All posts by John Ewbank

Campbell’s Bay, the Otago Peninsula and Gabriel’s Gully

The wind was blowing a hooley when we woke this morning, which was particularly noticeable because the van was perched on a cliff top overlooking the bay and rocked noticeably each time the stronger gusts hit the shoreline.  Well, that’s our story anyway.

First stop was to visit some weird spherical stones sitting in the sea at Moeraki – it reminded us of a science fiction film in which old folk were rejuvenated simply by sitting in the water alongside the objects – we sat in that bloody freezing sea for at least an hour, but nothing happened!


As we drove down the coast the countryside started to become a little more familiar – still beautiful, but a little tamer and there were definitely fewer ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as we made our way towards Dunedin.  Aside from a brief stop to re-stock the larder we didn’t stop in the City, but made our way out onto the stunning Otago Peninsula in pursuit of wildlife.   Truth to tell we’ve not done too well so far this holiday with our nature studies – Denise didn’t manage to spot a single roo in Oz and neither of us now believes that koalas actually exist in the wild anymore.  Since arriving in NZ we’ve seen plenty of cows, sheep, deer and rabbits; we’ve even seen reindeer grazing – but have we seen a Hobbit yet?

Beach sheds on the Otago Peninsula
Beach sheds on the Otago Peninsula

Although the penguins had apparently taken the day off to go fishing, we did at least manage to see some seals and what I can confidently claim thanks to the new binoculars (great choice Jonathan) to have been a Royal Albatross swooping elegantly across the ocean.

Our overnight stop this evening is at Gabriel’s Gully, a couple of km out of Lawrence on the road up to Alexandra.  This is another freebie site, but this one has a bit of a history having been one of the key centres for the Otago Gold Rush in the 1860s when 10,000 gold-hungry prospectors literally tore this beautiful little valley apart on their quest for instant wealth.  Not many signs left now, but there’s an interesting trail you can follow which tells the story for those who are interested.

Wild-camping at Gabriel's Gully
Wild-camping at Gabriel’s Gully

From Omarama to Oamaru (Campbell’s Bay)

If this is Omarama this must be Tuesday morning.  Refilling the van’s water supply and emptying the portable toilet isn’t necessarily the ideal way to start the day, but with that small but essential task completed we started the drive back down towards the Pacific coastline.  More fabulous scenery interspersed with some pretty impressive dams and massive canals – all part of the country’s irrigation and hydro-electric scheme; very obviously the works of man, but done in such a way that it actually adds to the splendour of the landscape.

Hydro Electric plant at Aviemore Dam

According to the Rough Guide, Oamaru is noted for its well -preserved Victorian architecture – I’ll take their word for it.  When all is said and done, if I want to see Victorian architecture I can visit just about any town in England; still you can’t blame the locals for wanting to capitalise on their nice buildings, and I’m sure that the slightly ‘theme park’ approach that they’ve taken to the old harbour area will appeal to some of the many visitors from Japan, China and Korea. We had a coffee and moved swiftly on – bah humbug!

The evening was spent at Campbell’s Bay; a tiny seaside community a few km south of Oamaru.  Although there are plenty of well-equipped campsites available to the intrepid van-dweller, the New Zealand Department of Conservation has sensibly recognised that there are also plenty of tight-fisted Europeans who prefer not to pay for their overnight stop if they can possibly avoid it.  They’ve therefore listed a whole load of sites throughout the country where self-contained vans/caravans (i.e. with their own toilet and washing facilities) can stop overnight without charge.


The site at Campbell’s Bay was virtually empty and perfect for a one night stay.  We walked the length of the two mile beach and back without seeing one single item of man-made flotsam or jetsam – not so much as a single plastic bottle or discarded flip-flop.  Wonderful!

From Lake Tekapu to Omarama

Last night we went stargazing.  As Lake Tekapu reputedly has the second darkest skies in the southern hemisphere it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s a place where people spend a lot of their time looking up at the heavens.  So last night we went out to a small observatory just outside town where two very nice, but very nerdish, young men entertained us for a couple of hours by letting us handle their 12 inch instruments.  Live long and prosper.

Today we ‘did’ Mt Cook/Aoraki  – at 3,724 meters it’s the highest mountain in New Zealand and pretty spectacular from wherever you happen to be perched.  We took the 50km road up along the side of Lake Pukaki to Mt Cook/Aoraki Village and, after a coffee and a slightly overdue Skype call to son Thomas in Canada,  decided to trek up the Hooker Valley to the glacial lake at the foot of the mountain.

Perthy explains why glacial lakes are so blue!
Perthy explains why glacial lakes are so blue!

More spectacular views and even more pictures – I have a feeling that the slideshow in the Village Hall is going to run to a couple of evenings!


Footsore but more than a little smug at having overtaken loads of people half our age on the trail up and down the mountain in temperatures over 30 degrees, we climbed back on board our covered wagon and drove the 70 or so km to Omarama.  Another hard day at the office!

From Pleasant Point to Lake Tekapo

Monster photograph day!  In the good old days of 35mm film we’d have needed a small trailer to carry all the rolls of film that we’d have shot today.  Fortunately with a 32gb memory card in the camera  it seems that I can take another 3,000 or so photos today before it starts to fill up – unlikely, but possible given the current rate of snapping.


Fortunately, or unfortunately depending upon your point of view, it’s the sort of country where  every corner you turn makes you want to stop and take a few dozen more snaps so that you can be sure of capturing the beauty of the place.  The sad thing, of course, is that no matter how clever the camera may be, it simply can’t compare with the Mark One Eyeball when it comes to capturing the very best view possible.  Never mind – just think how many slide shows we’ll be able to give in the Village Hall when we get home (book now to avoid disappointment!).


Lake Tekapo is truly beautiful.  Our campsite is about 50m from the water’s edge, so as I sit here waxing lyrical I have a perfect view over the lake to the mountains beyond.  This afternoon we walked the five or six miles up to the Mount John Observatory and this evening we’ve shelled out on a ‘night sky experience’ – Tekapo has some of the clearest skies in the southern hemisphere , so a little stargazing through one of the big telescopes sounds seems like a good idea.



Christchurch to Pleasant Point

The rain didn’t last long.  By the time that we’d made it to the outskirts of Christchurch the drizzle had stopped and the sun was starting to peep through the clouds.  Our chariot is a well-used VW T35 camper which has 200+km on the clock and will probably double that before it reaches the end of its working life.  Having spent a few minutes this evening working out how best to store our goods and chattels in the van’s various nooks and crannies (what is a cranny?) we’re sure that it’s going to make a perfectly comfortable home for the next five weeks.

First stop of the day was Ashburton Cemetery to call in on Great Uncle George.  About a decade ago some kind soul kindly sent me a photo of the grave, so fortunately we were able to recognise it pretty quickly and didn’t have to traipse past too many headstones in order to track him down.  Ashburton is quite small now, but judging by the number of folk who were buried there in the first few years of the 20th century it must have been quite a lively place back then (not, of course, for them!).  Anyway, the gravestone has stood the test of time for the last century and looks like it will continue to do the job for a few more decades.  He was 21 when he died in 1913 – it must have been heartbreaking for his parents to bury their son in a distant, foreign land knowing that they’d never see his last resting place.  His sister, my grandmother, lost two husbands and two brothers in less than 7 years; that’s hard.


Getting back to the land of the living we moved on to Timaru which is another 60km or so further down the coast.  We didn’t go all the way into the town but had a wander around Caroline Bay and paid our respects to the Pacific Ocean before moving on to Pleasant Point – at which point it was time to pull the waggons into a circle and set up camp for the night.



Arrival in New Zealand


It’s tragic – the 2011 earthquake has left the centre of Christchurch in a terrible mess and the process of putting it all back together again is going to take years. Whole city blocks have been levelled in preparation for rebuilding and there are still large numbers of large buildings standing empty, presumably waiting for demolition of for someone to decide what to do.  What must have been a very attractive city has been hit very hard and it doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that it will be five to ten years before it starts to be a destination once again.  That said there are some bright spots still remaining – the Botanic Gardens are lovely, strolling along the banks of the River Avon you wouldn’t really know that anything had happened; no surprise that nature has been faster at the repair process than man.

Christchurch Cathedral, minus spire – about to be demolished


We woke this morning to ….rain!  It doesn’t seem quite fair to have left Australia roasting in temperatures in the high thirties and for Christchurch to welcome us with 19 degrees and ….rain.  No matter, we pick up the Van later this morning and start heading down the coast where the weather should apparently start to improve.  First stop Ashburton cemetery – admittedly not your usual tourist destination but the last resting place on my Great Uncle George who emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1900’s and sadly died within a few years of his arrival.  More than a hundred years on this will be the first time that a member of the family has visited the grave – must go, can’t keep him waiting!

From Airey’s Inlet to Melbourne

If this is Wednesday we must be getting near Melbourne.  The Cockatoos were back for breakfast but worked out pretty quickly that it wasn’t for sharing.  As we drove East from our overnight stop at Airey’s Inlet through Anglesea and Torquay the character of the area started to change – rather less quaint and rather more ‘big money’; this is obviously where the wealthy of Melbourne have their beachside houses and apartments.


After a brief visit to the Bellarine Peninsular, where we had coffee overlooking the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, we stopped off at the State Rose Garden at Werribee which (for the non gardeners amongst you) is rather more interesting than it sounds.  Dozens of different varieties of roses (surprise) and most exciting of all…. fruitbats!  With a wingspan of  2 to 3 feet, not something you’d really want to encounter on a dark night.


Port Campbell, up the Great Ocean Road to Airey’s Inlet

OK, so today was just a teensy weensy bit warm.  Just as we thought we were getting used to the warmth of the Australian summer it decided to throw in a hot one; 41 degrees on the thermometer and a warm breeze blowing from inland – the effect was like putting your head in an open oven at regulo 5!  Still, given a choice of this or a light covering of snow in the Cotswolds, its got to be a no-brainer hasn’t it? (Sorry Claire).

IMGP3163Just for a change the Great Ocean Road which took us from Port Campbell up to Airey’s Inlet was quite busy, so we took our time and soaked up the sunshine and the scenery.  Most of the traffic was, like us, happy to coast along – not that we had much choice in the matter (note to self; if ever we decide to buy a small car be sure to avoid the Hyundai i20 which has marginally less power than Denise’s sewing machine).  Still, it didn’t matter too much as around every bend we stopped, either for a swim or to snap some more photos of the fantastic coastline.

The Twelve Apostles are one of Australia’s most famous landmarks – the only problem is that from time to time coastal erosion does its bit and one of the apostles falls into the Southern Ocean.  I think that at the last count there were ten; but no matter – they are , simply, stunning.

Now, believe me, in the course of my life I’ve seen a cockatoo!  But when the bloody things sit on your veranda and demand to be fed that’s another thing altogether.  Just goes to prove that no living creature can resist the smell of freshly cooked bacon!


Hamilton up the coast to Port Campbell

No shortage of spectacular scenery today.  The drive from Hamilton down to the coast at Port Fairy was the usual wonderful combination of empty roads and stunning countryside displayed in the largest imaginable number of shades of brown with vivid splashes of green.  Port Fairy itself is a pretty little town with a number of historic buildings and a small quayside – the adjectives ‘historic’ and ‘scenic’ tend to get used quite a lot over here.  In reality of course virtually nothing is truly historic, but absolutely everything is scenic.

A quick walk around the bird sanctuary at Griffin Island should have produced sightings of Mutton Birds, but they seemed to have taken the day off – however we did spot a Blue Tongued Skink which produced a predictable reaction from the female half of this partnership.


Driving up the coast towards Melbourne we joined the Great Ocean Drive which has enough scenic (that word again) viewing points to satisfy even the most enthusiastic ‘snapper’.  Stopping every ten miles or so to take more pictures brought us into close conflict with the Australian Fly!  If you’ve ever wondered why tourists in this neck of the woods tend to wave to each other quite a lot, the reality is that they’re actually executing the Aussie Salute.  Frustratingly its all to no avail because there are so many of the little buggers that no sooner have you swatted one but ten more are making a bee-line (or should that be a fly-line?) for your salty bits!


Stopped overnight at Port Campbell and after supper popped up to one of the ‘scenic’ viewpoints to watch the sun set slowly over the Southern Ocean.  Lovely.

Sunset from 'The Arch' Port Campbell
Sunset from ‘The Arch’ Port Campbell


Hamilton and the Southern Grampians

Having decided to stay in Hamilton for a second night, the next day which happened also to be Australia Day, was spent exploring the Southern Grampians, a small but impressive range of sandstone mountains around forty miles to the north west of Hamilton which rise to something over a thousand metres – we decided that they looked  a bit like ‘the Malverns on Steroids’!


A climb up The Pinnacle (2.7km, 285 metres of climb and 32 degrees Centigrade) gave us our exercise for the day.