For Julie and I, 2015 was to be the start of a whole new chapter in our lives.
And the best way to kick off this adventure was with a six-week tour of New Zealand’s South Island. After moving here seven years ago we now consider this part of the South Pacific, home. We had owned our beloved 1975 Bay also known as ‘The Tardis’ for three years before embarking on our road trip. During those three years, we prepared her for the epic journey.
In the first year, we had the first of many chats with Kombi guru, Jamie at Motorworks. Taking Jamie’s advice we opted for a little extra grunt by taking the engine from 1600cc to 1776cc and fitting a Weber carb.
Year two saw several bits of rust coming through in all the usual places.
Year two saw several bits of rust coming through in all the usual places. The bottom half was stripped back, any bog removed and replaced with new tin. We also had her lowered so that she would fit into the garage as well as hug the corners. Year three was all about the interior. We undertook a complete strip down of the interior and had new fit out designed by Art at DasBunker Autos.
Our previous road trips had been long weekends. This time we were planning on covering close to 3,800 kilometres taking in some of the most stunning locations New Zealand has to offer. After a crazy last couple of weeks of downsizing, we were finally ready to hit the open road.
Our previous road trips had been long weekends. This time we were planning on covering close to 3,800 kilometres taking in some of the most stunning locations New Zealand has to offer. After a crazy last couple of weeks of downsizing, we were finally ready to hit the open road. Our worldly belongings now fitted into a couple of backpacks and three filing boxes. Our only other asset was The Tardis.
Our first stop was the thermal wonderland that is Rotorua. The rotten egg smell of sulphur sits like a force field over the city. The start wasn’t without a technical glitch. Some Kiwi roads have the look and feel of a lunar landscape and in a lowered bus we felt every bump. After a couple hundred kilometres of not so smooth roads, our tow bar had bent and the bikes were almost touching the ground. Throwing the bikes inside the bus we arrived at the camp site as darkness fell.
Posting an update on our VW club (DMFV) Facebook page brought about an instant solution to the bike problem. It turned out that a club member Mark was living in Rotorua and also ran ROAM Industries, a distribution business specialising in vehicle bikes racks. The power of dub membership!
Rotorua is a fascinating town, the thermal activity provides a pre-historic landscape especially at Wai-O-Tapu with its Lady Jane geyser that erupts (with the help of some washing powder) daily at 10.30am. The free mountain bike park is also exhilarating, nestled in the giant redwood forest.
After a relaxing three days, we continued our journey south. Stopping overnight by the Rangitikei River surrounded by imposing white cliffs. Totally empty and a gem of a site. A short hop down the road is the town of Bulls, where the locals have made an ‘incredi-bull’ effort to play on the town’s name.
The cruise towards our nation’s capital, Wellington, takes you along rugged coastline. In bad weather, the surf often comes crashing over the road, today the sun was shining thankfully.
The Cook Strait that connects the South Island and the North Island has a fearsome reputation. The three-hour ferry crossing can at times test the resolve of even the saltiest of sea dogs. Having checked the weather forecast, Julie opted to take a short flight across the Strait leaving me to safely escort our pride and joy. It turned out to be not quite as bad as forecasted, more than can be said of the bumpy flight.
Picton is the ferry’s destination and gateway to the Queen Charlotte Sound. Beautiful tree-lined coves with crystal clear waters stretch the whole length of the Sound. Our chosen campsite was right at the water’s edge of one such cove. This had to be one of our favourite sites of the whole trip. Each morning Mother duck and a dozen ducklings would come to say hi. We water taxied into the Sound and mountain biked back 20 kilometres. We found time to kayak around some of the many bays staring in wonder at some of the gorgeous homes. We could have quite happily spent the whole six weeks in this paradise.
Travelling west along the top of the South Island we motored on to the Abel Tasman National Park.
In the height of summer, this region is full to bursting and we could totally understand why. If the Sound is paradise then Abel Tasman has to be heaven.
We caught a water taxi to Anchorage Bay, passing bay after bay of white sandy beaches and turquoise blue water and hiked 18 kilometres back to Marahau. The next day I joined a kayaking trip.
The highlight of the day, spending time watching seal pups frolic around in the shallow waters of Adele Island. Returning in time to whip up a Kombi curry. Yep, we could have stayed here the whole six weeks.
Nelson Lakes National Park looked like it had a lot to offer so we headed over for a gander. A rustic location on Lake Rotoiti was home for the night. There is again a heap of things to do in the area.
We choose a trek between the two camp grounds around a headland. It is at Lake Rotoiti that we had our first encounter with the ‘beasts', the dreaded sandfly.Cue dramatic music....These little beasts can devour a person whole in a matter of minutes, well that's what it felt like.
Two weeks in and we were really enjoying life on the road. The Tardis was drawing admiring smiles as we rode through rural New Zealand.
On the west coast, we found a remote campsite north of Westport at Gentle Annie’s Beach. The beach was another world. It's where driftwood for the entire world comes to rest. It looked like a scene from an epic battle, bodies strewn everywhere, only in this case it was wood of every shape and size. Besides us, there was only one other couple (spookily a friend of a friend) and a handful of wekas (a quite rare native NZ flightless bird). If you ever want to disappear off the edge of the world, this is the place to come.
South of Westport is the end of the Old Ghost Road bike trail. An 85-kilometre track that takes you through some long forgotten gold mining towns. The towns now inhabited by the odd ghost and some scary men in Lycra.
We tried to tackle the last 20 kilometres starting at the end and working our way in.
The West coast is truly wild at Punakaiki. The spectacular rock formations known as Pancake Rocks put on a wonderful show of brute force as the sea tries to batter the rocks into submission. We also had a near perfect sunset, the sky ablaze with colour, bringing to a perfect end the first part of our road trip through paradise.
As printed in Volkswagen Camper & Commercial Magazine June 2017, Part 2 coming soon.