Day 18 – Lake Pukaki

Early start as usual. Breakfast and out walking towards the lake front by 8:30am.

We arrived at the pier by 8:45am and queued up to check in for Kjet. After check in we were given waterproof ponchos and life jackets in preparation for our ride.

We boarded, kids in the middle and without further ado moved out into the lake and had a quick safety briefing before our first 360° manoeuvre. The driver clearly enjoyed his job and sped around the lake jumping us over waves and making sharp turns. There were two boats as part of the trip and we played tag, taking turns to take the lead and watch each other doing 360’s.

Once we’d raced around Lake Wakatipu we headed for Kawarau River and passed under a couple of road bridges, really close to the piers. The driver took us really close to everything along the side of the bank, trees, rocks, stones, beaches, whatever was there he would get close to it and try to elicit a scream from his passengers. Which we all obliged!

We paused before entering the Shotover River and the driver explained that the jet boats only needed about 20cm of water to operate and that now he’d demonstrate. We sped up the river getting really close to edge and fallen trees as well as doing 360’s whoever possible. I was constantly getting wet being at the side of the boat! There were some really hairy moments especially at one point when we heard rocks scraping along the side of the boat. The driver wasn’t phased, he went faster.

Once we reached as far up the Shotover River as we were going to get we paused for photos after a quick 360, naturally. Jalan then reiterated the lack of water required and that this was the fastest part if the trip with speed ms reaching 85-99km/h. He then gunned the engine and got going speeding along cris-crossing the other boat and the river and coming really close to trees rocks and anything else he could find. We loved it!

We headed back to the lake slowing to take in a tree tunnel before returning to full speed and jumping up the small weir under the road bridge.

Back on the lake and the waves had increased in size which slowed us down and caused the bottom of the boat to smack down for some spine jarring action.

Safely back at the pier we disembarked and headed to the under water observatory to look at our photos and collect our things.

We headed back to the campsite via a coffee place and packed up ready for departure. We emptied the tanks and got going by 11am.

An easy drive out of Queenstown and over the Lindis Pass before stopping for lunch at Omarama.

After lunch we kept going to Lake Pukaki which was our first freedom camping option for the night. One look at the view and we decided to stay! With Mt Cook in the background and crystal clear vivid blue water it was the perfect place to spend our last night in the camper.

After parking up we raced down to the water and took a swim which was really refreshing and the kids loved jumping in off the rocks.

We setup appero in the shade of a tree and with a great view of Mt Cook and snacked while we played a throwing game we made up using the thousands of pine cones lying about.

After the game we went back for another swim, marvelling at how hot the rocks were under foot before returning back to the camper van to make dinner.

The kids created a sun lounger with built in massage from hot rocks, pine cones and other bits and bobs while we cooked dinner which was everything we had left over.

We ate dinner taking in the view and went to bed satisfied after a brilliant last day in the camper.

Tomorrow we drive to Christchurch and return the camper.

Distance driven today: 208km

Grand total: 2493km

Day 17 – Queenstown

Our usual early start, breakfast, empty the camper tanks and away for 8am ready for today’s horse trekking.

We arrived at the trekking place early, it was only a 5 min drive, and used the opportunity to get prepped with sun cream, insect repellent, long sleeves and rain coats. The weather was cloudy and blustery and we were ready for rain.

At 9am one of our guides for the day came to the gate and welcomed us to the farm. She took us through the usual health and safety briefing and made sure we were kitted out correctly. I had to wear a jacket over the top of my rain coat to stop it flapping in the wind but everyone else was fine. Later when on top of the hill I was quite happy about the extra layer!

The horses had already been prepared and saddled so we climb straight on. Diana’s was called Kepler, Bella’s was Maxi, Alex’s was Tommy and mine was Oliver. They were all calm although mine was a bit grumpy and kicked Bella’s in the mouth, thankfully Maxi was fine.

Emma one of our guides gave us some pointers on how to ride and and we set off. The first part of the ride was through the paddocks close to the stables gently climbing. We all walked in single file keeping to the order we’d been put in. Hierarchy is important to the horses.

We stopped a few times to open gates but mainly kept plodding along. I had to give mine some encouragement. Apparently he’s the biggest and the slowest. Alex was led by Andy who chatted to him all the way, with Alex asking lots of questions. Bella was paired up with Olivia and they also chatted all the way and both really enjoyed the experience.

After 30 mins of slow climbing we reached the peak of the first hill and stopped for photos. Once the photos were taken we kept on going, meandering around the hill and surrounding fields taking in the views which were naturally spectacular.

Another 45 mins and we’re at the top of the biggest hill and it was pretty bracing! We jumped off and tied up the horses and sheltered behind a water storage tank to have juice and biscuits. I was glad of the extra layer, the wind was something else! Andy was a bit of a character and chatted to us, telling us about the area and how it has changed over the years. All of the guides were very friendly.

After the break we got back on using a well placed tree trunk and then slowly plodded down the hill towards the farm returning 2 hours after we’d left.

The experience wasn’t quite over though and we then helped put the horses back in the paddock for a rest. First we took off their saddles and then we groomed them before leading them back into the paddock. The kids, Bella especially, enjoyed this immensely.

A wonderful experience and we finally said our goodbyes and made our way back to the camper.

We set off for Queenstown and decided to find a cafe along the way for lunch. Easier said than done in this part of the world!

After driving for nearly an hour we came across Mossburn, a small town which had a diner and cafe and a few petrol stations and we stopped at the cafe for lunch.

I had the venison sandwich which was possibly the best venison I’ve ever eaten. It was perfectly cooked, pink in the middle and so succulent, tender and tasty. We’ve passed a number of venison farms over the last few days so it must be a delicacy of the area. The kids had pizza and chips which they refused to eat and Diana had a delicious lamb wrap.

After lunch we continued on to the usual stunning scenery and everyone (apart from me) fell asleep. Must have been all the fresh air this morning.

We arrived at the campsite in Queenstown just after 2:30pm, checked in and parked up. We immediately went for a walk down to the lake front, stopping for a drink and to take in the scenery.

Queenstown was very busy and also very very windy by the lake front. We had made plans to swim in the lake but the wind was so strong and fresh we decided against it.

We wandered through Queenstown shopping for gifts and souvenirs and then walked back to the campsite. We were sheltered from the wind once we’d got away from the lake front and with the sun out it was really very pleasant.

We picked up the carrier bags and then headed towards the supermarket and Pedro’s house of Lamb. Diana had said she wanted some New Zealand lamb and so far we hadn’t really had any or seen it on the menu so I’d done some research and Pedro’s is the place to go for lamb. They only have one thing on the menu, roast lamb shoulder and it’s takeaway but it’s supposed to be the absolute best.

We bought the lamb shoulder, 50 NZD for a container and then headed to the supermarket for a few other essentials.

Once back at the camper we had a quick appero as a starter and then served the lamb (Bella had soup, she’s not a big fan of lamb, but more for us). The lamb lived up to the hype – it was absolutely delicious. Some of the best lamb I’ve ever eaten. So succulent, melt in the mouth and so tasty. We all agreed it was absolutley amazing.

In our rush to eat it we didn’t take a picture so here’s one from the Internet. If ever you’re in New Zealand, Pedro’s is the place to go!

After dinner the kids showered and caught up with some homework before bed.

Another amazing day filled full of adventure, stunning scenery and some great food. Tomorrow we go jet boating and then head towards Christchurch for our last night in the camper.

Distance driven today: 170km

Grand total: 2285km

Day 16 – Doubtful Sound

Early start and a quick breakfast before setting off for Manapouri and the beginning of our tour of Doubtful Sound.

Last night when I’d checked how long it would take us to get to Manapouri it turns out I had Google Maps in cycling mode as the 1hr 15min journey only took 20 minutes. Our early arrival did give us chance to find a parking space and walk back into town to get a coffee and buy some more inspect repellent.

The sand flies had descended the second we stepped out of the van and were far more aggressive than any we’d encounter before. A sand fly bite hurts more than a mosquito but doesn’t seem to be as itchy afterwards, at least for me. We were wearing long sleeves and trousers but applied the repellent liberally anyway.

After collecting our boarding passes and deluxe packed lunches we waited for the boat to arrive for the first leg of our journey. Once the boat mored up we all got on and found a good spot to sit by the window. We resisted the urge to eat our packed lunch, it still only being 10:30am – others tucked straight in.

The first leg was across Lake Manapouri to the power station which they built in the 1960’s. We took advantage of the complimentary tea and coffee and enjoyed the view. The lake was surrounded by steep hills on all sides with mountains in the background.

When we arrived at the power station we disembarked and hurried into the visitors centre to hide from the sand flies. Being inside didn’t seem to help. Thankfully the tour guides kept us moving and we immediately boarded coaches to take us over the pass to the entrance to Doubtful Sound.

The tour guide come bus driver, Alix, was a real comedian and gave us an amusing running commentary of the history, wildlife and fun facts about the area. The route was pretty straight forward but on a dirt track with some steep climbs and descents. Clearly Alix knew the road like the back of her hand – I would like to drive it in the winter which apparently she does.

The road was built specifically to construct the power station and is the only road in New Zealand that isn’t connected to the rest of the network. It was also the most expensive to make, given that its literally in the middle of nowhere, that didn’t come as a surprise. We stopped a couple of times along the way to take in the view and for photographs before reaching the jetty for the trip through the sound.

We disembarked the bus and waited for our boat to land and everyone on the previous tour to get off. Once onboard we found another good spot by the window and tucked into our packed lunches.

Once underway we had a running commentary from another tour guide who pointed out all of highlights and explained the history. The scenery is naturally spectacular with steep hills covered with rainforest on either side. Apparently Jurassic Park tried to film here and it has that kind of feel with so many tree ferns you could just imagine a Dinosaur poking its head out from behind a tree. (They gave up filming here and moved to Fiji due to the weather)

The tour took us all the way along the Sound, which is actually a Fiord (Glacier formed valley flooded by the sea) and we passed many cascades and waterfalls along the way. Some permanent and some temporary.

When we reached the end, whilst we were still mostly sheltered from the wind a school of dolphins came out to play next to the boat which was great. We then moved closer to some of the islands and observed two seal colonies before heading back down the sound on the other side.

Close to the end of our trip we took a diversion into one of the arms of the sound to one side of the main channel. Once inside at the end, sheltered from the wind the captain turned off the boat and we all stood in silence listening to the waterfalls and nothing else apart from the sound of the water lapping against the boat. A wonderful experience of this remote place.

The final part of the journey took us back the way we’d arrived. Into the coaches, back over the pass. Dodging sand flies at the power station and then onto the boat back across Lake Manapouri. The tour guides remained silent and let us relax and take in the scenery – we were flagging by this point with all of that fresh air and the early start.

We arrived back at the wharf around 5pm and drove the 20mins back to the same campsite as the last two nights. A wonderful experience of a totally remote and dramatic landscape with some wildlife to boot.

We finished the day off with an alfresco bbq dinner before catching up on our diaries, showers and then bed ready for horse riding tomorrow.

Distance driven today: 40km

Grand total: 2115km

Day 15 – Te Anau

Due to last nights festivities and the long day before we had a lie in and a late start.

I made sausages and fried eggs on the BBQ for breakfast and we sat outside in the sun.

We decided not to drive to Milford Sound today as originally planned as we wanted a break from driving and we’d seen a sign for a mountain bike trail from lake to lake on the way here which we decided to try out instead. As luck would have it, the trail started on the opposite side of the street to the camp site.

I packed sandwiches for lunch and we were ready to go by 12pm. We crossed the main road and joined the gravel trail and we were off.

We cycled for a while stopping to help Alex who was struggling with the soft edges of the trail and then stopped for lunch in the shade.

After lunch was much smoother riding after Alex had some food.

We rode 7km through forest by the side of Lake Te Anau and the river Waiau up and down hills on gravel track with a short stretch on deserted roads ( which the kids loved because it was nice and smooth) before we turned around and headed back.

Bella’s having no problems with the gravel and is enjoying herself racing ahead.

We arrived back at the campsite in the late afternoon and had ice cream from the little shop on the camp site. The kids instantly ran to play on the playground while I cycled into town to the supermarket to pick up some beer and nibbles. On the way through town I noticed a pie shop which looked really good so I stopped to buy some for dinner. Venison, beef and sausage rolls.

Once I was back we had apero, a dinner of salad, the pies I’d bought in town and Alex’s reheated rainbow trout we’d cooked the day before yesterday – super delicious.

After showers we all caught up on our diaries and went to bed. We have an early start tomorrow for our expedition to Doubtful Sound.

Distance travelled today: 0km

Grand total: 2075km

Day 14 – Te Anau

Today is our Kayak adventure on Lake Wanaka. The activity Diana has been most looking forward to and what started the whole idea of a trip to New Zealand. It’s also New Year’s Eve.

Up early, breakfast and ready for collection at 8:45am by reception. We’ve parked the camper in the camp site staff car park as we’re supposed to check out this morning. It’s a beautiful day for it, the sun is shining and it’s mid 20’s.

The chap from Paddle Wanaka picked us up and drove us the short distance down to the water front for our briefing and to get kitted out. There were 6 other people on the tour, all in 2 person sea kayaks and two tour guides Abby and Alex.

Abby talked is through all of the kit and what we’d be doing today. The tour started from the beach and we’d paddle along the shoreline until with a few different options on the route depending on the weather as we progressed further into the lake.

 

 

We got changed and put on our skirts and spray jackets and found a paddle each and headed over to the line of kayaks by the waters edge. Alex came with me and Bella teamed up with Diana. We ran through fitting our skirts and what to do if we capsize, having a dry run of pulling off the skirts. Once everyone in the group was sorted we had a push into the water and off we went.

Diana and I have both been kayaking quite a few times before but never with a rudder so we practiced steering and travelling in a straight line, which was harder than it sounds with the waves being whipped up by the wind.

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Abby took us along the the shore line and through the marina keeping in the sheltered parts as much as possible while we got used to paddling and steering.

We continued paddling (Alex mostly pretended to paddle) along the shore of the lake while Abby and Alex told us all about the lake, wildlife and town. After about 45 mins of paddling in relatively calm water we rounded a corner into the wind and faced rougher water. For the most part it was still relatively easy going, just more effort due to the wind and the occasional big wave which felt a bit like a roller coaster.

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The scenery along the route was amazing and we loved lake Wanaka with its 360° views of stunning mountains and beautiful clear (drinkable) water, it’s like paradise.

We persevered for another 45 mins and just when we started it flag we could see the beach where we were to land with the promise of muffins and coffee once we got there.

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We paddled up to the beach, remembering to pull up our rudders and then had a helping hand from Alex to pull the kayak onto the beach so we could get out and take a welcome refreshment break.

Once everyone had rested we were done with kayaking and a speed boat arrived and took us the short distance to Ruby Island so that we could explore and have a swim. On arriving at the island one of our group jumped from the boat and swam into the shore which the kids were really impressed with. We alighted at the pier and took a brief stroll around the island before Alex wanted to get back to the group and to take a swim. We changed and jumped into the cool deep water off the jetty. The island is on a shelf and the bottom drops away swiftly so we were jumping into deep water but easily getting out from a shallow beach. After hesitating over the first jump the kids loved it and spent the next 30 minutes finding different ways to jump in with Abby encouraging them.

The speed boat turned up 15 minute late, not that we’re were complaining, it’s not every day you get to swim in such an ideal of location, and took us back to the beach where we started. Bella and another girl from our group jumped in off the boat and swam into the beach, everyone else waited until the boat reached shore and paddled through the water.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the perfect end to the year.

We loved Wanaka so much, it’s like a ski reason in summer, (which is pretty much what it is), we talked about staying another night but it the campsite was fully booked and we had plans in Te Anau so we decided to keep going – we will be back.

Abby drove us back to the camp site and we collected the camper, emptying the tanks and securing everything for a long drive. We then went back into town and parked in a side street while we went to find some lunch and visit the supermarket.

Lunch was at a relaxed cafe on the street bordering the lake. I had a Salmon Poke Bowl, which was Salmon sashimi, brown rice, seaweed salad and coleslaw. It was delicious. The kids went for their staple fish and chips and scrambled eggs on toast and Diana had seafood chowder, also delicious.

Onward to the supermarket which it being New Year’s Eve and with a music festival not far from town was heaving. We stocked up on supplies for the next few days (at least all that we could carry) and walked back to the camper. By this point it was after 3pm and we really needed to get moving!

We set a course for Te Anau and left town promising to return.

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The road headed up into the mountains and we passed several ski resorts along the way. We climbed for quite some time, the van complaining occasionally and we engaged the “hill” button a few times for extra power. The view from the top of the pass was breathtaking and we stopped for a quick photo opportunity before attempting the decent.

I thought the odd hair pin bend we’d experienced previously had been a bit hairy but this was something else. A proper alpine road with hair pin after hair pin after hair pin all rather steep! Thankfully the road was warm and dry with no traffic in front of us – I’d not like to try it in the camper in winter!

The rest of the drive went smoothly and we pressed on arriving at our camp site in Te Anau just after 7pm. After we’d checked in we found our spot and tried to park the camper, with no luck. We tried 3 different angles but we just couldn’t fit without blocking the road – we had pre registered the length of the vehicle beforehand so we were expecting a space that would work for us. I headed back to reception and the chap reassigned us another bigger space (the last one) – he’s hoping whoever turns up next is in a smaller van.

Once parked up we had a quick appero and opened a bottle of bubbles while I fired up the bbq and got cooking. We were right next to the play ground so the children were off even before we’d come to a stand still.

After an alfresco dinner we tidying up while the kids were back at the play ground and then watched Dodgeball (for the 3rd time) while we waited for the new year.

The camp site was heaving and the party in full swing when we arrived. It seems the locals, especially the teenagers, like to go camping over the New Years break. The party seemed to peak pretty early, or perhaps they all went into ‘town’, and by the time we got to 12am it was mostly a few fireworks and a few shouts of happy New Years from the dark. The children stayed awake to welcome in the new year, just!

A long day and an amazing end to the year and we still have a week to go. Happy New Year from New Zealand!

Distance travelled today: 226km

Grand total: 2075km

Day 1 – Auckland (1/2)

The adventure begins. We had a lie in and a leisurely breakfast, finished the packing and took a Taxi to Heathrow at 11am.

We had a delicious lunch at Heston’s The Perfectionist Cafe, a glass of champagne to celebrate and off to board the plane.

We flew Air New Zealand Economy to Auckland via LA. The first leg of the flight was 14 hours to LA and seemed to pass by quickly. A movie and food but mostly trying to sleep. I bought some Bose noise cancelling headphones at Heathrow duty free which made an amazing difference to comfort levels on a long haul flight.

In LA everyone had to get off and we were treated to a 3 hour immigration queue – even though the plane was flying onto Auckland. LA had the busiest and most disorganised immigration we’ve ever had the pleasure of passing through. It consisted of one monster queue which snaked back and forth around the whole immigration hall with everyone mixed together and more than half of the automatic machines out of action. The signs were all ignored and no one, including the staff knew what was going on. Once we’d walked quite literally a mile and navigated the immigrations queue we exited arrivals and were spat out into ground-side departures to then queue back through security! – The US transit immigration system really is something to be avoided. We arrived back at the gate just as the flight was boarding without time to do anything else. Our passage through however turned out to be relatively smooth compared to others as we then spent an hour sitting on the tarmac waiting for the remaining passengers to get back on the flight. On the positive side though we did get to stretch our legs, which was welcome.

We finally got going again on the next leg and another 14 hours in the air. Everything went smoothly as we had the same seats again and we’d already figured out the best sleeping arrangements. The kids lay down over 3 seats, I sat upright and Diana slept on the floor, which apparently was quite comfortable. Plane food, a few movies and breakfast later we arrived in Auckland close to 7am and welcomed by an immigration queue with about 10 people in it!

Auckland arrival

After declaring our hiking boots at customs which resulted in them being cleaned to remove anything that could potentially contaminate, we took an Uber into the city centre with a very friendly driver who was great with the kids and told us about the city.

We arrived at the apartment hotel around 9am and as we’d been anticipating, our room wasn’t ready yet and there wasn’t a possibility of an early check in. We left our luggage in the luggage room, quickly changed and freshened up in the bathroom and went out to explore.

We took a nice walk down hill to the harbour, followed by drinks on the waterfront overlooking the marina.

After drinks it was time to set off for lunch at the Orbit 360° restaurant at the Sky tower. We arrived for an early lunch at 11:30am and started with taking in a panoramic view of the city from the viewing platform. The lift and viewing platform had glass plates to look straight down, so we all had fun gingerly walking over them while looking down. Lunch was a relaxed affair slowing spinning around looking out at the city. A few minutes after sitting down we watched someone do a controlled jump from the platform right outside the window, which looked terrifying and exciting at the same time. We decided straight after lunch probably wasn’t a good idea.

After lunch we walked back to the apartment to check in, shower and to take a nap.

I woke up around 6pm and while the family slept I went for a walk around the Sky Tower and central shopping area of Queen street. Cherries seem popular this time of year so bought some from the “Christmas” market next to the Sky Tower.

A long first “day” and we’re all excited to get exploring after a good nights sleep.