A Travellerspoint blog

Napier to Taupo

In which we visit yet more wineries, see some geothermal activity and get our hobbit groove on in the Shire

all seasons in one day 25 °C

The drive up from Wellington to Napier showed us a bit of what the north island is like. Certainly less dramatic than the south island, but still pretty with rolling hills dotted with farms (and therefore sheep, cows, horses, deer and even alpacas). We did stop off a couple of times, once at a boutique chocolate shop and once at Tui HQ, the home of Tui beer.

We arrived at Mike and Sahra's (bearing gifts of chocolate and Tui of course) and spent the evening catching up over a BBQ. They've been having the hottest summer in five years, so you can imagine our disappointment when we woke up the next day to pouring rain... which didn't stop all day! Still we made the most of it, having a little tour around Napier and the area in the morning. Napier is famous for its Art Deco architecture, after the whole town was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in the early thirties. Its really pretty, although most of the Art Deco is seen when you look up, with modern shops and bars at street level.




In the afternoon we did a little wine tour, as Hawke's Bay is also famous for wineries. We visited a couple of the larger wineries, Elephant Hill, Church Road and Mission (which is a winery run by the church), but the highlight had to be Brookfields, a small boutique vineyard. We had a really interesting tasting sat amongst the wine casks with explanations given by the very enthusiastic guy who runs the estate. Apparently you can only buy their wine in the UK if you eat at Gordon Ramsay and pay £120 a bottle, so I doubt we'll get to try it again!


The next day was 'black Wednesday' - also known as the day we had to return our campervan. We drove up to Auckland to return it which is a day's drive. There were almost tears handing over the keys. So for our last few days in NZ we rented a car instead. We've loved staying in campsites and holiday parks so we decided for our first camperless night that we'd stay in a cabin in a caravan site. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Now, I think cabins are normally fine, but we chose the South Auckland Caravan Park, miles from anywhere but on the road back to Taupo which was our next day's destination. But we pulled up in something resembling the twilight zone... a local park for local people if you like. Everyone on the site seemed to live there in their caravans, and despite other sites being fully booked when we called, we were the only ones staying in the cabins. Undeterred, we decided to make the most of it and cook dinner, only to find the kitchen had no utensils or pots... and with no shops for miles we made do with things we could eat raw, with our hands and that we could cut with a penknife! To top it all off, we googled the place and found a newspaper article about a murder that happened there a few months ago. You can imagine how well we slept that night!

The next day we happily set off for Taupo, but with a stopover in Matamata... also known as...


We couldn't resist and paid to tour the Hobbiton set, which was well worth it. The Shire is all one set (although the internal shots were filmed elsewhere) so you can walk from Samwise Ganges house up the road to Bag End, past the vegetable gardens, or visit the party tree where Gandalf made his speech at Bilbo's birthday party. Brilliant.





The tour finished with a cider in the Green Dragon, leaving us very happy little hobbits indeed.


The next day we spent the day in pretty Taupo, a really friendly town with a stunning lake and distant blue mountains. Its also on the 'thermal highway' and has a lot of geothermal activity. We spent the morning meandering along the lake side, which was actually pretty interesting with some geothermal areas. So even though the lake is mainly cold, some bits are warm, with areas of steaming hot water as you walk along. The warm water also seemed to attract the wildlife and we saw loads of birds, including geese with goslings and some tiny ducklings.



In the afternoon we treated ourselves to a trip to some hot mineral pools. The water is heated so much by all that geothermic activity they actually have to cool it down - to 38 and 42 degrees - in the two pools. Bliss.

Yesterday we did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing... but I've got so much to say about that I'm going to leave it for another post!

Posted by teamgb 14:22 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Nelson to Wellington

In which we drink beer, eat, drink wine, eat, drink more wine... and we make it to the north island

sunny 35 °C

After day one of craft beer tasting in Nelson, and with the offer of free chocolate pudding and ice cream ringing in our ears (at Tasman Bay Backpackers, our really great hostel), we decided to spend another day in Nelson before moving on. On our second day, we headed to Founders Park, which is a pretty quirky place with a replica village filled with an old church and traditional shops from the late 1800s to early 1900s. We practically had the place to ourselves, and wandered around an old fire station, general store, dentist, barber shop, photography studio and hospital... all filled with original features and products.





But the real reason we were there was to visit New Zealand's only organic brewery. Yep that's right. More craft beer. The brewery was in a lovely spot so we sat outside with a platter of food and numerous beers... what a lovely way to spend the afternoon.



Marcus favoured the Long Black, whilst I preferred the Fair Maiden ale.

We spent the evening chilling out in the hostel and enjoying that free chocolate pudding. Delicious!

The next morning we drove to Tahunanui which is a calm, quiet beach five minutes from Nelson to try our hand at paddle boarding. It was already thirty degrees by the time we arrived at the beach at 9:30 so it was great to get out on the water... and we were pretty good too if I do say so myself (I only fell in once and that was trying to gracefully 'disembark' at the end of our session... I failed miserably). Definitely something we'd like to try again.

Following the paddle boarding expedition we drove back through Nelson and on to Blenheim, right in the heart of the Marlborough wine region. The closer we got to Blenheim the more vines we saw, and by the time we arrived every road was lined with rows of grapevines either side. We had definitely come to the right place. We even stopped off at a boutique chocolate factory for free tastings of the most amazing chocolates when we arrived.

We stayed at the Top Ten Holiday Park in Blenheim and had a wander around town, although it was seriously quiet with very little going on. So we spent the evening having a BBQ and chilling out. We were really lucky to have a whole section of the camp to ourselves, so it was just us and the ducks for company.

The next morning we rented bikes from a company called Wine Tours by Bike. They gave us a map and suggested itinerary around a few of the many vineyards in the region and we spent the day riding around between the vines from one vineyard to the next, visiting each cellar door for a tasting.



We started the day with a great sauvignon blanc at the Villa Maria winery, who also did some great reds with grapes grown in Hawkes Bay.


Next stop was Fromm vineyard which was a nice setting but we didn't love the wine. For lunch we headed to Georges Michel on recommendation, which turned out to be a great tip. We did a tasting at the cellar door before munching our way through a tasty cheese platter and more wine. We had lunch with a lovely English couple we met earlier in the day so good food, conversation and wine... what more could you want? This was the setting for our delicious lunch.



The next thing we knew it was 3:15, and with an hour's ride back and lots more vineyards to see we quickly rode on. First stop was No. 1 who only serve bubbles... we ended up treating ourselves to a bottle of sauvignon blanc bubbly called Shooting Star.


We squeezed in Framingham and Gibson Bridge (who are a tiny estate with only six acres of vines) before a pretty speedy dash back to return our bikes (while trying to ride in a straight line... by this point we reckon we'd tasted 36 different wines...) All in all a brilliant day out (did I mention is was also 35 degrees without a cloud in the sky?)

We had planned to move onto Picton the next day ready for our ferry crossing to Wellington the day after, but we loved the wine region so much we decided to stay another day. We really wanted to visit the Brancott Estate because its one of our favourite wines back home, so in the morning we headed out to the vineyard. What an experience! After driving through the vines, you pull up at the foot of a hill, where a shuttle arrives to take you up the hill to the cellar door and restaurant for incredible panoramic views of the vineyards and surrounding hills.



Inside is really modern... and quite posh compared to a lot of the smaller vineyards we visited... and we were seated straight away for a trio of sauvignon blanc tasters...


... and a tasty cheese and charcuterie platter.


Its possible we've died and gone to heaven. We then did a further tasting at the cellar door, including a sauvignon gris which the woman took great delight in telling us you couldn't get in the UK. Of course it worked... and we walked away with a bottle!

Before we became fully inducted into the wino hall of fame, we thought it best to leave the wine region behind us. So on Saturday we drove to Picton, a small town, from which we got the ferry across the Cook Straight to Wellington on the north island. It took about three and a half hours and cost a small fortune for us and the van (about $280 which stung our $200 a day budget!) Its a pretty journey though, with great views of Wellington harbour as you arrive.

This left us with just one day, yesterday, to see as much of Wellington as possible. We started with an early trip to the Sunday food market, mainly window shopping. Then we spent a brilliant few hours looking around Te Papa, NZ's national museum, and probably the best museum I think I've ever been to. Really interesting exhibits on geology, native wildlife, people's impact on the land of NZ and Maori culture, all really interactive (they tell you all the stuff you need to know about an earthquake but you also get to 'experience' one for yourself!)


We also met these three familiar faces...



In the afternoon we drove up to the botanical gardens which are on a hill overlooking the harbour. It was a bit stressful trying to negotiate the Wellington one way system (the lonely planet describes it as 'the krypton factor on acid' to give you some idea) but we made it for a lovely stroll with brilliant views.



Although I must admit that the organised entertainment was somewhat lacking...


From the small amount we've seen, Wellington seems like a great city, although I have to admit I think we've become more accustomed to small towns and solitary trekking because its all felt a bit stressful (just like any city I guess). Luckily today we're heading onto Napier to stay with my friend Mike (who I haven't seen since we travelled around Africa together six years ago!) for a couple of days. And Napier is in another wine region... you know what that means...

Posted by teamgb 19:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Franz Josef, Abel Tasman and Nelson

In which we go glacier walking, tramp the Abel Tasman coastal path and get into craft beers in sunny Nelson

sunny 22 °C

Our helicopter/glacier experience at Franz Josef was awesome. We were lucky to have a relatively clear, sunny day, which meant good views and also that we didn't need all four of the warm layers we'd been asked to bring (anyone would think we were back in the Himalayas!) The helicopter ride was only 5 mins and took us from Franz Josef village 600m up the glacier to an area called The Pinnacles. Apparently you used to be able to walk up from the bottom, but as the glacier is melting a big hole has formed which means you can't walk to the top.

I think helicopters are the way forward, absolutely loved the ride (we even got to sit in the front next to the pilot!) And the incredible views.


Once on the ice we met our guide Jon, strapped on our crampons and set off through the ice. As we got higher, the pinnacles got steeper, taller and closer together, making for increasingly dramatic scenes.



We also got to climb through a 'feature' which was created by two moulins (vertical holes drilled into the glacier by water) and a cave that formed between them. This meant climbing down one moulin, crawling through the cave and climbing back the second one. For claustrophobic lil old me, this was a pretty cold and terrifying experience, but totally amazing too to be right underneath all that blue ice. Especially when you think that the glacier moves so much (Franz Josef moves a metre and a half every day which is super speedy in glacier world) the feature will disappear in a few days.



Our glacier experience completed by the 'heli-hop' home, we headed to what is basically the only other thing in Franz Josef - the hot pools - to warm up.

Our next major plan was to hear north to Abel Tasman National Park, but that seemed a bit far to drive in a day, so we decided to break the journey with a stop in the small town of Punakaiki which is famous for its 'Pancake Rocks'. Not as good as real pancakes in my opinion but still interesting.


After doing the short walk to see the rocks, we decided to do the longer Porarari River walk, a really pretty 2.5 hour tramp along, yep you guessed it, the Porarari River. The river runs through a limestone gorge with big cliffs either side, and we were able to have lunch sat out on the riverbed. Yet again we were basically the only people on the trail and had it completely to ourselves.


We also checked out the beautiful Punakaiki beach.


Having decided Punakaiki was a good place to spend the night, we decided to free camp in the carpark. Glamorous I know. It turned out to be a good decision for the evening... the trade off being that meant our budget could stretch to dinner in the local (and only) pub. A bit of drama was served along with our food when everyone had to vacate the pub carpark to make room for an emergency helicopter landing! Its all happening in Punakaiki.

The next morning we had a bit of a rude awakening when we were woken up by a knock on the van window. Fast asleep (and one of us slightly hungover from a few too many Speights ciders) we opened the curtains to find a very serious looking man in uniform. Eek. Luckily he was a DOC officer come to check we had a self-contained camper, as you're only allowed to free camp if you do. After assuring him we were fully toileted up, he went on his way.

In the pub the night before, we'd met a local couple who recommended a walk to some caves so we parked up at Fox River and did the 3 hour walk to the local caves. What they failed to tell us was that the walk involved four river crossings without bridges and probably the slipperiest track we've found! So it was a bit of an adventure, and one that wasn't all done on two feet!



That afternoon we popped into a local craft market before driving to Kaiteriteri, a beach village close to Abel Tasman National Park. Well, I call it a village but its pretty much overwhelmed by a huge camp site overlooking the beach. The site is so big, it has its own petrol station, supermarket, restaurant and specially dedicated shellfish cleaning area. To be honest, it feels a bit like we've landed in Butlins with more sunshine! The beach is absolutely beautiful though.


The next morning we got to do what we came for - trek in the national park. The park has no roads and hugs the coastline on the north west of the south island, so you have to get a water taxi to the start of your walk, and one home again at the end of the day. We got the taxi to Tonga Quarry, passing seal colonies, swimming penguins and beautiful bays along the way.



The walk itself was about 15km, mainly coastal cliff tracks through bush and rainforest. Possibly the most beautiful walk we've done so far (and as we counted today, the ninth walk we've done in two weeks!)






The track we did was part of a five-day tramp called the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk. Definitely added to the wish list.

The next morning we moved onto Nelson. Slightly put off by our Butlins holiday park experience we've found a backpackers hostel who have let us park up in their carpark (oh the luxury!) Backpackers actually have better facilities as a rule, this one is really central and even does free chocolate pudding and ice cream at 8pm every night! We missed it last night but you know where we'll be come 8pm tonight. Walking distance to town is also important because Nelson is craft beer central, so we spent yesterday walking the Nelson gallery trail and stopping off for beer tasting along the way. Well, it would be rude not to.


There are lots of quirky drinking places in Nelson, even this one which has a huge yurt in the garden and a pub set in a church.


So far Marcus is favouring the old ales, but I've found a taste for ginger or honey lagers... sounds practically medicinal right?

Were planning to have another chilled day in Nelson today and tomorrow we're moving onto our final destination in the south island, the Marlborough wine region. Bring on the sauvignon blanc!

Posted by teamgb 12:32 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Milford Sound to Franz Josef

In which we cruise and kayak on Milford Sound, climb Key Summit for stunning views and get our first taste of glacier country

all seasons in one day 15 °C

On Sunday morning we left Te Anau for the drive to Milford Sound. As expected it was a pretty bleak, grey day, but that didn't stop the drive from being impressive - taking an increasingly winding road shrouded in moss and litchen covered trees. The surrounding hills and mountainsides get steeper the closer you get to Milford because Milford is the youngest of the mountainous areas directly on a tectonic fault line which is still pushing the mountains upwards. As you get really close, the trees start to thin out and the road winds along next to sheer black rock faces literally covered in waterfalls.

Amazingly, as we arrived in Milford Sound, the skies cleared and we got an awesome view of the sound (which incidentally is actually a fiord not a sound... but don't ask me the difference!)


We went on a boat cruise (organised through Southern Discoveries who we were really impressed with) which took us right along the sound to the Tasman Sea. Along the way we saw hundreds of waterfalls, searing cliff faces and lots of New Zealand fur seals basking on the rocks. We'd been told a cruise on the Milford Sound was a 'must do' experience... and it really is.




Its also really interesting from a scientific perspective because it has a unique ecosystem where the rain creates a layer of fresh water on top of the seawater underneath. This results in lots of salt water life (mainly corals but fish too) that would normally live 100m below the surface thriving at just a few metres below the surface of the sound. There's an underwater observatory called the Discovery Centre that we visited to see all of this life under the surface.

Our boat dropped us off at Harrison Cove where we took to the water in kayaks instead. Being pretty novice kayakers we were relieved the water was calm (except when a huge cruise boat went past us) and luckily we didn't have to use the 'kayak evacuation' technique we were taught before we got going. We kayaked through the cove, spotting bird life along the shore, although sadly no penguins. Loads of fun and definitely nice to really engage with the environment rather than just sitting on a boat.


All of the people we met, even those who work in Milford Sound everyday seem to absolutely love it, their enthusiasm is totally infectious. As the guy who took us kayaking said 'I don't know of anywhere else you can see that many waterfalls without turning your head'. The sheer scale of it is amazing. For example, the waterfalls you can see in the background of this photo are 1600m high - that's a vertical mile.


And the ship you can see in this photo us a huge ocean cruise ship!


That night we wanted to try free camping. Along the Te Anau - Milford road there are a number of DOC (Department of Conservation) sites that are basically designated sites you can camp in. We found a lovely spot in a site called Cascade Creek and pitched up next to a stream, under a tree, surrounded by wild flowers and mountain views. All for the princely sum of $12 (that's about £6).



The next day we had an early start. We wanted to get back to Queenstown that night, but really wanted to do a walk (or 'tramp' as they're known in NZ) in the Milford area. So we chose a route to the top of Key Summit which starts on the Routeburn Track and then heads off to the top of the summit for incredible views.



Well worth the time and the detour, especially as we were rewarded with such amazing weather.

The drive back to Queenstown was also stunning. We'd already done this drive so were essentially retracing our steps, but on the way it was quite grey and cloudy, whereas on the way back we had beautiful blue skies. Driving here is also really easy because there's hardly anyone else on the roads, sometimes it feels like you've got a whole valley to yourself.


As we approached Lake Wakatipu, it looked like we could get a good view so we pulled in at a rest stop on the side of the road. Literally just at random. But we discovered a little track down to the lake, and couldn't believe our eyes when we came across a deserted little beach with this view.


The water was so clear and inviting, Marcus threw on his swimming shorts and jumped in. What a brilliant find! Just a bit better than a British motorway service station.


We made it to Queenstown around 5pm and got a site at a campsite called Creeksyde, where we got a little spot right next to the creek. I think we could get used to the sound of running water lulling us to sleep at night!

On Tuesday we decided to have a bit of a rest day as we've done quite a lot considering we only landed in NZ last Wednesday. So we spent the day wandering around the shops, reading our books by the lake and getting organised for the next few days as we're about to head up the west coast. We even treated ourselves to dinner and drinks instead of cooking, and finished the night with an ice cream overlooking the lake as the sun set. Perfect.

Yesterday we drove to Franz Josef, home of the famous glacier, via Wanaka (beautiful lake views) and Haast (beautiful raw coastal views).



Just before Franz Josef is Fox Glacier, which is apparently smaller and a little less scenic than Franz Josef. We did the walk up to the glacier to have a look and wet our appetites for our glacier walk today. It was a bit grey and the end of the glacier is of course covered in rocks and rubble carved out by the glacier, but we could just about make out some blue ice, and it was still a really impressive sight.


Must go now... our helicopter onto the glacier awaits!

Posted by teamgb 13:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Christchurch to Te Anau

In which we get campervanning, get lost on a mountain and get rewarded with the most stunning views of our lives

semi-overcast 18 °C

New Zealand has so far been beyond our wildest dreams, literally some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. Combine that with hitting the open (and winding) roads in our own campervan, cooking up a storm on the BBQ at night and topping it off with the world's greatest sauvignon blanc... you might say we're enjoying New Zealand. Just a bit.

We landed in Christchurch on Wednesday afternoon and were met by Andrew from Cruzy Campers to introduce us to our home for the next three weeks.


Neither of us had ever been in a campervan before but luckily its easy enough to pick up. We headed straight into downtown Christchurch, the centre of which is still devastated by the 2011 earthquake. There's a whole area, called the red zone, which is closed off and contains the worst of the damage. It was a pretty weird experience, almost like walking around a ghost town.



If its possible to see a silver lining in all this, they have taken it as an opportunity to plan a regeneration project which will eventually build a beautiful, modern city. There is already a new shopping area made out of really cool, multi-coloured shipping containers that we had a wander around.


Can't help but think Christchurch will be an incredible place to visit in a few years time.

The next day we headed off on the 520km drive to Queenstown. Because we like to start easy. The first part of the journey is down the coast, through flat, Canterbury farmland. But the landscape changed for the better when we headed inland, first to Waimate then Omarama and finally through Cromwell before arriving in Queenstown. The scenery was incredible, the most shining green lakes bordered by grey mountains, whole roads lined with abundant pink and purple wild flowers, and the flattest, straightest valley roads followed by twisting and turning mountain passes. Its a shame one of us always has to drive while the other sits in the passenger seat shouting 'Look at that!'




Queenstown itself doesn't disappoint either. Built on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, its a small town filled with every adrenalin activity you can think of, outdoor shops, coffee shops and bars.


We stayed in a camp site overlooking the lake... not a bad view to wake up to!


We decided to stay a couple of nights so the next day we did a walk from the lake side called the Fernhill Loop. The walk took us through (yep, you guessed it) even more amazing scenery... beech forests, alpine forests, wild flower meadows and rainforest... before we reached the top.




We actually got lost and ended up doing the track the wrong way round, which meant that instead of an 'undulating path' to the top, we went straight up (for two very steep, very painful hours), although this meant the terrain changed around us probably every 15 minutes. And when we got to the top? It was seriously worth it (our photos definitely don't do this justice... Marcus claims its the best view he's ever seen).


Today we drove the 180km to Te Anau which is a really small town on the edge of Lake Te Anau. Its basically a stepping off point for trekking routes and trips to Milford Sound but in a pretty location on the south of the lake. After setting up camp and having lunch we did a two-hour lakeside walk for some more beautiful mountain and lake views.

Tomorrow we're driving the famous Te Anau to Milford road, which was described to us by the guy who rented us the van as 'about as wilderness as you can get'. Needless to say, Marcus will be doing the driving.

We've booked ourselves on a boat out into Milford Sound in the afternoon which includes a drop off for kayaking. Apparently they measure the rainfall in metres there, so we're expecting to get wet! Then tomorrow night we're hoping to free camp in one of the free camping designated areas (oxymoron?) in the Milford area. Can't wait!

Posted by teamgb 21:25 Archived in New Zealand Comments (9)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 32) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 7 »