Omaru

The driver who doesn't want his photo taken!

The driver who doesn’t want his photo taken!

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Omaru – the home of Steampunk

After 112 miles on the road we arrived in Omaru on the East Coast of the South Island. Arriving in Omaru made us feel like we had been transported to Victorian time. The buildings in the town were magnificent, well preserved, grand Victorian style limestone properties. Omaru is very well known for it’s Victorian architecture and it didn’t disappoint. There were lots of little antique shops, tea shops and restaurants and they all seemed to embrace Victorian times with their decor. Omaru is also known as the Steampunk capital of the world. What on earth is Steampunk I hear you cry! Well Steampunk is based upon imaginary inventions the Victorians ‘might’ have created for today’s modern world. It’s a mix of science fiction, art and fashion with lots of Steampunkers wearing old British Gentlemens safari hats and goggles! Steampunk is thought to have originated in Omaru in the 1980s and it has spread all over the world. There is a Victorian Steampunk attraction building in Omaru with a wrecked steam train and an airship sitting outside it. It looked a little spooky to us – we were intrigued but we didn’t go in as the place looked a bit scary! Steampunk is now very popular in Brighton and we even have a Steampunk bar and a Steampunk Gentleman comedy rapper called Professor Elemental! Go and see him if you can – he is very funny and a nice chap to boot! After a mooch around the town, a quick walk on the harbour beach and tripping over a dead stingray we decided to head to our campsite – Waitiki Waters caravan park. It was a lovely little camp site, very cheap to stay and full of friendly, retired Kiwi’s touring the South Island in their RV’s and caravans. All their caravans seemed to be about 30 years old, well used but well loved. The campsite was also near a lovely sandy beach where we would head the next morning to see the Yellow eyed penguins on route to our next stop, Dunedin…….

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Mount Cook photos

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Mountain stream

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Snow capped mountains

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The Mount Cook hiker!

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Who’s been living in my house? A mountain shelter

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Rach and Heidi on the road to Mt Cook. The driver is out taking the photo!

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The start of the walk from the campsite to the mountains

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Cup of tea and a sarnie on the campsite over looking the stunning mountain range. It really didn’t feel real!

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The low clouds engulf the mountains

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Out in the wilds of Mt Cook

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The English explored conquering Mount low

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The clouds begins to clear

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A mountain viewing point (and bridge)

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Rach with a huge glazier in the background

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Hawk surveying the scene from a mountain shelter

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Making the camper van bed. Small but cosy

Aoraki / Mount Cook

So after leaving Lake Tekapo with heavy hearts (we really didn’t want to leave) we hit the road, on a short 60 mile trip, bound for Aoraki / Mount Cook. The route took us via Highway 80 along side Lake Pukaki – another stunning blue lake. It seemed to be even bigger than Tekapo and driving along side it with no one else on the road was amazing – could New Zealand get any better than this? Well may be ….. Upon arrival at the DOC White Horse Hill camp site, we picked a camping spot, parked the van and looked in bewilderment at what we presumed was a large mountain range, but we could not tell as the weather so bad – fog shrouded the whole area. We decided to have a walk to the visitor centre to see what we could find out about the area. The visitor centre was full of interesting information on the area we were camped in. We found out that Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, measuring 12,218 feet / 3,724 meters high. It lies in the Southern Alps, a mountain range that runs much of the length of the South Island. The Mountain has two names, one a Maori name ‘Aoraki’ and the other ‘Mount Cook’ named after Captain Cook. Aoraki / Mount Cook sits within a national park that contains 140 mountain peaks and 72 named glaciers. 20 of these mountain peaks measure over 3,000 metres high. The national park covers over 700 square kilometres. After filling our heads with hundreds of mountain facts we decided to head back to the camper van and as we left the visitor centre we started to see little glimpses of the mountains with the peaks starting to emerge and then disappear back into their cloud blankets. By the time we got back to our camper van and had a cup of tea, the weather had started to clear. Mount Sefton appeared as if by magic, cutting its way through the clouds, standing tall and proud and towering above us. We were camping under a huge mountain. Then more mountain peaks appeared and we quickly realised that were camping in a very special place, right next to the mountain range. The view was absolutely incredible, snow-capped mountains appearing from the clouds in every direction.  That was it for us, we had to get out and explore this magical landscape and off we set like over excited kids. We completed a 3 hour walk and came across huge snow capped mountains, valleys with beautiful fast running steams, glaciers, icebergs and the best sight of all, Mount Cook. There was something incredibly special about Mount Cook – it was awe inspiring – so big, so beautiful, atmospheric, calm and a hint of danger to it. This was the Daddy of all mountains here and we felt very lucky to be stood in silence, admiring it’s magnificence. Wow, what a sight! The campsite we stayed on was very small and quiet. It had only 60 camping spots and no electrical power. That meant that we would be cooking on gas tonight and we were in for a treat – noodles, a cup of tea, and a piece of fruit loaf for desert. After our tea, we sat outside our camper, drinking a Speights ale and staring for ages at the magnificent sight of the mountain peaks in front of us until they disappeared into the darkness of the night. With night fall the temperature really dropped and we were both frozen and retired to bed, sleeping in our hoodies for extra warmth! The next morning we got up early and walked to see the Tasmin Valley Glacier. Again, we walked through the incredible scenery of snow capped mountains and fast flowing clear water streams and we couldn’t quite believe how lucky we were to be able to visit such a stunningly beautiful place. The Tasmin Glacier was huge – a 16 mile long, 600 metre deep piece of ice on the slopes of Mount Cook with part of the glazier melting forming a big lake with mini icebergs floating in it. We also saw the Mueller glacier and soaked up the Mount Cook views one more time before heading back to Heidi the camper van and hitting the road for our next adventure with the wildlife in Waitaki Omaru

Lake Tekapo, South Island, NZ photos

Lake Tekapo and mountains

Peace and tranquillity

Peace and tranquillity

Just chilling on the shores of Tekapo

Just chilling on the shores of Tekapo

Pebbles on the shore

Pebbles on the shore

Rach driving a tractor into the lake!

Rach driving a tractor into the lake!

Lake Tekapo selfie!

Rach taking in the beautiful scenery

Welcome to Lake Tekapo!

Snow capped mountains

After a 3 hour walk, a well deserved cake on the top of a mountain!

Heidi - our hippy camper van!

Heidi – our hippy camper van! (our little home for the next 3 weeks)

The Lake Tekapo chapel

Another beautiful evening draws in at Lake Tekapo

The Tekapo ducks

Lake Tekapo – the place we didn’t want to leave

Lake Tekapo

So we were on the road in our camper van who we had called Heidi after the lady that had rented us the van! First stop for us was a large supermarket on the outskirts of Christchurch where we would load up with food and a few beers for our trip. We were dreading going shopping as we were horrified by the prices in Australia and we thought that New Zealand would be exactly the same. I cannot tell you how excited we were to find that beer was almost half the price that we were paying in Australia. That was our excuse for buying a crate of Speights Real ale, as if we needed an excuse! The food was a lot cheaper to! After doing the shopping and loading up Heidi, we decided to find somewhere for lunch. We stumbled across a café that took us both back to our childhood. This place was like something out of the 1970’s with all the food in plastic compartments with lift up doors where you could pick what you wanted and put it on your old wooden tray. The décor was all burnt orange and dark wood and made us feel like we had entered the café that time had forgot. It reminded us both of Littlewoods in Reading where we would go for an iced bun and a glass of milk as kids. After lunch, we hit the road, on our way to our first camp site at Lake Tekapo. We were so excited to be on the open road, not knowing what the South Island would bring. Would we like it? Would living in a camper be an enjoyable experience? Could we live on Calor gas stove cooked meals for weeks on end? Only time would tell. Time seemed to fly by and before we knew it, we had arrived at Lake Tekapo, a small town with a population of 300, nestled on a 27km long lake that in places was 6km wide and 120 metres deep. It was huge! The campsite was perched right on the edge of the lake and we could not believe our luck in finding it. What an incredible first place to stop – this place was absolutely beautiful. We parked up the van by the side of the lake and took a few minutes to marvel at the scenery before us. The lake was the most incredible turquoise blue colour that almost looked as if it wasn’t real – we had never seen anything like it before. The lake was surrounded by a pebble shore, lush green hills and snow capped mountains in the distance. The views went on for miles and miles and we were already thinking that we could fall in love with this place. Back to reality for a short while as we started trying to work out how to set the camper van up while it was still light. Where’s the power lead, how do we plug it into the camp site power socket, how do we get the beds set up, how do we get the mini fridge working? We really had no idea but after a slightly stressed hour we got to grips with it all. We had built up quite an appetite in setting the van up so we rustled up some eggs and noodles on the Calor gas cooker, cracked some beers and enjoyed our tea, overlooking the lake and mountains, as the sun set. This was the life. As darkness set in another beautiful sight appeared above us – the night sky. Wow, it was just like a blanket of tiny twinkling lights – with thousands and thousands of stars brightly shining above. We just had to lie on our backs and take it all in – it was like a dream watching the shooting stars in another world above us. We really didn’t want to go to bed that night just in case we never saw a night sky like that again. The next day we completed a 3 hour walk (or tramp as they call it in NZ) from the camp site up to the summit of Mt John. We hardly saw a sole on the walk and it felt so special to be on our own, breathing in the fresh air, enjoying the peace and quiet and drinking in the beauty of our surroundings. Our appreciation of Lake Tekapo’s beauty was taken to another level on this walk as the views continuously left us open mouthed and lost for words. Forests, snow capped mountains, lush green rolling hills, the tiny town with a small stone and oak church and the wondrous turquoise lake – so much to look at, take in and enjoy. The stunning turquoise colour of the lake is due to sediment in the water. The sediment was created by the lakes basin being ground out by a stony bottomed glazier moving across the lands surface with rock on rock action grinding out fine particles that ended up being suspended in the glacial melt water. This sediment gives the water a milky quality that refracts the sunlight leading to its incredible colour. Reaching the summit of the mountain we could see for miles and miles and the views were absolutely breath taking. As a reward for reaching Mt John’s summit we treated ourselves to a pot of tea and a rather large cheese cake in the observatory café. On our return from a rather strenuous 3 hour walk back from Mt John we decided that we needed to cool down a bit. What better way to do it than having a swim in the lake? As soon as we dipped our toes in the lake we realised that it may not be a good idea as the water was absolutely freezing! At that point some German campers took an interest in what we were doing and started laughing, probably thinking we there was no way we would be mad enough to swim in the lake. I informed Rach that we both needed to summon the bulldog spirit and show them what we were made of. With the spirit summoned, I launched myself head first into the lake. The coldness of the water gave me instant brain freeze and I could hardly breathe but I tried my best to hide it and play it cool for our audience! Rach looked terrified but she also launched herself straight into the water after me. I don’t think I have ever seen her look so shocked as the cold water hit her to. We only managed to stay in the water for a few minutes and although we were extremely cold, we were also absolutely buzzing at being able to swim in such an awe inspiring place. We felt so free and at one with nature and knew straight away that this was an experience that we would never forget. What an amazing day and to top it off we had our own little BBQ right next to the lake and sat there eating hotdogs and drinking a couple of bottles of beer, watching the night sky draw in with the beautiful star blanket visible above, once again. We were in heaven! Originally we had only planned to stay in Lake Tekapo for one night but this was already our second night and we could not tear ourselves away, so we decided to stay for one more night. The next day we walked all day again, this time on the other side of the lake. We visited the lovely little Church of the Good Sheppard, perched right by the lake shore. We also visited the sheepdog memorial. In the 19th century, Scottish shepherds worked on the land in this area and the land would not have been farmed so successfully without the border collies that the shepherds bought with them. To honour the canine Scots, a statue of a collie dog was built at Lake Tekapo. After another fantastic day in Lake Tekapo, the time had come for us to think about planning for our next stop on our South Island tour. We headed off to bed that night feeling so happy with life but also just a little bit down that we would be leaving this incredible place the next morning. Next stop for Heidi the Hippie Camper van and her passengers, the world heritage area of Aoraki / Mt Cook National Park ………

 

 

 

 

Christchurch – Happy campers in South Island

After a short flight from Auckland, we arrived in Christchurch where we would stay for one night before picking up our camper van the next day for our road trip around the South Island, New Zealand. We caught the airport bus into Christchurch city centre and wondered what we were heading into. Large areas of Christchurch had been recently devastated by a large earthquake and the effect of this could be seen everywhere. The closer we got to the centre the more damage we saw – whole areas had been reduced to rubble and twisted metal. Roads still had huge cracks and bumps in them – most roads in the centre were impassable due to their condition or the dangerous structures lining them. It really was shocking and upsetting to see how the earthquake had devastated the city. Upon arrival in the city centre we really struggled to find a bus that could take us to the area that our hostel was in. A temporary bus station had been set up but none of the main bus routes were in operation due to earthquake damage. We eventually arrived at our hostel via a number of road diversions and a very long local bus journey. The hostel was lovely, very spacious with huge pine bunk beds in our 4 person dormitory. The hostel had a chip shop just down the road from it. We were starving and excited about having fish and chips. We couldn’t believe how cheap this chippy was and we ended up with a feast for two and a bottle of tomato ketchup for around £5.50! We sat on the hostel veranda in the sunshine feeling very pleased with ourselves, like kids naughtily scoffing our fish and chips! It’s amazing how you get to really appreciate such simple things while you are travelling. That night we went to bed fairly early to make sure we would be feeling fresh in the morning, ready to pick up our new home on wheels to start our South Island tour. We certainly didn’t expect what would happen at 1:30am the next morning though. The earth quite literally moved for Rach and me! We were both woken by our bunk beds shaking gently at first and then gradually shaking more and more violently. We were in the middle of an earth tremor and all we could do was lie there and hold on tight. Luckily it only lasted for a minute or so but it was a pretty frightening experience. Later that morning we left the hostel and headed to the airport to pick up our camper van. The vehicle we ended up with wasn’t really going to do much for my street cred as it had huge purple and yellow flowers all over it and ‘Hippie Camper’ in large letters on the side of it. Once we got over the embarrassment, we got on the open road and our South Island adventure was beginning. First stop, the beautiful Lake Tekapo ……..

 

The cool but not cool Hippie Camper

The cool but not cool Hippie Camper