Marie Abbott

Joined August 2017Living in: York, United Kingdom
  • Day110

    French Pass - c'est magnifique!

    December 16, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    The drive along French Pass was beyond spectacular, with grand mountain vistas beyond a glistening river inlet. The air was so clear that we could see for many miles from our vantage point, and the setting sun gave the scene an orange glow. This clearly was not a very populated place, as access was via a single 60km dirt road teetering on the edge of a mountainside with a metal barrier every so often as a token gesture. It was mostly one lane, not that it mattered as we didn't see a single car until the final few kms. As we advanced along the winding track, we increasingly had the thought that we had gone wrong somewhere (despite it being a single road with no turnoffs), as it seemed unlikely that such an uninhabited area would lead to a campsite. Luckily we continued on; we rounded the headland to discover the road began to descend into a sheltered valley up ahead with a few houses and a small campsite. We parked up and picked a pitch overlooking the small private bay, and waited for the warden to turn up for our fees.

    A cyclist who had travelled the pass (impressive as it's not the flattest route) came over and mentioned that our roof rack had broken. Sure enough, the old rusty tradesman’s rack that was bearing the weight of our solar panels was looking much wonkier than we were used to. We had noted when we first got the van that there were some sections where the crossbar met the uprights that had corroded from rust, and hoped that the inevitable failure would occur long after we had sold it on. Unfortunately as things like this often pan out, it instead occurred at the moment where we were least likely to be able to repair it: French Pass is not exactly a bustling metropolis with a wide selection of garages and auto shops. With no other alternative, Hugo put on his engineers hat and got to making a temporary fix… by wrapping it in several layers of duct tape (I hope this isn't what he does at work). I knew the tape we had lugged around since leaving the UK would come in handy at some point! The cyclist came over and offered us some cable ties which we gladly accepted and strapped over the duct tape. With a cautious tug on the framework Hugo decided the repair was complete and we settled in for the evening. After sitting and watching the sea for a while we got out the cooking stuff and prepared some food. Hugo set about putting some garlic into the pan which was a little too hot, causing it to spit and catch fire. This took Hugo, me, and the couple in the van next to us by surprise as Hugo brandished the flaming pan around until it went out. The rest of the meal was cooked with a little more caution, and with good reason. We spotted some smoke in the forest over the bay and the warden later pointed out that this was a bushfire and the fire department planes would probably be putting it out for the rest of the night. She said that a recent bushfire had almost reached the area around the campsite!

    Sitting by the van, we noticed a little weka waddling around the campsite. These are similar to kiwi but with pointy tails and shorter beaks. He zoned in on an unguarded table with the cyclist's gear on, and hopped up onto it to investigate. Clearly he had found what he was looking for, as he began shaking a foil sachet of food around. Hugo ran over and chased it away, put the sachet back on the table and came back to his seat. But the weka was resolute in his mission to grab a snack and waddled back a few minutes later, finding the hidden treasure under the jackets and bags. Slightly irate, Hugo ran back over and chased him away, this time putting the sachet in their tent and zipping it up. Fine for now, but it's only a matter of time before wekas figure out zips…

    We were off early for our drive back up French Pass, stopping along the way to get some photos of the fantastic scenery and taking the chance to get a family photo of us two and our baby Moa. We even put our Santa hats on for a Christmas card photo! But no time to waste, we had to be in Picton that afternoon for our mailboat cruise!
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  • Day108

    Kayaking in Abel Tasman

    December 14, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Our base for visiting Abel Tasman, the smallest national park in NZ, was Kaiteriteri which translates as 'fast fast food’ in Maori (and yet we didn't see a single McDonald's there). On the way we passed hop plantations in Motueka, an export they are famous for. We found Bethany Park campsite and picked a ‘pitch’, which involved driving through an empty field until we felt like stopping. There was a bushwalk that led to Kaiteriteri beach, voted one of the top 5 beaches in the world by The Guardian, so we set off on that as our evening activity. On the way we spotted a pukeko with some little pukeko chicks, which looked hilarious with their tiny bodies and adult sized legs - their feet are bigger than their torsos and they clumsily stretch out their legs with each step. Apparently the mother will fake a limp when confronted by a predator to draw attention away from the chicks, clever! We returned from the beach, cooked a curry and got an early night in preparation for our kayaking the following day.

    We had booked a combined tour which included a cruise in the morning and kayaking in the afternoon, so we found the spot on the beach where the ferry landed and waited. There is no port of any kind, this thing just drives full speed at the beach and fires an extendable gangplank out the front of the bow. We sat on the top deck with various different clientele, some going the full way to get dropped off for a multi-day hike along the coast of the Abel Tasman, while others were just on a pleasure cruise for the day. Only a few like us were getting dropped off at Anchorage bay, a sheltered beach in the middle of the southern part of the Abel Tasman. On the way there we passed Split Apple rock, a distinctively shaped boulder that had split perfectly down the middle, perched on top of a pile of rocks in the shallows of a bay, a very photogenic rock indeed. Clearly the rest of the world agrees, as it is the second most photographed rock formation in the southern hemisphere (after a particularly famous one in the centre of Australia…). We also passed a gang (group? gaggle?) of seals basking on Adele rock. Landing on the beach, we were told what time to be back to get a lift and that if we missed it, not to worry they'd be back tomorrow! Very reassuring. We hiked around a 4km loop track to Pitts head lookout, although there were other more spectacular lookouts along the way. We had the track to ourselves and the views of the turquoise bays along the coast were pretty amazing. We were back at the beach with time to spare so we sat and watched the hikers walking up and down the beach with their huge backpacks. The ferry turfed up on the beach and we jumped on for our ride back.

    Just enough time for some lunch on the beach before meeting our kayak guides. We were told how to manoeuver the kayaks and set off. We hadn't been in a pedal kayak before so it was difficult to get used to. Hugo operated the pedals that worked the rudder, so he was in charge of the steering (probably for the best) and we both had paddles. It was difficult to get out of the mindset of steering by paddling more on one side but we figured it out soon enough. We were with a couple of French girls and the guides were both in single kayaks. We paddled out, passing small uninhabited islands used as bird sanctuaries and pristine empty beaches. Speed didn't seem to be high on the priority list for the French couple, so we had time to veer off and get a closer look at the sights on the way. We cruised over to Split Apple rock for a much closer view than we got on the ferry, and were told a few competing stories explaining how it got there, including Hugo’s favourite; that it was moulded from paper mache by the local council tourist board to bring in more tourists. We pitched up on the beach and the guides set out a little picnic of biscuits and cocoa. We talked about food from each of our countries and Hugo mentioned he had never had an oyster, so the guide took him and the French girls down to the rocks on the waterline to find some. It’d be pretty hard to get fresher oysters than that. Hugo’s verdict: salty, fishy, not bad. The guides led us to a nearby network of caves which were pretty awesome and he pointed out a cave weta; a giant bug that looks like a cross between a cricket and a spider, which is the size of your outstretched hand. Brr! He also directed us to a little hole in the corner of the cave which, when you bent down to peer inside, revealed a little blue penguin just chillin’ - he looked like he was offended at our rude intrusion so we left him to it. We paddled back along the coast and landed back on the beach. A great trip! I bought a postcard but it flew away while we were eating an ice cream on the beach! That's 60p I'll never get back. We relaxed on the beach for a while and headed back to the campsite. We were surprised to see that a private transport helicopter had landed in our field just behind us - an interesting choice of accommodation if you can afford a helicopter, we thought.

    We enjoyed the beach by Split Apple rock so much that we decided to go back the next morning. A little path led from the car park to the rear of the beach. Surprisingly the beach was not that busy considering the rock is a major attraction - I guess most people just view it from the tour boats. Typical tourists! We picked out a perfect spot and set out our towels - commence relaxation. I sunbathed for a while and Hugo swam out and went exploring the rocks with the GoPro. I'm not sure if you are supposed to climb the rock but Hugo did it anyway. Reluctantly we returned to the van mid-afternoon and set a course for our next destination, the drive along French Pass.
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  • Day107

    Gorge-ous scenery

    December 13, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    With a fresh battery and a fresh attitude, we departed the campsite for Mitre 10, New Zealand's answer to B&Q. They had a key cutting service which was much needed. The penultimate risky move was sticking the almost-broken key in the ignition, with the ultimate risky move being pulling it back out again. Having successfully completed both of these things, I guarded the unlocked van while Hugo went to get the keys cut. For a bargain £7, he purchased two shiny new keys (better safe than sorry) and the key cutting lady even came out to test that they worked.

    To celebrate our successful trip we headed to the Monteith's brewery for a tour, but not before skyping mum and dad at a WiFi hotspot next to a phone booth - who said phone booths were defunct? Having changed in to our hi-vis safety vests, we started with a tour of the brewing vessels (each individually named) and packing equipment. The girl had apparently not given a tour in a while and it showed as she was so nervous. Hugo didn't make it any easier for her by asking 101 questions about the minor details of the brewing process. Next up was the demonstration bar to be shown the difference between the various malts and hops etc. We had a munch on the malts which were a bit like wholegrain cereal. We finished by having a go at pulling our own glass of beer. We each took it in turns to pull our own, and with me not keen to drink all of mine, Hugo happily ‘volunteered’ to drink mine. He handed me back my empty glass and was about to start his own when the guide told us all that we would be examining our drinks. So the group proceeded to smell and taste their beers while discussing what aromas and notes they were getting, while I stood there with my empty glass! Well done Hugo. After the tour we retired to the main bar and Hugo started weighing up his options for redeeming his free beer vouchers that were included in the ticket. Luckily for him I only redeemed one on a nice apple cider, so my remaining two were kindly donated to him, giving him a grand total of 5 beers to have! For some reason the selection process still required a lot of thought. We were impressed with the food menu so ordered lunch - good call.

    Suitably tipsy, Hugo jumped in the passenger seat for the drive to Punakaiki, or the so called ‘pancake rocks’ due to their unusual eroded layers. This was pretty busy but there were plenty of limestone rocks to go around. We watched as the sea washed in and out, splashing up and under the carved out channels at the base of the formations. We walked past the inevitable pancake shops and drove on to walk the Truman track. The lookout from above the beach was worth the short ramble through forest.

    The last journey of the day was along highway 6, an unexpectedly beautiful road, with the first section running parallel to the Buller river. There were few cars on the route, which was surprising as it was definitely one of the most scenic places we visited. Our campsite was in the field beside Berlin cafe, a remote roadside cafe with friendly hosts. We climbed up the hillside to a picnic bench and rested here to admire the spectacular 360 view over the valley and gorge as the sun began to set.

    At 7.30pm we received a call to inform us that our scheduled rafting session for the following morning had been cancelled due to insufficient numbers. This was a bit disappointing as it would have been a great place to raft. When it was dark we took a walk a short way into the forest behind the field and peered down to see hundreds of glow worms hanging from rotten wood on the side of the path, creating an illusion of mini constellations of stars.

    After a convenient breakfast at the café, and a quick Skype home, we continued on the road to the jetboat launch in the hope of an alternative adrenalin experience. Unfortunately it was not to be, as again there was no one else to make up the numbers. However we needn't have worried, because unknowingly we later turned down Braeburn track, a hair-raising unsealed road to Lake Rotoroa, one of the Nelson Lakes. Moa was put through her paces, rolling through forest and along narrow winding roads. I seem to remember only passing one truck and perhaps a few pickups, all of which were 4x4s, which somewhat added to our concern (although clearly not enough for Hugo to turn back). There was a rather large clearing at the end of the road and we parked up, somewhat relieved to be in one piece. We followed a track through the forest, walking over the green moss carpet to a waterfall. Ferns sprawled under the dark shadow of the trees, foxgloves lined the path, and we heard nothing but birds and running water. We returned 1.5 hours later to continue to the nature walk we had planned. A path had been laid out that weaved through the dense forest and we were happy to spot tui, New Zealand robins, fantails, tomtits, black swans and rabbits. We enjoyed the scenery of the forest and lake so much we decided to camp for the night and headed 2 minutes up the road to the DOC campsite. The steel postbox that you were supposed to put your fees into had been vandalised and the site was therefore free for the night, score! Unfortunately this came at a price: sandflies. It seems that Rotorua was the sandfly capital of New Zealand as we sat outside in our deckchairs slowly getting mobbed by more and more bites. We had to retreat to the safety of the van and spent the next 30 mins swatting the persistent flies that had followed us in.

    The following morning we awoke with the naive hope that this ordeal was behind us… no luck. We opened the curtains to reveal a second curtain on the outside of the van made up entirely of sandflies. Opening the door was clearly out of the question so we climbed over the fridge and into the front of the van to make our getaway.

    By early afternoon we had arrived in Nelson, a city at the top of the south island, and the home of Old Mout cider. We used this as an opportunity to stock up on fresh food at a grocers and paknsave. We found a Christmas hits CD for a fiver so of course we bought it. The campsite just outside the city was peaceful and green, and we were greeted by a British lady at reception. In the early evening we walked up a nearby hill in the direction of a nature sanctuary, although this was fenced off. We did see a cheeky weka back at the campsite, though.

    Next day we parked up in Nelson to visit the Suter Art gallery, housing a collection linking Cornwall and NZ, ceramics, and a large multi-piece sculpture by Nelson artist Sally Burton, depicting the 1843 wairau incident between Maori and Europeans. We had a quick look around the Wednesday farmers’ market before sitting in the sunshine for a delicious lunch at Mac’s Brewbar.
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  • Day104

    A Series of Unfortunate Events

    December 10, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    I had a fresh start to the morning with no dollars for a hot shower and no one to ask at reception for change! Having been positively woken up we headed off towards Glacier country, driving along the windy road between Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka with Mt Aspiring in the background to Makarora where there were the blue pools, a set of brilliant azure glacial meltwater pools. We walked over the rope bridge and watched a few people jumping off into the freezing cold pools below - not going to catch me doing that any time soon. Hugo said he had forgotten his trunks. To complete the aquatic theme we stopped off at Fantail falls, Gates of Haast and Thundercreek falls before it started bucketing down. As there was a weather warning, we decided to stop for the night and found the only campsite between Haast and Fox glacier, the Pine Grove motel. This was a pretty poor campsite that consisted of a concrete slab and the world's smallest kitchen; we got pretty cosy with 3 French guys who were also staying there.

    The next morning we headed off towards the glaciers, however the heavy rainfall had not subsided, so all we saw as we drove past the (supposed) locations were walls of grey fog. Needless to say we didn't stop to go hiking. What we were not aware of at the time was that there were multiple landslips along the road between Haast and the Pine Grove motel due to the weather after we had left. Based on the news reports we read later that day, we worked out we were just 20 minutes and 40 minutes ahead of two of the landslides! Getting caught behind them would have been a bummer as this was the only road up the coast so we would have had to return and detour via Christchurch, but getting caught between them would have been significantly worse! While an exciting story, getting rescued by the NZ military did not feature on our itinerary.

    Forging a path through the blanket of torrential rain, we scoured the lonely planet for indoor activities, finding only a replica plane in Hari Hari. We pulled up in the car park and scuttled to the small building (which was sheltered from the rain). It was a small one story building that looked like a shop front, with a replica plane and a mannequin of Guy Menzies, the first person to fly solo across the Tasman sea from Sydney to the west coast of NZ. He had prepared for his adventure for some time, but told the authorities and his family that he was flying from Sydney to Perth, for fear of not being granted permission. He did crash land upside down in Hari Hari, but success doesn't come without risk I suppose! He was only 21 years old at the time and did go on to fly in the Royal Air Force for Britain in WWII.

    We walked back to the van full of facts and ready to continue to our next destination to discover that tragedy had struck: Hugo had left the lights on. Poor Moa’s battery was so old that it had gone flat in the time it took us to look at the plane. This was bad. Despite being at a ‘tourist destination’, we were practically in the middle of nowhere. Ironically there was a closed garage across the road advertising new car batteries, but only a notice on the door saying to ring a guy on his mobile in an emergency. The people who turned up to the car park were also tourists who had hired a car and therefore did not have jumper cables, and even if they did, we were faced with problem 2: we could not for the life of us find the battery. Usually it's under the hood next to the engine but Moa did not have a hood. After quite a while of Hugo standing in the pouring rain poking around for a seam or latch, while I sat inside googling where the engine was, we eventually figured out it was under the seats. After pulling them forward, we unveiled a little hatch, which unfortunately was partially blocked by the sink behind the driver's seat. I lifted the sink while Hugo wrestled the hatch off and voila, there it was, and only half an hour later! Just in time as well, as the next car we flagged down were a French couple who had jumper cables. He hooked us up, Moa turned over and we were up and running again. We thanked the French profusely before scooting on down the road. We won't be making that mistake again! (Foreshadowing alert…)

    Next up on our coastal journey was the Bushman's centre, a recommended stop off in the middle of nowhere dedicated to life as a bushman. This was an official educational institution run by highly trained staff in a well equipped modern museum... or at least that's what we expected. In reality it was a large wooden shack with the most bizarre assortment of taxidermy, newspaper clippings and salvaged agricultural artifacts, run by a crazy retired bushman and his wife. After looking around the strange gift shop, we were greeted at the front desk by the bushman, who told us he had a film for us to view. We were the only ones there so he whisked us into the ‘theatre’ (a curtained-off section of the building with some chairs and a projector) and sat down. He popped in his DVD, pressed play and left us to it. What followed was an incredibly amusing amateur production centered around the history of deer hunting in New Zealand. This amounted to various clippings from 90’s nature documentaries interspersed with homemade shots of the bushman himself posing with his rifle and pretending to shoot deer off camera - presumably shot on a vintage VHS video camera he picked up in a thrift store. We left the theatre and walked around the exhibits in the main room. There was a definite 'conspiracy theorist’ feel to this museum, with laminated newspaper clippings pasted across the walls akin to a school project, mainly centered around the negative effects of a government-run poisoning scheme called 1080. The theory was to kill the invasive pests such as possums that kill the native species. Unfortunately the poison also reportedly kills the native species. The whole issue is highly controversial and we've heard about it frequently across New Zealand. The exhibits ended with a live possum on display in an enclosure who looked just as confused with the bushman centre as we were.

    Leaving our new furry friend to his fate, we drove off towards Hokitika and found a couple of art galleries to browse. Hugo had a good chat with the man at the till of the art cooperative, who was the woodturner that made the items on display, about the various tools and processes involved. There were some great items for sale. We found our campsite for the night just outside Greymouth, which had an indoor hot tub, so naturally we parked up and got into our 'togs’. After a relaxing soak we returned to the van to discover that disaster had struck again… clearly having had such a bad experience just hours ago, we wouldn't forget to turn the lights off again, right? Wrong. The battery was once again dead as a doornail and we began our search for some jumpers. Luckily the owners of the campsite were very friendly and the old man came to the rescue with his well stocked workshop. He took out our battery and put it on his trickle charger to be good as new in the morning. This was not to be the end of our troubles however.

    As it had been cloudy and raining all day and the previous day, the solar panels had not been charging the house battery and this was therefore also dead and the fridge had had to be turned off earlier that day. This meant that by now all the food in there was going warm and needed to be cooked. The problem with this was that we had about three days of meat, so the only option was to cook up a monumentally big pasta meal containing pork chops, sausages and bacon, a recipe known as ‘three little pigs’. We had a chat with some of the other guests in the kitchen, seeking refuge from the rain. One girl was selling Cookie Time cookies for charity so purely out of the kindness of our own hearts, and not at all because we needed a pick-me-up after our unlucky day, we decided to buy a bucket (this sounds pretty greedy but it did end up lasting us a while). This is about the time that the next disaster of the day occurred. We had not experienced so much rain up to this point so had not yet discovered one of Moa’s odd little quirks: when it rains, the door lock becomes incredibly stiff. This clearly was a problem for the previous owner as the key was pretty bent out of shape. This resulted in us breaking the key trying to open the door. Luckily it held on by a tiny strip of metal so didn't get stuck in the lock, so we were able to get in and out of the van (calling a locksmith would have been a real disaster).

    To top it all off the seal on the boot was not what it used to be so the rain had gotten in and got the bedding wet so we had to pay to put it in the dryer. Overall, after our series of unfortunate events, we felt as though today the universe was testing us, so we were happy to just go to bed. Travelling isn't all fun and games, you know!
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  • Day102

    Taking it Easy in Wanaka

    December 8, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Reluctantly we left our idyllic lakeside getaway the next morning and set off towards Wanaka. We stopped at the remains of a Chinese settlement where Chinese gold miners lived and worked in the 1860s. After a drink we carried on up the road for a brief stop at roaring meg falls and the hydro-electric power station. We also passed Kawarau Gorge, the place where AJ Hackett invented bungy (and where you can bungy for free if you're over 70!). Further on we drove through countless vineyards, each row marked with a rose bush at the end. We even stopped to pick up some fresh peaches at a roadside orchard outlet near Cromwell, known as the 'fruit bowl of the south’. Finally arriving into Wanaka, we parked up and went to the nearest pub for lunch before heading off again to find our campsite.

    Glendhu Bay campsite was definitely up there on the list of sites with a heavenly view - we were parked right beside the lake with a mountain vista backdrop and even a tree with a rope swing. Sat on a bench we enjoyed a beer and some scorchers before taking a swim in the still crystal clear water. What a life!

    Next morning we hurriedly cooked some eggs and bacon before our paddleboarding session at 11. After a brief instruction on how to use them, we set out on the lake trying our best to look serene and composed while struggling internally not to fall off - Hugo's particularly poor sense of balance did not do him any favours here. Nevertheless there were no spectacular wipeouts and we paddled steadily around the lake, weaving between boats and swimmers for an hour. Having dropped off the boards we bought some suncream from festively dressed staff at the supermarket. We set up camp on the beach in front of the van. A more relaxed scene could not easily be imagined - we spent the following few hours servicing our tans, reading books, swimming in the clear warm water and generally being as lazy as possible. The mercury hit 32 degrees! Hugo mustered the energy to walk 50 yards to the car to pour a cold beer into a cup and bring it back to the beach for consumption, despite the alcohol ban. All good things must come to an end though, as we left back to the campsite to do our laundry and reheat some soup for tea. We got chatting to a British couple and talked for an hour or two about our vans and our recommendations for destinations during and after NZ. We watched the sun set over the lake and Hugo stayed out to get some photos of the stars.

    Wanaka was the laidback sister of Queenstown and we really enjoyed our time there.
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  • Day100

    Camping in Queenstown

    December 6, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    The final part of the southern scenic route crossed in to Central Otago and took us to Queenstown, birthplace of the bungy and jetboat (not that we would do either). We drove along the length of lake wakatipu, passing the ‘devils staircase’ and a mountain range known as ‘the remarkables’ (how modest). Once we had located a parking spot, we embarked upon a local food tour of our own making - empanadas at a hatch with a very friendly server, tacos down an alley with equally chatty staff, and a delicious ice cream at famous Mrs Ferg’s. The queue for burgers at Fergburger was insane and we decided no burger was worth waiting that long for. We sat in the grassy, social square to devour our purchases. A walk around the gardens helped to burn off a few cals, however we forgot to rent a frisby to play the popular frisby golf. We spotted the first of many scooby doo mystery machine themed vans parked in the car park. On the way back we had a quick browse around a cool art shop, Vesta, with work from kiwi artists.

    After much deliberation we decided we had just enough time to go up the steep gondola and ride the Skyline luge. We shared our gondola pod with two local ladies who use their annual pass to go up the mountain three times a week after work, how great! At the top we caught the end of a haka song performed by a Maori choir to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. After finding a suitable  helmet with GoPro mount, we had a quick lesson in how to use the controls, and then we were off. The sled gained speed down the slope unless you pulled on the handles to brake which was confusing at first (we saw a few people who could not get the hang of it at all). The first few rides we stuck to the basic track, gathering confidence to ride the more thrilling advanced track. As expected, Hugo sped off ahead as I carefully navigated the corners. Every now and then you could turn your head to take in the breathtaking views of lake wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. On my final run I managed to get myself stuck on the escalator at the bottom, much to my embarrassment. The GoPro managed to get a bit of footage of our runs before it ran out of battery!

    Adrenalin pumping, we headed to the supermarket to stock up on supplies before continuing to our campsite at 12 mile delta. By the light of the setting sun we cooked a green Thai curry on our gas stove, dancing to music as we embraced outdoor living.

    We were afforded more stunning views the following day as we wound along the road to Glenorchy, an end-of-the-road town with film locations from LOTR. We took a walk around the lagoon, appreciating the signage giving a hare and a tortoise speed for completing the loop. We refreshed ourselves with an iced coffee and beer, and then paid for a shower at Mrs Woolly’s local store. Just as we set off back towards Queenstown, we saw a thumb hovering above the road side. Being the kind souls we are, we pulled over and made space for our first hitchhiker, who happened to be British. We later regretted our decision as she talked non-stop for the 50 minutes or so ride, telling us how important it was to keep an open mind and have smashed avo and wine on mountain tops. Once we had parted ways, we deservedly opted to grab a pie from Mrs Ferg’s bakery, and another ice cream/milkshake.

    Keen to avoid routine, we chose a different DOC site for the night, Moke lake. Driving along a quiet road through a majestic valley, we passed sheep and then unexpectedly a Chinese photoshoot with a couple posing in ball gown and suit amongst the livestock. The setting was picturesque to say the least. We sat out with our camping chairs and admired the view of the lake. A young boy camping with his dad started up a conversation as he hauled in some leaves with his fishing rod. We both went for a swim in the lake, the boy encouraging me to dip my shoulders in. He was clearly excited about his camping trip as he insisted on giving us updates on how it was going every 5 minutes. They started a fire on a bed of stones, which drew our curiosity as there was typically a fire ban on campsites. Turns out we were right as the camp manager marched over and told them that they had 30 seconds to put out their fire before he gave them a 10,000 dollar fine! Needless to say the man quickly obliged, although he did grumble about it to us later on. It didn't seem to put a dampener on his son’s amazing camping trip though. We enjoyed a breathtaking orange sunset accompanied by some roaming sheep and a couple of very hungry ducks circling the van and then bedded down for the night.

    After a hearty breakfast of eggs and beans and a farewell to our new friends, we set off on our hike on the Moonlight track which we had understood led to Ben Lomond saddle, a plateau on the mountain overlooking Queenstown. Clearly this was not a well frequented path as we saw a grand total of 3 utes, 4 horse riders and 1 guy walking the other way in our 6 hour walk. We did see many spectacular views though, and spent quite a lot of time stood still taking photos. I took the opportunity to refresh my feet in a stream crossing our path. After realising that the track was not going towards Ben Lomond saddle, we opted to stop for lunch at a particularly picturesque spot in the intersection of three valleys. We had a picnic of lemon curd sandwiches and enjoyed the silence. Thoroughly aching after retracing our steps back to the campsite, we made some soup on the stove outside the van and chatted to a group of Dutch people having a reunion next to us. With no showers at the campsite, Hugo had a bathe in the lake - a true wild man.
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  • Day97

    Milling around Milford Sound

    December 3, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌫 16 °C

    After some breakfast at the picnic table by the van we set off for Milford Sound. Everything was going great until we stopped for some petrol in Te Anau. Stepping out of the van I momentarily forgot my phone was on my lap. Before I knew what hit me my days old phone was on the concrete floor with a big web of cracks across the screen. Needless to say I was not happy and it put a bit of a downer on the day. First stop along the route was a short walk around lake mistletoe, although I wish we had never got out because it was the dullest walk of our travels so far. Further down the road were the mirror lakes, although maybe due to the weather, I didn't see my miserable face, or a reflection of the forest, beaming back at me. We did another short walk at cascade creek lake, through the mossy fairyland-type woods. Just as we were approaching the Homer tunnel, I caught sight of a few people looking at something on the ground. Keas! Hugo pulled over and we jumped out to take photos. The kea is a native endangered bird, the world's only alpine parrot. They are known for their mischievous behaviour such as eating the rubber seals from cars (they are high in energy), but are also intelligent, being able to work together to achieve a shared goal. A group of kea is aptly called a 'circus’, and the NZ equivalent of beaver scouts are called kea!

    After passing through the tunnel and winding down the hairpin bends, we had just enough time to speed walk across the car park to 'the chasm’, an impressive volume of water flowing forcefully into the river below. The final destination was Milford Sound itself and after a quick chocolate brownie we made our way to the boat departure jetty. We checked in with Mitre Peak cruises and were given a complimentary cookie. We had purposefully chosen a smaller boat company so that we could go further along the sound and closer to the sights.

    It was drizzling when we set off, so we sat indoors next to the panoramic window, helped ourselves to a complimentary coffee and looked out to see Bowen falls. We listened to the commentary and then went outside. One of the guides pointed out a group of kingfish jumping out the water. On our left hand side it was possible to see a sub-faultline, which appeared as a large crack down the rockface with a waterfall cascading through it. There were also hanging valleys, just like out of a geography textbook. The skipper radioed across to a luxury cruise boat that had just pulled in two rock lobsters, and so we manoeuvred over to take a look. One of the guests held up two enormous lobsters like trophies. Further out towards the Tasman sea we got a good view of some Fiordland penguins, similar in appearance to the yellow eyed penguin. On the way back we stopped to see some seals hanging out on a rock. There were glimpses of blue sky but the cloud and mist refused to move from the top of mitre peak. The dark waters and dramatic skies contributed to the majestic scenery, with steep mountains rising on either side of the channel. Final excitement for the day was to get sprayed from Stirling falls as we passed almost underneath it. I swear I saw a dolphin on the way back, too. Just before 6 we stepped back on to dry land and made our way back to Manapouri. Tea was a strange concoction of steak, noodles, and broccoli, with a side of baked beans to satisfy my craving for them.
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  • Day95

    The Southern Scenic Route

    December 1, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    And so began our journey through the Catlins, with a stop at picturesque nugget point lighthouse first, so called because of several rock 'nuggets’ scattered beyond the mainland. A cliffside road wound its way up to the car park, with several short stretches of one way road. We completed the short walk to the lighthouse, amazed at how many seals were chillin’ on the beach or frolicking in the water. The longer you looked, the more grey blobs you noticed, until realising that we were way outnumbered. On the way back we tried our luck at seeing one of the 18 or so breeding pairs of yellow eyed penguins at Roaring Bay from the penguin hide, however it was the wrong time of day. We passed through the small town of Owaka, meaning 'place of the canoe’, and had to turn back just to take a photo of 'teapot land’, a resident’s garden with a huge collection of teapots filling every nook and cranny! A walk down to Purakaunui falls through forest that smelt of jasmine to see the cascading water, and then the forgettable matai falls….

    A spontaneous stop as we neared Curio Bay was at the ‘lost gypsy caravan’ parked by the roadside. Inside was the most amazing set of automata, contraptions and inventions, all hand made from various scraps. Everywhere there were signs to 'push here' and 'turn this', a total haven for creative minds. We paid the $5 to look around the theatre at the back, which included an organ with various sound effects connected to each note and pedal. Hugo was blown away - if he had a man cave this would be it. The place was meant to close at 5 and we found ourselves still there at half past, oops!

    We stopped to take photos at Florence hill lookout, a breathtaking viewpoint of a beautiful beach. The beaches at the bottom of the south island felt very remote and untouched, a well kept secret. Eventually we arrived at our campsite, checked in with the British woman on reception, bought two magnums, and then whisked ourselves through the maze of 10ft high flax to find a pitch. We, along with many other tourists, set up on the rocks down by the beach, eagerly anticipating a sighting of yellow eyed penguins. 3 hours came and went, and people gradually started leaving disappointed, although watching the crashing waves at dusk didn't make it all in vain. The beach is also known for its petrified forest, a 180 million year old fossilized forest, which now presents as tree stumps in the rock pools. We cooked in the clean and modern facilities block before I nearly locked myself in the shower cubicle.

    A morning walk around the headland of Porpoise Bay rewarded us with sightings of hector's dolphins, one of the smallest marine dolphins in the world, identifiable by their distinctive rounded dorsal fin, and only found in NZ waters. Unfortunately the road to Slope Point, the southernmost point on mainland NZ, was closed, and so we continued on the Southern Scenic Route towards Invercargill.

    Nothing we had read about Invercargill jumped out at us, with the exception of 'Demolition World’. We weren't quite sure what to expect from a junkyard, but it was surprisingly intriguing and a little creepy. Items had been salvaged and made in to a village, complete with houses, creepy hospital and dentist, church playing Michael Buble's Xmas album, pharmacy, bar, toy store etc. Deformed mannequins were positioned throughout, and chickens with their chicks, geese and peacocks seemed to run the place. An amazing birdsong came from the treetops, and I spotted a tui, a native New Zealand bird that is regarded to be very intelligent, so much so that Maori have trained them to imitate human speech. Their song is individual, with a mix of cackles, creaks and other bizarre noises, owing to them having two voiceboxes. Anyway, demolition world was a place like no other.

    Time to head north again. We passed field upon field of neatly aligned hay bales and sang along to 80s tunes on 'the breeze’ with the sun shining and life feeling good. We drove down a tree lined avenue into our campsite for the next two nights in Manapouri. The campsite was immaculate, with a herb garden, huge washing lines, brochures, and killer views from the sink. We cooked a meal and discussed our options for Milford sound. We spoke to a couple of French girls about their trip to the sound a few days earlier and got some tips about the best time to go before making our booking for the following day, regardless of the forecast for cloudy weather - we didn't have the time to wait 7 days for the sun to come out!
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  • Day94

    Scotland of the South

    November 30, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Our first day in Dunedin was spent running errands. Hugo, jealous of my new phone, decided to also buy a phone, and whilst he was at it, bought a shaver, too. Hugo went to get a haircut whilst I searched in vain for kiwi themed Christmas cards. Lonely planet had recommended a burger joint, Velvet  Burger, so we took the advice. We received two huge burgers and were only charged for one. Being the honest citizens we are,  we 'fessed up, and to our delight, the waitress informed us it was 2for1 that day. It also happened to be the day that the 'dairy’ (NZ word for newsagents) was selling ice creams for $1 that day, hooray! We had a boysenberry ice cream, which was pretty good.

    Dunedin is a student city with shops, restaurants and a few attractions. It also has hills to rival Sheffield, and unfortunately we missed visiting the steepest street in the world. There is a Scottish influence here, with school kids wearing kilts as uniform and several shops selling Scottish souvenirs. Before we knew it, the day had passed so we decided to stay nearby so that we could explore more of Dunedin the following day. We camped overnight at St Clair’s, enjoying an evening walk to the beach.

    The following morning was an arty affair, with a look around a local art fair and a visit to the art gallery opposite. I purchased a canvas bag in the gallery shop, and we then explored the exhibition by NZ artist, Gordon Walters, whose works are a series of geometric Maori patterns in various colour combinations. Once finished, we continued the hunt for Xmas cards (don't seem to be very common here!) and eventually found a suitable pack. We sat and wrote them in the 30 degree heat as we sat outside having lunch at Mac’s Brew Bar. Just as we finished, a teacher with a group of students started performing Maori songs and a haka, they sounded great! There was just enough time before the parking ticket ran out to go to the post office to send a Christmas parcel home and post our cards. We drove down to the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum to learn about the history of the area. It is here we learnt that kiwifruit used to be called Chinese gooseberries until they were renamed in 1959. Another interesting fact was about a lady who had knitted her way to being made an MBE for knitting 735 pairs of socks for the troops during World War I. Both essential parts of kiwi history, I'm sure you'll agree.

    After admiring the grand red station building on the way back, we headed out of town to tunnel beach. A steep descent led to a grassy headland with ocean views. Hidden below was an entrance, with a tunnel leading through the rock to a beach below. We had the beach almost to ourselves. A cool little place! Our campsite for the night, Kaitangata, was basically a couple's backyard with only a few vans parked up. One such motorhome had a sticker on the window stating 'adventure before dementia’ - brilliant! With our raw chicken smelling unpalatable, we ordered a homemade pizza from the counter inside the family’s home!
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  • Day93

    Finding Penguins and Penny Farthings

    November 29, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    The Alps2Ocean trail led us to Oamaru, a very cool Victorian town on the east coast in the Otago region. By chance, we parked opposite the library, meaning free WiFi to look up what to do! We wandered down to the historical district, feeling like we had time travelled. 19th century stone architecture, a park with a penny farthing, antique shops, galleries, steampunk HQ. Only the weekend before the town had celebrated its annual Victorian fete.

    A Sunday farmers’ market was set up near the bay, and we bought sausages and cherries.  We walked along Tyne Street (streets in the town named after English rivers, we later found out!) and called in at various places, one of which being a super impressive antiques shop that Hugo spent a long time perusing and purchasing books. One old warehouse had old fashioned trikes on the ceiling and penny farthings on display. There was also a very weird face gallery and a stonemason.

    We investigated the penguin colony visitor centre, passing a penguin crossing sign on the way, and decided against paying the fee, instead opting to pay to stay at the beachfront campsite and hope to see them on the waterfront at night. After a tasty meal of lamb, we headed out along the waterfront, noting the foul smell of penguin poop. A few other people had gathered and down at the boat ramp a lady wearing a high vis jacket came into view - her jacket had the words 'penguin advocate’ written on it. Bingo! Sure enough, a few dark blobs eventually appeared and started trying to waddle ashore. People started taking photos, and the penguin advocate authoritatively told several people off for using the flash on their cameras. Apparently they aren't able to hear, but are very sensitive to light and movement, only returning to their nests in darkness. A couple of penguins got spooked and started turning back towards the ocean. After an hour or so we headed back towards the campsite, literally dodging the constant stream of penguins which had increased in number an alarming amount. It was a special moment to see them waddling and flapping their flippers under the streetlights as they cautiously crossed our path, but we couldn't help but feel a little guilty that the interference and nosiness of people was to blame for the dwindling numbers of nesting little blue penguin pairs.

    Next day I bought a new phone to replace the one I had broken in Australia, and signed up to a NZ contract. My phone number only had 10 digits due to the small NZ population, cute. Further down the east coast we stopped off at Moeraki boulders, a natural phenomenon where spherical boulders emerge from the cliff and lay in situ on the beach. We were able to see one half-born, and the rest we enjoyed posing by and in, Hugo appearing like he had hatched from a dinosaur egg. After lunch on the beach, we indulged in a hokey pokey ice cream, a speciality of new Zealand, similar to honeycomb.

    Later on we went to Katiki point lighthouse on the hunt for the rare yellow-eyed penguin, supposedly the rarest penguin in the world. I seemed to forget this briefly when the elusive penguin appeared before us in the perfect viewing spot; Hugo watched in awe as he strutted around while I wandered off to look at some seals, thinking we would see plenty more penguins. Unfortunately this did not occur, and we spent the rest of our walk enjoying the consolation of seals, seagulls and sea views.

    We checked in to our campsite in Waikouaiti and headed off to a nearby pub for a drink and WiFi. This is one of those pubs where everyone stops and turns to look at you when you walk in, luckily it was in a friendly rather than an intimidating manner so I ordered a rekorderlig and Hugo ordered a local brew and we sat outside in the evening sun, chatting briefly with a fairly tipsy woman about the countryside being the best place. Near to closing time and the pub was nearly empty save for us and the same, slightly more tipsy woman. The barman accompanied her outside and said to us ‘I'm giving her a lift home, can you watch the bar’. To our bemusement, we sat and finished our drinks in an empty pub to be greeted by the barman on his return, stopping to grin and let us know that this is what it's like in the country.

    The following day we continued south, hitting the brakes at a ‘scenic lookout’ sign to see a great vista of the beaches we had just come from. On the way we stopped for a walk up to the ‘organ pipes’, an outcrop of hexagonal stone columns similar to the Giant's causeway in Ireland. After a bit of a climb, I sat at the bottom of the rocks while Hugo climbed all the way to the top up some pretty treacherous looking rockfaces. He took some photos of the stunning views of Mount Cargill and the surrounding area and clambered back down. Unique natural phenomenon viewed, on to Dunedin!
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