Let’s go south for a few weeks’
Let’s go South for a few weeks.’
How many weeks?’
‘How about six?’
‘OK. let’s see how it goes.’
That’s pretty much how the conversation with hubby went when I saw an opening to get him away in our 6.5m Leisureline caravan for more than a long weekend or a couple of weeks holiday. So after booking ferry crossings we were off.
First stop over was the shores of Lake Ohakuri in the Taupo area. Early March had some decently nice days to just chill out and unwind from all the preparation needed to be away from our orchard for an extended period. Peace and quiet, nice cuppa and hot pools to relax in, although they were a bit cooler than normal due to the large amount of rain from the two recent cyclones.
We had decided we would avoid the main highways where possible on this trip and get to see a bit more of the country — stop off at those places we just normally drive through, and have a look around.
So our next destination was Raetihi, travelling the western side of Lake Taupo and the Tongariro National Park. There is some beautiful scenery through this area.
We rocked up to the Raetihi Holiday Park mid afternoon and got one of the last two powered sites they had. Who would have thought Raetihi is a busy place? Well it certainly is.
The holiday park is the base for a lot of rafting and tramping trips and there were people coming and going constantly. A lovely small park with reasonably priced sites and the most amazing ablution block you will ever see. If you’re in this area stopping in here for the night is a must, just for the showers. Recently built, the block contains all the usual amenities. The lights turn on automatically when you walk into the toilets, nice but no big deal. When you walk into the shower cubicle, big enough for mum and a couple of kids, the light turns on, the fan turns on, and the heat lamp turns on. Yes, the heat lamp. There’s no reaching to the back of the shower to turn it on and getting wet at the same time, loads of room to keep clothes and shoes dry and the pressure, did I mention the pressure? The showers are free and the place is spotless. Well done Raetihi Holiday Park. I am impressed.
From Raetihi it is an easy drive to Ohakune to take a ride on the cycle track around the town, you can even get a shuttle up to Horopito and bike back into Ohakune. iSite staff assured me it is downhill most of the way, but I’ll take their word for it. We cruised around the riverside track and then stopped off at The Chocolate Éclair Shop for the biggest sweet treat ever. There are lots of cafes in Ohakune to suit every taste. It is an easy drive up to the Whakapapa ski field where there is nothing going on at this time of year but amazing views.
From Raetihi it was on to Whanganui via SH4. We had been told about Lakelands Holiday Park on the shores of Lake Wiritoa on the outskirts of Whanganui.
We were not disappointed, a lovely peaceful spot right on the shores of the lake and only a 10 minute drive into the city. A perfect spot to base ourselves for some sightseeing, bike riding and paddle steaming, not to mention checking out the local cafés. Mmmm that’s the second time I’ve mentioned cafés. When we’re away we feel some responsibility to contribute to the local economy so instead of going out for dinner, which can be a lottery when you don’t know the area, we have an early lunch at a café. This covers the morning coffee fix and keeps us going through until we are feet up with a cuppa and scones back at the caravan.
Manawatu & CampFest
After seeing Whanganui it was off to the Manawatu where we parked up at a friend’s place for a week while visiting friends and family in the area before heading to the CampFest at the Bulls Domain. This is a great free camping spot as well.
I wasn’t sure what I had got myself into when I offered to help out at CampFest, but I must say it was one of the most enjoyable camping weekends we have ever had. Loads of chilled-out relaxed campers in every mode of camping you could think of and everyone generally had a great weekend. We will be back for next year to meet more of our fellow campers and make new friends. More on CampFest
So it was off across Cook Strait to the South Island, the last sailing before all sailings were cancelled due to 11m swells. It wasn’t pleasant, but we got there.
On the mainland it was on to Canterbury for another family catch-up. We turned off at Amberley and took the scenic road through Rangiora and Oxford and down the southern side of the Waimakariri River.
There seemed to be lots of lovely spots that one could stop over for the night if the local freedom camping bylaws allow (we didn’t check as we were headed for family again).
Have you ever stopped at Darfield? It is only 45 minutes out of Christchurch and on the main highway to the West Coast but it is well worth a stop. The best bakery around with a massive selection of pies, and loads of small crafty shops to browse around, and again, with a couple of lovely cafés.
There’s a very easy cycle track and if you want to leave the village we found the local roads easy to navigate and there was not much traffic. But at some point we were biking into the wind — just as well our bikes have batteries.
From Canterbury it was back on the road up SH1 heading to Hanmer Springs to meet up with motorhoming friends. We arrived to a stunning sunny afternoon, 25 degrees, and parked up at the DOC camp on the outskirts of town. Nice flat spaces on the banks of a stream with a very serviceable toilet block (see picture in the slideshow), and sandflies, loads of sandflies.
There is a very pretty forestry walking and bike track and even a bike skills park where you can test your balance abilities. Probably not on the e-bike. Over the next 24hrs the temperature plummeted to 2 degrees and by the time we left there was snow below the tree line. We drove through the Lewis Pass with light snow falling.
Our plan for this trip was to see as much as we could of the Tasman area so we headed north, stopping off for a couple of nights at the Riverside Holiday Park in Murchison.
The Maruia Falls, on the way, are well worth the stop for a short walk and there’s plenty of room to park up for a lunch break.
Riverside Holiday Park is, as it says, right on the river. With a lovely walk through the Kahikatea Reserve right on the boundary of the Kahurangi National Park.
It has a great communal kitchen area with a large deck looking out over the river, complete with couches and armchairs for just chilling out and relaxing. There is a jumping pillow to keep the kids happy and they have well laid out level sites, all with power and water right there.
While in Murchison, a short drive up the Buller Gorge takes you to the longest swing bridge in NZ, very entertaining for those that have a head for heights. On the other side there is a bush walk to a 300yr old kahikatea and then you can take the flying fox back across the river.
There is so much to see and do in the Tasman-Golden Bay area. Holiday parks galore and also loads of park over properties and places where you can freedom camp. There are the most amazing cycle trails. The Great Taste Trail goes from Nelson to Kaiteriteri, through the Motueka Valley to Tapawera and on to Belgrave, Wakefield and back into Richmond and Nelson. We conquered an easy ride through vineyards and into Richmond comfortably with a stop off for lunch to refuel. You could do more or less as the mood takes you.
There is a plethora of tourist attractions in the area: a visit to the Classic Car Museum in Nelson and Hoglund Glass Blowing Studio ckw.nz/glass filled in a rainy afternoon for us.
The Tasman area seems to have a township every 20 kilometres and there’s something to stop and see in every one of them. From downtown Nelson, Tahunanui, Stoke, Richmond, Hope, Brightwater, Wakefield — just loads to see and do. Wakefield has one of the best bakeries around with the famous Wakefield pies. Definitely worth a stop off. Then there is Appleby, Mapua, Ruby Bay and Rabbit Island.
A detour off SH 60 via the Moutere Highway takes you to Upper Moutere Village, a visit here is a must. It is the home of the Moutere Inn, the oldest pub in New Zealand. Unfortunately it was closed for the two nights we were there so we didn’t get to check it out. But the village has some quaint shops, cafés and a really good fish and chip shop.
On the western side of the Tasman area is Motueka, well worth a wander through the town. If you’re keen, you can cycle this whole area. Motueka also has the best dump station that we came across in our whole trip. Easily accessible from both directions for the biggest of vehicles and room for two vehicles to use it at the same time, plus a fresh water fill up.
After not enough days in the Tasman area we headed west over the Takaka Hill. Now that is a hill. 257 corners, a lot of them hairpin. Unfortunately there is nowhere to stop and take photos of the amazing views when you are towing a caravan, but it is so beautiful.
We made our way through Takaka and Collingwood on to Pakawau where we based ourselves to visit Cape Farewell. There are tours that take you all the way out to the lighthouse on Farewell Spit but we decided to have a look around by ourselves for the day. Cape Farewell is a fairly impressive place but if you don’t like heights it is very unnerving. We decided to take a drive to Whanganui Inlet and perhaps go on to Mangarakau and see the West Coast. After an hour of driving on rutted, gravel road I felt like my bones were about to fall apart so we decided to turn around. Not a road I would drive again but the scenery is so worth it. It was back to camp and a nice long walk along Pakawau’s beach to relax.
Anatoki Salmon Fishing and Café have a free camp area on the outskirts of Takaka. It is easily accessible and a large area for the biggest of rigs. This was a great base while we investigated the Takaka area with the added bonus that you can try your hand at fishing as well. They say fishing is about the vibes you send down the line, well we didn’t have the right energy flowing at all. No fish for us after a couple of hours of casting and reeling it back in. So time for a coffee and some lunch at the café and watch the people who stood just where we had been catch two fish in five minutes! Oh well, free entertainment; you only pay for what you catch, and they will smoke it for you as well.
If you are in Takaka, The Wholemeal Café is well worth a visit or two, or three. It was recommended to us by fellow campers and it didn’t disappoint. One of the nicest cafés we visited on our trip, at least according to the other half. A stroll through the main street of Takaka, which is also the main highway, will fill in a good part of the afternoon, there are so many interesting shops to stop off and have a look at. The men might not agree, but hey…
A short drive from Takaka is the Labyrinth Rocks. The outcrop of limestone rocks forms a labyrinth of paths that twist and turn and you never quite know where you will end up. Fun for all ages, just let the child inside free to imagine.
The drive to Pohara, Tarakohe, Ligar Bay and Tata Beach is well worth it. You can stop off and visit the Abel Tasman Monument on the way which has amazing views of Golden Bay. At Port Tarakohe you can see where the road has been cut under the ancient rock formations.
It was back over the mighty Takaka Hill into the Tasman area on Easter Friday, the traffic going to Takaka was bumper to bumper including a cyclist on the way down the hill — hope he had good brakes.
Winblue Farm is a lovely park over property between Hope and Brightwater, quiet with free fruit from the gardens and within cycling distance of the Great Taste Trail if you are feeling like some exercise.
Mapua Village is a quaint little village with quite a few boutique shops and art galleries, nice for a coffee and a wander. You can drive out to Kaiteriteri and around the bay to Split Apple Rock, or take a kayak tour via the water if you prefer. The rock sits just off a lovely secluded beach which is a 10 minute walk from the road, all downhill. Trouble with that is it is a long haul back uphill on the way out. You don’t realise how steep it is on the way down, but it is well worth the walk.
Wairau Valley and Blenheim
Departing Tasman we decided to take the long road to Blenheim via St Arnaud and the Wairau Valley. The scenery is just stunning, driving along the river and through the vineyards. Our park up for our last few nights in the South Island was at Spring Creek Holiday Park, a lovely park that has a creek running through it complete with friendly eels to feed.
So much to do in Blenheim, a visit to the Omaka Aviation Museum is a must or on a Sunday you can grab a coffee and sit in the carpark and watch all the vintage planes come and go.
If you’re lucky while you’re in Blenheim you might get to see the Passchendaele steam train ckw.nz/steam, we just happened upon it while we were visiting the iSite. According to locals it comes out for special occasions or if there is a cruise ship in port. Again there are some great cycle trails as well, through the vineyards and up into the hills.
We took a drive out to Port Underwood and on to Picton from there. Now that is a road you don’t want to drive while towing the caravan, or in the motorhome. Thankfully we had some local advice and didn’t. It is only 60kms but takes the best part of two hours to drive. Must be one of the narrowest and windiest roads in the country, but when you get to the top the views are just astounding. It’s one of those roads that you are glad you drove, but you’ll never drive it again.
So back north on Bluebridge’s Connemara and thankfully it was a pleasant sailing. Something we did on this trip that we’ve never done before was book a cabin on the ferry, both ways. It was well worth the $40 — on the rough sailing it was nice to have somewhere I could rest.
We will definitely do it again, both the cabin and the trip.
©2023 Angela Bryan
©2023 Angela Bryan
©2023 Angela Bryan