After our hike up Ben Lomond we decided we needed a bit of rest and relaxation, so we headed for the small lakeside town of Wanaka. There were two different routes to get there, one was around the Crown Range Mountains, and the other was straight over the top and is New Zealands highest paved road.
The campervan rental company do not allow their vehicles over the Crown Range Road because it is apparently too steep in places!
“Oh well”, said Steve, “Looks like I’ll see you in Wanaka”, as he set off on his bike up the hill and Sarah put on her music and set off on the long way around!
Wanaka is almost like Queenstown’s little brother. It’s in a lakeside setting with snow capped mountains in the distance, but it has a totally different feel.
The town had everything we needed without the chaos, crowds and traffic of Queenstown. We could even park right on the lake front, open up the back of the campervan, and sit either inside or out depending on how hot it was getting.
We had three gloriously sunny days and enjoyed driving along the lake stopping at the little bays taking in the different scenery. One day we pulled off at Glendhu Bay for a quick morning coffee and ended up staying for five hours, just watching the lakeside activities on and off the water.
After a couple of days of lounging around Steve was ready to get his trainers on again and it was time for a long run. He planned a 35km trail route along the lake with accessible places for Sarah to drive ahead, sit out and provide food and drink as he ran past!
After Wanaka it was time to head to a less visited part of New Zealand, The Catlins. It just so happens that ‘Catlin’ is Sarah’s maiden name so we were always going to visit there. Plus it was just over a year since Sarah’s father passed away so it was good to go there and remember him.
However, on the way to The Catlins we passed through a small but pretty village of Clyde on the banks of Cluther River. This also happened to be the home (well, one of them!) of the lovely couple we met in Christchurch, Janet and Brent.
We were passing through at a weekend and although they weren’t there on the Saturday they offered their driveway as a campsite to us and also offered to cook dinner for us on the Sunday when they returned.
We spent Saturday and Sunday exploring the town, the numerous riverside trails and the huge, relatively recently constructed dam.
Sunday afternoon and evening was spent with Janet and Brent. Janet has had some professional culinary training and worked for a while in the restaurant of a vineyard in Marlborough. She prepared us all a lovely meal of duck with so many veggies straight out of the garden.
They were a super interesting couple having lived in New York and also owning, managing and working a vineyard for many years, before starting, building and eventually selling an I.T. business.
We chatted and laughed for hours before it was time to retire to our little campsite on the drive.
We had planned to call in on them again for coffee a few days later at their other home in Dunedin, but unfortunately time and weather scuppered that plan.
So, onto The Catlins. Wild, rugged, remote were all ways we had seen the area described. To be honest, it reminded both of us in many ways of the North Yorkshire Coast in The UK, where both of us spent time as kids.
Obviously the forests and vegetation away from the cliffs was very different, but the rock formations were similar and standing on the cliff edge looking out to sea and watching the waves smash against the rocks below, transported us both back in time!
First stop was Slope Point. This is the equivalent of Lands End. Well strictly speaking it’s the equivalent of John ‘O’ Groats taking into account we’re in The Southern Hemisphere and everything in this part of New Zealand has a strong Scottish influence, except the accent of course! Invercargill, Dunedin, Clyde, Alexandra, literally everywhere is named after a Scottish equivalent.
Over a couple of days we made our way across the 100 miles or so of coast that is The Catlins, stopping at the places of interest.
Wherever in The World we do a roadtrip one thing that is ever present is ‘road kill’. Whether it’s badgers in rural England, raccoons in The States, guanaca in Patagonia or kangaroos in Australia, road kill is always there. We once even saw a camel in Australia.
New Zealand is no different. So it was with no surprise that after an early start one morning in The Catlins, with no other vehicles on the road, on the horizon we saw a lifeless object laying in the road. As we got nearer it became obvious some poor creature hadn’t had a successful night time road crossing. Steve moved to the other side of the road to avoid splattering the remains up the van and Sarah gave the roadkill a good inspection.
Steve then did extremely well to keep the van on the road as Sarah turned to him and said, “Was that a porpoise?”. Steve processed what had just been said, then burst into laughter and started crying! After he composed himself he turned to Sarah and said, “No, a possum”.
To be fair, in Sarah’s defence it was very early in the morning and we were heading to Porpoise Bay!
We have discovered over the years that places of interest vary enormously and are very subjective. In an area where places of interest are high density, London, for example, somethings which would be a highlight elsewhere don’t get a look in. Whereas in outback Australia anything that isn’t red dirt becomes an iconic feature. We have literally seen a broken down tractor left in situ for 30 years and a sign put next to it with ‘Museum’ written on it!
The Catlins are more towards the Ozzie Outback end of the scale. Yes, it is a lovely place to visit and drive through. There are some interesting coastal features, waterfalls, forests and trails and a few sea lions dotted about. It is very much like Scotland and we have been spoilt over the last couple of weeks with some outstanding scenery. But like I said earlier these things are subjective and personal preferences are very different.
One place we visited for a short stop and a coffee, stood out as a definite one off. The Lost Gypsy Caravan was unusual to say the least. A collection of tiny gadgets made by the owner over his lifetime, all jumbled together covering every possible inch of space in an old caravan.
Our final stop along The Catlins was at Nugget Point lighthouse. The is an extremely photogenic location and apparently at sunrise even more so. We couldn’t make it that early in the morning due to being too far away the night before and dodging porpoises on the road, but we still got a couple of good shots!
With The Catlins done we had intended to head to Dunedin and another visit with Janet and Brent. However, Steve’s race is starting to loom big on the horizon and it was time for a few days intense training and with the weather looking non too great where we were, we needed to change plans. So when Steve suggested to go back to Wanaka where unbroken sunshine and high 20’s were forecast, Sarah didn’t take much persuading. So back to Wanaka for another four days it was.
We could have easily spent a month there. Not only is it in a great setting, but the list of outdoor activities seemed endless. The town has some excellent individual restaurants, cafés, bars and shops and all the locals we met were very friendly.
Wanaka also has a superb cinema ‘The Paradiso’. It’s as much about the experience as the actual movie. It has three small screens with sofas as well as normal cinema seating. The screen we were in even had a couple of actual cars in there, modified for comfort and the ‘Drive In’ experience.
They have a half time intermission where you get a massive freshly baked cookie and you can even have beer and pizza. It doesn’t matter what you watch, it’s just a great evening out.
Sarah spent time by the lake reading and Steve trained and trained. He almost got so tired he could have fallen asleep in a bowl of spaghetti like he did once in Tuscany!
As much as we could have stayed longer in Wanaka it was time to leave as there was a small period of good weather forecast for Mount Cook National Park and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see that.