By Graham Wallace
GoSee left Christchurch on a glorious sunny day under clear skies and with not a breath of breeze and headed the rented Toyota Rav4 clockwise around the north half of the South Island. The clockwise approach was at the advice of New Zealand friends.
They suggested the precaution so that if during the week on the road we planned, the weather turned nasty and late seasonal snow fell, we would not get stuck and blocked coming back across Arthurs Pass. This is not likely in September-October but we took the local advice. For an extra $9.95 NZ we also rented a GPS to take the headaches out of trying to read a map whilst driving.
Although I plan more time in Christchurch at the end of the journey, I was keen to visit the Antarctic Centre and see the offerings at this NZ award winning attraction.
Toys for Antarctic boys. Snow Bike at Antarctic Centre
I started by looking through their great static display, then in to the deep freeze where they simulate an Antarctic Summer Blizzard. Then a ride on the Hagglund Antarctic vehicle through their driver training and test track.
Of course there were the penguins to look at and the kids visiting wanted one of the cute birds. The Antarctic centre has to be on everyones list of must see and do when in the South Island.
Then after dropping Angela GoSeeNewZealands Operations and Sales Manager at the Christchurch Airport for her flight back to Rotorua it was off towards Arthurs Pass.
But at the base of the mountains only 50 minutes from Christchurch was my first planned New Zealand experience, the Jet Boat ride considered a rite of passage for any trip to New Zealand.
Greg from Waimak Alpine Jet Boats kitted me up with life jacket and spray vest and yes there are gloves if you want, then join the other thrill seekers and into the boat we went.
Arrrrgh, the mandatory briefing from Greg: Hold on and when I make this signal hold on tighter, got it, and away we go. First a couple of sample spins and turns close to the start point as Greg tests if we are made of the right stuff for this trip?
The kids loved it and no one freaked out, so off we went for our 45 min, up the river ride. Occasionally Greg stopped for photo opportunities and to relate the features of the river and mountains we were passing and before we knew it, the 45 minutes had passed and we were back at the start with everyone on board acknowledging they had a great time.
Next activity was the Unimog ride giving a unique insight into the local geography, area history and explain day-to-day life on a sheep station in the foothills of the Southern Alps. For the 4WD enthusiasts this also had some moments our driver after the tour dropped those that were going on the TranzAlpine Train
Journey at the Station.
Back of hot tracks
For me it was back into the Rav4 and on up the hills. The views were breathtaking and watching the road and views had to be regulated with several stops to take that happy snappy.
I was fascinated with the luggage lift up to Temple Basin Ski Field Goods Lift. Stopped and talked to the young man who informed me they pass the luggage up the lift and then you hike the about an hour to the lodge where fun was to be had by all, I declined as I felt it would take me two hours if I made it at all and proceeded on my way.
I had planned a stop for the night at Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation at Hokitika and booked into one of their self-contained accommodation options and was extremely impressed with the standard of this Motor Camp.
The unit I was in was first class and was one of about eight available. The local town has a range of options for meals and I ran into the Studbaker vintage Car club who also stopped for the night.
Like most vintage car guys once the automotive gems were put to bed the partying was started.
Next day I planned some more muddy fun as I had heard that On Yer Bike just north of Greymouth also had Hagglunders and I wanted more. I sweet talked Mike from On Yer Bike who said he would let me have a drive.
El Trucko pilots the Hagglund around the test track
Well a couple times around the test track and I now see the limitations of my Landcruiser back home. This Hagglund can go almost anywhere, including completely float and power across water.
The Hagglund is Easy to drive - two peddles go (accelerator) and stop (brake) with a fully automatic gearbox with a low range select.
It has a foot handbrake with button release. It needs to be left running for about two mins to cool before stopping after running.
The Hagglund will work in temperatures down to about -40 degrees centigrade. The suspension is non-existent and the Hagglund turns via dual push-pull hydraulic rams turning the trailer against the cab (both trailer and cab have full drive).
So the cab cannot be driven without trailer (well only in a straight line). The Hagglund is classed as a single unit vehicle which means the trailer is not a trailer but part the vehicle. And yes I do have a licence to drive one!
Mike also had buggies and quad bikes for the public to use in their attempt to have a muddy good time.
On Yer Bike supplies safety and wet gear so making it the complete experience.
http://www.onyerbike.co.nz/ On Yer Bike Off Road adventures is just out of Greymouth on the stunning West Coast of the South Island, New Zealand.
From Greymouth, drive to the Grey River and follow the signs towards Punakaiki and Westport on State Highway 6.
On Yer Bike is 5 minutes drive from the Grey River on State Highway 6. Look on the left, it is well signposted.
Co-located with On Yer Bike is Little Earth Model Village. Little Earth Model Village is a to scale reproduction of New Zealands Favourite ghost town 1930s Waiuta in a 1/12 scale. 1930s Waiuta is recreated at 1/12th scale with more than 250 buildings on one acre.
Gulliver Graham takes in Little Earth
Experience gold-mining history for yourself and meet some of the colourful characters in miniature of course that made Waiuta unique!
Waiuta was a booming gold mining town 60km east of Greymouth and is the South Islands richest known Gold Field. It was quickly deserted in 1951 after the collapse of one of its mine shafts and is now known as a ghost town with only a few buildings left standing.
Another great attraction in this area is Shanty Town at Paroa, with gold panning, and a steam train ride among its offerings. This attraction is great for the kids also and a look back at the way things were done in years gone by.
I also dropped into Greymouth Top10 Holiday Park to see their Jumping Pillow which was installed for the kids to play on (and the young at heart). This is a great place for a family to wear out the little mites ready for a good nights sleep. The pillow is installed adjacent to their elaborate playground.
I had heard about Mitchell Gully Gold Minehttp://www.mitchellsgullygoldmine.co.nz/ three kilometres north of Charleston, where they have restored the old diggings and now have the old water driven crusher going.
Val (Valentine) who was born and bred in the area was a font of knowledge and I spent quite a long time listening to the history of the mine and area and walking through the old diggings along the skip tracks. Note: this mine is not a replica but the real deal and now that it is back and in a working condition thanks to Vals efforts it is well worth the stop to look around.
There are many relics to be viewed and especially at the blacksmith workings, the partially finished pick was most interesting for the technically minded. Mitchells Gully is 22km south of Westport and only 38km north of New Zealand's world renowned Pancake Rocks on SH 6. 4km north of Charleston.
Westport Bush Bath is about relaxing with a good attitude
Angela said I must drop into The Soap Box at 114 Palmerston St., Westport and view the West Coast Bush Bath. The Soap Box was an interesting shop and gave me a chance to get some presents for home.
Out the back was the Bush Bath, interesting and I must admit in my travels I have seen nothing else like it. The West Coast Bush Bath is about relaxing with mother nature all around while you unwind and soak (and maybe sip a wine and have a little nibble).
Take a whole hour to have a bath. Turn your cell phone off and relax. There is choice of single or double bath, bubble bath or bath salts plus two complementary soaps and two wine glasses as needed.
Girls the shop is worth a visit for those things you cant live without.
The Soap Box has a range of soaps which the manufacturers claim are suitable for sensitive skin or those with other dermatological conditions.
Many of Soap Box customers repeat-order a specific product once they have found one they suit. Sometimes this involves trial and error, a not unpleasant process.
Buller Gorge Swing Bridge
The rest of the day was travelling up through Murchison and the Buller Gorge. Towards the top of the Gorge there is the Buller Swing Bridge and flying fox chair.
Buller is New Zealands longest Swing Bridge. The Buller Gorge Swingbridge Adventure and Heritage Park is situated right beside State Highway 6, 14 kilometres west of Murchison, en-route from Westport and the West Coast.
Having put in a big day I pulled into Kiwi Park Murchison, This 2009 award winning park has excellent accommodation for all budgets. It has a petting farm for the kids and those that love animals.
The standard of accommodation in the self-contained unit I selected was excellent and I found that the hotels in town within walkingdistance and their meals were satisfying.
Next day I continued up route 6 taking in the scenery which continued to amaze and went through Woodstock and Motueka towards Abel Tasman National Park to take in more scenery.
On the way back east I stuck my head in to the Motueka Top10 Holiday Park to access the standard and was amazed at the amount of current upgrade work in progress. It will be a great place to stay from what I saw with Jumping Pillows and first class accommodation for all budgets.
I continued east with the Award winning World of WearableArt and Classic Car Museum in Nelson my next must see stop.
http://www.wowcars.co.nz/ WOW. What can I say, simply fantastic. There are classic and vintage cars of all types including a smattering of motorcycles.
But visitors should ask to see the back shed, there are more cars out there then on display in the main hall. I could easily have spent a full day there, most cars are beautifully restored in what appears to be their own restoration area which can be seen from the back shed.
WOW Art Classic Cars. GoSee did not want to leave
The WearableArt was querky and interesting and I am sure the girls will have something to say about the way art is taken off the walls to adorn the body in wildly wonderful ways.
The historic garment collection is in a gallery infused with the theatrical atmosphere of music, lighting and movement. Mannequins twirl to inspired musical arrangements under lighting designed specifically to accentuate the beauty of these wonderful creations.
World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum is situated at 95 Quarantine Road, Annesbrook, Nelson. The Museum is en-route to Abel Tasman National Park, 8 mins drive from Nelson City, about 2 minutes drive from the Nelson Airport.
I continued on along my easterly route and headed for the Queen Charlotte Drive. This drive leads to Picton along the coast with some of the most breathtaking views available.
I had planned to stop at Smiths Farm Holiday Park. They also have accommodation for all budgets from motel-style to powered sites. Being in the valley their only means of TV is satellite and they have more channels available than most major centres. Smiths Farm also has an easy walk of about half an hour through their property to a waterfall up the hill. This made for great early morning exercise and I met many of the guests along the way.
They are well positioned to be used as a base to explore the many attractions and activities available in the area from the famous Queen Charlotte Track and Waikakaho Walkway through a historic goldfield area to sea kayaking, glow worms, fishing, wine tasting and the secluded beaches.
Personally I was taken with the Linkwater local hotel with its charm and nostalgia. Sandy, who is obviously a town character served bar, cooked the meals and seemed to do everything.
By nightfall after much exploring I arrived at Picton where the inter-island ferry lands. I booked a self-contoined unit at the Picton Top 10 Parkhttp://www.pictontop10.co.nz/ which is within walking distance of the town centre with its many bars and restaurants is just across the road from the main marina where you can wander around a myriad of pleasure craft and dream a little.
The park has a range of accommodation from tent sites through to self-contained units. It also boosts fantastic facilities from a swimming pool complete with toddlers paddling pool, to barbecue area and TV and games room.
Plenty here to keep the kids amused while Mum Dad have a quiet morning coffee.
When I booked in I made sure that they on booked me to one the best ways to explore these waterways the World Famous Queen Charlotte Magic Mail Run This service is run by beachcomber fun cruises and is a great way to see the real Marlborough Sounds.
Depending on the day the boat stops in at all the little bays and beaches delivering the mail while on the day our skipper Jason pointed out the many diverse flora and forna. Without promises there could be seal, dolphin and depending on season even whale sighting. You go past the salmon farm and visit Ship Cove where Captain James Cook landed on at least 5 occasions over 7 years. The people on board commented that no wonder he kept coming back to such a great area with that wonderful wharf, great picnic area and flushing toilet.
The mail cruise takes about half a day so I used the rest of the day exploring and watched the inter-island ferry discharge its load of cars, motor homes, trucks and yes train. It was like a well conducted orchestra.
Red Baron downed
The following day I headed south again back towards Christchurch,25 minutes south at Blenheim was another attraction on my must see list, Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre.
http://www.omaka.org.nz/ This also award winning attraction has aircraft on display from the Great War with a scene of the crash of the Red Baron, memorabilia, and aircraft displayed in visually stunning action scenes.
This centre is located only five kilometres from Blenheim CBD.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre houses a display like no other and you dont have to be an aviation buff to enjoy it!
Human stories from the Great War come to life. Captivating scenes depict the aircraft in context, some recreating actual incidents. The rare memorabilia is worthy of any national collection and ranges from beautifully crafted trench art through to personal items belonging to the famous Red Baron himself.
The Cumberland area is famous for its wineries and those wanting to embibe there are tours that will pick you up from Picton Top 10 and return you to help keep our roads safe.
Further south on the road to Christchurch is the town of Kaikoura, where the mountains reach the sea. There are several kilometres where the road winds beside the railway track between the mountain and sea.
In several places you go through tunnels in the rock face. Kaikoura is a pretty place and when I was there the snow topped mountains looked a spectacular back drop to the town and the Kaikoura Top 10 Holiday Park where I spent the night.
There are many restaurants and bars in walking distance for the even meal or entertainment.