So here we are now on South Island NZ with our campervan. We decided on exploring S.I. first as it’s further south, so cooler, in the summer, going to the North Island in late February, heading north and finishing in Northland in late April/May, just before we leave, to catch some autumn sunshine as it’s supposed to be sub-tropical up there and, so they say, about 5 degrees C hotter. It made sense to us anyway!
Our campervan is small and old, but it’s just about OK for us. Its compact size (Ford Transit size) means it’s easy to drive, fits into a normal car parking space and, we hope, economical to run, although we haven’t yet filled it up with fuel (fuel seems to be priced around $2.11 per litre (about £1.10), so pretty similar to home).
It’s a Toyota, was built in 1999 and has done 538,000km. It starts first time and runs pretty well, although the gearbox is very ‘notchy’. It’s got a stereo radio with MP3 input, so we can have our own music from our ipod and 3 seats in the front (useful for when Pauline visits us in February). In the back we have a fridge with small freezing compartment, a 2 burner and grill LPG cooker (no oven), powered by a small on board cylinder, a small sink with cold water supply and two bench seats in the back with a removable table. At night the table bridges the gap between the seats and the seat cushions and backs become the mattress for the bed. We’ve got a sheet, duvet and pillows, curtains all round and three lights and it only takes about 5 minutes to convert to the bed. There’s also a third bed that can be made above the main bed, but we only have our luggage stored there. It does mean this area (at the back) is ‘head hitting’ area and I’ve done that quite a few times now, but I think I’m starting to learn! We’ve also got a ‘porta-potty’, which makes this van ‘self contained’ and that means we can ‘wild camp’ legally. We get access to the back through a side sliding door and, when open we can hinge a table down to outside and we have three folding chairs to enjoy the outdoors. When we stay on a posh campsite we can take a ‘powered’ site, which means we can plug into their mains and have real electricity! It allows us to use the electric kettle, toaster and heater they provide and we can plug in the computer and other devices to charge. When we’re not on a powered site we can still charge things through the cigar lighter, the fridge still works, but we have to use the cooker to heat water with the whistling kettle, which is perfectly OK.
|cupboard on the left, with sink on top that had all the pots/pans/utensils spread out in, now has B's clothes in, on right cooker above fridge with wardrobe behind drivers seat. Food in cupboard above wardrobe. Sofa/bed in the foreground!|
Powered sites with lots of facilities, like laundry, kitchen, showers, tv and movie rooms, games rooms and often swimming pools are relatively expensive, between $36 and $40 (£18 to £20) per night and they are often positioned close to where we want to be. There are a good range of different sites available everywhere at a range of prices and it is possible to ‘wild camp’ free in certain areas. We have camped at a basic camp one night so far and loved it. It was a park in a forest and all they had were cold taps positioned around a very neat mown grass field, a toilet block (no showers) and concrete fire pits. It cost us $5 (£2.50) to stay there and the managers bought us some logs to burn for nothing. We went scavenging in the woods for firewood and had a good old fire burning keeping us warm when it went dark. It was quiet, remote and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. We cooked our meal in the van, opened a bottle of red wine and watched the sun set in front of our fire, what more could you want!
|me with my pokey stick!|
The only downside we’ve noticed is how cold it gets at night. I’ve been really cold and am now sleeping in thermals, not very attractive I know! (I’m sleeping next to a man dressed all in black and have I woken up to chocolates in the morning yet? Ha!) It’s also a bit of a pain if a toilet visit is required in the night (haven’t used the porta-potty yet!).
Anyway, once we got used to the limited space and how to get everything in, we’re thoroughly enjoying it. Having everything with you when you go out is brilliant. We went to a supermarket and unpacked the shopping and put it all away in the storage areas and fridge in their car park. If we feel a bit tired when driving we can pull over where there’s a view and sit in the back and relax for a while, perhaps making a cup of tea! It’s a very different life and we might tire of it, but at the moment it’s quite enjoyable. The other thing I’ve noticed is people in the other campervan’s are very friendly and often our sort of age, not students. I can tell I’m getting older as, not only did I feel out of place in the hostel we stayed in in Auckland, but the average age was probably 22 or 23 and their immaturity really showed. Jackie was amused at the girl who struggled to boil water!
So, since we’ve been here we came away from Christchurch without visiting (we’ll do that later over Christmas when we’re ‘housesitting’), but we’ve heard of the devastation there following the earthquake and how 40,000 people have been displaced (and many still are) and many historic buildings have gone. It sounds really bad, but they all seem to be pulling together. We’re going to see if there’s any help we can offer over Christmas.
We’ve had a couple of chilling days of reading and short ambles and, so far have visited only Hanmer Springs. Marked on the map as a major conurbation, it turned out to be a small town, but we’ve found out that’s all they all are, except Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland by all accounts. Great charm, wooden houses of character, small shops, small churches, all very neat with hedges, cut grass and everything in place. The town has its name from the naturally occurring thermal pools that have been made into properly managed spa pools, a bit like those we have in Bath, Leamington Spa and other places. $18 per person gives you access to 14 different pools ranging in temperatures from 34 to 40 degrees C, with a few sulphur pools even hotter! It’s all outdoors with mountains all round and you just laze about all day – fantastic! However I did notice a mountain nearby that looked very do-able, so the next day we got info on it and went up. It’s called Mount Isabel, is 1374m and has several routes up it, but the one we chose went up past a waterfall. Not a massive amount of water, but it free fell over an edge from about 40m up and was very picturesque.
|Mt Isobel from Hanmer Springs|
We had to drive in along a forest road for quite a way and picked up a couple of German hitch-hikers on the way who did the same route as us. After parking and gearing up we saw a sign which said 2hours 30minutes to the waterfall – we got there in 45minutes! We met our German hitch-hikers at the waterfall and took photos for each other before continuing up to the summit with really good views over the surrounding mountains and down to Hanmer Springs town. We got to the summit in 2hours 5minutes from leaving the car park and were back down in a total of 4 hours, against a quoted return trip time of 6 hours. Now we’re not super athletes, so who are these people that set these times? It was great to get out and stretch the legs and the views made it so worthwhile.
As soon as we’d finished there we drove 130km to Kaikoura, where we are now. This is a small town on the East coast, quite near the top and is famous for whale watching and swimming with dolphins. The reason is a deep sea trench situated very close to the shore, the sea bed drops away very sharply to 2000m only 100m or so from the shore. Cold Antarctic waters mix with warmer tropical water rich in nutrients so the consequent upwelling brings big whales close to shore! The forecast for tomorrow for our 07.15 trip though is pants so who can tell.
We booked for tomorrow as the weather today wasn’t great! Really rained last night, awoke to loads of snow on the hills (which has mostly gone) and it was jolly windy!
Went to the seal colony which was amazing – at home I’m thrilled to see a head poking above the waves, these young males, with no mates and pups are just lying about by the carpark where you can walk within 3 feet of them (I could have stroked one but there were too many people about and I might have got into trouble!) Quite surreal. Stopped at the seafood BBQ for lunch which was cheap and cheerful, but very good.
The other highlight of this site is Tipsy the cat who has been in a couple of times, loves a good stroke and purrs a lot! There were meant to be cats at the last site but we never saw them, and I don’t think the birds had either! Sitting outside reading and a chaffinchy thing flew into the van looked around, dropped a seed into the bedding and left, but that was nothing compared to the blackbird who I was handfeeding,
|It's not blurred - that's his wings flapping as he left with his prize|
even though he was jolly cheeky and flew off with a slice of our breakfast banana (I say flew, actually he fell to the floor and hopped, it was so heavy!)