Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Zealand Day 15: Pelorus Bridge, Cable Bay, and on to Abel Tasman

I think all three of us woke up several times this morning, saw that it was still dark, and went back to sleep. However, as you can see, our site was well shaded from all directions. By the time one of us bothered to check a watch, it was 9:30. Oops. 

After breakfast I wandered back to the cafe/office by the road to pay up (they'd been closed when we arrived the night before) and try to figure out which one of the trails led to the rumored swingbridge. I got a very nice map and descriptive leaflet for 50 cents. So, we set off for the bridge. First we walked over this vehicle bridge and got a lovely view of the clear Pelorus River below, and the swimming holes amidst the limestone ledges.

And a trailhead shot:

We aren't quite sure what these little purple berries are, but they are beautiful:

After ten or fifteen minutes easy walking, during which Alex and I enjoyed learning about the area via me reading the brochure out loud, and B got frustrated at the unending dorkiness of her parents (good luck with that, kid), we arrived at the bridge!

It was quite a piece of engineering but B was annoyed that it wasn't swingier. It moved a little but I think she was envisioning Tarzan or something.

We decided to head back and try swimming rather than continuing on the track, since the bridge was the real highlight. B loved scrambling around on the rocks.

Will I actually go in?


The water was...ah...bracing. I paddled around for about ten minutes while Alex got the GoPro set up. He did a few jumps off the boulders with it. B said she wanted to come in, so I helped her do a mini-jump down to me, but she started screaming to get out as soon as she got in, so returned to her rock scrambling. Alex has hilarious video of this.

Then it was off to Cable Bay. Turned out that not only is Cable Bay down a very small, twisty-turny road, but there was a ton of roadwork going on as well, which slowed us down as well as bringing the road down to one lane for parts. Yikes.

On the other hand, it was glorious once I managed to get us there!

The beach was quite rocky:

But the blue-green Tasman Sea was lovely:

We headed up the track into a field (there was a sign requesting that we not disturb the stock, and noting that the landowner might close the trail during lambing season):

Still palm trees, even here on the South Island:

And more gorgeous sea!

This sign explained how Cable Bay got its name: it was the site where the first telegraph cable came ashore, from Australia. When the telegraph came through, it cut the time needed to get news to/from England (where many of the settlers were from) from four to six months by sea, to four days by telegraph.

Then we continued along across the hillside, following what we thought was the track.

But then we reached this fence and the track disappeared. We saw some people way up to our left along a ridge and decided we'd somehow gone way off course. What to do? Bushwhack straight up the fenceline, of course.

And up...

This curious goat peeked over the ridge to see what the crazy American hikers were up to:

Finally, we clambered over this rock pile and arrived at the viewpoint.


We were very impressed with B, it was really tough going and though she didn't particularly enjoy the process, she stuck with it. She's a strong hiker!

After lunch, we went back down the real track. Much easier.

Then we headed on into Nelson. My original plan for the day, before the sleeping-in, the swimming, and the bushwhacking, was to have lunch in Nelson. I'm learning to just take my plan, add four hours, and figure we'll never get B into bed before 10 PM. But we're having fun!

Nelson was delightful. The cafe we wanted to stop at was closed but we got some good coffee elsewhere, had a brief stop at the iSite, picked up a few other little things along Main Street, and grocery shopped. Then it was time to head for Totaranui, a DoC campground towards the far end of the Abel Tasman track. We considered stopping sooner since we still had at least two hours of driving (turned out to be more than three) but ultimately decided to press on.

We came over Takaka Hill just around sunset after a lot of twisty turny driving in second and third gear (are you starting to see a pattern for the days that I drive?) and were treated to this glorious view.

We wound our way down into the valley before it was full dark and drove through Takaka and Pohara, where sensible people would have called it quits for the night and stopped at one of the campsites there. But no, not us. We hit gravel road and kept on going, more than a half an hour further to Totaranui.

Yep, another later-than-10-PM bedtime for B, who was unable to sleep in her seat on the way due to the bouncing, jarring ride. But the remote site certainly had one big advantage:

And, we weren't the last ones in, either. A car pulled up after we'd put B in bed and were eating our own supper of nice bread and spreads. Ha!

New Zealand Day 14: Crossing to the South Island

Our downtown motorhome parking worked out just fine. It actually wasn’t too loud—I don’t think noise woke any of us up. In fact, the whistling wind was just as loud as the traffic noise!

When we got up, we had some breakfast and Alex went down the street for some coffee at a café (Mojo) that my Rough Guide recommended. We kicked our first giant Nutella jar of the trip:

Not sure what it says about our family that we finished the giant jar of Nutella before the giant jar of peanut butter…though did have a head start on the mega-sized Nutella as we had a little jar of PB before we found the big one.

Alex enjoyed checking out some of our fellow campers, including this behemoth:

As you can see, we really were right on the street:

They even gave us an access code to the bathrooms (termed the “ablution block”) so random people wouldn’t use it as a public toilet.

The original plan was to start the morning at the Weta Cave, where the special effects people for Lord of the Rings are headquartered, but this was torpedoed at the last minute by horrific traffic which appeared to be caused by a road race. So instead we headed directly to Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand:

I had read that it was amazing, and this turned out to be true. We’ve generally been steering clear of museums because unless there are interactive exhibits, B gets (understandably) tired of them very quickly. But this one is constructed with an eye to kids, and we all really enjoyed it. There are a lot of models and dioramas of NZ wildlife, a walk-through bush city (though B got distracted by the lookout over the harbor and a giant xylophone that she could play), and several discovery rooms for kids stocked with books, models, and all sorts of things to touch and investigate.

This one had a scale model of a blue whale heart:

After that we headed upstairs to the art gallery, where there was a terrific art detective challenge for kids. Here she is mid-hunt:

The clues led us through most of the exhibit rooms, and encouraged her to really think about the art. One clue was three swatches of fabric, and her task was to find a painting that they were used in and then make up a story about the young girl in the picture. She had a workbook to make some notes in and draw some pictures in, and really enjoyed the entire thing, as did I. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures of the artwork or I’d have more photos of the process!

Then it was time to track down some lunch. The place in the Rough Guide that sounded best turned out to have gone out of business so we ended up getting falafel:

Turns out I should’ve booked the ferry more than a couple days in advance (probably not an issue for passengers, but limited with campervans), as I was envisioning a mid-day ferry, but we ended up on a 3 PM ferry that was pushed to 4 PM because they are still running behind from some foggy weather last week. We needed to check-in by 3 though.

Right behind us in line were this lovely antique Bugatti cars, apparently heading for a rally on the south island:

We watched our ferry arrive, disgorge a bunch of vehicles, and then start re-loading:

We realized that they were actually loading rail cars onto the deck below. Wow!

Then it was out into the lovely harbor:

We camped out on the main passenger deck, where I proceeded to give myself a headache stressing over our South Island itinerary, which I’ve never been happy with.  Too much to see! Brynna immediately located the children’s play area, which had a couple of very small play structures, and most enticingly, a television.

Eventually Alex did coax her out on deck for a little while:

But she preferred the Disney Channel and the, um, activities in the kids’ area. I'm not sure scaling support posts was what they had in mind when they built the ship:

Alex and I took turns on deck:

I even saw some dolphins just before we headed away from the North Island. Spectacular!

Eventually we went down the narrow channel into Picton and drove up up and away along Queen Charlotte Drive. 

Stopping to capture this lovely view along the way:

As usual, we arrived at our campsite after dark, bumping down the gravel road into the Pelorus Bridge campground.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

New Zealand Day 13: Heading to Wellington

The main goal of the day was to get from Tongariro National Park down to Wellington at the southern tip of the north island, in preparation for the ferry journey to the south island on Sunday. Once we realized that the weather and schedule wouldn't permit me to follow Alex on the Tongariro Crossing, we decided to make a day of it, with some stops en route to break up the driving.

So off we went. We had an unusually long pause just down the road from our campsite in National Park. What was supposed to be a quick stop for gas was initially made longer by spider removal from the cab of the van—I don't think of myself as terribly squeamish, but when I'm driving along, feel a tickle on my foot, and glance down while shaking it, expecting to see a fly, and instead see a TWO INCH SPIDER, it is rather alarming. I did not crash the camper. I may have squealed.

Then we decided to take advantage of the wifi hotspot to try to upload some video of B playing her violin to send to her teacher. Half an hour later we admitted failure and moved on.

The road to the coast (a main state highway) started out brisk but then became very narrow and winding. My favorite part was having motorcycles zip towards me on the curves, leaning into my lane. They were having a lot more fun than I was!

We stopped for lunch in Whanganui, where in the midst of some navigational confusion, I pulled the van over to the side of the road to look at the map with Alex, and whomped the top left corner of the van on a leaning tree trunk (plenty of lateral clearance...just didn't realize that we were quite so high). Arrgh! (Yes, despite generally considering myself a pretty good driver I am now losing the driving-the-camper game 2 to 0. I think as an engineer Alex's spatial skills are superior. It's a good thing I have a job to go back to so I can pay off these cosmetic repairs.) We got some good coffee, made a quick grocery store stop, and had some food.

The next break was two hours south in Paraparaumu, where we had some ice cream and spent a little time on a playground on the beach.

Then I took the wheel again and brought us into Wellington. Originally I'd thought we would find a site a little north of the city to stay, but after looking again, decided to take a chance on a site right in the middle of the city near the ferry docks: the Waterfront Wellington Motorhome Park. It got pretty good reviews online and would give us a chance of doing some city stuff in the evening as well as on Sunday morning before our ferry. It was basically just a big parking lot, as expected, but it was also less than a 10 minute walk to the lower cable car terminus, and we had arrived in the nick of time to make the last showing at the planetarium.

So we parked and headed right out on foot. Here's B watching the cable car come into the lower station:

And getting ready to head up. She was nervous at first and ended up loving it, of course!

The upper end of the cable car line lets out right in the Botanic Gardens, just a couple of minutes walk from the observatory. We got to the Carter Observatory just as the 8 PM planetarium show was starting. I had been nervous all day because my Rough Guide said to make reservations, but our timing was going to be so tight that I hadn't been sure until we actually walked in that we were going to make it. Luckily, it wasn't busy at all—maybe six or eight people in the whole place. There was about a 25 minute film about going back to the moon (mainly focused on the Google Lunar X Prize) and then one of the staffers spent another 25 minutes or so walking us through the New Zealand sky.

She talked about many of the constellations including some of the stories behind them, and pointed out Orion, which is upside-down here in the southern hemisphere. Then she showed us some stars and constellations unique to the southern hemisphere, including the southern cross and the star Achernar, which can be used together to find the south celestial pole, a big aid to navigation.

After the show was over, we went upstairs to the observatory's beautiful telescope, made by Thomas Cooke in York, England, about 150 years ago. Here's our astronomer getting things squared away for viewing:

B and I are looking at Jupiter. We could see the colorful stripes and three of the Galilean moons. Amazing!

Alex got this beautiful shot of the telescope pointed at Orion. We could see the Orion nebula.

The observatory closed at 9:30 (they basically had to shove us out the door) and we headed back over the cable car. This is a view of downtown Wellington from the botanic gardens.

Then it was time to find some food! The main restaurant district was in the opposite direction from where we were parked, and with it being so late, we didn't want to walk all the way over there. At the recommendation of the woman in the planetarium, we wandered along Featherstone St. A couple of likely-looking places had stopped serving at 9:30, but then we found an Irish pub that was open. They weren't doing main meals anymore but did have a bar menu. We had an entirely satisfying pizza and french fries (we meant for the fries to come right away and tide us over but they came out with the pizza...oops). They also had a terrific hard cider on draft for me, Alex had a beer from the same brewery, and they gave B a nice highball glass full of cranberry juice. Then we all headed back to the campervan and collapsed.

New Zealand Day 12: Tongariro National Park for the Small Hobbit and Her Minder. And Geyser Eggs!

Alex has posted separately about his much more exciting adventures doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I think he’d almost summited his first peak before B and I woke up at Discovery Lodge far below. We had a mellow but quite amiable morning, which was a relief after yesterday’s crankiness. While all the hikers were off doing their thing we were able to do a load of laundry, play some Uno, and do violin practice. Finally we battened down the hatches and headed off to do a little walking of our own.

I lobbied for one of the short walks from Whakapapa Village but B was determined to go to Lake Rotopoumanu and go swimming. It was about a 20 minute, shaded, mostly uphill walk to the lakeshore and then about five minutes downhill to the first little beach. We had it all to ourselves! The water was warmer than I expected and we both went in about up to our waists before playing some sort of Rapunzel game. (I was known as “Evil,” B apparently forgetting the actual name of the witch. Is there a witch in Rapunzel? I am so ignorant on these matters.)

Right around the time we got back to the campervan, we got a text from Alex that he was down at the trailhead, and we headed off to fetch him so we could all spend the rest of the afternoon in the Turangi area.

What better way to recover from a long, tough hike than a spa soak? We headed to the Tokaanu Thermal Pools, where we spent 20 minutes in a super-hot mineral pool (I actually got out faster than that…it was very, very hot) and then quite awhile lounging in the cooler but still comfortably warm chlorinated pool.

Right behind the thermal pools is a DoC walkway past a bunch of geothermal pools, and we also had a tip from my NZ Frenzy guidebook that it was possible to hard boil eggs in a spring/geyser off to one side. We’d come prepared with half a dozen eggs and some nice long socks to put them in.

It was pretty easy to find the spot:

B helped me load up the eggs into the socks and then Alex tied them together:

And hung them on a stick which we placed over the bubbling spring:

We strolled around the little circuit walk waiting for ten minutes to be up, and arrived back just in time to pull our eggs out.

After cooling down, B tested one out:


For the first time on our trip, we stayed at the same campsite. The original hope is that I would be able to do the Crossing myself on Saturday, but the weather forecast wasn’t looking as nice, and we have quite a distance to cover to get to Wellington by nightfall, so I won’t be doing that. Perhaps on our way back north at the end of the trip…