Day 13: Another travelling song

Day 13: Another travelling song
Ashburton, New Zealand

Ashburton, New Zealand


I can now add “cafe that offers its customers sunglasses to block out the early morning sun” to the list of places I’ve been in New Zealand. This was the Kitchen Table, just up from our motel in Dunedin, and we had a fabulous breakfast and a couple of coffees there before setting off up the highway for the final leg of our trip.

I really wanted to stay in Dunedin. There’s so much more I want to see, places to explore and things to do. And the more we travelled up the highway the more I know I have to come back to this part of the country.

Our first stop was the Steampunk HQ in Oamaru, about an hour out of Dunedin. Very cool. The ultimate trash to treasure exhibit. I loved it.

I’d love to have been able to have spent more time in Oamaru as well, but we couldn’t, and our next stop was Timaru, for lunch.

We’d originally planned on staying in Timaru today on our way back to Christchurch, but we hadn’t been able to find any accommodation. It seems like a lovely town, and we wondered if it was to Christchurch what Batemans Bay is to Canberra because it’s a similar distance away.

We’d spoken about Teppanyaki with Kramstable a few days ago, and he thought it sounded really cool. Eagle-eyed restaurant spotter me saw a Japanese Teppanyaki bar while we were driving round the town, so we decided that would be a great idea for lunch. It was really good. Well spotted me!

About an hour up the road is Ashburton, where we’d managed to find a motel room for the night. On the way those apparition-like mountains reappeared totally out of the
blue. There must be few places on the South Island you can’t see them.

Going to Ashburton meant a longer drive than we’d wanted today, but on the plus side we’ll have more time in Christchurch tomorrow, the last day of our holiday. It’s hard to believe we’re this close to going home. We’ve seen so much and done so much, and missed so much!

We had dinner in the motel and are currently making sure we don’t have any excess beers to take home with us!

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Day 11: On the road again

Day 11: On the road again
Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin, New Zealand


We left a very cold Te Anau in the morning to arrive in a very warn Dunedin mid-afternoon.

We took the 94 hghway back to Mossburn, where the turn off to Queenstown is, and continued through Lumsden (where we had coffee), Gore and Balclutha, where we stopped for lunch. We stopped at a cafe, where the meal prices were pretty much the same as pub lunches, the meals weren’t as good and there were more pre-school children in the room.

Leaving Gore we finally lost sight of the snow-topped mountains that we’d been seeing for the past week. Where it seemed unreal to be seeing them for the first time last Monday, it was kind of strange to leave them behind today.

We arrived in Dunedin at about 3.00 and checked in to the motel. Where we are is just outside The Octagon, has a lounge room and two bedrooms, much to Kramstable’s delight.

We went for a walk and it felt weird. Everywhere else we’ve been has been over-run by tourists. Dunedin is a much bigger place with a lot fewer tourists, and I felt really obviously out of place. It’s also only the second place on our while trip we’ve seen someone smoking.

We found a nice old bar that had beer on hand pumps, and the owner’s young daughter came over to Kramstable and offered him some toys to play with. We tried a couple of beers we hadn’t had before and then headed back to the motel before going out for dinner. All I’ll say about that is since when do you have to pay extra to get real Parmesan cheese on a pasta dish.

We’re looking forward to exploring the city some more tomorrow.

Day 7: Queenstown

Day 7: Queenstown
Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand


Wanaka, like Greymouth, was a stopover on the way somewhere else, but somewhere I could quite happily have spent more time. Today we had to get to Queenstown, which was only about an hour away, for another two-night stay.

Our motel had the worst design feature ever: a window in the wall between the bed and the bathroom, so if anyone goes into the bathroom in the middle of the night and turned the light on, it wakes sleeping people up. What were they thinking?

We had breakfast in the motel cafe, and then checked out. We went for a walk by Lake Wanaka, and Kramstable found the playground.

Slabs’s workmates told him we had to go to Arrowtown on our way to Queenstown, so that was our first stop. The views on the road down the mountain were spectacular, and we could see Queenstown in the distance. It was like coming into our Queenstown except the town was further away, the hills were higher, there was snow and there were trees! Stunning drive.

It’s a cute little gold rush village with lots of little boutique shops and cafes. We’d heard there was a brewery there, but couldn’t find it. We asked someone in the shop where we thought it should be, and she said there had been a brewery but it had closed and the owner had moved to Invercargill. So to the people who maintain the http://www.beertourist.co.nz website, it needs an update!

The lady in the shop said if we like craft beer we should go to the Fork and Tap Ale House up the street, where you can do tasting. For $14 you can choose four of the 17 craft beers they have on tap in a tasting paddle. Four from 17! How tough a choice!

For the record my beers were:
Hefe by Tuatara (Bavarian Wheat Beer – 3 stars)
Dr Funk (a very citrussy sour beer by Doctors Orders and Funk Estate – 4 stars)
Old Ale by Tuatara and Pomeroys (a joint brew – 3.5 stars, very bitter)
A Great Justice Coconut Porter by Kereu (yum! 4 stars)

After lunch we drove the final 12 kilometres (I think) to Queenstown, found our motel amongst the throng of tourists that were all over the streets, and settled in for an afternoon of washing. The motel has great views over Lake Wakatipu, which is probably the best thing going for it. Basic as it is it’s clean and seems relatively quiet.

Tomorrow we’re hoping for the forecast rain to hold off (again) so that we can do some fun outdoor things, as well as some indoor things that Kramstable is looking forward to, including a haunted house, which he’s been talking about all trip.

Day 5: Flying high

Day 5: Flying high
Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier, New Zealand


We’d picked up a brochure for the glacier helicopter flights from the motel reception when we checked in last night. The motel has a deal with one of the companies, so their prices were a little cheaper than quoted in the brochure. We looked at the flight we thought we’d like to do and worked out it would cost $760 for the three of us to do a 30 minute flight.

We ummed, we ahhed. We asked if anyone else had done it and whether it was worth it. We realised it probably something we’d never get the opportunity to do again. We agreed it would be great. But it wasn’t something we’d factored in to the holiday budget and it was a lot of money.

It looked fantastic, but we decided we couldn’t justify it, no matter how amazing it would have been.

So first thing in the morning after breakfast (about 10.30), we set off on the short drive to the Fox Glacier car park. There’s a sign a couple of kilometres back from the car park that shows where the glacier was in the 1750s. A long way from where it is now.

The walk to Fox is shorter than the walk to Franz Joseph, and we’d learned form yesterday that it wasn’t going to be cold at all, so we didn’t over-layer. Fox has the same moonscape-type landscape as Franz Joseph, and it’s a weird feeling knowing you’re walking over a landscape carved out by ice that has long since melted. It’s like a massive valley, and part-way along you can see where the path used to go. It’s since been closed off and re-routed due to a rockfall.

Although the distance to the glacier viewing point is shorter, what they don’t tell you about is the long, fairly steep climb you need to do over the last 400 metres or so to get there. It’s made all the more difficult by a lot of “No Stopping” signs in that section. (I mean do you know how hard it is to take a photo while you’re still moving over rocky terrain?)

The path goes up to 200 metres from the face of the glacier, so a bit closer than you can get to Franz Joseph, so you really don’t get to see a lot. I didn’t get the feeling it was made of ice because it was really dirty. Still the whole place is pretty surreal.

While we were there we started talking to a woman who said she’d been on the chopper ride earlier and it was totally worth the money, she told us what they’d done and seen on the 20 minute flight, (doesn’t cost $700) and we both began to doubt our earlier decision not to go. Then I remembered my Mum had given me an extremely generous early birthday present for our trip, so we decided that the flight could be my birthday present. Dilemma solved! Thank you Mum 🙂

Called in to the helicopter booking office when we got to town and they had had some cancellations, and had a flight we could potentially go on, subject to our weight being compatible with the other people who were already on the flight. Oh, and subject to the weather being OK. It had been a beautiful morning, but was clouding over and starting to look like the flights wouldn’t go ahead.

We were booked in and were told to come back closer to the flight time.

We went up the road to the glacier viewing pint (which gives you a better view of the glacier than the 30 minute walk), had lunch (the less said about that the better), bought some wine (as you do) and went back. It was still touch and go as to whether it was all going to happen, and it was going to be the pilot’s final call. After a safety briefing, we got on the shuttle bus to the helipad and were told it was all go! Hurrah!

We were with another family of three, and I got the prized front seat with the lady from the other family on the way up. It was just amazing! We flew up the glacier and landed near the top on the snow. We didn’t get the beautiful blue skies that you see in the brochures, but wow! What an wonderful experience. We got out for a few minutes and threw snowballs, took some photos and just basked in the spirit of the place, before it was time to get back into the chopper and fly around some more before heading back to Fox.

All I can say is that this was completely worth it, and I can’t believe it took us so long to make a decision. It’s cool walking up to the glaciers, but that’s nothing compared to the chopper flight. It’s expensive yes, but it’s not like you do it every day. So do it!

The weather was on the turn when we got back and they’d already told us we were the last flight of the day, so we felt very lucky to have got on that flight.

Our final activity of the day was a walk at Lake Mathieson, which we’ve seen gorgeous photos of. We could have done the 90 minute circuit around the lake, but we were tired, the weather wasn’t great for walking, and it was getting late, so we walked to the first look out, took some photos and went back. Not soon after we got back to the motel it started to rain, so it was clearly a good decision.

On the way back I realised what it’s been about the mountains that have blown me away. They just rise from nothing. There’s flat and then there’s mountain. There’s no in-between stage. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.

What a fantastic day!

Day 4: More ways to get yourself killed in NZ

Day 4: More ways to get yourself killed in NZ
Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier, New Zealand


For most of our trip we’ve tried to make sure that following the longer driving days we have two nights at the next destination. This wasn’t the case this time, because we wanted to get to the glacier region early on, so today was another three+ hour drive, from Greymouth to Fox Glacier. It’s about 200 km, but the roads are windy and there are plenty of scenic spots along the way where it is Absolutely Necessary to stop and take photos.

We had breakfast in a coffee shop in Greymouth. Slabs asked for a large coffee. They offered him The Bucket, which he gladly accepted, with a triple shot of coffee. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a larger coffee than this.

Today’s destination: Fox Glacier. Slabs had a couple of workmates recommend this as the place to stay, rather than Franz Joseph, so we decided to go with that advice. The plan was to arrive at Franz Joesph at about lunch time, do some of the walks there in the afternoon and then go on to Fox to stay the night. We’ll then have all of tomorrow to explore Fox Glacier and the surrounding area and not have to pack up and move onto the next place.

The trip out of Greymouth was another surreal drive, with snow topped mountains on one side of us and the ocean on the other. It seems impossible, but we can see it, so it has to be real!

We arrived at Franz Joseph at about lunch time, and had a quick lunch at one of the cafes. For a tiny town, it’s very busy and extremely noisy, with helicopters in the air all the time taking people up to the glacier. The only access to the glaciers is by helicopter; you aren’t allowed to walk up there, so they are constantly on the go. I think the noise would drive me mad if I had to stay there, so I’m grateful for the advice to stay at Fox instead.

After lunch we drove up to the start of the walk to Franz Joseph and set off on the walk to as close to the glacier as you’re allowed to go on foot. It’s basically a moonscape surrounded by mountains. Lots of white rocks and not much else for the 45 minute walk to the base of the glacier.

Oh, and signs telling you to beware of rock falls and ice falls. So add those to avalanches as things that can kill you in New Zealand.

We’d been expecting it to be cold and had dressed accordingly, but it wasn’t cold at all and my backpack was rapidly filled with discarded layers. Poor Kramstable had thermal leggings on under his jeans and ended up very hot and uncomfortable.

Even though you can’t get close up to the glacier, it’s a pretty amazing sight, but also sad and scary to see how much of it has gone in the past 7 or 8 years.

We passed Kramstable’s fans from Pancake Rocks going up to the glacier on our way back, which was pretty funny. We decided not to do another walk but to head straight to Fox and check in. This was a good decision, because it started to rain very soon after we left.

From Franz Joseph to Fox was a relatively short drive, and we checked into our motel right away. As soon as we arrived we knew we’d made the right choice of places to stay. Fox is so much smaller and quieter than Franz Joseph, and our motel has the best views of the mountains. We have a small apartment, with two bedrooms and a long, high window in the lounge room that we can see the mountain peaks from. It’s amazing!

We sussed out the village and identified potential eating venues, and by the time we’d done that it was time for dinner anyway. We had a nice meal at one of the bars, though our meals took a long time and we suspected a mix-up in orders somewhere. Other than that it was a pleasant evening, a short walk back to our motel and it feels good not to have to be packing up tomorrow and heading off again.

Day 3: Crossing the mountains

Day 3: Crossing the mountains
Greymouth, New Zealand

Greymouth, New Zealand


Today was the first of our long drives, from Christchurch right across to the other side of the island to Greymouth. We had breakfast and then set off across the Canterbury plains on the Great Alpine Highway (Highway 73), where we saw our first sheep of the trip. And cows. Lots of cows.

The Southern Alps appear ahead of us on the road, shimmering in the bright sunlight like an apparition. At first we aren’t sure that this is real. There is blue sky, some cloud and some snow-capped mountains off in the distance. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I can’t quite believe they’re really there. As we draw closer, the mountains appear bigger and more clearly, and becomes obvious that yes, these are real mountains with real snow and we’re heading right for them. I can’t stop taking pictures.

To the people who have said South Island is like Tasmania, you’re right but also so very wrong. There are things that are similar, but you don’t get awesome mountains like this everywhere you look. The roads are a lot better signposted where there are tricky curves and dodgy winding sections. The vegetation is also very different.

For some reason we’d assumed we’d be driving up into the mountains, but the road passes through the foothills up to about 900 metres, so we got nowhere near the snow. We missed stopping at Castle Hill to see the limestone rock formations because someone was too busy taking photos to be reading about what was coming up next. I’ve head they’re spectacular.

The highway winds its way into the Arthur’s Pass National Park (photo stop), and we stopped in the village to get directions for a short walk. We went on the Bealey Valley Track, which was about 10 minutes drive from the village. This was one of those places we thought was similar to Tassie until we looked up and saw another massive mountain. In Australia we joke about how we have all these snakes, spiders and sharks that will kill you; on New Zealand’s alpine walking tracks you get avalanche warnings.

We walked down to the river, which was refreshingly cold and clear, took some photos and walked back to the car. We decided to go back to Arthur’s Pass for lunch rather than wait until we got to Greymouth, which was still about an hour away,

The transition from mountain to coastal was quick, and it wasn’t long before we were at Kumara Junction (Kumara, being a sweet potato, which is pronounced “KOO-ma-rah” in New Zealand, and seems to be predominantly the white version rather than the orange ones we mostly get in Tasmania.)

Turn right for the final run into Greymouth (with the -mouth bit pronounced as “mouth” not “mth” like we’d thought). Our motel was located just out of the town, and our very informative host suggested that we take a short drive further up the coast along the Great Coast Road to Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) He said it was like the Great Ocean Road condensed into 40 km.

It was a stunning drive, well worth a bit more time in the car. The coastline was absolutely breathtaking and we had several photo stops along the way. Pancake Rocks are so named because they look like huge stacks of pancakes. According to the sign, the rocks are limestone, formed under the sea 35 million years ago by fragments of marine organisms, but they can’t work out how they came to be in layers like this. No matter, they are fascinating.

There’s a great path around the area with some fantastic viewing spots. We didn’t get to see the blow hole in its full fury, but even so, it was a great experience. A couple of ladies became quite fascinated by Kramstable and wanted to have their picture taken with him. He was very obliging, and took photos of them taking pictures of him. Who knows what they’ll make of it all when they download their photos.

We headed back to our motel via Monteith’s Brewery. Slabs and I shared a tasting paddle, and the good thing about this is that our tastes are so vastly different we basically ended up with three tasting glasses each. Our overall verdict was “not very interesting”.

We took the recommendation of our motel host for dinner, which was within walking distance and was pretty good.

Trip Day 3 (Part 2): Dove Lake

So we made it to Dove Lake, along with every other tourist in the park and, even though it was windy, we decided we’d attempt the Dove Lake Circuit.

Juniordwarf near Dove Lake

Juniordwarf near Dove Lake

It’s recommended that you do the circuit clockwise. Unlike other walks we’ve done recently, we saw this sign so decided to do it as recommended. I’m not really sure why they recommend this, but that’s the way we went.

Cradle Mountain & Dove Lake from the car park

Cradle Mountain & Dove Lake from the car park

Off we go!

Off we go!

The first stop on the way round is called Glacier Rock, to the east.

Apparently it is evidence of glacier action in the region during the last Ice Age. It’s a big rock above Dove Lake that you can step up and out onto to get a nice view of Cradle Mountain. If you dare.

Glacier Rock - if you dare

Glacier Rock – if you dare

It’s not a pleasant place to be in gusty winds and I was terrified. I went as far onto the rock as I dared (not very far), took my photo and sat down because I was terrified of being blown off. I wasn’t prepared to die for a better angle. (Did I mention I’m not good with heights?) Then I gradually edged my way off the rock and left it to the people who were less worried and stayed on there for ages taking selfies.

From the top of Glacier Rock

From the top of Glacier Rock

We were glad to be off it (I can’t speak for the others. I was mighty relieved to be off it) and back on the walking track. Even though it was windy, we were protected from that for most of the walk, so it wasn’t as unpleasant as it seemed like it might have been. It was a lovely walk.

The outward leg of the walk was mostly boardwalk. It wasn’t a particularly challenging walk, so Juniordwarf had no trouble on the walk, and we saw kids even younger than him out there too.

Me and Juniordwarf

Me and Juniordwarf

I loved watching our view of Cradle Mountain change as we approached it. It dipped in and out of cloud, and as we got closer some of its features became more obvious.

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain

As we were walking we saw some white streaks on the rocks on the mountain on the other side of the lake. I thought they might be waterfalls, but they were too far away to be sure. As we got closer we started to hear the water and could see it moving, so I knew I’d been right. From a distance they could have just been streaky white rocks!

Waterfalls or white rock streaks?

Waterfalls or white rock streaks?

Correct. Waterfall.

Correct. Waterfall.

Rounding the top end of the lake you get as close as you’re going to get to Cradle Mountain on this particular track. It looks quite different from this angle.

Nearing Cradle Mountain

Nearing Cradle Mountain

Looking back at Dove Lake

Looking back at Dove Lake

Looking back at the board walk

Looking back at the board walk

At the top of the circuit

At the top of the circuit

Stunning rock formations

Stunning rock formations

A different perspective of Cradle Mountain

A different perspective of Cradle Mountain

The return track is less consistent than the outgoing track and is a bit more hilly. A lot of the track is gravel, and because of the amount of water on the ground, Slabs remarked that it felt a bit like walking in a creek bed. It was a bit tricky to negotiate in places.

We passed through the beautiful Ballroom Forest, which is a cool-temperate rainforest with predominantly Myrtle Beech trees.

Ballroom Forest

Ballroom Forest

We could see Horrible Glacier Rock over on the other side of the lake.

Glacier Rock from a distance

Glacier Rock from a distance

Glacier Rock

Glacier Rock

The views from this side of Dove Lake are possibly the most commonly photographed.

Photobombing bird

Photobombing bird

Towards the end of the track you get to the Boat Shed, which was built in 1940. It’s no longer used, but it’s a particularly popular photo spot. In fact it’s compulsory to take a photo of Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake with the Boat Shed in the foreground. They check your camera on the way out, and if you haven’t taken a photo of that scene, you have to go back and do it*.

Boat House and obscured mountain

Boat House and obscured mountain

And that was the end of the walk. We arrived back in the car park, signed off our walk (you’re supposed to register every walk you do before you go) and waited for the bus to take us back to the Visitor Centre. We worked out that the whole circuit had taken about 2 hours 15 minutes, which we thought was good going with a little person who hasn’t done a lot of this type of walking.

We enjoyed a well-deserved refreshment at the bar before dinner, and Juniordwarf played (and won) his first 8-Ball game.

And with that, our holiday was over. We headed back home the next day, which (of course) was the most beautiful warm and sunny day.

*Might not actually be true.