In case you hadn't noticed from our many Facebook photos and mad Instagram-ing lately, we are enjoying our South Island travels greatly! Am particularly chuffed as yesterday we reached Otago, which was a major goal and a region I have always very much wanted to visit. My office today is on the banks of Lake Hawea and it's a bit out of this world really. We are nestled away from most of the world in a little nook, surrounded by trees and overlooking the impossibly blue water and just as impossibly high mountains. From where I sit I can pick ripe blackberries. Little fat bunny rabbits regularly bolt across my path as Minnie snores, peacefully oblivious, and dotted around are little patches of Fly Agaric toadstools; the red ones with white spots just like in the fairy stories.
Our little wee camping nook
Fly Agaric toadstools
View from my office this morning!
It's all just perfect and I almost feel guilty, you know, for being so happy? When I cast my mind back over the past few years and all the loneliness, all the unhappiness, all the desperation, I can hardly believe this is me, that this is my life. I still worry about money every single day; I'm not sure that will ever go away but that's probably a good thing. I've learned never to take anything for granted. Besides, as we have discovered already, it's very easy to go through a lot of money in the South Island if you don't have your wits about you!
To be fair, we were warned about that prior, that the South Island was expensive. I can't remember who it was that told us but they weren't kidding. Petrol, food, everything is significantly more expensive. Even when you're only talking about $2 more for an everyday item, if you pick up five items you're looking at $10 more than usual. Over the course of the week that's another $70 a week you're shelling out for the exact same items you've always bought! It's a bit of a pain because you can't really avoid it; often the nearest decent supermarket is hours, if not days away. Award for the most extortionate dairies so far go to Hari Hari on the West Coast and Haast in the Glacier region, where you can expect to pay almost double more than usual for anything from a packet of potato chips to wine and beer. When an $8.99 bottle of plonk suddenly has a $16 price tag it's enough to make you go on the wagon!
Still, on the whole we have fallen very much in love with the South Island. With so much spectacular beauty at every turn, it makes every journey a pleasure. Which is just as well as sometimes we do a heck of a lot of kilometres just getting from A to B, especially when trying to find dog friendly places to camp. With much of the island managed by the Department of Conservation, this rules out a lot of freedom camping spots for us. This has resulted in us having to pay for almost every place we have stayed at so far. It's not what we had planned or hoped for but there's often not much we can do, especially when sometimes the nearest alternative is a good couple of hours' drive away. We left Murchison last weekend with the intention of staying in Reefton. According to the NZMCA bible it costs just $2 a night per person to stay at the racecourse, which looked and sounded lovely. Unfortunately (and this is not the first time it has happened) we arrived there to find a big sign at the gate with 'NO DOGS' and a group of stewards manning the gate. That put the cobblers on our plans good and proper and we ended up driving several more hours out of our way until we ended up in Hokitika, at a camp ground which cost $40 per night.
That's another thing about the South Island, most of the camp grounds are more expensive too. Most of the time it's not a huge deal; when you've driven almost all day and find a nice, quiet place to stay where you can just relax, you're grateful to pay just so you can stop! However this campground was a bit different. It insisted on assigning their campers in 'blocks' of three or four in a tiny postage stamp. This resulted in scenarios such as motor homes (who often like to leave early in the morning) getting stuck behind tents and unable to leave when they wanted to, or in our case we were kept awake the entire night by a snoring German in a tent right outside our van. As you may have seen from our Facebook page, I got my revenge by recording a video of the culprit! Another added quirk was the lovely, shiny new blocks of toilets and shower rooms, which all had frosted glass doors facing outwards. Whilst they were not clear glass, it was still totally possible to see when people were getting on and off the loo or getting in and out of the shower! At most places we thoroughly enjoy our stay, but we really didn't think that one was worth the money.
Hokitika Beach on the wild West Coast!
Sleep deprived as we were, we spent a most enjoyable morning beach combing at Hokitika before we left. This beach is so cool, with soft, black sand and so much driftwood and beautiful stones all over the place, the whole area is covered with people's creative beach art. It is also covered in greenstone, or jade, which the town is famous for. It was wonderful to see it just lying there, from tiny chips to enormous slabs. I don't think there's any danger of the greenstone carvers running out of work any time soon!
Franz Josef Glacier
We left Hokitika and made our way to the Franz Josef Glacier, which we were both very excited about. However we weren't so excited to arrive there and discover that there were no dog friendly freedom camping spots in the area whatsoever and once again we were forced to pay top dollar for the privilege of being packed in like sardines. We couldn't even do any of the tramps or walking tracks in the area because no dogs were allowed, so to add insult to injury we had paid $46 to stay in a place in the middle of nowhere with absolutely nothing to do. With the nearest dog friendly camping spot another two hours away, we had no choice but to suck it up and make the most of our beautiful view of the snow covered mountain.
Still gotta be happy with that $46 view!
The plan for yesterday morning was to spend the night in Haast. We were running low on food so left fairly early in the hope of being about to get something for breakfast in Franz Josef. However that plan went out the window as we surveyed the various stores and cafes and saw they were charging $8 for a pie and $9 for a sandwich! Never again shall I complain about $4 pies in Whangamata being expensive! It's fine if you're on a nice holiday and have money to burn but when you live this way every day, it's really painful on the budget. No matter how little you try to live on when making your way around, even the poorest of hitch hikers and tent dwellers get stung at places like these by having to pay through the nose for such basic essentials as a loaf of bread.
I love driving roads like these!
Too hungry to put breakfast off any longer, and predicting Fox Glacier would be the same, which indeed it was, Gareth miserably grabbed a muffin and me a sausage roll . We would just have to content ourselves with that until we reached our destination. The journey to Haast was lovely and relaxed, with cruisey roads that wound their way past and across many stunning rivers. We had planned to do a proper food shop in Haast and stock up for the next few days, however we soon realised this wouldn't be the case when we arrived and found nothing but a couple of petrol stations and a small store. $50 in places like these buys you very little! We checked out the two camp grounds in the area. The first was the size of a postage stamp and wanted $40 a night to stand our van on a concrete pad. The second sounded much nicer, so we headed 14km out of town only to be met by a sign 'CAMP CLOSED'. You had to be kidding!
'I'm so sick of getting ripped off!' I wailed to Gareth. 'These places have got us over a barrel', he agreed. 'Let's just keep moving'. We needed to fill up with petrol first so went to the Mobil station so I could use one of my discount vouchers. 'Have you got 6c a litre off today, or do I need a voucher?' I asked. 'We don't do fuel discounts here', the lady replied. Of course you don't. Another $50 gone just like that, for not even half a tank. Here commenced several more hours of driving, all the while searching for an elusive dog friendly camp. Whilst I must sound like a right misery guts, I actually didn't mind going the extra distance at all. When the roads are this enjoyable to drive and the scenery this spectacular, I can just keep going all day! We saw so, so many beautiful places, in the end Gareth was jokingly begging for mercy. 'Please, no more views! I need a break from taking photos!' By the end of last night he had tallied over 300 photos, just in one day!
A couple of the squillions of beautiful rivers along the way
We also had a good giggle at some of the many funny creek names, such as 'Dismal Creek', 'Dizzy Creek', even 'Stinky Creek!' There was even a Bob Creek, a Joe Creek and a Random Creek and we lost count of how many Stony Creeks, Flower Creeks and Branch Creeks we came across. I guess whoever's job it was to name them must have had to do so many they were clutching at straws and coming up with any old thing in the end!
Knight Point Lookout
Mount Aspiring National Park - my favourite part of the journey
The only one who really didn't enjoy the journey very much was poor Minnie. Thanks to the Department of Conservation's rigorous pest control and recent 1080 poison drop throughout the entire area, it was impossible to find a place anywhere along the route which was safe enough to let her out or where dogs were not prohibited. We see people breaking the rules all the time on our travels but we never do. Consequently apart from a couple of five minute breaks, poor Minnie Mouse was stuck in the back of the van for almost eight hours, which is more than twice as much as she has ever had to endure before. The joys of exploring remote areas!
Cruising along the Haast Pass
Winding our way alongside Lake Wanaka
At the end of such a massive drive, all we yearned for was somewhere quiet. It's so weird how you can drive for hours and barely see another soul on the road, yet whenever you stop anywhere, whether it be a lake, a waterfall, anything, the world and his wife seems to be there as well! One of the things when travelling a remote stretch of road, where there is really only one way you can go is that you tend to shuffle from camp to camp with the same people until you come to a place where you can finally part ways. In other words, if you're packed in like a sardine at one place, it's going to be the same at the next and the next, because the same herd of travellers will also keep moving to the same places with you. That's just how it is but by now we were more than ready to break away from the crowd.
First glimpse of Lake Hawea, oh bliss!
Gareth came up with the notion that, although Lake Hawea was stunning and had several places to camp, the majority of people would continue on through to Wanaka, which was the bigger centre. In that case, we would go to Lake Hawea – and we're so glad we did! It's so peaceful you can hear a pin drop. It might even be my favourite place so far. Living on the road sure has its challenges at times, but I still wouldn't change it for the world!