After a memorable day and some beautiful sights we settled into our home for the evening in the shadow of Mount Cook. The next day we returned to Lake Tekapo before making the choice of left or right. Left back to the coast to explore what Otago had to offer, or right onwards to Queenstown. We decided on left – this is where we ended up.
After a truly stunning journey to Mount Cook we settled in for the night at the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite there. It is remarkable that for £6.00 for the night, you get to park your campervan under the shadow of Mount Cook and watch the sun fall behind the mount.
Starry Starry Night
We prepared Bertha for the night and settled down with a glass of wine and a nightcap of duty free brandy. At around eleven pm I decided to pop out for a fag and see whether the night sky had been kind to us. It had… I was greeted with a sky full of stars and long after I had finished my nicotine intake I gazed upward in wonderment at the distant twinkling sky. I was rewarded with my very own shooting star which lit up, glimmering across the night sky then snubbed itself out. It may not have lasted long, but I will remember that moment for a long time to come. After sometime with John gazing at the sky, we scuttled off to bed, with some great images to dream about.
Next day we were up with the larks, well the ones that sleep in a bit… A quick flannel shower, DOC campsites are basic and Bertha, god love her, can squeeze in many things , but a shower isn’t one of them. Then it was off for a two hour hike around the base of Mount Cook. This was a beautiful walk and just perfect to view the Mount at different angles viewing the glacial streams and rivers that flow from her peak.
A nice lunch spot
Inspired by my evening stargazing, we had decided to drive up to the Observatory (Tekapo) which sits aloft a small hill on the edge of Tekapo. We weren’t going for the astronomy, although you can do this every evening very cheaply, but we’d been told this place had the best views of the area. On the way back we stopped off at ‘the worlds highest salmon farm’ We’re always flabbergasted at these touristy claims to fame. This farm sits in the mountain range and thankfully had a shop where we purchased a few hunks of fresh salmon which they kindly packed into ice. We placed in Bertha’s fridge (which isn’t great) and set off back to our lunch spot by the Observatory.
Bertha struggled and moaned a little getting up to the peak of the observatory, but it was worth the struggle as the views are unsurpassed of the area, the incline was extremely steep. John has appointed himself driver for NZ and I’ve had very little time behind the wheel (I think he & Bertha are in love) she made it despite every vehicle giving way, rather abruptly, on our ascent as John sped his way to the summit which at times was very hairy!
We nestled her into a parking spot with a perfect view and space for our picnic chairs and table. We mixed a little lemon, chilli sauce and soy and dipped our freshly purchased salmon into it, in what has to be one of the best picnic spots we will ever have the fortune to experience; overlooking the turquoise blue lakes of Tekapo and the mountain range. Not bad for a lunch hour treat we thought. The weather was a bit moody, just like us, so we ditched the kayaking around Lake Tekapo plans. Instead we decided to make our way back to the coast and that meant a good couple of hours journey so we decided that as the laptop and camera batteries were all getting a bit low we would ‘treat’ ourselves to a powered site on a paid campsite – so much for freedom camping!
It Doesn’t Pay to Pay
We headed for Twizel which seemed a good halfway point and I popped in to the local ‘i-stop’ (as they call the information centres in New Zealand) and enquired about campgrounds in the area. It was getting on and they were about to close for the day, this was obvious in the cursory advice and recommendations from the slightly grumpy employee. We took her advice and opted for the site near the lake. This is our first (and having experienced it) probably last time we will stay in a serviced private campground. While the hot shower was a welcome treat, as was the power plug for Bertha.
It was just a bit crap, and as it’s the NZ school holidays it seemed packed to us, after having experienced the views and peace of the DOC sites. So as I type this we are safely ensconced in another DOC site at Herbert, which only has five campers in it. Bliss…. As there is not a street light for three kilometres I am hoping for another cloudless night and a late evening stargazing.
After five weeks travelling John and I are now getting into this completely, we know this because we are now asking each other on a regular basis “what day is it? “What date is it”? It’s nice not to know….
Part two continues below after these gallery messages….
Part 2 – Getting Closer to Dunedin
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From Twizel we headed towards the coast and were going to go straight to Omaru, but instead decided to take a detour to see what Waimat had to offer, in the end it wasn’t much but we enjoyed the journey past more mountains and lakes (lake Aviemore and Waitaki) on either side.
The secenery on this leg of the journey is just as interesting for the first part, but as you reach nearer the coast the plains return and you get to see rather a lot of sheep, cows and arable and crop farmlands, as well as the obligatory road kill.
Oamaru is Cool
So it was a welcome change to arrive in Oamaru which is a beautiful little harbour township which has a rich history based on profits from processing and shipping all those wheat fields that we witnessed on the journey here in the late 19th Century. It has some fine Victorian architecture and a Penguin centre at the end of the harbour. We wandered up there and learnt that you only really see the penguins at dusk, so we weren’t going to hang around.
We did however get rewarded with our first fur seal which I spotted lounging around on the rocks. I whipped out the camera and he agreed to perform doing cute faces for us for a while. Oamaru also has an arty feel about it, which is clear from the prominence they give to the Steampunk artists which have their metal sculptures dotted about the harbour and the main high street.
We really liked Oamaru so if you are down this way it’s well worth a stop and a mooch about for a while, the place is a centre for creative types and has plenty of galleries and quirky little shops for handmade crafts. We then wound our way south of Oamaru for our DOC campsite for the night at a little hamlet called Herbert, the site is small with only ten sites and is on the Glencoe Reserve surrounded by trees and there was evidence of logging all around as well as a beautiful stony brook running through the valley below.
To get here don’t follow Highway 1 from Omaru but instead head down the coastal road through Kakanui for some beautiful pebble beaches and coastal views. The site also has its own resident wild chicken couple who we named pinky and perky, they cluck around all the campers in the hope that you will throw them a morsel and are strut around as if the site is theirs.
This site was our first introduction to drop (or vault) toilets as they call them. No flush, just a long drop for the plop. Quite unnerving, but when you have to go you have to go.
Dunedin was our destination for the day and we took Highway 1 again and weaved in and out of the coast to look at the Moeraki boulders which are believed to be over 40 million years old and quite unique in that they have been formed into almost perfect spheres dotted along teh coast of the beach. They are set on a beach about a mile long so we used this opportunity for our morning walk up and down it in the sunshine.
Next stop along the way was Shag Point (no we didn’t) where you can watch thousands of gulls shit and fight with each other and hundreds of fur seals and sea lions jostle for the best sunbathing spots on the rocks below. Yellow eyed penguins are here in abundance too, a great place for twitchers and animal lovers, just wear a hat! From there it is about an hours pleasant drive down to Dunedin. Our first night in Dunedin we decided to head out to the Otago peninsula. Which juts out into the Pacific Ocean from the city.
It is a beautiful stretch of land surrounded by a healthy
Another large seal population, but with sea lions and more gulls and birdlife than you can shake your binoculars at and of course lost of penguins. The jewel in the crown here though is the albatross nesting sites at the end of the peninsula. You can pay $50 for the tour and to see the great birds nesting, but we didn’t and instead we watched from cliffs for free.
We had given up of spotting an albatross and made our way back to the van when above us we saw one of the big birds soaring on the early evening currents. I grabbed the camera and headed back out to try and catch these beauties in flight. I just about managed it. It was then time to find somewhere to camp.
Unfortunately there are no DOC sites here on the peninsula and after failing to find any suitable freedom camping spots we were resigned to the fact of staying in a commercial site. The locals have been objecting to one being made available to travellers and this is just plain silly as it is very tiring driving on these narrow and winding roads and you really do need to concentrate – anyhow. We happened upon a sign on the road which offered overnight parking, it what was someones house. I wandered in and checked with the nice owner what was on offer and it was this. You park on her rather expansive back lawn, she has a little garden house with a telly, kettle, toaster and microwave and a plug to charge your bits.A toilet, sadly no shower and bins to offload all your rubbish. The house is also just one minute walk to a lovely little beach which we will be wandering along in the morning and if it low tide, picking some fresh cockles which you are permitted to do here. Not bad for $15 (£7.50) we thought, especially as it turned out we were the only ones there for the night.
Next morning we had a lovely chat with Edna the owner and we waved goodbye with one of her home grown tomatoes in our palm after a truly peaceful nights sleep in Bertha. We will explore Dunedin today and then head south into the Caitlins and the great Southern Scenic route. If you’re going to try an freedom park in this area you’ll struggle, so why not drop in an check Edna’s at number 924 Harrington Point Road, (Tel02747 80543) you wont regret it.