Posted by: dammer145 | November 14, 2008

Homeward bound

We got up and had our last Kiwi breakfast.

We cleaned out the camper, packed our bags and headed to the airport. We were a little bit early, so we first went to the local mall for a bit of last-minute shopping and coffee.

We filled up the camper with diesel and took it back. It had been a trusty companion for three weeks! Kea Campers dropped us off at the airport.

Bye Southern Alps!

Soon we were on an airplane towards Melbourne, the beginning of a 40-hour trip back home.

Farewell New Zealand, we will definitely be back!

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Posted by: dammer145 | November 13, 2008

The Tranzalpine

Today we would take the Tranzalpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth (where we had been the week before) and back.

Ravines along the track.

We took a cab to Christchurch station and figured out which train we had to take. After a short wait we set off northwest, straight through the Southern Alps. First we sped through the lowland greens with sheep and cows, but before long the landscape became hillier, slowly turning mountainous. After about an hour we were in the Alps proper. The tracks took us through tunnels and over bridges, crossing rivers and ravines.

The train had a bar, so we went and bought ourselves a beer each, the same beer as we had drunk in Greymouth a week before: Monteith’s!

After a four-hour trip, we arrived in Greymouth. The train would stay there for about an hour before heading back to Christchurch. We sat close to the sea and had our lunch, carefully avoiding an annoying German guy that had taken a liking to us on the train.

On the way back we were in the same carriage as a bunch of Russians: the stories about Russians on holiday are true.

Once back in Christchurch we had some time to kill before dinner, so we had a long walk through the very Oxford-looking Hadley Park.

We had dinner in a place called “Cook’n with Gas”, a restaurant we had seen the day before while trailing around Christchurch in the tram. Luckily we had a reservation: the place was packed. We had a great last night out, great food and even Belgian beer on tap (we didn’t have any though, there’s enough of that back home).

We took a cab back to the camping, with a slightly apprehensive feeling – our time in New Zealand was quickly coming to an end.

Posted by: dammer145 | November 12, 2008

Onwards to Christchurch

After having spent the night in Timaru, we set off towards Christchurch. This would be the last 160 kilometers that we would do in our camper.

Once we arrived in Christchurch we first made our way to the airport. On the way here we’d had terrible trouble with cramped seats, so we wanted to go and see if we could get a pre-seating near an emergency exit. We didn’t get one unfortunately (but we did get one a few days later in Melbourne).

We found the campsite where we would spend our last two nights. After having been to the supermarket and the bakers for some supplies, we set off into town by bus (we had had enough of driving). It was quite remarkable how “English” Christchurch appeared. It seemed as if a part of London had been cut out and transported by ship to the other side of the world: almost a perfect copy.

The day after we wanted to go on the Tranzalpine, the train that crosses straight across the southern island, straight through the Alps. As soon as we were in town we went to the Christchurch i-Site and booked our tickets.

Christchurch Cathedral.

In the centre of town stands Christchurch Cathedral: very, very English. We had a look inside and at the monument built right next to it which is dedicated to fallen soldiers of the two world wars. Christchurch also has trams: old-fashioned ones. You can hop on anywhere you like and take a tourist tour of the centre of town; they pass through and by all the streets and sights that are worth seeing. We got on at the central square and sat on for about half an hour, before getting off at the Arts Centre and had a look at the art displays inside.

Soon we had had enough of the arts and decided we wanted to take the tram back into town. We followed the tramlines hoping one would come by sooner or later, but we had been walking for quite a while and nothing turned up. We stopped at the college bistro to have a drink, and then carried on along the tramlines. Before we knew it we had walked back to the centre without having seen another tram!

We had dinner at a restaurant we had seen along the tramline, a place called “Six Chairs Missing”. Very nice!

The Trams!

Afterwards we headed to the Christchurch casino for our second gambling session of our holiday. No blackjack for us this time, we headed straight to the slots. We put in 2 dollars, won some money, won some more money and ended up playing for two hours before we lost everything again. Good entertainment value for 2 NZD.

We took a cab back to the campsite and crashed into bed.

Posted by: dammer145 | November 11, 2008

Dunedin to Christchurch

Today we would be traveling to Christchurch, but there were a few more things we wanted to do in Dunedin before we headed onwards.

The day before we had seen that there was a Cadbury’s chocolate factory in town and it had a visitor’s centre, aptly called “Cadbury’s World”. We took a guided tour of the factory and saw Curly-Wurlies, More bars, Crunchies and Easter eggs being made. At the start of the tour everybody received a small bag to collect samples in that we were given during the tour. The tour guide would ask questions about things he had previously said, and whoever answered the questions correctly would get even more chocolate!

Cadbury World.

Even though we’d had quite a bit of chocolate before lunchtime, we were still hungry. Dunedin casino had a restaurant come lunch bar, so we stopped there for a bite to eat before setting off again.

On top of the world!

Ever since we had left Auckland we had been heading southwards. Now however, it was time to head north along the coast to our final destination in New Zealand: Christchurch. From Dunedin to Christchurch was too far however to cover in one day, so we would stay in a town called Timaru for the night.

North of Dunedin stand the Moeraki Boulders. Almost perfectly round rocks stand as sentinels watching out over the sea. They were formed by processes over periods of millions of years. We stopped for an hour to admire them and take some pictures.

Towards the evening we arrived in Timary and found a campsite. After having done some shopping at the local Pack ‘n Save and having done some jumping up and down on the campsite trampoline, we had something to eat and went to bed.

Posted by: dammer145 | November 10, 2008

Dunedin, home of the brave

Today we would visit Dunedin, home of many Scottish settlers in earlier centuries.

We had some breakfast and drove into the centre of town. We parked next to the beautiful station, apparently one of the most photographed buildings in the southern hemisphere (I’m not quite sure where the guide-book got those statistics). The centre of Dunedin is not very big, but the streets are layed out in an octagonal form, with at the centre a square where all public transport converges. The square also houses a large statue of Scottish poet Burns, an homage to the towns roots.

Dunedin Station.

Since we’d been on holiday for a while, my beard was starting to look a bit scruffy. We came across a barber shop, so I had the full do!

We passed by the tourist information centre and then headed for lunch. We ended up inside a restaurant called Scotia inside the station building. I had haggis (what else) and Anouk decided to try some local specialities.

In the afternoon, we had a wildlife trip booked. Close to Dunedin were colonies of albatross, sea lions and the almost-extinct yellow-eyed penguins. There were about ten of us on the trip, and we were picked up in the centre of town by bus. Soon we headed off into the Dunedin hills, high above the town with a lovely view of the surroundings.

Looking down on Dunedin.

First we went to the albatross colonies. We saw a few flying, they are enormous. Albatrosses can only take off when there is enough wind – unfortunately the wind dropped soon after we arrived, and didn’t see any more. We set on further towards the sea lions and the penguins.

The guides told us about the conservation efforts that had been going on in the past few years to save the yellow-eyed penguin from the brink of extinction. They had breeding programmes going on and active watches on nests to make sure the eggs survived the incubation periods. They even had camera’s on the nests 24/7 to make sure they were ok.

We arrived at the beach and installed ourselves in the hideouts that had been built there. The penguins go out to sea during the daytime to collect food for their young and return towards the evening. The problem is that their nests are up in the dunes beyond the beach – a beach that is inhabited by 800 kilogram flesh-eating monsters: sea lions.

Penguins and Sheep!

Soon we saw penguins arrive and hurry across the beach (as far as penguins can “hurry” across land). The sea lions didn’t really seem interested though – perhaps they had already gobbled a few up earlier in the day.

Anouk on the lookout for penguins.

A bit further up there was also a colony of seals – they smelt horrible.

By the time we got back to town it was gone 10pm – so we headed to McD’s for dinner!

Posted by: dammer145 | November 9, 2008

Birthday part two

Today Anouk had another birthday surprise in store for me: a sunrise balloon flight! It even included a champagne breakfast! We were supposed to call at 05:00 to make sure the weather was alright for the flight. Unfortunately the weather gods decided otherwise about our little balloon trip – the wind was too strong. What a shame!

We set off from Queenstown feeling a little despondent. We left by the same road we came in, heading for the Edinburgh of the South, Dunedin.

Just outside of Queenstown we stopped at AJ Hackett Bungee Jumping, the place where the first commercial bungee jumping company was started back in 1988. People would jump from 100 meters hight off the Kawarau Bridge. We watched people jump for a little while (including a blond middle-aged woman jump naked) – Anouk felt a little tempted to jump herself, but in the end decided not to.

No comment.

We made on a couple of miles before arriving at a local cheese outlet. How could we carry on without buying a bit of local cheese! A bit later on we stopped on a hill overlooking a hydroelectric power plant and nibbled bread and cheese until we were full. We set off further on the road towards Dunedin.

On the road.

After a long day’s drive we arrived at the campsite. Now for something to eat! We headed out hunting for something to munch, but there didn’t seem to be very much in the vicinity. Half a kilometer down the road we found a VERY dodgy looking Asian takeaway. Anouk wanted to try but I didn’t trust it one little bit. Anouk wasn’t ill so I guess it must have been alright… but still. We headed back to the campsite where I had some of yesterday’s bread – I thought I’d try my luck with that rather than the dodgy Asian dude.

The dodgy Asian takeaway.

We watched some telly and went to bed.

Posted by: dammer145 | November 8, 2008

Who’s the birthday boy!

I was woken up by Anouk singing “Happy Birthday” – I was now officially an adult at 30! The surprise turned out to be a fly-fishing morning – our guide for the day was to be a young fellow called Jake. He picked us up at the camping at 08:30 and took us out into the Wanaka hills, far away from town. We were heading for the Matutapo river, a tributary to a river that flowed into lake Wanaka. We were in Jake’s 4×4 and it was a bit of a hairy drive to where we had to be. We got out and he sorted out all the gear. Anouk was not going to fish as previously she had jinxed me a bit – each time she went along she caught all the fish! She decided this time she would just take some pictures and read her book. We set off on foot down the river, past sheep and their lambs, and a cow that seemed to have lost her calf – she was on a rampage through the valley, mooing away.

Me and Jake.

We hadn’t seen many fish as we walked downstream, hopefully walking back would prove to be better. For those who don’t know how fishing on a shallow river for trout works: the fish face up-stream to catch any insects or bugs drifting down the river. That is why you have to approach them from the back – they cannot see you coming. We slowly waded up, Anouk had sat herself down by the river a little bit further upstream with her book. We tried all the usual spots: shadows, deep currents etc. but we hadn’t spotted any fish so far. It would take about an hour before we saw our first fish darting away – we had spooked it before we had noticed it.

Here fishy fishy fishy.

We made our way further down until Jake spotted a fish – in one of the deep currents under a tree it was happily feeding away on anything being carried downstream. With the help of Jake I managed to land a big nymph right in it’s path and bang! the fish took it. It put up quite a big struggle but we managed to land it. It was a pretty rainbow trout, a bit thin from having been spawning lately; a good catch nonetheless. On the way back upstream we passed a bunch of screeching oystercatchers.

My catch for the day.

We had apparently invaded their egg-laying territory and they were dive-bombing us with you-know-what. We saw a couple of their nests – three eggs in a small hole in the ground. We headed back for the car and along the way we saw one more fish – it was in a very difficult position though so we weren’t able to take it. It had been a lovely morning and a great birthday surprise! Jake dropped us off back at the camping.

On our way further south we passed by Puzzling World, just outside of Wanaka. It had an enormous maze built out of wooden walls and a couple of illusion rooms, containing things like large holograms and a room that seems to be a of a different size than it really is (rather hard to explain). A bit of a puzzling experience (hah!). We spent about an hour in the maze, at the end Anouk actually got lost in it.

"Which way is it??" "I don't know, I cheated."

Our target for today was Queenstown – a large ski resort about 120 km south of Wanaka. Anouk had another surprise lined up for me there on Sunday and we were going to have something to eat there as well to celebrate.

That was delicious!It was another scenic drive and we arrived at about 17:00. We set ourselves up at the camping and walked into town, just a stroll down the hill. We first went for a drink and then made our way to Roaring Megs – a restaurant Anouk had chosen for the awards it had received for its lamb and beef. As a starter we both had the wild venison ravioli with parmesan and as main course Anouk had the beef with kumara roesti and mushrooms. I had the lamb in a pastry crust with vegetables – delicious!! We finished the evening off with a treacle pudding for me and an apple and berry crumble for Anouk, yum yum. The whole lot had been swigged down with a bottle of local pinot noir, so a little tipsy we made our way back to the camping and crashed into bed.

What a birthday!

Posted by: dammer145 | November 7, 2008

South, south, south

Today was going to be another driving day – on the South Island everything is a lot further apart and it takes a lot more time to get to towns. I think we maybe underestimated this – originally we were planning on visiting the famous Milford Sound to the southwest of Queenstown, but it was just not going to be possible: it would mean a 700 km detour just to get there, something we did just not have time for.

We left Frans Jozef and set off further south – our destination today would be the town of Wanaka on the identically named lake. We passed by the Fox Glacier which lies about 30km further south from Frans Jozef. We wanted to drive up to that but the road was not suitable at all for camper vans, so we didn’t bother trying.

The trip in total would be about 400km, taking us through snow-capped mountains, hills and plains. Every 100km or so we stopped for coffee at our much-loved NZ cafes, although we didn’t have cake each time.

Salmon. Lots of salmon.

One of the cafes we stopped at doubled for a salmon farm. Outside they had four large octagonal pools full of fish in various stages of life: from the very young 2 cm long ones to the big and juicy ones ready for smoking. You could also buy fish food to feed the fish – a very clever trick to make sure your fish get food every day and you make a dollar out of it as well as the tourists love to see the feeding frenzy. We had some coffee there and bought ourselves some hanuka honey smoked salmon.

Later on we stopped for a late lunch at Knight’s Point – a picnic area on the top of a cliff on the Tasman Sea. The salmon we had bought was delicious! We took some pictures and set off again.

Knight's Point.

The roads first took us along the coast and soon veered off to the left, back into the mountains. We passed gorges, rivers, lakes as the road winded back and forth. Soon we came to lake Wanaka – the township lies at the south end of the lake. The lake is about 25km long so it took 20-30 minutes before we actually were in Wanaka itself.

Anouk had “something” to organise for the day after (more on that later) so we headed straight to the tourist office. I waited outside while she was busy and took some pretty pictures of the lake and the surroundings.

Lake Wanaka.

After that we went to the camping, made ourselves some “bouletten” with some NZ ground pork we had bought in Wanaka, wrote some postcards and went to sleep. We would have to be up at 07:00 as Anouk had a birthday surprise in store for me!

Posted by: dammer145 | November 6, 2008

Foxy Glaciers

The Frans Jozef Glacier.

As we were going to stay at the same camping for two nights we didn’t have to move the camper before 10:00. We had a nice long lie-in and got up at about 11:00.

We first drove up to the glacier itself: you can drive up pretty close, after that it’s about a 30 minute walk through forest to the “mouth” of the glacier. We didn’t go all the way to the mouth as heavy rainfall lately had caused recent rockfall. The glacier was impressive – an enormous white river of ice, apparently standing still, but looks deceived: the Frans Jozef glacier is one of the fastest in the world, with speeds of up to eight metres per day recorded in the past. Over the past 250 years the glacier has been reduced by about one-third: along the road upwards a sign says where the glacier reached in 1750.

After that we headed for the tourist office – a lot more information on the glacier was to be read there, along with a large exhibition about NZ’s endangered birds and plant life (they even have signs up there encouraging people to run over possums if they see them – I am not joking). We strolled through the expo on the glacier, with lots of diagrams and pictures explaining why and how glaciers form. Apparently there are over 130 glaciers in the New Zealand Southern Alps, with the largest being the Tasman Glacier, leading down from Mount Cook. Mount Cook is the highest mountain in the Southern Alps, named after the European explorer who first set foothold on Aotearea. Abel Tasman was the first European to actually see New Zealand, though he did not set foot on it. That is why the place is called New Zealand: Abel Tasman was a Dutchman who named it “Nieuw Zeeland” after the south-western Dutch island-rich province.

Along the road to the glaciers.

As it was tough to visit the glacier up close, we visited another Glacier centre called Hukawai. It contained a lot of the same information we had read in the tourist office. It did however contain a lot more diagrams and explanation on how glaciers actually work – very interesting. It also had an ice climbing wall – we didn’t try it ourselves.

That night we would be staying in Frans Jozef again, so we headed to the local convenience store for dinner. We were in there for about half an hour trying to decide what we were going to have – eventually we decided to have some sausages. We would later regret that very much – New Zealanders have no idea how to make a decent banger.

After having browsed through the souvenir shops for a while we made our way back to the camping. We made dinner, watched a DVD we had rented from the camping (Heavenly Creatures), and went to bed.

Posted by: dammer145 | November 5, 2008

b33r

We woke up to find that the wind had calmed down a bit – the camper had not washed away! We got up rather late and decided to have our breakfast in Greymouth (at almost all campsites you have to vacate the premises before 10:00). We headed into town in search of a NZ cafe – there are loads of them and they all have the same system: on the counter there are see-through plastic cabinets, some heated, containing pies, cakes, scones, muffins and all sorts of other baked delicacies. You choose what you want, order your coffee/tea/hot chocolate and they bring the whole lot to the table for you five minutes later.

We had our breakfast in the cafe belonging to an exhibition about pounamu: green jade which Maori have used for weapons and jewelry. After working down a scone and a long black we strolled through the (free) exhibition and read up on what jade meant for the Maori people. Apparently Maori were not the only people to use it extensively – so did the Inca’s and the Chinese dynasties.

Greymouth also houses a very famous kiwi institution: the Monteith beer brewery. Monteith’s is a small-scale brewer but considered to be one of the best in the country. At 12:00 there was a tour of the brewery so we went along with that. There were not many people on the tour: just us and four Israelis. We got shown through all the installations (living in Belgium we of course already knew how beer is made). The output of the factory was about 5000 litres per day – in comparison the De Koninck brewery in Antwerp produces 75.000 litres daily. Only seven people work at Monteith’s, keeping costs down.

Monteith's beer collection.

After having been through the installation we were allowed to taste all seven different beers. As I was driving and the NZ drink-drive laws are pretty strict, I “donated” two of my tasters to Anouk. I personally liked the Gold the most, Anouk’s favourite was both the Gold and the Radler.

The starting point of the Southern Alps.

After all that beer Anouk was somewhat jolly and in no uncertain terms she demanded Kentucky Fried Chicken. I had no choice but to give in so we drove down the road to fulfill her demand (I had a sandwich with some of the left-over tuna salad myself).

After that we set off southwards towards the Southern Alps! The roads were rather narrow and windy and it rained all the way. Due to the effects of the beer, Anouk slept all the way. She also rather regretted having eaten KFC later on as it came back with a bit of a vengeance.

Our target for the evening was Franz Josef Township, a small village at the foot of an enormous glacier. We arrived there towards the evening and set up ourselves at the camping. We rented “Miss Potter” from the reception, a film about the life of Beatrix Potter, portrayed rather well by Renee Zellweger. After having made ourselves a huge pile of pancakes, we got nice and comfy and watched the film before making up the beds.

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