"Arctracer" Letters

Road Trip to the South Island of New Zealand, Jan 1999

On the 3rd of January, with our car loaded with camping gear we headed to the South Island of New Zealand. We made this trip with Gerd and Birgit of the cruising boat "Ronin." We returned to "Arctracer" 15 days later after 4826 km (3000 miles) of driving.

The places we stayed at night were:

Highlights of our trip included:

1) Ferry ride from Wellington to Picton.

We microwaved steak dinners and ate with the truck drivers. We went up to the pilothouse and talked with the first mate. He discussed the radar, GPS, automatic steering, and waypoints. Later we talked to the captain as we approached Marlborough Sounds and entered Queen Charlotte Sound. We were able to do the above because we chose to take a small freight ferry. This ferry had insurance to carry only 12 passengers. Truck drivers and their trucks get first priority, so the passage necessitated an evening crossing for us.

2) Seeing John (our brother-in-law) from New Hampshire in Christchurch.

John was on his way to the South Pole (for about the 15th time). We were very fortunate to listen to the talk given to the scientists, grad students and others on their way to the ice (McMurdo Sound for most with some continuing to the South Pole). We listened to a witty Kiwi in charge of the Warehouse where all clothes are issued. We also watched a video about the special clothing shown to the 20-25 people ready to head south when the plane(s) have room for them. Following the video the men headed to the men's changing room and the women headed to the women's changing room to try on all the clothes issued to them. At this point we visited the International Antarctic Center to look at lots of pictures and a couple of videos. We read a lot about the history of the development at Antarctica, expeditions around Antarctica, and wildlife in Antarctica. John took us to a great restaurant that night.

3) Seeing Mt. Cook (3754 meters or 12316 feet high, tallest in NZ) and the Tasman Glacier (27km, longest in southern hemisphere outside Antarctica). We had lunch very near the glacier and camped a few kilometers away with a great view of snowy Mt. Cook from our campfire.

4) Viewing Royal Albatrosses and Yellow-eyed Penguins in their natural habitat on the Otago Peninsula. Both were nesting at the time. The soaring flights of the albatrosses and the strutting walks of penguins laboring up steep sand dunes were fantastic to see. We saw Blue Penguins with their chicks in their burrows and Stewart Island Shags on the

5) Otago Peninsula too. While on the south island we saw the white-faced heron for the first time on the Banks Peninsula. We were hoping to see the Kea but decided to save that particular walk for another time since rain enveloped us. We saw lots more black swans; Canadian geese for the first time here in New Zealand; lots more yellowhammers; several of the large (51 cm), colorful New Zealand pigeons in the wild; lots of Oystercatchers with their large red bills; more pukekos (swamphens) with their bright blue under parts and touches of green around their black bodies and lots of hawks which we think are Australian Harriers.

6) Walking to see waterfalls and caves. Although we didn't do much walking on this trip we did see some wonderful waterfalls and caves at various points along the way. These were short walks and we hope to do a lot more walking the next time we visit the South Island.

7) Taking a ferry out to the Tasman Sea through Milford Sound with its 1000- foot depths. The 2000-foot vertical cliffs were beautiful in the sunlight. The waterfalls (over 500 feet tall), fed by the melting glaciers above, fell directly into the sound. With a very gusty wind on the day of our trip the water in the falls was sometimes blown away, unable to fall directly down into the Sound.

8) Getting our brake pads replaced on the car before we had real problems with them. Many of the roads in New Zealand are very steep with innumerable S curves (with long, steep drops, no guardrails and frequent washouts). The decline on the way to Milford Sound was much steeper than most of the declines we encountered, our brakes got very hot and we lost a bolt that held the brake pads in place. This caused uneven use of the pads. Also, on the way to Milford Sound we found ourselves in the Homer Tunnel. This tunnel was unlike any tunnel that we had ever been through before. It is 1270 meters long with no lights inside and was opened in 1955 after 20 years of work done largely by hand. After being in the bright sunlight we were blinded upon entering it and it was very difficult making our way through it.

9) Staying at Murray Gunn's cabins in the wilderness in Hollyford. There is a lot of local history in this area and we enjoyed meeting Murray and seeing his small museum. Many localities in the area are named after his father - for example Gunn Lake. The cabins are circa 1950 and staying there was quite an experience.

10) Seeing the gorge at the Gates of Haast on a rainy day. There was constant hard rain on this particular day, but we did enjoy seeing the waterfalls that seemed twice as long as the ones we had seen on Milford Sound. Unfortunately we were unable to see a couple more glaciers because of trails being washed out, but one day we will return to see them. watching local artists work with greenstone (jade) in the town of Hokitika. seeing a beautiful area on the west coast called "Pancake Rocks." Sometimes we wish we knew more about geology! Many sea stacks have formed there and there are many blowholes (sea geysers) and neat formations in the rocks. They appear as many stacked layers of rock.

11) Driving along Queen Charlotte Sound in the Marlborough Sound Area. Although we never did ride the ferry in the day light we did get to see some of the area while driving back to the ferry docks.

12) Going on a walk to Kanaka Point on Queen Charlotte Sound and seeing an old pa site. Although we had seen other pa sites (places of defense for the Maoris), this one was much more recognizable. Often, in other areas, the pa sites had been damaged by the livestock.

13) Trying local crayfish, scallops, shrimp, blue cod, school shark, and even rock oysters (limpets) scraped right off the rocks.

(view South Island Road Trip photos)

We really feel we've seen most of the South Island now, though there are some places we'd like to explore more thoroughly. Next time we'll allow more time for meeting locals and taking walks. We'd also like to spend quite a few days on Stewart Island, which is south of South Island.

We have now rested a couple of days (vacations are very tiring sometimes) and need to prioritize the work that needs to be done on the boat, decide when to visit New England, and make plans for the next stage of our cruises.