New Zealand Road Trip
27 March 2017 | Opua
Jane warm and sunny
New Zealand might be a small nation of only 4.5 million people, but in our hearts she is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Our month road trip, down to Queenstown in the South Island and back to Opua in the North, was a wonderful reminder of the diversity of the islands. The two main islands are of similar size, where over one third of the population live in Auckland in the north island. Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world and is also known as “the city of sails”. It has more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world. Only one third of New Zealanders live in the quieter South Island where Russell was born. He grew up in Timaru which is on the east coast of the South Island.
A third of New Zealand is also made up of protected parkland and marine reserves. The country is made up of spectacular landscapes with vast mountain ranges, steaming volcanoes and sweeping coastlines. The first settlers were the Maori and recently Maori has been declared one of New Zealand's official languages, with immersion in schools and tertiary sectors. Many places throughout the country also have dual English and Maori names. Russell has been brought up with the language, but I find it very difficult to remember all the local names like: Whangarei (wh is pronounced f) and Piahia (pronounced Pie he a). I love the way that the Maori heritage is embraced and how nowadays it has undergone revitalization.
We were very fortunate on our trip to be able to catch up, and stay with, a lot of family and friends. Everyone spoilt us rotten and we are now like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. I can’t get into my jeans any longer; which was a bit of a give away ☺. It is certainly time to get fit and healthy, but hard with family now on board for a few weeks. All the socialising, eating yummy treats and Kiwi pies, not to mention the exquisite wines that New Zealand grows, all to sample. Life was tough, as you can imagine.
We stopped a few times on our way south to Wellington. One of the highlights was seeing Russell’s 98 year old Uncle; Jack who stayed with us a couple of times while we lived in London. A wonderful character who we also managed to spend time with on our return north. Wellington, the Capital City, is at the bottom of the North Island and is the southernmost capital city in the word. From there we caught the ferry to Picton, across the Cook Strait. The distance is only 22 km, but it took about three and a half hours. Thankfully the ferry was very luxurious even though a tad expensive.
Picton is where I first learnt to sail a “big” boat. Russell’s parents Eddie and Gypsy used to spend six months every year based out of Picton, sailing the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. They have a lot to answer for, as I quickly fell in love with the lifestyle, making it my future dream. The sleepy town has become quite the tourist attraction and it was delightful to spend some time there.
We would have driven down the east coast, but with the recent earthquake in Kaikoura (Edwin and Iva were there the day before it happened) the coast road is still closed. So we went to Nelson and then down through the central part of the island to get to Christchurch. It was a stunning drive through the forests and National parks.
In Christchurch we had a fabulous reunion with three cruising couples, all of whom we had met in Turkey. Lots of tall stories and memories were shared. A special evening, we look forward to another when we return in November.
We managed to spend two weekends in Timaru, staying with our dear friends Grant and Mary. Lots of family stuff to do and we picked up Gypsy for her final trip down to Queenstown and back. She was quieter then normal, being in a small box, but it was great having her with us and we had a lot of fun together. See the picture of Dansey’s Pass with her on the table ☺ We stopped in Wanaka on our way south, where Edwin and Iva spent last season working (and enjoying the snowboarding) and where they are returning to again this June.
We went to Queenstown via Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, two of my favourite lakes in the world. The turquoise colour of the water is quite breathtaking. Whilst in Queenstown we stayed with our best man, Foxy and his partner Jacqui. Sadly Queenstown has become quite the tourist trap, but we enjoyed time in Arrowtown nearby and up the Remarkables where Foxy spends most days in the winter ski-ing. Then it was time to return north going east across the ranges and Dansey’s Pass to Oamaru, on the coast, and back to Timaru. There was the wine and salmon festival in Twizel; plus a friend’s band playing in the evening so we had a rather social weekend before saying goodbye to Russell’s home. We will go back in November to pack up the last of the families’ heritage for shipping to Vancouver, including Russell’s car (see picture).
Arthur’s Pass is a mountain range where Russell used to race at Craigieburn when he was a teenager. So another memory lane to drive through to get to the west coast, which was wet and windy, as seems to be the norm. It was probably the only time we had inclement weather on our trip, most days were warm and mostly sunny. The Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki were certainly worth visiting and the coastline was spectacular. Our next stop was Nelson where we decided to invest in some property. It is a beautiful area at the top of the south island, noted for being the sunniest city in New Zealand. The housing market is heating up and rentals are high, so it seemed rude not to buy a house; especially as Russell had been left some money that we wanted to keep in NZ. It was a crazy three days, checking out various areas, properties and narrowing down what would work for us. We are now the proud owners of a lovely three bedroomed house on a double mature lot in Stoke, just south of Nelson city. It is only a few blocks from the town and schools and should rent easily. Eventually we would like to renovate and maybe put another property on the site, but that is another project that we will put on the back burner.
It was time to relax in the Abel Tasman National Park, famous for it’s walks and Golden Bay a huge area protected by Farewell Spit where sadly hundreds of whales recently got stranded on the beach. With help 75 were rescued although sadly most died. The area is only a few hours from Nelson and a great place for a weekend getaway.
Back across the strait our route headed across the middle of the north island to Lake Taupo, Lake Rotorua famous for it’s hot springs, and onto Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty. Whilst linking up with friends and family one of my bucket list items was a visit to Hobbiton at Alexander farm near Matamata. The shire was built temporarily for the Lord of the Rings, but when they filmed The Hobbit in 2009 it was decided to make the site a permanent film set. It was a magical day, visiting the thirty-nine Hobbit Holes, with Bag End being the biggest with its huge artificial tree. The mill and double arch bridge, with the Green Dragon Inn in front of the pond reminded me of England. The Inn was great place for a pint and pie at lunchtime; I did not want to leave.
More family to visit in Hamilton, before returning to Auckland for another cruising get together – way too much rum and onto Whangarei for a couple of nights with friends on their Kiwi farm. New Zealand has been put on the map with Lord of the Rings and Tourism, but has always been known for its farming and sheep. Sadly sheep are not profitable nowadays and are being taken over by cattle, with most of the milk going to China. Sadly the cattle, and fertilisers for feed, are destroying the rivers and most are now polluted. The locals are obviously not happy as the rivers were always used for swimming and a place to relax and enjoy. Farming is huge in New Zealand and we have many friends who are or where farmers. Our friends in Tauranga farm hydrangeas. Tree farming is also popular, as are vineyards (I counted 30 in one morning). Then there are all the orchards, even asparagus and avocado farms to enjoy – yum, yum.
New Zealand has recently suffered a pest problem, with stouts and possums being the worst. They are working on getting rid of them within the next ten years. Road kill is a very common sight, especially in the southern island. When I say common, one every few miles and then the hawks have trouble getting out of your way. If that was not bad enough “the invasions” as they call some of the tourists, are hopeless at driving and are causing lots of fatal accidents. There are even arrows on the road to show which side to stay on. Apparently they get their licenses in a simulator.
I have rambled on, but could go on for hours about this beautiful country that we are currently living in. It is time to get back onto the water with family visiting and work to be done. What a road trip we had. Using the link at the top of our sailblog page you can see our pictures; I have added some information to each one. I often find a visual is better than any words, we hope you enjoy. Lastly we can’t thank all of our friends and family who we spent time with, for their kindness and hospitality. They are as follows:
Bryce and Martha s/v Silver Fern in Whangarei, on their lovely kiwi farm that they have built
Jillie and Rodney in Piha, Russell’s sister and always a treat to see
Cathy and Russell s/v Oynas in Halcombe on their farm, we last saw them in the San Blas Islands
Uncle Jack in Levin and Auntie June in Otaki on the south west coast
Athena and Lee in Wellington, our step niece and her new husband
Rick and Jacquelyn in Nelson, Rick helped crew Dick’s boat across the Pacific and we met them in Turkey. Check out www.jacquelynelane.com
Chris and Irene s/v Cutty Hunk, Peter and Cathie s/v Wave Runner and Helen and John s/v Awaroa in Christchurch. If you want an personalised trip around the south island, check out Chris and Irene at www.canterburytrails.co.nz
Mary and Grant in Timaru, a home away from home and fun times with all our friends down there
Suzie and John Ruddenclau in Wanaka, old family friends. I love Suzie’s art work at www.susieruddenklauart.co.nz
Foxy and Jacqui in Queenstown, old friend and best man from UK
The Rose Cottage in Takaka, lovely family and fabulous place to stay, we soon became good friends
Brian, Martin and Nick in Picton. Russell’s cousin and second cousins
Vivienne in Rotorua, an old racing friend of Russells
Joe and Annabel s/v Wrighteau in Tauranga, they have a lovely hydrangea farm. We last saw them in Greece and the boys have a mutual old school friend
John and Robin s/v Panthera in Hamilton, met in Bonifaccio and last saw in Bay of Islands on their new boat
Ross and Jocelyn in Hamilton, Russell’s cousin and family
Phil and Laura s/v Luffi in Auckland, yes we survived another night of rum. Crossed the Pacific together
Bruce and Lesley s/v Midi in Whangarei, old friends from Turkey who we last saw camping a few years ago
Lastly thanks to Chris Ferguson of Summit Realty and Janice Churchman of Central Conveyancing who made buying our new house in Nelson so easy
There are many other friends who we did not manage to see, something to look forward to I suppose in the future. If anyone is up near us we would love to see you, our phone number in NZ is 021 0864 9990 and we will be around until May when we will head back to the Pacific for our last season on Ta-b.