Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hawkes Bay

We had an unexpectedly long drive from Ohakune. A sign for the Army museum at Waiouru made me laugh. It simply said, ‘Tanks and Guns. What more could you want. Army Museum.’ We hit Palmerston North at lunchtime and taking advantage of it’s reputation for having a café culture ate at a very nice place, Moxies. Out of town heading east we passed the beautiful Manawatu Gorge. A railway line straddled the side of the gorge, occasionally dipping into tunnels through the rock. We had planned to stay somewhere in the region of Palmerston, but didn’t really like the look of the small towns along the highway and so motored on to Hastings in the Hawkes Bay region.We found the Top 10 park, which is in a lovely spot within a large inner city park.

The morning found us taking a drive to the ‘village’ of Havelock North, a short way south of Hastings. We’d forgotten that it was labour day weekend and so a good proportion of everything was shut and those cafés and things that were still open were adding a 15% surcharge because of the public holiday. Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s most important wine growing areas. Although we passed several wineries I didn’t much fancy doing the rounds tasting. Sometimes the places are a little posh for scruff-bag like me and a bit intimidating. I felt like the day was going to be one where I felt like that. Instead we drove out to Ocean Beach, reached by a rutted dirt track. What a lovely spot. Families were scattered playing on the beach, or walking dogs. Kids were swimming in the creek and surfies were driving their cars down the beach.

Also nearby is Te Mata Peak. This is a large hill that has a road right the way to the top. We drove up, feeling guilty, as dog walkers and ridiculous looking power walkers trudged up on foot. The view from the top was magnificent. The main developments are on a flat plain amongst farmland and bordered by rolling green hills, which are themselves bordered by mountains. Our minimal driving for the day took us through this pretty pastoral landscape, all the way the stereo pumping out old school hardcore (courtesy of another 2 quid warehouse bargain, ‘Ravin...’)

Afterwards we drove into Napier, booked into the, massive, Top 10 park there and spent the afternoon on a blanket in the sunshine. A couple of bottles of wine and our books had us set for a thoroughly pleasant afternoon. The sun was shining again when we awoke the next morning so we went into Napier centre for a quick look. The town is famed as being the Art Deco capital of the world, due to a 1930’s earthquake destroying much of the town. The subsequent hurried rebuilding was in the prevailing style of the day.

After having our fill of looking at buildings we made once again for the countryside. Travelling north we made excursions from the highway at Tangoio and Waipatiki beaches, both lovely spots with crumbly old baches (pronounced batches), the traditional New Zealand beach holiday home. Apparently land prices, foreign ownership and other pressures are causing the bach tradition to die out. A shame. We took a walk at White Pine Bush Reserve, a little forest reserve with a nice track. Our final stop of the day was Lake Tutira and it’s Department of Conservation camp ground. It looked like a good many families were taking advantage of Labour Day weekend, with tents and cars sprawling all over the lakeside camp sites. We parked up for the day and chilled out, although the severe amount of sheep poo and our lack of picnic chairs put paid to our sunburn ambitions. As the day wore on a fierce wind picked up. This rather cleared out the camp ground, most of the people in tents deciding to pack up and go.

The next morning the sound of sheep bleating woke us up at 05:00, not my best time of the day. The wind hadn’t managed to topple the van in the night, despite it’s best efforts and so we made an early start away from Lake Tutira. The town of Wairoa was a bit scary. We stopped only briefly to get supplies but the place seemed to me to have a bit of a backward, ‘I married my cousin’, hick kind of feel to it. We didn’t have our customary mid-morning coffee. I should have realised at that point that the day wouldn’t be a good one. The weather was looking pretty nasty, and in the newspaper there were warnings about severe weather to come. We had decided to make a 120 km round trip from the main highway to check out Lake Waikaremoana in the Te Urewera National Park. Given the weather we probably ought not to have bothered, but we are optimistic souls and so ploughed on. The road up there was terrible. Despite being shown as sealed on my map, large sections were unsealed and in fairly bad condition. I’m sure someone somewhere has a plan, but I couldn’t make it out. All of a sudden a small stretch of gravel would present itself, followed by a reasonably large stretch of tar and then a massive section of gravel again.

The weather hadn’t changed when we reached the visitors centre. Despite the drizzle and the threat of a real downpour from the black clouds above we tried to do a short walk. We made it about 100m down the track to be confronted by a tape blocking access. Dejected, we turned round and took the crap road back to the highway.

Morere was the first place we came across with a van site so we stopped there. Although quite old school it was in a nice spot, by a stream. As tends to happen for some reason on Sundays I ended up spending most of the day lazily reading the newspaper with a beer.

Hot Pot

From Waihi Beach we had an easy drive down to Rotarua. The town is one of New Zealand's premier tourist attractions because of the geothermal activity in the area. The drive down was pretty dull and we had rain almost all of the way. We both realised that we had colds starting which added to the gloom. We perked up slightly when we arrived at Rotarua and stopped at a small park which has thermal activity. We took a walk around the park marvelling at the bubbling pools of mud and the plumes of steam coming from everywhere. This is pretty much the only thing you can do for free in Rotarua, which I quickly came to realise is the Queenstown of the North Island, so we were glad to happen upon it. Because of our colds and the weather, neither of us really fancied doing much more so we found a van park and booked in.

The park was right by Lake Rotarua, although out of the town itself at Ngongotaha. The lake was formed in the crater left by a volcanic eruption. Nearby Lake Taupo was formed in the same way. Lake Taupo was our next destination. In the morning we drove down to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It was hard to decide to go there. Because of all of the geothermal activity in the area there are many different places to see, all with different features, most with a similar entrance price. But being on a budget we settled on Waiotapu because of the write up in the guidebook. I had quite fancied Hell's Gate, of which George Bernard Shaw said, ‘I wish I had never seen the place, it reminds me too vividly of the fate theologians have promised me.’ We had to pick out one place though, and so Waiotapu was it. We arrived quite early to a mercifully empty car park and set about doing the walk round the ‘wonderland’. The walk took us past various different pools and interesting features; steaming pits, boiling mudpools, mineral terraces of varying colour and massive craters. Down the road there is the Lady Knox Geyser which erupts every day, with the help of a packet of soap, at 10:15. We arrived in the very busy geyser car park and took a seat in the amphitheatre, feeling glad that we’d done the walks early. A guy with a microphone explained a bit about the geyser and why they use the soap-like substance to start it off whilst the geyser was foaming and getting ready to erupt. There was quite a jet when it erupted and it continued to spurt a fair volume of water into the air for some time. Back in the van I was glad we were going the opposite way to the rest of the departing vehicles.

Nearer to Taupo we stopped at another geothermal area, The Craters of the Moon. This one was run by the Department of Conservation and a volunteer trust and was much cheaper. Although it didn’t have quite the same range of features as Waiotapu, it was just as enjoyable. It’s a wild heathland, pockmarked with steaming craters. We took a slow walk round the, marvelling at how the ground underneath us could be so hot, whilst we were shivering in the biting wind.

Just over the highway from the Craters of the Moon is the Huka Falls road, and the falls of the same name, although they are, perhaps, misnamed. The water doesn’t so much fall as get forced through a narrow rock channel. The river is lovely though, a beautiful turquoise colour. Nearby we made our coffee stop at the Honey Hive. As the name suggests this is a shop selling honey related products, amongst other things. After coffee I took a look at their glass enclosed hives, tasted some honeys and bought a couple of bottles of honey beer.

We’d picked out a van park in advance, De Bretts Thermal Resort and so went there next. Our colds were making us both feel pretty ill. Staying at the De Bretts Resort gave us discounted entry to Taupo Hot Springs, on the same site. Thinking that a dip in mineral-rich thermal pools might help our colds we took advantage of the discount. It was lovely. The outdoor pools are of various temperatures, so we alternated between them for a while before taking a private pool. I felt a little better afterwards so perhaps the pools did have a therapeutic effect.

I felt so much better that I was able to open the honey beer to toast the engagement of Neil and Amy. Congratulations!

The night was freezing cold and both Gemma and I felt woolly headed in the morning, partly from not sleeping properly and partly from the colds which hadn’t disappeared after the mineral bathing. We considered booking in for another night at Taupo but decided to soldier on. We made a brief foray into the Tongariro National Park, mainly to look at Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, both active volcanoes and both used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. As so often happens the mountains were unfortunately shrouded in cloud. We took a short but steep walk up the hillside next to the visitors centre in Whakapapa. The cloud round the mountains didn’t lift but the walk was well worth it to escape the traffic noise below, it being replaced by birdsong.

Neither of us felt much like a big drive so we turned in for the day at the small town of Ohakune, which has the twin pleasure of being both New Zealands après ski and carrot capital. The sun was shining so we took the 2 minute walk through the bush to town, getting lost and doing a much longer loop walk. I’m glad we took the wrong turning though, because the walk through the native forest was very nice. We missed having a dog with us. Eventually we found the town which was quite small and also quite pretty.

Hey Crabman @ Uretiti Beach, New Zealand

Hooray! Just made public our latest batch of photos from New Zealand which gets us just about up to date. We've passed the 3,000 photo mark in our group pool for our trip (http://www.flickr.com/groups/getyourbootson/).

Thermal activity

New Zealand’s main volcanic region runs through the centre of the North Island. Roturua has the most thermal activity in New Zealand and as soon as we entered the town we saw evidence of this in the weird form of steaming drains and a park with steam rising from various points. The park is an area of volcanic activity and it's most recent eruption in late 2003 covered it in mud. Nobody was hurt, but it must have been an amazing sight. We wandered round the park which had a crater lake, pools of boiling mud, lots of steam and a horrible eggy smell.

The park was our first introduction to the delights of thermal activity. The next day we headed to one of the many thermal reserves in the area, choosing Wai-o-tapu (meaning sacred waters) Thermal Wonderland. The title wonderland put me off a bit. It put me in mind of Disney land or something. Never the less we paid our admission and entered the reserve. It was early and we were one of the first people to arrive. The reserve was spectacular. Volcanic activity produces some very beautiful results. It had craters, blowholes and mineral terraces. It was all beautiful, bright colours caused by mineral elements. The most striking was probably, “Champagne Pool” which was a large pool which was formed 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption. It was bright blue ringed by bright orange (caused by the many minerals in the pool) and was steaming heavily.(The surface temperature was 74 degrees F.)

Walking around you have to keep to the designated track. You wouldn't want to leave it seeing the amount of steam and bubbles coming off some areas. The water which is underneath the ground heated by magma left over from earlier eruptions is so hot temperatures of 300 degress F. have been recorded. Tim tried to get me to walk off the path to see what would happen, but I declined.

The reserve also has a geyser which at 10.15 each day spouts with a little help from some soap powder. We wanted to see it spout and apparently so did hundreds of others who whilst we had been enjoying the reserve mostly on our own, had arrived in a seemingly frenzy. As we walked to our car (you had to drive to get to the geyser) others screeched away in their cars and motorhomes and I heard an American whine, “I only want to see the geyser I don't want to pay to see loads of mudpools as well. Well we'll not be seeing the geyser then.” I thought she was going to stamp her foot.

We arrived at the geyser with the hoards and I thought it was funny that we were all so eager to see some water spurt out of a rock (I know. I have a way with words). I was even more amused when I saw that there was a kind of amphitheatre; graduated benches set around the geyser so we could watch it in comfort. We all sat down to wait for the rock to spurt and then some bloke came out, complete with microphone to introduce it (and to put some soap powder in to help it along). It reminded me of being at a theme park and I expected some sea lions to come out and do tricks. There were no seal lions but the Geyser did erupt and it was quite nice to see, amid the people getting their photos taken in front of it.

We left the geyser and headed, smugly, in the opposite direction to everyone else who were going to see the rest of the reserve. I was very relieved we had got there early and had the opportunity to enjoy the reserve without anyone else there. We stopped off at some mud pools which were bubbling and spurting away. I expected David Bowie to appear and some creature to come out of the pools. (Ref: Labyrinth- a great film and there was something about David Bowie in those tights..... Anyway I've said too much...)

Our next stop was the “Craters of the Moon” another thermal area, run by the Department of Conservation and so has less tourists because it is not as commercially exploited. It was another beautiful, eerie and strange sight and site of steaming craters amidst the sparse landscape with specially adapted plant life. Again there were warnings not to wander off the board walk. I wasn't about to but apparently people before the board walk was put in walked down paths that weren't “the real” paths and got burned feet. Ouch.

We arrived in Taupo which has a lake of the same name which was formed by one of the greatest explosions of all time. The area is still volcanically active and has thermal areas. We booked into a holiday park which was next to the hot springs. We utilised the discount we got for the springs for staying in the park and were very happy we did when we sank in to the hot waters of one of the out door pools. We hadn't been feeling well and this was exactly what we needed. We floated about for a while with the public before going in to one of the private pools. It was a lovely end to a thermal themed few days.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Coromandel Peninsular

After the brief stop at Ezy we rushed out of the city as quickly as we could. The traffic was heavy but moving and we fairly easily negotiated ourselves out and onto the Pacific Coast Highway. Gemma took driving in the city and on the motorway completely in her stride. Even while we've been away her confidence in her driving has come on massively. I no longer have to answer yes or no to every single intersection and roundabout, she assumes to go straight on unless I say otherwise. When I do say otherwise I can do it just before a turn off, rather than having to give about 3km notice. As my eyes aren't telescopic and can't see signs that are 3km away this is a pleasing development. As her experience and confidence have come on so has her shouting at other drivers. A sailor in the cab of our van would probably blush at the language sometimes used. Gemma is white van man. Admittedly her outbursts are normally justified, and caused by her trio of hates; people getting too close behind her, people randomly changing speed in front of her and non or incorrect use of the indicator. She hasn't yet developed a hatred of drivers wearing hats but I sense that it is only a matter of time.

Out of Auckland we stopped in the small town of Clevedon, with Gemma raging after following a scenic route sign and finding the road to be nondescript to the point of being dull. I treated myself to a venison burger while Gemma grumbled about signage. Continuing along the highway we found ourselves skirting the Firth of Thames. The area has mudflats and is very good for birdwatching. Indeed along the way we saw quite a few wading birds tucking into the things that live in the mud. After quite a long days driving by our standards we checked into Miranda Holiday Park. This was equal in the running for most expensive holiday park in New Zealand. The park had a swimming pool fed from the thermal springs next door, this possibly being the reason for the expense. In keeping with the other really expensive park we'd stayed in, which had a spa and sauna, the hot water related delights were overrun with children. Normally I don't have anything against kids, but you can't relax in the pool with a million kids running about. I saw that it was adults only later in the evening so bought wireless Internet access and tried to upload some photos. The wireless connection was flaky in the extreme such that I managed to upload about 3 photos in 2 hours. The rest of the time saw me tilting and repositioning the laptop, even walking around the park angling it every which way to see where the signal was best. I think Gemma was bemused by my constant mutterings, '12%, 0%, 3%, 6%.' By the time the kids got kicked out of the pool my pointless wrestling with the computer had driven not only the will to swim, but the will to live out of me. I went to bed.

Gemma had the foresight to set an alarm for 06:30 the next morning, the time of the pool opening for an adults only hour. This foresight did not extend to realising that the last thing either of us wants to do at 06:30 in the morning is swim. A futile attempt to get back to the not very good nights sleep I was having ended with us getting up and ready and away from the camp at our earliest time yet. The only hot water was in our tea and in the showers.

The day didn't get much better. Although reasonably buoyant to start with my mood began to become as grey as the sky was. We drove up the peninsular which on the west side is as flat as Norfolk. I was looking forward to a coffee at a café that the guidebook bigged up. This was an 18km drive up a spur from the main road to the town of Colville, popular with hippy Buddhist types. When we got there and discovered the café closed down I started to get properly moody. A coffee back just outside of Coromandel town did little to lift my mood.

At Hot Water Beach, a place where hot springs under the beach mean you can dig a hole in the sand and have your own little hot tub, we found the tide was in. The hot springs are only accessible for 2 hours either side of low tide. I had a bit of a rant about geothermal springs and if I wanted to sit in a pool of hot water I had a perfectly good kettle and bucket in the van.

I decided we better just get checked into the first van park we found. Finding one turned out to be easier said than done. We drove past a couple accidentally and because I had a full on temper brewed up I wouldn't let Gemma turn around, berating the owners for their poor signage. Eventually we turned off to Waihi Beach and found the Top 10 park. I almost cried when I saw that the shop over the road didn't sell beer. I had to make do with the newspaper and a cup of herbal tea instead.

Not so Ezy

I sadly said goodbye to our trusty camper on the South Island consoling myself that we would be met by an equally trusty relative on the North Island. After a welcome night in a normal bed and a spa bath we went to meet our new Ezy camper in Auckland. This camper turned out to be an older relative, one who'd obviously been around the block a few times. I was dismayed when I saw that it didn't have tinted windows and got more dismayed as I realised it lacked other little helpful things such as extra storage space we had been used to. Driving along I convinced myself it didn't drive as well. I felt like it was going all over the place, but then Tim pointed out that I had it in over drive when it didn't need to be. I reluctantly let it off the hook with that, but later found new fault against the “new” van when we realised the inverter didn't work which meant the DVD player and the heated towel rail didn't work. Now I can live with out the DVD player, but my God, the heated towel rail?

Slowly I have come round to the new van and have felt quite guilty for my resentments. I mean it's not his fault that he's not an upgraded model like his trendier counterparts. He is still getting us round and we have a bed to sleep in at night.

Since being on the North Island we have camped at some really lovely spots. Matai Bay was a lovely secluded sweep of sand with clear turquoise waters. Previous nights we were at two other lovely beaches and a waterfall. (Haruru Falls) My initial impression of North island was of how much more populated it is compared to the South. I knew this to be the case, but it was still a shock to drive with lots of people. We had to drive on Motorway through Auckland initially and it was like driving through London. I just wanted get out. Outside of Auckland was busy too (relative to the South).

Leaving Haruru we picked up our first hitch-hiker who when he got out told us not to give lifts to everybody, especially blacks. I've noticed there is a tinge of racism towards the Maori people, (you know the kind, “I'm not racist but...)” in the people we have spoken to in NZ. After we dropped him off we went to the site where the treaty between Maoris and British was signed in 1840. In the grounds was a beautiful Maori war canoe carved out of Kauri tree and next to it was the stump of the tree they used. It was very big and I was to see how big they are alive the next day. (More about that later).

We carried on in to KeriKeri down the road for our daily “out of the van coffee” after which I spotted a boutique chocolate shop where you can watch them make and have tasters. I screeched the van into the drive, tasted their very generous (not) two, very delicious chocolates. Then somehow we ended up in another winery with me driving again. We had a very lovely lunch and Tim didn't even taste the wines, other than a glass with lunch (of which he bought a bottle). After lunch we had a satisfying shop for veggies at an organic farm before going to another winery where Tim did try this time and bought a lovely chardonnay which tastes like butterscotch. I wouldn't mind spending most of my days doing the above. It was a lovely end to the day when we found our spot for the night at a lovely secluded beach. (Well it was secluded except for a few cows which meandered past and until three other vans came and parked, strangely next to us, even though there was loads of space.) It was pitch black finding our way to the toilets until we looked up and the sky was illuminated with millions of stars. The night sky is one of my favourite parts about camping in the middle of nowhere.

Earlier I mentioned about Kauri trees. I had been impressed with the skill which the Maori canoe had been carved, but was equally impressed when we stopped for our daily coffee at “Ancient Kauri Kingdom,” a workshop, cafe and gallery. Here 45,000 year old perfectly preserved Kauri trees which have been dug up from swamps are made into furniture and wood craft products. The furniture was absolutely beautiful and I found it even more so knowing how old the wood they are made from is. The most impressive part though was a staircase made out of a giant upright Kauri log (the biggest found so far) with a spiral staircase carved into it which takes you up to the mezzanine level. It was beautiful and probably the closest I'll ever get to going up “The Faraway tree” (My favourite Enid Blyton story as a child).

After seeing Kauri craft we wanted to see live Kauris so headed to Waipoua Forest which was were prevented from being chopped down by the logging industry in the 1950's. There are no longer giant Kauri forests like there used to be because we came and chopped them all down to make way for farm land and to make furniture etc out of them. However, thankfully there are still some left and we saw the two largest still living Kauri trees. It was another “wow” moment when we were confronted with the first one which made the trees around it look like matchsticks. These trees are about 2000 years old and it is awe inspiring to gaze up at them and think what they have lived through.

The next day we went to the Kauri museum (can't get enough of these Kauris). The Lonely Planet said that it would “leave you amazed at how impressive wood can be.” It was a lovely museum (I was grateful there weren't too many information boards as I always feel I have to read every single bit and then later find that I can't remember anything anyway, so photographic memory Tim has to tell me about it all again) but I had been prepared the day before at “Ancient Kauri Kingdom” at how impressive wood can be. However, again I felt awe struck when I saw a comparison of the girth of trees shown by rings painted on the walls. The largest tree we had seen the day before was not the largest tree ever recorded and in fact was about 4 or 5 rings in, so considerably smaller. It was amazing to consider how big that tree must have been. There were lots of displays showing the lives of Kauri bushmen, tradesmen and their families. Because we are cultural we liked it when we pressed a button and a model cow got milked!

We left the Kauri coast suitably impressed and amazed at wood and headed back through Auckland stopping at Ezy rentals where they had said they would replace our DVD player with a portable one which we were glad of only because it gives us more storage space. The girl told us that the heated towel rail wouldn't work though. We nodded and she laughed and said, “the DVD players more important though ay?” I forced a nod and smiled through gritted teeth. Clearly the girl has her priorities wrong.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The North of the North

Surprisingly, given the amount of other flights that were delayed, our plane to Auckland was on time. The airport in Auckland was heaving with people. At the baggage reclaim we found an information board advertising local hotels. We picked one from the list, BK's Pioneer Lodge, a motel style place, phoned them up and arranged to be picked up from outside the terminal. If anything the scene was more chaotic outside the terminal than inside. Despite signs warning of towing for waiting, there were parked cars everywhere. I'd have liked to have seen them get a tow truck down there. The motel was only a short drive from the airport and when we got there we were told we had the honeymoon suite. The last room because of a cancellation. Honeymoon suite meant that the room had a spa bath. It was a nice room and not too expensive with the added bonus of an Internet connection for the laptop. We set a bunch of photos uploading to Flickr, ordered a pizza and ran the bath. After 3 weeks of driving (well being a passenger) every day, soaking in the spa was a welcome way to work the kinks out of my back. Even if Gemma had run it so hot that I began to turn the colour of a boiled lobster. Not having to assemble the bed for the first time in weeks was a bonus too.

In the morning we rang up Ezy to tell them where we were so they could pick us up and give us another van. The formalities were sorted out very quickly and we'd gotten the same rate as we'd been paying on the South Island for a continuation of hire. We'd been rather spoiled by our van on the South Island. It was the subject of a very recent refit, and given the fact that everything was still wrapped up I think we were the first people to have it afterwards. No such luck on the North Island. The van we were given was obviously well used and just slightly shabbier. Although the vans are the same model, the company has changed the way it does the interior in the newer fit-outs. It's a more sensible layout in some ways. As we pulled away, and for the first 20km a constant stream of complaints poured forth from Gemma about how the van wasn't good enough. She changed her mind though, especially when I pointed out that the wierdness she was feeling in controlling it could be due to the overdrive button being turned on. Once turned off she was much happier.

The first thing we noticed driving north is that Auckland is big. It seemed to take us an age to get out of the city, all on motorway with loads of traffic, something which we hadn't seen on the South Island. We did get out of the city eventually though. Even out into the countryside there was still more traffic and the composition of it was completely different to the South Island. There probably 70% of the other vehicles we saw were camper vans. In the North Island the figure would be less than 1%. We left the highway at Warkworth for a detour to the Goat Island Marine Park. Our timing was way off and we arrived when the tide was too high to properly explore the rockpools. I still managed to see some interesting crabs in the clear pools. There was a wind which made it hard to really get a good look in the larger pools though.

Back on the highway for only a short while, we veered off along the Twin Coast Scenic Route. The scenery was in the main a pastoral backdrop as the road meandered to the coast at Mangawhai Heads. Further along the coast we tried to book into a caravan park, but couldn't find the owner who was, as a sign proclaimed, off mowing the grass somewhere. The only toilet block we could see was roped off and being subject to the attentions of a couple of builders, so we thought better of it and continued up the coast. At Uretiti Beach we found a reasonably large, but fairly empty, Department of Conservation camp ground. We parked up for the night. As the name suggests the camp is right by the beach so we had a walk across the wildflower covered dunes and down onto the very wide expanse of sand.

It rained sporadically during the night and was still going off and on when we got up. We continued north through Whangarei, pausing to have a look at Whangarei Falls. This was a really rather pretty spot. It's not often you see a large waterfall within a reasonably large town. We detoured towards Tutukaka, a centre for fishing and diving. The Poor Knights Islands, apparently New Zealands top, and in the world top 10 diving spots is just off the coast here. We passed lovely small coves with turquoise water which turned crystal clear in the shallows next to the beach. At Tutukaka itself we parked up at the marina and ate lunch looking at all the fine boats.

The road curled back towards the highway, which we followed up to Te Haumi, where we booked into Beachside Holiday Park. They weren't lying with the name as the park stretched right down to the waters edge. Throughout the night we could hear loud bird calls and the lapping of the waves on the beach.

In the morning we took the ferry across to Okiato and then drove to Russell. A town I mean, not a man called Russell. We hopped out there for a coffee and muffin. The town itself is quite historic, but we didn't stay for long. Charles Darwin described it as being full of the 'refuse of society' but I think it may have gentrified since then.

Back in the van we took the loop road back down the coast and toward highway 1. We were looking for beautiful little secluded coves. We found plenty of beautiful spots but no places to stop the van for a look. We did manage to stop in a couple of places. Bland Bay was really rather nice, so we had lunch there. Along from it was a lovely DOC camp site at Whangaruru North. We decided to carry on down the road as my map had more camping symbols printed on it and it was still early. The two that we stopped at though had no camp grounds. I think that many spots have been closed to camping because of campers messing the place up and emptying waste tanks.

The whole coastline was a little more built up than we'd envisaged. Every bend and twist of the road had an estate agents sign on it, most advertising, not properties, but lifestyles. People had told us that the North Island would seem more populous than the South Island, and given that three quarters of the population live here I had sort of expected it. Out of Auckland though, I thought things would be much smaller. I was wrong. Outside of the small towns the scenery was very nice. Still mainly rolling hills and grazing land, but a little bit more forested and wilder looking than we'd been driving through over the past couple of days.

We hit the highway again just at the place that we'd had a coffee the previous day and had to retrace our route back to the Bay of Islands. We drove past the camp site that we' d been in the previous night and continued on to Haruru Falls and the Haruru Falls Resort. We got a spot right by the river with a view of the waterfalls that give the town it's name. As it got dark a tour boat appeared and came up the river to the falls. Lights came on and lit them up. Another lovely spot to park up for the night.

In the morning we backtracked to Waitangi. We picked up a hitcher going to Paihia as we pulled out of the van park. Waitangi is the site of the signing of the Treaty which give birth to New Zealand as a nation. The treaty, which was between the British Crown and the Maori people of the North Island, is still subject to arguments today about the exact wording of the treaty and it's intent. The short film that explains the history of New Zealand leading up to the treaty was quite interesting, but the room was chilly so I was glad to get out into the sunshine. Also around the site are a restoration of the British Resident's house and a Maori war canoe built for the centenary of nationhood. The canoe was very impressive, the more so sitting next to the stump of the giant Kauri tree from which it was carved.

Just on the northern end of the Bay of Islands area is the town of Kerikeri. This town is right in the middle of a large fruit and vegetable growing area. In the town itself every other shop is a cafe. Unsurprisingly, we stopped for a coffee. We mulled over where to have lunch, deciding to treat ourselves at one of the wineries that we'd seen signposted on the way in. We drove to the first one we came to again, the Marsden Estate, and had a lovely lunch and took away the obligatory bottle of wine. We were happy that the area was big on fruit and vegetables, because we needed to get some food. We found an organic vegetable farm and re-stocked. On the way back we happened to pass the area's other winery so popped in so that it didn't feel left out. An American couple who arrived in their yacht and stayed own the Cottle Hill winery. They have a couple of Chardonnays that are really silky and buttery. We took another bottle away with us.

North out of the Bay of Islands is Doubtless Bay, so named because Captain Cook (that fellow again) noted in his journal that it was, 'Doubtless a bay'. The landscape alternated between farmland, pine forest and denuded hills that used to be pine forest. At times we passed close to the sea and would crest a hill and be rewarded with a beautiful view of the sea sparkling in the bay. We continued onto the Karikari peninsular and to the very end, Maitai Bay. At the end of the road we found a DOC camp ground on a hill, a short step over the dunes to the beach. It was lovely and we instantly made up our minds to stay the night. At the end of the beach were rocks and when the tide went out we spent some time poking around in the pools in them.

In the morning we continued along the Twin Coast route, which hooked west. In the town of Awaui the road forks, one way taking you north toward Cape Reinga. This is the northernmost point of New Zealand and is mainly known for 90 mile beach, which can be driven down. Not, unfortunately, in hire cars, so we carried on in search of our main pre-occupation for that day. Trees. Near Awanui is the Ancient Kauri Kingdom. This is basically a furniture shop with a café in it. I found it much more interesting than it may sound. They use Kauri wood. Kauri forests once dominated the north west of the North Island. The wood was highly sought after for various applications, and logged mercilessly. As the trees are very slow growing this was an unsustainable practise and now there aren't many Kauri left, other than in reserves. This shop and it's affiliated craftsmen use Kauri sourced from local peat swamps. These massive trees have been sitting submerged for 45,000 years.

The furniture in the store was amazing. Sofas and tables carved and shaped from single massive blocks of Kauri. The craft gifts were somewhat less amazing. It's a little sad to see a 45,000 majestic tree reduced to a soap dish. The centrepiece of the shop is incredible. The mezzanine floor is reached by means of a spiral staircase carved into a huge section of Kauri trunk. If you like things made of wood, and I do, then this is a must see.

Following the road South we came to Hokianga Harbour which we crossed by ferry from Rangiora. The ferry was on the other side of the harbour so Gemma insisted that we make lunch, the ever popular eggy-wraps. I warned that there may not be time due to the imminent arrival of the ferry, but was shot down by a scathing glance. A hungry Gemma is a not to be messed with so we started cooking with the van sitting in the queue. Of course the ferry turned up, forcing me to virtually inhale my food in a rush to get on it. We'd have been better waiting until we were on it because we sat around waiting to fill the ferry up and the crossing took 15 minutes. We spent this time staring into other peoples vans. We've become obsessed by the interior layout of camper vans and we can't walk or drive past one now without trying to peer inside.

In response to public pressure the Waipoua Forest was given protected national park status in the 1950's. The highway cuts deeply into the forest which is thick on both sides. The two largest living Kauri trees are both within this park, Tane Mahuta, The God of the Forest is the largest. The huge tree towers over the surrounding forest. Further south is Te Matua Ngahere, The Father of the Forest. Not as tall as Tane Mahuta, this tree makes up for it with a massive girth. Both trees are estimated to be more than 2,000 years old.

After spending the night at a reasonably pleasant little van park by a river at Kaihu we set off south again. We stopped at the very interesting Kauri & Pioneer Museum at Matakohe. Unusually for small town museums, this is an excellent place. It's packed with original equipment and goods from the logging industry. Inside is a section from a Kauri tree killed by lightning and subsequently milled. It is huge. As a comparison on the wall are drawn circles to indicate the girths of the currently living largest and recorded largest Kauri trees. This section is dwarfed by them.

Our time in Northland came to an end as we hit the motorway back into Auckland. We had to stop by the city branch of Ezy as the invertor in the van was buggered. I'd arranged for them to take the TV out and swap it with a portable DVD player. I wasn't bothered about the DVD, as I could always watch them on the laptop if the need arose. But getting rid of the TV gave us a lot more storage space to play with. Unfortunately the heated towel rail in this van works from the invertor not 240v, so no warm cosy towels in the mornings!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Seals are our only friends

Our last couple of days on the South Island were spent in a really lovely place called Kaikoura. From the wine region we drove along a winding road that hugged the turquoise coast. After a stop at a cafe (which was ideal for my future house; rustic, beamed building with a big fireplace in the middle of the room, big windows looking out on to the decking and beach with blue sea and snow capped mountains) and stops to look at lots of seals which were perched on rocks and playing in rock pools we arrived in Kaikoura. As soon as we drove in to the town I liked it. I don't really know why. It bore similar “new world” businesses and houses as other towns we have seen, but for some reason I got a good feeling about it. Maybe it had something to do with the lovely blue sky and the perfect snowcapped mountains framing the town. As we saw more of it it became even more beautiful. The sea was a lovely turquoise colour and met the mountains.

Tickets for a seafood, music and wine festival had sold out so we spent the day walking to see more seals. We walked along the foreshore which can get cut off by tide. We walked a while before deciding that we had better turn back; Not before seeing the lovely sight of a dead sheep though. It was lovely. I was concentrating on not slipping over on the slimy rocks and wafting the seaweed flies away when I noticed a white rug looking thing. Tim said “ugh, don't look” and of course I did as it is impossible not to when somebody says that. It's face had practically gone but its body was in tact. The poor thing had probably fallen down the cliff.

Yet again I took Tim to another winery. I think he might be getting a bit too used to it now! It was a beautiful winery perched on a hill, with yet again beautiful scenery of the blue sea, snowcapped Mountainous variety. Another drive to yet another beautiful part of town and looking in rock pools and I decided that Kaikoura is my favourite place (so far and in the inhabited sense) in NZ.

We headed back to our van park which from our van has views of, yes you guessed it, beautiful scenery of snowcapped mountains. We had a drink with our next door neighbours before heading into town, on the way admiring the pretty clouds. We went to a pub which had D.J's playing in the courtyard and had a boogie. It was nice end to a great day and our time in South Island.

The next day we headed to Christchurch, again driving down windy roads hugging the coast. You would think with the amount of seals we have seen recently we wouldn't have stopped to look at more, but we never tire of them and stopped to watch a little one swim and climb on a rock. Kaikoura is famous for the wealth of marine life; whales, dolphins, penguins etc, but they didn't want to come and see us this time. I really love New Zealand but it is a bit short on wildlife for my liking. They do have a number of unique birds, but introduced species and man have taken their toll on numbers.

We had to give our van back, at which we were quite sad, but we have another one lined up for the North Island. Tonight though we have to stay in a hotel. It will be weird not having to assemble our bed before we go to sleep.


Tim has had to work really hard today. I don't know how he has done it. I only had to drive backwards and forwards around Marlborough District. I was lucky, I didn't have to drink many many hand-crafted boutique wines. Tim on the other hand bravely rose to the challenge. Five wineries, six or seven tasters in each.

In one winery we were served by a European girl. Quite a scary girl in fact. She was very knowledgeable about wine though. I tried not to laugh when she breathily said, “it's silky on the throat”. You could almost hear her trying to put the silk into her voice. I foolishly asked where she was from only to regret it when she said, “where do you think I'm from?” I replied, “Oh, I'm not very good with accents.” To which she responded (scarily), “You've heard enough of my accent to guess now, NOW GUESS!” Tim suddenly became very interested in the tasting notes as I nervously ventured a guess. “Ummm Italian?” I knew it was wrong, but could not think of a better answer. I awaited her reply with trepidation, but she matter of factly said “Oh. No, Czech republic”.

Next stop was Highfields which a lady at our first stop had recommended for the views from the top of a tower. As we walked in a lady approached us asking what she could do for us today. Tim promptly said, quite loudly in his Geordie accent, “For starters I'd like to have a look up your tower!” The lady looked quite surprised then bemused before she showed us to it. The view was lovely with 360 degree views over the wine region and surrounding mountains. We sat in the garden whilst I drank a hot chocolate (oh how I treat myself) and watched two dogs racing round. I love dogs.

Tim drank more wine and lost the ability to navigate. I am sure he had the map upside down at one point. We managed to find our way to the ('70's) caravan park and now I am drinking the fruits of his labour. Although I didn't partake in the tasting today I had a really nice day.


The Bacchanalian excesses of the previous day did not leave me in too bad a shape. (Actually I know people are going to read that and laugh -a day with like 6 glasses of wine is hardly an orgy of hedonism.) We left the van park and headed south to Kaikoura. More winding mountainous roads to start with and then following the coastline. The Kaikoura mountain range being visible in the windscreen. Because of the winding roads it took us some time to get to Kaikoura. We didn't really stop along the way other than for a coffee and at a seal colony. I don't know what it is about seals that gives us such pleasure, but both of us can sit and watch them lying about and scratching themselves for ages. Lets face it, lying about and scratching is pretty much the sum of seal behaviour when out of the water. In this particular colony were some rocks with a large pool in them. Many of the younger seals were playing in the pool, rolling about and mock-fighting.

In Kaikoura we noticed a lot of people around. The woman at the caravan park told us this was because of the Seafest due on in town the next day. A festival of music, wine and seafood sounded good to me but unfortunately tickets were sold out. Kaikoura is famous for whale watching and crayfish. When I think of crayfish I think of the yummy little prawn-like critters that live in British rivers. Not these though, they're are huge great lobster beasts.

We were lucky to get a van park space. Thankfully they'd kept a couple back for stupid tourists like us who blundered in not knowing that the Seafest was on. As the day went on the park began to fill up with a mix of people, camper vans, tents and cars. Despite the frost warnings many of the young ladies had gone with hot-pants as their chosen attire. I was all for that decision. In addition to the main Seafest on the Saturday were several bands on the Friday night. This was also sold out. So we sat wrapped in a blanket watching a DVD. We'd bought 3 comedy classics on one DVD for 3 quid. I think the words comedy and classic might have to be re-examined. Possibly, 'straight to video' and 'not very funny' might be more apt.

In the morning as the streams of revellers made their way to Seafest we scooted past them and on through town. Although famed for whales, Kaikoura is a bit of a haven for marine mammals in general. There are several established seal colonies in Kaikoura with the seals sunning themselves on the rocks. We took some photographs at the nearest colony before starting to do a walk down the foreshore. Gemma spooked me by saying we should have gone to the information centre to check the tide tables, so we turned round halfway. I had visions of us sharing a rock with a seal and waiting for the tide to go back out!

In the afternoon we drove round to South Bay and walked around the rocks looking at little fish in the pools. The sea is beautifully clear close up and a lovely turquoise as you look out across the bay. Everything is framed by the snow covered Kaikoura mountains. I managed to get some shots of a seal in front of the mountains which I hope comes out. We both got a bit annoyed at the stupid tourists ignoring the signs saying to stay 10 meters away from the seals. I know we are tourists, but we like to think we try and pay attention to the rules, which are normally there for a reason. These people were getting really close for photos which hacked us off a bit as the seals were getting obviously agitated. It would've been their own fault if they'd gotten bitten!

We went to the Kaikoura Wine Company. This was the first winery we'd been to in New Zealand that charged for tastings. But $4 to taste the whole range wasn't too bad. They claim to be the most scenic winery in the country and they might be right. On one side the straight rows of vines lead up to the mountains and on the decking the view is out over the ocean. I rather forgot about the hole in the ozone layer and didn't wear my hat, suddenly realising that my head was cooking. This was commented on later by the retired couple next to us in the van park.

The town was packed with drunken revellers when we went out for dinner. A liquor ban on the streets seemed to have been utterly ignored. After wolfing down a bag of fish and chips we went for a drink in Strawberry Tree in town. This drink soon turned into several, as a Seafest after-party started in the garden. I was busy snapping pictures of the moon and the lasers when I got asked whether I was from the newspaper by a very smiley chap. Perhaps it's the big camera. Another smiley type came over later to tell us that it was his laser that I was taking photographs of. There were two totally different parties happening there that night. Inside lots of young ladies were clustered around the jukebox singing their heads off. Lots of rugby shirt wearing blokes were watching them, some with very disturbing mullets. When we left we were surprised to see a queue to get in snaking right down the street. On the other side of the street two girls were involved in a bit of a brawl and half the town was watching.

Gemma proclaimed Kaikoura as her favourite town in New Zealand so far. It does have a lot in it's favour, the turquoise sparkling sea teeming with marine life. Seals and dolphins and whales, although the cetaceans eluded us. The mountains looming off in the distance. All in all a pretty picture. Perhaps the only downside is the amount of mullets sported by the male town folk. All good things come to an end though and the following morning with a hangover kicking in we wheeled out of town for our very last drive in little DKJ705. We were both quite sad to be saying goodbye to our trusty little van, but say goodbye we had to. Back at the depot in Christchurch, and roughly 3900 km later, we dropped off our little friend and went to the airport. Between the hangover and the fact that we've mostly been in the middle of nowhere for weeks the hustle and bustle of the airport was a bit of a shock to the system.

Malborough and surrounds

We left Abel Tasman National Park and hit the road again, unavoidably retracing our steps as far as Nelson, which we breezed through without stopping. Another winding road took us up into the hills and back down again, mainly through pine plantation. At Pelarus Bridge we stopped and walked the short Tōtara Walk. So called because of a very large specimen of the tree of the same name. The forest had many other species of native tree, and Gemma brought along a little field guide that she bought so that we could identify them. We are such geeks.

At Havelock the highway bears south toward Blenheim, or you can turn off onto the scenic drive straight to Picton. We chose the scenic drive, a very winding road that climbs and drops along with the hills. All along the way the road overlooks stunning turquoise bays of the Malborough Sounds. We stopped in Picton for fuel and supplies. At the supermarket they refused to serve me beer! There were signs up saying that anyone looking under the age of 30 would need I.D. For starters I'm over 30 and as 18 is the legal age for buying alcohol 30 seems a bit overzealous. As we didn't have any I.D. on us the guy referred the matter to his supervisor who was floating about behind him. She said, 'No.' to which I replied, 'Alright, whatever.' She must have taken this as aggression because she got really arsey with us, slamming our rice past the bleeper and virtually screaming the total price at us. We went to the bottle shop down the road and got our beer with no problems at all. By this point time was getting on so we drove a couple of kilometres out of Picton to a van park at Waikawa Bay. It was extremely windy in the van park. Every so often it would start gusting and the van would rock backward and forward.

In the morning we drove back into Picton to do one of the short walks. After a quick stop at the information centre to get a map we were on our way. The walk we chose went up a hill which gave a great view. First over the harbour where we could see a massive ship being loaded with logs and the inter-island ferry, all very interesting if you like that sort of thing. Secondly the view stretched over Queen Charlotte Sound. This is a sound, unlike Milford Sound which is actually a fiord, which means it has rolling hills surrounding the inlet from the sea (as opposed to the mountains and very deep water of a fiord).

After walking back down the hill we drove to the nearby town of Blenheim. This region is famous as New Zealands largest wine growing area. Clustered around the roads from Blenheim to the town of Renwick are many wineries, some large, some small. Something like 25 wineries in a 5km radius of one another. For once I convinced Gemma that she'd like a nice drive in the sunshine while I went tasting. I did slightly bribe her with the offer of a nice lunch. I liked the NZ wineries, everyone was very helpful and I didn't ever feel like I was talked down to, unlike some at the 'Wacky Wine Weekend' we went to in South Africa. I felt a little bit merry by the end of winery number two. I think Gemma enjoyed just watching me get tipsy and a bit silly. We went to 5 wineries in total (MudHouse, Huia, Highfield, Framingham & Nautilus), and I tasted every wine each had on for tasting that day. Most were excellent. At the Highfield Estate there is a tower. From this we had a 360 degree view over the region and could even make out the dark smudge of the North Island on the horizon.

My navigational skills were slightly impaired as we tried to find somewhere to stay, resulting in us taking a bit of a long route. Eventually we found the place we were looking for, a very old school caravan park, basically in the garden of a big old house. It was old school in that it had a lot of caravans (old) and no camper vans except ours. The coinage in New Zealand had recently changed but the showers and the washing machine in the park still took the old coins. I liked it.

Abel Tasman National Park

After covering an absolute minimum distance in the previous few days we decided to get moving again. From Westport the road turns back inland, for some time following the Buller River. This is another pretty drive. The road twists and turns along with the river, hugging the side of the gorge. At times the river disappears behind the trees and in places the road passes under arches projecting from the rock walls of the gorge. All along the road the forests looked like a giant natural cloud factory, steaming white puffballs rising up to join the grey covering above. For once in New Zealand we had found a road with a minimum of scenic viewpoints so we drove on until we reached the small town of Wakefield, just outside Nelson. We had to stop and take a photo in Wakefield because of Gemma's family connections with the one in Yorkshire.

We'd been quite up on the idea of staying in Nelson. One reason was that Gemma likes the name and another was that it is reputedly a hip arts and craftsy type of place. The rain which had been following us made our minds up not to stay too long. We'd have to pass back that way anyway, so we decided to put a few more kilometres on the clock. In Motueka we stopped for the day at the Top 10 park. During a brief lull in the rain which happily coincided with tea-time we dashed into town to get fish and chips (or in Kiwi, fush and chups). Although the food turned out to be nice, I almost regretted the decision. The town scared me for some reason. It had the air of a place where the inhabitants have had their brains implanted with mind control devices. I didn't have any evidence, but the dull witted behaviour of the kid in the chip shop convinced me that something was wrong. Most likely aliens, I thought. I asked for cod and chips twice to be told by the boy, waving his finger, that, 'The fish is there and the chips are there.'

I nodded repeating, 'Cod', pause, 'and chips', pause, 'twice.'

He grinned, wrote it down and grinned again. I didn't actually see him tell the guy cooking the food. Telepathy?

In the morning I checked carefully for signs of an anal probe or other extra-terrestrial invasiveness. Fortunately there were none so we hit the road again. There had been continuous rain throughout the night and it didn't really abate in the morning. The whole day was spent dashing in and out of pockets of rain, sometimes drizzle, other times big fat droplets pounding on the windscreen. From Motueka we continued along SH60 towards Takaka, the road winding up and then back down a big hill. There were scenic lookouts along the way, but as banks of fog aren't really our idea of nice scenery we didn't stop. Takaka is a town with a reputation of being a bit of a hippy hangout. The business signs are all 'barefoot' this and 'organic' that. Gemma's eyes started dashing about at clothing and general hippy tat shops so I pulled her into The Wholemeal Café with the promise of a muffin.

The rain had lessened a bit so we thought we'd head up the coast towards the northern tip of the South Island. Just a couple of kilometres out of Takaka is Pupu Springs. Gemma wanted to stop to see if it smelled of poo poo. It didn't. What it was though is the largest freshwater spring in Australasia, and the clearest in the world. Clearly visible through the water were a variety of plants, almost as colourful and interesting as a coral reef. Up at the top of the South Island is a sand spit, Farewell Spit, which is a haven for birds. I thought we could have some lunch while seeing if we could see the spit with our binoculars. Unfortunately when we reached the road to the visitors centre it was closed. We turned round and sighed, resigned to our drive back through the rain. Instead we had lunch back at Takaka in the car park of the information centre. Travel is all glamour.

We stopped for the night at Marahau, the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. Total distance from where we started, despite being in the car most of the day -around 35km. The rain continued through the night, the drumming on the roof of the van keeping me awake until 04:30 in the morning. When Gemma was having her breakfast she decided to wake me up by dropping the, quite heavy, pot of salt on my head. Actually, I'm not sure it was a concious decision on her part but it increased my grumpiness several fold. Because of the rain and the fact that I didn't drag myself out of bed in time, we abandoned our plan to do a trip into the national park. The place we were staying did, water-taxi, walk, water-taxi trips. Instead we took a short walk down the start of the Abel Tasman walking track to some lookout points and little beaches. The rain sputtered out, along with my grumpiness. The start of the track follows the coast by a kind of tidal mudflat, so there were lots of birds around. On the way back we passed lots of people starting the track proper, all with very serious packs and very serious expressions on their faces. We got back to the café just as the rain began again.

Wicky Wild Wild West

Our 'standard' day involves waking up, disassembling the bed, stowing our gear and driving. I have now grown used to the van and assembling and disassembling the bed only takes five minutes, or 25 minutes if Gemma helps. Typically we drive for several hours, stopping at interesting places to take a walk or take photographs, having lunch along the way. By early afternoon Gemma is normally a bit tired of driving so we'll park up at a holiday park. Usually we cover between 150-200km, some days less, others more. Normally we are the first or among the first people checking in to the parks for the day, although most seem to fill up by sundown.

Although there are some nice walks around the lagoon in Okarito, the rain put us off. We left the village with our eyes open for Kiwis, the birds rather than the humans. Our chances weren't good despite the signs warning of them on the Okarito road because the Kiwi is a nocturnal bird. The road cuts deeply into the rainforest such that the view of the mountains disappears. The towns of the West Coast region have a 'Wild West' frontier town feel about them. They generally consist of one storey wooden houses. The 'Wild West' comparison is not a bad one as the towns are mainly remnants of a cycle of boom and bust following the discovery of nearby gold fields. In the town of Ross we stopped at the visitors centre which attempts to make a big deal of the towns historical and current links to gold mining. Behind the centre is a frankly ugly lake in the belly of a large open mine. There are recreations of historic buildings such as a cottage and a prison, which houses the crappest attempt at the dummy of a man that I've ever seen. In the back of the visitors centre you can pan for gold out of big plastic storage containers. Gemma was disgusted by this and complained loudly that she wanted men with big hats squatting in a creek and sifting in big pans.

Further north we stopped at Lake Mahinapua. There is a camping ground here which tempted us as it is a really pretty spot. Unfortunately the need to do some washing forced us to carry on. Perhaps it was our exertions on the glacier the previous day, but neither of us fancied driving on much further and so we decided to call it a day when we reached Hokitika. We found a van park in the north of town, Shining Star, which was nice and right next to the beach. On the beach was littered a massive amount of driftwood stretching as far as the eye could see. I believe the town has an annual driftwood art exhibition. We walked into town for lunch.

Hokitika is another old gold mining town, but is important today as a centre for the crafting of greenstone. Greenstone is New Zealand Jade, important culturally and historically to the Maori people and still worked into traditional forms as jewellery. After the obligatory glance at the greenstone shops we went back to the van park. We were happy to see that the park was up to date technology wise, having a wireless hotspot. We bought a voucher for it and spent some time uploading photos and blog entries as well as other chores. Sitting in the van next to the beach, tapping away on the laptop I was drawn to thinking that I could get used to that way of life. I could picture myself working remotely, travelling around the UK, Europe or even the world. All that would be needed is ubiquitous affordable Internet access. I digress. Across the highway from Shining Star is a glow worm grotto. Once it got suitably dark we wandered over to take a look. Sure enough amongst the trees little points of light could be seen, rather like Christmas lights. A couple of young families were also there, amusing me by trying to take photographs and having the flash fire. Afterward we rented a DVD from reception and watched it on the player in the van with a bottle of wine.

The road north from Hokitika hugs the coast. At times the salt spray made the mountains in the distance very hazy and indistinct. There are two bridges north of Hokitika. In common with many of the bridges we've been across in New Zealand so far, they are single lane. These ones had the added factor of being single lane for both road vehicles and trains. We blasted straight through Greymouth. I'd thought about getting a coffee or something to eat there but forgotten it was Sunday. There didn't appear to be a lot of activity in Greymouth at 10:00 on a Sunday morning. We did stop at the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki. Here the limestone and mudstone rocks are formed in layers resembling stacks of pancakes. The rocks have eroded into all sorts of interesting shapes and at high tides there are blowholes amongst channels in the rocks. We were well out of the range of high tide but the waves crashing in the caverns and amongst the pillars of rock were spectacle enough.

Near the town of Westport is Cape Foulwind. This was another naming by Captain Cook, possibly named because of a cracking fart he did whilst spying the cape from his ship. Or perhaps not. There is a very busy car park and walkway there. Mostly people, like us, coming to see the Seal Colony. A breeding colony of New Zealand Fur Seals is well established there. We made like proper tourists and snapped away at them. Gemma was amazed at the speed at which they managed to get over the rocks. At every stop we made we encountered the Weka, a native flightless bird. Normally they would come to the door of the van, look quizzically in and then sit underneath it for five minutes. It was also on these stops that we began noticing signs up proclaiming the use of 1080 in the area. 1080 is a poison which is being used to control the Possum population. Possums were introduced from Australia to start a fur trade and have more than made themselves at home in the New Zealand bush. The shocking statistic is that they chomp their way through 20,000 tonnes of native bush every night. The only Possums that we have seen have been lifeless on the roadside.

Again, we didn't feel like putting in too many miles so we continued just up the road to Seal Colony Top 10 park. This is not brilliantly named as it's about 7km away from the seals. Gemma laughed at me because I got excited about reading the newspaper, with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. It was Sunday though, so I steadfastly defended my decision.