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Marlborough Sounds, Abel Tasman and the West Coast

all seasons in one day 17 °C
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On Monday 15th March we caught our ferry to the South Island. The trip went very smoothly and there was even the option of watching some films whilst on the ferry! When Joy noticed this she sat down and realised a little too late that she was watching Beverley Hills Chihuahua. This didn’t stop her watching it through to the end though! Richard spent the journey dolphin spotting and saw three (or the same one three times). It was an endless quest for the perfect photo of a dolphin jumping over the waves created by the ferry. Sadly the dolphins would not put out that day.


We arrived in Picton on schedule but as it had already felt like a long day we only made it to Aussie Bay, a DOC campsite on the Marlborough Sounds. It turned out to be truly stunning and we were right by the water. Despite this it seemed to be some kind of bee and wasp paradise, they were everywhere! The next day we cruised to Abel Tasman National Park, opting to camp for free at the entrance to the big walks. We set off early in the morning to walk to some of the beautiful beaches on offer, stopping at Appletree Bay for lunch in the sun. It was a beautiful walk even though it seems we had to pass about a thousand schoolkids who were out on a trip. There were 92 in reality but it took about 10 minutes to overtake and then we were fearful of stopping in case they caught up and we had to overtake them all again! They were very polite and well behaved though, if they were British schoolkids we imagine they’d have flicked their cigarette butts at us or stolen Richard’s camera and pushed us over the cliff.


After the walk we decided to head to ‘pupu springs – the largest freshwater spring in Australasia! It was about a 100 kilometre round trip to the springs, and while it looked very nice it wasn’t particularly worth it! Due to the spread of Didymo (a nasty algae which sucks the life out of rivers and covers everything in green slime) they no longer let you swim in it or fill bottles up with the fresh water incase you accidentally spread it. We took the obligatory snaps, sighed our way through the walk through the woods and headed off to find somewhere to camp. We opted for ‘Bob’s Lookout’ on the Motueka Valley Highway – a little rest area with a nice view of the Victoria Forest (partially obscured by pylons, but what the hey).


The next day we headed to Buller Gorge. It was gorgeous. (We like to recycle this terrible joke every time we go to a gorge.) We camped up for the day quite early as we were both feeling carsick from the windy roads and needed a rest from the driving. At the campsite a kind Kiwi lady offered us some cockles. Joy (because she is a simpleton) at first thought she was offering her the shells so was very enthusiastic about the offer. On closer inspection she was offering cooked cockles as she’d made too many. We sat in the camper for a while staring at them. Joy managed to eat two but has to admit they just taste like salty, fishy rubber. Richard wouldn’t touch them. Joy later decided to draw eyes on one and annoy Richard for a while as he was trying to finish off reading ‘Mr. Nice’!


Next on our agenda was a quick stop at Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. These are a series of craggy rocks which were formed from marine organisms which became fossilised amongst the sandstone over millions of years. As the sea wore away the sandstone, the strange cerrated rocks became apparent. Again, a fairly interesting detour to break up the journey but at the end of the day, rocks is rocks. We decided to head towards Hokitika and camped up at a DOC campsite just south of town on Lake Mahinapua. Apparently when the weather is good you can see the Southern Alps reflected in the lake, but unfortunately it was completely overcast so we couldn’t see squat.


The next day we woke up to driving rain so we attempted a bit of window shopping in Hokitika as it is famed for its arts and craft, especially Jade and bone carving, weaving and glass blowing. As it was a Sunday not all of the shops were open and we would have preferred some smaller independent retailers as the prices may have been a little more reasonable. Nonetheless it was great to be able to see the Jade carvers in action. As the rain was relentless we decided to move on to the ex-goldmining town of Ross where we stopped briefly to have a gander in the hope of the rain subsiding. Joy decided to have a poke around in the little boxes of stones where for a fee you can ‘pan’ for gold. She didn’t rent a pan, she just used her hands but didn’t find any gold. She did find a piece of jade in one of the boxes which she swiped (later realising it a box on a low down table, probably intended for the children to get excited when they find something in the stones). Thankfully there were some stocks there for gold thieves so a just punishment could be given.


We parked up for the night at a derelict ‘Tourist Recreation Area’ by the river. The rain was hammering down and the river was swelling at an alarming rate so we decided at about 10pm to move and ended up parking at the Visitor Centre in Franz Joseph ready to see the glacier in the morning.


The rain didn’t stop all night and there were regular showers during the day. As a result of the weather the walk up to the glacier was cordoned off so we had to make do with a few ‘view’ walks instead. It was fairly impressive but we were still gutted we couldn’t see the Alps or walk up to or on the glacier. On the way we stopped for some lunch at Lake Ianthe where the views again were pretty limited but we got some nice moody photos! We retired for the night at a free DOC campsite near Fox Glacier on Gillespie’s Beach where we were mauled by sandflies – for the first time realising what a REAL sandfly is like! These ones bite you and in the case of Joy (who always pooh-poohed Richard’s whingeing at his mosquito bites) a big hive comes up on your skin and itches for days! OUCH!


The next day we drove from Gillespie’s Beach towards Fox, stopping at Lake Matheson to see if we had a prayer of seeing any reflections of the mountains in the lake. The weather was even worse on this day and the thick, low clouds didn’t clear however long we waited. We got a few photos of the lake with the reflections of the forests below the mountains in it but they’re not as impressive as they would be on a fine day! We drove into Fox and went to have a look at Fox Glacier. The good climbs and walks were all closed due to the weather so we cut our losses and decided to drive to Wanaka, passing some amazing waterfalls in the hope there would be more to do there on a rainy day. So all in all after driving alongside the Southern Alps for 3 days with them but 20kms away we saw nothing, not a peak!


To cheer ourselves up when we got to our next stop in Wanaka we got ourselves a Pizza and parked up where we thought we were out of town. Sadly at roughly 4.20am(!!) we got the dreaded knock! Joy slid open the window and peered out, bleary eyed to get a 10 minute lecture from a gentleman named Jim working for Wanaka Council telling us to move and generally letting us know how sick the council are of having freecampers littering the streets! (Insert your own ‘Jim is a Wanaka’ joke here). It turns out in our haste to get parked up and enjoy our pizza we’d actually done a circuit and wound up about a street away from the main part of town. To Jim’s credit he let us know that if we head back out of town on the SH85 we could probably park up for the rest of the night and be fine. He did threaten that the police were following behind him and that if we didn’t move we might get a $500 fine! Not good! We’re not sure if this was true but we were never going to risk a fine and accepted that we would have to move, we were fairly awake by this point!

The next morning we headed into town to stay at a campsite. As it was a sunny day again we decided we wouldn’t go to Puzzling World (our rainy day option) and would take a walk around the lake near out campsite – Outlet Lakeside Motor Park. The park is set a little way out of town and has beautiful views of the mountains and we finally got to see the Alps, much to the delight of Richard’s camera! Unlike almost everything else in our ‘up to date’ guide book (the one that neglected to tell us that Wanaka has long been a strictly a non-freecamping town) the park is still $12 per person for camping regardless of whether you want power or not. We would recommend this campsite to anyone heading to Wanaka as all the amenities are of a very high standard and the views can’t be beaten.


The next day we awoke to another sunny day despite having been told that rain was forecast. We decided to go to Puzzling World anyway as we had woken up too late to get a good headstart on any of the nearby walks. It was great fun to just wander around and be entertained and we’re glad we opted for this instead of a gruelling 16km hike! We did the maze in good time then wandered around the displays before sitting down in the cafe to try some of the puzzles and games. When thoroughly frustrated with the harder ones we gave up and left and headed towards Mt. Cook, stopping at a free campsite known locally as ‘The Pines’ overlooking Lake Pukaki. It is not signposted from the road but is on the SH8 just after you get the option to turn off onto the SH85 towards Mt. Cook. The views were absolutely amazing and we finally got to see Mount Cook in all its glory just behind the lake! We both agree this is probably the best campsite we’ve had since being in New Zealand and we spent the whole of the afternoon and night taking photos and admiring the view.


The next day we did the Mount Cook Hooker Valley walk which takes you over two bridges and through to the Hooker glacier and its lake. It was a beautiful walk with great views of the mountain. We finished the walk in good time and so headed to Lake Tekapo, just further up from the campsite we stayed at the previous night. We were fairly nonplussed with the town and its lake. It boasts the clearest air in the Southern Hemisphere but as we’d stayed on the campsite near Lake Pukaki the night before we’d say we preferred this as there were less people milling about! We took some snaps of the small church erected by the early settlers and the brass collie dog statue – dedicated to the dogs who have helped local farmers over the years control the stock in this rough terrain! Joy decided to sit on it to liven up our time at Lake Tekapo.


Next on the tour was a stop off at the Clay Cliffs, some clay formations. They were very grand structures and we admired them for a while before moving on to a free campsite nearby just out of the town of Omarama. There was a great sunset that night and Richard caught some excellent pics of it before we retired for the night.


Posted by RichardJoy 17:53 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking

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