Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The New Zealand legacy

M--- and I travelled around all of New Zealand from 4 March to 29 April 2007, mainly in a hired campervan. It was by far the best holiday I have ever enjoyed, and it has an ongoing legacy: I am no longer frightened of long-distance travel, and the supposed strangeness of foreign places. I'd most certainly do it again if I had the chance, even though I'd be picky about where I'd like to go, having now a very good idea of which places might be worth the effort, and which might not.

We took 6,000 photographs each while away: 12,000 altogether. Some of these shots were in Los Angeles on the journey out, and in Hong Kong on the journey back. But the overwhelming number were in New Zealand itself. M--- had the advantage that I did most of the driving, and so could snap away en route, recording many things as we bowled along that I couldn't, unless we pulled in specially. But we both blitzed the places we visited on foot, or by sea, or by train. I spent most evenings editing my daily haul of pictures. I got them down to a more manageable 4,000 or so, all of them properly captioned. M---'s collection remains unedited and uncaptioned to this day, and although they are a valuable alternative resource, I can't use any of her shots in my blog. But I can dip into my own.

What shots they were, what places we saw. New Zealand was such a lovely country. The very fact that it was so distant from the UK, literally the farthest away in the world, made it seem very special. When we went we were still very much a couple, and M--- thought we ought to publish a book together on our return, jointly-produced. So while I attended to photo-editing in the evenings, she created an impressive journal, which would later form the basis for the book. The notion of publishing 'a travel book with a difference' was the spur to reaching and photographing many out-of-the-way places, as well as the more usual ones. And a spur also to try one or two things that tested our nerve. Such as when we found ourselves on the narrow and crumbling Akatawara Road, rashly chosen as 'short cut' to Upper Hutt. Or when M--- got herself temporarily marooned on Te Wakatehaua Island, aka The Bluff, on Ninety Mile Beach, as giant waves thundered in. Here's an aerial photo of The Bluff, from a postcard:

New Zealand consists of two large islands, North Island and South Island, with a ship ferry to link them if one needs to take a vehicle from one island to the other. We went on almost every State Highway from 1 to 99, and on several unnumbered roads, some of them gravel tracks. We visited Bluff in the far south of South Island, and Cape Reinga in the far north of North Island. We saw all the cities, and most of the larger towns. Timaru in South Island was really the only place of any size that we couldn't sensibly fit into our itinerary. We covered 5,899 miles in the campervan during its 50-day hire period, and were pushing on nearly every day. It was pretty relentless. There were several places we'd have liked to stay a few days in, generally serene chill-out areas of great scenic beauty, often off the main tourist trail. But all we could do was make the best inspection we could, and mark the places down for a longer look on our next visit.

The next visit... It isn't likely to happen now, not since M--- and I have gone our separate ways. That book never got off the ground. (I wonder what M--- did with her journal, and whether she ever reads it?) And yet when I think of (for instance) the Cathedral Caves on the Catlins Coast that she so wanted to visit, but could not (the tide was wrong, and anyway we had no torch), I feel that there is a lot of 'unfinished business'. And I wonder whether, before she gets too old, she will bury the hatchet and accompany me there.

I could go on my own. I'm still up for it. Money is the only serious limitation. I would need to put together a lot of cash. As some sort of guide, the 2007 trip cost the two of us about £10,000 all in. But we found out that we need not have spent so much; and next time only certain favourite places need be visited. So it's a project that is difficult and long-term, but not impossible.

However, I would never again want to use a campervan as a way of getting around, for several good reasons: it wouldn't go everywhere, it was a big awkward beast to drive, and it was a horrible liability in towns. It was, besides, comfortless and worryingly insecure. Next time I'd want to hire a car, preferably a 4x4, and use cabins and the occasional hotel or motel.

I'd like to share some of that trip in 2007 on the blog. Just the bits that meant a lot to me, that made an impression. So during the months ahead I'll write some posts on the places I liked, or things that struck me.

This, by the way, was the rather spartan campervan we hired from Maui, CYF 556. Here it is in the sun at Wellington:

And next in other places: approaching Mount Cook/Aoraki (South Island); and at Mahia, and near Cape Reinga (North Island both):

It did get us to some very scenic spots. But inside all was not good. The cabin was fine, apart from the manual gearchange that I never quite got the hang of:

But it was less agreeable aft. Behind the drivers seat, and opposite the sliding door at the side, was a cramped and uninviting toilet that never smelled fresh:

Further back was a narrow gangway between a sink and a gas cooking hob:

Lots of sharp edges at floor level, and access to the cupboards was terrible:

Beyond this was the 'lounge'. We made up one big bed:

It doesn't look very comfortable, does it? At bedtime, it wasn't so bad, but the awkward washing arrangements and poor toilet made getting ready for bed (or getting up next day) a bit of a mission. Once under the quilt (on loan from my step-daughter A---) it wasn't so bad, and we usually slept well enough. This early-morning shot will give an idea what it was like:

But in mountain areas the chill of the approaching New Zealand autumn might get a bit too much. We sometimes had to sleep in our clothes to keep warm. The campervan had no insulation, and the dark blue curtains struck a cold note that the poor lighting couldn't offset. We did not come to love CYF 556, and we were glad to hand the campervan back at Maui HQ in Auckland. This was our last sight of it, just before A--- picked us up in her car and carried us back to civilisation:

Never again. A pity that the cost of getting Fiona to New Zealand would be so prohibitive...


  1. Oh, surely some of Fiona's cousins are available for hire! That camper was certainly well arranged for such a small space, but that is just it isn't it. So much stuff crammed into that space meant you were cramped too!
    What a pleasure it will be to see more of those islands through your lens.

  2. Start saving Lucy and go back there. You appear to have crammed in a lot on your first visit and were therefore unable to linger in many of the places you visited, even though you had two months in which to do it. I don't suppose there is ever enough time to see everything is there? Now of course you will have more time I am sure but it is all down to the pennies.

    Shirley Anne x

  3. It sounds like you had an incredible adventure! When I was a kid we had an old beat up camper. We used to take it up on to the local moorland on a regular basis and the occasional sea-side trip, nothing exciting, but it always felt like a real adventure. I have a kid on the way and you just gave me the excellent idea to invest in a little camper so we can do the same.

    Abraham @ ASIC


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford