After spending most of the day in Christchurch, last Wednesday, we headed towards Lake Tekapo. Much of the drive was fairly flat and straight, so we made good progress despite starting out late. As we got closer to the lake the weather set in again, though – it started to rain fairly heavily – so we opted to stay in a place called Fairlie, which was half an hour closer than the lake. Musterers High Country Accommodation ended up being a great place to stay: when we woke – thankfully to much better weather – we found ourselves basically on a farm with goats, sheep, donkeys and llamas.
The kids (and their parents) loved it. A great start to the day.
We eventually headed on to Lake Tekapo, which was also fantastic…
After enjoying the lakeside – visiting the little chapel down by the water, and enjoying a simple picnic on some nearby rocks – we decided to treat ourselves to a dip in the Lake Tekapo Hot Springs. While days are often warm(ish) in New Zealand at this time of year – we’re now properly in spring – the nights can often get really cold. A soak in warm pools was just what we needed to thaw our bones and prepare us for the following night.
As we’d warmed up nicely we ended up deciding to “freedom camp” that night, which meant going without power (and heat).
An aside about our camping rhythm: Our campervan is certified self-contained, which means we can camp pretty much anywhere they let you park overnight. That said, we generally find we need to camp somewhere with power every other night: without power you end up draining the “leisure battery” (a 12-volt system in addition to the one connected to the van’s normal electrics) fairly quickly, especially if you use the heating. And as we don’t like leaving the power connected overnight – we like the heat, but the transformer to charge the leisure battery is under one of the beds… we tried to sleep one night with power connected, and it was a disaster – we also don’t have as many hours connected to mains power as we otherwise might.
All this to say that we typically try to find a powered site every other night at a minimum. In Omarama – the town we stopped at after Lake Tekapo – we did check out a holiday park but its powered sites were on the pricey side, so we headed back to the Ahuriri Bridge Campsite – just a kilometre outside the town – to stay there. Which was just fine, and completely free.
Here’s a shot we took that night as we visited the dumping station in Omarama:
After our stay by the Ahuriri Rover we continued on towards Queenstown. By this point it was Friday: we knew we had to drop the campervan back in Queenstown on Saturday morning and so decided we’d stop in Arrowtown for Friday night. A big thanks to Justin Ralston for the great suggestions about what to do there! They were extremely helpful.
The road to Arrowtown passes through the Lindis Valley – another beautiful place.
Nearing Arrowtown we saw a sign for Goldfields Mining Centre. This looked like a lot of fun: we booked a tour and learned a lot about the local goldrushes of the 1850s and 1860s. The kids got to hold a few nuggets of gold, which they loved.
We even saw some old mining equipment that was (incredibly) still operational!
After the tour – which was really interesting – we had the chance to try our hand at panning for gold. We shovelled some river rocks and mud into our pans and were shown how to gradually remove the waste material. One trick is to put a lead ball into the pan: lead has a specific gravity of 11, while gold’s is 19, which means that if you still have your lead ball at the end then any gold in the pan should be near it.
It was great fun: I have to admit I was sceptical that any gold was actually in the river mud they had there, but I ended up finding a gold flake! Here it is next to my lead ball.
After this we headed into Arrowtown where – keeping with the mining theme – we visited the old Chinese Mining Settlement. It was very interesting – and a little sad – to learn about the conditions these miners lived in when they came to New Zealand.
We spent the night at Arrowtown’s only campervan park – which was really lovely – and then headed into Queenstown to drop the campervan off.
A few weeks ago we’d realised we weren’t going to have enough time in New Zealand, so we’d pushed our onwards flight to Sydney out by 3 days… from the 28th to the 31st. We couldn’t extend the campervan rental and so opted to stay in a hostel in central Queenstown: this was really a lot of fun – the Adventure Queenstown Hostel regularly wins awards for being one of the best in New Zealand, and I can see why. It was great for the kids to get a feel for the backpacker lifestyle, so I’m really happy we did it.
It was strange (but actually great) to have proper beds again for a few nights. We toyed with various options – taking a tour to Milford Sound, taking the gondola up to get the view across the surrounding area – but in the end we just enjoyed the town of Queenstown, visiting the Kiwi Birdlife Park (where we could see kiwis feeding, as they have enclosures with the day and night cycles reversed so visitors could see these otherwise reclusive, nocturnal birds), exploring the botanical gardens, taking the TSS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak, even trying the local escape room. We knew there were lots of things we were missing out on, but that’s life. We had a great time with absolutely gorgeous weather, so we have no complaints at all about our choices in Queenstown.
Here are a few photos:
On the last night we managed to catch up with Justin and Rachel Ralston for a quick drink. Thanks again for all the tips, Justin!
And so our New Zealand adventure comes to a close. We loved every bit of our 16 days here. We saw spectacular sights and had a warm welcome from all the people we met. There are a hundred more things we would have done if we’d had the time (and the energy), but these will have to wait for another trip. I have no doubt that we’ll be back.
From here we’re in Australia for about two weeks, initially in Sydney and then back in a motorhome for the road trip from Brisbane to Cairns.
By the way… if you’ve enjoyed these photos, you can see more (and more regularly) via our Instagram page.