Have Camper Van, must Travel, Portobello to Akorora, Banks Peninsula

The next morning we took time to explore the Otago Peninsula, driving to Taiaroa Head to see the Albatross Colony fortifications at the extreme tip of the peninsula.

The road ended at Penguin Beach on farmland owned by the Reid family who manage and run a conservation effort called Nature’s Wonders. Here, the world’s rarest penguins, yellow-eyed or Hoiho penguins, (Maori for “Noise-Shouter”) and little blue penguins live in harmony with New Zealand fur seals, sea lions and a vast variety of birds.

“Fur seals look like old Russian men in big hats” I said to Graham.

“Well,” Graham replied, “better not mess with these old Russian men, take a look at their rows of sharp teeth!”

I laughed, “Better not try drinking their vodka, or eating their smoked fish, I guess.”

On our return to the main land, we stopped at one of the many artist’s craft studios, “Happy Hens” to see Yvonne Sutherland’s ceramic hens. Absolutely delightful, they are based on traditional poultry breeds once kept by the pioneering women on the island. They are a well established part of New Zealand folk art and are exported all over the world.

I wanted to buy one so badly, but was reminded by Graham that I would have to carry it all the way back to South Africa, so I left with a brochure and a promise to myself that one day I’d return, live in South Island and have a house full of the bright chooks!

On the side of the road we saw “Fletcher House”, a restored Victorian villa from around 1909. As we are fortunate to have a number of similar houses in Cape Town, we did not bother to stop, but turned down Castelwood Road to take a look at Lanarch Castle.

This is New Zealand’s only castle, built in 1871, standing regally in its well manicured gardens. It’s walls holding the secrets of tragic and scandalous tales from long ago.

As we discovered there was an entrance fee into the Castle and the grounds, we moved on towards Port Chalmers on Route 1, heading up the east coast.

The views over Otago’s harbour and the landscape were amazing and Port Chalmer’s appeared to boast many artist’s studios, boutiques and galleries. Many of them housed in the port’s original buildings.

“We’ll earmark this place, and come back sometime,” Graham promised.

He knew I was longing to stop and mooch around, but was also aware if I had my way, we would never reach our evening destination, Akorora.

“Did you know that this was the birthplace of New Zealand’s modern export trade?” I asked, “In 1882, the Island’s first cargo of frozen meat left and arrived 98 days later in Great Britain, still frozen. Since then the Kiwi’s have been known as very good frozen meat exporters.”

Graham looked across at me, “Good old New Zealand lamb!”

We travelled through Palmerston, Hampden, Herbert, and Maheno, before reaching Oamaruwhere we parked and had a cup of coffee before setting off to walk on the beach and have a look at the unusual round rocks on the shore.

Known as the Moeraki Boulders, they look as if giants have been playing a game of bowls on the smooth white sands of the beach. A few of them are shattered and the molten centres are exposed.

“Perhaps aliens arrived here, laid eggs and their offspring hatched?” I suggested to Graham.

Actually…they are a collection of fifty round concretions scattered along Koekohe Beach and are among the world’s largest concretions at a whopping 7 tons and 8 feet in diameter.”

He explained as he stroked the surface of one of them.

These lumps of sediment took 4 million years to grow and are bound together by a mineral cement. They started forming in a mud stone about 60 million years ago and were later lifted out of the sea and became part of the cliff line. Centuries of coastline erosion released them from the cliffs and then they rolled down to the beach.”

Smarty-pants,” I said, thinking my version was far more romantic…

As we had spent more time than we had planned on the beach, we decided to drive through Timaru, Ashburton and on to Rolleston where we tuned off on to Route 75, past Lake Ellesmere and over the steep, windy roads of Banks Peninsular, arriving late evening to the sun setting over Akaroa Harbour where we found Duvauchelle Holiday park which is beautifully situated on the water’s edge on Seafield Road at the head of the harbour.

Much to our surprise the camp manager and his wife were originally from South Africa, so we spent extra time chatting to him about the surrounds and what to see.

We learnt that Captain Cook arrived in Akaroa Harbour in the 1770’s, but before him, the Ngai Tahu tribe well before he and his crew ever set site on the place and that it was one of the only places colonised by French speaking natives.

More time to look around tomorrow,” Graham said, “right now, lets start the fire and have a barb-q, I’m starving!”

Don’t forget the wine,” I suggested as I took the New Zealand lamb chops out of the marinade they had been soaking in.

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Have Camper Van, must Travel, Queenstown to Dunedin, (House of Pain)

 “Let’s go see Milford Sound”, I said to Graham as I fried eggs and bacon,
“OK” He agreed, “And then we will back-track down to the southern most tip of the island, Bluff, before heading our way up to Dunedinon the Otago Peninsula for the night.”
Full tummies, and happy that we had chosen the camper-van alternative to travel, we packed up and headed down Route 6 over the Mataura River, which runs through Gore, (known as the “Brown Trout Capital of the World.”) After a coffee and stretching our legs, we drove on to Lumsden, turning right onto Route 94, through Mossburnarriving at the town of Te Anau on the shores of Lake Te Anau over the Downs, to Cascade Creek, through the Homer Tunnel in the Southern Alps and bursting out the exit to the sight of Milford Sound.
Buses from Queenstown and Te Anau were disgorging tourists, some fortunate enough to be including a Red Boat Cruise around the Sound, and after that a scenic plane flight back to Queenstown.
We were perfectly happy to sit in the front of our home on wheels and share a bag of crisps, watching all the busy people brandishing their cameras, and take in what is described as the “Eighth Natural Wonder of the World,” one of the most incredible views we had ever seen in our lives. Water from the Mitre Peak tumbled and crashed down, disrupting the slumbering blue waters below.
“Wow!” We both exclaimed, crunching our salt and vinegar crisps. Unable to verbalise how we felt about the place.
We would have liked to stay the night there, but as we still had so much of the island to see, and limited time in which to do it, we returned the way we had travelled. Driving past Te Anau onto Manapouri, then a connecting road (53) to Clifden, where we viewed the historic suspension bridge, spanning the Waiaiu River which was built in 1899.
Soon we arrived in Tuatapereand connected onto Route 1 which leads through Invercargilland down to Bluffoverlooking the Foveaux Strait onto the distant view of the port village of Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island.
“Time for lunch!”, Graham announced as we pulled up at the southern most point of New Zealand.
I clambered into the back and started preparing tuna sandwiches, while Graham took a stroll.
Taking our sarnies to a nearby rock that looked as if it had two bottom sized dents conveniently carved in its surface, we sat and looked out at the sea.
A dwarf sea-gull ambled up to us and told us off for not sharing our tuna with him, “Cheeky! Go catch your own fish!” I shooed him away.
“Didn’t work Babe,” Graham laughed, “he’s summoned his mates…”
Obviously well meaning people who travel to that part of the island throw scraps for the persistent little birds, and as we were not sharing ours, they were fed up.
“Ewww, makes me think of Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds”, let’s leave before we are devoured!”
Graham raised an eyebrow, “No, let’s leave before your imagination overtakes both of us…”
Tracking around the outskirts of Invercargill, we travelled on the unsealed connecting road (46) to Fortrose, connecting to road (28) to Tokanui, Papatowai, on through the beautiful Catlins Forest Park to Kaka Point.
“Mmmm, wonder who named this place?” I mused.
“Maybe someone who needed to kaka?” Graham suggested. I gave him a friendly punch on his arm.
Balculutha was our next port of call, where we turned right onto Route1, through the towns of Clarksville, Milton and Waihola, over the Taeri River to the University city of Dunedin on the central-eastern coast of Otago. This is the second largest city in South Island after Christchurch.
It is also called “The House of Pain,” due to Carisbrook Stadium, where rugby, New Zealand’s most popular sport is played.
As it was growing dark, we made our way through the city along the twisty road clinging to the Otago Peninsula overlooking Macandrew, Company and Broad Bays, to our over night camp Portobello Village Tourist Park in Herewek Street, Portobello.
The park was close to a spit that had the Dunedin Aquarium perched at the end, so we walked there to have a look around, but as it was late, the place was closed.
Not phased, we turned around and returned to our camper, ready to settle down for the night.
I heard the clink of bottles and fizz of the cap as Graham opened our evening sun-downer.

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