Blog: Mountains in New Zealand

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Polish war memorial Bradley

Glenorchy, Queenstown, Te Anau, Invercargill, Alexandra, Mount Cook.

Highlight: Yellow-eyed penguins, scorchio on Christmas Day, New Year in a puddle, mountain walks.

Day 349 – Dec 19 : Lake Sylvan

We got up early since the sun was hitting the tent with force and the hungry sandflies were waiting greedily for us.

We did the two hour walk through the forest to pretty Lake Sylvan and followed the old mining tramway back to the campsite.

peli mount cook

Driving back from Routeburn track and Glenorchy is hard work, keeping your eyes on the road and where you are driving is nearly impossible when you have the beautiful distractions of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding snow capped mountains.

We stocked up in Queenstown and headed to Te Anau. We had heard that the road to Milford Sound was closed because of a rock slide and they were wondering what to do with an especially big rock laying just above the road. But, by the number of tour buses coming from Te Anau towards us it was clearly business as usual in Milford.

We headed to the free DoC campground around six kilometres south of Te Anau, according to the DoC camp book, but when we got there there were ‘no camping’ signs up everywhere. So we plumped for the second option, a holiday park little over one kilometre north of town. It’s so much easier to pick and choose in a car. If we’d been cycling we would have had to chance our luck at the former DoC campground.

Day 350 – Dec 20 : Key Point

Key PointSince we are not in a rush and now have the car, getting up and getting ready is taking its time. It was nearly midday by the time we asked at the i-Site about day walks nearby. To get to mountains and altitude from Te Anau you have to start early since the ferry across the lake leaves around 9am or you need to drive for an hour towards Milford and the mountains there.

With the help from the i-Site we headed towards a walk up to Key Point, which starts at the same place as the Routeburn starts/ends. That meant that we did meet a few people coming down from the mountains that we also saw walking up the mountain to start the Routeburn when we were on the Glenorchy side. The general rule of thumb is that you will experience one wet day on your Routeburn crossing, but the ones we saw must have had three wonderful days of sunshine.

At the top of Key Point we were treated to a 360 view of the mountains and the valleys created by glaciers years ago, plus a view over to Lake Miriam and its hanging valley and snow capped tops.

Day 351 – Dec 21 : Yellow eyes

yellow eyed penguin Rain held back long enough for us to pack up and get going before it really opened up. So not much was seen as we drove south on the Southern Scenic Route to Invercargill. On arrival it looked much like Blackpool, it just needed a tower and a pier and a few donkeys.

A little asking around a local info site had us heading on gravel roads toward Curio Bay, at the speed limit. The reason for the “rush” was that we could get to see a fossilised forest at low tide and the penguins would be coming in for the night. The fossilised forest forms the upper part of the beach and so is hidden in high tide. It’s over 170 million years old, get your head around that if you dare. And the penguins aren’t just your run of the mill penguins either, they are the ever so rare and cute yellow-eyed penguins. (Yes, Mum, I was a good boy and didn’t try to put money into the penguins, since these weren’t king penguins*.)

There were seven pairs of penguins who have chosen to nest at the fossilised forest beach. We were lucky to see four of them come in and walk and jump through the water. These delightful and precious creatures have a wonderfully comical way of walking and jumping onto rocks. We were so lucky to encounter them. One pair had their nest right under the stairs down to the beach so we got to hear and see the feeding of the rather fat-looking penguin baby. (Grey fluffy feathers are not really what you should wear if you are looking for that slimming summer look.)

We drove to a DoC campsite at Purakanui Bay, a beautiful spot, with beach, cliffs and a big fur seal who just plonked itself down for the night a mere 10 metres away from a fellow camper’s tent.

Sadly this beauty spot had had previous guests who didn’t think that it should continue to be so and didn’t like the pack-in, pack-out rule. Even with bins next to the toilet block they managed to leave litter all over the site. How are people so ignorant?

*) Do feel free to ask me about this the next time we meet, Danes with a long memory will know what I’m talking about if they banked with Den Danske Bank.

Day 352 – Dec 22 : Short Day

nugget pointThis is normally the shortest day for us and often rather cold, grey and miserable day for us. So it’s rather weird to have a warm night followed by a day with wall-to-wall sun and daylight to past ten at night.

I drove Peli to the nearest bit of tarmac and set her loose on her bike. The road was very twisty and steep in places, just up Peli’s street. She tried to conquer the gravel out to Nugget Point, but she is on much thinner tyres than usual, so back in the support car she went.

At Nugget Point and its lighthouse we saw a seal kindergarten, eight seal pups in one little pond having a seal of a time (see what I did there?) just off the rough surf. Mummy and Auntie seals were watching carefully, and joining in when they felt like it.

We drove the southern coastal road back to Dunedin and the Otago peninsula where we camped up for the night in lovely Portobello.

Day 353 – Dec 23 : This is the end of the world as we know it

So the world as we know it ended today, I do hope that you like the repeats that we will be enjoying from now on.

The domestique team (the car and I) drove Peli out to the end of the peninsula at Albatross Point, from where Peli would cycle back to Dunedin along the Highcliff Road that traverses the ridge of the old volcano and gives some stunning views. We’d done a similar route in 2010 and fell in love with the place, so it was a real treat to be back.

Halfway through the day we headed down a gravel road to the start of the Lovers Leap track. I wonder how many lovers have done the leap. Or is it just because the have been hopping joyfully along the track while in love and fallen by mistake?

Back in Dunedin we camped out at the same campsite we used two years ago, a bit like being home.

Day 354 – Dec 24 : Merry Jul

peli riding her bikeWe managed to get online in Lawerence who proclaimed that they were the first town in NZ to offer town-wide free wifi.

I got an email from my folks in Denmark with pictures of the front garden covered in a foot or more snow amidst a snowstorm. It was nice and cooling since it was rather hot sitting in the car checking emails in 31c, no wind and blue skies.

In Roxburgh Peli got on her bike to cycle the last 40km to Alexandrea where we would spend the few days over Christmas.

I’m getting pretty good at my domestique duties, setting Peli off on her merry way, then reading for a bit before going after her. I make sure that I pass her with plenty of space and a cheery wave (the style of wave varies) and check if she needs anything. Then I stop at a lay-by a few km ahead of her with fresh water and a bite to eat.

We have talked about Peli doing some racing when back in the UK and I be the mechanic and cake support. I have found the right way to hurry her up if I found that we would late to the next destination, just make a sly comment about how slow she has been over the last leg. Boy, that speeds her up!

But, today with the wind, heat and the hills I made no comments like that. We didn’t want a repeat of our ride out of Santa Fe. Lucky there wasn’t any Sage Brush around but else the landscape did remind us of New Mexico.

We had been offered to stay in our friends camper van in Alexandera while they were away. Pretty much a one bedroom flat on wheels and in a lovely spot with a pool to relax in. Though I’m not too sure if this is the future for us, to live in a camper van and I worry somewhat about Peli’s ability to live in a home with solid walls, after so long in a tent. Over the next few days she managed to bang her head, toes and hands on pretty much everything.

Day 363-368 – Dec 25-30: Crimbo

xmas NZ styleI think I wouldn’t be so anti juletide if we could celebrate crimbo the kiwi way. No it is not the sun, BBQ and trip to the beach, I for one do like a bit of snow. Its that the “festivities” comes to a annoying peak only around two weeks before. Not like in the UK where the mere mention of the word Christmas sends shivers down your back by mid October.

We went to Cromwell and looked at the old town, which was saved from the lake that was created when the build the dam that looms over the town Clyde twenty kilometres away. We walked along the lake for a bit before we had our lunch in the shade. We had to cut our walk short for we were running out of water even when we were carrying nearly four litres, we are not used to walk in this heat.

Since we got the car we have been able to listen to the local radio stations. Coming from a back ground where TV and radio was done in a prober way, Queens English, OK not in Denmark but you know what I mean, well dressed and trimmed. You know just like the BBC does it. The main news broadcast here is way more relaxed just like a breakfast show and on the radio none of the speakers can do it without errors. Some stations news readers sounds like they are retelling you a story they heard from a mate down the pub. Shocking.

We are very comfy in the camper van so we stayed put for a few day more than planned. Only one day out of the six days we spend in the camper it went below the very cold 25c in the shade rest of the time we had a blaming 30c.

A big thank you goes to the Two Ps for letting us stay in their home on wheels.

Day 368-370 – Dec 30-1 Jan : New Year

glacier in the mist We drove to Mt. Cook to have a few walks at this beautiful mountain, though the weather had other ideas.

Strong winds and heavy rain were on the menu for the next few days. We ummed and ahaarred if we should go up there or bail out. We decided to go up there for at least one night if the weather should be good in the am for one walk, since mountain weather is never predictable.

The wind was coming from any which way it liked so it was at a guess were to point the tail of the tent. This meant that doing the night we got shaken and buffered by the very strong wind with the added pleasure of a bucket load of rain thrown in for good measure.

This wouldn’t have been too bad if we didn’t have a totally broken and unusable zip on the outer. Lucky it was at the end where the entrance was the furthest away from the inner, so we stayed dry.

a rare bit of blue skyWe got up early after not much sleep to take advantage of the weather and walked the track up the Hooker Valley. Though Mt. Cook didn’t want to show itself through the clag but we got to see the Hooker glacier at the bottom Mt Cook. It is some mountain, you drive for 55km from Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook Village and only climb around 200m to around 350m about the sea. The Hooker Valley track takes around one and a half hour to walk up the lake and glacier and still only climb a few hundred metres. And there you have this walk going another 3200metres or more straight up to the top of Mt Cook.

We had taken the tent down since we didn’t like to have a opened tent standing, in the strong wind, on its own while we hiked. We decided that we should stay the night if we could a spot out of the wind. Though having a five and a half metres long tent cut some options and very uneven and rocky ground cut the options even further.

We settled for one spot next to a little stream, thinking that it was as high as it would be after all the rain last night. But as we cooked up in the shelter the wind and rain came down even stronger and our tent got a good old bashing.

The very strong wind and heavy rain didn’t stop in the new year and the ground around the tent had drunk as much as it could. So our “little water feature” in the west wing of our tent was around four inches deep, which made it rather interesting when going for a nature call in the night.

After 12 hours of hammering winds and rain the not broken zip on the side entrance wasn’t waterproof any more either. The same with the seams that holds the hooks that holds the inner tent up. So we had a little weather coming in here and there, I would say the tent held up well after the beating it got.

We found out that a few people had bailed out and left the campsite or went a found shelter in the shelter. We also found a Spanish cycle touring couple there, they decided to not even try to put their tent up in the storm. We saw them cycling into Mt. Cook and they were wetter than wet when we talked to them on new years eve. They decided to stay another day at the shelter, the rumour had it that the weather would be better the next day. They were lacking food because of this unscheduled stop so we donated some of ours. We had plenty in the car and could easy get to a shop too.

As we drove along Lake Pukaki and got to the tourist information at the bottom of the lake it was nearly a nice summers day bar the wind.

Day  363 – Jan 2 : Long drive

We had driven to Lake Tikapo where hope the weather would be better but it would have none of it. Our walk up to Mount John nearly turned into a washout as the rain started as we started to walk down. In the early evening and into the night the thunder storm hung over us rolling to and from and we woke up in a lake again. OK this time not as deep or threading as in Mt. Cook and the sun came out long enough to somewhat dry the tent before departure.

As we drove toward the Banks Peninsular we were right under the storm front still hanging about that wasn’t very keen on leaving New Zealand. Getting closer to Christchurch the weather cleared and the Banks Peninsula was as sunny as we remembered from the last time we were here two years ago.

Day 364 – Jan 3 : Summit road

Short story : stunning day and missing the bicycle.

peli cycling up to Summit RoadLonger story : The weather was just perfect weather next to no wind and very sunny. Peli got her cycling gear on after breakfast and set off up to the Summit Road which runs around the crater and the stunning natural harbour where Akarora is. Though she was a bit too keen and stormed up the hill too fast so I found her further up the hill than expected, when I was doing my domestically duties, rather hot and in need of a cold drink. She does like to push herself a wee bit.

After having found her lungs again she set off and we both enjoyed the Summit road with its beautiful views over the bays below. Still as stunning as the last time here and one of our favourite places in New Zealand. Sadly I couldn’t joy Peli on this ride back into memory lane.

We headed down the hill back into Akarora via the road running around the bottom of the crater. Peli had uttered the I word and we were in hunt for some ice cream. Akaroa was in high summer and tourist season so it was hard to drive let alone walk into town centre. We still managed to find the ice cream parlour though there was no more boysenberry ice cream, so I had to settle with hokey-pokey and choclate. Which we enjoyed down in the little park next to the water.

We were tucked up in bed watching our daily episode of Spooks when we got disturbed by a massive bang. Across the bay there was a party, probably a wedding, going on and they started it with a massive fire works display. The whole harbour and bay was echoing with each big bang and Akarora town was lit up with each rocket going off. The cows in the nearby field took a good half hour to calm down after the fireworks.

Day 365-367 – Jan 4-6 : One year on the road

We had to book and plan our onward travel so a day on the computer was booked. We still had two and a bit weeks in Tasmania to come and had no idea what to do there. Big bush fires was starting up on Tasmania so we had to find out where we go and what to see. We also made the decision to ship our bikes home, it would make travelling around Tasmania getting to Tasmania and getting back to the UK easier.

Not to bore you with much details regarding  shipping two bicycles from New Zealand to the UK. Over the next few days we had a bit of a nightmare especially when we were pressed for time. Loads of paperwork, companies not too keen on shipping small loads, minimum a cubic metre and companies who don’t answer email fast or with all the answers you want. So if you are thinking about shipping, plan ahead do it when you have plenty of time. Lucky Peli is brilliant at dealing with others and she did a great job to get our bikes on a boat before we fly out of New Zealand.

After many hours indoors we had a walk into Akarora and a dip in the campsites pool.

We picked up a leaflet in the tourist office with a few walks on the peninsula and set off in hunt for a few of them on yet another perfect weather day.

The first walk started on from a side road and went right into the bush at the top of the crater that is the Banks peninsula. It then opened up and we were walking on the edge of a bluff and a long drop down. We descended down through the bush after we had enjoined the views.

enjoying the viewThe next short walk started at a picnic table and a long drop toilet that we couldn’t use because of a swam of bees had set up camp there. While we eat we looked at some rock climbers trying to scale the cliff face the hard way. After lunch we walked the very easy route up to the top of the cliff from where we could look down at the climbers and the beautiful bays.

We then drove over to Pigeon Bay and pitched our tent pretty on the same spot as two years ago and settled in for the night. This is where we discovered that we have now been on the road for over a year and forgot to celebrate on the right day. Its been a good and hard year and we both wouldn’t have missed it for anything, too much fun.

Day 368 – Jan 7 : Back in Christchurch

Peli got ready for her last bike ride for a while and cycled out of Pigeon Bay up to the Summit Road. She told me that the nearly 10km long ride wasn’t as hard as she remembered it from two years ago.

I overtook Peli with plenty of space as you should do when passing a cyclist. Though at the next feeding station Peli told some pour sold her thurghts of their driving. I had just given her some fresh water and she was off again on the very winding road. When a car came and overtook her around 200metres down the road on somewhat blind corner. Peli choice of word is not re-printable on this blog as I clearly heard them from where in sat in a car with the engine and radio on. The driver of the other car clearly also heard it, as they slowed down and continued gingerly.

We meet up again after the long downhill into Little River where we found some boysenberry ice cream, just like two years ago. We put the bicycle into the car and a set off into Christchurch looking for a campsite.

Day 369-370 – Jan 8-9 : Leaving New Zealand

Trough a friend in the UK we got to camp out at his son and wife place not far from the airport in Christchurch. We spend two good days in their company and wonderful kids. Good food, ice cream and tea from fine China cups were had.

We had two busy days, packing the bikes up into boxes from the best bicycle shop in Christchurch. Loads of paperwork, with an itemized list of what is going into the boxes, were done by Peli to get our bicycles ready for shipping, not something we want to any time soon.

While Peli was fighting the paper work battle I was busy washing and packing our tent, panniers and shoes so that we could pass bio security in Australia. They are not as strict as the NZ bio security but still not dirt, food etc can be taken into the country.

In the chaos we did have time for some tea and cake with a cycle touring couple we meet on the north island who were from Bristol.

We then went to the airport ready for a long night before the very early flight. It was easier to move around and check in without two big bike boxes. So the hard work brilliantly done by Peli is paying off and we still have a flight back to the UK to come.

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