Still on our mission to catch up with Amy and Tom, we took a beautiful drive through the Haast Pass. There were some incredible views driving through the valley – a recommendation from our New Zealand friend, Johnny. It did unfortunately rain for the next two days, which only seemed to make the dreaded sandflies more determined to bite us. Sophie was a little fed up on the second day so I went outside to cook us some soup to eat in the car, wrapping up as much skin as possible. Sophie managed to make the bed in the car without leaving it, which is a serious skill given the limited space we had! We would then have a routine of spending a few minutes with the torch trying to kill any sandflies that had made it into the car, or else face being bitten all night. They leave great big lumps on your skin that itch for weeks – Sophie even has a couple that have scarred!
The following day we drove to a lovely town called Wanaka, the sun was out again and we thought we would cheer ourselves up with getting our washing done and having lunch in a cafe. We stumbled across a great pie cafe that had won New Zealand’s best vegetarian pie 2016 – a massive competition I’m sure. They were pretty awesome though, I had two because I didn’t taste the first one given how quickly I ate it. Sophie said her mum would love the place given the massive selection they have. I visited a local op shop (a dump that sells things) and picked up a fishing rod for a couple of pounds – but continued my excellent form of catching weeds.
Following our break in the sun we headed to Glenorchy, just outside of Queenstown. The heavens had opened up again and it was pouring by the time we had gotten to the part referred to as the ‘drive to paradise’. We didn’t see much of paradise due to the weather and as we were driving towards our campsite we saw a few large puddles on the road. I slowed down to crawl through them as we didn’t know how deep they were, the car took the first one okay but the second not so much. After deliberating for a minute we decided to turn back and find another campsite. As we drove through the puddles the second time the engine began to falter and eventually stop. This was exactly what the sheet of plastic that fell off earlier was protecting us against. We then waited nearly 3 hours for the tow truck whilst the river next to us steadily rose from a metre down to being right at the bank. I called the AA back to mention this and they informed me the truck driver would be unable to make it down to us due to the danger and we would have to walk in the pouring rain. Just after collecting the bits we needed from the car we saw a tow truck reversing the whole way down the road – about 3KM. What a champ! Of course the AA hadn’t communicated our location very well and we had a long and funny talk with the driver who offered me a job should I ever return to New Zealand!
The only hotel available (due to the Chinese New Year celebrations) was a 5 star hotel at £179 a night. We both called our Mum’s that night to cheer us up a bit after a tough few days. Sophie’s Mum ever so kindly suggested enjoying the luxury of our hotel and going and finding a nice place to have lunch the following day. We stopped for a few hours in a pub in Queenstown and had a roast dinner and a beer or two. It was good food for feeling better and the sun had decided to come out again. A local came and sat down next to us as he didn’t like drinking alone and we chatted for a few hours about the indigenous Maori culture and the tribe he was from. He was kind enough to offer a free room should our car be in the garage for a few days! He also suggested a few charity shops as we mentioned the cold evenings. After we had a little walking around the town, we stopped by a charity shop for some warmer clothes on the way to checking the car. The car had magically fixed itself overnight with the engine drained of water, so the mechanic only had to do a couple of checks and an oil change before it was good to go.
After an expensive couple of days we found a free campsite in small town called Lumsden, where the guy monitoring the campsite would walk round with his dog Coco and tell funny stories and chat to the campers. He told us a story about how the locals had recently debated the free campsite, with one lady suggesting that it looked like a Syrian refugee camp. He said his reply was that he required brain surgery not too long ago and a Syrian doctor had saved his life. He then became very philosophical about human beings working together and the importance of adventure, something that we found very refreshing and inspiring.
That morning we got up early to meet Tom and Amy, as well as a couple of companions they had met at the avocado farm they had worked on. Mel and Patrick were from America and had been driving around with them for a couple of weeks. We were on our way to Milford Sound and stopped just before for a 3 hour hike up the side of a mountain. There were some breathtaking views at the summit and it was great to catch up with Tom, Amy and to meet Mel. We hadn’t yet met Patrick as he had stayed asleep in the car with his sleeping bag zipped up all the way over his face which was pretty funny.
We walked to a viewpoint upon arrival at Milford Sound and had a coffee in the cafe before heading back out. Because of its remoteness and that it is a large tourist attraction it was very expensive to camp or do the tours, we decided to save the money and keep exploring for free. It began to rain again on the way to our campsite which made making a fire impossible, we were hoping to cook a big dinner and the fire would certainly keep the sand flies away. Instead we huddled in Tom and Amy’s van for a chat and some wine and a bedtime cup of tea.
The morning brought another nature walk through a moss-covered rain Forrest, before heading to Lake Mote, which I would argue was as beautiful as Milford Sound. Before we left we saw a beautiful rainbow over the campsite.
As we drove the long and dusty road I noticed a Falcon perched on a rock, as I pulled over to take a photo it tried to get away but it was injured somehow. They are beautiful birds that we had only seen from a distance and it was a shame to see one in such distress.
The campsite was very picturesque and I took a run around the lake we were camped in front of, just over 10KM, before jumping in the cold lake to wash off. The poor fish. We all cooked and chatted that night, it was one of many lovely evenings. We also met a couple of German girls who described an awful experience couch surfing in New Zealand with a guy that insisted he was a nudist and that they should share his bed with them…
In the morning everyone did a walk around the lake while I fancied running it again. It was such a great view the whole way round I felt compelled. Plus there is a part in the run where you go past some free roaming sheep that run off in all directions. The far away look in their eyes, coupled with the domino effect of fear that the herd becomes infected with, is quite funny. Some of them have no idea what they are running from.
I had another dip in the lake whilst Amy, Sophie and Mel did some yoga. We had a reasonably long drive ahead of us as we were looking at walking Mount Cook the following day.
We stopped at another free campsite in possibly our favourite of the small towns, Twizel. And this time we managed to get a fire going.
The drive in the morning to Mount Cook was full of anticipation as we could see the mountain looming over us nearly the whole way.
After a quick stop to get some information on the best walk to do, we set out on the long walk to a viewpoint of the Glacier and the mountain. It was tough going but really worth it. When we got there we all relaxed for an hour both out of exhaustion and awe.
We all went back to Twizel that night to camp as Sophie and I were heading to meet our friend Johnny in the morning in Ashburton. The morning drive brought a few more stops to admire the view and more shades of the colour blue, lake Pukaki being the most notable.
Ashburton is a reasonably small town just outside of Christchurch, with lots of farms dotted around the place. Johnny’s family owned one of these farms and he worked on it during the season and travelled out of season. We first went out on his jet ski on a lake next to his house. He later filled us in on farm-politics as well as the ethics of different farming. It was interesting to hear the different perspectives from his father who had stopped working on it to seek other business ventures given the little pay for hard work. In the evening Johnny took me with a couple of shotguns to shoot possums. One of the many mammals brought by Europeans that have been desecrating the indigenous animals (most notably the flightless birds) as well as managing to kill trees with their destructive consumption. It was a bit of a strange evening given that it is not something I would ever have seen myself partaking in, but New Zealand did teach us that it is not as easily cut and dry ‘leaving animals to it’. After you alter an ecosystem it can be argued it’s better to have it balanced than overrun. The government of New Zealand had resorted to depositing 1080 poison all around the national parks to target the likes of possums and stotes. The indigenous animals are only found in this remote part of the world and New Zealander’s want to protect this part of their heritage. Though we did see a few signs protesting the use of the poison as it kills indescriminantly.
We slept in one of Johnny’s spare rooms in their beautiful house and before leaving in the morning to rejoin Amy and Tom, Johnny took us to visit his favourite trees. Some of these were estimated to be over 1000 years old, you might understand why someone would have a ‘favourite tree’ after seeing them.