New Zealand

The New Zealand Diaries

Day One

...means flights and waiting at airports.

Day Two

... started in midair, I assume somewhere between Indonesia and Australia. I can’t tell as I tried to sleep as much as possible during the flight and it worked quite well. Despite leaving late the plane landed on time shortly after noon in Auckland. It took us an hour to clear immigration, not that there were any problems or unanticipated questions. It was just a very long queue, growing longer by the minute with arriving planes. Going through customs wasn’t a problem either, but then, I had made sure that we didn’t bring anything, we weren’t supposed to bring and had cleaned shoes, etc, well, just in case. NZ customs officer can be quite strict about enforcing the rules, which isn’t a bad thing.

After changing money and getting NZ SIM cards for our phones we made our way over to the domestic terminal. Checking our luggage in with Jetstar was quick, but then there was another long queue, the security check for the domestic flights. Is it just because it was Sunday afternoon, or is that normal? I don’t know. Good that there was sufficient time, 4 hours, between the two flights.

The Jetstar plane, also an Airbus 620, just like the one from Thai Smile, started late, but landed in time in Christchurch. This was the first time that I flew to the South Island, always having taken the ferry in the past. Luckily there were few clouds, which made for interesting views of the islands. I especially liked seeing Mt. Taranaki from above.

We received our luggage fairly quickly and I called the car rental company for pickup. This whole procedure took longer than I anticipated. So we started late, still having to buy some groceries and then drive to Arthur’s National Park. We bought the groceries in Riccardon (note: only when flying back did I see that there was a supermarket very close to the airport, which could have saved us some time. But this area is all re-development including some of the roads.) and than made our way to the mountains on Highway 73. One the way we saw an area with some huge boulders, which normally would have warranted a stop. But under the current circumstances we couldn’t do that as I wanted to arrive in daylight. We just managed that, arriving shortly before 9 pm at the Bealey Hotel. “Hotel” is certainly an exaggeration, as the room was just a little box with 2 beds and nothing else, shared bathrooms and shared kitchen, hostel style.

Day Three

We slept quite well, though I got up early for taking a shower as I didn’t wanted to be the one standing in line. Overall the accommodation was ok, but not more. There was quite a nice view from our window down the valley. What bugged me about this type of accommodation was that someone left his dirty dishes in the sink for someone else to clean. I already had that frequently at work... However, not my problem here.

A day without clouds at Arthur’s National Park is rare, but this is what we got. We left our accommodation fairly early, having finished the apple crumble pie for breakfast with coffee and tea. After passing Arthur’s Park village we parked the car, walked across the bridge over the Bealey River and then up to Devils Punchbowl, a quite spectacular waterfall.

I wanted to do another walk, but somehow missed the turn-off to the parking lot inside of a construction zone. When I noticed it I didn’t want to turn back and we kept driving towards the west coast and Greymouth. The early start and the missed walk brought us earlier to Greymouth than planned. At the New World supermarket we bought some more groceries and then decided to make use of the great weather by heading up the coast to Westport, even though it meant having to come back the same way. But then, driving along the coast was just amazing. It is an outstanding drive with fantastic views, especially in this weather. We stopped several times for photos and video and had a fish and chips lunch in Westport.

Back in Greymouth we checked into the pre-booked motel, which was a step up from the previous box accommodation, though that didn’t take much.

Day Four

Looking out of the window: grey skies. Good that we went up the coast yesterday. It would look quite different on a cloudy day like today. But the weather report calls for sunny weather in Motueka, our destination for today. Overall the motel was ok. If I would have to name something negative, it would be the noise from the road, as it is located on the main through road. But it wasn’t too bad, either.

Apparently there are Hector dolphins at the mouth of the Greymouth River, when making the small detour, we can’t see any. I guess they haven’t been really waiting for us.

We follow Highway 6 towards Nelson, to turn off to Motueka. It is quite a long drive with some interruptions for roadwork. For lunch we stopped above the Buller River. The weather gradually turns from uniform grey, to cloudy, to sunny. The drive is mostly through farmland with some wooded and mountainous areas. It isn’t boring at all, at least not for me. A missing shoulder along the highway prevents us from stopping more often to take photos.

The motel in Motueka turns out to be very nice. It comes with stove, utensils, dishes, etc. Even a plunger for making coffee and a teapot are provided. Furthermore it does have a build-in heater. The woman, who is covering the reception today, offers to call the kayak rental places regarding what I am looking for. So I am making a reservation for a double for tomorrow. However, when I check the weather report somewhat later, it calls for rain tomorrow. I am calling the outfitter back and move the rental to Thursday, when it should be sunny. No point in kayaking in the rain.

Day Five

On the “non-kayaking” day I wanted to do a short walk in the Abel Tasman National Park, preferably, where I haven’t been before. I had chosen one at home, but omitted to look at its exact location. It turns out it would be a 2 hour drive from here, most of it on gravel roads. So I am giving that a pass. Instead we walked along the shoreline of Motueka, which is quite nice. Later, when the water is back it looks even better. It turns out to be a nice day with some clouds, but no rain. Well, we could have gone kayaking after all. But it’s also enjoyable to have a relaxing day. I also needed to buy a new power plug-in adapter as the universal one I have is working properly.

For whatever reason I always liked Motueka and it feels good to come back here. Our accommodation is also exceptional good.

Day Six

Kayaking Day. We are arriving in Marahau with enough time to look around, not that there is much to see though. It is the hub for hiking the Abel Tasman trail (in the National Park with the same name along the sea with the same name) kayaking the coastline, using the water taxi to (and from) various points along the trail, and of course the sightseeing the boats. Considering that it is pre-season I am surprised how busy it is. The last times I was here it wasn’t even close to this. Ok, I have to admit that that is quite some time ago and New Zealand has been very successful in marketing this area.

At 9:30 am we are on the water. The kayak is a stable beast of the type everyone gets here. Safe for beginners. It comes with 3 paddles, wet suits (that nobody wears), flare, water pump, and sponge. I am also getting an additional dry bag for keeping the video camera outside, while the Nikon stays in my dry bag in a hutch, together with our dry clothing and food.

Paddling out is against the wind, but still enjoyable. Annoying are only the waves created by the motorboats (in various sizes). Opening the hutch for getting the other camera might actually mean getting some water in there. So it stays closed. Of course the people on the boats want to see the seal colony, just like some of the kayakers. Though it looks that the majority of the kayakers stay closer to the land and doesn’t venture out around the islands. The seals, sunbathing on the rocks, don’t show much activity. For lunch we stop at an empty, golden beach. Empty means vacant of humans at the time of our arrival. But that is going to change during the next hour, when at times there are 15 kayaks on the beach. Ok, considering the size of the beach, it is still not crowded and we do have our privacy.  The water is extremely clear. At this time, at the end of November, it is warm enough for a quick dip, warmer than I expected it to be. On the way back we see seals playing in the water, birds sitting on the rocks, drying their wings. Paddling closer to the shoreline to look at the various caves, as well as taking a closer look at the other beaches.

On the way back we are being assisted by the wind and sometimes waves of up to 2 feet. We are arriving at the starting point shortly before 3:30 pm. When I mention to the outfitter that there are quite a few kayaks out there, he replies: “This is nothing. You should come back in the the main season!” Well, I certainly won’t come back in the main season. All in all it was a great day and the timing was perfect. The weather couldn’t have been better, either.

In the evening we made use of the BBQ of the motel after doing our laundry (washer and dryer available). I would certainly stay again at this motel.

Day Seven

In the morning there was the occasional cloud and during the day there were cloudy periods. The plan was to visit Nelson Lakes National Park and staying overnight in Murchison, driving back towards Greymouth.

Even though it was the same route, it was still interesting driving it in the other direction. The lakes looked beautiful. There was a lot of waterfowl. The only drawback were the sand flies, who were particularly bad at Lake Rotoroa. Good that we had lunch before along the road, as we wouldn’t have been able to eat there. We don’t have the “luxury” of eating it in a motor home with fly screens. We also skipped skipped the planned walks as they wouldn’t be enjoyable, simply being runs through the forest, staying ahead of the sand flies.

Our accommodation for the night is a two bedroom cabin with a full kitchen and living room, very spacious. Murchison is a small place with a Foursquare “supermarket”, where we buy the ingredients for our supper.

Day Eight

An early start after a breakfast consisting of grilled chicken with broccoli, “homemade in our” kitchen. I leave the key to the cabin at the board where I found it yesterday with my name beside it. At this property I didn’t talk or didn’t see anyone. Even though the accommodation is prepaid, something like that wouldn’t happen in other countries.

From Murchison we make our way back to Greymouth, stock up on groceries and head south. At 1 pm we arrive in Franz Joseph. There are some clouds, but I would still call it sunny. So we are going to view the glacier. The landscape hasn’t changed much, except that the glacier, which I saw last 28 years ago, retreated significantly. Another major change is the number of tourists and the constant noise of the helicopters, ferrying wannabe mountaineers onto the glacier. The explanation of the DOC is “that it is unsafe to get tourists in any other way onto the glacier”. Which begs the question: Do “tourists” really need to go onto the glacier? Eco-friendly tourism, helicopter flights and global warming (as demonstrated by the glacier) don’t go well together. In the end the balance books dictate the course.

As the weather is holding and the possibility of rain is forecasted for tomorrow we drive to Fox and walk towards that glacier, too. Here the retreat of the glacier is even more obvious to me, as I can remember were it was 28 years ago.

We are staying in a cabin of the TOP 10 campground, where even at this time all the (numerous) cabins are booked. In comparison to years back kitchen and sanitary facilities have been significantly updated.

Day Nine

Another early start, but for a different reason: Lake Matheson, famous for the reflection of Mt. Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain) and Mt. Tasman. The catch apparently is that the reflection, requiring a calm lake, is best in the early morning. When we walked out to the lake there were just a couple of early risers on the trail. On the way back however, close to the car park, visitors came by the bus load. Well, there is another reason for going early.

From here the highway (still a two lane road with no shoulder and one lane bridges) followed the coast to the Haast River and then went inland. It is a very beautiful drive all the way to Wanaka and we stopped several times. The weather was still holding.

After checking into the motel and having a look at the facilities, and seeing that BBQ’s were available, we went grocery shopping.

Day Ten

We spent part of the morning in Wanaka, after checking out of the motel. It is a nice place, touristy, but still okay (at this time of the year).

In the late afternoon we drive on to Queenstown, and from there went on to Te Anau. I enjoyed the last part of the drive through farmland with significantly less traffic. Our motel was quite nice, facing the garden and had a small porch. It was also centrally located, just one block away from the lake.

Day Eleven

Looking at the weather forecast in the morning we decide to drive to the Milford Sound. It is an early start at 7:00 am, but we do have to beat the tour buses, not just for the destination, but also to enjoy the drive and any stops on the way. Fortunately they aren’t expected to start before 8:30, with the ones from Queenstown coming in even later. It is a fantastic drive, really worth it, though I might not put it this way if I would be sitting in a bus. The scenery is outstanding, but I can also see why I didn’t go last time when it was raining. Clouds and rain would take pretty much everything away.

On the way to Milford we stopped just a couple of times for photos and video. At the fjord there are already plenty of cars. We are fortunate to see the sound totally calm, Mitre Peak reflecting in the water. We walked around the bay, and then drove back as we didn’t intend to board a “cruise of the sound”. On the way back we were taking our time, arriving back in Te Anau in early afternoon. We didn’t stop on the way back for lunch, same reason as before, black flies. This was a day well spent.

Day Twelve

This was planned as the alternate day for driving to Milford, should there be rain/ clouds on the day before. Now it is our rest day. We are driving to Lake Manapouri, which might be better suitable for staying overnight than Te Anau, as it is quieter, with affordable accommodation directly on the lake. One would just have to buy groceries in Te Anau before heading out here. This day also is sunny and warm.

Day Thirteen

Another early start, but now it is going back. The end of the trip is looming. It is an uneventful drive to Moeraki along the east coast. We are staying overnight in a small cabin on a campground owned by a Swiss couple. In the evening we are lucky to be able to watch seals playing in the waters and also to see some (yellow eyed) penguins, who nest here. Stopping at the Moeraki Boulders was a mixed experience. There were already plenty of people there when we arrived (as one should go there at low tide) and it was still ok to take some photos, but that changed when a tour bus with Chinese visitors arrived.

Day Fourteen

The final day. There isn’t much to tell about the drive back to Christchurch. We returned the car and spent the final hours in a hotel close to the airport for an easy transfer the next morning at 4:00 am.

Thoughts during and after the trip

New Zealand has changed, of course. My first, longest trip to NZ (4 months) was 28 years ago. Then there were a couple shorter ones after that, but they were more focused onto special activities, like hiking or visiting friends.

Talking about changes, one thing I noticed are the number of RV’s. It’s sheer unbelievable. The times of tents seem to belong to the past. It makes driving in the mountains more challenging (a nicer word than “annoying”) as they are really slow negotiating the narrow and winding roads.

Another one is the hugely increased number of tourists (that is at least my perception) with nowadays Chinese tourist coming by the bus load. When traveling independently to the “main attractions” some of the tour buses are difficult to avoid, which certainly takes away the pleasure.

All in all, I think New Zealand has been very successful in marketing itself, though I predict it might come to the point that it is just too much.

South Island

And here is the film!