Nelson, Christchurch, Abel Tasman Park, Nelson Lakes, Westport, Franz Josef, Haast Pass, Wanaka, Queenstown, Glenorchy
Highlights: Rain, knife making, pancake rocks, limestone arches, lakes and mountains.
Day 333-335 – Dec 3-5 : Meet domestic, the car
We still have a month left to enjoy New Zealand.
Quick story: we rented a car. A slightly longer version: we made our way by bus from Nelson to Christchurch and went out to the area near the airport where there were at least ten rental car companies, with the plan to shop around. We went to the first one and drove away in a station wagon. No faffing.
So, the plan is that I will be Peli’s domestique driving the car while she cycles the best bits and in between we’ll find some day walks to hike.
We got some thinner tyres for Peli’s bike Milly and stored my bike and trailer at the great LBS in Christchurch – Cycletrader.co.nz, to be picked up next year before we fly out to Tasmania. Keith the owner showed us pictures of the old shop after the 2011 earthquake, the whole shop front was gone.
We didn’t spend much time in Christchurch last time we were here, but we could easily see the devastating damage to the city. Block after block was just empty space or rubble. The odd building was left standing, waiting to be pulled down, like part of a ghost town. Or if the building by sheer chance was undamaged it was business as usual, though very odd to see the building standing all alone on a deserted block.
We left Christchurch heading back north towards Abel Tasman National Park, pretty much where we left off. Just past Hanmer Springs on Lewis Pass Peli jumped out to battle the hill and headwind on her bike.
She did mighty well, flying along on thinner tyres, 1.5″ wide compared to 2.2″ and a half a kilo in weight per tyre and much lighter load. I leapfrogged her between parking bays checking if she was OK. I do need a massive cow bell, it is not so fun just shouting “Allez, allez” out of the car window.
I even drove ahead and pitched the tent at a free DoC campsite among a million sandflies. So dinner was eaten in the car, great to have sandwich food available, to avoid being eaten by these little buggers.
In Hanmer Springs I had asked about the weather for the night and next day. The lady at the i-Site said that when it rains here it tends to RAIN here. We soon saw what she meant. While eating the rain started nice and gentle at first but by the time we were ready to crawl into bed it wasn’t rain any more, it was a wall of wet.
Yes, we have moaned about our tent a few times over the last year. But, even with yet another broken zip, keeping us dry is one thing it is great at! The whole night and the morning there wasn’t a minute’s pause in the very heavy rain. We could feel the water under us when we started to pack our very dry sleeping gear, and had to wade around to take the tent down. But no rain ever touched us inside the tent.
Peli bailed out of riding, it wouldn’t have been wise or nice to ride in the heavy rain. I think if we had both been on bikes we’d have holed up in the tent for the day. We drove all the way to Richmond just south of Nelson. Just as we left Richmond the weather changed and the sun came out and the rest of the day turned pleasant. In Appleville (???) Peli jumped on her bike and set off into the hills for a quick hour or so’s pedalling.
20 odd miles later in Motueka we pitched up and let the tent dry in the sun and wind.
Day 336 – Dec 6 : It’s just a hill
“It’s just a hill, get over it!” said the advertisement for the Golden Bay area about Takaka Hill. So Peli did. Just as she was ready to go the rain started too. The first few kilometres were nice and flat and then the famous climb started, 800 or so metres up. Sadly so did the clouds, fog and heavy rain. So she didn’t get to enjoy any views at all as she plodded her way up.
When I passed her the second time she was well and truly wet but had a massive smile on her face. She would rather be on her bike than in the warmth of the car, where I was busy reading and writing emails off-line.
We leapfrogged a few more time on the way up. Every time I just got into my book I got a little tap on the window by a very happy and wet Peli, grinning like an exuberant puppy and almost wagging her tail.
Near the bottom of the descent I found a shivering Peli with her thumb stuck out for a lift. And did I already mention that she was wet? She’d decided to give up given that her hands were so cold she was struggling to use her brakes. Quickly we got her and the bike into the car and she got some warm and dry clothing on. Oh how easy it is to bail out when you have a support car.
We decided to push on all the way to Puponga Beach and Wharariki Beach, since the weather did look like rain for the day. Just past Collingwood the sun came out and we had a great drive to pretty much the end of the road at Wharariki Beach. There, we had a great walk down to the beach and the Arch Island, though because of high tide we couldn’t get to a point where we could really see the arch. Nevertheless it was a very good walk.
Day 337 – Dec 7 : Two beaches
The night was very entertaining, heavy rain for a few minutes, then quiet for a bit, drizzle, thunder and lightning, then quiet again, then massive wind gusts. And repeat in a random order.
As always with weather as soon as you decide to get wet and pack the tent up because the sun will not come out any time soon – it does. We rolled out of the campsite and the sun came out so we decided to do the walk out to Fossil Point where we could see Farewell Spit, the northernmost point on the South Island and a 20km long sandspit. It makes Skagen, the northernmost point in Denmark, look rather small.
While we walked on the beach we saw a few seals enjoying the sun, got dived bombed by a bird when we got too close and sadly also saw a dead dolphin.
Peli then took advantage of the sunshine to jump on the bike and cycle the 14 miles into Collingwood along Golden Bay.
We then drove over to Totaranui via Lina Bay, Clifton etc along a very windy road with beautiful bays and limestone overhangs. The last few km into Totaranui were on a very zigzaggy gravel road and there wasn’t much there other than a great location for a campsite and a stunning beach with bright orange-coloured sand.
Day 338 – Dec 8 : Being tourists
Well we did it, we became real tourists – we got picked up in the early morning and driven to the boat to then walk some of the Abel Tasman National Park. The mini-bus driver told us in true guide style a bit about the area and dropped us off in Kaiteriteri Bay. We then boarded the taxi boat for all the tourists who come to walk the coastal path.
We had booked the one that sailed all the way up the Abel Tasman Park’s coast to Totaranui with stops at nearly all the beautiful bays on the way up. Then we sailed some of the way back to Medlands Bay from where we would walk the coastal path to Anchorage where we would be picked up and taxied back to Kaiteriteri Bay where the shuttle bus would be waiting for us.
The weather was with us so we had blue skies, green forests and orange beaches. It was truly a little bit of paradise. We had been warned that the walk in and near high season would like a motorway. At the start the path was packed but as the trampers spread out it wasn’t that bad. We hiked through dense forest and now and again had views over the bays.
Even at forty two I still build a mean sandcastle, even if I say so myself. If we’d known the sand at Anchorage Bay was so good for sandcastles we’d have brought a bucket and spade! Peli got the hang of it too and even made a unicorn in the sand.
The campsite in Motueka gave us a free dip in the hot tub, so we soaked there for a glorious half hour before dinner and bed.
Day 339-340 – Dec 9-10 : Nelson Lakes
We had booked me in to a course on the 11th on the west coast and therefore had to make up some miles. Which fitted well for a rest day for Peli, she might not have done many miles but she had done them fast and up the biggest hills we could find.
Driving the Motueka Valley Highway took us south towards St Arnaud and Lake Rotoiti where we had a short walk. This road would have been a great road to cycle tour on with rolling hills, swooping valley roads and tailwinds. We also had great weather so we could seen the mountains and farmland around us. There was hardly any traffic, either. We’ll stick it on the list for the next time we’re here.
Back in the day they tried to make a train line from Nelson to Greymouth but only managed to get to Murchison. Apparently they were only 48km away from making a train line all the way from Nelson to Invercargill in the south, before they stopped the project. We slept at one of the old railway stations: Kawatiri Junction.
It was a simple DoC campground and it was free, and we later found out why – bucketloads of sandflies! Our flysheet was nearly black with them (the picture was taken before more arrived) and it sounded it was raining as they flew around our tent looking for something to put their teeth into. This made getting out and having a nature call in the middle of the night very hard work.
We beat a tactical retreat in the morning, out of our tent, packed the tent down as fast as we could and jumped into the car and drove away. If you keep moving the sandflies can’t land on you and therefore can’t bite you.
Breakfast was had in Murchison but the car was so full of the BBs (Biting Bastards) that we had to in a rather comical fashion, walking around it. And the next few miles Peli’s job was to kill the ones that still enjoyed our little drive even with the windows down.
We found a great little campsite north of Greymouth and south of Barrytown right on the beach. This beach is known for its gemstones, though we didn’t know what to look for but we did find some beautiful stones, especially the white nearly see-through ones, a bit like a snowballs.
Peli even found the time to have a little spin up and down them coast, so she is still cycle touring in spirit.
Day 341 – Dec 11 : This is a knife
While looking at the many tourist information leaflets in a random location, I found one advertising a knifemaking course where you’d make your own hand-forged knife from a red hot piece of steel. Now still being a little boy, remembering my Scout days with fondness and loving the look of a good a knife, this was a treat that I could not turn down. Peli spotted this right away and even before I asked she said, “You’d better call and book”.
Nine others were there at 9:30am and we were greeted by Steven and Robyn who, in their words, would be our mummies and daddies while we are in New Zealand. After a brief safety talk we pretty much got thrown into the deep end, a quick show and tell and on you went.
Steel into forge, hammer the life out it while it was red hot, repeat a few times. Then light sanding down, made a rough cut for a handle out of Rimu hardwood, rivet brass and wood onto knife shaped steel. Start to sand down steel and wood to snap of the knife shape you wanted, remember it is easy to remove shape but darn hard to add shape. Then polish and tan the wood and then Steven made it very sharp for you. And then voila! You had your very own knife, which you’d made all by yourself.
I was very split on what the final shape of mine should be and spent much time thinking this over. I ended up doing a drastic shape change at the last minute and I’m very happy with the end result.
If you want to amaze yourself you need to spend a day in Barrytown making your very own knife. One lady said, “Steven, if you had told me that I would walk away with something this beautiful that I had made myself I wouldn’t have believed you”. You can read more about my day making a knife here and there are plenty of photos too.
A few km north are the famous Pancake rocks, about whose origins the scientists still argue. The sea has been pounding the coastline for ages and has created the blowholes. Sadly the tide was out when we were there so we didn’t get to see the full force of the sea spurting through the blowholes. But we could hear the waves hammering the rocks again and again with a big deep thud which we could even feel in some places.
Day 342 – Dec 12 : West coast road
Peli donned her cycling gear and set off onto the highway north of Punakaiki which the Rough Guide tells us is one of the top ten best road trips in the world. I sat back and read my book before I set off after her. Though I couldn’t make up much time because the road was so winding, and of course the stunning views over the sea, beaches and rock formations. I would have loved to have been on my bike with Peli on this bit of road.
60km later we were in Westport where we put the bike back into the car, went shopping and refuelled the car. But not before I poked my nose into the West Coast Brewery and had a good chat with the staff and a taster of their Darn Good IPA, which it was.
We drove all the way to Karamea, the last village before the end of the road and the Kahurangi National Park. We pitched our tent at the domain camping and had a good chat about camping, camper vans and cycling over a cup of tea and biscuits with fellow campers.
Day 343 – Dec 13 : Arches
The Oparara Basin has two massive limestone arches well hidden in the forest. How they found these and the many gold mines in these parts I still can’t really fathom. It seems so utterly remote to us at the end of the highway and 14km along a rough gravel road right into the bush. But that is now. Imagine how it was over a hundred years ago.
We had two walks there, one to the Oparara Arch which spans over 200 metres and the other to the Moria Gate Arch. The latter is named after the Lord of the Rings before the films were even made there.
At the car park we spoke to two French tourers who had battled along the gravel road to make it there, which made us rather jealous.
We then drove back down the coast past Karamea and Westport and camped at the pebble beach campsite just north of Greymouth.
Day 344 – Dec 14 : Glaciers
The further down the West Coast we ventured, the more it lived up to its nickname ‘The Wet Coast’. Clouds pulled in and the rain started.
We stopped at the Franz Josef Glacier which we’d missed the last time we visited New Zealand. We had a quick walk out to see it, but turned around quickly when we realised it wasn’t as stunning a sight as others we’ve seen on our tour. The clear ones we saw and heard near Mount Cook last time here and the ones we saw in South America were rather more impressive. It’s very sad to think that all of them have receded so much in so little time. The car park at Franz Josef is pretty much where it was when westerners first spotted the glacier and now you have a long walk up to it.
We arrived at the Haast Top10 campsite in curtains of rain. “You want to camp in this?” the host exclaimed, incredulous. We saw the weather forecast for tomorrow, 21c and sun it said. And we crawled into bed to the sound of heavy rain drumming on the fly. When it rains here it is a kind of double rain. First you have the misty/drizzly rain that you can hear the wind is blowing against the tent. Then you have the heavy droplets of rain drumming on top. It’s like the rain is just making sure that you will get wet.
Day 345 – Dec 15 : A pass on Haast
Peli felt that I needed company in the support car today and so gave Haast Pass a miss. In other words, the wall of wet was still making stuff very wet and the sun wasn’t about to come out at all.
We felt a bit gutted when we saw a tandem coming down Haast. Peli tried to put on a brave face when we passed three tourers going up Haast and she was pretty much cowering below the seat when we passed the last very wet looking touring couple. She tried to convince herself that one big hill in New Zealand in heavy rain is enough per visit.
On the other side of Haast Pass we stopped at the cafe in Makarora, just like last time we were here, and jumped on our bikes. Well Peli did. I relaxed a bit while she zoomed along what she has dubbed her favourite stretch of road in New Zealand and broke her speed record too, the tailwind and downhill helping a bit.
Day 346 – Dec 16 : Glenorchy Cycle Race
We left Albertown where we’d camped at the council-run site near the river and drove to Queenstown via Wanaka to stock up on food and get Peli ready to cycle to Glenorchy. She was a wee bit shy since she was sharing the road with a road race, luckily they were going the other way and on the last leg of the race.
I followed behind and was official photographer with many stops since it is rather stunning here. This part the car didn’t like, more about this in a bit.
The road to Glenorchy is narrow, hilly and runs right next to Lake Wakatipu which funnels the wind into a nice strong headwind for Peli. I had to double back and warn our lone rider after I struggled to open the door at one viewpoint. The car was also rocking in the wind. Peli decided after two hours to call it a day since she wasn’t making any headway.
Our old rental banger has been running fine the last two weeks, though it’s slow up the hills. Today’s numerous stops en route to Glenorchy somehow drained the battery and it wouldn’t start at all when trying to start after we loaded the bike into the car. Luckily a friendly local came by and she and Peli managed to push-start the car. In the late nineties we would have shrieked, “Girl Power!”.
We continued past Glenorchy and drove to the DoC at Kinloch on the other side of the Dart River. Here we were treated to an incredible fire in the sky when the sun began to set at nearly quarter to ten. The clouds lit up in fantastic golden colours in different layers too. Yes, it is very weird to see daylight to well past ten at night (and hear talk on the radio about Christmas in the same breath as barbeques and beaches).
Day 347 – Dec 17 : The magic number
I know that three is the magic number and less fat in your diet is good for you. But why the heck is 97% the right amount to be fat free? Milk, chocolate, ham, you name it, it’s impossible to get with a little “flavour” in it, everything seems to be 97% fat free.
Anyway, enough from our health advisers, other than to say that my hands and arms are much better. Though I still struggle with them at night since I tend to sleep on my side which my shoulder and arms are not happy about. The vibration from the gear shifter – remember it is an old car we are renting – gives my wrist and fingers buzz for a long time after I have shifted gear. I need to change that habit learnt driving years ago when it was comfy to rest my hand on the gear stick.
The rain started yesterday evening and was solid throughout the night and well into the morning. We checked the weather in Glenorchy and were told today is an duvet day. So we pitched up camp at the local campsite where cups of tea and biscuits were consumed while reading crappy magazines. Peli even managed to watch some Emmerdale.
Day 348 – Dec 18 : Routeburn Track
We are rather confused about what to do now. Today we had an excellent walk up the Glenorchy end of the Routeburn Track to the Routeburn Flat Hut on one of the DoC New Zealand Great Walks. The sun came out as we walked up the valley and revealed stunning views over craggy, snowy mountains. The gear we have is OK to potter about in at the campsite, airport or on short city walk but not remote mountain tracks.
I have nothing bar a few simple things and Peli has all the hiking/tramping gear back in the UK. Getting a basic pack sent out here this close to Christmas and our departure is going to be expensive and would not arrive in time for us to have much use of it.
Renting gear here might be the answer, but the idea of walking in someone else’s shoes doesn’t fill us with joy. Especially when hiking in mountains for a few days with everything on our back.
So we are probably stuck to short walks on the Great Walk trails, even though a few days’ hike up in the mountains in the wilderness sounds fantastic.