On the road

November 2017

Mt Cook

Mt Cook


A Desired journey

After settling in Christchurch for two and a half months I had itchy feet to see more. Of course I had done the day trips to Akaroa, Kaikoura and the surrounding area but I craved more. The gypsy in me needed to get out of the city and sleep under the stars. So that’s what I did. I was working as a waitress in a restaurant (I needed the money), but wow was it a depressing place to be. The only perk to working there was the free glass of wine after a shift, probably not the best reason to stay. So that was that, I worked my notice and left for the freedom of the open road, two fellow travellers in tow.

Driving out of Christchurch and seeing the mountains gave me a sense of glee, excitement flowed too along with the laughter. Why had I not done this sooner! We headed south to Lake Tekapo, the city was far behind us now, nothing but mountains surrounded us. Our first night was spent at a campsite by Lake McGregor, a remote place that had an unusually high number of inquisitive ducks.  Watching the sun set and the stars appear whilst drinking wine was pretty perfect. Laid on airbeds staring up at a clear night sky, which was littered with stars, was dreamy, pointing out constellations and spotting satellites and meteorites. If only you could bottle up a moment in time for future use. Driving to Lake Pukaki we stopped and cooked breakfast under the shade of a tree. Before paddling in the lake and seeing how far we could skim stones across a very still lake, which reflected Mt Cook. Walking up from the lake I found my friend laying on a patch of grass staring up at the sky, I laid beside her and did the same, putting ‘I’m going to soak up the sun’ on in the back ground. A very fitting song for the moment. 

We arrived at Mt Cook and sat in the boiling sun and had an ice cream, before setting off on the Hooker Valley trail. I wasn’t feeling 100% and wasn’t sure if I was going to do the walk but wow am I pleased I did. It’s up there with the best walks I’ve ever done. Three suspension bridges later I was standing in front of a glacial lake, staring at Mt Cook., awestruck. The time was ticking and we still hadn’t planned where we were going to camp. We decided to stay at a free campsite about an hour away, so off we drove again. Stopping at Lake Pukaki, we parked at a view point and walked down to the lake, all three of us went in for a swim, natures bath. Feeling completely free until we turned around to find people standing at the viewpoint with cameras. Waiting for the sun to set. After leaving the free campsite that was an area of land at the side of the road, with one very questionable toilet, we visited the Clay Cliffs. Driving for what seemed like forever down a gravel road we were presented with the cliffs. Pretty impressive. We spent time wandering and relaxing, posing for photos amongst the lupins, which painted the area in pinks and purples. Next stop was a picnic area where we made noodles with water from the stream. They were surprisingly good and set us up for the journey to Wanaka. 

Wanaka, I love you already. A cosy town by a lake, surrounded by mountains, what’s not to love? The first thing we did when we arrived was to park up by the lake, throw on our swimming gear and run into the lake. Splashing about and jumping off the platoon like children, is this not what travelling is all about, forgetting the stresses of being an adult! We treated ourselves to a proper campsite for a couple of nights and explored the town. Walking up Mt Iron, eating a burrito from a food van, chilling by the lake and of course having a drink or three, were just some of the highlights. Whilst we were in Wanaka we gained another traveller. A friend we had made whilst in New Zealand who wanted to join us for the rest of the trip. So three became four, the more the merrier! 

Our last night in Wanaka was a good one, walking down the lake with wine and blankets and just watching the stars listening to the water. Good times, with great people. I was sad to say good bye to Wanaka but I knew I would be back. On the road again we headed to a free campsite about an hour out of Wanaka. It should have been an easy drive but things don’t always go to plan! Taking a wrong turn we went towards Queenstown over the Cardrona valley, with its high, steep winding roads, oh and it was raining… it was only about a 40 minute detour. The scenery was amazing though, I felt very small amongst the mountains. Arriving at the campsite we put our tents up in the rain and drank wine when it stopped. Morning came and we were awoken by construction workers telling us we needed to move so they could work. Not the best wake up call. We packed up and moved down the road to another free campsite alongside a lake. We chilled here for a long while, making pancakes for breakfast and swimming in the lake. Swimming in lakes has become a favourite pastime it seems. Finally pulling ourselves away from the lake we drove to Queenstown. It was a shock. So many people, traffic and unfamiliarity. All of us had gotten used to being in the wild, hardly any people and peace. We didn’t stay long. No offence Queenstown but you are for another road trip. 

After the unexpected shock of Queenstown we headed back into the wilderness, first stop Mt Aspiring National Park. Tramping down paths to see waterfalls and the blue pools, skimming stones and relaxing, with no agenda and no worries. Well only one, the sandflies were hell. It turned out we had swapped the tourists for sandflies. I don’t know which is worst! We just had to get used to being bitten. I guess you can’t have all the beauty without at least one flaw.  Driving up the west coast we found a little beach and as we meandered down the beach pushing our feet into the soft sand, we saw dolphins, so many close to the shore. Another magical moment that’s so hard to express in words. All four of us sat and watched as they dived in and out of the water, oh and the beach was empty so it was a show just for us. 

We stayed on a campsite at Gillespies beach, about an hour down a gravel road and you are presented with a campsite right on the beach. This was really back to basics with just a toilet and no phone signal. Yes we did just have to talk to each other. It really was beautiful and the sunset was incredible. The only slight problem was the masses of sandflies and the possums, which if you weren’t careful would have ended up in the tent with you. We sat and watched the sun set over the sea and woke the following morning, all examining how many bites we had accumulated, lets just say it was a few! Four travellers also became three again, the comings and goings of people on the road, the ultimate freedom of the gypsy life. The three of us continued on, deciding that we liked the wilderness that Gillespies beach provided and so stayed another night. Using the day to walk to a remote beach through a jungle like environment. We were the only ones at the beach, well the only humans; we were in the presence of many seals. It was hot though so we sat and watched the world go by, using the pebbles to create our own hot stone massages. After deciding that we could probably do with a shower we left the beach for the glaciers. Treating ourselves to a campsite with a shower, yes a shower! We spent the next two days getting clean and walking to see both Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. It’s pretty crazy when you think about going around the corner from a beach to see a glacier. Mind Blown…!

After a good rest and many photos of the glacier later we moved on to Hokitika, not really knowing what was there or where we were going to stay. Planning was not top on our list. Hokitika turned out to be a little gem of a town with the most amazing beach. Yes I love beaches. We managed to talk our way into staying at a great campsite, on the side of the beach and had the bonus of farm animals. Who doesn’t love sharing their breakfast with chickens? We visited Hokitika Gorge, such blue water and the glowworm cave which was conveniently just across the road from the campsite. The best part though was the incredible sunset, which we watched from the beach with wine, beer and great company. I’ve never seen the sky so pink and the clouds looked like a palace in the sky (I wasn’t drunk I promise). So after a great couple of days in Hokitika we were back on the road with the next stop being Arthurs Pass. Sitting in a café at Arthurs pass we were greeted by the presence of cheeky Kia birds, searching for food scraps. It was really great to see them even if they were raiding butter packets and not exactly in their natural habitat.

It was here that we also met up with a fellow traveller whom we all knew. We set up camp just outside of Arthurs Pass, another wilderness spot with nothing apart from a disgusting toilet (yes the bush was a better alternative) and then went for a walk. Walking through a river and across the river plane to reach a DOC (department of conservation) hut, it was a good walk and although we didn’t stay the night in the hut, I’m pleased I saw one. Who knows maybe that will be another adventure. The night ended with a fire pit and beer, the fire thankfully keeping the sandflies at bay. I did have a scare though, as I went to the toilet in the bushes a deer was standing there, I spooked it and it defiantly spooked me. Well you don’t expect to see a deer when you go to the loo! Arthurs pass was a great experience to end on as the next day we headed back to Christchurch. Driving back into Christchurch and into the city I didn’t feel ready. I parked outside the hostel and wanted to turn around and drive back to the mountains. My love for the freedom of the road had been born; another trip was going to be planned. What an amazing experience being on the road was, near perfect weather, great company and memories that will last a lifetime.