The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

New Zealand – travelogue entry 2

I’m now in the southern parts of the South Island where rivers flow vertically and rain falls horizontally. I expect some folk down here wouldn’t know what summer is. It’s very cold.

IMG_0804

Lake Wanaka

I have arrived at a little town named Wanaka, and for some reason it’s rather taken my fancy. It’s a tidy little town, with friendly people, but very busy, out in the middle of nowhere. Yet surrounded by new housing estates. People here seem to build their houses any way they want, which has given the local architecture great variety. It’s refreshing to see a whole community take pride and pleasure in their residents. And to complete the scene, the town is surrounded by snow-capped mountains – big ones! It’s a little surreal for me to see so much snow in late spring. I was so pleased to find this little town. It meant I could re supply without having to drive another 100km to Queenstown. Waking up here has been like waking up in a postcard.

The word's angriest sewing machine - a Toyota Hiace Campervan

The word’s angriest sewing machine – a Toyota Hiace Campervan

The van – oh boy! I knew this wasn’t going to be good from the moment I clapped eyes on it. This was straight out of the bargain bin and further discounted… Scratches and surface rust bumper to bumper. The interior not fairing any better. All but one of the plastic nobs is missing from the ventilation controls, exposing the metal lever and making it very hard (and painful) to adjust. When I hit the air conditioner button, the light comes on, and that’s about it! There’s no change in engine idle speed, I can’t hear or feel the compressor clutch engaging or disengaging. And given it takes a very long time to demist the windscreen, I think the air conditioner isn’t working at all. I just about need a crowbar to open the side door. Obviously it has been around NZ several times with 349,000km on the clock. So if I don’t know where I’m going, it will!

I’ve never driven a vehicle with that many kms! But the really good thing is, if something does happen to the van (and something has happened! More in a minute) the hire company will never be able to tell!

The kitchen. The WHOLE kitchen.

The kitchen. The WHOLE kitchen.

Then there’s driving it. I was pleased to learn it was diesel, since diesel over here is so much cheaper than petrol. So I get it out on the road, and my first thoughts were, “OK… clearly this diesel isn’t turbocharged…” (My delica is). And, it sounds like I’m sitting on top of a very angry sewing machine. For what it achieves, the noise is just not warranted. But, I have worked out how to get the most out of the engine without overworking it by ignoring the speedo, and let it ‘torque’ its way up hills. I’m consoled by the fact it’s still quicker than walking. I’m not sure if it’s quicker than cycling, though. It will do 100km/h, provided I find a high enough cliff. Fortunately there are plenty of those around. Also, the slightest puff of wind is enough to push it off line at speed, and there’s lots of wind noise. It’s cost me around $1,700 to hire for 18 days. That’s about what I’d be prepared to pay buying it outright… I expected the van to be a bit rough around the edges being 9-15 years old, and paying much less than the common rate for this level of equipment for this time of year, but WOW!

Still, I am impressed what you can do in such a small space! It’s just a regular Toyota Hiace with a raised fibreglass roof, and someone has jammed in here a toilet and shower, a kitchen, and a dinning set which converts to a double bed, complete with running hot (part time) and cold water. And everything is usable! I’m not sure how 2 people could comfortably travel in here. But for one person (minus their recumbent trike) it’s perfect!

Kiwi’s do have a habit of doing the strange and the bizarre. Having reached the S6 – the main road along the west coast, I found myself negotiating a roundabout with the main train line going through the middle of it. But that was just the appetiser. Not too far up the road going into Greymouth, I was driving ON the main rail line! Oh yes… Kiwi’s often find that half a bridge is enough of a bridge. This bridge is single lane, with oncoming traffic giving way both sides, and it also services the main rail line. So, when a train does come, traffic comes to a halt. I guess we don’t build bridges like that in Australia any more – OH&S wouldn’t allow it! With the mountains so close to the sea, there’s plenty of steams, creeks and rivers to cross. I’ve seen river beds before in the Hunter Valley, and they’re kind of cute. But some of these stretch for several hundred meters across. It’s incredible to see.

As you might expect, weather has been a big factor. On Thursday morning, I woke up on the main range with frost on the ground. That was kind of cute. But that was not to be compared to Sunday. I knew something was up when the daylight looked like late afternoon, and it was only coming up to midday. 2 hours later, I stopped at Haast to refuel, and the wind ripped the drivers door from my hand and tried wrapping it around the front of the van. Thankfully it failed. But the van now has a new noise every time you open the door. The door still works, and that’s all that matters…

I sheltered in a nearby pub for a later lunch. After which the storm was still raging. I pressed on hoping if I came far enough inland, the mountains would shelter one of the valleys from the wind. At times, I had to slow to 60km/h just to keep the van from being blown off the road! The next day, I heard an unofficial report of a camper van on the Mt. Cook road being blown onto its side. I can well believe it, especially if the driver had not slowed down. Happily, my hopes were fulfilled, and I found a sheltered spot for the night at Pleasant flat. Now I know why the west coast is known as the ‘Wild West’… When visiting NZ, you expect a bit of wind and rain. But even by NZ standards, this was wild!

The next day saw plenty of rain, hail, and wind. Which was frustrating given I was passing over the main range again through some very scenic country. Pending weather conditions, I’ll retrace today’s route tomorrow. Receiving advice from a local Department of Conservation officer (what we call National Parks and Wildlife Service) confirmed my decision.

Franz Joseph Glacier

Franz Joseph Glacier

I’ve also been visiting some of the natural attractions. I visited Frans Josef Glacier on Saturday which involved a 5.3km return walk. I was thinking the last time I knowingly walked this distance, I was 8 years younger! But then, I’m now 8 times fitter. So hopefully I’ll be ok. Thankfully the fitness won out, and to my surprise, I easily covered the distance. Although I was very tired when I returned to the van, and I knew about it the next day. But the day after, it was as though nothing had happened – I was fine! Much to my disappointment, I didn’t get to the end. Toward the end, the track became very steep. I stood there for 5 mins watching other people gingerly negotiating the section. I thought all it would take is a momentary loss of balance, and the next thing for me to grab was the ground. I had a long walk back to the van, and my wrist was still sore from having rolled my trike two weeks ago. I thought conservation was the order of the day and turned back. I was still able to get a nice short of the glacier a bit further back. The other issue I had was much of the walk was on the river bed, and I could feel every rock through my joggers. After

a while, this became quite uncomfortable. I must do something about hiking shoes…

The walk into Franz Joseph Glacier

The walk into Franz Joseph Glacier

The next day I wanted to visit Fox glacier. This was only a 2km return walk. But I was still hurting from the effort the day before. I could sense the weather changing for the worst, so I didn’t go. There was a road going up to a viewing point. At the bottom of the road, there was a sign advising the road was unsuitable for camper vans. It was wrong. Seriously though, I think the sign is there just to keep out the big campers, and I wouldn’t want to take one of them up there.

So tomorrow I head back from whence I came to see what I missed out on today. Then I’ll press on to Queenstown and Milford Sound over there next few days.

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November 3, 2014 - Posted by | Travel | , ,

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