Written by Alan McBride
Why would anyone do such a thing?
The weather was great but cold,
It was quiet,
The roads were generally good and all were met before any substantial snow falls occurred,
The van parks and camp sites were relatively empty,
And to top it all we were able to get some great hotel rates as it was low season! (Yes I know we had a camper-van but half the fun of it was finding some great places to stay.
As a bonus, most restaurants, pubs and tourist attractions were functioning as normal and nowhere had any sort of holiday loading nor did we miss anything due to being there in the off-season..
Spending a few days in Christchurch first (where we flew into from Sydney) was a lot of fun. A little rain only highlights Christchurch and particularly the spectacular Christchurch Cathedral and Cathedral Square.
Of particular interest was the small "French town" of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula just over an hour from town. A cruise on Akaroa Harbour was brilliant for the pleasant winter weather, lack of passengers on such a large, comfortable boat, magnificent scenery and of course the wonderful wildlife on display which included, birds, seals and a playfully cute Hector's Dolphin; the world's smallest dolphin.
From Christchurch we drove over the Southern Alps leaving New Zealand's Canterbury province and heading for the West Coast. Love a country you can drive across in a day, stopping briefly to take in the splendour of Arthurs Pass. It's hard to stop briefly and take in the splendour of any part of New Zealand! Every turn in the road (and there are lots) has a more splendid view than the last. After two days we actually had to think whether we would stop for another Kodak moment or press on with seeing the rest of the South Island! We were going to miss lots of NZ by looking at lots of NZ!
A short stay at Punakaiki to see the famous Pancake Rocks and to experience just how cold the wind blows down here, was followed by three nights at The Rainforest Retreat Resort in Franz Josef township. An excellent resort with their own bar and restaurant, minutes from the town centre and the departure point for glacier trips.
We chose a helicopter trip on the basis that "we wont do it again". Expensive I know but an absolutely outstanding experience with the most stunning views imaginable on a glorious South Island winters day.
Queenstown was next and unlike the camper-van experience this is where we chose to have our luxury moment. Two nights at Azur hotel in Queenstown is indeed a luxury moment - 5 stars can't do Azur justice. Great views across Lake Wakatipu, lavish rooms followed by one of the most generously prepared breakfasts I have experienced anywhere in the world made for a very welcome break.
Another lakeside room at Te Anau at the Distinction Luxmore from where we explored the Eglington Valley and up to Milford Sound both situated in Fiordland National Park. Nothing like driving along a glacial valley to get the oohs and aahs going again at the numerous photo stops! Moody and magnificent is a cruise on Milford Sound. It's so difficult not to overload on superlatives here so I wont. Fill in your own though, simply . . . . . . . . . . . ing!
Our time now running out we drove from Te Anau to Dunedin where the major attraction was the Penguin Parade of the critically endangered Yellow-eyed Penguin on the Otago Peninsula. Being face to face with a penguin while underground is surely one of wildlife's great moments. Pushing on the next day to Christchurch via another photo opportunity called Lake Tekapo; we would have stayed here without a moments hesitation where it not for the expected "snow overnight". No doubt our All Wheel Drive Spaceship would have handled it but that made no allowance for authorities possibly choosing to close the roads so we headed off for an extra night in Christchurch!
Stopping our Spaceship everywhere for photo ops allowed us to swing out the stove, make a cuppa, a soup drink or a sandwich. Having the vehicle fully equipped with stove, fridge, storage space for hundreds of people, really allowed us to take full advantage of New Zealand's stunning winter scenery.
An all year experience but we specifically went in Winter for the mountains and snow, even though we don't ski. A superb experience anytime but great deals on camper-vans with Spaceships in Winter.
In fact, after this trip, I'd probably always hire a camper-van instead of a rental car: it's brilliant to have the stove and kitchen equipment to draw on at some superb sites and takes the reliance off finding somewhere for lunch!
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