Farewell Split

Woke up and, after viewing Farewell Spit from our Puponga campsite (not much to see from where we were), drove to Wharariki Beach. It's a short walk from the carpark through hilly green fields dotted with sheep. Soon we were on a pristine beach with sand dunes, all to ourselves. After a bit of tramping around and getting quite sandy the rain drove us back to the camper. Stopped next door at Cape Farewell (the Northernmost point of the South island) where there was a great rock arch in the sea. By now the rain had stopped again. And started and stopped again.

The last thing in the area is Farewell Spit itself, a long thin stretch of sand that goes on for miles. You can do a tour or walk 4km but we did neither, so we didn't get a proper view of the spit. Still, the whole area round here has definitely been worth the detour.

One of the amazing things around here is the difference between high and low tide. There are huge wetlands at low tide which get completely covered over. There are plenty of birds making the most of this avian paradise.

Moving back towards Abel Tasman National Park we stopped at Takaka for a bit of playground action and to visit the dump station. Soon it was getting on in the day so we headed to Totaeanui in the heart of the park, without stopping at Wainiu Falls (we'll see them on the way back tomorrow). What we have seen of the park on the way looks very promising, with a lovely beach right on our doorstep.

Church Road McDonald Series Merlot 2011

Blackberry, pepper, vanilla, spices. Smooth but tannic, decent acidity. 90+/100. 25 NZD.

Ngaura Caves and Pupu Springs

Headed Northwest today, past Abel Tasman National Park (we'll visit it on the way back tomorrow) towards Farewell Spit. There are a few things to visit on the way and the scenery from the road is also pretty amazing.

Ngaura caves are just off a winding road in the hills just after Motueka. They are quite big but we all donned helmet on just in case. For some reason Aisha wasn't happy with this cave and was a bit of a handful. What was really cool about Ngaura is that you get to see some Moa bones. Moas were large flightless (wingless as well in fact) birds similar to an ostrich that were hunted to extinction by the Maoris over 500 years ago. They would regularly fall down holes into the cave and never make it out again.

The road from the hills into the valley down to Takaka is amazing - snow capped peaks in the background with a bright green valley below. The only shame was that there didn't seem to be a place to stop to photograph it properly. Takaka is the last major town on this road, and it looks like a bit of a hippy enclave. We will probably stop here on the way back as it caught Esther's curiosity.

Just after are the [Waikoro]pupu Springs, the purest, clearest water in Australasia. To keep it like that you aren't allowed to swim in it or even touch it, though there is a hand pump at the carpark so you can taste it. It tastes of water.

We are now near the end of the road, just before Farewell Spit (not Split Ends as I mistakenly called it yesterday, much to the amusement of the woman at the information office).

Nelson pub crawl

Got early to the campsite at Nelson, left the camper and went into town by bus. Drinking and driving don't mix. Nelson is famous for it's craft beers and microbreweries and we wanted to have a taste of that.

Went to two of the more famous pubs and enjoyed many a half in each. They couldn't have been more different; one was a modern affair mostly filled (a figure of speech, both pubs were pretty empty, it is a off-season Monday after all) with young(ish) couples, the other was filled with bearded men from the Campaign For Real Ale society. Could only fit in two pubs, had to run off to catch the bus before it got too late for the kids.

There is a minigolf at the campsite so I played a round with Lucas. I must say that after the delights of Nelson's fine ales he was better than me.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Viognier 2010

Peach, spicy, slightly tropical. Creamy, complex, touch of wood, good acidity, lovely finish. 94/100. 18 NZD.

Again, Villa Maria doesn't disappoint.

Turning back from the end of the road

Continued on out mission to cover the whole of the West coast road. First we stopped for a short walk at Tauranga Bay to see a colony of fur seals. Loved the babies playing in a rock pool (the sea was a bit rough for them).

Then a small detour just North of Westport: a small mining community (now abandoned) called Denniston. Not big on mining so we skipped the tour and just had lunch. The views weren't as good as expected as there was plenty of cloud. In the end just came back down again - quite a hassle (8km uphill takes forever) for nothing.

Weather was looking bad so we decided to cut our losses and ditch Karamea. 100km to see some rocks in the pouring rain didn't seem worth it. So we went back to Westport and then up the Buller Gorge (very impressive river gorge that goes on for miles) towards Nelson. Stopped when darkness fell just before Nelson at a free campsite and set up camp.

Pancake rocks

The kids said goodbye to the animals at the campsite while I had fun mucking out the toilet. Then we all headed into Hokitika (I can't get Abba's Chiquitita out of my head) to do a bit of shopping. Spent a lot of time at Sunset Point playing on the beach, looking for jade and skimming stones. Lucas did a spot of fishing with some locals (they let him hold the rod and he was most proud).

There aren't many DOC campsites for a bit, but we saw a freedom camping site on CamperMate at Punakaiki (I swear I'm not making these names up), which was just the right distance away. The road up to there is beautiful, with marvellous coastline on one side and green hills on the other. It's great to drive during the daytime with good weather for a change (though if we are going to have bad weather it's best to suffer it on the road).

Punakaiki is famous for it's pancake rocks and blowholes. There is a path round these impressive rock formations being buffeted by the sea. The tide was right for the blowholes to start doing their thing (not perfect but it would do). The sun was setting and the light made the waves look even more impressive.

Refined the route plan for the last few days. Just some small touches, we have stayed pretty true to the original plan.

Wither Hills Pinot Noir 2011

Violets, earth, liquorice, chocolate, spices. Good tannins and acidity, easy to drink. 92+/100. 19 NZD.

Lazy day in Hokitika

Happy Anzac day!

After all this trekking and touring, and 3 straight nigts of DOC camping, we were ready to just laze about our nice campsite today. Apart from spending time in the common room and the playground Esther and I had a quick look at the beach nearby. On the way there were 2 somethings. Bulls (or cows) I guess, but they looked more like the Yeti's children, covered in hair and with huge horns. Just looked it up on Wikipedia - this is our first encounter with highland cattle.

There are more animals on site: pigs, lamas, ducks... but we couldn't muster the energy to pay them a visit. We did go to see the nearby glowworms though. Much more impressive than the ones I saw at Dunedin.

Ultima parada, Halong Bay

Nuestro plan era hacer el tour de Halong bay desde Cat Ba, ya que ademas de ser mas barato que desde el mismo Halong Bay y llegar a zonas que los otros tours no recorrian, habiamos oido que merecia la pena visitar su parque natural y sus playas. Todo ventajas!

La primera impresion de Cat ba no fue muy buena, si bien es verdad que el tiempo no acompanaba y al estar en temporada baja el ambiente era desolador. Cat Ba era mucho mas grande de lo que esperabamos, algo parecido a lo que nos paso en Nha Trang...deja vu!

El primer dia lo dedicamos a dar vueltas por la ciudad y reservar el tour de Halong Bay que era realmente lo que habiamos ido a hacer. Elegimos una empresa algo mas cara que la media de la que habiamos leido muy buenas criticas, ya que habiamos llegado hasta alli no ibamos a jugarnosla por unos dolares.

Y merecio la pena, el tour empieza temprano y dura todo el dia, 8 horas en un pequeno con otras 10 personas mas. La bahia llena de pequenas islas, suele estar cubierta en una ligera niebla que no deja ver donde termina el mar y empieza el cielo, lo que hace que las vistas sean espectaculares.

Por lo visto tuvimos suerte con el tiempo aunque

hizo de todo, frio, calor, sol y lluvia. Despues de comer a bordo salio un sol esplendido y salimos con los kayaks de paseo a explorar cuevas y grutas. Fue bastante bonito la verdad a pesar de que no eramos los unicos turistas con kayaks por alli.

El ultimo dia en Cat Ba fuimos hasta una antiguo fuerte de la epoca de la guerra de Vietnam reconvertido en museo y mirador. Conservan un par de canones y puedes transitar por un tunel, muy oscuro. Recomendable si tienes tiempo libre en Cat Ba.

Franz Josef and hot pools

Another day, another glacier. The big deal about these two is that they are the only glaciers that reach into temperate rainforest (the technical term for fairytale forest). Also over an hour's return walk from the car park, this time with no uphill. On the way there Lucas was amazed by, and got talking to, a German carpenter. If you ever see a guy, or a couple, dressed like a 70s rocker in black flared corduroys and a top hat he isn't a Led Zeppelin fan, he is the member of a German carpenter's guild travelling the world as a journeyman. The tradition goes back to medieval times. We knew what he was because we had seen them in South America, but they definitely turn everybody's head. Especially if they are followed by a five-year-old in a onesy looking like Max the king of the Wild Things.

Views from here are worse. It is 500 metres to the glacier, and you are right at the bottom, with all sorts of rocks in the way. So we followed our carpenter friend back towards the car park.

As a special prize for all that effort we treated ourselves to some hot pools. There were 3 different ones: 36 degrees, 38 and 40. Turned a bit pink after an hour and piled into the camper to continue on our travels. Reached a pretty bad DOC campsite - the whole camping area was on a slope.(good thing tonight's dinner involved only boiling and no frying) - but with darkness around us and no camping sites nearby we parked as well as we could and settled in for a pretty rainy night.

Locharburn Pinot Noir 2010

Blackcurrant, cherry jam, vanilla, a touch of mineral and earth. Light, good tannins, rounded, a touch dry. 93/100. 34 NZD.

Fox and kiwis

Long (for the kids) hike up to the Fox glacier today. It's a nice little walk up from the car park, next to the glacial valley. The river wasn't very full but there were a few waterfalls here and there. You could see some blocks of ice already at the start of the walk. It was pretty overcast and it drizzled a bit every now and again, par for the course I think. The path took you just 200m from the front of the glacier. Then the weather got a bit worse and we were pretty drenched by the time we got back to the camper.

In the afternoon we headed for the home of the next glacier, Franz Joseph, about 25 kilometres up the road. There they had a kiwi breeding centre where you could see real kiwis. There were only two, in a darkened room (kiwis are nocturnal) with low red lighting. They are much bigger than I thought, about the size of a football (I guess I thought they wouldn't be much bigger than the fruit). The rest was taken up by an exhibition about glaciers, with a bit of kiwi environment thrown in. All in all quite expensive, but it was our only real chance of seeing them.

Jackson Bay and back North

Jackson Bay is at the end of the West coast road. After that all there is an unpaved road for a few more kilometres and then... wilderness and fjords. Stopped on the way for a short walk round the Hapuka Estuary, which is a lovely paved walk through forest and mud flats, filled with the sound of birdsong.

Jackson Bay is just a handful of houses, a jetty, and The Craypot, a fish and chip place. As we wanted to taste the local delicacies we stopped there for lunch. They make some nice battered fish and some wonderful chips. Then, bellies full, we did the short Wharekai - Te Konou walk down to a small beach. Joined a bunch of kids toasting marshmallows over a beach fire and then left to go back on the road North again.

After a quick stop at Haast again for provisions and a bit of playground, we continued North. Had to stop for a quick whitebait pattie at the Curly Tree Whitebait Company (nice but not amazing, though we got a cool lecture on the significance of whitebait). Then we walked on the beach a bit at Ship Creek. Finally, after Knight's Point, we arrived at Lake Paringa DOC campsite just as it was getting dark, in time to grab the last big space that was left.

Lesson learnt today: under no circumstances should I wear short trousers in this country, the sandflies love me and the bite cream hardly soothes the itching at all.

Haast highway

We were on the start of the highway joining Wanaka and Haast on the West coast through the mountains. On one side you go up the Makarora river valley, and after the Haast Pass you go down the Haast river valley. On the way there are plenty of short walks and that was what today was all about. If we can't do a long walk we could at least try a few short ones.

Backtracked a kilometre to the start of the trail to the Blue Pools. Just over half an hour return through our beloved fairytale beech forest, via two swing bridges to the pools. Not quite sure about the name, they aren't quite pools, and every glacial river in the world is turquoise. As usual the water was crystal clear. And as usual there were plenty of sandflies (insect repellent with DEET, plus long sleeves, usually means you only get bitten a few times a day).

The next stop was a slightly shorter walk, though not so impressive. There were nice views of the Makarora valley but nothing to take your breath away (well, as long as you have spent a few days in New Zealand and are habituated to amazing views). By now we had a full on revolution on our hands; after two short walks with no prospect of playgrounds the kids were getting tired.

The next walk was barely 200 metres to see the Fantail Falls, a nice little waterfall into a clear river with grey stone beaches (and more sandflies). The kids found it so strenuous we decided to take turns and do the next walk (also 200 metres) to Thunder Creek Falls without them. This waterfall is much taller and more impressive, but not as pretty.

Decided to try and camp nearer Haast, preferably freedom camping on the road to Jackson Bay. Had to rush and skipped the last walk to get to the DOC information centre just in time (in fact 20 minutes before closing, and they were actually nearly walking out of the door). No freedom camping allowed in the area. We knew there were no DOC camps round here so we ended up in a commercial campsite. Well, at least we can get some washing done.

Locharburn Pinot Gris 2012

White flowers, pear, apricot, a touch of citrus. Nice and fleshy, fruity, slightly sweet, OK acidity, decent aftertaste. 92/100. 24 NZD.


Happy Easter!

It's amazing what the promise of chocolate eggs does to young impressionable minds. The kids bounced out of bed at 8am this morning, and wanted to start the search immediately. We kept them at bay until after breakfast and then they went a'hunting outside with Esther while [SPOILER ALERT] I hid the eggs inside the camper. When no eggs materialised outside they came in and the real hunt began.

Wanaka is a lovely town, though quite similar to nearby Queenstown. Today we had a long walk by the shore of the lake through stunning autumn-coloured trees. This has become he extent of our trekking and I don't think we can ask much more from a 3 and a 5 year-old. If we want to do any more we will either have to rent bicycles or wait until they are older (or away at university). But a short walk is better than a long walk, and we had the added bonus of finding a Cadbury Creme Egg on the way (probably unfound by other hunters).

Headed up through the pass through the mountains towards the West coast. Because of rockfall the road is closed after 6pm, but we were past the checkpoint way before that. We didn't go all the way anyways, there are a few short walks round here we want to visit tomorrow. We missed our intended campsite (confusion with the map's scale) so didn't turn back and went on to the next one - we only miss out on a short 15-minute walk and have less road for tomorrow this way.

Wine tasting

Tasting samples were pretty meagre, and shared between two of us, so I couldn't really get much out of each wine. These weren't quite the ones I wanted to taste (some were not available for tasting, others were no longer distributed here). Still, here goes...

Locharburn Estate Chardonnay 2011
Mandarins, peach, pineapple, citric. Light, but not fruity enough to make it interesting, unstructured. 88/100. 34 NZD.

Locharburn Estate Pinot Gris 2012
Peach, pear and slightly floral. Light and fruity, good acidity. 92+/100. 24 NZD.

Misha Dress Circle Pinot Gris 2012
White flowers, apricot. Palate disappointing after nose, unstructured. 90/100. 28 NZD.

LazyDog Chenin Blanc 2013
Sweet flowers, raspberry, cherry (almost like a red). Unusual, nice palate, slightly sweet. 91/100. 23 NZD.

Locharburn Estate Riesling 2012
Peach, apricot, pear, citric. A bit wishy washy, light, sweet. 89/100. 23 NZD.

Two Degrees Pinot Noir 2012
Musky, spicy, wood, cherry/blackcurrant jam. Light, pleasant, easy, but palate not as good as nose. 91/100. 36 NZD.

Vela Wines 12th Night Pinot Noir 2012
Sweet spices, red berries, touch of earth. Light, well rounded, decent aftertaste. 91+/100. 34 NZD.

Locharburn Estate Pinot Noir 2010
Mushy spices, red berries, earth. Strong tannins, light, decent aftertaste. 92/100. 34 NZD.

Chose two from Locharburn Estate for further tasting - the Pinot Noir and the Pinot Gris.

Puzzling World

The nice thing about freedom or DOC camping is that you can take it easy and leave when you want. I don't understand why "proper" campsites insist on 10 o'clock checkouts. I realise campers are usually early risers, but spare a thought for those who are not. Hotels usually have 12 o'clock checkouts and they have a heck of a lot more to clean and prepare for the next guests.

After a quick stop for fruit we halted for a morning wine taste. Central Otago is a major wine growing area, especially for pinot noir. The results of the wine taste are in the next post.

A bit of a hassle getting to Wanaka - there is an airshow on and the main access road is cut. Seems ironic, cutting a road for an airshow. I guess the idea is that only the fee-paying public (over 100 bucks per person!) get to see the planes properly. The freeloading scum were relegated to using binoculars from miles away, we passed plenty on our massive detour.

As it's Easter we had booked our campsite a few days ahead. But before heading there we stopped at Puzzling World, a family-friendly attraction involving optical illusions, puzzles and a huge maze. The illusion rooms were pretty good - one in particular stands out: at one end you look very small while at the other you look like a giant (apparently it uses the same trick as the Lord of the Rings used to create hobbits). Another room has the floor at a slight angle, and everything else straight, it completely does your head in. The kids were amused but not blown away. I guess they are till at that age where they can't really distinguish magic from reality so illusions are no big deal. The maze was also good - you have to get to 4 separate towers and then find the exit. Both the boys team and the girl's team managed two before the kids got bored.

Painted some hard boiled eggs for Easter. Tomorrow we have a chocolate egg hunt and everyone is very excited. We have left a carrot out for the Easter Bunny.

Hanoi express

Hanoi fue un agradable contraste despues de Dalat. Lo primero por el frio y la lluvia, y lo segundo por el estupendo caos de motos, luces y personas que caracteriza muchas de las grandes ciudades del sudeste asiatico, y que hacia tiempo que no experimentabamos.

El casco antiguo, donde estaba nuestro hotel, es un laberinto de calles donde conviven turistas y locales, y que todavia conserva las famosas 36 calles, una antigua agrupacion gremial en torno a 36 calles y 36 oficios como zapateros, forjadores o electricistas. Lo visitamos en taxi-bici, un medio de transporte tipico de Hanoi para turistas, y aunque iba muy despacio, un una hora recorrimos mas distancia que la que hubieramos andando con los ninos a nuestro paso habitual.

Decidimos ir a ver un Water Puppet show, una de las actividades culturales mas tipicas de Vietnam. A todos nos sorprendio la agilidad y pericia con que las marionetas se mueven dentro del agua y la musica tradicional en directo que acompanaba el show.

Como era nuestro penultimo destino en el sudeste asiatico les metimos cana a Lucas y Aisha y visitamos el Templo de Ngoc Son, el Templo de la Literatura de Confuncio, y el imponente mausoleo de Ho Chi Min. Aprovechamos tambien para comer en los comedores de la calle y elegir bien los ultimos restaurantes. Vamos que nos pusimos las botas.

Cada dia repasabamos todas la cosas de Vietnam, Tailandia y Camboya que eran diferentes en Espana para recordarlas y despedirnos oficialmente de cada una de ellas, como los tuc-tucs, los gorros puntiagudos, la comida picante o las motos con mas de dos personas a bordo. Entre Lucas y Aisha se acordaron de bastantes cosas. Parece que al final si van a tener recuerdos del viaje.


Beastly weather last night, the DOC site must have got flooded. Glad we went for the freedom camp option, even though we were next to the beach with the waves crashing next to us and the wind howling all around us. We had intended to visit the Moeraki Boulders next door before heading on but the weather was so beastly you couldn't even look into the wind and rain. It got slightly better after breakfast but we were running late after helping out some guys jumpstart their engine. So, after a quick look at the state of the roads, we picked our route back towards the West coast. There are warnings all over the South island, mostly flooding, wind and rockfall. The North island had also got pretty severely hit the last few days.

The road towards Wanaka was flooded in a few places, two pretty bad, but fordable in the end (being cautious we only crossed the worst couple when we saw the locals do it). Central Otago must have been OK, after an hour the rivers weren't so swollen and the wind and rain had died down. We decided to stop just before Wanaka - there is a big free camp by the lake at Cromwell which we had seen in our CamperMate app.

Stopped at Clyde on the way (oh, and to see some lamas at a farm). Lonely Planet described it as looking like "a movie set for a 19th century gold rush town". All we saw were masses and masses of prefabricated-looking houses. In the end, right in the centre, we saw the 4 houses the guide was talking about. Hardly worth a stop. The last few kilometres to Cromwell are truly beautiful however, just after the Clyde damn. We definitely like the West side more than the East in Otago.

Te Mata Zara Viogner 2013

Kiwi, citrus, pineapple, honey and floral. Sweetish, complex (I think it is barrel-aged) and rounded, with perfect acidity, a great meaty body that fills the mouth, with a wonderful aftertaste. 96/100. 28 NZD.

I do love viogner wines. This one blew me away, good to see they make them as good here as in Spain.

Otago Peninsula

Not much time today, plus the weather was a bit bad, so we didn't bother to go to a nearby beach in search of wildlife. Went to the albatross area instead, which is quite close to the penguin area which we would be visiting in the afternoon. We were quite lucky to see a fur seal and, next to him, a blue/fairy/small penguin just chillin'. The wind was really picking up so the stop at the albatross viewpoint was pretty brief. Didn't bother with the albatross centre - too expensive, plus the kids would get bored.

Managed to slip into a tour half an hour earlier than the arranged which works out better all round (we get to head out earlier, and they don't have to set up a tour only for us). The Penguin Place is private property, a farm here 10% of the land has been put into a trust. It is on of the only animal conservation projects funded solely by visitors. Their "hospital" is also the only place where yellow-eyed penguins are allowed to be kept in captivity (they are the only "anti-social" species of penguin and form no bonds with humans). The penguins that live on the trust land are 100% wild, the only human influence (apart from the hospital and tagging and measuring) is that some nesting boxes have been put up while reforestation gets underway (with 100% native tree species it may take 100 years, so the boxes are needed as yellow-eyed penguins need shade to nest). There are also a series of trenches with hides dug around the nesting sites.

The tour takes you through these trenches in search of the elusive penguins. At this time of year they are changing feathers (moulting) and so aren't looking their best. We saw a few here and there - being anti-social they don't congregate in huge numbers anywhere, they do form colonies but stay apart from one another in the colony. Later we saw a few more next to a group of juvenile fur seals.

There are 17 species of penguin. With today's two we passed the halfway barrier, bringing the count of the species we have seen in the wild to 9: yellow-eyed and blue, plus magellanic, gentoo, adelie, chinstrap, macaroni, emperor (just a single baby) and galapagos.

Quite a mission finding accommodation. Started by going to the DOC site near Moeraki but it can get flooded and it was raining so we decided to give it a miss. Then we went to 2 different paying sites and they only had grass sites (it being Easter) which they definitely didn't recommend as we might get stuck in the mud. Finally, after over an hour going from one place to another, we ended up freedom camping next to the sea.

Lesson learnt today: the CampingMate app is a lifesaver, it has all sorts of essential spots (sites, dump stations, gas stations...) pinpointed on a map of New Zealand.

Chocolate factory

Lately we have been telling Lucas the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (what we remember from it) so imagine our surprise when we saw that you can visit the Cadbury's factory in Dunedin on a tour. We kept it as a surprise for the kids until the last moment (in case the tickets sold out).

The tour is OK, but after the initial rush it is a bit boring for the kids. Chocolate samples along the way kept them pretty entertained though. For us a tour of the Speight's brewery would have been more enlightening, but watching a ton of chocolate fall down in front of you is pretty impressive.

Found out about what to do round the Otago Peninsula for tomorrow. We have actually changed to a campsite on the peninsula to be closer to everything. Maybe we will finally see the elusive yellow-eyed penguins.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Syrah 2011

Plum, raspberry, sweet spices. Decent aftertaste, slightly sweet with good acidity, strong tannins. 92+/100. 25 NZD.

Villa Maria seems to be good to us, another good red from them.

Catlins II

Managed to drag myself out of bed at half six and even remembered to grab the camera. It was well worth it, a lovely pastel sunrise with no kids running about to distract me from the serious art of painting with light. Got a few nice shots in round the beach next to the campsite, nothing worthy of National Geographic but decent enough. Sunsets are normally more spectacular (more water vapour and dust in the air) but can be a bit too bling. Sunrises are more pastel and subdued. The subtle versus the brash.

Stopped at Cannibal Bay in search of sea lions but we are still having no luck with the wildlife. Finally, on the path back, Esther and the kids nearly fell over one which was sunning itself amongst the vegetation. He was startled (he must have been nearly on the path) but just moved out of the way. I was a bit behind and only saw him after he had settled down at a new location in the undergrowth. He had the decency to wave us goodbye though.

After that we went to Nugget Point. There is a cliff walk up to the lighthouse. Down below, far away, we saw more sea lions and a few seals. In front of the lighthouse are a few huge nuggets of rock, which make this part of the coastline so treacherous to small ships. Next door, at Roaring Bay, is a colony of yellow-eyed penguins. I ran quickly to the hide but there didn't seem to be much action going on so I didn't bring the rest of the family down - we were running late and needed a big supermarket shop. Finally reached the campsite at Dunedin after 8 o'clock.

After the kids were asleep I went to see the glowworms which live near the campsite. They are quite nice but the night wasn't truly dark (nearly full moon and some clouds). Fireflies are cooler though, as they don't stand still like the glowworms.

The Catlins coast

As soon as breakfast was over we had to go, bread in hand, to feed the sheep. After that we decided not to do the short walk to Slope Point, the most southerly point on the island. Our Spanish friend told us it was just that, the most southerly point on the island, with nothing much more than a signpost. No great views, seals or anything. Though apparently the walk is through some nice farmland. I used to be really into these sorts of things, but I am slowly weaning myself off pointless landmarks. I remember Esther being most unimpressed when we all went to the triple point (where three countries meet) at Roraima. Yes, it's fun to visit Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela in 3 steps, but not worth a 4-hour trek.

So we got in the camper and went to Porpoise Bay. Again we were unlucky with the animals but lucky with the weather. We didn't spot any dolphins or sea lions, and the penguins only come back from fishing in the evening, but the views of the bay are lovely. Right next door is Curio bay, where we saw a petrified forest just being covered by the rising tide (not that impressive really, but worth the 5 minute detour).

Stopped at the holiday camp on the way to the McLean Falls to use their dump station. 10 bucks, ouch! Oh well, it makes you appreciate all the times you do it for free. The falls are a short walk through another fairytale forest (I never tire of them) and are definitely worth the hike. Lucas and Aisha both walked the whole thing on their own, it's amazing what walking right after lunch can do to them. They were so full of energy they forgot the promise of sweets until we were back at the camper.

We had to miss out on the Cathedral Caves. They are only visitable at low tide, which today is too late. We could get up tomorrow morning at 7am, but somehow I suspect we will give them a miss. We are not far, at a DOC campsite at Papatowai. We actually have to go a few kilometres back tomorrow anyway, to visit Tautuku bay (which we had skipped as it was getting late). But that will probably be after messing around the beach here: we went to the beach next to the campsite when we arrived in the evening and the kids had such a great time (they got in a fine mess with the sand) we promised we would return with towels and bucket and spade when it was a bit warmer. I think I will visit it a bit before, at daybreak, for a spot of early morning photography.


Drove down to Invercargill without stopping. There isn't much to see, just beautiful rolling countryside with sheep and a few cows. No towering mountains, thundering rivers or primeval forests. There doesn't seem much to do at Invercargill either, so we stopped just outside Queens Park (the main green area in the town) and headed out for a wander around. A bit of a chilly wind forced out all the jackets. It must be pretty mild for the locals though, many were wearing short sleeves.

There may not be much going on in Invercargill in general, but there is plenty to to in Queens Park. After throwing autumn leaves at each other for a bit we stopped at the playground for a picnic. Then we saw the cacti at the summer gardens, all sorts of parrots at the aviary, farm animals at the enclosure, before rounding off the visit at Alice's Castle (a fortress for children, with slides coming out of the turrets).

After Invercargill we headed further South. Out here there are a few roads which are just gravel. We ended up on one on our way to tonight's campsite. It is the perfect combination of DOC and commercial. For only a few bucks more than a DOC campsite you get a powered site, together with showers and a common room and kitchen. The only thing it was missing was a dump station, but we can do that at some petrol stations and other places on the way. They also have a few sheep, which we will investigate tomorrow. There is a Spanish guy stating here, he has been hitch-hiking round New Zealand for 7 months doing a sort of travel guide. He has given us loads of tips for the Catlins area as well as the South island in general.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Tasted too cold.

Red berries, vanilla, mineral. Light bodied but fills the mouth and has a great finish. 93+/100. 15 NZD.

At last a decent red, and a steal at this price.

Milford Sound

Got up early as we had a 10 o'clock boat tour and we were still a fair way away from Milford. It was further than we thought, the road was pretty windy and you actually park a few minutes walk away from the jetty. In the end, after frantically trying to pay with various credit cards, we made it onto the boat with just seconds to spare. How I love these last minute rushes. But it was worth getting the early tour, before all the coachloads of people from Queesntown arrive.

Milford Sound isn't actually a sound. Apparently that would mean it was formed by a river. As it was formed by a glacier it is actually a fjord. Whatever it it is, it's stunningly beautiful. We had chosen one of the smaller boats as we had read you can get closer to the animals and waterfalls that way. In the end we were unlucky with the animals - we just saw a couple of colonies of juvenile male seals which are always there, and the odd albatross. No dolphins or penguins, but you have to be pretty lucky to catch those.

No matter, the views are stunning and the weather was clear (it rains 200 days of the year out here). The tour takes you up and down the fjord all the way to the open sea in about 2 hours. The sea is normally quite rough but today it was pretty flat. The kids got bored pretty quickly but they had fun sitting next to the captain, and enjoyed the seals. The rest was spent mostly colouring in a drawing of a fish (a present for the Easter Bunny).

On the way back we could go slower and stop on the way. We skipped the Gunns's Camp detour as there was quite a lot of cloud but stopped at The Chasm for a short walk up to... a chasm. Down below is a turquoise glacial river and all around the usual fairytale green forest. Set up camp at a proper campsite in Te Anau. It's great to have proper electricity again. And long hot showers, and a nice warm common room. Bumped into a nice German family that we had met in Queenstown. Their kids are more or less the same age as Lucas and Aisha and they had hit it off well before and were delighted to see them again.

Moving towards Milford

Felt a bit iffy about the petrol (there is no petrol station at Milford) so we went back 25km to Te Anau to fill her up. This was my first experience driving the beast but it was OK - the left-hand drive takes a bit of getting used to though, especially with 6 gears.

First proper encounter with the dreaded sandflies today. Stopped for a picnic lunch and we were swamped by small flying things. I thought sandflies were much bigger, more fly-sized instead of mosquito-sized. But a couple of bites soon put our doubts to rest. They actually don't bite that much (we all were wearing long sleeves), only about one in a thousand seem to have nip. Problem is if you are surrounded by five thousand of them you soon head for the insect repellent (which didn't seem to be too effective).

Stupidly decided to try to do 2 days without changing water. We were very careful with showers and washing up. Bad idea. The most you can manage comfortably is a day and a half. We will survive up to Milford tomorrow but from now on we'll go to a dump site every day. It also looks like the toilet is filling up, no way will it last a week.

After lunch we stopped at a couple of the typical beauty stops on the road. Eglington valley is a huge open grassland where no doubt Argh, son of Ouch, galloped around looking intense and unshaven, yet manly and gorgeous, trying to round up wussy kings to beat the forces of Mordor. A bit further up the road the Mirror Lakes show a perfect reflection of the mountains above (or would do with a bit less wind and a bit more sun). Finally we passed through beautiful forests of ash trees, covered in green moss and probably full of pixies and goblins.

The final stop was the campsite itself. A lovely place next to more pixie forest and a lovely clear glacial river. The weather is a bit beastly so you can't see very far, but occasionally the skies part enough to see brooding mountains covered in wisps of cloud.

Didn't have enough change for the campsite, and no inspectors turned up, so next DOC we will tell them and pay double. There's no point in spending thousands of euros on flights and campervan hire and then cheat a good service out of 15 bucks.

The Doctors' Riesling 2012

Peach, apricot, tangerine, touch of litchi and apple. Lovely full mouth, meaty yet light, fresh, fruity and slightly sweet balanced with a lime-like acidity. 94/100. 18 NZD.

At 8.5% alcohol you won't be getting drink easily on this, but the taste is sublime, the best so far. I suspect I'm going to love the whites here and struggle with the reds.

Te Anau, or near enough

After a late morning we decided there wasn't much point going to Glenorchy, otherwise it would be very late before we got to Te Anau (en route to Milford). Stopped for our first experience of filling up the water tank end emptying out the grey water at a petrol station just outside Queenstown. Also, after last night, loaded up on winter pyjamas and onesies for Esther and the kids.

Finally we managed to get more than 20km away from Queenstown. Apart from DOC and commercial camps you have the possibility of freedom camping (ie in the middle of nowhere, if your vehicle is certified self-contained like ours). In Te Anau there is no freedom camping allowed, so we headed to the nearest DOC, about 25km after the town. There was an amazing red and pink sunset on display just as we arrived. Just 10 minutes after it was gone.

This DOC campsite doesn't have a manager, you pay by putting in cash to an "honesty box". Though don't be fooled by the name, you have to put a slip on your windscreen and inspectors do come round to make sure everybody has coughed up. In fact we saw one today just as I was going to pay (saved me a trip to the box).

We're going on holiday... in a campervan

Hardcore fans of Peppa Pig will recognise the title.

Picked up the camper today. Left our luggage at the hostel and headed to the airport, where the rental company's offices were. My god what a huge beast of a vehicle! We were upgraded and I think this, more luxurious, version is a bit bigger than the already big 4-person camper we had hired (gone were the dreams of a VW microbus if we wanted to have shower and toilet for 4 people). It is about the size of a small bus, and quite tall. That, plus the left-hand driving, had me pretty terrified. Luckily Esther is a truck driver at heart, though even she was in awe.

But first we had a bit of a problem. We needed to leave a 7500 NZD deposit on our credit cards. I had just bought the LA flights on one, the limit was pants on the other, and all the rest were back at Queenstown. Finally, between the two cards we had (and after 4 attempts and a lot of pressing buttons on the calculator), we just made the payment. I must be just a couple of Euros from the limit on both.

So finally, after a quick camper tutorial and stop at the supermarket, way later than planned, we headed off into the sunset towards Greymouth. We didn't get far. Not long after picking up our bags and food from Queenstown we realised how late it was and stopped at a nearby DOC (government-run) campsite. These are much cheaper but also much more basic - only (latrine style) toilets: no showers, power, or even waste disposal. We are planning on doing 2 nights DOC, 1 night commercial (mostly because of the battery), only that initially we have 3 nights DOC so we have to go easy on the lights.

There are loads of things to think about in a campervan. Apart from your usual vehicle stuff like petrol, oil and battery you have a hell of a lot more. First is the house battery. It partially charges when you drive, but what it really likes is a proper powered site (every three days is recommended). Not being hooked up to a power line also means not plugs (ie, no non-USB charging - camera, and speakers - for USB we have an adaptor in the car lighter) and no microwave or toaster (but we have  gas grill). No house battery means no fridge, no house lights (but we have torches) and no TV/DVD (we will mostly be using the tablets anyway). I think the pump still works though. Then you have the clean water tank and corresponding grey water - you should aim to fill one and empty the other every day or so (there are plenty of places for doing this, like petrol stations, not only camp sites). The toilet is a chemical/flush thingy separate from the clean/grey water tanks - you have to make sure there is enough water for the flush and empty the deposit (and chuck in a new chemical tablet) about once a week. Finally you have the gas, a couple of small canisters that last a few days each.

Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2012

Slight cherry/raspberry, spicy, touch of leather. OKish body and tannins, decent acidity, slghtly sweet. 89+/100. 26 NZD (duty free).

Second and last of the duty frees. Not great value for money. Apparently quote a popular wine down here, no idea why.

Cycle day

Hired some bikes for the kids today. A pedal-less one for Aisha and a normal one for Lucas. It's been some time since they cycled but there is a lot of truth behind "you never forget how to ride a bicycle" and in a few minutes Lucas was wobbling away like three months hadn't gone by at all. Today it was all clear blue skies, and we went around the tree / garden area next to town for  couple of hours. Similar route as the picnic day but this time we saw the mountains on the other side of the bay, as well as the skate park where we had a great time cycling around and getting in the way of the skaters.

Had some of Queenstown's famous Fergburgers (and some fish 'n chips) for lunch. Pretty OK, though I don't quite understand the huge queue - it is one of the most famous joints in town. There is another burger place and I overheard somebody yesterday say their burgers were pretty much the same.

Lately Aisha has started calling me Josh instead of daddy, much like I (and all my siblings and nephews/nieces) call my father Keith. Weird, I wonder of it's a genetic trait. Also, without the Spanish influence (and meeting more English-speaking people), her English is coming along in leaps and bounds. She hardly spoke any English 3 months ago. Lucas has also improved.

Tomorrow is the day we finally get to pick up our campervan. We spent the afternoon planning our route round the South island (better late than never). We'd better book the campsites - both for Easter and Anzac weekend.