Day 10 – Arrowtown to Te Anau

So nice to have company this morning upon pulling aside the curtain in my camper. A person in a smaller vehicle parked beside mine suddenly twitched aside her curtain to look out and grinned foolishly at me. I put the kettle on.

Before very long we formed a convoy heading out of Arrowtown towards Queenstown, and with confidence I allowed Mr Apple to lead me to the nearest petrol station. Silly me. I had apparently ‘arrived’ at the station but all there was was a long hedge and built up cars behind me all trying to get to work in Queenstown. Not a building in sight. So I searched with my own eyes and found the visible sign eventually and pulled in to fill up on diesel. Amazing how much fuel you go through. Then we veered south and hit the road that hugs the lake heading towards Te Anau. We decided that since we wanted to go to Milford Sound, we needed two nights in Te Anau, as it was a full day to drive out to the Sound and back. The drive beside the lake was beautiful, if overcast, but once again, the clouds on the snow-topped peaks only added to the mystery and glory of the mountains all around.

Further south the clouds had built up more, and we chased rainbows on the distant slopes – their loveliness drew us to stop a couple of times to try and capture them.

A small town at the bottom of the lake – Kingston – is the home of the Kingston Flyer, a steam engine that used to operate out of the town. It has apparently started up again, but I could only see a few carriages and a diesel engine. Looked very promising though.

The road lost its curves and became more fast and straight, and before long we were drawing in to the quaint little settlement called Garston (it’s hard not saying that we a southern twang). It held – oh joy – a silver bullet caravan serving hot food and coffee, and we had our first cheese roll in the south from them. We also cruised around an interesting curio and art shop next door which housed the honey stall and tasting. We had a taste of local honey and bought a jar each. My Wild Thyme was delicious.

Further and further south our convoy rolled – on straight highway and creeping ever closer to Te Anau. A very short trip by my standards. We decided to detour slightly and go via Lumsden, which is a moderate sized town that is known to us for its mountain cycle trail. Oh to have had time and my bike with me! We both looked longingly at the map which detailed an extensive circular route around the mountains.

At Lumsden we took a sharp westward turn and headed straight for Te Anau. . . Only 40 mins or so away. On the way had to stop and gasp and take photos of the encroaching snow-capped peaks all around. Close to Te Anau I stopped and we made a cuppa in the van and sat enjoying the scenery all around and sipping tea.

Down a few more straights, we found ourselves descending gently into the very pretty little town of Te Anau, with daffodils down the centre of the street and blossom trees in full flower. It was delightful to see the wee shops and restaurants and the sleepy placid township in the blazing mid afternoon sun. Lifting our eyes, the lake sparkled in the distance, and beyond and everywhere we turned there were distant and not so distant peaks jutting up with white caps. Gorgeous.

We drove through town to the waterfront, and turned right, and to my delight found the Tasman Holiday Park sign not far along the road. Here we found an English chap sitting behind the reception desk who was very dry in his wit and a bit of bantering took place which is being built on with each encounter. Our vans are parked side by side, and in a lovely setting, and we set out to discover the town by foot. We have eaten a mid-afternoon main meal at the local bar/bistro called Baileze – I had the ribs, and Helen the chicken skewers. The walk back to the reception desk to enquire about booking for the Milford Sound boat the next day, was extended when our friendly host told me to “wear off the ribs I’d eaten and walk down to the corner of town to the Real NZ office”.

We walked the same distance back parallel to the way we had come, and for $89 bought tickets on the boat at Milford Sound. It means we’ll be pressed to drive the distance in the morning to get there in time for the 10.30 clock in, but it will be worth it I’m sure. Now we have had a leisurely time relaxing and reading and will have an early night in prep for the big day out. Still feeling very happy to be here right now. I have a constant presence in my camper with me, as now. It is as familiar as an old coat. A favourite and comfortable coat of course! I had to take out some stitches on her elbow this afternoon – from a bike ride accident nearly 2 weeks ago. The things you find you can do!

Day 9 – Wanaka to Arrowtown

There was a frost on the ground this morning, the first one I have seen in years. . . Auckland doesn’t seem to get them any longer. It was 0 degrees, so not surprising. My little fan heater went all night keeping the chill off. At around 1.30am I opened an eye and looked out the back window and saw the moon on the lake. Such a lovely sight. Slowly the light filled the area and in the morning it was still lovely.

Today was ‘housework’ day – I made good use of the showers and hair washing but had to tramp back over a lot of wet frozen ground to get my $1 for the showers! After that I packed up and unplugged, and then set about the task of emptying various receptacles of liquids stored temporarily onboard. (I don’t think I need embellish). I added fresh water to the reservoir, and then I pointed Alfie’s nose south and took off on the scenic route to Queenstown via Cardrona.

Here’s the thing, Cardrona is a popular ski resort in the vacinity, and the name is familiar to me, and both my brother and my friend Kerrin had told me to take this scenic route and stop on the way there. So when I saw the sign pointing out Cardrona, I turned right and found myself following a dirt (corrugated in many places) road up the mountainside, with many cars behind and in front of me, filled with puffer jacketed people going skiing. It felt odd to be in a camper van doing this too. But my brother had told me to do it. Eventually, and to my relief, I found other campers parked along with cars at the car park further up. People were piling out, grabbing skis, and heading up to the shuttle bus depot. Could my bro have meant me to catch one of those?? I heard back from him, via FB messenger, and a photo showing the old time pub named Cardrona that is a bit of an icon. Apparently REAL town Cardrona was slightly further along the road.

It was lovely. Yes, around a corner and up a hill there was a group of buildings all reminiscent of earlier days, and so I stopped in the store for coffee and a cheese scone, and complimented the serving woman on her place of work. My quip that “THIS is an excellent spot to work – just think, you could come from Auckland like me” fell flat when she admitted “but I DO come from Auckland.” Indeed there seem a LOT of Aucklanders in the Wanaka/Queenstown area. Coming down out of Cardrona there was a glorious vista of mountain and valley leading to a glimpse of Queenstown in the far distance. And then the road wound on down further and further, finally twisting back on itself that I had to take a quick screenshot.

And so I found myself cruising in to the bustling tourist town of Queenstown, all the new housing dotting the slopes around me, the glistening blue waters of Lake Wakatipu stretching out into the distance, and mountains surrounding on all sides – with a cap of snow to add just that bit extra. Such a pretty setting it is. I was here at lunchtime – noon exactly – to meet an old friend. Kerrin used to work with me in Auckland 20 years ago, and since then has moved to Queenstown and works in the centre of town. I parked the van in the carpark on the edge of town, and walked in to meet her at her office. How lucky she is to work and live here, and she is still as pleased about it as she was when she came. We set off down the hill through the main centre, past lots of road works, and plenty of dapper young people lining up for food at hip places all around.

At the waterside we took some photos, saw the tail end of the Earnslaw making its way out to the centre of the lake, and then we wandered around the waterfront to a cafe out by the edge. I ordered a bacon butty, and she a cheese scone, and we enjoyed a catchup in the idyllic setting of mountain and lake surrounding us. She walked back with me to the camper to check it out, and then we parted ways.

Now I had nothing else to do but drive back up to Arrowtown, which I had passed on the way in, and sort out my spot for the night. Two spots, actually – why? Because my sister, Helen, has opted to join me for next few days, in her own camper!! Yes, she was due to arrive from Dunedin in hers shortly, and so I made it to Arrowtown and found two spots together and soon a smaller compact van arrived with her familiar grinning face. She had come across the central Alexandra area from Dunedin and we would loop down around the bottom through Fiordland and back up the eastern side to Dunedin again.

We have had a pleasant reunion, driven up into Arrowtown to appreciate this remarkable wee town, which is very picturesque in its narrow streets and old shop frontages. It has a history of gold mining at its heart, and just outside town are some shanties that once were where the chinese miners lived and worked. Helen and roamed the shops, and then settled on a hotel – New Orleans – for our early dinner of Blue Cod and chips for me, and Pork Belly for my sis. It was cosy, the fire crackling away, the darkened interior full of conviviality, and the food generous and delicious. We are now back at our campsite, replete, happy, and still dazzled by the snow mountains overshadowing the town.

Day 8 – Haast to Wanaka

I have more photos than I know what to do with for this day. I got my exercise just getting up and into the van and then dropping back down to take another shot. I must have stopped in every passing bay along the Haast Pass. Fortunately for you, the wifi is so bad where I am, I can’t afford the time to wait for them all to load, so I’ll have to pick the best. I had a comfortable night at Haast, with folks all around me, and an excellent amenity block with free showers. I woke to a clear day and snow on the mountains in the distance. . . naturally I set off early.

Almost from the moment that I began driving the Pass, I was thrilled by the mountains with snow tips, all sharply defined against a blue sky. Finally, an hour into the trip I decided to do something I particularly enjoy having a camper van for: making a tea and enjoying the view from the comfort of my own dining space. So I chose the best spot with sweeping views across the river and up the pass to the mountains, and opened my doors, and boiled the kettle. When it had boiled, I put the non-stick saucepan on, and managed to fry/toast two slices of bread, which I slathered with peanut butter and honey. That was the best morning tea set up yet – coffee and toast and THAT view. I had warm water to do the dishes and they were a treat to do.

A little further along the road is the DOC campsite called Pleasant Flat, with flush toilets and picturesque setting. Not a soul in sight. I kept driving, and stopping, and clicking, and driving, and turned off at the sign to the Thunder Falls. So glad I did. A short way along the bushwalk you can hear the tinkling of some falls getting louder and louder, and then it opens out on to the delightful sight of a very long drop of white water cascading down into the azure depths of the stream running by below.

Fantail Falls

Beyond Thunder Falls, another waterfall called Fantail Falls is signposted, so I went to see them too. Less spectacular to my view, but wider and still very pretty.

I kept glancing in my rear vision mirror and seeing the most amazing vista of snow capped peaks against the blue sky – but because I was driving and on a narrow two-lane road it was hard to find ways to stop. I just know the view going North was amazing too. By the time I came out in view of Lake Wanaka, I felt I had seen as much beauty as I could handle, but no – here was blue/green water in a vast expanse, reflecting the huge rising shapes of the mountains all around it, all tipped with snow. They are massive. At least there were signposted bays marked with a camera sign so that you knew there was a view to get out and take.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence my help comes . . .

Psalms

Finally, after I had reached saturation point with the beauty of it all, I came in to Wanaka at the southern end of the lake, and parked in the park by the lake shore. . . The last one available at that moment. It is busy here – full of affluent tourists or locals who own holiday homes or are staying for the many sporting possibilities. I shuffled across the road to a cafe feeling like a bag lady, and settled in a corner table to eat my ‘Reubens and vegetable chips’ in great content. After a wander around the township, which is upmarket and upbeat, I got back in my trusty Alfie, and set off for 11kms away and the Glendhu Bay Motor Camp where I’m staying for the night. It is on the shores of Lake Wanaka, with a plethora of snow-capped peaks all around it. Everywhere I turn in my camper van, from it’s parked position by the lake, I see a glorious view.

I have enjoyed a relaxed afternoon, resting, reading up on things of interest, and now writing my blog. It is peaceful, calm, and still blue outside. The bar of my delight has been notched up a few levels today.

Day 7 – Punakaiki to Haast

I covered as much distance as I am ever going to want to, today. More than I wanted. I would have stopped sooner had I found a site. Let me start with the impression of the Southern Alps, which were the overpowering presence on this section of my journey.

My impression of the Alps

Last night it raged and blew outside my van, and I enjoyed the sensation of being tucked safely away while rain pattered the windows and roof. I had my blow heater on for some of it, and was quite warm, although I read there was snow in the Haast Pass and the weather was pretty thundery in the south where I was going. I had my peppermint tea, got dressed, and unplugged the camper from the power. Went through my checklist and then began driving into the weather.

The sharp shape ahead hidden in cloud

From Punakaiki it is 45 mins to Greymouth, the nearest large town, and I planned to get a coffee there and appreciate something of the mining history of this place. I went through a winding hilly section of road and finally it all levelled out and followed the coastline. The sea was wild and foaming and added to my impressions of the Wild West Coast. I loved the way the clouds lingered in the mountain tops and obscured the view, so that I had just a sense of brooding presence. I kept thinking of the Mystery of the mountains, hidden and being revealed now and then.

When I drove over a long bridge and the grey waters surged beneath me out to the sea, I could make out the clustered buildings and warehouses of a larger town than I expected. I turned right and in to the Town Centre, made up of no tall buildings but sturdy weathered shops and offices built to withstand the exposure to the sea and wind. Parking near the concrete wall that forms a break between town and river, I walked up to take a brisk look at the waters. Behind me were what looked like industrial sheds, but upon closer inspection proved to contain some offices and a modest looking cafe, which I immediately surged towards. It was more than the sum of its parts. Inside were a few old timers yakking, one or two townsfolk who sounded regulars, and a tucked away room which housed the cabinet food and kitchen. Quirky and sixties, and nostalgic. The food was home made and looked appetising, so I asked for a date scone and coffee and both were excellent.

Replete, I drove out of town the long way, and on the way south, still within town limits, I saw a sign pointing off to the left saying ‘Shantytown’ which drew my interest. Here at last was more that might give a sense of the place back in the day. Sure enough, for the princely reduced rate of $28 I was able to roam around the grounds of a reconstructed gold mining and timber town of late 1800s. Some things didn’t work, and some were under reconstruction, but the general impression was pleasant and full of interesting things to poke and and read about. Best of all, although I had missed the train by a short while, I was told to walk up to the Mill and catch it on the way back. Since the pics showed a steam train puffing downhill with timber on its carriages, I not unreasonably thought they might have a steam train going. But no – after wandering the Mill for a while I heard a whistle and rushed out to film the incoming locomotive. It was greatly over-rated. A single carriage on a diesel engine, and a short ride. However, even that was a pleasure. I had a bacon and egg pie and tea at the town cafe before heading out to my camper van.

Now there was a long section of road that followed the coastline further south, an easy fast road with the wild sea on one side and an encroaching presence on the other, with clouds obscuring what that presence was. The rain which had ceased for the duration of my time in Greymouth returned. When I drove through Hokitika and Ross Beach, it was grey and showery, and I didn’t stop. The further south I went the more the dark line ahead of me grew and became almost menacing.

At last I started to climb up the slopes and wind around some tight corners, with glimpses now and then of snow in little patches on the ground and big moments in sharp peaks in the sky. The mountains when they appeared out of the mist, were much bigger than I recall, and I was thrilled. I drove in to Franz Josef glacier township, and don’t remember anything of the look of it from my earlier days. It feels like an alpine resort town, with the shops and restaurants and adventure sports signage. And the blackness of the mountains rearing up around it all disappeared in a thick white fog. I decided to keep going and stop at Fox Glacier instead – it being the one I had not seen in younger days.

Fox

By this time I had crossed maybe ten single-lane bridges over deep ravines or fast moving waters – and the water of the one by Franz Josef was a beautiful aqua colour and seemed to be flowing from the glacier itself. I stopped to walk back over the bridge and take photos of the area, gasping as cloud parted and even higher peaks showed, all covered in snow.

Another 40 mins saw me drawing in to Fox Glacier township – a bit smaller, and more exposed, with a range of restaurants all open and a gas station I filled up on diesel with. Asking the petrol station attendant about the Lake Paringa salmon fishing and cafe my brother had told me about, she suggested they might be closed now. I tried calling and there was no answer, so I decided to eat in town here. I had a roast vegetable salad and chicken strips, which was huge, and a local Monteith’s ale. The inside of the bar/restaurant was so dark I only dimly made out shapes sitting at the tables, and silhuettes when I sat down. My eyes hadn’t adjusted by the time I left but at least I could see my food.

By now it was late afternoon, and I planned on another 45 mins driving to get to Lake Paringa and stay somewhere. It was a fast trip because the road was not too windy, and I found it beguiling to look in my rear vision mirror and see the sight of some snow mountains suddenly appearing. I would stop and look back and the clouds had gone over again.

When I got to Lake Paringa, the DOC camp sign pointed into a lonely and empty park area with places to back your van, but no way to book them because I was outside of signal range. The lake was lapping at the shore and the camp was set back from the road so far amongst the bush that it was private. But it was empty. I was disconcerted about the thought of staying there, and so decided not to. And that meant heading off toward Haast Pass and hoping that I would find a holiday park before it got dark.

My heart was in my throat thinking I would be travelling in the dark through this pass, when to my great relief and joy, I went over another long single lane bridge to see the holiday park sign pointing to the right. The Haast Beach Holiday Camp. Oh joy!! I am now set up for the night with power, and facilities nearby, and feeling safe and comfortable. Whew. That was the longest day yet.

Day 6 – Lake Rotoiti (St Arnaud) to Punakaiki, via Westport

Glad I took the photos yesterday because this morning it was grey and rained on and off, which made for some spectacular misty low cloud over the mountains as I descended towards Murchison. Dappled among the farmland and countryside were blossom trees, pink or white, and when small groves flashed by with the mountains behind, I could only gasp in joy. It is really difficult to take the photos you want, 1) when you are driving and 2) when there are no bays to pull over in to. Take my word for it. The photos I took are not the best I saw.

After driving this spectacular Buller gorge for about 45 mins, I came in to Murchison. I absolutely needed the sausage roll and coffee I purchased in the cafe near the end of town.

From Murchison we descended even more windy cuttings and followed the beloved Buller River through its twisting concourse towards the coast. Soon after Murchison I encountered a captivating sign entreating me to walk the ‘longest swing bridge in New Zealand’. Why not? At least I would be assured of a decent photo. It was. . . Exhilarating.

Once there I decided to get some exercise and actually walk the loop track, taking in a gold miner’s hut and some horrifying drops to the deep flowing waters of the Buller. Worth doing. AND I had to pass a small family negotiating the swing bridge towards me when I went back.

Back in the van, I turned left and carried on towards Westport, an endless twisting section of road following the river and at times going down to one lane around the bends with steep cliff on the left. Only once did I have to back up to allow a car to pass me on such a road. Almost like Scotland! Eventually the road turned either to go south to Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) or north to Westport, and I wanted to see the latter, so I veered up to the sleepy little town and parked. It was a grey drizzly day, which did not enhance the town’s delights, but it was somehow rustic and endearing. I lunched at a place called the Denniston Dog on a very nice Buddah Bowl of rice, salad and chicken.

I chose this town to fill up with diesel – not being sure when the next spot would be, and so headed out with a full tank. Decided to check out the aptly named Cape Foulwind (although my Apple map commentator insisted on calling it ‘Fall Wynde’). It was in fact so windy, that I declined the walk to the lighthouse and shot a picture of the rocks in the ocean from the van.

Then I turned south and followed another meandering road up into the hills twisting and turning on tight bends, until finally we found the ocean and followed the coastal path until we reached Punakaiki.

At the visitors centre I met another of the many Weka’s who had darted out in front of my van in the Westport area. They seem prolific in the south. Crossed the road and did the circle track out to the Blow Hole and the Pancake Rocks. A fabulous and unique bit of landscape.

Satisfied with my endeavours today, I turned back for the tiny township and the holiday camp sign I had passed. Sure enough, a friendly woman took $24 from me for a powered site and let me choose which one I wanted. I am now cosy and replete, with the sound of the sea and the rain outside, and the wind gusting against the walls of the camper. The signal is not strong here, but so far I’ve managed to upload some photos to this blog and hope it posts.

Day 5 – Pohara beach to Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes

To my dismay, I discovered I would have to return the same way I had come to reach Golden Bay – the hairpin bends (which turned out to be more like 30kms than 45kms. I did not take in to account the valley afterwards). I made the most of the district before I left though. It had rained overnight and the clouds still threatened, but I think I missed the worst of it which was coming down in the east coast and Wellington.

My brother had left me a few tips for places to see, and so, because the camp managers had not arrived, (Office 9 to 5), I went off to fill up on diesel, and then go and visit The Grove. The Grove was one of those unexpected delights, where you turn up at a small parking bay and nothing but a path leads off into the wild. Another vehicle arrived and the couple disappeared up the path, so I waited until they had gone and followed on. Up and up it wound through old tall Nikau palms and great slabs of rock forming walls on either side. Eventually I turned at a sign pointing out a look out, and lo and behold, a narrow corridor between gigantic rock faces lead out on to a viewing platform that took in the whole sweep of valley below. Impressive!

Returning to the holiday park, I found a friendly manager who took my $24 for the overnight stay, and suggested I go and visit the Pupu Springs. As my brother had already mentioned these (Waikoropupu Springs) in his precis, I didn’t need any further pushing. I turned on my trusty Apple Maps, and let the guide lead me. Except once more, the guide failed dismally! I followed it into what looked like (and WAS) private land, over a dirt/rock road, through fields, and pastures and barns, through fences, startling a small cluster of new calves! It thinned and tapered and became a four wheel drive track, and still my huge camper van lumbered on. I could not turn around! The sweet voice on the phone insisted I was doing the right thing, and great was my relief when I rounded a tight bend and found the paved two-lane road that leads to the Springs before me! If the farmer ever reads this: I’m truly sorry.

This car park was much bigger, and with a lot of information boards, and I began to get a sense of the mana (spirituality) of this place. It is a loop track of about 1 km, that winds down to follow the river and crosses it in places on a continuous and sinuous boardwalk. It feels very special to be walking over and beside the crystal clear waters as they bubble and gurgle beside you. AND THEN I came out into a wide vista which was the springs themselves. I don’t think any pictures could do justice to them, and at the moment I can’t upload any, you’ll have to believe me when I say that they were clear and showed sparkling depths with azure and turquoise colours below, and bubbling masses which indicate that there are indeed springs that feed this water way. It was breathtaking. The path continues back and around with glimpses of springs and flowing water, all beautiful and sacred. Back at the carpark and I breathed a sigh of regret to be leaving the place.

Getting into the van, a bird the size of a chicken with orange sharp bill and legs rushed up to me and looked keen to hop in. A weka I believe, and much friendlier than Pukeko.

So began my drive back through the golden valley and up into the scissoring road that crosses to Motueka on the Nelson side. At the top there is an extensive cave network, and a cafe and Woolshed run by locals. I stopped and admired the black rocks littering the landscape – our native marble. Inside the rustic tearoom and shop I purchased a woollen hat for further south, and some wool. And had a Devonshire tea to fortify myself. Even the basin in the restroom was made of the local marble.

Down through Motueka and then south, to get to Nelson lakes. The plain that is the bay of Nelson gives way to hills and then forestry, winding higher and higher gradually and giving glimpses now and then of the snow tipped peaks of the mountain ranges further south.

I was here at St Arnaud on the shores of Lake Rotoiti by 2.40pm which was fine by me. Driving through the tiny village which seems like an alpine resort I found the carpark and the lake beyond, the perfect setting for the jutting snow capped peaks in the distance. Another breathtaking and familiar view.

Lake Rotoiti

The DOC (Department of Conservation) camp ground is just there, beyond the public car park, and so I drive in to the virtually empty grounds and selected a powered site at random. Found out all I had to do was get on line to DOC and book it, which I did. Another cheap night of around $26 for ablution block, kitchen with bbqs, power, water and the SETTING to beat all.

Oh, and the midgies. Yeah, I only had my sliding door on the van open for 15 minutes and hastily slammed it shut. Already the blighters were inside and making their presence felt. Out came my insect repellant and the cheap wee insect repelling lamp I bought, and hopefully I’ve dealt to it. I had a power nap, and then got my boots on and did a loop walk and a wander down by the lake. It was empty of any tourists. Two camper vans are next to me – to my relief – and the toilets not far away, so I’m sitting pretty. The lake is spectacular. I can’t wait to see it in the morning at first light.

So now I’ve made dinner of toast with fried eggs, ham, coleslaw, and a cup of Earl Grey tea. I might put my wee fan heater on, and the lights, and do my dishes. Even they feel like a treat, when the vista in front of me is a suggestion of lake through the trees.

Every day I don’t think it can get any better, and I am wrong. It can!

Day 4 – Wellington to Pohara Beach, via Picton and Nelson

You don’t have any idea when staring at a flat map of the South Island, just how rigorous the driving might be. Today was quite a day – I maxed out on energy and driving and don’t want to do that too often. All up, once I spent the morning crossing the Cook Strait to the South Island, I then had four hours of driving to do to get here, and what driving it was too.

But let’s start with the 5.30 am beginning of the day when I got up and sorted and drove the 20 mins to the ferry. It was a splendid day for a crossing, so I was very lucky.

We were inevitable half an hour late, but the scenery was superb and I had booked a cabin for this crossing, which was a little like being on a cruise. First though, breakfast.

It was very still, the sky dazzling blue, and with fountains spraying high and kayakers paddling, a lovely sight as we left the harbour and past into the open sea.

Once we moved out into the strait, I moved up into my cabin and cast myself down on the bed for a power nap. So lovely with the gentle rocking of the waves. After the nap I had a shower in the ensuite, and then headed down to the cafeteria for water, and the outer decks to check out the view as we approached the spectacular Marlborough Sounds, which lead into Picton.

The water is jewel-like, and mesmerising. I got my exercise negotiating the stairs up and down to the top deck viewing space. The route can be seen on my screen shot. We arrived at Picton and eventually I joined the small cavalcade of camper vans disembarking and with great relish, set off into the South Island for the start of the real adventure.

First there were hills, some very striking and we wound through them until we hit the Marlborough plains were there are a patchwork quilt of vineyards. I enjoyed reading familiar names as I drove past – and my palate provided a memory of each as the name flashed by: Wither Hills, Villa Maria, Cloudy Bay, Brancott Estate, to name a few, and the one most often at our supermarkets, Stoneleigh. I’m sure I’ve missed some. All the stubby little vines were pruned and leafless, and must be in the prelude to sprouting forth in bright green growth.

I soon turned north west and into the foothills of some mountains that I wound through, before coming out in a mussell town called Havelock.

I was surprised how long it took to get to Nelson, through the winding hills and past numerous obstructions in the way of road works due to the recent flooding which caused slips and capsizing of the road in some of the steeper spots. It took two hours to get to Nelson (for some reason I always thought it was a hop, skip and jump from Picton). Nah.

I love the camper van – and being able to stop and have a cuppa at a good spot

With an hour yet to go to reach Nelson I encountered a narrow bridge and a spectacular river ploughing through the rocks, so I parked and made a cuppa and took photos.

Nelson was enjoying late afternoon Saturday ambience and a relaxed vibe as I drove through looking for a car park. Got one, got some cash out, and found a new sushi and kimchi place that was enjoying some brisk trade. I availed myself of some sushi, and then headed back out to the van. At this point I envisaged a straight-forward drive to the Pohara Beach in Golden Bay. I was so wrong. It baffled me how what looked like comparatively short distance was going to take two hours.

Two hours of slow tight bends – 45kms of hair-pin curves to negotiate up and down the range of hills leading to Golden Bay. It was much worse than the Remutakas the day before, leading in to Wellington!

However, it was all worth it, when I ground down the other side and the entire valley opened out to my view. It was like a vision of Paradise, and the golden sunset added the final touch.

The road levelled out and I could drive faster, and after what felt an interminable time, I drew into the small township of Taikaka, (where I will go tomorrow to fill up on diesel.) I was too late to book in with the office, but they are relaxed enough here to let you get a powered site and pay tomorrow. So I’m backed up against the beach, and powered up, and have eaten a delish dinner of miso soup, toasted sandwiches, and small salad. And taken a brief walk to the beach to appreciate the sunset.

I feel sure I will sleep well tonight!

Day 3 – a trip from Napier to Wellington (which I dedicate to the memory of Queen Elizabeth II, whose demise permeated all our thoughts today.)

Today I woke to an exceptionally beautiful morning overlooking Napier Bay with the sound of the surf on the shingle. Soon after the first glint of gold hit the horizon I received a text from my sister telling me to look at the news. It was all a bit surreal realising that the woman who has ALWAYS been Queen to me, is no longer.

The tributes still flow, and I’m enjoying listening and watching them from my cosy camper here in Wellington. I set off quite early because it was going to be a four hour drive with breaks getting down to the capital city. My brother left my company today on his own journey back north, and so I am truly on my own for now.

First stop was at a settlement originally founded by Norwegians in 1872 – a logging town. Hence its name: Norsewood. I stopped for a coffee and a most delicious savoury scone, which was more like a pizza it had so much topping on it. What a gem this township is: Off the beaten track and scattered but with a sense of history and uniqueness. Check out the few shots:

From Norsewood it was about an hour until the next stop: just beyond Dannevirke (another Nordic settlement) and much bigger in size, there is a sweet town called Greytown. This was my lunch stop – despite the pizza scone an hour ago.

I managed to pull in to a large space on the side of the street, and went in to what looked like a popular cafe. There I ordered an Asian salad and chai latte.

Although I was desperately happy for vegetables, I was disappointed. My prolific range of salads I am used to has somewhat spoiled me for the ones like this that are ‘fake’. I have a gripe about restaurants that serve coleslaw they don’t chop up finely themselves. This was made up out of the bags of thick cut slaw you can get at supermarkets, with the addition of some coriander, noodles, nuts and some kind of pancake underneath (?). Oh well. No dressing to speak of. I came out and found the main street very much more to my taste, being a selection of quaint old shops all selling fairly expensive designer items. They must be used to a thriving tourist trade. Found a delightful sewing shop which had a lot of fabric for sale, and purchased a small section for my sister.

A short drive from Greytown, another quaint delight of a village: Featherstone. This one has a number of bookshops, but I only browsed one, and purchased an old book to take on my journey with me. Selections from the prose works of J.M. Barrie.

Now we come to the exciting bit. By traveling this route, I had chosen to approach Wellington via the Hutt Valley, which itself is at the end of a winding and steep section of road traversing the Remutaka mountain range. I had to stop numerous times to let smaller vehicles dash past. Check out the screen shot of the road.

AT LAST, I was in the Hutt Valley and only 30 mins from my destination: the Top 10 Holiday Park, where I would hole up for the night in preparation for boarding the car ferry to the South Island tomorrow. However, I had yet to negotiate the school rush hour traffic, which was pretty bad, and roadworks, which were worse, before I finally pulled in to my spot. With great relief. I am not moving until early tomorrow morning when I will take to the sea.

And now that I am back on power, I can watch live stream footage of the mourning of the Queen. I’ve eaten my soup and had my toast, and am now breaking from the broadcast to keep you all informed.

Addendum to Day 2

I am now tucked up in a cosy bed with a view of the moonlight glinting on the dark ocean, and the sound of the waves on shingle. Steve and I went off to see a bit of Napier earlier and drove along the main beach promenade before returning to a cafe recommended by fellow camper vanners. Milk and Honey was a great choice. Kind of Asian Fusion and a perfect way to end the day.

Day 2 – Taupo to Napier

It’s not the end of day 2 yet, so there might be an addendum to come. Meanwhile, I am right here.

Napier beach

Yes, on a lonely skyline. My brother Steve has a powered site just further down, but this one is so new they haven’t installed power yet. I don’t mind – I’m practicing for later, and I have an amazing view:

I’m jumping ahead of myself of course. This morning started back in Taupo with a final hot swim and soak before we headed off to the local supermarket for some supplies. It’s all new to me this camper van lark – finding the special car spaces designated for the vans. Napier is two hours from Taupo through some ranges and the odd gorge – the latter half being the more scenic. Snow on the top of the hills and barely melted ice on the road made it an exciting trip.

We stopped halfway through to enjoy making lunch and eating it in one of the rest places.

Arrived at the Napier Beach Top 10 Holiday Park and paid our (roughly) $50 for prime views. Now the funny bit. I pressed ‘go’ on my MapMyWalk and set off along the beach. Found myself sinking into the shingle and struggling to progress. Kept going thinking it must get firmer. It didn’t. This is the map of my exercise:

And so I’ve made a cup of coffee from the gas stove top and now anticipate a pleasant evening going in to Napier with Steve to check out the area and perhaps have some dinner. Later, there may be an update.