Mar 29th Blenheim South Island NZ

We drove in lovely sunshine from Punakaiki to Blenheim. It was a 4+ hours drive, our longest to date, to get across to the east coast. We took the coastal route (#6) north to where it turns east just south of Westport. It follows the Buller Valley inland with several magnificent gorges and the usual twists, turns, up & downs and some runs through lovely forest. Alas, we have no pictures of that part of the drive (some of you may be relieved)! This took us to the Wairau Valley, which is Marlborough wine growing country. It was acre after acre of mature vines, very recently planted vines and stacks and stacks of posts for planting new fields. We were flabbergasted by the sheer expanse of the vineyards. All this against a beautiful backdrop of snow capped mountains – a marketer’s dream.

We booked a campground in Blenheim, thinking it would be easy to go into the town centre. Ha – ended up in our least favourite campground with lovely views of an overpass. It was a large campground and there appeared to be permanent residents there. The two trailors behind us had gardens planted around them. It was not easy to get to the town centre and we ended up walking to a very nice homey Italian restaurant for a good dinner. Live and learn.

Mar 27-28th Greymouth and Punakaiki, South Island NZ

Another two days of interesting driving under our belt On Monday, we drove from Fox Glacier to Greymouth, lots of up hill, down dale, along cliff sides and beside the Tasman Sea. We had an interesting two hour stop at Shantytown, a recreation of a historic mining and lumber town from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. We rode a historic steam train. The engineer had to do 500 hours training on the train before she was qualified to drive it by herself. She said it took her another 2 years to be totally comfortable driving the train. She is both the driver and coal stoker – there would not be enough room in the cab for two people. We visited the sawmill, the sluicing equipment, the foundry, and many other businesses of the day. Our camp site was right by the Tasman Sea, we could hear the breakers all day and night.

It rained most of that night with winds the shook the van but stopped by the time we were on the road again. Yesterday, thanks to a recommendation from our NZ friend, we drove to Punakaiki, another campsite right on the Tasman Sea. The absolute highlight yesterday was seeing the Pancake Rocks & Blowholes which was an easy 1km walk from our campsite. The rock formations are thin layers whuch look ever so much like a stack of pancakes. It’s interesting that scientists are unsure how they formed millions of years ago. Of course, they are now in errosion from the sea which created the incredible formations and blowholes which must be seen at high tide or close to it. Our timing was good, high tide yesterday was at 4:30pm. We arrived at the campsite several hours before that.

Mar 25-26th Wanaka & Fox Glacier South Island NZ

Lot of interesting driving the last two days. Yesterday, from Te Anau we drove to Wanaka, a three hour drive. When Bob originally looked at the map there were a lot of switchbacks on the shorter route which went over the Crown Range so we were going to take the slightly longer, less OMG route. However, it was a beautiful, clear sunny day so Bob was already thinking of taking the higher mountain route so when the bus in front of us turned up the the mountain route, Bob followed. It was spectacular. There was a series of eight consecutive switchbacks fairly early into the route. Following the bus was good, no one was making any attempts to pass!

Once on top, the road followed the ridge although there was still some climbing and corresponding downhills. Lots of beautiful scenery. Wanaka seemed to be a sports hub, we saw lots of cyclists and many ads for skiing.

Today was a longer drive to Fox Glacier, with stops it was over 4 hours. This is getting repetitive, but again gorgeous scenery skirting long lakes, through more mountain passes, although not like the Crown Range yesterday and for a while the road ran beside the Tasman Sea.

There were many one way bridges. One of the most spectacular one way bridges we crossed was at the Gates of Haast in the Haast Pass. Here are a few pictures driving up to the bridge and what was under it.

Mar 24th Doubtful Sound South Island NZ

Wow – what a day. It’s not easy to get to Doubtful Sound. First it was a 20 minute bus ride from Te Anau (where we are staying) to a dock at Lake Manapouri for a 50 minute boat ride to the other end of the lake where we then got on another bus. This time a 40 minute drive over Wilmot Pass on a single lane gravel road with a 5:1 down slope, to Deep Cove.

That’s where we got on the Doubtful Sound tour boat. Doubtful Sound is in Fjordland National Park, the largest in NZ, at 1.2 million hectares. 250 years ago this month, Captain Cook spent several months exploring and charting this area, mainly in Dusky Sound but also in Doubtful Sound.

The Doubtful Sound water area is 10 times that of Milford Sound. We were again very fortunate with the weather. There was a lot of low cloud in the morning but it lifted and the sun even peeked out a few times. It was not windy so we could easily go out to the opening into the Tasman Sea where the captain was able to hold station by the local furry seal colony. On the way back we were very lucky to have a large group of the local bottlenose dolphins hang around the boat for a while.

The beige ground is from a slide that happened 5 days ago. There is very little soil in which to put down roots so when a tree falls, it usually starts a ‘slide’. The first thing that starts to grown again is lichen. You can see vertical lines of various shades of green from earlier slides in many of the pictures where vegetation is making a return.

This happened 5 days ago

Near the end of the trip, the captain went down Hall Arm and because it was a very calm day, we could have a time of silence. He turned off the the engine and asked people outside, which was a high percentage of us, not to talk or make any noise. We could hear the small waterfall near by, small waves lapping on shore and some birds – it was quite magical.

On a geographical note, these places were misnamed many years ago as sounds. Sounds are created by rivers, over thousand of years. Milford, Doubtful and all the other ‘sounds’ on the west coast of NZ are fjords, created by glaciers.

Mar 23rd Milford Sound South Island NZ

It was a beautiful sunny day for our trip to Milford Sound. It was suggested that we not drive as the driver would miss the views so we went on a bus that we caught in Te Anau, a short work from our campsite. Our driver Debbie gave us good commentary on the two hour driver there. We had several phot op stops. Unfortunately at one of the stops a passengers fell as he was walking to get back on the bus – total face plant onto his glasses, and was badly cut on his face and hand. Lots of passengers helped, he was bleeding quite profusely, I could see all this as it happened right outside my window. We were delayed as our driver organized help, we had to drive to the next stop where there was a signal for her to make a call. However, no medivac helicopter rescue like on the QM2 (or MASH 😊) The injured man and his wife stayed at the stop, an ambulance had been called to pick him up. When we got back to Te Anau, he was in the coffee shop at the bus stop, all bandaged up but seemed ok.

It was a gorgeous drive which included going through a rough hewn tunnel – no pictures, there were barely any lights in there. Our boat was a large catamaran which made its way slowly down the south side of the sound and returned on the north side. There was very little wind so it was a calm ride. We saw a few dolphins and seals – impossible to get a photos of either. A wonderful outing.

Mar 19-22nd Christchurch to Te Anau South Island NZ

We found out at 6am that NZ Air had cancelled our 9am direct flight to Christchurch and instead routing us with Virgin Air to Sydney and then Quantas to Christchurch at midnight.

Despite the lateness of our arrival from Sydney the previous night and another 2-hour time change we were up early, breakfasted, and chipper .. we caught the shuttle to the camper van rental place called Maui. We picked up our Mercedes diesel Ultra 2 camper van (length 7.2m) with little fuss and set off for groceries. Bob experienced problems with left turns and went over the curb on the 1st two. In turning left into the grocery parking lot he clipped a work van’s front right parking light. Luckily their office was across the street so he could “turn himself in”. The chap he spoke to was delighted at his honesty and suggested NZD 100 to settle the matter which Bob happily did.

After a fair bit of rain and some very high winds with lots of gusts, we arrived at our first campsite on Lake Tekapo at 3pm on Monday. It’s on the edge of a gorgeous lake with mountains around it but with the pouring rain there was no incentive to go for a walk or take pictures. We think we’ll be comfortable in the van. It’s not too big, says Tarja who is not driving it, but Bob has successfully backed it up several times with minor assistance from Tarja waving her arms about. We plugged into power to have to heat on the first night … at 6C we figure needed or at least deserved it. That night was the first time we’ve cooked since leaving Kingston.

We’ve decided that it’s been an interesting (expensive) experiment having a camper van that we do not want to duplicate but on a muddy, rainy camp site it’s hard to think otherwise. We’ll see if we change our minds after a few more days and maybe nicer weather.

Still windy but a much better day weather wise on Tuesday. The sun came out at noon and pretty much stayed out with the odd sprinkle of rain. The roads here are really well marked for slowing down in curves. There are a lot of ‘pull over’ spots. We figure it’s because there are a many many camper vans and RVs on the road. Bob had to swear up and down that he would not drive faster than 90kph when signing out our camper van but the standard highway speed is 100kph. Slower drivers are pretty good about pulling over.

The scenery has been quite spectacular, would have been even more so earlier today if the cloud cover had lifted. There are many marked scenic lookouts. The first one we stopped at around 11am was incredibly windy and bloody freezing 8C, can’t imagine what the wind chill was but we got out took a couple of pictures – brave souls that we are.

We arrived at a ‘holiday park’ in Queenstown about 2:30 on Tuesday. It’s right in town, a 10 minute walk to the centre. It’s a much prettier location than Monday night, having trees and a less wide open feel. We walked into town and with the mountains in the background and the architecture, it really felt like being in Banff.

On Wednesday we drove only 2 hours with mostly sunshine or at least no rain and just “normal” wind. Arrived at our camper van site, where we’ll stay for three nights, early afternoon and set off to explore the town. Tarja bought a toque (she forgot hers when packing). We made dinner reservations at the highly recommended Fat Duck , all they had was 5pm or 8:30. We, not having had a proper breakfast or lunch, chose 5pm. It was a nice dinner but on the expensive side — to be fair, all meals here are expensive.

Mr 16-18th Great Ocean Drive, Australia

We spent two and a bit days driving the Great Ocean Road on the south coast of Australia. We got as far west as Port Fairy which is just a bit further west than the official Ocean Road end. We were very lucky with the weather, it was windy but sunny. Pictures really don’t do justice to the ocean views, they are spectacular. A excellent side trip was to the Cape Otway Light station. Part of the route there was through the beautiful Great Otway National Park. The Lightstation and its history was well worth the visit. On the drive back to the Ocean Road, while still in the park, we had to stop as two cars ahead of us had stopped on the road – the people in the first car had seen the koala low in a tree right by the road!

We also stopped at the Twelve Apostles, limestone stacks that have eroded and been created over millions of years. It was beautiful but we actually found the formations further west in the Bay of Islands more interesting. Maybe in part because that area was not over run with people.

We stopped overnight in Port Campbell which seemed to be full of cockatoos and there were signs everywhere not to feed them. Port Fairy was a lovely town, we wished we had more time to spend there but that was our morning drive and then turnaround point to come back to the Melbourne airport and drop off the car. We have next morning flight to Christchurch NZ, so are staying at the airport.

Mar 14-15th Melbourne, Australia

We spent two days in Melbourne – really liked the city. It’s very different from Sydney, which has water everywhere you turn, but it does have a large harbour and a lovely waterfront on the Yarra River which runs through the centre of downtown Melbourne.

Lucky for us, Tarja has a friend who lives in a cool Melbourne neighbourhood called Yarraville. We got there on the commuter train and had a fabulous dinner at their place which started with a bottle of bubbly, apparently an Australian tradition – we like this tradition.

The next day we rode the historic tram – much like Toronto streetcars of the 1920/30s And the best part, all the tram lines in the centre of the city, and there are many, are free – what a concept.

Ridin’ the Tram

We walked many of the city’s historic old laneways and arcades which now house restaurants and shops.

Mar 13th – Sydney, Australia

Our last day in Sydney was more walking around — it is a very walkable city with so many parks, water views, and pedestrian streets. We don’t usually “do” observation towers but the Sydney Tower Eye was really worth it to gain an appreciation for the parks and all the waterways. From there we walked to the Opera House although sadly we could not get a tour. We walked along the water front which had cushioned seats as part of the break wall, lots of restaurants and wine bars all along it. Again, a great people city.

We did not see many homeless nor overweight locals, a big change from both North America and the UK.

Mar 12th – Sydney, Australia

The QM2 moved to the dock just after midnight on Sunday and we disembarked shortly after 7am.

We had a fabulous day with friends who live here. They picked us up at 10am, drove us around (in their Tesla!) to some great sights, through the lovely town of Manly to the outer headlands where we passed through on the ship. Sydney Harbour is the largest natural harbour in the world with several arms and small bays—the amount of coastline is vast.

After that they took us to their home for lunch. Interestingly it is very near Canada Bay where 58 convicts were sent after the 1837 Rebellions. They live a 5 minute walk from their yacht club and a 10 minute walk the the ferry station where one can catch a ferry into the city. It is so nice to spend time with locals, these are places we we never would have seen on our own.