Friday, 29 January 2016


Thoughts on New Zealand 

Blog written by Tina.

Three sets of siblings over two generations, three in-laws, Irish, English and French, 3003 km travelling from Christchurch to Auckland in two campervans and a Ford between 30th December 30th  and today, January 24th.

Our route took us from Christchurch in the south island of New Zealand through Akaroa, Dunedin, Queenstown, Wanaka, Fox Glacier, Murchison, Picton, Poharo and Rotorua.  We finished our road trip in Auckland.

We had never driven a 7 metre long and 3.2 metre High vehicle so
Sunset at Akaroa
some were a little nervous when we started the trip.  However, we took to it like a duck to water and apart from a little scratch on one of the roofs (not ours, and not done by a female) no damage was done to either the vans or their occupants during the trip.

New Zealand is an incredible country for many reasons.  The
landscapes are stunning and often breathtaking.  Most of our time was spent in the South Island.  This is probably why I came away with a preference for the south.  There are less people (out of the four million or so new Zealanders only 800,000 live in the South Island), incredible mountains, lakes and of course this is where I discovered the Tasman Sea, somewhere I had heard about but never really thought I would see.

Akaroa was our first stop off.  It’s not far from Christchurch on the East coast by the sea (Pacific ocean) and is a French town.  A Frenchman laid claim to the territory sometime during the 19th century when he embarked in this part of NZ.  It seems he went home to get some paperwork done and by the time he came in the British (well, English actually) had stepped in and taken over the country.  You can imagine that our trip began well when we discussed this amongst our English and French in-laws.  It was lucky the Irish were there to mediate!  

A good camper comes prepared .
Akaroa is beautiful and very quaint.  There is a sense of the far west that was to be felt in most of the smaller NZ towns.  The people were friendly and the camping park was great.  Our vans were facing out onto the harbour.  We stayed three nights and celebrated New Year’s Day in Akaroa.  Most of the occupants of this site were from NZ and they were friendly and cheerful.  The campsite (and in fact all the others we visited) were incredible.  Fantastic facilities and so well kept.  Everything was clean and everyone cleaned up after him/herself.  This was something that struck all of us during the short month we stayed in NZ.  We found ourselves having these big discussions about how clean the public loos were and it almost became a challenge for someone to find a loo that was not immaculate!  Mentioning this to Edmond I learn that the men’s loos were not always immaculate as the ladies.
Dunedin was the Scottish stop.   The highlights of Dunedin were its train station that is the oldest in the country and the visit to the world’s only mainland colony of the royal albatross.  These birds are just spectacular and the setting, at the end of a peninsula, was splendid.   Edmond and the children liked the Cadburys factory too! 

Dunedin Train Station
From Dunedin we headed over to Queenstown.  You will have already read about the slight detour of the Anglo-Irish part of our group to Invercargill on the way but enough said about that!  Queenstown was a favourite for most of the group and especially the younger members.   Liam, 16, did his first 46 metre bungee jump in the presence of his cousins and parents.  Martha (Liam’s Mum) was so paralysed that when she filmed the scene her camera went up instead of down.  A fine view of the Queenstown sky!  Some quite spectacular zip lining and field sledging (luge) were also enjoyed by the children and some of the adults.   Edmond, Barbara, Andrew and myself took off for a days cycling over the hills and around the Queenstown lakes.   

The Remarkables Mountain Range and Queensland

There is a limit to how many times one can say breathtaking or spectacular in a BLOG but those 50 km we cycled that day deserve to be described as such.  The mountains around Queenstown are called the Remarkables.  Those Lord of the Ring fans might recognise photos of them, as these are the hills that have been used in the LOR movies albeit somewhat photo-shopped along the way.    Our site in Queenstown was right beside the centre of the town so lots of shopping was done when the party was not taking gondolas up the hill and luges down again.    Ten of the party set off for a morning to the shotover river in a jet boat.  Before reaching the river they endured a perilous bus journey on a narrow track hanging about 200 metres above the sea.   Martha was put on the inside and spent the time counting the dust particles of the floor.   I was not allowed to go (bad back obliged) and was forced to relax back at the camp.

I don’t necessarily think the reader is interested in a blow for blow description of what we did all the time but I feel that a few words about our lifestyle during this time might be of interest.  

Wash dishes or jump?
If I were a reader I would be just dying to know how eleven relatively opinionated people (or we could just say eleven people with characters bordering on the strong side) could live in such close proximity for such a long time.  Now to be honest, how many of us have had to spend 24 hours a day over a 24-day period where the only break you get is to go and enjoy having a pee in an immaculate toilet?   It is quite remarkable but apart from a few minor hissie fits from one party or the other (no names will be mentioned of course) everyone actually managed to get on at least as well as usual (ie living in Ireland, France and England) which, incidentally, is pretty damn well.  So in my book this is quite a feat.  We had to get used to living in such small quarters and learn how to plan going from one end of the van to the other when someone was standing in the middle making a coffee. The clothes were washed in the laundries and Martha was often to be seen marching down the site's paths with a giant black bag full of laundry at seven in the morning (or so).  

John and friend (or maybe not...)
We sort of took it in turns to do the cooking in the evening.  The men excelled at the barbecue (see previous BLOG) if copious amounts of NZ wine was served at the same time and the ladies rolled out curries, spag bol, chillies, asian soup and other délices. We learned that the best way to make meals was in the common kitchens of the site.  Washing dishes, done incidentally most evenings by the children with relatively few arguments, was done in the common kitchens.  We had decided that we would not use the toilets or the showers of the campervans.  They were ideal places to store our suitcases and although we felt that a good old fight about the dishes was ok, none of us wanted to find ourselves with the job of cleaning the loos.   This was yet another reason for us to have been so ecstatic about the clean NZ loos (gosh I am mentioning this quite a lot).   

The Eastern side of the south island was completely different in terms of landscape and scenery.  

Pancakes anyone?
First of all there was the Tasman Sea to discover for the first time.  The water was clear and a beautiful blue (and cold). The landscapes were straight out of the Amazonian forestland.  Huge fern trees, humid air, birdsong we had never heard before, the eroded rocks in the sea reminding us of the statues in Easter Island or those found in Pancake rock which look like a million pancakes piled one on top of the other.   We spent a night in Fox Glacier but missed the glacier due to low clouds (fog one might say) and quickly moved on up to Murchison where ten of the eleven went white water rafting for the day.  I was not allowed to participate (the back thing again!) so was tied to the fridge of the campervan for the day.  I actually spent a lovely day bathing in the waterhole of the river we stayed beside and enjoyed the deafening silence of the day.

We kept heading north and eventually said our sad farewells to Barbara and Andrew who were leaving from Christchurch and not going over to the North Island with us.  We had a lovely last supper together, lots of hugs and “see you soons” before parting our ways.  The biggest mistake we had made while we were a group of eleven was not to have had a photo taken with all of us together. 

And then there were nine.  We spent our last few days in Rotorua in the centre of the North Island.  We had splendastic weather and pitched up beside the Blue Lake for three days sunbathing, swimming and generally relaxing.   One of the highlights for everyone was the pontoon in the lake where the children spent endless hours trying to tip each other off into the lake. 

Vital ingredients?
So a wonderful time had by all.  The general consensus is that NZ is a truly spectacular country in terms of landscape, the people are friendly and very conscious of the environment unlike our European homes, the sun shone practically all of the time and when it didn’t the stars did, the cost of living is more or less the same as home although the diesel is much cheaper in NZ, the wine is good, the beer is good, the lemonade is good but not as good as Peru (top tip for lemonade drinkers …go to Peru) and we all had a pinch in the heart as we set off towards Kuala Lumpur for the last leg of our trip.

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