Tag Archives: kiwi

Rakiura

In mid-December, we went on a family adventure and tramped (hiked) across New Zealand along with several of our crazy friends here. Yes, I know that that sounds very impressive, especially something to be accomplished over a weekend with two children in tow, but I’m making it out to be more than it was. Yes, we did hike “across” New Zealand, but it was one of the narrowest possible spots, and it also involved a water taxi taking us from the end of our hike to the nearest town…

 

 

Just a few kilometers south of Invercargill is the town of Bluff, and then south of Bluff is… The Southern Ocean. The first stop in the Southern Ocean south of Bluff is Stewart Island – or, Rakiura, the Maori name for the island. The wikipedia article to which I’ve linked provides a nice writeup about the Maori mythology surrounding Rakiura and the two main New Zealand islands. I believe that Rakiura owes its existence to volcanoes and near volcanoes pushing up the earth’s surface in that area. On a clear day, we can see the mountains of Rakiura from our house in Invercargill. It looks so close and inviting, but there’s the issue of the Foveaux Strait with which to contend. Now, some crazy person or people have actually swam the thirty kilometers or so from Rakiura to Bluff, but that wasn’t our style. We flew out of the Invercargill airport on a puddle jumper and landed on the beach at Mason Bay on the west side of Rakiura. It was a beautiful, clear morning for a flight and the views of the ocean and Rakiura were spectacular. Landing on the beach was breathtaking, too!  When most every other flight that you’ve taken involves taking off and landing at a proper airport, it’s pretty interesting to land on the firm, but softer, sand of the beach with the waves crashing not too far away.

 

 

Flight path from Invercargill to Mason Bay Beach
Flight path from Invercargill to Mason Bay Beach

 

 

As a bit of an aside, the beach at Mason Bay is very long and it’s an excellent place to walk and explore – which we did. One of the more remarkable aspects about Mason Beach is how far up the sides of the hills that the sand extends – a couple of hundred meters up the side of the hills and several hundred meters inland. When we were flying in, I noticed this and was struck by how high and far back the sand extends from the beach and shore. I later learned that there’s a very good explanation for why the sand extends so far inland – a meteorite! Actually, earth scientists believe it was a comet – the Mahuika comet. The comet struck just west of Stewart Island in about 1443 AD and caused a tsunami that was ten times larger than the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. This comet strike and the resulting tsunami wave pushed the sands way up and into Stewart Island. More importantly, there are reasonable hypotheses that the tsunami may have wiped out a significant portion of the low-lying Maori settlements all over New Zealand (which would have been most of them), and a very large tsunami would also help to explain why there is so little evidence of Maori settlement in New Zealand prior to about the 16th century.

 

 

The weather was warm, windy and pleasant on the beach at Mason Bay and we had most of the first day available to explore it. We walked up and down the beach and found many treasures. The most interesting treasures were several pilot whale skulls that we found toward the south end of the beach, and then a minke whale skull at the north end of the beach.  When you lift one of these skulls (or, try to lift) and find out how heavy they are, you realize why it’s better for a whale to enjoy the buoyancy of saltwater.  We also saw our one (and only?) kiwi while near Mason Bay!  It just sort of appeared on the track to the hut in mid-morning, which is unusual since kiwis tend to be nocturnal.

 

 

After a long day of walking, exploring and swimming, we spent a pleasant night camped near the hut and enjoyed a large meal with our local friends as well as the local wildlife – a.k.a., “sandflies.” Sandflies are one thing that we won’t miss at all about New Zealand!

 

 

Hiking path from Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Landing, and then the water taxi route to Oban
Hiking path from Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Landing, and then the water taxi route to Oban

The next morning, we got up at a decent time and slowly started to meander the fourteen kilometers from the Mason Bay Hut to the Freshwater Landing Hut. The track wasn’t particularly difficult.  It was relatively flat and level, with several hundred meters crossing swamps on elevated boardwalks that are basically wide enough for one person. Every so often, there’s a slightly wider portion so that trampers walking in the opposite direction can pass. The weather was quite warm and the winds that we enjoyed on the beach weren’t quite reaching inland.  So, this long of a hike, with backpacks and whining (or, as they say in New Zealand “wingeing” [(Australia, New Zealand, UK, slang) To complain whiningly])  kids, warm/hot weather, a beating sun and not enough drinking water was not exceedingly pleasant. The kids dropped their tiny backpacks early and dad carried them most of the way, at his own pace, leaving mom to enjoy those wingeing kids.

 

 

It only took maybe four hours to make it to Freshwater Landing, but it was a long four hours. The good news is that there’s a nice dock there and it was EXCELLENT and REFRESHING to jump off the dock and into river! After about an hour’s rest at Freshwater Landing, our water taxi picked us up and we made our way to the landing on the south side of Oban. After one last little hike over the hill from the south side to the main part of Oban and finding the ferry terminal, we made a merry retreat to the local pub and enjoyed the incoming rain and libations from the confines there. And, from Oban, we enjoyed the hour-long ferry ride back to Bluff, and then a bus ride back to Invercargill.

 

 

For those of you who might be wondering, would I recommend a trip to Stewart Island/Rakiura?  YES!  🙂

 

 

Enjoy the gallery!

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

Posted in hike, New Zealand, Rakiura, Stewart Island, tramp, whale 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!

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Catlins I

Finally, and with much anticipation from my wife, I’m very pleased to post the first photographs of our travels here in New Zealand!

 

 

We had been in Invercargill all of 36 hours and Asta had us on the road and exploring.  Since we’re in winter weather here, the mountains can be a little iffy, so we’ve spent most of our traveling time on the southeast coast of the South Island of New Zealand.

 

 

To the east of Invercargill is an area called “The Catlins.”   This region reminds me some of the Baraboo Hills, as well as the Appalachian Mountains – hilly, rugged, green, pleasant.  The area is covered with either sheep farms or impenetrable temperate rainforest rather than farms and mixed hardwood forests we’d see in the States.   The roads are narrower and slower driving than similar roads in the States, particularly if you’re jet-lagged.   And, another major difference is that to the south there’s the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

On our first trip outside of Invercargill, we drove east and visited three main areas.  The first place that we stopped was Waipapa Point, which is the location of a nice lighthouse and maybe some seals/sea lions, if it’s the right time of year (which it wasn’t).  Yes, leaving the heat of Madison and a few days later being in the windy bluster off the sea at Waipapa Point was a bit of change of scenery.  I think that the wind quickly blew off our summer tans.

 

 

 

 

A few kilometers east of Waipapa Point we stopped at Curio Bay.  Rather than use my words, I’ll rely on someone else’s words via Wikipedia:

 

Curio Bay features the petrified remains of a forest 160 million years old. This represents a remnant of the subtropical woodland that once covered the region, only to become submerged by the sea. The fossilised remnants of trees closely related to modern kauri and Norfolk pine can be seen here.”

 

Fortunately, we were at Curio Bay at low tide and were able to see the fossilized trees.  Around the corner from the fossilized trees, we found a narrow, tantalizing cove where the waves would rush in and spread over the rocks.  I enjoyed that more, just watching the waves wash over everything.

 

 

Finally, as our jet-lagged bodies were screaming to stop driving and go back to bed in the middle of the afternoon, we made our longest hike, all of 20 minutes, to McLean Falls.   The hike was pleasant and easy, if a bit damp and wet in the misty rain.  And, it was our first foray into the rainforest!  It was such a contrast from being in a typical North American forest – ferns are growing everywhere, everything is damp and green, thick, lush – and, I really didn’t have the desire to try to walk off the “track” (trail) since it looked like it would involve too much work bushwhacking.   We first spotted a waterfall and thought that it was nice.  We then found that the trail continued, so we followed it upward and found the very impressive McLean Falls!

 

 

And, just to whet your Kiwi weather appetite, we’re now into spring weather.  This seems to mean that you have one day of nice weather, intermingled with a couple three days of cool, rainy weather.  The rainy days are very different from a Midwestern rainy day.   The weather can literally change almost 180 degrees within an hour.  There have been many times the past week when the wind will be howling like a banshee, the skies dark and grey, and then the clouds break and the sun comes out.  I’ve never been in such fierce winds as here for such an extended period of time.  We’re also having several minutes of blustery rain, sleet and pebble hail, followed by a period of broken clouds and sun.

 

You have to be prepared for most any type of weather or, as we see many folks here do, just say “what weather?”   I’m amazed at how people here dress.  Yes, you’ll see quite a few people in their warmest winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves.  And, right behind them, you’ll see someone in shorts, a warm shirt and hat.  It seems to me that these southern Kiwis are much tougher than me when it comes to the weather – but I’m adjusting.

 

We hope that you’re enjoying these tidbits as much as we’re enjoying sharing them with you.  And, we certainly appreciate having the opportunities that we have to explore New Zealand!

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

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