral and got a tour from an older volunteer guide, very knowledgeable. We also were able to watch the organist play for a while - fascinating, I've never seen that before. An ice cream cone at McDonalds - it's our tradition to go to McDonalds at least once whenever we go overseas. Then to the public library to read and relax a while. Drove to Lake Rotoroa for a quick hike along the water. The bird songs are amazing here, very different from what I'm used to. Dumped our gray water and filled our water tank at a campground on the way back to the main highway. Then stopped north of Murchison to look for leaf fossils as indicated in our New Zealand geology book. We actually found lots, it was a blast. Drove to Murchison, forgot to get tank up, so had to get diesel, very expensive, at Springs Junction. They had closed out the till, so we had to get gas via us paying cash to two of the gas station attendants, who then put their bank cards in an atm type machine. The older guy who first tried to explain to me what the problem was with paying cash - I didn't understand a word he said, he had such a heavy New Zealand accent. Then to the Lewis Pass/St. James Track/Tarn area. A beautiful otherworldly place, full of short trees covered with moss, and the whole area very boggy. I imagined that some Lord of the Rings activities could have taken place there, easily. We gave a ride to a father and son there who had just done the St. James track. The father had just gotten laid off from Enron in Houston, and was back in New Zealand, looking for a job in Wellington. Very interesting guy to talk to, too bad we only gave them a lift for 12 miles, until the place they'd parked their car.
My goal was to get to a natural hot springs called Sylvia Flat. According to my book “60 Walks in the South Island”, it's just around here. Unfortunately, we couldn't find it. I was disappointed - I was really looking forward to it. Oh well. Ended up camped for the night at a little picnic pulloff, just off the main road. It's quiet enough after dark, though.
Tuesday, January 1, 2002
We got a late start today - Eric snored and I forgot to put in my earplugs, so I overslept. Finished driving down from Lewis Pass, I drove a bit as well. It really didn't do my back any good - I've been having back problems, aggravated by so much driving. Then took the Inland Kaikoura route to Kaikoura, as we were advised by a woman at a cafe/bar we stopped in at Waiau. Wonder what they do for a living in these tiny towns?
Kaikoura is a great sleepy little beach town, the main activity being wildlife watching. It's kind of like how I imagine California would have been like in the 40’s or 50's. We walked around the penninsula track, first around the water and then along the clifftops. Saw some seal, but didn't get close up. Got dive bombed by seagulls when we got too close to their colony. Found some bones among the rocks - one of them looks like it could be a human knuckle bone.
Found a spot at the third holiday park that we went to - the rest were full. This one is the best anyway - very clean and new looking, with great views of the mountains.
For dinner we we went to a place called The Craypot. Not too great, plus the service was slow. Eric got half a crayfish (Kaikoura means eat crayfish) which was okay. We should have gotten some fish and chips and sat out on the beach for the sunset. On our way back we got some absolutely wonderful ice cream - I got hokey pokey, which is like vanilla with bits of crunchy butterscotch in it, and Eric got passion fruit flavor. Both of them were really outstanding.
Wednesday, January 2, 2002
Got a fairly early start on the day. Had to wait in line to shower (much fewer people around yesterday afternoon!). Then did the campervan chores (got fresh water, dumped gray and black water) and took a walk up to the hill overlooking the main strip of Kaikoura. Great views from up there. Our next stop was Oarua, south of Kaikoura. There are supposed to be some great fossils there, according to the New Zealand Guide to Geology book we have. It was a long hot walk along the beach--very beautiful, but still kind of a slog. We didn't find much, either. Did see a seal, though. It took off when we came close.
We had lunch at the campervan. It's great to be able to just come back to the van and make sandwiches, lay around and read for a while, and just relax in general in your little home on wheels. Then we did a long drive--south on highway 1, then west on highway 72. Stopped in Rangioura to get gas, groceries, and some ice cream. Our next stop was at Castle Rocks, which is an area along highway 72 where these limestone outcroppings jut out from the earth in the most fantastic forms. It's a weird and beautiful spot. We spent a couple hours there, climbing around and taking pictures. Our campsite for the night is at Lake Pearson-- a small fishing campground. There's about 5 other groups of people camped out here, spread along the lake. We backed in next to the water and opened up the back door. It's the next best thing to being outdoors, plus it's no problem if it rains.
Thursday, January 3, 2002:
A very, very, rainy day. We drove straight through Arthur's Pass, only stopping a little while at the visitor center, because it was pouring down rain. In quite a few places, there had been landslides onto the road, and the road was being cleared. So much water everywhere! All the streams and rivers were fierce and and full of whitecaps, and way over their banks. In Hokitika we walked around a bit, got fish and chips from the local takeway (I think it's the last time we'll do that - very greasy and the fish had tons of breading), then hung out at the library a while. Drove to Ross, just about 30 k south, and did some gold panning. It's all set up at the visitor center, they give you a pan filled with gravel, and you wash it out in the tanks provided. Eric and I both washed out a pan of gravel and got quite a few flecks of gold--what a rush! It would be an interesting hobby. Marilyn from the visitors center, who was helping us, said she does it for a few hours once or twice a week, and has gotten an ounce or so in the past two years. Not a bad return, if you're having fun. She goes out there along the riverbank with a flask of tea and her doggy, and has a nice relaxing time gold-panning. Later we went on the Water Raceway Walk, which is about a one hour walk that takes you around to all the old gold-mining works, such as the water raceway, which directed water to the gold diggings to wash out the gold.
After that we pretty much drove straight to the Fox Glacier, and are staying in a motorcamp here. The west coast drive is supposed to be a beautiful, with views of the mountains, but we sure didn't see any of that. We had a steady very hard rain, interspersed with gust of pounding, driving rain and wind that blew our large van around. Little waterfalls were popping up everywhere on the hillsides, and all the streams that we passed were raging. Even now it's pouring rain, and every time we we run to the common areas (kitchen, bathroom, laundry) we get soaked.
Friday, January 4, 2002:
A bit brighter this morning. After breakfast of oatmeal, we took off to Lake Matheson. Supposedly there are amazing views of Mt. Cook reflected in the lake, but even though it was relatively clear, the mountains were still in the clouds. Then we headed to Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, the road we wanted to go, which takes you to a track on which you can walk directly to the glacier, was closed because of yesterday's heavy rain. So the alternate road, the one which leads you only to viewpoints, was very crowded. There was a sign saying no campervans, trucks, or buses, but we went anyway. It turns out the road was fine, for campervans, but one couple drove a caravan attached to a car, and they were having loads of problems manoevering it back out again, since there wasn't a good place to turn around. That clogged up the parking lot pretty well. The trail that leads to the main viewpoint was closed as well, so were were out of luck. We walked about 40 minutes on a trail to the bridge, then headed back, stopping at the warm springs along the side of the road. That was probably the most crowded spot we’ve been in.
Got tons of pictures of moss-drapped trees and rain-swollen rivers. Drove on to a couple viewpoints along the way - Bruce Bay and Knights Point. Quite a few sandflies around--Eric was always checking his legs to make sure they were free of sandflies, even though he was very liberal with the 100% deet. We stopped at Haast for an ice cream. All in all, the west coast was a litttle disappointing, because it was so rainy and we saw almost nothing of the mountains.
Going over Haast Pass we stopped at the Blue Pools -- so named because they're so clear you can see the trout swimming in them. They were as muddy as they could be, though, with all the rain we've had. We're camped for the night at Boundary Creek. Nice spot on Lake Wanaka, but we have to keep the doors and windows closed because Eric can't stand the sandflies. For dinner, ramen noodles with peanut butter, and cucumber sandwiches.
Saturday, January 5th, 2002
We had a breakfast of toast, butter, honey, and oranges a little south of Boundary Creek. Great wildflowers. Drove into Wanaka, a resort/alpine tourist town. We did a hike on the Diamond Lake Track, about a 3 hour hike up to some really good views of the lake and some of the surrounding mountains. It was a quite a popular track based on the number of cars at the carpark, but we didn't see all that many people at the top since it's a loop. Somewhat muddy, as it was a sheep and cattle grazing area. The steeper parts had wire covered steps that were very convenient. Lunch at the top, peanut butter sandwiches and some of that tasty "soft eating licorice" that I've only seen here. Then to the Puzzle World/Maze thing east of town. It includes a huge outdoor maze, plus one of those 15 degree angle tilted rooms, that really messes with your perceptions, also various other optical illusion/puzzle features. At first we just wandered around the maze, getting nowhere, then we started over and turned left everywhere, and that brought us to all four of the towers that you're supposed to get to before finishing. That was pretty speedy.
After the maze, we wandered around town and got ice creams. I still haven't found really good stuff like we had in Kaikoura--every ice cream I've had since then has been a relative disappointment. Maybe that's what you get when you start with the absolute best! Then to the local motor camp and a walk around town. For dinner, grilled cheese sandwiches.
Sunday, January 6th, 2002
We got a slow start this morning. Did some grocery shopping and went to the department of conservation visiting center to get some information about potential hikes. Bought some gold pans in town -- we had so much fun panning for gold on the west coast we were hoping to do it again. The gold pans were only $6NZ a piece, about $2.50 US -- very good price! Then we went searching for the "Roaring Meg" track. We had to ask around for the trail head. The track itself was unexciting. We chose it originally because the description said there many historic mining relics and ruins. Unfortunately, those must all have been further down the track. We didn't see any historic mining relics, but we saw many sheep. It's hard to get a closeup of sheep, they’re very skittish. After we finished the track (four long, hard hours later) we drove to Arrowtown. The view coming into town was great. We’re at a motor camp tonight. This one is different though because it seems to be all Kiwis in their caravans -- none of the little white campervans that foriegners tend to rent. The kids seem to be having a blast -- water fights, rugby, gunnysack races, etc. After showering we walked into town to get dinner. At the place we decided to go in, when we asked to be seated indoors (it was a little chilly) the woman said that they were fully booked indoors, then she said "Not really dressed". We walked on a few paces before realizing that she meant that we were not dressed well enough to enter the restaurant. It's been a long time since that has happened in the US, but here in New Zealand they seem to have more of a dress code, even though it's generally a pretty informal and friendly country.
Ended up eating at a burger place here. I ordered a plain one with cheese and a tomato, but it came with sliced beet roots as well!
Monday, January 7th, 2002
Took a walk around the old Chinese mining settlement near Arrowtown. Some very tiny dark huts - doesn't seem like it would be much fun to spend time in them! Apparently the original miners who discovered the gold (not Chinese) found 40 lbs in 20 weeks. That would have been pretty exciting. The road to Macetown (an old gold mining ghost town), was closed because of flooding, so we couldn't do that (I had been thinking it would be fun). Later in the morning we wrote up all our postcards, and sent them. It's cool having a campervan--you can just stop and relax anywhere, make your own meals, or relax and read a book, no matter where you are. Of course, it's especially nice in a country like New Zealand, where there's all kinds of places to stop. In a more populated region, it might not be that fun.
In the afternoon we drove towards Queenstown, and stopped along the Shotover river to do some gold panning. We found a couple specks in about 10 pans of gold. It was satisfying to find something, and know that we were doing it right, but it wasn't anything as cool as when we did in in Ross on the west coast, and found about 50 times as much. The gold was in much bigger pieces in Ross as well. More like flakes, whereas what we found today was more like little specks. I could see getting into gold panning as a hobby. Later on in the day, in Queenstown, I found a book on recreational gold panning in New Zealand. It had lots of interesting hints on where to find gold, the tools you need, etc.
In Queenstown, we had a really hard time finding a place to park. We finally did, next to the library. Went straight to the AJ Hackett bungy jump office, and booked a bungy jump on "The Ledge", which is close to the top of the gondola on Bob's Peak behind Queenstown. Eric was more interested in doing it than I was, but once were were there, I decided that I would rather do the bungy jump as well rather than just watch Eric doing it. We were weighed, signed a little waiver of liability (which included something like "I will not attempt to sue outside of New Zealand"). The waiver was a lot shorter than it would be in the US, I'm sure. Eric went first. He pretty much put on the harness, and jumped right off without thinking about it at all. I was next. I have to admit that I was pretty anxious about the whole thing. A red-haired woman helped me put on the harness (kind of like rock climbing harness, plus they loop something over your shoulders). The ledge is built out over a steep drop, like an elaborate gangplank. You could see down through the grate in a couple places--I made the mistake of looking down. The bungy cord itself looked really strange and tattered--like a bunch of elastic threads tied together. I was worried about that. The guy that clipped me into the carabiners asked if I'd like him to do a countdown, or just do it. I thought about it, and said, "I don't know. What do most people do?" He said most people find it easier to do with a countdown, so I said "sure". He started counting down from 5. When he was down to 2 or so I asked what I should jump on, 0 or 1. He said I could just do it whenever I wanted. He started the countdown again, and even thought I don't know how I did it or even remember it very much, I must have jumped off the ledge because Eric has pictures of me doing that. I do remember that after I hit the peak of the up-bounces, there were periods of free fall again, and apparently I screamed each time. I know that I was hyperventilating. When they let the carabiner down for me to clip on and be pulled up with, I had a hard time because I was trembling so much. Whew. I definately don't think I'd go out of my way to do it again! Eric said the people on the observation deck were chuckling when I didn't jump on the first countdown. After the jump Eric did the downhill luge. I just wanted to sit down at that point, so I didn't do the luge.
Then we left town, headed for Invercargill. Originally I'd thought that we should go to the Te Anau/Milford Sound area, but we had so much rain on the west coast, plus the description of the area in the Lonely Planet guidebook included so many warnings about rain and sandflies that we decided to skip it.
Beautiful scenery on the way out of town, with very good light. We picked up a pair of German women hitchhiking. They'd been in New Zealand for 9 months! One was a nurse, the other a social worker. They worked picking fruit, and at backpackers to make enought money to travel more. Apparently they'd waited for 2 hours before we gave them a lift. I think they would have had better luck if they'd looked a little spiffier. We dropped them off in Kingston, they were planning on trying to find farm jobs near there. Quite a different way to travel compared to having a campervan. Apparently they had owned a car, and traveled with it for a while, but they said they ate in the car, slept in it, and traveled in it, and ended up not meeting people, so they sold it.
We’re in the Invergargill Motor Camp tonight, which is right next to an equestrian showground. Definately not a touristy town at all.
Tuesday, January 8, 2002
This morning we had been planning on touring the aluminium plant in Bluff. The caretaker from the motor camp called for us, though, and it turns out that it's closed for the Christmas holidays because the woman that does the tours is gone. We were pretty disappointed—we had dressed up with long pants and all, as required on the tour brochure. Oh well. The long pants were necessary today anyway, it was so chilly. Not much sun either.
We ended up going to the museum in town. Very interesting, kind of old fashioned museum--more like a real museum than the very politically correct Te Papa in Wellington. There were some very interesting displays on the sub-antarctic islands belonging to New Zealand, and the castaways from shipwrecks that had spent years there.
After the museum, we went to a farm supply store just for kicks. It was interesting to see the kind of supplies that farming requires here. Lots of medications for the animals, anti flea and lice washes, paint to mark them. Things that I wouldn't even have imagined would be necessary, apparently are. Then to the grocery store. Invercargill, from the people that we've seen about, seems to be a bit of a backwater town. Lots of very young families--seemed like a few parents that we saw were less than 20. Guess there's not much to do in town!
We headed north on the Catlins Scenic Route. There's certainly lots to see here. First off we stopped at Waipapa point, where there was a huge shipwreck in 1881, with the loss of 131 lives. We met a scottish guy there who's working on a farm in Dipton. Apparently he has a 3 year work permit, which isn't difficult to get when you're doing farm work. He has to get up at 3 am! We conversed with him for a while. He said he's traveled the world for the past 20 years, speaks 5 languages, and has visited 60 countries. His favorite was Thailand. We saw three sea lions there. Also went to the little cemetery that contains the graves of some of the shipwreck victims.
Much of the road afterwards was gravel, so the driving was a little slow. Next stop was the Curio Bay petrified forest. Very interesting. It was a little more crowded than I thought it would be. We got some good pictures of the petrified logs, scattered about. Also a penguin was wandering about, looking confused. Saw some people fishing, porposes, the scottish guy again
Our next stop was Cathedral Caves. These are some really spectacular sea caves, on a private side road that costs 5 dollars to drive up. You walk down a track to the beach, then walk along the beach to the caves. They're huge, the entrances very high. Thus the name “Cathedral Caves”, I imagine. I was a little anxious about getting out in time, because the tide was coming in, and you don't want to get caught out there when the waves are battering you against rock walls. We still went to most of the caves - there's about 6 of them. One of them had a penguin nest in the back. I guess the water doesn't actually come in that high, because of course the penguins wouldn't build their nest in a place the water came up to. I stumbled and fell over a chunk of rock that must have fallen from the ceiling, and bruised my leg pretty badly. We chatted with the woman who was the caretaker. She was quite friendly and willing to talk. I guess it gets a little boring just taking money from tourists. She said that the caves can be inaccessible much of the winter. We got to talking about her daughters, one had just started driving and had a rollover wreck already (she blamed a tourist driver), apparently she wasn't badly hurt.
We're camped for the night at a moter camp on Pounawea Bay. We wanted to stop in some cool isolated overlook somewhere, but after long stretches of unpopulated areas, it's surprisingly populated now, and there's no good place to stop. This makes 3 days in a row we've spent the night in a motor camp.
Wednesday, January 9, 2002
Took it easy this morning, and only got on the road about 10:45. Stopped at Tunnel Hill to walk through a hand-carved tunnel for a railroad track that's no longer running. Then on to Nugget Point - a great little penninsula with little islands scattered off the end of it. Extremely windy--we had trouble opening the campervan doors. We saw some yellow eyed penguins coming ashore, and got some photos of them through the binoculars. It's almost as good as having a telephoto lens. Had tuna fish sandwiches for lunch just after the point. That's one of my favorite parts in the campervan - having lunch in a great spot somewhere, and opening up the back doors so you can look out.
Then on to Dunedin. We'd planned on staying and looking around, possibly even overnight. But it was raining, plus there was a very strong wind. We popped into the visitor center, saw that the forcast for the next 4 days was for much of the same, and decided to head inland, where it's much drier. We did a detour to the Moeraki Boulders, which were definately worth it. Very cool spherical rocks. I've never seen anything like it.
So now we're stopped near a former town called Drybread, believe it or not. There's nothing left of the town now, but a town further up the road should have some interesting gold mining relics. We're just off the road in a very, very quiet area. Since we've been here, about half an hour ago, one car has gone by. For dinner we had noodles and the leftover pesto sauce, plus some creamed corn, and bread and butter.
Thursday, January 10, 2002
Rainy night. We took off without breakfast, and drove up the road a bit to Matakanui. It's supposed to have some interesting old buildings from the gold mining era, but all that's left is a few old adobe buildings, and the old tavern. A little girl peeped out at us as we passed by - I guess they don't get many visitors!
The next larger town we passed through was Alexandra. It was raining, unfortunately. At least we're not in Dunedin, where it's supposed to be pouring and very windy. We checked out the museum (seems like every little town here has a museum, and a visitor center), and took a walk through town. I'm sure it's very nice when it's sunny, but unfortunately it was drizzling. There's lots of orchards here, and in the front page of the newspaper was an article about how the prices for cherries have dropped dramatically because of the poor quality, which is caused by the rain. We had breakfast/lunch in a little cafe. Eric ordered a double bacon burger, and I ordered a bacon/egg burger. What do you know--when they say "double bacon", they mean double bacon (actually canadian style bacon) and that's it, no beef at all. Same with the bacon/egg. That was a shock, but the burgers were quite good. Also went to "The Warehouse", that store I've been seeing all over, but have never gone in, and didn't know what they had. It turns out it's kind of like a Kmart.
We bought some nice plums, a large box for $3 (about $1.25 USD) Then Clyde. A nice old town with lots of stone buildings, plus a large damn. And a large Masonic Lodge. Every town seems to have one of those. In Cromwell, further down the road, we stopped just to get information about Bendigo, an old gold mining ghost town north of there. Bendigo (actually mainly the ghost town further east, Welshtown) was fascinating. Of course, I liked the ruins. There were also lots of old mining shafts around that you could drop rocks down into and see how long it took for them to hit bottom. There were lots of signs advising parents to keep hold of their children, because of how easily they could fall down the shafts. Some were very deep, others had water in them. All very dangerous. Lots of ruins from old stone buildings to check out. They sure didn't last long, compared to the Roman and Greek stone ruins we saw in Turkey. Of course, it wasn't built to last, either. I think the town was only occupied for about a dozen years in the late 1800's.
Then north, to Twizel. We're in the motor camp outside Twizel at the moment, doing some laundry. The Otago Boys School rowing club is here as well, because we're right on a lake. They made massive containers of food.
Friday, January 11, 2002
Drove through Twizel a bit, then headed north to Mt. Cook. We picked up a 23 year old Dutch hitchhiker on the turn-off into Mt. Cook. Friendly guy, spoke English well, a truck drive back in Holland. He's taking a year off to travel around Australia and New Zealand.
We had a view of Mt. Cook on the way here, but when we got here, it was clouded over. We hiked up the Hooker Valley trail anyway. There were some Japanese tour groups on the way. We took our time, and stopped in a couple spots along the way. We're staying for the night in the campground right at the beginning of the track. No power, but we just charged up the computer yesterday, so we're fine. We drove to town before dinner, just to see if anything was happening there, but the store and tavern that's marked in the Lonely Planet guidebook aren't there anymore. Also the cafe at the Hermitage (fancy hotel here) was closed, so unless you pay big bucks for a fancy restaurant meal at the Hermitage, you'd better have brought some food with.
Saturday, January 12, 2002
Got a late start, which didn't matter much anyway because it was pouring rain. Turns out we should have probably gone down the east coast first, then up the west coast, that way we would have had sun most of the time. Oh well. There's no way to know things like that. We basically drove straight to Christchurch, through Geraldine. Stopped a bit at Lake Tekapo to read the newspaper, then stopped at Geraldine for lunch (the traditional meat pies), and went to the local museum. We chatted for a while with the volunteers there, two friendly women. There appears to be a backlash to the "Maori-ization" on the part of non-Maori. Anyway, they were saying that it was getting ridiculous, the way that place names were changing to the Maori versions (for example, Mt. Cook is now Aoraki and New Zealand is now Aotearoa). Even the national anthem is sung first in Maori, then English.
After Geraldine, we drove into Christchurch. It was pouring the whole way. We're in a motorcamp on the north side of town. Tried watching the movie Oceans 11, but it was booked even though we got in half an hour early.
Sunday, January 13, 2002
We woke up to a steady drizzel, here in Christchurch. The original plan was to drive into town, but the girl at the motor camp office suggested we take a bus because parking would be difficult and theft might be a problem. Waiting in the rain for a bus didn't seem like fun, so we hailed a cab. At the visitor center, we met a couple from Sammamish, right next to Redmond -- small world! Basically, we walked around downtown going to bookstores, hanging out in the library and checking email at an internet cafe. It was raining all day long. Bought some souveniers, including, of course, a sheepskin. At the souvenier shop, the owner or manager was hanging around right next to a scruffy looking Maori, who was really obviously trying to shoplift. He was staring right at him from about 10 ft. away. Then he called someone that must have been security or the police, and said, "I think it's time for you to pay a visit.". But the guy left right then. I wonder if he took anything.
On our way home we saw "Ocean's Eleven" at a movie theatre. They have assigned seating at theaters here! Feels like our vacation has wound down already, being in a city, not driving around every day, plus all the rain we've been having.
Monday, January 14, 2002
The weather today was markedly better than yesterday, thank god. Went downtown again, just to see it without as much rain, and also to check out the museum. It had the usual very politically correct and prominent Maori section, but there was a very good display on the exploration of the Antarctic, with lots of artifacts. Very interesting. Also saw the Arts Center, which is basically an area in which they sell crafts (at least the part of it that we saw). No street performers when we were there. Then we took a taxi back to the campervan, and went for a drive, since the weather is so much better. First to New Brighton, which is a really nice beach town with a fantastic pier, and the nicest library I've seen in New Zealand, right at the base of the pier. Then through to Sumner, lots of surfers and the Cave Rock right off the beach. Then to Godley Head, which is a wild, windswept penninsula. Amazing views. We walked around there, saw some old military installations, presumably from WWII. It's apparently a good spot for paragliding and hanggliding, but we only saw one guy who was sitting in his van, contemplating the possibility of going out. Then back through Lyttleton.
Tuesday, January 15, 2002
Our last day in New Zealand! We headed out to Akaroa, a town that was formerly a French settlement in the early 1800’s. The weather wasn’t that great, so we spent most of out time there relaxing in the café, driving around, making lunch for ourselves, and feeding seagulls. Then back to Christchurch in time to pack and return the campervan before our 5:30 flight to Auckland. A really friendly older lady who was sitting in the window seat let me take pictures over her. She was over 80 years old, traveling on her own to a family reunion on the South Island from Auckland. She’s traveled all over, to Papua New Guinea, the United States more than once, etc. Very nice lady.
The end of our trip!