Driving across the South Island in a campervan

Trip Start May 29, 2009
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Trip End Jun 21, 2009


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Where I stayed
wilderness Motorhomes

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, June 5, 2009

Day1 :We had booked on an Air Newzealand flight from Sydney to Christchurch. The deal was by far the lowest I could find on the internet, this including the so called low cost airlines. The service in the flight was full and even Extra service. The crew was merrily giving away extra booze, snacks etc.So it was great to be flying a national full service carrier at the lowest possible cost.

The flight across the southern alps snow clad peaks was picturesque. Once at Christchurch we took a Green cab to Wilderness motor homes depot. This was going to be our first ever campervan holiday and we were pretty excited as well as apprehensive. We had picked out wilderness at the internet after checking out lot of other big names. Not because they were the lowest priced. I am sure we could have got a lower priced deal with the others. But what wilderness seemed to offer was honest transparent rates for  vehicle which seemed to be outfitted with all conceivable requirements. This may seem like an advertisement for the company, however it is a honest feedback from a delighted customer! It turned out that they really walk their talk! a Friendly welcome immediately putting us at ease. They went through the entire formalities with minimum fuss, explained the van, which turned out to be exactly what they promised on the web and even more perhaps.

we then took off and hit the highway! Well not exactly, first we went to a mall to pickup some food necessities. Then while trying to maneouvre a somewhat larger unfamiliar vehicle, in a new country on the first day and figuring out how to navigate with a map (we still have not used a GPS yet. It simply does not seem as much fun!! ) and road signs, we finally managed to hit the highway in the direction of Dunedin, our choice. At this time must mention that out here this time of the year the sun sets at about 4 PM. By about 5 PM it is something like what it is at 9 PM back home! So we decided to halt and start off the morning next day. The internet informs freedom camping is not permitted at all locations, but we take the chance, take care not to attract attention. Cover all windows, low volume on the TV etc. and prepare ourselves a great meal of fish and bread.

Day 2: The next morning we again take off. By now I am getting quite familiar with the vehicle and realise it handles really well. Built on a Fiat Ducato, it seems really compact for all the amenities it carries and quite frugal on the fuel too.

By afternoon we reached Dunedin, spent sometime at the lookout points, and watching penguins in the wild returning from the sea and walking up the beach!!  For the night we were a bit unsure as to where to camp and were asking for directions at a take away joint. Another customer offered to lead us to a motorocamp site and took us to a reasonable one at Dunedin. So this was our first opportunity to work the flushing out grey, black water and filling in fresh.

Day 3: We now intend to cut across the south island towards the East coast and possibly Milford Sound/Queenstown. Having no idea of the terrain and how much time it might take us to reach were not sure of where we would reach. Enroute we decided to hit MIlford Sound straightaway. The landscape on this route changes dramatically from the coastal to green pastures and meadows with grazing sheep all over. In some fenced off area we even came across deer being raised like any other cattle. Apparently New zealand is a major world exporter of venison. But once we crossed the Manapouri/ Te anau area the landscape again changed to stark snow clad mountains!. We reach Milford Sound a bit too late for the cruises. The last cruises sails off around noon time. The accomodation in Milford Sound is limited and bit expensive so we drive back some 10-15 kms to a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite Lake Gunn. This is our first DOC site. DOC sites are characterised by excellent secluded locations with basic amenities, just the type we prefer. However next day we again end up taking time to get started. We are still not used to the time cycles of this part of the world. So we end up taking the cruise in the afternoon. Milford Sound must be one of the most beautiful places on earth. A deep calm lake like river flowing towards the ocean surrounded by high rise snow capped mountains and cliffs ! By the time we start back and reach Queenstown it is bit late past 8 PM. Queenstown billed as the adventure capital of the world has offers every kind of adventure sport conceivable. It was a must see location for me. However having reached we found it to be on the touristy side and press on further. We finally reach Arrowtown by 10 PM or so. The only campsite is now locked up and no one to check us in. We decide to do free camping just outside its gates. In case someone objects we can always plead exhaustion and the intention to use the campsite.

Arrowtown used to be a gold mining destination and has a large settlement of chinese immigrants from those days.

 Day 4: I start off the vehicle immediately upon waking up before anyone can come and object to our free camping. We reach Wanaka, park beside the lake to use the restrooms and freshen up. I then drive off on the road presumably heading towards Fox Glacier. However after doing some 10-20 kms I realise the road has become narrower, highway to back country winding, and then all of a sudden a mud track! I do see that some of the ranchers around rear deer and have choppers in their garage. However neither am I piloting a helicopter nor am I driving a 4 WD SUV. So what am I doing with a low clerance campervan on a mudtrack and No insurance coverage on such roads! I naturally turn around drive back to Wanaka. Considering it is a back country with hardly any vehicle to be seen, I speed up to try and make up for the lost time. At one point I suddenly found a pickup truck suddenly overtaking me at even higher speed. I was initially taken aback at the rude gesture, then thankfully got into a high speed chase, with the pickup acting as a pilot vehicle. He had some kind of special number on his license plate so must have been a local hot shot. Anyways at one point he simply drove on to the side and halted. I passed by gesturing a kind of thank you. However wife points out that far from returning a friendly gesture he seemed to be frowning and definitely angry! Looking back at my stupidity I feel like kicking myself, for while driving into Wanaka, we are soon tailed by a police car with its top light blinking. Something I had never experienced before but seen often enough in hollywood flicks. I pull over, come out am motioned to get back in and wait, while the cop is speaking to who else but Mr. Rookie ( for that was what on pickup's license plate ROOKIE ). The cop comes over tests me for alcohol - Negative naturally but still proceeds to fine NZD 200.00. What! for driving a bit overlimit and crossing the dividing lines a few times? something which we do in Delhi all the time as a brith right??? All my pleadngs to lessen burden is of no use. A highly chastened self ( The lesson remains with me for the rest of the trip till we reach India ). We finally reach Haast towards the evening and proceed towards Fox Glacier in darkness on the coastal road. The east coast turns out to be colder and more windy than the west. We finally stop at Lake Piranga DOC site and turn in for the night.

Day 5 : Fox Glacier was a short drive from the campsite, This is our first Glacier view and what a magnificient sight it is. As if a raging river has been frozen while in motion. but that is what it supposed to be ..We head upto Greymounth and instead of heading further up towards hanmer Spring, we turn inland towards Arthurs Pass. Intention was to camp at some location at Arthurs Pass or thereabouts, however it is dark and we keep moving on till we finally reach Christchurh. This route is highly scenic, I guess we could not really get the maximum out of it at night, anyway we had already had a heavy overdose of scenic views..Once at Christchurch it became quite an effort to find a place to camp. Finally we found a paid campsite however it was closed for the night. So we repeated our act of Arrowtown. Free camp on the street right beside the camp. It was late night anyway and we could always check in early next morning and stay another night. So we used the facilities for two days, having paid only for one night.

Day 6: Having checked in we still drove out with our campervan and visited the Anatarctic Experience center. This is a must do in Christchurh. The free ride on the real all terrain Hugglund vehicle which takes extremely steep gradients and also can move in submerged conditions on the deep water bed. The hugglund is the vehicle of choice in anatarctic.

Day 7: This is the day to return to Oz from NZ. We reach the motorhomes depot and transfer and take back the stuff we had left with them. Roby the eversmiling guy drops us off at the airport in his stationwagon. Just after he waves and leaves us we realise that we are not carrying the video camera, some frantic calls later they inform us that it is found in Roby's car and NO problem he would come by again to the airport and give it to us.

We are flying Pacific Blue, a low cost airline of the region. They turned out to be real cheap even in their attitude. There is a highly restricted weight limit on the flight and they literally made us open all our cases rearrange stuff such that we loaded some 5 kgs in Sujatha handpurse, made flight handcarry case out of a cloth laundry bag and such. Discard low value, high weight food stuff, drink up a 1 litre can of fruit juice etc. Not at all a good experience. My advise do not travel Pacific blue unless absolutely necessary and then only if you are carrying minimum luggage. Moreover the on flight snacks were hardly appetising and later after a month of our arriveal in delhi we received mailer advising us that some of the foodstuff served in the flight we took was probably contaminated!!! however not sure and stuff.....
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