2019 – New Zealand (part 2)

22 March 2019

Today marks the half way point of our tour and what an excellent day it was. We had an early breakfast in our rooms at The Sails and left at 8:00. It was a very chilly run this morning and we didn’t have much time to waste. We headed away from Nelson down highway 6 past vineyards under overcast skies. We needed to cover 80 miles before 10:30 as we had an appointment with a jet boat at Buller Canyon. We made good time despite a slight sat-nav moment that took us round a housing estate and we made our coffee stop just in time. Even though it was chilly this morning the roads remain great to drive and we were able to bowl along at a good pace. We passed plenty of logging trucks. They do make the 3-wheelers look small but the wood smell as they pass us is great.

After Coffee we make it to the Gorge. We make our way over the longest swing bridge in New Zealand at 110m long.

We follow a narrow path down to the river on the other side and wait for our ride. Mark is our guide and driver/pilot/captain/guide and he soon has us fitted up with life jackets. The ride is exhilarating and the Chevy V8 powered jet boat skims over the shallow waters. Mark throws the boat into 360 degree swing which wets everyone – especially Shaun.

Parallel to the bridge is a zip line. This particular line allows you to ride in a face down superman position. I fancied a go and Libby decided to give it a try too. It was good fun but was over all too soon.

We moved on in search of lunch. There is not much around here so we had to wait until we got as far as Inangahua Junction where it was toasties and coffee all round. The weather was hotter and sunny now and we continued out to the coast road. The scenery was spectacular again with soaring cliffs on one side and fantastic beaches on the other. The winding road offered glimpses of what was there but a couple of stunning viewpoints that gave us the opportunity to enjoy the fabulous views.

As the weather was great we passed by our accommodation at Punakaiki Tavern and continued out to Pancake Rocks. These pancake shaped limestone formations are unlike anything I have ever seen before. The setting was quite spectacular and rounded of a brilliant day of exploring.

The day did finish on a sour note when Roger and myself were soundly beaten by Shaun and Libby at table football in the bar!

23 March 2019

The Punakaiki Tavern may not be the most sophisticated place I have ever stayed but I slept well and they did a very good breakfast. It was a very chilly start again this morning. It is definitely getting colder in the mornings as we work our way south.

We followed the coast for the first stretch today and were treated to more stunning costal vistas. The driving was easy and we were soon in Greymouth for our planned fuel and coffee. At the petrol station we bump into a chap with a very smart Austin van. After an oil check (Shaun added some but Roger’s car and my car were fine), all tyre pressures were good so we headed off. From here we turn north-east and head inland.

We continued on after coffee, criss-crossing the Grey river and the railway lines. It is easy to make quite rapid progress as there is so little traffic. By the time we got as far as Springs junction it was lunch time so we pulled in and refuelled ourselves. We met a couple who were travelling in a rather unusual motor home. It was home made and they have lived in it for 17 years!

From Springs junction the rest of the route took us along State Highway 7 over the Lewis Pass to Hanmer Springs. The views along this route were incredible. I’m not going to write anything more today. I can’t possibly describe the majesty of the mountains or the clarity of the air here. The photographs don’t do it justice either but its the best I can do……

24 March 2019

Today turned out to be a day of very strange encounters……

The St James, Hanmer Springs was an extremely smart and comfortable place to spend a night. We met outside reception at 08:00 and walked around the corner to the cafe next door and had breakfast. It wasn’t long before we were all loaded up and ready to depart. After the inevitable photographs we retraced our steps from yesterday in dazzling sunshine back to the main road. This time we turned left down Mouse Point Road almost directly south towards Amberley.

Strange thing No.1
As we drove we could see an unusual cloud hovering near the top of one of the hills we were going over. It looked like we would only be in it for a minute. However when we entered the cloud it didn’t immediately clear as expected. It went quite cold and visibility reduced to a point that we needed our headlights on. We stopped very briefly to add another layer before continuing. The landscape was lost to us for a good few miles but the cloud did eventually clear and we could enjoy the lovely views again.

I think we were going the wrong way today because as we neared Amberley a large group classic cars 1950s-1970s mostly British and American classic cars went the other way. I wonder where they are going. We filled up the cars with fuel in Amberley as well as ourselves with coffee at a very nice coffee shop.

From Amberley the roads were long, flat and straight for quite a distance. After another hour and a half we passed through Oxford (Shaun & Libby’s home town) and turned right in Sheffield before we carried on to our lunch stop in Springfield.

Strange thing No.2
As we are in Springfield they do of course have an enormous doughnut like then in the cartoon version. We just had to have a picture!

After leaving Springfield the views improved and the skies became very clear and the sun was extremely hot. We continued onwards along some much more interesting roads towards Castle Hill.

Strange thing No.3
Castle Hill gives access to the strange otherworldly limestone rock formations known as Kura Tawhiti (treasure from a distant land) by the Mauri whereas the European settlers saw them as battlements of a castle – hence Castle Hill. Either way they are very unusual and interesting to explore. The rocks lie about a 10 minute walk from the car park and it is well worth scrambling up to the rocks to explore this fascinating place.

We are heading almost directly north now towards the New Zealand West Coast. Arthurs pass treats us to yet more stunning views. You can see that it has been dry here for sometime as the rivers are very low. We stop at the start of the Devils Punchbowl trail that we planned to walk but as there is so little water in the rivers and the clouds are gathering so we decide to push on to our hotel 6 miles further on.

Strange thing No.4 – by far the strangest!
What a greeting at our hotel

The Stagecoach Hotel was originally a stop over for the Cobb & Co. stagecoach. Built in 1865 it is unlike anywhere I have ever stayed. It is part hotel, part museum. It is stuffed full of weird objects of every description. You are even welcomed by Gandalf and Gollum. Even the bedrooms are furnished with ancient furniture including poster beds. We are the only 4 people staying here along with the owner, a parrot, pigs, a goat and guinea pigs!

The weather forecast for tomorrow and the following couple of days looks absolutely atrocious so wish us luck.

25th March 2019

We left, or should I say escaped the Stagecoach this morning at about 8:00 – we didn’t hang around for breakfast. There had been a little rain overnight and more was forecast so we got our wet weather gear on took a photo of the cars outside the hotel and headed out.

Our route today was very simple. First we headed west to the coast before turning left and heading down the coast. the views were again spectacular but very different today under very heavy cloud. Hard to believe that we were sweltering in the hot sun just yesterday. There was a little drizzle but nothing like what was forecast.

We found a cafe in Hokitika for breakfast about an hour after starting out. Just as we left it started to drizzle. From that point on the rain got heavier and heavier. The rain has been of biblical proportions from that point on. I have never driven the 3-wheeler in such bad conditions. Visibility was very poor and I just had to concentrate on looking where I was going. A number of times I hit a big puddle and a wave of water landed in my lap.

That was it for the next 100 miles. A continuous heavy downpour. We drove sensibly for the conditions – I struggled at times to keep the water out of my eyes but we eventually rolled into Fox Glacier. No sign of the glacier here or in neighbouring Franz Joseph Glacier but its up there somewhere.

We were all absolutely soaked to the skin. Even the best motorcycle waterproof gear couldn’t cope with the quantity of water dropped on us today. I think i would have been better off if i had just worn my swimming trunks and helmet!

I am sitting here in a wooden lodge unit and the rain is absolutely hammering down on the roof. The forecast for today and tomorrow is stating 300-600mm of rain! I think we will be in for a rough day tomorrow but things look better after this. Wish us luck.

26th March 20192

Well, this definitely wasn’t part of the plan. I expected some rain in South Island but not to the degree tat we have had over the last 36 hours. I didn’t even know 700mm of rain was even possible.

We got up for a planned 8:00 breakfast in a cafe just down the road. It was still pouring as it had been all night. Any thoughts of continuing our journey were washed away when we found the the road south was closed due to flooding and a landslip. It looks like we are staying here. Luckily we could stay at the Lodge for an extra day so we were resigned to wait it out – not that we had much choice. Roger and I did have to move rooms and the cars – much to Libby’s amusement……

Dirty laugh!!!!!

We spent the day either out eating or watching the downpours through the window. We had a meal this evening close to the Lodge and understood why this afternoon we lost any internet access and phone signal when we watched the news. The bridge we drove over into Franz Josef has been washed away. The pictures on the TV were amazing. This is a severe weather event for New Zealand and they have declared a state of emergency. A detour round the lost bridge must be some 500 miles! i must be a disaster for NZ tourism along this popular stretch of coast. With the bridge washed away there is now only one way in or out of Fox Glacier which is currently blocked by landslip or flood! It is now a 50 mile dead end. Let’s hope that the remaining bridge holds up!

The forecast suggests the this rain continues overnight and eases over the following 24 hours. We are completely at the mercy of the weather at the moment. We are already a day behind schedule and may need to radically change our plans. We can not control the weather or whether the road will be clear tomorrow. Wish us luck.

27 March 2019

It has rained all night and continues this morning. There is supposed to be an update at 8:00 at the Fox Glacier guiding Centre but it doesn’t look good. Gradually the rain eases and then stops and starts and stops again. The clouds are definitely higher and the forecast did suggest that it should be a lot better by lunchtime. 

In order to do 2-days planned travel to get to Te Anau which is some 305 miles away we would have to leave by 10:00.

We walked 15 minutes down the closed road to look at the bridge. The water was still raging beneath the bridge and you could hear large rocks being thrown around and crashing together. Quite an extraordinary scene.We walked back for the overdue update but the sign still showed road closed. We fuelled up the cars just in case but even here we had to pay cash because of there being no communications.

The 8:00 update came and went as did the 10:00 update. No go. By 11:00 we had made our minds up. It was too much to ask to reach our accommodation today. With no internet, mobile or even land-line we can’t book any alternative hotel short of our planned destination. There were many vehicles all wanting to head south but we’re stranded here. Our lodge had turned away at least 10 callers last night and everyone was eager to get going.

Having made the call, we tried to make the best of the situation. The rain had stopped so we decided to head for the lake for a walk and for lunch. We walked to the jetty viewpoint where there were great views across the lake to the mountains. It must be an amazing place on a very still day with a perfect reflection. We walked back to the car park where there was a very smart cafe where we enjoyed a very nice lunch – raw salmon salad. We overheard another visitor saying that the road was now open. Phew! I am sure we have made the right call by staying at Fox Glacier Lodge for a third night.

We looked at the information board which confirmed that the road south was now open – single lane. Hopefully all the other cars and campers will have it nice and clear before our early start tomorrow.

This afternoon the sun came out and we were able to get the cars mostly dry. Hopefully they will dry out completely tomorrow if the weather stays fine.

28 March 2019

Engines were started at 7:00 as planned. I would say we woke the whole village but I don’t think there is anyone here at all. It was 54 miles before we came across another vehicle on the road. It was full dark and only 5 degrees when we started out but at least it was nice and dry. The roads were clear and we made good progress through dramatic cloudy costal scenery before heading inland towards Haast. This was our breakfast stop and we found a general store for eggs on toast and coffee before tackling the next leg of our trip.

early video

We headed over the Haast pass into the Mount Aspiring National Park. Beautiful driving across a stunning landscape. We drove down the side of Lake Wanaka which was just beautiful. The colours are amazing on a lovely clear sunny day. Just when you think the scenery can’t get any better we then passed over a rise (the Neck) which then opened out to give amazing views down to Lake Hawea. We follow the shores of lake Hawea for some miles. It was so spectacular.

Lake photos / vid

By just before 1:00 p.m. we arrive in Wanaka (where we should have been 2 nights ago), refuel and continue on to look for a spot for a quick lunch. We find a nice little cafe at Cardrona. We are only half way at this point so we can’t linger very long and must press on today of we are going to get back on track.

The road up and out of Cardrona was like a mountain pass. Just brilliant. Then we traverse Crown Terrace before dropping down the switchbacks to Arrow Junction. Now this is where I run into trouble with this blog. I am not much of a writer. You would need a genius to be able to describe the views from this section of road. I have driven many thousands of miles on some of the most amazing roads in the world but I can honestly say that I have never seen such stunningly beautiful views as I have seen in this section of road today. The combination of mountains, valleys, lakes, trees, rocks and the amazing clarity of the air on this perfect sparkling autumn day can not be translated into words. You have to be there to have any idea of what we have seen today. Truly awe-inspiring. A very special day indeed.

We continued to press on and after a short coffee stop we rolled into Te Anau in good time. We have all done well today. 305 miles including some twisty stuff and with no motorway or dual carriageway. That was originally planned for 2-days of the trip. Good effort.

Tomorrow should be another highlight – Milford Sound