Half way through our road trip around New Zealand we found ourselves travelling down the west Coast of the South Island. The scenery like most of New Zealand is breathtaking. The west coast offers wild beaches, glaciers, rainforest, picture postcards lakes and much more.
Early morning is the best time to visit Lake Matheson. With the right conditions the lake is like a mirror, perfectly reflecting the Southern Alps and Mount Cook. We walked as close as we could to the terminus of Fox Glacier, warning signs everywhere spelling out the danger of falling ice. The signs still didn't stop two visitors being crushed by a chunk of ice after climbing over a fence a few years back.
At Franz Josef Glacier we came across humps with bumps. Those crazy DOC (Department of Conservation) guys have totally worked out how to wreak a lowered Kombi. You put speed humps in and then insert rocks into the top of the humps. Hmmmm.
The drive to our next stop Wanaka, was the best yet. We skirted down the coastline, cut inland over the Haast Pass and then along the side of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. Clear blue skies and scenery lifted straight from the cover of a jigsaw puzzle. Wanaka is an outdoor lover’s mecca. There are some fantastic walks around the lake’s edge.
Clear blue skies and scenery lifted straight from the cover of a jigsaw puzzle. Wanaka is an outdoor lover’s mecca. There are some fantastic walks around the lake’s edge.
Hikes to the top of Mount Iron and Diamond Lake are rewarded with panoramas of the town and surrounding countryside.
It's hard to pick a favourite place we had visited so far. But Wanaka topped the list for both of us; its relaxed nature and the outdoor lifestyle make it easy to fall in love with.
After a wonderful four days it was time to set sail again. We had decided to splash out on an overnight cruise on the Doubtful Sound. Te Anau was as far south as we had planned on driving. This small thriving town is the gateway to the Fiordland National Park, including Doubtful and Milford Sounds. The Tardis had the perfect bedroom window from which to admire the lake.
We swapped the Kombi for a cabin on the 20 metre long Southern Secret. After stepping on board we enjoyed a lunch of fresh crayfish, steak and various salads. This was going to be an enjoyable 24 hours. Our fellow passengers were four other couples, from NZ, UK, USA and Australia. The boat had two crew, a salty old skipper and a very attractive Dutch girl.
Although the advertised penguins and dolphins failed to make an appearance, we did see several fur seals. The overcast weather with the clouds hugging the top of the peaks added more drama to the already spectacular views. Julie tried her hand at fishing for the first time. Call it beginner's luck but she managed to catch a blue nosed cod, a trevally, a dogfish and a small shark. The time flew by, fishing, chilling, drinking wine and getting to know our fellow passengers.
Having taken our time cruising the South Island it was time to head north and put the pedal to the metal. We had to be on the Cook Strait ferry to Wellington in four days. Then on to Taupo for the Easter weekend and the 25th New Zealand Volkswagen Nationals.
The road north took us over the spectacular Lindis Pass. Going up the hills was always slow but The Tardis kept going. We arrived at Lake Pukaki to find a young Aussie couple in a rented Kombi trying to fix the water pump that had flooded their mobile home. A loan of a spanner or two helped get them on their way.
Lake Tekapo is home to International Dark Sky Reserve. The observatory at the top of Mount John boasting one of best places in the world to see the night sky. In daylight we nursed The Tardis around several first gear corners to reach the top of the mount to be rewarded with sweeping views of the Mackenzie basin.
Continuing north we stopped the night at Hanmer Springs for a much-needed soak in the famous thermal hot pools. With pools of various temperatures to choose from we slowly brought our aching bodies back to life.
With our time in the South Island ebbing away with alacrity we spent our second to last day in Kaikoura. I was up bright and early to jump on a Whale Watch tour boat. Julie had done this trip a few years back. On that occasion, she saw three different species of whales and 400 hundred cavorting dolphins. With camera charged and ready the boat headed out to sea. Three hours later we returned with not a single sighting of any wildlife whatsoever.
We hooked up with small convey that had started in Dunedin that morning. Imagine the joy when our fellow VDub nuts explained that they pulled over just south of the town on the coast road to watch an awesome dolphin display. So much for heading out to sea on the Whale Watch trip.
When the convoy hit the outskirts of Blenheim we veered off in search of refreshment, sticking our noses in at Wither Hill Winery. A perfect spot to sample some of the best wines the Marlborough region has to offer.
The ferry ride the following morning was nice and smooth, so much so that Julie decided to chance it. Wildlife made an appearance as we left the Marlborough Sound in the form of half a dozen dolphins. Blink and you missed them as they darted in front of the ferry. Better late than never I guess.
As soon as we docked in Wellington we raced north to catch up with the convoy that left an hour before us. It
was only when we got half way to Taupo that we met up with the now much larger group of VDubbers. We had the edge on most of the other Kombis on the hills. That investment in a little extra horsepower was doing its stuff. For a few fleeting kilometres we actually headed the convoy!
Arriving in Taupo after just over 6 hours driving left us both a bit stressed and niggily. That only got worse when we hit the local supermarket to find it busier than a Middle Eastern bazaar. There were almost fist fights over the hot cross buns and Easter eggs.
The campground was straight from a 1970's Volkswagen brochure. Beetles and Kombis of all colours as far as the eye could see. We hit it off straightaway with our two Kombi owning neighbours, sharing a few beers over the long weekend.
Saturday was the big day.
Almost 400 cars on display for the show and shine. Most primped and polished within an inch of their lives. We were pleased as punch when our campsite neighbour picked up second place in the Bay category.
After 3,800 kilometres of smooth running, The Tardis decided to pack a sad. We had been at a BBQ in Taupo with a group of friends including Jamie from Motorworks. We backed out of the drive only to grind to a halt no more than 10 metres away. Well, if you are going to break down there's no better place. Jamie and the rest of the party decamped to our engine bay, torches and sonic screwdrivers in hand. Forty minutes later and a quick lesson in hot wiring, we were on our way. The culprit, a wire behind the fan housing that had shorted and blown the ignition.
So there you have it. What a glorious way to start our long term travels. We love New Zealand with its miles of empty golden beaches, dramatic mountain ranges, lush green countryside, and incredibly warm and friendly people. And a Kombi is really the best way to experience it.
Footnote. The plan was to ship The Tardis to the UK and tour around Europe for 12 months. But a couple of weeks after leaving New Zealand we received an unexpected offer that was too good to refuse. So with a heavy heart we sold our beloved Tardis and our first Kombi adventure came to an end.
As printed in Volkswagen Camper & Commercial Magazine July 2017