Tag Archives: drive

Von River Valley, Eyre Mountains

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I’m a person who loves to read maps, especially finely detailed topographic maps. First, I like to discover places that are new and interesting to me, and hopefully interesting photograph. With the plethora of maps on the internet (Google Maps and Google Earth, to name a couple), it’s really interesting to start to see someplace and then dig deeper. When I’m performing my research on US locations, I then find that deeper level of detail by pulling up USGS topographic maps on the Libre Map Project. I suspect that there are other, similar resources in the US, but I’ve been using Libre Map Project for years, so it’s my “go to” resource. My GPS is also a really good resource when I’m in the field, but I love these computer sites when I’m doing my research before I get into the field because it’s so much easier to see things on the bigger computer screen.

  

  

Fortunately for me, there’s a similar resource in New Zealand – NZ Topo Maps. When we’re planning our trips and tours in New Zealand, I’ll check out Google Earth for a start, and then head to NZ Topo Maps for a different view. I just love to pour over a good topo map and discover nooks and crannies that I didn’t know exist before.  For example, that’s how I “discovered” The Branches and made the trip further up Skippers Canyon.

  

  

Over the past few months, we’d heard about a place called the Mavora Lakes and it has been on our radar as a place to visit, maybe hike, maybe camp. It’s only a couple of hours from Invercargill and it’s not a major tourist area like Milford Sound, Te Anau and Queenstown. It seemed like a nice place to get away for a day and to relax.

  

  

I then hit the maps and “discovered” that, yes, Mavora Lakes looks like an interesting place. But the road to Mavora Lakes keeps going further and further from civilization – that’s my kind of road to explore!!! In fact, the road to Mavora Lakes and beyond goes all the way to Lake Wakatipu, which is the lake on which Queenstown is situated. There are no towns or villages on the road beyond Mavora Lakes. The only signs of civilization in this area on the map are a couple of sheep stations at the end of the road on Lake Wakatipu. These two stations are remote. The nearest town, Mossburn, is about a two-hour drive from them, although it’s only a eighteen kilometers by boat to Queenstown.

  

  

When we went to Mavora Lakes, the weather didn’t seem like it might be the best. It’s late autumn here and there was a lot of fog as we started the drive. The fog eventually lifted and we made it to Mavora Lakes uneventfully. The lakes were nice and pleasant, and it did seem like it would be a good place to relax. Of course, the sandflies were there, too. There were even a few people camping and exploring the area like us, so this is likely a reasonably popular place to visit in Southland during tourist season. We were contemplating lunch (actually, the kids were more like demanding it) when I suggested that we drive further on the road. It looked like it might be “only” another hour until we reached Lake Wakatipu.

  

  

A few kilometers further north of Mavora Lakes is when the good scenery and clouds really kicked in! Asta and I were oohing and aahing all of the time. When we finally came over a rise and saw Lake Wakatipu, we both blurted out WOW! at the same time. I have to say that this drive is one of my top three drives in New Zealand. Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound is likely my favorite drive, and Skippers Canyon is my second favorite. The autumn foliage and dark, majestic clouds really set off the Von River Valley and the Thomson and Eyre Mountain Ranges, as well as Lake Wakatipu. At the end of the road, there wasn’t much to see in terms of civilization, but the views were spectacular! We stopped and enjoyed our lunch surrounded by a few hundred sheep who were hoping that we might want to share with them.

  

  

At the end of the road, there are two sheep stations, plus a resort.  One of the sheep stations, Mount Nicholas Station, also doubles as a nice, small, remote getaway place. The resort is the Colonel’s Homestead and is operated a resort by RealJourneys, which is a major tourist operator in southern New Zealand. We didn’t get close to the Colonel’s Homestead and just enjoyed our lunch views of Lake Wakatipu.

  

  

On the way back, the skies looked a little dark and blustery. These dark clouds made for excellent photographs and also for a bit of angst – would it start raining and make it difficult to ford the streams before we got past the last ford? Obviously, we made it, again with lots of oohs and aahs.

   
 
Again, enjoy the gallery – especially full screen:

  

   

  

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

   

 

Posted in Colonel's Homestead, Eyre Mountains, Lake Wakatipu, Mavora Lakes, Mount Nicholas, New Zealand, Queenstown, Thomson Mountains, Von River, Walter Peak Station Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Camper Vans, Kiwi Style*

So, if you’ve been enjoying our odyssey so far, you’re likely aware that our school holiday plans went through a very significant and quick change when we discovered that Julija had chickenpox.  Instead of driving around in our car and staying in hotels that we might contaminate (we’re still working on our camping gear), we found a good deal on a camper van and hit the road.

There are only a few locations in NZ where you can readily rent camper vans from a campervan hire company, and fortunately one of them is only a couple of hours from us in Queenstown.  The other common places to rent camper vans are Auckland and Christchurch.  At the end of this blog, I’ve included a list of many of the NZ camper van rental firms.

On the whole, kiwi camper vans are smaller than American camper vans.  The largest NZ camper van might be a medium-sized camper van in the States.  The more common “land yachts” that you see in the States are very rare here – the roads are smaller and the turns tighter.  Additionally, fuel is more expensive!  Besides, if you’re coming from the States or elsewhere besides NZ, you’re not going to be carrying a whole lot of gear with you.

Lunch break along the road to Arthur Pass

Also be aware that these smaller campers might be “tight” for four people to enjoy, even if the rental site suggests that four people will fit.  For example, our camper van had a bed just barely big enough for Asta & me, and a second “berth” above the main area that was fine for Aras & Julija.  But, two more adults would not have made it happily in the upper berth.  If you have the means, I’d encourage you to consider renting a slightly larger van than you think that you might need.

Driving a camper van, at least in the mountains of the Southern Island, is not difficult, but you do need to slow down in several different ways.  The posted speed limit on many rural roads is 100 km/hr.  However, it takes a little effort to get the camper van up to 100.   And, about the time that you get up to the speed limit, then a curve appears on the road, or rain (sometimes horizontal), or wind.  Accelerating, decelerating and fighting a top-heavy van in the wind and rain takes a toll on your arms, shoulders and nerves.  (I consider driving a camper van akin to driving a vertical mattress – soft, springy and not very responsive.) Even more common, there’ll be a magnificent sight out the window and you’ll be drooling on the steering wheel!  So, the best way to enjoy NZ, whether in a camper van or your car, is to slow down to ~ 80.  The distances in NZ aren’t as far as in the States, so driving about 50 mph/80 kph is rather pleasant and will delightfully fill your day.

And, when you’re driving on those NZ roads, when you approach a corner you’ll often see a “recommended speed” for the corner.  When you’re driving in a camper van, those recommended speeds are pretty good for enjoying the corners.

You can rent either a gas (petrol) diesel camper van.  Currently, diesel fuel costs about three-fourths of the price of petrol, so that might be an advantage.  You’ll also have to pay a government road-user charge with a diesel vehicle equal to about $0.05/kilometer, so there’s another expense to consider.  I have no idea of the “mileage” that we achieved with our camper van, so I can’t recommend what might be more efficient and how the fuel and road-use costs might compare.  Just be aware…

Here’s another “plus” about enjoying a camper van in NZ – the “holiday parks.”  A “holiday park” in NZ is about the same as a campground in the States, but BETTER!  The Americans could learn a thing or two about campgrounds from the Kiwis.  The holiday parks are frequently smaller and more compact than their American cousins, which is part of the reason that a smaller camper van is more appropriate.  All of the holiday parks had electrical (240 V) hookups, and water and wastewater disposal readily available.  One of the big differences that set an NZ holiday park apart from an American campground is the community facilities that you’ll find in these parks.  Every (?) holiday park that we enjoyed had a laundry and communal kitchen facility.  You’ll find campers cooking their meals in the same kitchen, cleaning their dishes and conversing.  Since there’s so much rain in NZ, there are also communal eating spaces at many holiday parks, both indoors and outdoors.

At a Queenstown Holiday Park

Along with these kitchen facilities, you’ll frequently (but not always) find a BBQ area on the grounds.  This BBQ area is essentially an outdoor kitchen and eating/picnic area that’s under a roof.  We’ve seen BBQ areas with basic grills where you might need to supply your own wood, all the way up to BBQ areas that include gas grills (with the propane!), sinks, small refrigerators, toasters and electric kettles.  Again, with all of the rain, it’s very nice to be able to make camp someplace and then to NOT be confined to your camper van while you prepare a meal or relax.

Finally, the holiday parks have often had some type of a communal room that includes a television and maybe internet service.  In some parks, the internet service was included with our camping fee, whilst in other parks the internet service was an additional charge (and, not necessarily cheap).  “Roughing it” does not seem to be a term that the holiday parks know.  For all of this camping luxury, you can expect to pay NZ$40/night to >NZ$60/night.  There are a couple of major holiday park chains – Top Ten Holiday Parks and Kiwi Holiday Parks – from which to choose, as well as many other smaller, local holiday parks.   Also at the end of this piece, I’ve included a list of the holiday parks at which we stayed.

If you really feel more like roughing it in your camper van, you might always consider “freedom camping” – pulling over and camping wherever you might land.  To legally do this, your camper van needs to be “fully self contained.”  This means that you’re able to collect all of your waste water and human wastes for delivery to a proper disposal facility.  With NZ’s popularity as a tourism destination for outdoor lovers, there have been many instances of abuse of freedom camping, so various levels of government have started to institute more rules governing where you might freedom camp.  The best thing to do is to assume that you may NOT freedom camp in a particular spot until you officially learn that you may.  If you’re caught freedom camping in a place where it’s not permitted, then the fine might be $200 or so.  There are many NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) sites where you might camp with basic/minimal services, so that’s a good place to start.  Each local/regional government has its own rules, so ask or look for the signs before setting up home.

Here’s another little tidbit that I learned only after we made this trip and this makes a LOT of sense and might even meet your needs.  Or, you might consider changing your trip plans around to make it meet your needs.  With all of these campervans running around New Zealand, especially during the austral summer months (December through February), these campervans are not always in the places that the campervan rental companies want them to be located. For example, a lot of visitors to New Zealand fly into Auckland, since that’s the main international airport, and then possibly they fly on down to Wellington or Christchurch.  Those three locations are the main ones from where many folks will rent their campers.  And, many people will then drive their campers to a different airport such as the Queenstown airport in southern New Zealand, drop them off (and, pay the extra drop-off fee) and then fly on home.

But, that campervan is still not in the location where the campervan company wants. These rental agencies then “hire” people to “relocate” their campervans. These rental agencies will basically “loan” you the campervan for next to nothing as long as you drive it back to the designated airport.  🙂   Yes, there are certain fees that you’ll still have to pay, so check this idea out carefully.  These rental agencies also want their campers to get from Airport B to Airport A very quickly, so you won’t be able to enjoy a leisurely pace through New Zealand.  But, might it be possible for you to configure your trip to New Zealand so that you really start your trip in Queenstown, maybe rent a real campervan from the Queenstown airport and drive around the South Island some, return it to the Queenstown airport, and then “rent” a camper that needs to be relocated to Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland and then dash north? Hmmm… It might work (let me know if it does!).  To further consider this idea, try this link to TransferCar, RentalCarRelocation or simply google “campervan relocation new zealand” for a lot of other options.

Any other questions?  Likely, yes.  The best way to answer your questions about camper vans and camping in NZ is to experience it for yourself!  Get up and go, mate!

46 S EnZed signing off…

List of camper van rentals:

JUCY

Britz

Apollo

Air NZ

Backpacker

Maui

Mighty

Wicked

Escape

Lucky

Rocket/Spaceship

Wilderness

Hippie

Happy

Kiwi

Kiwi Campervans

United

Kea

CamperVanHireSalesFinder

Fetch

List of some of the holiday parks we’ve visited:

Wanaka Aspiring Holiday Park

Glentanner holiday park

Lake Tekapo holiday park

Christchurch Top Ten Holiday Park

Hokitika Shining Star holiday park

Haast Top Ten Holiday Park

Queenstown Top Ten Holiday Park/Creeksyde

* Dedicated to Jolanta & Gedis, Lianne & Rick, and whoever else dreams of exploring NZ in a camper van…  Please elevate such dreams from your bucket list to your thimble list!

Posted in Campervan, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Holiday Photo Gallery

At the request of my better half, I’m posting some fun photos that she chose from some of our travels over the past couple of weeks.  You’ll note that there are no rockslide photos in this gallery!

 

And, please remember to view full screen!

 

Enjoy,

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

Posted in New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |