New Zealand Trip

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Our long awaited trip to New Zealand started with Catherine flying to Auckland in the first week of March 2008. A few days were spent visiting friends and family, a few sights, the highlight of which was lunch up the Skytower on a beautiful sunny clear day.Downtown Auckland & HarbourDowntown Auckland & Harbour

Catherine flew to Christchurch and met up with John who flew in direct from Brisbane and we had our first night in Christchurch staying right next to Hagley Park in the city centre. The motel manager gave us a polystyrene box and two freezer pads (left by previous visitors), and we used this for our food container for the whole trip, and it worked out very well. The first days drive was south down the Canterbury Plains, stopping for lunch at the beach at Timaru, a quick cup of tea at a cousins and ending in Dunedin. One noticeable feature of the plains the large high hedge windbreaks using macrocarpa pines, and the very stony fields we saw from time to time.Stony Paddock with WindbreakStony Paddock with Windbreak We were a little shocked to find it a little difficult to find accommodation in Dunedin, but then found out that it was the week of the Ulysses Motorcycle Club AGM. However, difficulty of finding accommodation at the cheapest place meeting our criteria (a room with ensuite) became common and we started phoning ahead each day. Late in the afternoon we set out to explore the Otago Harbour with the aim to drive out to the “heads” to check it out. The narrow two lane road wound around and around and around the foreshore for miles, and had only a white line between the cars and a few metre drop to the water – no whimpy guard rails here. Eventually we gave up reaching the heads as it was becoming dark and took the inland road along the top of the Otago Peninsula back to our accommodation.

During the summer we had had almost nightly radio contact with the Glenn on the yacht “Kim Chow”, and through this we also talked to Cliff ZL4AS and Ron ZL4RMF. The next day was our only wet day of the trip and made it a good day to visit firstly Cliff near Balclutha. Cliff and Isobel were great hosts for morning tea and lunch, and it gave us the opportunity to look over Cliffs impressive radio shack and especially his Steppir antenna.Steppir Antenna at Cliffs ZL4ASSteppir Antenna at Cliffs ZL4AS After finding a place to stay in Gore (again not easy) we were off to visit Ron who lives by himself at his sheep station out of town. He has the advantage of being able to choose to put his radio shack and antennas wherever he wishes, and that is in the farmhouse kitchen/dining area/computer room/radio shack room, all in one.

Now we were heading to one of the most popular tourist areas of the South Island – Queenstown. On the way we stopped at a roadside stall near Roxburgh at the recommendation of Cliff and purchased peaches and apples, which lasted us until Picton. It was a beautiful sunny clear day, with great scenery the whole time. We stopped beside the Clyde River to look at the view and it took us a while to work out that on the other side of the river on the very dry, steep hills was a vineyard planted on terraces. Queenstown was the place we had picked out for lunch, as it is on the shores of Lake Whakatipu. It reminded us of Noosa here in Queensland, especially the bad aspects, lots of expensive shops, expensive accommodation, no parking and lots of tourists. A quick walk around Queenstown and John expressed a desire to see where the skiing happens in the winter, so we found the road to Coronet Peak. We drove up and up and up the windy road, eventually stopping at a small area off the side of the road to eat our lunch. We had a great view of Coronet Peak – to the top, complete with ski-lifts (but no snow), the river valley below, and the Remarkable Ranges.Coronet PeakCoronet Peak Lake Wanaka was our next place of interest, which is a lovely small tourist town, but to get there we had to drive up a very windy, steep road to the top before being able to go down to Lake Wanaka. I haven’t mentioned the huge numbers of hire camper vans on the roads, but we don’t know how some of these made it up this road. Lake Wanaka township has a view to Mt Aspiring, where we found an internet café to catch up on emails, but we had chosen Lake Hawea as our place to stay for the night. Lake Hawea is very quiet, with only a camp ground where we had a cabin, and a walk across the small dam wall road brought us to the motel and a couple of shops. A very good value meal of burger and chips, and icecream cone afterwards was $25 total.

We left early (7am, just light and other tourists only start at 9am), as we planned a very long day to Westport. We were both surprised when we came across the plaque marking the top of Haast Pass, it seemed to be very “low”. (Some wikipedia research has revealed that Haast Pass is 562m, and the other two South Island passes - Arthurs Pass 920m and Lewis Pass 864m). After a quick stop at Haast, we managed to be driving in a convoy of vintage cars, until we stopped at Ships Creek for a boardwalk in the Kahikatea grove.Kahikatea ForestKahikatea Forest These trees grow in the coastal swamps. There were warnings in the tourist books about the sandflies, and we even saw European tourists with a hat with a mesh screen from the hat to his shoulders, but there were not too many this day.

The highlight of the drive up the west coast is of course the glaciers. First was Fox Glacier, which is more low key tourist wise, to the extent that the tiny yellow road sign on the south side of the bridge 2kms before the town of Fox, is easy to miss. The sign said “Glacier View”, and the road was very narrow, not sealed and we had no idea how far to the view. After about 5 kms through the thick bush, there was a sudden gap in the trees and there it was, the glacier, and really quite close. Well worth the diversion, for as we discovered when we arrived at Franz Joseph that glacier is a lot further from the main road and town. There were helicopter trips, day trips etc available but we were happy with our glimpse.

The whole way from Lake Hawea in the morning we thought that we had hardly seen any cars or people, but when we arrived at Punakaiki to look at the blowholes, well there were people and cars everywhere. The weather was beautiful, sunny and calm (not normal down here), which is great for the tourists and living in general but not good for blowholes. Catherine visited here forty years ago, and it has changed a lot since then. They now have a boardwalk across the top of the rock pillars past the various blowholes, and the tourists are encouraged to walk around the one way, and of course a couple of cafes and souvenir shops.

Finally late in the day we arrived at Carters Beach in Westport, and booked in to a cabin at the Top 10 Park (the Top 10 parks had the best value accommodation and were our first pick in each town). The beach across the road had large grassed areas with trees at suitable intervals (more on this later). Our first day was occupied by driving north, firstly to drive up to Denniston, which is now a near abandonded coal mining town, but some work is being done to rebuild the famous rail incline. The bush is taking over where the houses used to be, and this is especially so at Burnett’s Face an even smaller place not far from Denniston, which has no-one living at any more.Pullars Store, Burnetts FacePullars Store, Burnetts Face Friends of the Hill have installed some plaques to show features of the community, one of which said “Pullars Store” where Catherines father spent his childhood. From the top of the hill we could see right past Westport to Cape Foulwind, a rare happening, and then it was down and further north to another near ghost town of Seddonville. There was a very pleasant short walk, the Chasm walk along a former railway line and through a rail tunnel. There is also the Charming Creek walk from Seddonville down the Ngawaka Valley, which is a long half day, and earmarked for a future visit. On the drive back to Westport we stopped several times to look at the amateur radio towers we had spotted on the way up. The first had a large white wooden lattice tower, and we were invited by Jim at Hector for a cup of tea and a look at his radio shack. At Birchfield we stopped at a house where we saw a quad up a tower, and had a long chat to David and his YL Jen, who are both amateurs. They are also into beaming VHF and UHF signals, reflecting them over the hills to the other side of the island. The day was finished off with a very reasonably priced old fashioned hamburger for dinner. (Also, the evening before we had had a great fish (local) and chips for half the price in Australia).

Saturday 15 March was contest day. The John Moyle Field Day, which is an Australian contest to promote portable amateur radio operations.Radio Comp Westport ViewRadio Comp Westport View The morning was spent checking that we had all the equipment we needed, so we had to go into Westport and purchase a small plastic table which we later gave away, and borrow two chairs from the camping ground. John then decided he was worried that he could not check on the condition of the battery in the hire car we were to use, so another trip to town, and he was lucky to come a across a traveling tool man who had set up for the morning. After getting our aerial ends up in the two trees (using a sand filled sock), Catherine commenced calling on 20 metres, and had a slow start, but with an hour to go we changed to the 40 metre aerial and was kept very busy. 82 contacts were made, which turned out to be a close second in the section of the contest. Even though it was warm and sunny, and the local kids were swimming in the sea, at the end of the day we were wearing shirt, jumper and jacket.

Leaving Westport after three nights, it was through the Buller Gorge, over to Blenheim and Picton for our next major stop for the trip, Queen Charlotte Wilderness Park at the end of the Marlborough Sounds. We were able to arrange to leave the car for the two nights at the caravan park we stayed at, and it was a short walk over a walk bridge at the harbour and marina to the ferry area.On the TrackOn the Track Another perfect day and beautiful views, out to Anakakata Bay where the lodge is situated. We dropped off all the fit and energetic people young and old who were either walking or mountain biking the Queen Charlotte Track, at various bays along the way. The accommodation at the lodge was a room with ensuite in a bunk house building separate from the main house which was the original farmhouse. We had a short walk to the top of the ridge to look around and take some photos in case the weather turned bad the next day (it never did) and then a relaxing afternoon waiting for the various other guests to arrive from their days energetic pursuits. They came from various parts of New Zealand and Europe, and like us had found the lodge and park by word of mouth. The evening meal was cooked by the host and helper in the farmhouse kitchen with the appetizer being paua and mussels caught that day by the other guests.Queen Charlotte Wilderness Lodge Kitchen TableQueen Charlotte Wilderness Lodge Kitchen Table The next day we had the whole peninsula to ourselves, as all the others left, so it was time for the “big walk”. Armed with a hand drawn map, we set off up to the top of the ridge. The track basically followed the ridge line unless you wanted to divert on the various side tracks. John decided to look at the gold mine ruins, which turned out to be only about 20 metres from the water, but down a very steep long track, and then of course all the way up again.Nikau PalmNikau Palm Towards the end of the peninsula the ridge became quite narrow, and would be a bit “hairy” on a windy day. It was clear, sunny and even hot, so after taking photos out at Cape Jackson, looking towards the North Island, we ate our lunch in the shade of the new lighthouse. The walk back seemed even longer and harder than going out, arriving back six hours after we started out. The guests for the second night were three ladies of about our age who had walked in from Ships Cove. For one of them, Annie, it was her third visit. In one of life’s coincidences, after chatting for a while we realized that Annie was the same Annie who had recommended the park to her friend Cecily in Auckland, who had recommended it to us.

Our return to Picton did not coincide with the cross straight ferry, so we had 24 hours and had decided to go over to Nelson.Crossing Cook StraitCrossing Cook Strait Well it looked great on the map but in reality the first part of the drive to Havelock was extremely windy, narrow but picturesque over the tourist road. The next part to Nelson was still windy, but over high hills and seemed to go on forever. However after a quiet night in Nelson it was back to Picton for the ferry, but this time via Blenheim. Still the weather was perfect, calm, with blue skies.

The pre-booked hotel in Wellington (wotif.com) was chosen as being the closest to the new Te Papa Museum, which is at the waterfront downtown. Even though we were on the sixth floor it was quite noisy, as we had to have the window open, as the room was not air conditioned, something we were not expecting. The museum was a modern type with a variety of displays, some interactive, and a little different to the traditional museum. Several visits are needed to take it all in, but this was not possible as the next day was Easter. Leaving Wellington for New Plymouth, on the road map we chose a road that looked okay, but it turned out to be very narrow, virtually one lane, windy and of course, hilly. We were very happy to reach the west coast at Waikanae, and the remainder of the drive that day was mostly flat and straight.

Easter was spent at Catherine’s brothers place at Okato a small town just southwest of New Plymouth. We had three relaxing days with John and Jenny, and getting to know Sam and Carys. The highlight was John taking us to the beach for kite fishing. For this, the wind needs to be offshore, and within 50 or so kms, the coast around Cape Egmont will have wind offshore covering 180 degrees of the compass. We parked at the end of the road at the top of the sand dunes, and walked down and along the beach (dodging the waves next to the small cliffs, as it was high tide), and picked our spot. Numerous hooks were baited at the end of the line and then the floats so that you could see the position from shore. The kite was launched and flew out and up over the water.Kite Fishing SetupKite Fishing Setup After a couple of false starts and tangles, the kite and line went out to sea – the line is on a large spool staked into the sand and is one kilometre long. Unfortunately after only a short time out where the fish are, the kite crashed into the sea, and also by this time it was cloudy, showery and a bit cold. Due to the high tide and the wind, the waves sweeping up the beach were very strong, and while John was concentrating on guiding the kite line inshore while brother John wound the reel, he managed to be swept off his feet by a strong wave and got wet from head to foot. To make matters worse, when the line was finally wound in it had been broken and all the hooks and bait were gone. We had a look at the visitors display centre at the Opunake gas refinery where John works on the way home.

After leaving New Plymouth we side tracked a short way to Waitara to look at the river entrance. The river inside was deep but the entrance was narrow and shallow looking, and we saw it on a very calm day. Bruce and Suzanne took their Chamberlin 14m cat Big Wave Rider in to this river last year, as this is the town where they had grown up, it was quite an event, making the papers, as usually only small runabouts use the river. On the theme of looking at river entrances, we diverted again on the way up to Auckland to look at Raglan Harbour.Waitara River EntranceWaitara River Entrance It is a well known surfing spot at the entrance, and once again definitely a calm weather entrance, and probably find your own way. We stayed once again with Cecily and Phil in Auckland, who arranged for us to spend the next day visiting an old friend Judith at Awhitu, which is on the southern entrance to Manukau Harbour, also on the west coast. Before going to their house, we went out to the lighthouse with a great view and display of the Manukau Entrance, harbour and the south western suburbs of Auckland across the water. (By the way from Cecily’s front verandah these heads can be seen – with binoculars). Small coastal ships use this harbour, but the entrance is not marked because it changes so much, and they have to call the harbour master for directions each time they enter. Manukau Harbour is known for its mud flats, but there is a deep channel going for many miles.

We returned our hire car at the airport on the way back to Auckland, as we had an early morning flight. Even though it was a cheap hire car, had done 96,000kms and was 10 years old, it never missed a beat the whole 3300kms, so it was good value. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable holiday, made even more so by the fantastic weather we had the whole time, even though we perhaps were a little ambitious with the amount of distance we covered.