South Island Roadtrip

I was lucky enough to be bringing a van back from Christchurch with time to spare for some sight-seeing. The plan was to check out post-quake Christchurch, see some of the sights of the South Island and catch a few waves  along the way.

Damaged Christchurch

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It was sobering to see the state of things in Christchurch. The roads were like a crumpled rug – lumpy and creased. There were parts of buildings still standing, twisted metal work and crumbled brick. The whole city centre remains closed off. After a surf-check at Sumner (nada) I headed for the quake epi-centre Lyttelton.  Seeing the mangled remains of the control room as I drove into the 2km tunnel to get there suddenly made me think twice. Pressing on I was rewarded.
The town is bouncing back thanks to its strong community with schemes such as the time bank helping to get things moving. Shipping containers have been customised as quick pre-fab buildings. The ‘Port Hole’ a cafe/pub is one of these and is a great place for a snack and a bevvie. The iconic Wunderbar has been rebuilt as-was and seeing ‘Nerdlesque‘ there was, erm, beyond the scope of this blog!
Lyttelton Free-Camp

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A nice little piece of flat land at a road-end was a great free-camp spot. The rules of free camping are easy. Being respectful by asking a local (a dog-walker in this case) and leaving no trace (especially no toilet paper or human waste) means you know you’re welcome this time and will keep the  welcome open for future campers like yourself.
Watching the sun lingering on the cliffs as the light gradually fades from the harbour and far hills was special. Eating home-cooked (ok, van-cooked) scallops while taking this all in was bliss 🙂

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Snow-capped Mountains

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A beautiful morning, a walk, some business taken care of and a surf check. Nothing doing so it was time to head inland. Christchurch had been nice but  it felt good to be leaving the city behind, heading out for the ‘Arthurs Pass’ national park and into the real New Zealand. The Canterbury plains stretched out ahead as far as the eye could see. The sky was blue with just the occasional cloud. Soon snow-capped mountains appeared on the horizon and inexorably kept approaching.  I then found myself among them, marvelling at the alpine beauty. While stopped beside a particularly beautiful lake for lunch, reading Scott Cook’s ‘NZ Frenzy‘ guidebook I decided to take on the walk to Halpins Creek falls.


I didn’t get there but I did have a great adventure rock-hopping in wetsuit boots up the raging stream absolutely alone. Each step was a calculated risk and finally a rocky waterfall – not ‘the’ waterfall I was trying to reach – beat me.  The rock-hop back down the sunny, tree-lined gorge was just as challenging & enjoyable . I got back to the van a happy man, vowing to try again next time I’m passing.

False Glacier

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Another few kilometres, another walk. This time an easy walk to the end of the Bealey Valley track then a rock-hop up the edge of the stream to a ‘false glacier’ at the valley head. As ever, nature likes to show you who’s boss in NZ.  The scree slopes nosing into the stream look recent and powerful. Don’t mess with Momma N!  What’s that on the snow? Looks like a Kea! Quick, grab the camera! No point really, the photos only show a dark blur. At least I know I saw one. With this knowledge and the snow-capped mountains looking still more beautiful in the evening light I was a very happy man on the walk back to the van!

Arthur’s Pass (with Keas)

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Happy, but in need of a shower. Luckily Arthur’s Pass is a small, friendly kind of place. ‘The Sanctuary‘ backpackers has a hot shower open to anyone with a  $2 coin. Bliss!
Enjoying the fresh-showered feeling and the crisp alpine sunset I spot some Kea and grab the camera again. This time they are very obliging and I get some great shots. What do you think?
By now its almost dark so I cook up a chilli and retire to bed a well fed, well exercised, happy man. I love van living!

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Snowshoes Anyone?

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Dawn and again on the advice of the ‘NZ Frenzy’ guidebook I set out on ‘the toughest day hike on the island’. A lot of huffing and puffing up ‘Scott’s Track‘ and I end up on a steep snow-covered ridge with a fair bit of climbing still to do. This is indeed difficult in normal hiking boots. Some perseverance and I’m at the top of ‘Avalanche Peak’, 1100m above my start point and 1800m above sea level. Views of mountains, misty valleys, snow and wilderness all around me. Magic.  The markers for the route down are buried in a large, unstable looking snowfield so I inch my way back down the way I came. No time for tea because I’ve an appointment with high tide at Punakaiki rocks to keep

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Wild West Coast

The drive over the pass and down the other side was full of superlative scenery, like a lot of the South Island. In fact, like a lot of New Zealand period. Sadly, I hadn’t left myself enough time to stop and spend time in any of it because I needed to be at ‘Pancake Rocks’ (the easier to pronounce nickname of Punakaiki rocks) for high tide. This is when the angry Tasman Sea bashes into them causing holes to blow, the ground to shake and tourists to say ‘oo’ and ‘aah’. Its good but crazy popular and touristy. My advice is go see the rocks but if you want a coffee, ice cream or much anything else stop at the next village along and pay a reasonable price rather than the tourist price.
A quick lunch and doze down by the beach and its on the road again. From Greymouth to Charleston the road hugs the coast giving beautiful views of points, bays, beaches, coves, the lot. Unfortunately to a surfer’s eye, the onshore was killing the surf. Even around Westport’s more sheltered headland there was nothing worth getting wet for.

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Weka Tea Thief

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So there was nothing for it but to drive North and get back to reality. What a drive though! Buller Gorge, (bring your DEET and protect your tea from Wekas) Murchison (‘Commercial‘, a pub/restaurant with free WIFI and a good vibe) and finally for today Hope Saddle lookout. By the time I’m there its already dark but there’s still a fantastic show of stars to look out at.

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Keep Moving

Dawn and solitude. Marvellous. 360 degree views over forests to snowy peaks. I now had a deadline-get to Wellington in time to hook up with a friend and head on a surf mission out to Cape Palliser. That meant getting the 2:00 ferry. With my scheduled meeting (yep, work, even on my ‘holiday’) in Nelson that meant going not stopping. All I could do was dream about next time as I passed Pelorus Bridge’s enticing forest walks and river swimming holes, reminisce about campfire cooked beach meals as I passed the stunning Aussie Bay and press on.

Sounds Like The End

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Picton and the ferry terminal reached with little to spare. In 10 minutes I’d bought a ticket, made lunch and got on the ferry. Easy as! The ferry ride’s no more comfortable than any other but the views are astounding. Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel drifted by while I reflected on the great time I’d had in my 3 1/2 days on the South Island. Far too short a time, I could easily have filled 3 1/2 weeks! For now; onwards and Northwards, here’s to some waves and some free camping in the wilds of the Wairarapa.

Did I already say it? I LOVE living in my van 🙂

In case you want to see them all again, here’s the gallery:
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