After our shocking introduction to New Zealand we were hoping for something a little more serene for our next couple of days. As it turned out nature and the weather came up trumps. We have had a truly beautiful two days. I now know where the phrase ‘breathtaking views’ was discovered. It has to be New Zealand. The scenes we have witnessed have been truly awe inspiring and there are simply not enough superlatives to describe them, but I’m going to for a very good reason.
Bertha is not new to this, she has over 13 years experience of transporting weary travellers and she is well versed in the rules of the road. We hired her from Affordable Campers and were introduced to all her delights by the lovely Lynda who picked us up from the YMCA in Christchurch. Bertha has heating, a fridge, a microwave, a radio, hot water and just about everything else we will need for our New Zealand Tour. Lynda was lovely and you can see that going with a family owned business for your camper pays off as opposed to one of the Jucy, Wicked or other big names in NZ. They care both about you as their customer and their vans. Bertha may be old but she is meticulously looked after and it shows, plus she is laden with the best eco credentials we could find. Including solar panels, all the certification required stating she is a completely self contained unit (that means a chemical toilet amongst other things) so we can camp on conservation sites, she also is extremely fuel conscious.
We set off from the depot and first stop was to Pak n Save, the best value supermarket on New Zealand, it was a real treat to go shopping at normal prices after our shock shopping trips in Australia. We filled every little orifice Betha has with provisions and set off for our first stop which was a Department of Conservation Campsite (DOC) at Waihi Gorge. The DOC sites are great and for the ridiculous price of $12 (£6) per night, you get a working toilet, sadly no shower, and arguably some of the best views of New Zealand while you camp at key locations.
Our Camping Virginity
The first night was a field in Waihi Gorge accessed over New Zealand’s longest bridge at Rakaia (it was sort of long and let’s say the design was utilitarian (concrete slabs)! Waihi Gorge site was right next to a chilly river which served as our morning bath (sans soap) but is only for the brave. It was quiet, with us and about another half a dozen campervans. The weather was glorious until the sun went down, then it turned decidedly chilly, so we made a quick retreat into Bertha, dug out the fleece blankets and had an early night. I guess the beautiful clean mountain air was tiring us.
Next morning breakfast was cooked in the van, a quick tramp up the river then we secured all the bits and bobs in the back of the van and set off with Mount Cook in our sights.
The journey took us through Geraldine then Fairlie, across Burke’s pass and then onto Lake Tekapo which as you approach just makes your jaw drop. The water is a colour we have never seen (due to the crushing of silicate rocks by the glaciers over millions of years). I can guarantee our photographs have not been ‘photo shopped’ they are as they came out of the camera, the beauty and those colours are as natural as a lens and a digital sensor can make them. However, our photography certainly doesn’t portray what we’ve seen. We got out Lake Tekapo
for a wander, and in my case a swim in the 8 degrees chilly glacier water – I wasn’t in long!! As you wander the edges of the lake you witness not only the beauty of the mountains in the distance but thousands upon thousands of wild Lupins and other colourful wildflowers growing everywhere. The natural world has a wonderful eye for form and colour which we just marvelled at as the scenery changed at every corner of the road.
We were heading to Mount Cook to camp so we will leave further exploration of this area for tomorrow when we return here for a while, one thing is for sure we’ll be having salmon for dinner.
We thought we had seen the best of the views for the day, but little did we know that we had the splendour of Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook as the backdrop awaiting us.
We stopped at Mt Cook Lookout on Highway 80 and the views were superb. We wandered down from the lookout to the lake and for probably the first time in my life my breath was literally rather than metaphorically taken away from me as we saw the full view of the lake and the mountains. I am not even going to attempt to describe this, but hope that the pictures do it some justice, it is one of the most breathtaking views I have ever witnessed.
We headed on up to our DOC campsite at the base of Mount Cook. This is a very popular site we had been told; when we arrived we knew why, you are camped under Mount Cook and half a dozen other beautiful mountains on all sides, again all the price of £6. Now I call that good value.
This journey has to be one of the most spectacular on earth, unless of course New Zealand can prove us wrong in the next few weeks. It was gorgeous, stunning, striking, picturesque, scenic, exquisite, magnificent and then a little bit more. If you are thinking I am laying this on a bit thick, try it and you will see I was probably underplaying it a little.
John said to me tonight, I hope we haven’t done the best first and are going to be underwhelemed for the rest of the trip. Somehow I think New Zealand has a few more treasures to share with us as we venture further.
Tomorrow we’re back to Lake Tekapo for some R&R, and possibly some activity, but if John has his way we’ll be at the hot spa pools.
The Beautiful Mount Cook