Have Camper Van, must Travel, Mount Cook to Queenstown

Waking up in a camper-van was a new experience. My bed was comfortable and warm. I untangled myself from the duvet and rolled over to look out of the window at the trees shadowing Lake Tekapo.

How different this lush, green Eden of a country is in comparison to the tawny golds and yellows of the African bush that I have grown up with.” I thought.
Morning,” said Graham as he brought me a steaming cup of coffee, “beautiful, isn’t it?”
Yes, not like England, or Europe,” I mused, “The air is so pristine and everything seems to breath easy, you get what I am trying to say?”
Graham nodded, “One could easily live here.”
I nodded, “Now I know fairyland does exist.” The light twinkled, skipping on the ripples over the Lake’s clear, blue glacial waters.
After breakfast, we looked at our map, “Mount Cook looks good, what do you think?”
I nodded in agreement. No one visits South Island, New Zealand without paying homage to that famous land mark, sacred to the Maori’s, their name for their ancestral mountain, “Aoraki.
Driving along Route 8, we stopped to take photo’s at the foot of Lake Pukaki, then on Route 80 to Mount Cook, where we called in at the visitor centre located on the High Dam.
The well informed guide at the centre came across to chat, and told us that the view of Mt. Cook was known as “The Million Dollar View.”
It’s beautiful,” I said as I looked at the massive mountain reaching up to the sky.
Graham put his hand on my shoulder, “3, 753 meters high”
How do you know that?” I asked him, impressed, “Learnt it in geography at school, years ago,” was his reply.
I shook my head, amazed, as always at the amount of general knowledge my husband stores in his head.
The guide went on to tell us that the Lake is a major water source for the upper and lower hydro systems, having been raised in 1950 by 9 meters and again in 1980 by 37 meters to create massive water storage.
We still had a way to go, and turned our backs to the mass of water, “Let’s go catch that mountain up ahead,”
I nodded in response to what Graham had said, “A photo opportunity at every turn in this country!”
The “Lord of the Rings trilogy” came to my mind as we drove towards Mount Cook and its soaring peaks and glaciers. I thought of the film crews who filmed the entire film on different locations in New Zealand.
Here, the ancestors of Aoraki watched as the crew re-enacted the Misty Mountains of Tolkien’s epic tale.
We passed the Glentanner Station, a fully working high country sheep station and then fifteen minutes later arrived at the Mount Cook village, where we went and mulled over a menu at the Hermitage Hotel.
Um, let’s give this place a miss,” we both said at the same time and laughed.
Things on that menu were a trifle expensive and we knew we had enough for a hearty meal and hot cup of tea in our trustworthy camper-van!
In the warmth of our refuge, we took in the vast blanket of snow cloaked over Mount Cook, its peak wearing a flossy hat of cloud.
Kia tuohu koutou, Me he maunga teitei, Ko Aoraki anake.” I read from my travel guide.
Translate,” asked Graham
If you must bow your head, then let it be to the lofty mountain Aoraki,”
A prayer or blessing.
I bowed my head in the direction of the mountain.
I think to to the Maori’s, the mountain represents the elements that bind the spiritual and physical elements of all things together. It is the source of creation and life.”
There was no doubt that there was a powerful sacredness that had enveloped us as we sipped steaming mugs of tea.
We back tracked along Route 80 which winds adjacent to the Ben Ohau Mountain Range and stopped at Twizel, the town of trees.
I could settle here Babe,”
Why?” Graham asked.
Because it’s a great name, – imagine telling people you live in a place called Twizzle!”
I visualised us living in one of the Scandinavian style houses, set in amongst the 250,000 trees that had been planted by the local residents.
A new town, constructed in 1968 in the Mackenzie Basin on land formerly part of the Ruataniwha Station, Twizel takes its name from the River Twizel.
The town survived being bulldozed to ground level once the Upper Waitaki power Scheme was completed, but the residents fought the Government.
They won and in 1983 the town, its shops, houses and facilities were handed over to the County.
It is now known as the “Heart of the high Country” and survives on tourism. In the summer water-sports and golfing and in the winter ski season.
Twizel,” it rolled off my tongue, “Bet the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel was called Twizel…sounds like a kind of sugar stick or cup-cake.”
Come on Babe,” Graham hauled me out of my day dream, “there’s a grocery shop, let’s get practical and stock up for tonight.”
Travelling south, we arrived at a small town called Omaramasituated on the junctions of routes 8 and 83 and as we wanted to reach our camp in Queenstown, we did not stop, but carried on through the Lindis Pass, which links the Mackenzie Basin to Central Otago, saddling the Ahuririand LindisRivers, 971 meters above sea level.
Snow teased the edges of the road and I was once again glad that Graham was driving. The view of the valley way, way below as we drove along had me closing my eyes on occasion!
Arriving at Comwella small town set on the shores of Lake Dunstan, I said to Graham as I looked at the map, “left or right? Both roads are Route 6!”
He leant over from the drivers seat and looked at the map, “Queenstownto the left and Wanaka to the right. Still plenty of time, let’s go right.” he said as he turned right.
Lake Wanaka was nestled in the base of towering mountains and was picture book perfect.
We pulled over onto the side of the road and got outside to stretch our legs.
Coffee?” I asked Graham, “Why not?” He agreed as we moved into the back of the van, out of the cold.
Time to find a place for the night,”
Yes,” I agreed, as we both moved back into the front of our flash camper.
We back tracked down the way we had come, travelling through Cromwell once again and passed through Arrow Junction and on to Queenstown, snuggling the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
We stopped for a while to take a look at Nevis Bungy, on the corner of Camp and Shotover Streets. This is New Zealand’s highest bungy jump and has a 134 meter drop.
Not going on that!” I moved away from the edge.
Me neither,” Graham said.
We got back into the van and drove through the ski town to Frankton Motor Camp on the lake edge.
After a lovely hot showers in the camp-site bathroom facilities, we took a walk into the town where we found a cosy little restaurant.
The side walks outside were full of happy holiday makers all out for a good evening on the town.
The waitress looking after our table informed us that Queenstown was known as the “Adventure Capital of the World,” and that it has half the population in New Zealand in Tourists every year.
Wow,” I took a sip of my wine and winked at Graham, “and we are two of them!”

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Have Camper Van, must Travel

The bed and breakfast facilities in New Zealand are all well appointed, with friendly owner/managers. The people we stayed with happily shared their knowledge of South Island with us, the best places to visit and how to go about booking a camper van for less than what was advertised by the rental companies.
What we found valuable information was that we should ask the company to show us their vehicles that were more than four years old. The reason for this is that the insurance premium on them is as not as high as the new vehicles they tout, and if you are not in the know, the rental agent will get you to sign up and you pay almost a third more for a newer model!
As we wanted to visit my uncle who was in hospital, (one of the main reasons for our trip to New Zealand) we decided that we would visit him first, then spend the day looking around the city, spend another night with our lovely B and B hosts, then go and find the camper van of our choice the next day.
Christchurchis a beautiful garden city, nestled on the coast with the Southern Alps creating a breath-taking backdrop. It is the gateway to the Canterbury Plains which spread westwards towards the mountains.
South-East of the city leads on to Banks Peninsula, which is formed by two huge volcanic craters and extends into the Pacific Ocean, like an old gnarled sharks-tooth.
After looking around a very modern shopping mall and having a bite to eat, we took the historic inner city Christchurch Tramway.
Although the tickets are valid for two days, we knew that this was the best way to see all of the city in one day, as it took us past Cathedral Square, Arts Centre, Canterbury Museum and the Botanic Gardens.
In the evening we had a slap up meal at a local Indian restaurant within walking distance of our B and B.
Upon our return our hosts had waited up for us and had coffee and biscuits laid out on the kitchen table. We felt that we were visiting good friends.
At breakfast the next day we mentioned that we were going to book our camper van and asked where the rental agencies were located.
Oh, close to the airport,” said our host, “No worries, I’ll drive you there,” he said.
So off we set, Graham sitting “shot-gun” in the front passenger seat and me squashed into the back seat with all of our suitcases and travel bags.
It’s OK Babe, not too far to go…besides, you are little, so you fit in there with the luggage perfectly.”
Yeah, that’s me, economy sized!” I though to myself.
Our Holiday Home on Wheels
After going to a couple of places, we ended up with a six berth camper from Maui Rentals. It had all living, cooking and sleeping equipment included, air-conditioning and bathroom facilities, 24 hour road service and a handy road map and travel guide.
(Oh, and if you are wondering why we went for a six berth, we did not feel like making up beds, then folding them away to have a sitting area. Too much trouble, and we were on holiday!)
Glad that Graham was at the helm and I was the navigator, we drove to a large shopping area where we stocked up on groceries and supplies before setting off in our up-market Mercedes-Benz camper.
Where are we going?” I asked Graham,
Dunno, let’s have a coffee and look at our map,” he said as he parked outside a coffee shop.
We found a table close to a window, ordered coffee, cheese and ham pies, then spread the map out over the table.
Here” Graham said, pinpointing a place with his finger on the map, “ Lake Tekapo”
OK Babe, let’s go” I agreed in a flash, “looks a really good place to spend our first night!”
Taking the road along the east coast, then onto Route 79 we drove through stunning scenery and pulled off at a lay-by to have a snack. This was the first time we had ever had such a luxury as a camper van, we were used to camping in the African bush in our tent, so had not experienced the leisure of a mobile home where you could simply stop, open up the kitchen, prepare something to eat and sit in a comfy seat at your dining room table and look out the window at the view. We both decided it was a good way to holiday and see the country at the same time.
The roads in New Zealand are of high standard, maps and places are well marked. It appeared, much to our amusement, that the locals steered clear of tourists driving camper vans. We were fine as we were used to driving on the left hand side of the road, but noticed some vans swerved onto the wrong side of the road on occasion. So, like the locals, we were cautious of fellow camper van sight-seers from our first day on the road.
My first sight of Lake Tekapo
Upon our arrival at Lake Tekapo in the late afternoon, the sun was setting behind the mountains of the vast Mackenzie Basin, their faces reflecting in the clear turquoise waters.
We booked into Lake Tekapo Motels and Motor Camp, set in amongst massive, shady trees.
Our camping pitch over looked the lake and as we parked we both looked out the front windscreen. Neither of us spoke, we were too busy absorbing the peaceful beauty of the place, there was no need to say anything.
The camp is run as a quiet family camp, with security and cleanliness a top priority. There is a laundry with four commercial washers, for commercial dryers and they also have a TV lounge, should you wish to watch the goggle-box instead of taking in the lake and all its beauty. For people who choose not to eat “in”, the place has easy access to a variety of restaurants, bars, a service station with LPG facilities, garage and grocery store.
Autumn Colours at Lake Tekapo
We went for a walk, taking a bottle of beer each and sat on the shore sipping the golden local beer. A couple walked by and stopped to chat. They informed us that Tekapo was the departure point for the world renowned Air Safaris Grand Traverse flight around Mount Cook and were going on it the next day.
As they walked away, their parting shot was, “By the way, make sure you don’t leave the empties behind…we Kiwis make sure the environment is kept clean!”
Graham and I looked at each other, “As if we would,”
I nodded in agreement with his comment, “Yes, we get deposit on the bottles. Can buy more.”
In that year the Springbok Rugby Team played like Trojans, so we both decided that because they “hammered” the All-blacks15-12 in the Final game played on South African soil at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, we had been told off on Kiwi soil.
Chuckling to ourselves, we returned to our four wheel home, discussing how we remembered Nelson Mandella wearing the Sprinkbok Rugby shirt and cap when he presented the Ellis Cup to the Captain, Francois Pienaar.
That was a great game and brought all the people in South Africa closer than ever before.
Of course we admitted to each other, that makes the New Zealanders the second best in the world.
Giving them credit where credit was due, we started a good old South African braai, and cooked our supper before turning in for the night.
Early Morning at Lake Tekapo

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New Zealand, Paradise on Earth

I always thought that South Africa was a country with the most beautiful places to visit on earth, until Graham and I went to New Zealand’s South Island during the months of July and August of 2005. We hired a six berth camper van and toured the island extensively. Stopping off at camp-sites as the whim took us, where we would find a pitch and then go and explore the area.
As my brother, Eric and his wife Sue, are about to embark upon a new adventure and move to New Zealand where he has a job waiting for him as Chief Engineer in an aviation company, I thought I’d write about our holiday, giving them, and any of my blog readers some pointers and helpful travel trips when visiting a place that is absolute paradise on earth.
We decided to travel from Cape Town via Singapore to Christchurch, New Zealand on Singapore Airlines which was a fantastic choice, as we were treated like royalty, (even in cattle class) by the galley crew. The air hostesses were dressed in traditional oriental attire and seemed to never tire, always smiling and available on the long leg to Singapore.
Part of the package was that we had an overnight in Singapore at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel, which is situated right next door to the world famous Raffles Hotel.
As tired as we felt upon arrival, nothing could stop us from making plans to go to Raffles soon after we had checked in to our hotel and freshened up!
Once at Raffles, a waiter in heavily starched whites, seated us in the hotel’s large rattan chairs, surrounded by potted palms and exotic orchids. The slow moving ceiling fans slowly clack-clacked over our heads while the balmy late afternoon sun dipped into the horizon.
“Cheers!” We toasted each other with a Singapore Sling, (I felt very “Colonial” sipping over that special drink in such a historic hotel, where guests like Elizabeth Taylor, Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward had sat and sipped in an era bygone.)
After that we took a taxi into Singapore’s Chinatownwhere we mainly window shopped as we were on a tight budget and wanted to save pennies to spend once we reached New Zealand. Returning to our hotel exhausted, we collapsed into bed, needing no rocking to get to sleep.
Bzzzz…bzzzz… the phone beside the bed woke us the next day. “Good Morning!” The friendly receptionist chirped pleasantly. 
Bustling around, throwing the odd sock into our suitcases, we had breakfast and then caught the hotel’s courtesy transport back to Changi International Airport. There we had enough time to look around the massive duty free which was impressive, but what intrigued me the most, were the massage facilities with wary travellers getting all the kinks worked out of their backs and necks by the gentle administrations of attractive ladies and men.
“Gosh, these Orientals sure know how to make people happy,” I whispered to Graham.
Once again seated in the spacious economy seats on Singapore Airlines, we ate a tasty oriental meal before settling in for the night’s flight to our final destination, Christchurch International Airport.
Before the plane landed, forms were handed out to all the passengers informing us that were not to take any leather, perishable food-stuff, seeds etc. The people of New Zealand are very strict about this, as they preserve and care for their environment as fiercely as the Australians.
Once safely on terra-firma we queued into immigration and customs and  were amused to see a young trainee sniffer-dog with his handler following a more senior dog who obviously knew the ropes, as he made a direct foray at an Indian woman who was carrying a large hand-bag.
She was made to empty out the contents. Out rolled two large plump apples, which, much to her surprise were confiscated immediately. With loud protestations, she was marched off to a private area for further dog sniffing and investigating.
I later learned that most sniffer dogs at the time were of the beagle breed and supplied from the Beagle Club.
We had been told by a friend who had visited New Zealand before us that once out in the main airport, there were facilities to book camper vans. So we made our way to the information desk and were most impressed with the fact that there was even a desk that supplied clean bath towels and soap, as there were hot showers for people who chose to do so before leaving the airport.
(I thought to myself if there were showers in one of the African airports that I had passed through, all the locals would be very pleased as there would be running water and a place to get clean.)
After getting various brochures on all the different companies who supplied camper vans, we took a taxi to the Bed and Breakfast in Christchurch that we had organised on line before leaving South Africa.
Travelling from the airport to our first “pit-stop” in New Zealand was a real eye-opener. None of the houses had burglar-bars; there were no high walls or fences with razor-wire lacing the tops to keep the bad guys out.
Young children were walking along the roads unaccompanied by adults…
It made us think that we were in a time-warp back into our childhood days when growing up in Africa, where crime was minimal, and one could walk around safely, without any fear of being attacked or run over.
I fell in love with New Zealand then and there and our journey had just begun.
(Next Blog: “Have Camper Van, must travel”
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