Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Starting early for a Caravan Rally

It looked like it was going to be a good weekend for a caravan rally.  The blue sky sported a few puffy white clouds and the sunshine was glinting on the sea.  We could see a rather hazy looking Kapiti Island away in the distance.  State Highway One hugs the coast as we drove up through the Kapiti region.
DSCF1794  Looking towards Paekakariki

Our first stop was at Waikanae to have lunch with Robin’s Mum, and pick up a little shopping for her.  She was interested to hear about our trip down south, especially the West Coast, and reminded Robin that she and his Dad had their honeymoon trip in this area many moons ago.  And she hasn’t been back since!  No doubt things have changed a lot since then.

The days of hooking up our caravan after a long day at work, driving for a couple of hours, then getting to the camp in the dark are long gone, thank goodness.  Now we are retired there is no reason not to start travelling a day or two early for a caravan rally – just because we can! We parked up overnight at the rural property belonging to our friends Geoff and Eileen.  Readers of our blog will remember that Geoff and Eileen joined us for the first few weeks of our South Island Odyssey trip before returning home to go back to work.

DSCF1796Over-nighting in rural surroundings

As the sun dropped below the horizon, we were treated to a wonderful glowing sunset.  “Red sky at night, shepherds delight”, so the saying goes, and augers well for a good day tomorrow.   Out came the cameras to get a few snaps.

DSCF1798 Rural Otaki sunset

And just look at this – the sunset reflected in the caravan windows!  Never seen that before.

DSCF1801Reflection in the windows

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Travelling with cats

It’s not uncommon for van owners to travel with a dog, usually of the white fluffy variety, we have noticed.  Travelling with cats, we thought, would be more of a rarity.  Not so, as we found out, there were cats galore enjoying travels with their owners.  Our Birman Muffy had been in serious training over the last two years as we planned our South Island holiday.  With plans to be away for three months, as well as the fact that she is an old girl of 16 years of age, we really didn’t want to leave her behind in a cattery for that length of time.  We are pleased to say that she did very well with all the travelling, settling down to sleep once she was out of the car and we were set up on site.

DSCF1892 Muffy on the caravan bed

With her little harness and a light lead clipped on, we knew she was safe.  Taking her for a walk around the camp always got a reaction, especially from any kids who saw her.   “Look”, they would say in wonder, “a cat on a lead”.  Muffy tolerated these walks, then made a beeline back to the caravan, leapt nimbly back through the door and straight back on the couch for a little lie down.

DSCF2173 Checking out the locker

We met up with lots of cats on our travels, including two brown Abyssinians in Motueka  who were free to explore the camp.  We saw their owner running around in the evenings trying to get her errant cats back in the van.  Then there were the two other Birmans we met at Richmond, who also were free to roam.  These two didn’t roam too far but lazed about outside all day when their owners were out and about.
Julie and 8 year old Mertz came visiting while we were staying in Karamea.  (Mertz the cat was named after NZ All Black Andrew Mehrtens).  Julie and her husband Alex were from earthquake devastated Christchurch and were travelling in their motor-home which they had named “Quake Escaper”.  They bought the camper, they told us, to get a rest from the ongoing after shocks, while they were waiting for their house to be repaired.

DSCF1114 Julie and Mertz

We met up with Felix the Ragdoll three times on our travels, seems that both of us were on a South Island Odyssey trip.  His owners had spotted our cat across the camp and brought their cat over to meet us.  Two year old Felix had very similar markings to Muffy, but was a much heavier cat, and wasn’t really too interested in saying hello at all. 
DSCF1442 Muffy and Felix

Is there a downside of travelling with our cat, apart from all the fine white hair which floats around and finds a home on any dark clothing?  Not at all – she was well behaved, travelled well, snoozed most of the day and cuddled up in bed with us on cold nights.  She doesn’t know it yet, but we are taking her away for another caravan trip in the weekend. 

Monday, 28 May 2012

That sounds familiar

On our South Island travels we visited places with very famous names indeed.  We have all heard of Niagara Falls, those magnificent falls located on the Niagara River and forming the border between Ontario and New York State.  (In fact, we have been lucky enough to visit them).  The New Zealand version of Niagara Falls in the Catlins were named by a surveyor who had seen the real thing and named these falls as a joke after the originals.   To be absolutely honest, our falls are tiny indeed, but  it is good for a laugh, and we just had to come and see this version for ourselves.

Niagara Falls  Niagara Falls New Zealand style

 Niagara Falls? We admit that they are tiny, more a rapid really

Pearl Harbour in Hawaii is a very special place indeed and we have been privileged to go and view the Arizona Memorial some years ago.  We are not sure how Pearl Harbour in Manapouri came to be named, but we are sure that no disrespect was intended.  We left here to cruise across Lake Manapouri, then take a coach trip over Wilmot Pass, then a catamaran cruise through Doubtful Sound.  On our return trip our coach driver carefully manoeuvred down a 2km circular tunnel to the machine hall of the Manapouri Power Station, before returning at the end of the trip to Pearl Harbour.

DSCF0212 This way to Pearl Harbour

DSCF0211 Peaceful Pearl Harbour in Manapouri

Our version of the Nile River is in Charleston, Westport. Tradition says that this river was named after an ill-fated ship which mistook the mouth of the river for Constant Bay and was wrecked. We enjoyed a trip on the Rainforest Railway which took us into the  Paparoa National Park.  As the train trundled into the Nile River Canyon, there was not an Egyptian or a pyramid to be seen. 

DSCF0913 Nile River, Charleston

Sadly we have never been to the real Grand Canyon, but yes, the Kiwis have done it again and used yet another well known name.   We were surprised to come across and drive through the “Grand Canyon” on the road to Millerton, on the West Coast.  The canyon was not quite up to USA standards, we have to admit, but still an interesting.stretch of road.  


DSCF1185 The Grand Canyon, Millerton

Niagara we knew about, but the other three names were a complete surprise when we stumbled across them.  These names  certainly added interest to our sightseeing trips.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Majestic South Island

The scenery of the South Island of New Zealand can only be described in superlatives, such as majestic, stunning, and sensational.  The mighty Southern Alps runs along the spine of the South island and provide a barrier for the prevailing westerly winds.  As the damp air rises it cools, and drops most of its moisture as rain, which gives rise to the West Coast rain forests.  The West Coast of the South Island is the wettest area of New Zealand, while the area to the east of the mountains, just over 100 km away, is the driest.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia showing South Island

So what was our favourite area down south?  To be quite honest, it’s impossible to chose.  With vistas of mountains, rugged peaks, glaciers, rain forests, fiords, rivers, lakes, hot mineral springs, wild coastlines, streams and estuaries, and rolling farmland, each day brought us more wonderful views to marvel over. 

P4041853 Lake Hawea

If you haven’t yet visited the South Island of New Zealand, put it on your “Bucket List”, you won’t be disappointed.  We are already making plans for another South Island trip.

P3021080 Mt Cook

Thursday, 24 May 2012

A few favourite places to stay

After staying at 50 quite different campsites in the South Island, we were reminiscing as we decided to pick a few favourites.  Actually, it wasn’t too hard to do, and being of like minds, we were both in agreement too.  Our New Zealand Motor Caravan Association Directory (known to members as The Bible) lists virtually hundreds to places for members to stay overnight, so we just tried a fraction of what was available during our South Island trip.  So in no particular order, we present our favourites.

Park Over Properties, known as POPs, offer safe overnight parking on private land for members, and can range from a suburban home, to a smallholding.  There are over 300 POPs throughout the country, and usually a minimum of services are offered, such as access to water.  POPS are quite often free, but we like to offer a donation for the use the property giving us safe off road parking.  Our favourite, purely for the glorious view in the middle of nowhere, was at Lochaburn, in Central Otago.  Here we stayed overnight looking out over tussock covered farmland, with a horse sharing the paddock with us.  We did wonder if we would ever make it up the steep and challenging dirt road, but once we finally arrived, the peaceful location in rural surroundings was well worth the effort. 

P3311820 Lochaburn POP, in a rural country setting

Low Cost Parks are also on private land and usually offer more facilities such as water, power, toilets, showers, and charge a  fee to cover these costs.  Our favourite was at Geraldine, a beautiful property reached by driving down a tree lined sweeping driveway.  These property owners love company and have set their grounds up with power points, a laundry room, and a shower and toilet available for use in the garage.  The friendly little poodle liked to check out the visitors, and I was happy to check out those  happy clucking chickens in the rear of the property.  Happy Hours are encouraged, and the friendly hosts told us that they are planning on extending their property to allow for even more overnight guests.  This LCP wins hands down for the beautifully planted grounds, facilities, and friendliness.

DSCF9241 Parked up in Geraldine LCP

NZMCA owns a number of properties for members to use and we visited most of them in the South Island.  They all offer hard standing, some but not all have water available, usually they have no facilities for rubbish.  The property at Franz Josef won our vote on “location, location, location”, situated as it was just a short  stroll from the alpine village.  It was ringed with trees, and had the extra advantage of water, a dump station, and rubbish bins.  And best of all, these NZMCA properties charge a very modest charge per night – we really can’t do better than that for safe, off road parking.  We stayed several nights at this delightful spot and walked up to both the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.

DSCF0579 Franz Josef NZMCA site

Franz Josef Glacier Franz Josef Glacier

We stayed at several Domains, which are generally large grassed recreation areas owned and administered by the local City Council.  Facilities vary from domain to domain, and our favourite was at Karamea.  The rates were reasonable, and although the facilities were a little on the old side, we found everything we needed here for a comfortable stay, power, toilets and showers, and a laundry.  And a grand-stand, if we felt like making use of it, looking over the large playing fields, but no cell phone coverage or internet in this part of the country. 

Karamea - Domain Campground Plenty of room at Karamea Domain

Karamea EstuaryKaramea Estuary

Some pubs offer their grounds to campers and usually have power points and facilities.  Seddonville Hotel on the West Coast was our favourite.  There was a nice little grassed area to park in, power points, laundry facilities, and a shower and toilet available.  But what made this a stand out place, was the friendliness of the hosts, and the delicious meals available in the hotel.  Nothing was too much trouble, and we enjoyed our stay here so much that we returned again a week later on the return from our trip to Karamea.  The highlight of our stay would have to be attending the Anzac Day Dawn Service, and being so warmly welcomed by the locals.

DSCF1033 Parked up at Seddonville pub

ANZAC Day BreakfastAnzac morning breakfast in the pub

Motor Camps need no explanation, these commercial ventures are usually very well maintained and offer good facilities.  However, we feel that some of the prices demanded these days are very expensive, and tend to be aimed at the tourists rather than the local market.  From time to time when there was nothing else available we stayed in a motor camp, and our pick would be Manapouri Motorhome and Caravan Park.  This near new camp was well set out with wonderful facilities, and as a bonus, very moderately priced too.  

DSCF0235  Manapouri Motorhome and Caravan Park

DSCF0217Lake Manapouri

So that’s our personal picks for the trip.  We stayed at such a variety of places, and sometimes when planning to stay in a particular town, there was a variety of options available and we were spoilt for choice.  Wonder what our travelling companions would choose for their favourites?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Reflections - Who doesn’t love Trains?

We love trains – so much so that our trip south was carefully planned to coincide with the running of the Weka Pass Railway.  Like most of the restored trains these days, it is run by volunteers and only operates on the occasional weekend.  The train operates from Glenmark to Waikari, and our group did the trip “back to front”, as we boarded at Waikari, which managed to confuse the staff a little.  The vintage carriages and open air observation carriage were pulled by  DG 770, Locomotive 2274/D53, built in 1955 at the Vulcan Foundry, Lancashire, England.  The rain kept falling as we travelled through Weka Pass, which was constructed in just two years in the 1880s.  Tons of clay and limestone were removed by hand to form the cuttings and large embankments.  It seemed that we barely room to spare as the train travelled through the cuttings.
DSCF8969 Weka Pass Railway
It must have been good luck, we think, for us to be staying in Ashburton the weekend the vintage trains were running at the Plains Railway and Historic Village.  It was the turn for this little beauty the day we went; one of three engines in the collection.  The steam engine on duty was a K88, built in 1877 by Rogers Locomotive Works, at New Jersey, and looked very smart with a shiny green paint job.  This engine was scrapped and spent many years shoring up the banks of the Oreti River as flood protection, before being rescued and restored.   Thank goodness for rail enthusiasts who dedicate their spare time to restoration.
DSCF9191 Plains Railway, Ashburton
While staying at Mosgiel, Dunedin, we booked an all day excursion “Rail to Gold”, which included two train trips, a meal in a country pub, and a bus tour through McCrae's Gold Mine.  The first ride was aboard the Seasider to travel up the main trunk line for a two hour journey from the historic Dunedin Station to Palmerston.  This section of the line was completed in 1879, and the carriages were pulled by a DJ diesel electric locomotive.  The trip took us past pretty little settlements shrouded in mist along the coastline, then inland  and through four tunnels, finally arriving in Palmerston Station.  Here we boarded a small mini bus for the next part of our day.   
DSCF9534 All aboard the Seasider
Coming back from our gold mine tour, the bus driver dropped us at Pukerangi Station in time to board the Taieri Gorge Railway for our return ride back to Dunedin.   For this trip we were seated in vintage 1920s heritage carriages with opening sash windows, very handy as they could be raised for taking photos.  We travelled slowly through the stunning scenery of the deep sided schist covered Taieri Gorge, through ten tunnels and over a couple of viaducts.    The TV series “Great Scenic Railway Journeys” calls this trip one of the world’s great train trips, and we can certainly see why.  
P3111287 Travelling through the Taieri Gorge
It was back to steam again when we boarded the Kingston Flyer.  The engine driver made a point of letting off plenty of steam so the photographers could take plenty of photos.  The Great Northern Railway from Invercargill to Kingston opened in 1878, and with the first passenger trains travelling at a very speedy 60km per hour, and the train became known as the Kingston Flyer. The engine for our trip was a AB778 Pacific Class locomotive, and was built in Addington Railway Workshops in 1925.  It weighed 86 tons, burned 760kg of coal and used 3600 litres of water each return journey.  The carriages were restored to represent 1920s travel, constructed of teak, red pine and kauri, with curved roofs of embossed plate. The train chugged along the 14km stretch of rail and we sat back and enjoyed the scenery, stopping at Fairlight Station, the end of the line for our trip.
DSCF0332 The Kingston Flyer
P3301806 Waiting to perform the return trip from Fairlight to Kingston
Our last South Island rail trip was something completely different.  The dinky little Nile River Rainforest Train runs on a narrow gauge track 2km up the Paparoa Ranges.  The corrugated iron carriages are  pulled by a small diesel powered engine, and was originally built to support the company’s caving business, but soon became an attraction in it’s own right.
DSCF0928 Nile River Rainforest Train
Our train trips on our South Island holiday were all different, and all great in their own individual way.  What better way to spend an afternoon than “all aboard” as we ride the rails?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Vital Statistics

Brrr, it’s chilly back home.  We left Picton in sunshine on Friday and now home we have the heating on, we’re dressed in warm trousers and woolly jumpers, and our feet are clad in warm socks and slippers. Did we mention we had to switch the electric blanket on to warm the bed last night?  

While we were down south we had 96 nights away, and stayed at 50 different overnight locations.  These ranged from motor camps, NZMCA properties, domains, pubs, park over properties, several A & P grounds and race courses, two farm properties, a chestnut orchard, a car sales yard, and a truck stop.  All these overnight stays had a fee attached, which varied from $4 a night to about $35 a night.  (We stayed away from the really expensive camps).  Many charged extra for showers.  And we very bravely tried “freedom camping” just twice.  Once on the banks of the Tekapo Canal in the middle of nowhere, where it was a beautiful  peaceful but rather chilly night with the stars shining bright in the sky.  Our second freedom camping adventure and was as the quaintly named Monkey Island on the beach front.  Here the winds were fierce but the setting was delightful, and we could just imagine how popular this spot would be in the middle of summer.

DSCF0184 Washing blowing in the sea breezes at Monkey Island

Our Toyota Land Cruiser towed the caravan 3973km around the South Island, and then we drove a staggering 3413km without the caravan on the back,  tiki touring around.  A grand total of 7386kms for the trip, and we used 1417 litres of diesel.  And all this travelling cost us $2292.17 and our fuel consumption averaged out at approx 18 litres per 100 kilometres.

P3031112 Travelling over Benmore Dam

An unexpected cost was replacing the two caravan house batteries, and we were told that our reasonably new batteries which were bought less than twelve months ago were not the correct type for our usage.  These batteries have been carried all around the South Island and brought home (instead of being discarded) (120kg) and Robin plans to take them back to the supplier and get a refund.  While  new batteries were being fitted, Robin took the opportunity to replace the tail lights with LEDs.  This extra expense added $1178 to our travel costs.  Dot and Derek also had battery problems and while we waited a couple of extra days for the delivery truck, we had the most glorious views over Lake Hawea which also included impromptu aerial displays for Wings over Wanaka show.

DSCF0422 Sunset at Lake Hawea

Exploring towns and visiting attractions was made easy with my well used collection of books.  My book “Explore New Zealand” was invaluable, is full of  facts and figures en route and lists all sorts of interesting points of interest to stop and investigate.

DSCF1696 My most useful and informative book

These other three books were handy to flick through when we planned to stop at different areas, to see what there was worth visiting.  They were all well thumbed through over the duration of our trip.  They were all used religiously, and worth their weight in gold. By far the most useful book was the NZMCA Travel Directory which listed every conceivable place to stay, from DOC sites to motor camps and everything in between.

DSCF1697 Three handy books

So as far as travel goes, is it the journey, or the destination?  Both, of course.  Getting there is half the fun, but once on site, there is always interesting local views, attractions, a museum perhaps.  We’ll tell you about some of our favourites next time.

Friday, 18 May 2012

All Aboard the Aratere

With two car ferries operating across the Cook Strait, you would expect the prices of each to be comparable.  Not so – we found the difference in costs between the two companies to be in the region of $40.  It wasn’t hard to make the decision to travel with the cheaper shipping company.  We arrived at the Picton port bright and early and lined up where directed amongst a whole lot of cars, motor-homes, vans and large trucks.  Surprisingly, we didn’t spot another caravan at all.

DSCF1698Waiting for the ferry to arrive

Muffy was locked in the caravan to cope with the trip by herself, as best she could.  No doubt once the crossing was underway and all those strange noises had quieted down, she would be able to curl up and have a snooze in the caravan.  Robin makes no bones about being a poor sailor, but with a couple of “Sea Legs” under his belt, he felt he would be OK.  The first part of the trip was quite calm, as we guided slowly through the Sounds.

DSCF1705 Travelling through the Sounds

Things got a little more turbulent as we crossed the open waters while we were eating lunch in the cafe.  My advice to myself is not to look out the windows and see the horizon moving up and down, but to concentrate on reading a book.  Works for me, and after lunch we went back to our air craft style seating  to relax.  Robin had the morning newspaper to read, and I was rather involved in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, so we didn’t have to think about the moderate swell. 

P5187445 Inside the Aratere

DSCF1708 Looking back over the stern

The crossing takes round about three hours, and before we knew it, we were approaching Wellington and glided into the harbour past the expensive properties at Oriental Bay.  We were requested to gather our belongings, make our way back down to the car deck, and get ready for when the ship docked.

DSCF1712 Oriental Bay

Off we went, joining the queue of all the other traffic as we disembarked, and quickly stopped at a parking space on the wharf.  Muffy was rescued from the caravan, a little wide eyed and agitated after three hours down in that noisy hold all by herself.  After a few kind words and a cuddle, she calmed down and we drove the final leg of our journey, homewards bound.  It certainly didn’t seem that we had been away for three months, we commented.  That’s till we saw the big pile of mail waiting for us to deal with.  Our house sitter had been clearing the letter box and stacked it up neatly – that’s a whole lot of mail to open!  Luckily she had already discarded the three months worth of junk mail that came with it.

  DSCF1718 Three months mail to open

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Queen Charlotte Drive

Total Nights and Caravan Travelled on Tour to Date = 96 Nights & 3934 Kms
Queen Charlotte Drive is not a coastal drive like we would experience in the North Island.  Things are different down here in the Marlborough Sounds, which are described by geologists as “drowned valleys”.  These were formed millions of years ago by the mountains sinking and the ocean flooding into the low lying areas.  The narrow road took us through spectacular scenery up and over hills covered in native forest, then dipped down to one little bay after another.  There was a handy parking area just out of town looking over the ferry terminals and the town.  Both Bluebridge and the Inter Islander ferries were loading passengers and vehicular traffic for yet another crossing to Wellington.  It will be our turn tomorrow – lets hope for a calm sailing.
DSCF1668 Looking over the ferry terminal
Just around a corner or two we stopped on the hill overlooking Shakespeare Bay.  Waimahara Wharf was opened by Prime Minister Helen Clark in May 2000 and was very busy indeed.  Piles of logs were neatly stacked and the boat at the wharf looked almost full to the brim with a load ready for transit.  
DSCF1674 Waimahara Wharf, Shakespeare Bay
DSCF1673 Plaque looking down over Shakespeare Bay
Marlborough Sounds offers up one glorious view after another.  We just had to stop at the next hilltop lookout. 
P5177436 View of the Sounds
Some years ago there was the most delightful cake shop in Ngakuta Bay, run by a little old lady known to all as “Granny”.  She has long gone, as has the shop, but Ngakuta Bay is just as we remembered it, quiet and peaceful.  The 55 year old jetty was rebuilt last year and is available to all for fishing, swimming, boating, or for land lubbers like us, just to enjoy a walk along it’s length in the sunshine. 
P5177443 Ngakuta Bay Jetty
P5177439Ngakuta Bay
Back in the car again we drove around to Anakiwa, which is the base for the Outward Bound School.  The school runs rigorous courses designed to test participates, build character and gain confidence in outdoor pursuits, and the McKenzie Trust gifted 22 acres of land to establish the school here.  Anakiwa is also the starting point of the famous 71km Queen Charlotte Walking Track.
DSCF1685 Outward Bound, Anakiwa
DSCF1688 Anakiwa Bay
Retracing our steps, we drove back to Picton and down to the waterfront.  The coastal trader Echo is now beached and spends life these days as a cafe/bar.  Built in 1905, she worked around the coast of New Zealand, and then shipped freight between Blenheim and Wellington for many years.   In 1942 Echo was commissioned by the U S Army  and patrolled the pacific Ocean on active duty until 1944.  Resuming her Cook Strait service she worked until retirement in 1965. With a history like this, it seemed the ideal place to finish our sight-seeing with a nice cup of coffee, we thought.  But it was not to be, as the Echo was not open.  Oh dear. 
DSCF1692 Echo, down at the Picton waterfront
We celebrated the last night of our holiday with a meal out at the Picton RSA, roast pork and all the trimmings, and it was delicious.  What’s this sign we noticed on the door as we were leaving?  It asks, “Have you got your pumpkin?”
In my view, you just can’t beat a nice pumpkin, and these were only $1.50 each.  Guess what I’m taking home on the Cook Strait Ferry tomorrow?
DSCF1695 Me and my pumpkin
Romany Rambler: Travelled 24,126 Km; 441 Total Nights