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Colin and Sue’s Travel Diary

Friday, 23 Feb 2007

Location: New Zealand

MapWe've reached the end of our Spaceship adventure with just the odd bruised elbow and bumped head to remind us. The Spaceships are bright orange Toyota people carriers converted to mini-campervans but more like driving and parking a car rather than a big campervan. They have a double bed, a tiny chiller, pull-out 2 burner stove, DVD screen and best of all an iPod connector because, as Colin tactfully said to a local, NZ radio is rubbish. They seat 4 people but the rear seat swivels through 180 deg to give more space/options in the back. Although it's possible to sleep entirely within the vehicle, it also cunningly extends out at the back with a canopy so there's still some room inside to undress etc. They apparently sleep up to 3 adults - but they would all have to be small and very friendly and it would still be cosy.

They all have names on a sci-fi type theme - ours was Amidala (of Stars Wars fame) - lots of Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who derived names on the road - of course it was obligatory to wave at them all - and often swap DVDs - we started with 2 and finished with 2 having watched some bad films, the worst was so bad (about a American football high school team) that neither of us can remember its name despite watching it only last night - or is that just old age?

Our plan was to have the Spaceship in the north - drier and sunnier (best laid plans....). We picked Amidala up, went grocery shopping - just like being at home - and drove to Hanmer Springs. We found a great campsite (Alpine Adventure) and sampled the hot springs. We cooked in the campsite kitchen - most were really well equipped so we didn't need to use our own stove all the time - failing to realise how dark it was getting. The sun sets much earlier here than further south but we hadn't really noticed it in Christchurch. So our first experience of setting up the bed and canopy was by torchlight - not the best start. We then woke up to pouring rain and a duvet with a soggy corner - what had we done! Also this was the day we had planned a nice walk in the mountains at Nelson Lakes - anyway we considered our options and decided to head east for better weather and do an anti-clockwise route rather than the planned clockwise one.

By the time we reached the east coast the rain had stopped (and we had no more Spaceship rain) so after a lunchtime picnic complete with a nice cup of tea (luxury indeed) things were looking up. We stopped overnight in Blenheim (heart of the Marlborough wine growing area and delicious Sauvignon Blanc) and went off to 3 vineyards for tastings the next day - we particularly liked Spy Valley and Villa Maria.

We then headed up to Queen Charlotte Sound and stayed at a Dept. of Conservation campsite (great locations but not always such good facilities). This one, Momorangi, was perfect - just a small patch of grass between us and the sea - so we swam and played with the Spaceship-issued frisbee including throwing it in to the sea causing an extra bonus paddle. Next day we went kayaking from Picton, which was good fun if rather chilly and windy - we saw loads of stingrays, apparently far more than usual, plus some seals. We decided to stay in Picton so we could walk to a restaurant (for a Valentine's day dinner) so stopped at a "Top 10 Holiday Park" - a complete contrast from the previous night - great facilities but packed in like sardines. Still we had a very nice meal overlooking the sound.

Next we went west towards Abel Tasman National Park staying at the McKee Memorial Park campsite - quite basic (loos and cold showers) but a wonderful location right on the beach. We ate overlooking the sea and had a twilight walk on the beach. Colin noticed some tracks going up the beach from the sea and we were surprised to see a blue penguin returning to its burrow. We had an early morning swim before heading off to Kaiteriteri where we had met up with our friends, Kate and Colin, before their wedding 3 years ago. We went out on the water twice - once in a sailing catamaran which was surprisingly cold, wet and windy. Colin had a go at steering (we survived and didn't hit anything - the skipper's key instruction was "Always give way to the land"). Next day we kayaked in glorious sunshine.

We then made a surprise visit to Kate's parents' summer home in Kaiteriteri, planning to say hello and maybe have a cup of tea. Bill and Jan were in and promptly set about organising our trip to Farewell Spit the next day. Bill was shocked that we hadn't walked any of the Abel Tasman Coastal path. By this time it was about 3.50pm and while Jan made the tea, Bill suggested that we get a water taxi to Anchorage Bay at 4.15pm, walk back to Marahau (3.5 - 4 hours) where he would pick up us at 8.30pm and bring us back for to dinner. Jan was apparently somewhat surprised to discover we had disappeared when she returned with the tea.

We ran back to town, grabbed our boots and stuff, caught the taxi (helping 2 girls load their 3 large gas bottles, 12 bottles of wine, lots of beer plus suitcases) and had a beautiful walk. We came back to a lovely meal, camped on the drive and had breakfast with Bill and Jan - so thanks again to them for their splendid Kiwi hospitality. We also found that McKee of the McKee Memorial Park where we camped was Jan's grandfather - so that was an amazing coincidence.

More stunning scenery at Farewell Spit in Golden Bay. Farewell Spit is the northernmost point of the South Island, a 800m wide sandbar which extends for 35km and grows 6m every year. It's a rare bird sanctuary, with over a 100 species living on it and has restricted access so the only way to go to the lighthouse at the end of the spit, and accesss the dunes, is by an organised bus tour. This included driving along the beach to the end of the spit, afternoon tea at the lighthouse and climbing one of the big dunes on the way back.

On our last morning at the coast, we went to Wharariki for a last beach and headland walk and seal viewing (having to strip down to our underclothes to ford the tidal stream which was a lot deeper than when we started).

We headed back up into the mountains for our final night in the Spaceship, a walk over Mount Robert in Nelson Lakes National Park, plus a last chance to feed the sandflies - which were actually the most voracious, evil, hungry, malevolent ones we had encountered. Then back to Christchurch to perform the miracle of getting everything back into our backpacks to fly to Australia.