Tuesday, 19 August 2014

A 'new' motorhome & we're off

May 2014

France - Normandy

Never one to stand still for long, over the winter months & much scanning of the internet, a change in motorhome was deemed necessary, a possible downsize after seriously looking at the Shire Conversions demonstrator, Phoenix M Studio at the Harrogate Motorhome Show, then finally deciding that perhaps we would rather have a bit more space for storage in the BBQ & the other outdoor living stuff, moved onto another Yorkshire van conversion firm, IH Motorhomes, finally settling upon a 60 plate IH J500 on a mercedes base. 

So that was May, now what? Ok, all essential items transferred to new machine, tow bar fitted a quick service booked in, we were ready to go somewhere.  Ok, so we do 'spur of the moment' things, being only 30 minutes from the PO Ferries Terminal in Hull, a quick internet booking 2 hours before sailing saw us sitting waiting to board for the saturday evening  crossing with little thought to the gale warnings being given out for the North Sea.

Boy it was winding, thump-crash-splash as the Pride of Bruges cut is way through Storm Force 10 heading to Zeebrugge.  Breakfast saw only myself & a few others who were in a fit state to face the full english!

From Zeebrugge, we headed westwards hugging the coastal autoroute towards Rouen, from the hills bordering the English Channel large waves could be seen crashing onto the beaches at Boulogne.  

Our ultimate goal was Brittany, so the first night's overnighter was the aires de camping car at Heurteauville, Les Cherisiers, on the banks of the river Seine.  

Hmn, not always a good idea to set off without a full check of the on board equipment, TV not working properly then the onboard gas tank gauge showed 'empty' having been 'full' on leaving the UK.  The TV wasn't a problem but the gauge was.  

We had purchased the European adaptors, watched how to fill up your tank on youtube, but in reality we decided that after several attempts, the gauge must be faulty.  So that took up 24 hours trying to work out what was wrong or not.  The weather was rather wet too, a very wet night was spent on the municipale site at Vimoutiers parked not on the grass pitches but on the access road, a sensible decision as another UK motorhome on deciding to park on the grass pitch, sank in the saturated lawned area.  The site itself was very tidy with the warden being somewhat stressed with the thought of damaged pitches!

Moving onwards to a slightly brighter morning, we battled on towards Falaise where a lull in the weather allowed us to revisit William the Conqueror's castle, which is still undergoing heavy restoration from the WW2 D-Day battle.

The evening's night stop was on the Aires at Pont d'Ouilly,with its hedge d, hard standing pitches on the banks of the possibly rising waters of the River Orne.

Due to the weather we didn't explore the small town, but the drive from Falaise through the the Suisse Normande was rather scenic when breaks in the weather allowed the sun to shine!

So our first 3 nights were spent in Normandy, an area we had last visited back in the early 1990s & it was interesting how the French infrastructure has developed at an alarming rate in those intervening years, high speed road access with motorways & dual carriageways linking most towns in the Calvados region, by-passing the half-timbered villages.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The last few days

Week 3

South Island

Thursday to Saturday 7th - 9th February 2013

For the last few days of our Big Adventure, we more or less stayed put, enjoying the extremely warm weather & breathtaking views of the Banks Peninsula. 

We set sail for an morning's sail hoping to see some wild life, nothing about much except jolly boats setting out for the shore despatched from a large Australian cruise ship.

We ate out each evening, sampling the local sea food, pinot noir & lamb.

We explored the back roads & hidden coves on the pacific coast.

We negotiated sharp corners & steep inclines of the peninsula's country roads.

Then finally after catching up with lunch at a friend's in Christchurch we returned our motorhome back to Kia & after a last minute repacking of overweight hold luggage, boarded our flights back to the UK, this time completed the round the world flight, Christchurch, Auckland,, Los Angeles, London Heathrow then finally Leeds Bradford.

So to sum up, the trip was amazing, the people, the scenery the ease of everything.  You can go on organised tours or you can go DIY, either way this really is a trip of a lifetime.  Allow plenty of time so as the journey is enjoyable after all this is a holiday not an endurance trip.  The highlight for me was the west coast of south island, a landscape that sends tingles down the spine.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A very long way

Week 3

South Island

Lake Pukaki to Banks Peninsula

Wednesday 6th February 2013

We woke up once again to those fabulous crystal blue skies & matching blues of Lake Pukaki.  The views across the lake towards the mighty Mount Cook were awe-inspiring & boy, were we lucky in having such clear views of the snow clad mountain.

Anyway, striking camp after breakfast our route would take us through the Southern Alps & her foothills & out across the vast Canterbury Plains.

As had been the case throughout our travels, the highways were deserted, a few cars near settlements & towns & then vast emptiness.

Hamlets named after local sheep drovers, sparsely covered parched slopes, pine copses slipped past as we headed down from 'sheep country' down in 'dairy country' that is the Canterbury Plains.   Fairlie, the epicentre of dairying, was a long sprawling town of wide grass verges, cattle yards & tractors.

As we drove on wards, paddocks filled with black & white Holstein cows, grazed on the heavily irrigated pastures,  swishing their docked tails in an efforts to remove the flies.

After observing some tourists leap from a hire vehicle & then watched in amazement as they proceeded to take 'selfies' of themselves with round bales of hay, we stopped off in Geraldine at the Vintage Car & Machinery Museum.

We spent 3 hours here.  There were tractors.

There were cars.

There was a Harley Davidson hearse.

There was even a small bi-plane attached to the ceiling like a butterfly specimen.

Then there were the 2 old timers who enthused about all of the machinery, cars, tractors, screw, bolts etc

Eventually l managed to drag Husband away & we returned to our route to meet up with friends in Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, turning right off Route 1 shortly after crossing the bridge over the Rakaia River & its many 'braids'.

The plains gave way to hills, whilst the wide straight roads became twisty & narrow as we headed onto the Banks Peninsula, & thanks to it being Whaitangi Day the roads were chocked with day trippers heading back to Christchurch.  Close encounters however with hair pin bends provided some spectacular views across the parched landscape down to the inlets below.

After a long day's drive through diverse scenery we eventually pulled up into the drive at Mount Vernon Lodge, Akaroa to be warmly greeted by firends & fellow Yorkshireman & his partner who had swapped Uk dairy farming for New Zealand dairy farming & now were embarking on a new adventure.

Today's mileage = 200miles

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

An amazing drive

Week 3

Tuesday 5th February 2013

Arrowtown to Lake Pukaki

Sunshine, Tuesday morning the grey leaden skies returned to a glorious blue, the rain from yesterday only remembered by the large puddles.  Well, l tell a slight lie, the weather had improved by the time we rolled into our overnight stop, thus enabling us to meander through the restored mining village with a distinct Lake District feel doing a bit of window shopping, huge selection of all things wool for some reason?

Anyway, l digress;  we were the only rental unit on the site, and after much conversation with local motorhomers, we packed up & set off for the day's journey with the wild or free camping site at Lake Pukaki the end goal.

Today's scenic route took us along deep valley bottoms, over raging rapids & to the car park at a bungee jumping attraction.  Now,  those who know me, know that l have a serious problem with sheer drops; before leaving home l had thought that jumping off a bridge attached only by a large length of rubber band might cure me of the problem.  Did it hell, whilst Stephen marched across the bridge, l just about managed to leave the camper, cross the car park then, very carefully making an effort to keep breathing, managed to get into the souvenir shop, even that was traumatic as the large windows looked out towards the jumping bridge & then down in to the gorge below.  Needless to say, l kept my feet firmly planted on terra firma.

Our route continued through devastatingly wondrous, wild country.  Past vineyards, through mountain passes, true sheep country & on into Cromwell.

As we approached the town, the fields became flatter & wider with rich agricultural land, home to large dairy herds, fields irrigated by enormous irrigation units & ongoing drilling bore holes for water very much in evidence.

Fruit farms became plentiful, & the whole area was a veritable Eden of fresh fruit & dairy.  Cromwell, according to the Rough Guide, has an old town that was moved after the completion of a large dam.  Unfortunately, the historic site, [think Beamish],  was not as you might say, well signposted, in fact there were more signs directing you to fruit farms.  well, we did eventually find the place which is obviously an ongoing project but interesting never the less.

Lunch was spent in one of the en site cafes before plunging onwards towards even more jaw-dropping scenery.

Leaving the plains behind, the landscape became more & more rugged, rolling mountain, sheep stations that seemed to be slightly lacking in sheep thanks to the down turn in the market, those sheep we did spot were mainly Marino.

We drove ever deeper into McKenzie Country until on our approach to Omarama we spotted some rather dramatic-looking cliffs, the sort of colour of kaolin & morphine medicine.   After a quick study of our tourist map, a detour along back roads took us to the gate & entrance to the clay cliffs.  Attached to the gate post was an honesty box with some slightly confusing instruction regarding payment, together with a group of French Tourists struggling to make sense of what to do next.

 The outcome, they followed us along the bumpy, dirt track which seemed to go on for miles & miles taking us up to almost the foot of the cliffs.  The final ascent was a short, steep tramp to the clay cliffs themselves, from which the views across a meandering river plain was just truly awesome.

The afternoon stretched on, the open road beckoned us once again, the feeling of remoteness was every present.  We filled up at the isolated town with the intriguing name of Twizel which rhymes with Bridle, with its breathtaking views of the snow capped Mount Cook in the distance.

Finally,after a day of scenic overloads we pulled off the road to the Freedom Parking site at the alpine Lake Pukaki.  The evening's backdrop was the cobalt blue waters of the Lake backed by Mount Cook.  Absolute bliss.

By nightfall, there several other motorhomes had parked up, both local vans & rentals all of us drinking in the views, & as the sun finally set, were privileged to be able to enjoy the unspoilt night skies

today's mileage = 123 miles

Monday, 2 June 2014

in which we find rain, NZ style

Week 3

Monday 4th February 2013

Milford Sound to Arrowtown

We had booked places with Mitre Peak Cruises back in Te Anau, so Monday morning, bright & early was the day for a scenic chug down Milford Sound to gasp & be awed by the spectacular scenery of the Sound.

We were woken up with plenty of time to spare by the sound of heavy rain bouncing off the camper roof. The day's forecast was talking of a mere 15cms of rain, l was so relieved that at this point we had not chosen to kayak down the sound.  The rain was still coming down in stair rods when it was getting up time, so decided to give the quick trip to the shower block a miss.

The check in time was 15 minutes before sailing [8.55am] so, intrepid travellers that we are,  proceeded to drive the camper through puddles, or should l say, floods, past spontaneous waterfalls crashing from every ledge & gully by the bucketful.

Now, the walk from the car park to the quayside is about 10 minutes the bulk of which is undercover, so after kitting up in wet weather gear, we took the plunge [literally], & proceeded to splash towards the covered board walk.  On arrival we quickly checked in then all 15 of us were herded to the vessel by its skipper.

 Despite the truly awful weather, Milford Sound gave off an eerie atmosphere.  All swirling mists & low clouds, mighty vertical cliffs soaring into the clouds with numerous waterfalls in full flood crashing into the sea below.  Being a small vessel, the captain took us right inside several of the larger waterfalls & in close to the walls of the Sound which dripped in greenery.  Fish could be seen swimming in the shallows at the base of the rocks, whilst sat out posing for the Tourist, were large numbers of fur seals.

The cruise lasted the morning & despite the weather, was wonderful, whilst the journey back to Te Anau was equally impressive.  The dry landscape & draught-stricken rivers had become a torrent of waterfalls & wild, white water rapids.

Milford Sound is a one road in & the same route back as are many of the destinations in New Zealand, so we retraced our route back past Lake Wakatipu, through Queenstown finally pitching camp at the Arrowtown Holiday Park.

today's mileage = 184 miles

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Wilderness - Fjord Country

Week 3 

Sunday 3rd February 2013

Te Anau to Milford Sound

The guide books all tell the traveller to a] fill up with fuel & b]stock up on food, before travelling the isolated road to Milford Sound.  So being pretty obliging sorts we duly did as told, but there must be a few wild men in the area, the last photo in this post is the number plate of one such intrepid local.

The road started well, with open roads, skirting Lake Te Anau, flat sheep-grazing country backed by jagged peaks.

By the time the route left the lakeside, the countryside was changing dramatically fast. Forests of dense beech & pine, boulder strewn rivers, open valley floors with tussocks of waving grasses whilst those sharp, snow covered mountains came ever closer.  For Lord of the Rings buffs, you could just imagine the Riders of Rohan galloping towards you armed to the teeth.  For lunch we pulled into one of the wild camping DOC sites, with the only sound coming from the adjacent cascade creek, much depleted after the long drought.  

Cups & plates washed & safely stored away, we set off once again along the all but deserted road.  The road by now was beginning to climb up into the high passes, offering plenty of photo stops & super wow moments.  

Steep valley walls prone to rockfalls, wild looking valleys heading off into the wilderness, snow covering the shaded valleys & top most mountain tops.  

During the drive to the Homer Tunnel, we had seen very few vehicles or people, but  as we approached the tunnel mouth, a New Zealand traffic system was in place, a bored looking person with walkie talkie, controlling vehicle access on the Te Anau side.  Once inside the tunnel it was clear to see why, the road is single track with the road surface being bedrock & no room for oncoming traffic.  I did note that there was a similar system on the Milford Sound side.

After 800m, the road emerges high up on a steep mountain side & the route is now downhill all the way to the Sound.  The road is steep, the road is very twisty & a little exciting in a motorhome, but is wider than say Wrynose Pass in the Lake District, so so long as you keep breathing then there's no problem.  If however, you are of a nervous disposition, then perhaps take the tour coach or fly in to the small airfield located in a narrow valley between 2 high peaks in Milford Sound.

Before driving to Milford we had asked local NZ motorhomers about the possibility of 'wild camping' in the car park, but had been advised to park overnight at the  Milford Lodge, located opposite the tiny landing strip just before you come into Mildord Sound proper.  So we did, the only hiccup was that whilst chatting to the receptionist who came from Cork, we forgot to collect our pitch number so just parked anywhere as one does, only to be disturbed by a somewhat disturbed chap greatly concerned that we had parked on His Pitch, did we move l hear your ask?  Well, no, & did anything else funny happen there?  well yes, we laughed very loudly at an American Couple trying to reverse a very long Apollo rental camper, the outcome could have resulted in a serious bending round a tree moment.

The mad number plate as seen in a supermarket in Te Anau.

Today's mileage = 73.60 miles

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Otago - A land of Large Lakes & Remarkable Mountains

Week 3 - South Island

Saturday - Boundary Creek to Te Anau

The weather was still pretty good as we left the lakeside campsite on what was the start of our third week in New Zealand.  The road hugged the rugged banks of the brilliant blue waters of Lake Wanaka then in turn Lake Hawea. The whole area has a feel of  total wilderness.

We caught up with civilisation again at Wanaka, a small town, the gateway to the ski slopes & adventure sports.  The waterfront was a hive of activity, shops, cafes & coffee shops.  Passing through the town we followed the 6 along the steadily climbing Cardrona Valley Road.  Deep valleys swept through tussock grass hill sides, few trees, fewer vehicles & directional signs to ski slopes.

We had checked with some of our newly found friends about this route & had been told that travelling from Wanaka to Queenstown was fine however coming the opposite way, as can be seen from the above picture, is a no no, the steep hairpins are not really suitable for motorhomes!

Once clear of the pass & again driving along flat roads, we turned left at the Frankton roundabout, crossing the narrow bridge over the impressive Kawarau River with the amazing Remarkables mountain range in the near distance.

The highway took us along the river valley, alongside these amazing rocky mountains bordering Lake Wakatipu, a huge lake  all of 80kms long. Huge.

Lunch stop was at Kingston, a small lakeside settlement at the foot of the lake, & home to a small steam railway, a cafe & motorhome park plus wonderful views.

Leaving Kingston we just had to stop to take a picture of the wheel fence outside this bungalow.

The landscape now change, the mountains were now in the distance, with the slopes being replaced by grassy fields filled with sheep, the first sheep stations we had in fact come across on our travels so far.  

We passed through several farming settlements dotted throughout the plains that took us once again across towards the mountains at our overnight stop at Te Anau & the Te Anau Lakeside Kiwi Park on the shores of Lake Te Anau on the borders of Fjord Country. 

The site was a large one that offered several forms of accommodation from back-pack to camping.  Like all previous sites, wifi was available at a cost.  The site was well positioned for the walk into the town.

Taking advantage of the wifi, a quick check was made with Trip Advisor as to which tour company to book with for the boat trip along Milford Sound, [think smaller boat the better] then booked via the on-site tourist information desk. 

Supper was taken sat on a bench being stared at by red legged gulls, willing us to feed them with our blue cod & chips whilst we watched not the gulls but a coach load of Japanese busy photographing themselves before they embarked on the ferry across the lake to another glow worm dell. 

Today's Mileage = 170 miles