A Famous Tree

Our Wanaka Top 10 campsite left a little to be desired – all soap dispensers in the washrooms empty, for example – but it was quite well situated as we left to visit the shores of Lake Wanaka itself. We pulled into the first off road parking area to be faced by bunches of lupins, all be they yellow [fussy chaps, photographers], fronting the shore. As I parked Busby, Francine headed for the lake front.

J17_4300 Wanaka TreeThere are a few classic subjects that landscape photographs love and one of those is a lone tree with its feet in water. There is a famous example of this type in the English Lake District on Lake Buttermere. A friend of ours has found another, even better example, in the Snowdonia National Park of Wales. Purely by chance we had stumbled into the iconic New Zealand example of its type. And what a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. I snapped a few while Francine gave the surrounding waters her Lee Big Stopper treatment. [The naturally imposed blue cast means that they’ll take some processing before being ready for display, though.]

We were heading for Te Anau, well beyond Queenstown on the one road in and out of Milford Sound. Being one of the tourist hotspots, we’d booked a spot in the campsite to be safe.

Leaving Wanaka behind we headed through very pleasant, if unspectacular countryside – the trouble is that parts of New Zealand sort of redefine spectacular and expectations get adjusted accordingly – towards a famous historic hotel at Cardrona. A spit before Cardrona is what has become a possibly more famous sight. I parked but Busby’s key fob failed to lock the doors a few times before I managed to get it to work. Worrying.

_17C9167Years ago a tourist with a bizarre sense of amusement clearly thought it would be a jolly wheeze to leave her bra tied to a wire fence. Humans being little more intelligent, on the whole, than sheep, first dozens then hundreds followed suit. The fence is now covered with bras and has become known as Bradronda. Bizarre it may be but at least it has been turned to good use by having been given a collection box for donations towards breast cancer.

Busby unlocked but I again had trouble locking him at the hotel where we stopped for a cup of coffee. Now I was certain I needed to call into the Maui office in Queenstown.

_17C9179The drive to Queenstown twisted and climbed its way through a landscape that looked a little more like desert, similar to the Desert Road on North Island in some respects. Clearly it isn’t desert, though, since there are chain bays spaced regularly along the road. The descent into Queenstown rounded several sharp hairpin bends which stop the wary driver looking at the scenery. The occasional glimpse proved it was a impressive, though.

We found the Queenstown Maui centre, had the power cable checked and the battery in the key fob renewed. We swapped our also temperamental Kiwi Satnav which occasionally failed to run on vehicle power. Poor electrical connections seemed to have been a feature, though not terminal problems. Our package also includes a change of bed linen and towels, which Francine collected.

J17_4310 LunchtimeWe were both expecting the road between Queenstown and Te Anau to be somewhat slow and arduous but in fact it proved to be relatively straight and fast. At least our journey back this way should be relaxing. At Kingston we had lunch and I had something of an epiphany, reversing Busby towards a lake shore and throwing open the rear doors to give us a lunch view. It’s taken two weeks but maybe I’m getting the hang of this campervan lark. 🙂

Fuel prices had still been high in Queenstown (NZ$1.56) and I was expecting them to be high in Te Anau, being a centre for trapped Milford Sound tourists, so I was mighty surprised to find an unmanned automated fuel station in Mossburn selling diesel at NZ$1.26. Had I taken a wrong turn and ended up back on North Island? I’ll have some of that. I should be able to have some more of it on the way back from Milford Sound, too.

Another word about diesel in passing. In New Zealand, diesel fuel is untaxed at the point of sale so is considerably cheaper than unleaded fuel. However, diesel is taxed after the event – there’s a charge based on mileage [does one ever say kilometerage?] which I think it’s called a Diesel Recovery Charge, or some such. Our package includes a flat rate charge for that so we don’t have to worry.

Te Anau looked very pleasant and, after our newly checked short electric cable failed to reach at our first pitch, we were rewarded with the best pitch on site, right at the edge and facing the fence, unsociable gits that we are.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

Constant ‘Copters

J17_4226 Franz Joseph MorningFranz Joseph Glacier Township must be one of the noisiest places on the planet. Living under the flight path of Heathrow is mere drone compared to Franz Joseph. We awoke to a beautifully clear morning, the campsite being overlooked by some spectacular snow-capped mountains with a crystal clear blue sky above. The crystal blue sky was an irresistible invitation to all those rich tourists who want an aerial view of the Franz Joseph Glacier itself. The sky is constantly filled with the noisy chop, chop, chop of helicopters. It’s like Apocalypse Now. All that was missing was the Ride of the Valkyries; well, and maybe the 0.5 inch calibre machine guns, which had been replaced by cameras, hopefully.

J17_4231 Franz Joseph GlacierDespite the constant drone above, the morning was delightful. Apart from anything else, we were so thankful for our apparent change in meteorological fortunes. We were planning to head over the Haast Pass to Wanaka, a distance of some 270kms so we had time to go and see the Franz Joseph Glacier itself, which is just about 5kms from the township. We secured Busby for travel and set off via the local supermarket for some essential supplies, such as beer. We were ahead of the rush of grockels and got to the viewpoint all alone.

J17_4279 Haast RiverThe Haast River is a narrow blue ribbon snaking sinuously down a white rock sided wide valley. It’s an impressive sight that the tourist board apparently thought nobody would want to stop and stare at. There are bugger all parking places and from most of the few that there are, the view is obscured by bushes. Consequently, photographing the scene is a touch tricky. Some sense of the colour maybe conveyed by this, though. The occasional jet boat screams downstream.

The problem was compounded by our trying to get into parking spots only too find no room at the inn. Maybe this was a combination of it being a sunny day and a Saturday to boot … and perhaps it being roughly lunchtime. By the time you’ve pulled into about half a dozen stopping points either finding no space or no view, frustration can begin to set in.

J17_4292 Haast PassCrossing the col and descending towards Wanaka felt a little weird in that there was still a river but it was now flowing in the opposite direction. The change seemed seamless but there was the water going the other way. The valley opened up and we began passing a couple of large lakes, still sided by snow-capped mountains. This was the sort of scenery we’d come for.

The campsite was adequate by New Zealand campervan standards, though the pitch was only just as long as the van. Plugging in I had no electricity. I tried two other outlets and still had no electricity. Unscrewing the connectors on my cable, one end seemed insecure so I suspected a bad connection. With no toolkit, I could do little but push the cable home and attempt to secure it better. It worked. Phew, at least I can keep the beer cold.

We’ll be passing through Queenstown tomorrow where there is a Maui depot. I’ll see if we can get the cable swapped.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

West Coast Drive

Today we planned to drive down the west coast road from Carters Beach (nr. Westport) to Franz Joseph Glacier Township. There was an initially threateningly black cloud bank above us but this cleared to sunny intervals as the morning progressed. [I’m auditioning for a job as a weather forecaster.]

This coast road is breath-taking. Much is made (by Americans) of the California coast road south of San Francisco (California 101?) but let me tell you that this New Zealand equivalent knocks it into a cocked hat.

_17C9024Our first tourist stop was at Punakaiki – Pancake Rocks. There’re blowholes here given the right tide conditions, which we didn’t have, but the interesting thing for those who find rocks interesting [not me – no heart beat] is that the rocks look like a stacks of pancakes. Maple syrup sir? I think this is to do with multiple sedimentary layers and erosion but don’t quote me. They do look fascinating in an inanimate sort of way, though. Francine clicked away while I followed along.

‘T was time for a coffee. Outside the Department of Conservation Reserve of Pancake Rocks is what looks like the inevitable tourist trap conglomeration of businesses; gift shops and the like. One of the likes was a café. I was prepared to pay top tourist dollar for a reviving cappuccino but, to my surprise in this captive market of swarming tourists, our coffees were what, it seems, is the standard price for a cappuccino, NZ$4.50. the coffee is both good – cappuccinos are often a double shot by default – and good value.

The lack of captive market mark-up does not apply to fuel, we had read. We were advised to fill up in Greymouth, our next landmark, because fuel prices rose to rip-off levels in the more remote points further south. We complied. Greymouth also marked a change in scenery. Francine described the hedges beyond here, seemingly sculpted by the on shore wind, as cloud hedges, poetic old thing that she is.

Hokitika 2We made a late lunchtime stop at Hokitika [pronounced Hoe-ki-tikka], largely because it is the centre of a whitebait industry and, like the green-lipped mussels, it would be rude not to try some. The standard method of preparation is as a “patty”. We picked a cafe and ordered a “whitebait sammy” (white bread sandwich) each which, when they turned up, consisted of a whitebait fritter – lots of small fish in beaten egg. This, I assume, is the patty. Whatever it was, frankly all I could really taste was the egg and not the fish. Pleasant enough but, rather like the mussels, a little disappointing.

_17C9034Now to the most interesting part of our day’s journey for me. In New Zealand many of the road bridges are one lane bridges where it is sometimes necessary to wait for opposing traffic already on the bridge to clear it before proceeding. We joined a small queue waiting to gain access to a single lane bridge. The wrinkle here was that the one lane bridge was a shared road and rail bridge; both cars and trains ran across the same bridge. Eventually oncoming traffic cleared and we were able to proceed, sans train.

_17C9036Further on, an even more interesting arrangement was encountered. A convoluted road sign showed a line drawing of a roundabout with a rail line running right through the middle of it. We were in luck. As we approached behind a handful of cars who, happily, seemed to know what they were doing, lights began flashing and bells began ringing. The cars stopped half way around the roundabout as a goods train clattered by. Weird!

Traffic excitement over, we arrived in Franz Joseph Glacier Township and checked in to what has been one of the better campsites so far.

Back to those fuel prices. On North Island, I had paid as little as NZ$1.11. Some stations, notably the BP stations, were more but NZ$1.15 was not unusual if one was careful. Having crossed to South Island, the basic fuel price seemed to have risen to NZ$1.45. In the more remote Franz Joseph, the price rose to a whopping NZ$1.75. To be fair, the fuel does have to be shipped quite a distance along the more remote roads but that’ll be in tanker loads. 30c a litre seems like a steep mark-up.

We both much preferred today’s improvement in the weather.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

Cape Foulwind

‘T was time to move on. Three nights in one place on a touring holiday? Ridiculous. We had to make tracks towards a reservation for an overnight cruise in Milford Sound boarding the coming Monday afternoon. To do that, we’d be averaging ~250kms a day for the next four days.

We left Kaiteriteri in good weather. The initial part of our journey to Westport-ish, on the west coast, took us on a minor road, perfectly good and sealed, actually brilliant, through a picturesque rural valley with swathes of bright yellow Broom covering many of its hillsides. IMHO, Broom is so much more attractive than Gorse, being a bright, clean yellow compared to the slightly dirtier yellow of Gorse. It’s not prickly either. Unfortunately, Broom has assumed the status of “invasive weed” here in New Zealand and is regarded rather as Rhododendron and Himalayan Balsam are in the UK. Our pretty Broom-infested road eventually joined State Highway 6 and, after a cappuccino at the café handily situated at the junction, we turned towards Westport.

_17C8922The second half of the drive was through what could have been the attractive Buller valley. However, as we climbed up towards the col to begin the descent into the valley,  the clouds climbed down to meet us halfway and the hilltops disappeared. A very wetting rain began to fall. “Bother!”, said Pooh, crossly, again.

There being little point in stopping anywhere, we continued to Westport. Actually, we continued to our campsite at Carter’s Beach 10kms west of Westport. As we approached the coast we left the miserable conditions behind in the mountains and both the weather and our mood brightened accordingly. We were booked in and chose our pitch.

About 5kms further west again is a seal colony, a natural attraction for us nature lovers. The seal colony is at the enticingly named Cape Foulwind. Which genius thought that one up? Whether Cape Foulwind is so named because of inclement weather or because of the aroma drifting off the seal colony remains unclear. In any event we parked and went investigating.

The “seals” in question are so-called New Zealand Fur Seals. Here, I have to repeat my little lesson on seals and sea lions. I say repeat because I had to recite it about the so-called Cape Fur Seals that we saw earlier this year in Namibia. In common with the Cape Fur Seals, these New Zealand Fur Seals are, in fact, sea lions – they have ear flaps and walk on their limbs. No matter, the vernacular/common name we’re stuck with is seal and I’ll have to live with it. This is low season on seal/seal lion colonies but I spotted half a dozen or so from the high observation platform. Neither the high angle of view nor the very harsh lighting (the sun was now out again) was really favourable for photography but I clicked, as one must.

_17C8934The seal colony solved an avian mystery for me. Back at Anchorage after our coast path walk, we’d seen a brown, flightless, chicken-sized bird wandering about almost oblivious to humans. Here at the seal colony, we saw them again, several this time, wandering about in a similarly oblivious manner, though get closer than about 2 metres and they ran off. An information board identified our feathered friend as a Weka. In common with most native New Zealand birds, many of which lost the power of flight due to their having been no predators away from which to fly, Wekas are not doing well. The problem is that some idiot decided it would be a good idea to introduce the possum to New Zealand. Flightless birds tend to nest on the ground, possums love to eat birds’ eggs. Enough said. Mankind screws the ecosystem yet again. We have been seeing kill traps tucked amongst the trees on pretty much all our walks through various forests/woodland. Traffic also takes a toll on possums but it ain’t enough, a concerted effort is required.

_17C8951Beside the seal/sea lion colony is an expansive beach. While I was communing with wildlife, Francine played a little game with the landscape available. Eventually she’d tried enough angles and came back to join me.

_17C8983 NZ HawkerHeading back for the campsite, Francine spotted a lily pond that was accessible. The sun was still shining and it was warm, about 17°C. I spun around and we accessed it. The pond was relatively teaming with Odos. There were three species, I think, including the Common Redcoat damselfly again. Neither of the dragonflies seemed interested in resting very much, so we spent an interesting hour or so trying to catch them in flight. The light was not advantageous again, being very harsh and into our faces, but we managed a few possibly identifiable shots. One of them finally settled briefly near Francine; it looks like a Hawker of some description so probably Aeshna brevistyla but don’t quote me until I can get on the blasted Internet properly. Another looked different to anything we’ve seen hitherto so I’m pretty sure this will constitute two new species.

Good start to the day and a good end.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

Kaiteriteri on Foot

My crossed fingers didn’t work; the morning dawned just as grey as yesterday’s evening. “Bother!”, said Pooh, crossly.

We’re at this campsite for two nights to give us time to say hello to an old acquaintance from Australia 16 years ago. It’s our first independent, non Top 10 campsite. It comes with free wi-fi but only a paltry 50Mb a day. Francine’s phone is set to automatically upload its phone camera pictures to Dropbox. Mess with photos and 50Mb don’t last long. Sure enough, our connectivity was soon cut. Top 10 sites give us 500Mb. Enough said.

There is a reportedly excellent walk here which requires a ticket on a coastal boat. The boat drops you off further up the coast (not accessible by vehicles), in the Abel Tasman National Park, and you walk back choosing one of a couple of possible distances to suit your abilities, to be picked up by the boat again at an appointed time. Our UK neighbours did it when they toured New Zealand a few years ago and loved it.

Under threatening grey skies we ummed and ahhed. The weather really didn’t look the greatest though I must admit that the temperature was about right – we certainly wouldn’t overheat. Our consensus of opinion was that we’d likely spend NZ$130 on conditions not right for sightseeing. There were walks from the campsite that would get us the exercise our legs craved.

_17C8729Walk #1 was a circuit around the lagoon. It began less than scintillatingly along a road. When we cut into some woodland, however, things got much more interesting. Francine spotted a diminutive white flower that was clearly an orchid, even to my untrained eyes. There was a small cluster of them and we both clicked away happily. The bloom on these little guys are no more than a centimetre wide and they stand 7-8cms tall. We have no idea what it is and with no Internet connection worth a damn …

_17C8736The walk had an optional side circuit which we took. On the uphill section of the circuit Francine spotted another of the Greenhood Orchids which, given its somewhat different size and shape, could well be a different species from our previous encounters.

_17C8746On the downhill section of our loop, Francine spotted another diminutive white orchid, a similar size too our first, which is what I immediately assumed it to be. No, on closer inspection this one does look different. I had a very happy camper on my hands.

_17C8790After lunching on the remaining smoked and marinated green lipped mussels from yesterday, we tried to find a second walk. We began well enough, following a pre-printed map, but soon descended into confusion as development seemed to have altered the roads and landscape somewhat. The good thing is that Francine has found yet another plant which she is convinced is another orchid.

The middle of the day brightened for lunch but it was regrettably short-lived. The afternoon skies returned to their irritating solid grey colour. The one ingredient that is indispensible for landscape photography is light and light seems to have been dispensed with.

The orchid tally is doing well, even if the landscape tally isn’t.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

Green-lipped Mussels

Today we waved goodbye to North Island, taking the Interislander Ferry [which Kiwi Satnav insisted on pronouncing Inter-is-lander] from Wellington to Picton on South Island. Our latest check-in time was 08:00 and we’d be warned of heavy traffic on a Monday morning commute so, in typical Franco fashion, I set an alarm for 05:30 intending to leave the campsite at 06:30. With Francine skipping tea, we actually left at 06:10. There being no traffic worthy of the term heavy, we made the 11kms by about 06:30. Just three cars sat before a closed gate proclaiming that check-in would open at 06:45. We waited. Duly, a couple of staff arrived and opened up. The booking that Francine had made from the UK before leaving worked like a charm and we were soon in queue #2 waiting to board at 08:00.

_17C8617_17C8620The weather was grey; very grey; not to say threateningly grey. Francine amused herself with her camera as we waited.

_17C8630Boarding went smoothly. The sailing was full, as was the premium lounge so we couldn’t pay to escape the kids. Ferries seem the same the world over. The captain used seaman’s language to indicate that the crossing would be rough in the strong wind; “there will be some movement”, he said. Movement sounds so much more appealing than rough. The stabilizers calmed the ferry’s “movement” and aircraft-style seats kept us comfortable enough on the 3½-hour crossing to Picton. Regrettably, the clearer weather that we experienced in mid-channel did not continue to South Island and conditions in Picton resembled those in Wellington, heavy and grey.

Ignoring Kiwi Satnav, we took the scenic route, Queen Charlotte Drive, towards our destination of Kaiteriteri. This first half of our journey was decidedly the most twisting roller-coaster road that I have ever driven, running along the mountainous edge of one of the many sounds on this island-strewn coast. It would have been fabulous scenery were it not for this bloody weather, which soon began throwing rain into the heavy, grey mix; hardly the artist’s palette that Francine had been hoping for for her landscapes.

Mussel PlatterIn Havelock, the centre of the green lipped mussel industry, we consoled ourselves with a green lipped mussel lunch. Well, it would’ve been rude not to. We chose a sampler platter to share between two. Out came a mountain of mussels prepared in seven different ways: steamed, grilled with bacon and cheese, grilled with persillade, grilled with sweet chilli sauce, battered, smoked, marinated. The helping was so generous we couldn’t manage the smoked and marinated, so we took those for supper.

So, whadda we make of green lipped mussels. [The commercially grown ones, incidentally, are marketed as green shelled mussels.] Well, first of all most of them are absolutely huge compared to those European ones with which we are familiar. Most of their shells were each about 4cms long. The mussel contained therein is so large that it must be equivalent to about six of ours. Equivalent to six in size, that is. I don’t know whether their texture is down to the increased size or the different species [these are endemic to New Zealand] but they are considerably tougher/chewier than I’d’ve liked, sort of a mussel flavour with a whelk texture. They were an interesting experience, pleasant enough but I won’t be rushing back for more. I do rush back at every available opportunity for more of our European mussels, preferably the Scottish rope-grown mussels or the French equivalent, Moule de bouchot – both are sweet, tender and an absolute delicacy, IMHO.

We’ve arrived at Kaiteriteri, largely to reacquaint ourselves with a former neighbour of Francine’s brother from Sydney. He now runs a backpackers hostel and restaurant beside our campsite.

If only the weather would brighten up, Francine could play on the beach. My fingers are crossed.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

Wellies to Wellington

Morning dawned calmer but mizzly. The mizzle soon turned to rain and we began our 300km journey to Wellington in the clouds, which were trying to drift along below our 800m altitude. Busby’s temperature read 7°C. Yuk!

We’d made the right decision; the part of North Island between Ohakune and Wellington was almost as drab as the weather, compared to what we had experienced further north. As the kilometres ticked away and we neared Wellington, spells of sunshine appeared. The temperature soared to 16°C and the price of diesel soared from NZ$1.15 to NZ$1.45. No matter, having a full tank is more important than the price, which is still cheaper than in England, even at top dollar. Actually, though we’d been warned not to pass a fuel station without filling up, I suspect that relates mostly to the more sparsely populated South Island. [80% of Kiwis live on North Island.] Fuel stations have been frequent in North Island.

We arrived at 15:00

Since there is little else to report, what of the camping experience so far? We are trying two things for the first time: a campervan and New Zealand campsites.

Campervan

Our unit is a Mercedes van conversion. It drives very well. It’s 7.2m long and 2.8m high. I can stand up in the middle without worrying about my head. Any activity to the side requires care but a little more familiarity is lessening the occurrences of [Bump] “bugger!”.

The weather has not been warm enough to live outside so we have had to put the bed down and up every day. This activity is a back killer but then my back is 64 years old. For some reason, perhaps because I’m stretching the length of it rather than the width, it’s more difficult that in our caravan. The bed is full width but you sleep lengthwise, the van not being as wide as a caravan. The bed is firm and comfortable though not quite my length – I assume a slight angle and let my feet overhang beside the “wardrobe” door. The day time configuration provides a very pleasant wrap-around seating area with a cleverly adjustable rear table.

The fridge is excellent and the 3-burner hob is adequate though I suspect you’d really use only one ring at a time, the hob being recessed with no overhanging pans possible. (Modern caravans suffer the same problem.) It has an extractor hood, which is great even if noisy. I suspect we’re weird cooking and eating in the van – most of our fellow travellers both cook and eat in the well equipped campsite kitchens (see below). Bugger that, I prefer my privacy.

Storage was tough to begin with but we’re coping, now, though remembering where you hid something specific can be challenging, as can getting complacent about movement resulting in another [Bump] “bugger!”

The necessary-for-our-overnight-comfort toilet compartment is adequate but very dangerous on the [Bump] “bugger!” front. Too loud a [Bump] “bugger!” may result in a woken partner, resulting in yet more physical or mental pain.

There are two tables, both necessary as central supports for the bed. One table may be mounted on a pole at the front behind the driver and passenger seats which can be spun around to face backwards. In fact, the seats have to spin around before the table can be mounted. Spinning the seats around is a game. Driver and passenger doors must first be opened, the chair must be slid fully one way (forwards, think), then it can spin 180° given pulling on the correct lever. This, of course, upsets my driving position which must be reset after the reverse operation. I’ve tried it only once, so far.

Living in the van is a bit like one of those children’s puzzles with 15 tiles and 16 (4×4) positions, only one of which is empty. Shuffle the one empty space until the desired arrangement of tiles is met.

Everything sort of scrooks or rattles in transit. It isn’t just the contents of some of the cupboards which could, given practice, be stuffed and quieted, it’s some of the cupboards themselves. You get used to it and it isn’t too bad. It was expected.

J17_4020 BusbyJ17_4022 BusbyIt is cramped, though. Our caravan is a full metre shorter than this van but is considerably more spacious. I could live full time in Guillaume; I could not live full time in Busby. The van does the job but that’s it and the job is touring New Zealand. The job is not camping for the fun of camping. It is nice being able to stop in relatively regular car parks en route to see sights or go shopping; that isn’t often possible with a caravan in tow. So, as we’d suspected, it’s designed for a different use.

The Campsites

We have been camping, mostly in France, for over 30 years, going from a tent to a caravan (very small at first). A normal French campsite has a pitch size of 100m2. An Aire Naturale pushes the pitch size up to about 200m2.

When we retired and thought of camping further afield, like Spain or Italy, I got concerned about campsites advertising pitch sizes of 84m2. or less, say 60m2.

We have been staying on Top 10 campsites in NZ thus far. Top 10 is a franchise that supposedly sets standards, a bit like ACSI in Holland/Europe. [Mark of the devil but that’s another story.]

As I have mentioned, the NZ campsites seem generally to be very well equipped with cooking, washing up and dining equipment. These facilities save your own gas, water and waste water. Very good. What they are not well equipped with is space. Our first few sites gave us hard-standing of the same length as the van with a pitch width between units of a similar dimension. That’s a paltry 50m2. That was the largest pitch we’d had until today, which is slightly longer. Fortunately, thus far, all fellow campers have been considerate and quiet.

No sites seem to have been equipped for hand washing of clothes, either. That’s a Francine thing – rinsing manually washed clothes is nigh on impossible. The expected form seems to be a machine load or nothing.

J17_4016 Cramped PitchesJ17_4017 Cramped PitchesOur site at Ohakune last night, whilst perfectly pleasant, pushed shoe-horning in campervans to new extremes. We saw multiple units with less than a metre between them. Even if the weather was good, you wouldn’t sit outside in conditions like this. Pictures speak a thousand words so cop an eyeful of these.

Our first site facing Shelly Beach was a site we could’ve stayed on for the enjoyment of being there but none of the others have been. Once again, the campsites do the job but that’s it and the job is specifically touring New Zealand. The job is not camping for the fun of it.

Mental Adjustment

We are used to being away in our caravan just for the enjoyment of being on a campsite in the caravan. That attitude gets you disappointed here. Both van and campsites are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. Both enable you to tour and see New Zealand. Stopping on a campsite and sleeping is just something that must be done to achieve that goal.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

… And Relax

Our original plan was to travel a bit further towards Wellington today but the site we’d targeted was coastal and advertised itself with photographs of smiling children. Weekend, child friendly … no, maybe not. It’s about 300kms to Wellington so reasonable in one hit down main roads. The fact that there is some interest here in Ohakune made us decide to have a day off and book in for a second night.

It’s decidedly cool [11°C] and blowing a bit of a hoolie, so maybe we should’ve gone on. No matter, we’re here and exploring.

J17_4007 Rail Spiral ModelFirst stop, an overlook to a so-called railway spiral that rises 200m. Off we drove. When we got there and climbed the observation tower, what we were looking at was a model representation of the spiral, complete with two tunnels, on a tall pole. I was both bemused and amused. Was this a joke? It seemed not. In the distance on a hillside there was just about visible some evidence of a rail line, a cutting through some trees, but one certainly could not see any vestige of a railway line itself, far less a spiral. Another coup for the NZ Travel Board.

J17_4010 Austrolestes colensonisThe railway spiral (not) was a lucky stop, however. There was a stream tumbling near the bus (which seems to have been tagged Busby). Our timing was fortuitous because the sun put in a rare appearance. At first I saw nothing and had just finished saying, “nobody home”, when I spotted a single instance of my fourth New Zealand odo, Austrolestes colensonis. I’d actually seen a tandem pair at the manmade rapids a day or so ago but I’d failed on the picture front. Now getting a decent picture of it made my day and certainly made up for the disappointment of the railway spiral.

I learned something else. At one point yesterday, Kiwi Satnav had instructed me to “turn towards national park”. I’d assumed there was a national park along said road. Not so; I now see that there was a village called National Park along said road. We had now driven through the oddly named National Park. Blink and you’d miss it. We turned towards Whakapapa – you have to write it, you can’t say it – to look for a walk that didn’t actually exist. Whakapapa sits beneath the tallest of the snow-covered volcanoes. The volcano seems to generate its own weather, as mountains tend to do, and its weather today was cool and very windy.

_17C8587_17C8597We beat a hasty retreat back to Ohakune where there was a forest walk that did exist. With a side excursion, the walk was about 1½ hours and the track through what often felt like primordial forest was very well done indeed. New Zealand could well have been named Fernland, given the amount and rich variety of ferns here. We’d seen a thick book detailing just ferns. Towards the end of the walk we came across another example of a Greenhood Orchid, so we were both happy campers.

Happy campers but cool campers. Time to try the heating in Busby. Brrr!

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

Desert Road

[Blast, that title’s given me the most dreadful John Bloody Denver earworm.]

Continuing our journey south towards Wellington and a ferry to South Island, today we were heading for the so-called Desert Road. The Desert Road is section of State Highway 1 (SH1) that crosses a high plateau beneath three volcanoes. The scenery sounded fascinating.

Before we got there, however, Francine organized a little side trip to the beginning of an Alpine crossing walk over Mount Tangariro, billed as one of the great walks of New Zealand. We weren’t here to attempt the walk – it’s a whole day affair – but fancied a squint.

_17C8484_17C8498We arrived at the walk’s start to see a “car park closed” sign. Overflow vehicles were abandoned by the roadside but there was a secure car park which was NZ$15 per day. With a smile from Francine telling him we wanted only 30 minutes to point cameras, the man providing security let us stay for free. Walking up the 1km gravel track to the start of the walk was quite dull until Francine found a suspected orchid on the shady side. She’d heard of Greenhood Orchids and this looked as if it would fit that description. In fact, Francine thinks she has two species – there are many – but don’t bank on it. The car park wasn’t so much closed as full. I suppose this would be classic burglar territory – at the foot of an all day walk, you could be fairly confident that the vehicle owners are away for a long time. We returned and thanked Mr. Security.

_17C8527The Desert Road does not run through an actual desert, there being too much rainfall for that. However, vegetation is suppressed by the layer upon layer of volcanic ash that’s built up over the millennia. It’s more of a notional desert. We were hoping for some good views of the volcanoes. In bright conditions, there would be. Today was mostly overcast, however, and the highest of the volcanoes had its head in the clouds. The most impressively shaped was visible, though, and, with the darkling clouds above, looked decidedly like Mount Doom, a part which Francine thought it might actually have played in the rather-too-epic Bored of the Rings. [Subsequently, of course, there has been the even-more-rather-too-epic Hobbit trilogy which took boredom and extreme capitalization to new levels. But I digress …]

J17_3993 MordorHere we were with oceans of space beside the road driving along beneath two of the three volcanoes. Were there any observation points to stop in? No. Well, eventually there was a single viewpoint, cunningly situated at the one point along the road where a huge mound actually obscures the view of the larger of the two giants. Brilliant! Well done, NZ Tourist Board. There was a clear view of Mount Doom, though. [It’s actually called Mount Ngauruhoe. Mount Doom is easier.]

We arrived at Ohakune on another Top 10 site. This one seems more switched on than last night’s. At least, the receptionist is.

An afternoon walk along the local river netted me another Common Redcoat damselfly even though conditions really weren’t sunny enough.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes

The Real Thermal Experience

A better morning. After yesterday’s cheapskate thermal experience around Rotorua itself, this morning we – well, Francine, planned to visit Waiotapu (or Wai-o-tapu) “Thermal Wonderland”. Hello tourism!

The main attraction at Waiotapu is the Lady Knox Geyser which “goes off” at 10:15 daily, just like clockwork. It is just like clockwork because its going off is controlled by the addition of “a soapy surfactant” into the vent just like clockwork. It is thus a man-made event and unworthy of our attention. The value of this, however, is that it attracts all the less discerning members of Joe Public who swarm away from the other photogenic attractions in this “Thermal Wonderland”. [Oversold but what the hell.]

To avoid too many Joe Publics anyway, we left early and drove the 25kms or so south of Rotorua.

We arrived soon after 09:00 with the car parks blissfully clear. We shelled out our NZ$58.50 [2 of us less a Top 10 discount] and started the walking circuit looking at more fuming holes in the ground. They were fuming more than in Rotorua, BTW. Still, regardless of giving the various fuming holes graphic names such as “bird’s nest crater”, “thunder crater” and “ink pots”, they remain fuming holes in the ground. Some may have a yellow stain around their rim from the exuded sulphur but they are still fuming holes in the ground. There are only so many fuming holes in the ground that it are worth looking at.

J17_3901 Champagne PoolThe two features on this tourist route that are worth looking at are “Champagne Pool” and “Devil’s Bath”. Champagne Pool is probably the most photographed feature, its images being used on most publicity literature. The reason is that one edge is rimmed with a reasonably bright orange band, usually over-punched in Lightroom or Photoshop to look even brighter. A polarizing filter helps tremendously, too.

J17_3942 Devil's BathDevil’s Bath, which, incidentally, doesn’t seem to fume, is an impressive pool of decidedly green water, again, usually over-produced for effect. Nonetheless, in reality, both are, indeed, impressive. Neither can you see anything of the sort around Rotorua for free.

J17_3925 Stilt maybeAmazingly, in this apparently inhospitable environment, we did see some wildlife. On a side loop, which we decided to walk around, we came across what I believe are Stilts of one sort or another. They were wandering about over the ground searching for food and females appeared to be sitting on nests on the ground. Nothing surprising, you might think. Nothing surprising until you understand that the water here is close to 100°C. The ground is warm – maybe that makes the ideal incubation site?

J17_3958 Mud PoolAs we left at getting on for midday, the transformation was amazing – the parking areas were now heaving and so, too, must’ve been the walking tracks. We had to make one final stop on the way out to see an actively glooping mud pool. Timing photos for this is imperative and tricky, the gloops not being orchestrated by the addition of a soapy surfactant.

Our target for the evening was a campsite beside Lake Taupo, which is supposedly the size of Singapore. [Makes a change from Wales.] En route we headed off sideways to Aratiatia Rapids. The rapids are another example of man-made spectacles and, therefore, not worthy of our attention … but Francine said. I’m very glad she did because, as I walked out onto a boat dock, we saw dragonflies doing what dragonflies do. Common Redcoat Damselflies were mating and, most exciting, a Yellow-spotted Dragonfly (Procordulia grayi) was hunting tirelessly over the water – my first NZ dragonfly as opposed to a damselfly. If only it’d stop for a picture.

J17_3985 Yellow-spotted dragonflyMy dragon didn’t stop for a picture. However, I did find somewhere that I could look down on it from and eventually managed a manual shot of it in-flight. Time to pray to the gods you don’t believe in, Franco. Yikes, it was in focus. Miracles!

We had time for lunch before the controlled 14:00 sluice opening to create the rapids. Oh what the hell, let’s have lunch and watch it. Spectacular it wasn’t but then I wasn’t expecting it to be. A couple of dozen folks turned up to watch it, though. I think this happens every two hours. [Sigh]

We tried another tourist spot at Huka Falls. This was more raging water but this time in a proper cataract. I was tiring of it, though, and looking forward to a beer on a campsite.

Our campsite was the weakest we’ve yet been on. It boasts 260 pitches but the vast majority were taken up by static units. Only 30 or so were for touring units. These are classically the sites we’d steer well clear of in France. However, at second attempt we got a reasonably pleasant grass pitch with a view of the Singapore-sized Lake Taupo. Francine tried her camera but lakes of such scale typically have no foreground and a very distant background so don’t show well on photographs.

Posted in 2017 New Zealand, 2017 The Antipodes