Saturday, 24 November 2012

Have Camper Van, must Travel


The bed and breakfast facilities in New Zealand are all well appointed, with friendly owner/managers. The people we stayed with happily shared their knowledge of South Island with us, the best places to visit and how to go about booking a camper van for less than what was advertised by the rental companies.
What we found valuable information was that we should ask the company to show us their vehicles that were more than four years old. The reason for this is that the insurance premium on them is as not as high as the new vehicles they tout, and if you are not in the know, the rental agent will get you to sign up and you pay almost a third more for a newer model!

As we wanted to visit my uncle who was in hospital, (one of the main reasons for our trip to New Zealand) we decided that we would visit him first, then spend the day looking around the city, spend another night with our lovely B and B hosts, then go and find the camper van of our choice the next day.

Christchurch is a beautiful garden city, nestled on the coast with the Southern Alps creating a breath-taking backdrop. It is the gateway to the Canterbury Plains which spread westwards towards the mountains.
South-East of the city leads on to Banks Peninsula, which is formed by two huge volcanic craters and extends into the Pacific Ocean, like an old gnarled sharks-tooth.
After looking around a very modern shopping mall and having a bite to eat, we took the historic inner city Christchurch Tramway.
Although the tickets are valid for two days, we knew that this was the best way to see all of the city in one day, as it took us past Cathedral Square, Arts Centre, Canterbury Museum and the Botanic Gardens.
In the evening we had a slap up meal at a local Indian restaurant within walking distance of our B and B.
Upon our return our hosts had waited up for us and had coffee and biscuits laid out on the kitchen table. We felt that we were visiting good friends.

At breakfast the next day we mentioned that we were going to book our camper van and asked where the rental agencies were located.
Oh, close to the airport,” said our host, “No worries, I'll drive you there,” he said.
So off we set, Graham sitting “shot-gun” in the front passenger seat and me squashed into the back seat with all of our suitcases and travel bags.
It's OK Babe, not too far to go...besides, you are little, so you fit in there with the luggage perfectly.”
Yeah, that's me, economy sized!” I though to myself.
Our Holiday Home on Wheels
After going to a couple of places, we ended up with a six berth camper from Maui Rentals. It had all living, cooking and sleeping equipment included, air-conditioning and bathroom facilities, 24 hour road service and a handy road map and travel guide.
(Oh, and if you are wondering why we went for a six berth, we did not feel like making up beds, then folding them away to have a sitting area. Too much trouble, and we were on holiday!)
Glad that Graham was at the helm and I was the navigator, we drove to a large shopping area where we stocked up on groceries and supplies before setting off in our up-market Mercedes-Benz camper.
Where are we going?” I asked Graham,
Dunno, let's have a coffee and look at our map,” he said as he parked outside a coffee shop.
We found a table close to a window, ordered coffee, cheese and ham pies, then spread the map out over the table.
Here” Graham said, pinpointing a place with his finger on the map, “ Lake Tekapo”
OK Babe, let's go” I agreed in a flash, “looks a really good place to spend our first night!”

Taking the road along the east coast, then onto Route 79 we drove through stunning scenery and pulled off at a lay-by to have a snack. This was the first time we had ever had such a luxury as a camper van, we were used to camping in the African bush in our tent, so had not experienced the leisure of a mobile home where you could simply stop, open up the kitchen, prepare something to eat and sit in a comfy seat at your dining room table and look out the window at the view. We both decided it was a good way to holiday and see the country at the same time.
The roads in New Zealand are of high standard, maps and places are well marked. It appeared, much to our amusement, that the locals steered clear of tourists driving camper vans. We were fine as we were used to driving on the left hand side of the road, but noticed some vans swerved onto the wrong side of the road on occasion. So, like the locals, we were cautious of fellow camper van sight-seers from our first day on the road.

My first sight of Lake Tekapo
Upon our arrival at Lake Tekapo in the late afternoon, the sun was setting behind the mountains of the vast Mackenzie Basin, their faces reflecting in the clear turquoise waters.
We booked into Lake Tekapo Motels and Motor Camp, set in amongst massive, shady trees.
Our camping pitch over looked the lake and as we parked we both looked out the front windscreen. Neither of us spoke, we were too busy absorbing the peaceful beauty of the place, there was no need to say anything.
The camp is run as a quiet family camp, with security and cleanliness a top priority. There is a laundry with four commercial washers, for commercial dryers and they also have a TV lounge, should you wish to watch the goggle-box instead of taking in the lake and all its beauty. For people who choose not to eat “in”, the place has easy access to a variety of restaurants, bars, a service station with LPG facilities, garage and grocery store.

Autumn Colours at Lake Tekapo
We went for a walk, taking a bottle of beer each and sat on the shore sipping the golden local beer. A couple walked by and stopped to chat. They informed us that Tekapo was the departure point for the world renowned Air Safaris Grand Traverse flight around Mount Cook and were going on it the next day.

As they walked away, their parting shot was, “By the way, make sure you don't leave the empties behind...we Kiwis make sure the environment is kept clean!”
Graham and I looked at each other, “As if we would,”
I nodded in agreement with his comment, “Yes, we get deposit on the bottles. Can buy more.”

In that year the Springbok Rugby Team played like Trojans, so we both decided that because they “hammered” the All-blacks 15-12 in the Final game played on South African soil at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, we had been told off on Kiwi soil.
Chuckling to ourselves, we returned to our four wheel home, discussing how we remembered Nelson Mandella wearing the Sprinkbok Rugby shirt and cap when he presented the Ellis Cup to the Captain, Francois Pienaar.
That was a great game and brought all the people in South Africa closer than ever before.

Of course we admitted to each other, that makes the New Zealanders the second best in the world.
Giving them credit where credit was due, we started a good old South African braai, and cooked our supper before turning in for the night.

Early Morning at Lake Tekapo
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