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New Zealand

Caravan Diaries: Pt II

Home - Lake Brunner

After buying my caravan, I heard so many stories I was nearly put off, thinking I'd be better off if I bought one of those tiny houses made from a shipping container and put it on the back of a truck (staying home was never an option). The people selling the caravan in Balclutha told me they were on their way to the summer vacation spot when the front window blew in and the back window blew out. Useful if you want a wind tunnel, I guess. Then I saw a news article about a caravan which was caught in the wind, and had its walls blown out, so the roof collapsed on to the floor - a very elaborate, one-time mouse trap? Of course, there were the usual stories of punctures, speed wobbles, angry motorists, bearings collapsing and the like but a bloke I met in Christchurch possibly had the best tale. He set off from new Plymouth, taking his father's pride and joy, a recently acquired caravan to Taihape. He was not the most observant of chaps but did manage to get all the way to Taihape, when he finally noticed that he was no longer towing a caravan: it had gone over a bank somewhere along the line. Not long afterwards, he noticed he had an unamused father. I myself had a mishap before I had even taken delivery of my caravan. I had bought a towbar, which Toll brought down from Christchurch. We're talking a half inch thick steel bar, which gets attached to the Jeep's chassis with the ability to tow 2.5 tons of caravan. Somehow, Toll managed to smash it in transit, so my mechanic had to hurriedly find a replacement.

Still, I couldn't let myself be put off by these stories and a week before Christmas, I set off. Unusually, I was pretty much on top of everything at work and home so there was no mad panic to finish anything first. I had to get my car stereo installed in my Jeep, and that led to me losing my phone necessitating an urgent temporary replacement (one beauty of Windows phones is that they allow you to restore everything from a lost phone to a replacement), but that was it. I had a quiet drink in town and attended an awful Christmas party - knew no-one except the person who took me and was cornered by someone who shared way too much information about herself, punctuated by the statement "but you don't care", then quit town earliesh on the Saturday.

I made my customary stops for coffee - Tees Street in Oamaru and Verde in Geraldine - and although I was going on a caravvaning holiday, spent the first night in the YHA in Springfield, just because I'd seen photos of its library. What the photos didn't make clear was that the books were mainly in Japanese. No matter, I had quite a swag with me. It was a very pleasant, very quiet night.

Another memory of the caravan trip I had with my family when I was a young boy is of the fear we had that whatever car my parents had would not make it over Arthur's Pass. Not sure why, because from the East the pass is very easy - there is barely a climb. Another fear I have developed in the meantime is that the provisions in the cafe there are over-priced nastiness: not so. I was impressed with both the coffee and the chips I bought. Of course, going down the other side through to Otira is a different story - there's quite a gradient (as a bus driver has recently tested, with unfortunate results for his passengers).

At Jacksons, if you turn right you'll wander along a bit through a mixture of scruffy land and developed farms and be at Lake Brunner, a 40 square kilometer lake surrounded on most sides by bush and frequently moodlit with mist. It is one of my favourite lakes - I'm pretty sure my first notice of it was when I came over by train and we stopped briefly at Moana.
I've been back a number of times - for a barbecue on the jetty (where the yacht club guys were very clear about me not having permission to sleep), to visit the formerly well-regarded Stationhouse cafe and to stay in the hotel. This time I'm staying in the caravan park for three nights: on my first night, it was deserted, apart from a number of permanently sited caravans, only one of which was occupied (by a woman baking a delicious smelling cauliflower pie). Moana itself is on the move - a lot of new homes have been built here, as well as a sort of resort, since I last visited. The cafe and pub are still going strong and despite its rationalisation, even the train still stops.
I didn't really do very much here - wandered the lake front, visited the cafe and the pub (way too busy and full of over-friendly drunk people for my taste), assembled my new bicycle in the TV room, and made day visits to Hokitika and Greymouth. In the former, I checked out an excellent photography exhibition in the art gallery - all of local scenes, my favourite was an evening shot of the jetty in Okarito - and went up to the airport (not sure why - there were no flights in the middle of the day and the place was closed). I liked the look of this building up there
and took a particularly lazy shot of the de Havilland Fox Moth which is behind glass there.
This is an important aircraft, as it was used for New Zealand's first licensed passenger airservice (there were earlier unlicensed services), from Hokitika to Haast on 18 December 1934. Naturally, I checked out the library and then went to the 6:00 showing of the Star Wars movie - very impressed with Rey, but the story was hardly new. Nice to see it in a classic cinema.
Near Moana, there's an intriguing sign saying "Miniature Bungalow" which I passed several times before I went up the little side road to explore. Back in 1935, the teacher at the Jack's Mill School thought that kids aged 10-12 should get a practical education, so he had them build a house. A full size one was probably beyond what they could do, so they built a smaller version, still quite a bit bigger than what I expected from a miniature: it is actually 3/4 size. Apparently the teacher tried to get this adopted as a programme throughout New Zealand, but this is the only one built.
I happened to be there when the (I think) grand-daughter of the owner of the mill which provided the timber for the house was there, showing some of her friends around, but didn't learn much more from her than was on the notices onsite.

Back on the main road into Greymouth, there's a wee town called Dobson - the pub looks like it closed fairly recently, but it looks like the mechanic hasn't turned up to work for a while.

Posted by NZBarry 03:46 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Caravan Diaries: Pt I

The acquisition

I am not exactly sure what my inspiration was for buying a caravan. When I think back to my childhood, I can't think of anyone who had a caravan. Even through my adulthood, I've never really known people with caravans. Sure, when I was 8 or 9, my parents rented a tiny silver version and we did the sort of trip all of the Destination Experts on Tripadvisor would say was mad. Two parents and four kids (I was the oldest) in something that was probably no more than 14 foot long, from the top of the north to the far south in just a few days of long driving. My only distinct memory of that trip plays no part in my acquisition: being rolled up in a tarpaulin and sleeping outside on a very cold night in Greymouth. I don't see this journey as creating a thirst for buying a caravan.

If there was any particular cause, it was probably a very slow evolution from my first visit to Takaka, many years ago. I had gone across by bus and stayed in a backpackers, but was very envious of the freedom of those who had vans - they could go anywhere and sleep where they liked (this was well before the days of restrictions on freedom camping). So, I bought a van, not a campervan, just a van, an old Ford Econovan with a couple of caravan squabs in the back. I called him Webster and, yes, we went to Takaka one summer and explored many places and I slept whenever and wherever the need arose. He and I saw most of the country together but our ways parted under unfortunate circumstances some 8 years ago.

Apart from that childhood trip, I have only actually slept in a caravan twice. Once, I was doing a road trip from Adelaide to Sydney via Broken Hill and came across a town called Bogan: it seemed curiously appropriate to go to the camping ground and hire one of the static caravans they had onsite for the night. Then when I returned from a year away, in 2015, I did the same in the Takapuna Beach Motor Camp. Having been out of the country for a year, I had a wee plan to spend this summer doing a roadtrip around my own country and thoughts turned to a suitable vehicle. I wanted more comfort than an old van would provide, and was very tempted by the idea of a campervan. It is hard, however, to get a cheap one with a high enough ceiling to allow me to stand up. In addition, it would mean that every time I wanted to move, I'd need to pack up - bugger that! Thus was born the idea of getting a caravan.

This created a condundrum slightly easier to resolve than the question of whether the chicken or the egg came first: ought I buy a caravan and then the vehicle with which to tow it or would doing things the other way round be better. Obviously having a tow vehicle would make the purchase of a caravan easier, while the reverse was not true. Cheap caravans are necessarily old caravans and old caravans are necessarily heavy caravans, so I needed something with grunt. I looked briefly at utes and my brothers have Toyota Surfs and Nissan Terranos, but my selection process took me to a choice between a Land Rover Discovery or a Jeep Cherokee: the latter struck me as more reliable and easier to fix than the former, so a Jeep Cherokee it was. Hardly any came up in my home town of Dunedin, and only a handful in the South Island. Those that did were noticeably pricier than North Island Jeeps. Finally, 2 days before my birthday and just before I had to go back to teaching, I found the one I wanted - in Kerikeri. You can't get much further from home than there and still be in New Zealand. After a bit of anxiety, because the seller claimed to have "stuffed up" in accepting an offer I had made, he finally on the Thursday morning agreed. I had to arrange a last minute flight to Auckland (luckily most of the demand was by students returning to Dunedin so it was still quite cheap) and then a bus to Kerikeri to meet my vendor and take delivery. He was surprised that I would take the Jeep in whatever condition (I was equally surprised to find my supposed tow vehicle had no tow bar) but a deal's a deal: I transferred the money to him and set off: my first destination was the first of many petrol stations.
Kerikeri is not far from where I spent my teens, so I took a memorial drive out the gravel roads to my family's former farm. On the way, I learnt the hard way that the Jeep doesn't much like gravel roads: we ended up exiting one corner sideways. Not a good start. This is the house I lived in (and a piece of the farm I lived on) from about the age of 11 until I went to University: my parents actually moved the very day I started there.
I went to the local school for 5 years, so decided to see how the old place is looking: a few expansions but otherwise, much the same. My Form 1 year was spent in the second classroom from the right. The town itself had lost a couple of shops (it never had many to start with), but it was good to see it had retained its butchery and that the local service station seemed to have developed a pretty useful general store.
Now for the caravan. I spent a couple of months at least looking on trademe and had up to around 30 caravans bookmarked. I only really had two requirements - it was not to be grotty and it was to have a permanent bed with a separate table. I looked at one near Balclutha but it tended towards the grotty, and had all its air vents sealed up with sticky tape to prevent flies getting in: removing them was imperative but would leave unsightly marks and cause difficulties if I wanted to paint it. Then the perfect caravan came up just over the hill from my house - a mid-70's Zephyr (made right in Dunedin by Modern Caravans) which had its beds stripped out and replaced with a proper bed at one end and a wee cafe style table at the other, with 1970's "leather" and timber kitchen chairs. This caravan had a bit of a sad history: the owners had bought it, only to find that they had been lied to, and it needed serious work to replace rotten framing and the like. They set to and did all that work, it took a couple of years, but before they even spent one night in it, their employer transferred them to Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, I bargained them down on the price and the deal was done: I had a caravan!
My first trip in it was just an overnighter, down to the top of the Catlins near Owaka the weekend after I took possession. Of course, I had to get a few bits and pieces for it, and about 10:00 p.m. I was working out what I needed when an ad for Briscoes (who else, right?) came on, saying they were open till midnight. So, I went in to get some sheets and a duvet but somehow came out with more than $400 worth of stuff - caravanning is evidently an expensive hobby. The trip to Owaka was uneventful - the caravan is heavy so my speed was reduced somewhat but it tows well and rarely wobbled. The plan had been to stay at the old hospital there but it was closed, which gave me my first learning experience. I tried to back around into a sidestreet, but the caravan brakes locked on so fiercely when I started to reverse that all 4 wheels on the Jeep were skidding uselessly. I had to belt the handbrake with a bit of wood to make the brakes release, and there was no way my caravan was going to allow any reversing. Luckily, there was just enough room to do a U-turn and find another caravan park - the rather lovely Pounewa Motor Camp, which has cute cabins right on the water's edge.
Luckily there were spaces I could just drive on to without having to reverse, but I couldn't have a caravan that would never go backwards so went on to the motoring forum on trademe to find out what the story was. It turns out that the braking system has the caravan slide up a shaft connected to the coupling, which is what it does when you try to reverse, but that there is a doohickey (I think the blokes on trademe called it a pawl) which can be deployed to stop this happening.
Problem solved. I had a very nice day driving down the Catlins road as far as the Niagara cafe (leaving the caravan on the main street of Owaka) and back home again. My next trip was a bigger trial run: I had a conference in Christchurch, so stayed in the South Brighton Beach Caravan Park and then left the caravan in storage in Timaru to await further adventures.

Posted by NZBarry 23:08 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Home Again

sunny 22 °C

The flight back to Auckland passed without event: I was actually able to sleep most of the way. My car was where I had left it, at the Airport Gateway Motor Inn and despite the fact it had just been sitting there for several weeks, started without complaint. Just as well, because I had a Christmas dinner awaiting me and I didn't think the AA would be all that keen to attend on Christmas Day.

My family had plans to head to the central North Island on Boxing Day: my two brothers are keen four-wheel-drivers and so we had an outing to the 42 Traverse in the Tongariro Forest Park. It follows old logging tracks:


and has some spectacular views:


Along the way we met a gentleman who is walking the length of New Zealand - he seemed quite keen to sop and chat.


At the end, we found a piece that was more like a funnel than a track but we had to go through:


As all the guides say, the track finishes at the Owhango pub, so we had to stop in for a beer and a snack before heading back to the Park. On the way we encountered Raurimu Rex - the fellow who made this, Jack Marsden Mayer, has made quite a few sculptures of this sort, making up a "forgotten world" in Wade's Landing Lodge at Raurimu.


There was going to be a phase two to my trip but things change and I was home for the New Year. I found it odd that these guys were all lined up in the same spot at Kelly's Bay (in Northland):


And to finish off with something completely random, when I was growing up, every so often we would go to the dog trials, where dogs are put through their paces at herding sheep. Down south, they do things differently!


Posted by NZBarry 00:21 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)


View Europe 2009 on NZBarry's travel map.

Arrived Auckland airport famished. Choice of McDonalds or McDonalds. I chose McDonalds. Didn’t get to the hotel (Auckland City) until near midnight. Rather a plush affair, much nicer than its sister hotel, the old Station Hotel, so I didn’t mind that I had quite a lot of work to do while I was there. In fact, by the time I left, I was thinking that the way they looked after me, I could get used to working in hotel rooms. Stung a bit, however, by the $25 parking charge the concierge had failed to tell me about, when asking if I’d mind parking my car myself. More expensive than the damn car!

Quite remarkably, I spent three days in Auckland without shopping: no visits to JB Hifi or Real Groovy, the only visit to Borders so I could get a map so me mum could follow my travels. I almost went to the dark side when I went into a couple of camera shops, thinking a telephoto lens for the camera would be nice. Luckily they were way more expensive than other places I’d seen them and, besides, surely Singapore would have them cheaper. Hardly even saw the inside of a cafe (I don't realy count Esquires, I was there for the internet).

Had an interesting night out on the Friday. Way back in 1979, a record was made featuring Auckland’s punk bands of the times; AK79, a record I love. Of course all the bands have long gone, in fact most had broken up by the time the record was made, and I never saw any of them live. The only musician of that era I even know about changed direction completely, and became half of Dead Can Dance, a rather different affair (although one of the many labels affixed to them is post-punk (I tend to think more in terms of lush ethereal goth sounds, lots of beautiful strings and Lisa's amazing voice. Check em out on Youtube then look back at the Scavengers do Mysterex).

But to celebrate the 30 year anniversary, most of them reformed and put on a show in Auckland. So, yep, 50 year old punks, their fans and people who went along for the curiosity value at this rather odd venue on Nelson Street, under an Italian restaurant. But the night went off; I found myself bouncing around with Chris Knox as the Scavengers played. Spelling Mistakes didn’t really do it for me so I didn’t stay till the bitter end.

I did get to spend some time with family: on the Thursday I went out to Henderson (yes, my bro is a Westie) and had a pleasant Italian dinner with me ma, me bro and his partner, then on the Saturday I took me ma out to Waiheke Island (she finally regretted not voting for Winston, given that the ferry travel was free, thanks to his Gold Card). I hoped she liked the trip; it was far more interesting to me than her idea, the garden show. That night, more of my family turned up, for a meal at Brick Lane in New Lynn (not bad for an old Georgie Pie).

Sunday, it was time to go, at the very civilized time of 1:30 in the afternoon. It was very nice to have a crew to send me off.

Posted by NZBarry 17:59 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Final steps

all seasons in one day
View Europe 2009 on NZBarry's travel map.

This is my humble effort at putting down some words about my seven month trip, out through Asia into Eastern Europe and then overlanding it to Hamburg, before flying into the UK and taking up a temporary fellowship at Birmingham University.

My last few weeks in New Zealand were simply an intense blur; finalising my work, sorting out my house so that everything could be fit into a 30 cubic metre storage unit (I'm wondering if I can live in one, to save money) and having several farewell functions. I'm not sure how I did it all; in fact I was sitting in my office at 6:00 p.m. on my day of departure in despair that I would actually get my house empty in time to catch my 9:00 flight. Luckily I had a friend who came out to my house and made sure I not only kept moving but stopped me from doing so much I missed my flight. Thanks, Simon. As it was, I hit the airport as they were calling my flight.

The whole process was not helped by the fact that I organised a weekend away for my last weekend in the country - when I organised it, I figured I'd be packed and finished marking and in need of a breather. I had tickets to the Steve Earle conncert in Christchurch and a flight back to Dunedin on the Monday: I dithered over whether I should go to Akaroa (a place I have only visited long enough to eat a cheese sandwich) or the West Coast (a place I visit annually). Ultimately, I went for the West Coast, but then won a $10 tripod on trademe in Diamond Jarbour, just round the corner from Akaroa.

The Steve Earle concert was fantastic: it was opened by a local duo called, I think, The Easts or maybe the Eastons, then Alison Moorer came on and sang several songs before the main event. Both were telling the same jokes, about how NZ and America have both had an election, but the USA got the better deal. Mostly Steve did his own thing, with harmonica or guitar, but he had a fellow with an amazing effects machine, way beyond drums - having a vaguely electronica background to some of his music was quite effective. Alison came on and they sang a few duets. The show was so great, the first Warehouse I found, I bought all I could lay my hands on.

Stayed in the YMCA (A&P show day meant all my normal cheap spots were booked up) then headed out on the road. First stop (after the Warehouse) was a cafe, near the top of the Port Hills, looking back over Christchurch: great view, bland coffee; it always seems to be the way. Diamond harbour looks like this:DSC_0037.jpg
It is directly opposite Lyttleton:DSC_0043.jpg.
I wandered around for a while, had an ice cream, but the water looked so appealing DSC_0044.jpg I could not resist. There was a ferry going across the harbour, so I thought "damn it, lunch in Lyttleton"DSC_0048.jpg

So, all in all, it was not a quick start to my trip to the West Coast. Made the obligatory stop to be ripped off at the Arthur's Pass store, and had a number of wekas for company. Finally arrived in Hokitika not long before dinner - a rather fine steak at the Cafe de Paris. The Beach Front Hotel certainly has impressive, modern, beach fronting rooms. I'm a cheapie, so I eschewed them and stayed in the old part, where I couldn't see anything. Ah well, it was just a short walk to the beach.

Sunday was not the best in terms of weather, but I had an idea of seeing a couple of places I'd not made it to, and am so glad I did. Lake Kaniere is accesible by a tiny little gravel road, but it had an interesting vibe:DSC_0065.jpgDSC_0080.jpg.
I was lucky enough to make a friendDSC_0072.jpg on the way in to a nearby waterfall DSC_0066.jpg.

Final stop for the day, just before the rain well and truly got me, was Holitika Gorge:DSC_0082.jpg

After that, it was a quick stop in Hokitika for a last look round and fine coffee at a rather extraordinary business - Hokitika Cheese and Deli - before heading up to Greymouth. Best coffee on a wet late afternoon in Greymouth is to be had at the Robert Harris. Very few people about; maybe they were at the Speights Ale House (ha! funny in the home town to Monteiths). Certainly when I got there, the place was packed. Slept at Revingtons, woke early, drove non-stop to Christchurch, returned the car 1 minute before they'd slug me an extra day's rental and flew home. Nice way to spend my last weekend before departure.

Posted by NZBarry 05:47 Archived in New Zealand Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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