Day 12 – Wanaka

We woke to the patter of rain on the camper roof and had a quick breakfast. We decided to abandon our plans to cycle the mountain bike trail to the glacier car park thanks to the weather and prepared for a walk to see the Fox Glacier instead.

A 5 minute drive via the most expensive garage so far, took us to the glacier car park which I’d scouted by mountain bike yesterday. The rain had kept people away so there was plenty of parking. It was our first opportunity to try out our wet weather gear and we set off prepared for the rain to continue, which it did.

It’s only 1.5 km from the car park to the glacier viewing point but took us 45mins due to the steepness of the terrain and a number of stream crossings – all good fun although I did have to bribe Alex with a toffee as he was about to give up 50m from the top.

The glacier itself has receded significantly over the last 100 years but was still impressive if you knew what you were looking at. The main face was covered in scree and looked quite dull and camouflaged as part of the mountain with a large cave at the base where the melt water ran off. The valley we walked through was a dramatic demonstration of the power of a glacier and I enjoyed explaining to the kids how the valley was formed.

After viewing the glacier it was a much quicker decent, it was still raining and we were keen to get dry. The streams we’d passed over on the way up were visibly larger due to the rain fall only a few minutes later.

We arrived back at the camper and stripped off our wet clothing. Handy having a mobile place to change and dry off! Once dry we set a course for Wanaka via the Aspiring National Park.

We’d really left civilisation behind at Fox Glacier and didn’t see any significant structures until over an hour later when we stopped at Bruce’s Bay for coffee and ice cream from a mobile cafe. The Boyzenberry ice cream was delicious.

Onward towards Wanaka. The rainforest in the hills here was something else. A layer of cloud circled the base of each hill making the whole part of this journey spectacular.

We finally break through to an outpost of civilisation at Haast and stop for lunch at the roadside cafe – the only option in 100km. I sampled the whitebait salad which is an NZ speciality. The salad consisted of a side of coleslaw with chips but the whitebait was tasty! Thankfully it also stopped raining.

Continuing on we drove around Lake Wanaka and then over The Neck and around Lake Hawea. The scenery is truly epic. Or epical as the kids like to say. The light is so vibrant the whole view is just mind blowing. The camera, even in panoramic mode really can’t capture the epic scale and beauty of these scenes. Beautiful, amazing and stunning. Wow.

We drove past the bottom of lake Hawea and into the town of Wanaka which is heaving with people in stark contrast to everywhere we’ve been today. We struggle to find a parking spot next to the central park and Bella and I walk to the supermarket for supplies. It being the only large supermarket in Wanaka it’s also heaving with people and there are queues down the isles for the checkouts. We quickly grab some supplies and head back to the camper.

A short 5 min drive to our campsite for the night which is slightly less commercial than last nights Top 10 but just as well equipped. We laid out our still wet clothes from the morning to dry in the sun and settled in for the usual appero and bbq while the kids played on the playground.

We’re here for two nights and tomorrow we’re going on a fishing trip on lake Wanaka and are looking forward to freshly bbq’d fish off the back of the boat – assuming we catch something.

Distance travelled today: 272km

Grand total: 1849km

Day 11 – Fox Glacier

7am start waking up to the sound of the ocean. A quick breakfast and then the kids went to play on the beach while we got ready.

Set off by 9am and drove for an hour stopping at the tree top walk for coffee. It was super expensive, but really fun. We walked around the structure enjoying the view and tried to avoid looking down. The tower was exciting and nerve racking as it swayed when people walked up and down the stairs. Wonderful views of the surrounding area and rainforest.

Ice cream when we got back to the cafe and then we got going for the second part of the journey down to Fox’s glacier.

We’re moving from the ocean towards the mountains and the roads are getting twisty with switchbacks and corner after corner. We usually end up with a queue of traffic behind us and pull in at the end of each section to let people pass.

Lunch was sandwiches at a rest stop by a lake not far from the Franz Glacier. The township was really busy and looked very much like a tourist trap. We tried to get Diesel and failed (the garage had run out) and then kept on moving.

Another 20km along the road and we entered the Fox Glacier township. We passed through to the Lake Matheson car park and got out for our walk of the day – a loop of Lake Matheson to see if we could spot the reflection of the mountains in the lake. It was a little bit windy so the surface of the lake wasn’t in a reflecting state but we did have a great view of the mountains.

After the 5km circular route we stopped in the cafe for drinks and cake. Bella had a fantastic rocky road which took some eating.

Onward to the “Top 10” campsite which was just a few minutes drive down the road. Once we’d got the camper setup we had appero and started cooking the bbq.

The Top 10 site is pretty crowded and commercial, quite a contrast to the secluded spots we’ve been staying so far but there’s a big playground for the kids and the facilities are great.

After dinner I cycle the mountain bike track to Fox Glacier to scout it out for tomorrow while everyone else enjoys a movie in the camper.

The route starts off through the rain forest and ends right next to the glacier run off, a really spectacular view. Really looking forward to walking to the glacier face tomorrow.

Distance traveled today: 215km

Grand total: 1577km

Day 10 – Greymouth

6 am alarm and a run along the shore of Lake Rotoiti. Breakfast in the van and set off for Greymouth by 9am.

It was too cold to take a dip in the lake before we left, quite chilly without the sun.

Twisty roads with stunning views around most of the corners. The sun came out and it turned into a lovely day. The road followed a number of rivers with crystal clear water, growing bigger as we got closer to the ocean.

We pulled in a couple of times to take photos but the camera doesn’t do the view justice.

We stopped for fuel, coffee and pies at Muriston about 60km into the journey. We’ve been wanting to try the local pies which are a speciality of the region and these were good. Diana has chicken and bacon and I had Truckers which was beef, chicken, cheese, egg and bacon and was delicious.

Back on the road and none stop to the Ocean road free camping site in Greymouth. The site had great views of the ocean but was essentially a big tarmac car park and didn’t feel particularly special. We drove 5 minutes north along the beach road to where our walk for the day started and found a much nicer camping spot right at the start of the walking path.

Our walk for the day was 11km along the coastal path to Point Elizabeth through sub tropical vegetation. The sun was shining but we were sheltered by the trees as we walked up and down the hills. The signs warned it was a penguin zone but we didn’t manage to see any. A really pleasant walk which broke into a run just for fun near the end.

We arrived back at the camper around 5pm and rearranged the parking to get the best view. We then settled into appero on the beach and bbq chicken for dinner listening to the ocean. Some paragliders landed nearby to provide the after dinner entertainment and the area emptied out quickly with just one other camper left by 8pm. An idyllic spot.

The kids loved playing on the stoney beach, building dens, collecting special stones and making guns from the driftwood.

Tomorrow we’re driving down to the Fox Glacier area and are hoping to fit in a walk and a bike ride.

Distance travelled today: 221km

Grand total: 1362km

Day 9 – Nelson National Park

A late start and no longer raining!

We had a quick breakfast in the van and then m the kids played on the trampoline while we got organised, refreshed the camper tanks and then got going by 11am.

We dropped into the Countdown supermarket in Blenheim to pick up supplies, as there won’t be any big towns for a while.

Onward with a 1 hour drive to Nelson national Park through Marlborough Wine Country. Just like on the photos with neat rows of vines in fields all along the road.

We arrived at the West Bay camp site on the shore of Lake Rotoiti and had a late lunch of cheese and coleslaw sandwiches sitting on the beach. (The coleslaw here is awesome, dressing, no mayo – delicious)

We found a good spot to camp and booked online, it turned out we had to collect our ticket from the visitors centre so we jumped back in the van and went to pick it up. 15 mins later we were back in our camping spot with ticket on display and ready to start walking.

The walking route we’d planned for the day was a 12km circular route around the closest mountain with good views of the lake. We made a start but the first part was on the road and not very pleasant with cars going past so we turned around and headed back to the path by the lake.

We walked for 10km in the end around the edge of the lake and back. Really beautiful clear water and a lovely well signed track through the shady forest.

There were lots of animal traps along the way, we assumed for some kind of pest. The kids were fascinated and checked each one for a catch.

We arrived back at the camper around 5:30pm and took a quick dip in the lake. The watch was quite cold and refreshing but the rocks made it difficult to walk into the water.

Afterwards we had appero at the camp site and bbq for dinner all the while trying to avoid the small biting sand flies.

We eventually gave up and ate dinner inside the camper followed by a game of life before bed.

We resolved to wake up earlier tomorrow ready for another day of walking.

Distance travelled today: 117km

Grand total: 1141km

Day 7 – Wellington

Christmas Eve!

We got up at 7am to the sound of traffic passing on the road nearby. Not that it was particularly heavy traffic, just that it was a contrast to where we’ve been staying over the last few nights. The children didn’t want to get up due to the late night last night but their bed covers the Camper’s table and door so no option but to wake them up to do anything really!

My tooth has been gradually getting worse over the last few days and now on pain killers – I resolved to sort it out before we head to the South Island and away from civilisation.

After breakfast and showers we headed for a walk along the harbour front to stretch our legs. We stopped for coffee and met up with Craig and the boys. The children all wanted milk shakes and they were massive! Failing Craig’s golden rule of not eating anything bigger than your head on every count.

We said our goodbyes as we walked back to the Camper for pain killers and ordered an Uber to take us to the Weta Workshop.

The Weta Workshop tour was amazing and inspirational, they create movie props for many of the big Hollywood studios and their credits include The Lord of the Rings, Avatar and many many more. We were greeted by a large ogre at the doorway which was incredibly detailed and looked very realistic. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgable and clearly passionate about telling us all about Weta. (A Weta is an insect that only exists in New Zealand and is pretty mean looking – like a giant cricket)

No photography unfortunately but each room was fascinating and our tour guide explained how many of the props were made, the various stages and materials and how they were used on set. The attention to detail was really amazing, even down to individual hairs. Every piece looked so realistic. The tour concluded with a demonstration from one of the crafts people who showed us how to get started with modelling using kitchen foil.

For the next part of the tour we jumped on a bus for a short drive to one of their studio buildings to take a tour of their Thunderbirds are go props. One of the founders of Weta Workshop credited the original Thunderbirds tv series as his inspiration to get into modelling and prop making. They rebooted the series recently using hand built props as in the original but with animated characters over the top.

Again real attention to detail and clever use of household materials to make stunning sets.

After the tour we took a quick look around the gift shop and jumped in an Uber to make my emergency dental appointment.

Diana and the kids went for lunch while I was at the dentist. It turned out that I needed an emergency root canal and my gum was infected. Thankfully the dentist was able to patch me up and prescribe some antibiotics to see me through the trip and get me back home. They were closing early for Christmas and the dentist and his assistant kindly ended up staying late to complete the procedure. It’s lucky that I got it sorted today as there won’t be many opportunities (maybe any) before Christchurch which is nearly two weeks away.

After the dentist we walked through the CBD down to the harbour stopping at a play ground to let the children blow off some steam then continued along the waterfront to the Te Papa museum which covers the New Zealand heritage.

The first exhibit was a story about New Zealand’s contribution to World War I which featured huge human models made by none other than the Weta Workshop. Great attention to detail and each piece told a story of a particular soldier from the war. Really impactful but a little scary for Alex so we rushed through the last part pausing at each of the models.

The next two floors covered different parts of the National heritage but there was a lot of reading and the children found it hard to follow. We sped through until we got to the final floor which included lots of objects and some buildings from the Māori culture, we all found this really interesting and engaging.

The last stop for the day was the supermarket right next to the Camper park to pick up some essentials before our drive tomorrow along with some tin foil so that Alex could start some modelling!

Finally back to the camper for a cold pizza dinner and a family Christmas movie on the iPad before everyone in bed by 8pm ready for our 4am start tomorrow and our early Christmas Day crossing to the South Island.

Distance traveled today: 0km

Grand total: 974km

Day 6 – Wellington

We woke up early after a good nights sleep and took a swim in the lake before breakfast which was really refreshing. The water was the perfect temperature and crystal clear, the views amazing and it was the perfect way to start the day.

A breakfast of fried egg sandwiches in the camper followed by a bike ride along the edge of the lake in the sun shine. We admired the holiday houses which back onto the lake – maybe we’ll come back one day. The track turned to gravel and sand after a few KM which made it hard for Alex to ride. We turned around after 2.5km and returned the way we’d come.

Once back we took another swim in the lake and eventually started to pack things away. We loved Lake Taupo and could have spent a week there and since we had no activities booked for today we lingered as long as we could.

We finally got going just before 12pm and stopped by the dump site to empty the tanks before settling in for the 4 hour drive to Wellington.

After an hour we stopped for a lunch of fish and chips sitting on a picnic table in the local park of Turangi. The fish was a local variety and really tasty. The kids had ice cream for desert and we got going.

The road became really twisty as we entered the desert road that passes through Tongariro National Park with lots of hair pin bends so slow going for a while. We passed Mount Ruapehu in the distance which was snow covered and imposing, stopping at the side of the road to take a picture.

We continued on to Taihape for a coffee stop and then kept on going all the way to Wellington passing through small towns and villages which feel like they were from a different era.

The wind really picked up as we approached the north of Wellington and the camper was buffeted about a lot so it was tricky to keep in our lane.

We went straight into the city and to the freedom camping spot we planned to stay at. Unfortunately it was full for the night so we had to go back into the city and find a paid for camper parking spot. This turned out to be really close to where Craig was staying so actually more convenient.

After parking up we went to meet Craig and his boys in the apartment they were staying in. The kids watched movies and played on iPads while Craig and I caught up over red wine and Hell’s Pizza. Craig massively over ordered so we’ll be eating pizza for days!

A late night as we didn’t get back to the camper until 12am, but great to catch up with one of my oldest friends who’d made the journey over from Sydney especially.

Distance travelled today: 380km

Grand total: 974km

Day 5 – Taupo

Woke up at 6 to the sound of the waves and the sun rise – an amazing place to wake up.

Breakfast all together in the van and then the kids went to play on the playground while we prepared the camper. Refilled the fresh water tank, emptied the grey water tank on the grass in front of the site.

Diana and I took a walk along the beach – stunning.

Got going by 9:30. Headed back the way we’d came from yesterday, filling up with diesel at the BP garage as the price looked pretty good – turns out every other garage we pass throughout the day is cheaper.

Stopped at the Okere Falls Store an hour later for coffee, a gourmet sausage roll and ice cream.

Next up the Countdown supermarket in Rotorua. Traffic was pretty busy and the town was bigger than we expected. Shopped at Countdown buying all the essentials I’d forgotten the first time (seems the family has different ideas as to what is essential – beers not on the list apparently), washing up liquid, soap, toilet paper and bought more food for the next few days. Alex found himself a ball and Bella bought a cute toy.

Back on the road straight to Huka prawn park, another 1 hour drive. Late lunch at the restaurant – prawns no less. Really tasty.

Afterwards we went fishing for prawns, about an hour. No luck. Then finished the self guided tour, playing with the water toys and feeding the trout.

Onto Huka falls 3 mins along the road. Easy parking and a 1 min walk to the falls followed by 10 minutes along the side to see the end of the falls but the view wasn’t as good from there. Beautiful coloured water and really powerful water.

Next to find a camp site for the night. First place which was our pre-researched back up option felt like a music festival and that a rave might breakout any minute – decided it wasn’t for us. Went in to the next option which was by lake Taupo. Found a decent spot close to the lake and setup nibbles and some NZ sparking wine, the sun was really hot and we were sweltering without shade.

We let the kids go and play on the beach and Alex immediately created a goal and wanted to play football with his new ball.

We decided to take a swim in the lake to cool off. Really refreshing and again beautiful clear water. Afterwards a penalty shoot out on the beach between Alex and me.

Back to the camper to set up the bbq and make dinner. Chicken, burgers and NZ wine. After dinner sand castles and some music in the camper, remembering to turn off the speaker this time!

Tomorrow we plan to cycle and swim and then it’s the long drive down to Wellington to meet up with Craig and his boys.

Distance traveled today: 168km

Grand total: 594km