Around every corner, every bend in the road, every hairpin turn and every rise along the highways, New Zealand reveals stunning, drop-dead gorgeous landscapes and scenery. Hills, mountains, valleys, farmland, rainforests, rivers, lakes, oceans and seas. It’s truly a scenic postcard paradise.
The road signs continued to amuse and delight us. Were they made by convicts like in the U.S.? Was the penal system trying to create work for them? Who thought of placing signs in these positions and how did they decide? Were they high when they decided?
There is one road sign I appreciate and adore. That is the one for cars to share the road with bicycles. I wish we had more of these at home.
Kiwis are really laid back and very friendly. I was in a supermarket and asked by the bagger in earnest, “What did you do today?”
After our white-water rafting adventure we continued west to the ‘left coast’ of New Zealand’s South Island. Instead of heading south as originally planned, we took the advice of our white water rafting guide and headed north. This was the New Zealand I’d dreamed about. It was early evening and the roads were empty. For the first time, I was driving on a road without seeing another car for over 1/2 hour. And it was beautiful. The west coast is wild and wind-whipped, the Tasman Sea relentlessly pounding the shore.
That night we ‘freedom’ camped in the wild for the first time. We have the ability to do that because our camper is certified as ‘self-contained’. That is, we are totally self-sufficient with drinking water, self-contained waste disposal and a commode. Night was falling and I knew we wouldn’t make our destination. I’d been wanting to ‘free’ camp since starting our campervan trip and this was a perfect opportunity. We passed a road where I noticed signs that said “beach access” and “no exit” (“dead-end” in our parlance) so it seemed like this would be a great place to check out. It was.
Cindy, however, didn’t share my enthusiasm for the isolation.
The next day we continued north to the ‘end of the line’. The road ended at the northern most point on the west coast, a beach called Kohaihai. It was also the start of the Heaphy Track which is a 4-5 day hiking trail that stretches over Kahurangi National Park . We hiked the trail for an hour to Scotts Beach before heading back to the car and doubling back down the road to continue south along the magnificent and hearty west coast.
There was a small museum in Hokitika that I really enjoyed. It had displays on Maori culture, New Zealand settler and mining history and whitebait fishing.
Followed by Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki……
The village of Franz Josef is the launching pad for many tours and activities in the area. We had to gas up our van paying 15% more for gas than we’d seen anywhere else on the South Island. An excellent example of American-style “if you don’t like the price go drive 100km to another station” gotcha capitalism; the type I was surprised we didn’t see in many other places.
We’d heard conflicting information about whether or not you could walk up to the head of Franz Josef Glacier for free. Since it was raining hard and we decided we wanted to do a tour where we could walk on a glacier, we signed up for a walking tour of Fox Glacier for the next day. We went into a coffee shop, drank coffee and tea, went on-line for a bit and then sat in the van for a couple of hours until it looked like it was clearing a bit. Venturing out late in the afternoon, it turned out to be a great move. The rain stopped and there were few other tourists on the trail. The terminus was actually at the glacial moraine left in the last big retreat of 2009.
During our guided walk to Fox Glacier we were on top of, and under, the glacier. It was a beautiful day.
We free camped for the second time just south of Haast, the last sizable town on the southwest coast. This campsite beat the first for its exquisite location on a windy expansive beach. The wind was so strong it was rocking the van. Like the other free campsite and many other west coast beaches, it was strewn with drift wood. It seemed perfect….until the wind died down and the sand flies (similar to black flies) came in droves followed by an equally massive numbers of mosquitos . It was like the scene from the movie, “The African Queen”. We weren’t sure how they were getting in the van but they were en masse, and we kept swatting away. The walls and ceilings of the camper were blotted with their guts and cadavers. The guy we rented it from said he has a $100,000 motorhome and no matter what he does, he can’t keep insects from getting in.
We traveled inland and south stopping several times for some wonderful walks.