Today marked the beginning of one of our most unproductive weeks so far on our travels. The bad weather that started last Saturday, did not stop for 10 days, leading to road closures and flooding throughout the west coast. As a result this is not the most exciting of blog post, but we want to be honest about our travels and show that it s not all pretty pictures and blue skies.
Day 55: Hokitika to Franz Josef
We tried our best to see what we could. This morning we drove for an hour and a half from Hokitika to Franz Josef; home to one of the most famous glaciers in New Zealand and the area of New Zealand that we were most looking forward to exploring. There is just one road to get to Franz Josef, state highway 6, and it is one of the most winding but scenic roads that we have driven on. Although the weather wasn’t great, the coastal views along the road were beautiful. We can only imagine how gorgeous this would be on a bright day.
When we arrived in Franz Josef any hope of the weather easing up disappeared as the heavens opened and the torrential rain began. We are not afraid of getting wet, we’re from Ireland so are well used to rain, however, in Franz Josef, any sign of bad weather the walkways to see the glacier are closed for safety reasons and with clouds covering all of the mountains, there wasn’t much else that we could do. We wandered around the town for an hour, which was quite busy with all the glacier and scenic flights being cancelled, before deciding to find a campsite and trying again tomorrow.
The west coast, and Franz Josef in particular, is a tourist hot-spot so there are no freedom camping places within a reasonable driving distance. We ended up staying at the Rainforest Retreat, a hotel and campervan park. The main draw to this particular park was that there is an outdoor hot tub available to guests. We made the most out of a crappy situation and sat in the spa bath while the rain poured down on top of us.
Day 56: Franz Josef to Greymouth
The rain did not stop all night long, and we awoke to a pretty flooded campervan park. There was a weather warning still in place, so all walkways to see the glacier were still closed to tourists. We decided to cut our losses and head further south, with the plan of coming back to Franz Josef with Róisín’s parent’s in a few weeks.
We continued down the road towards Fox glacier, but got stopped about half way down with road closures due to flooding, and no specific time to re-open the road. We had to choose whether to wait to see if the road would re-open, go back to Franz Josef or go back up North. We decided on the latter, and travelled the 2 hours back to Greymouth as this was the closest freedom campsite and we had already wasted a lot of money on paid campsites and hadn’t really seen anything the past 4 nights. This turned out to be our smartest decision to date, as the following morning route 6 both sides of Franz Josef got closed for over a week due to flooding and being washed out. Thousands of tourists got stranded in Franz Josef for 8 days with nothing to do but wait it out. We were very pleased that we got out when we did.
We stayed at a campsite that we had become very familiar with, Cobden Beachfront campsite.
Day 57: Greymouth
We spent today in Greymouth library trying to plan out the rest of the week so that we wouldn’t waste anymore time and could make the most of our time left in New Zealand.
We stayed once again in Cobden Beachfront campsite.
Day 58: Greymouth to Glentunnel via Arthurs Pass
With state highway 6 still closed, we decided that it was time to give up on the west coast for now, and head back towards Christchurch, which was having some of the best weather they had seen all year. We headed across the Great Alpine Highway through Arthurs Pass National Park. The official length of the road, from Kumara Junction on the west coast to Upper Riccarton, a suburb of Christchurch, is 231 kilometers. We can confirm that all 231 km of the drive have some of the most scenic and breath taking views that we have seen. Parts of the road are some of the steepest in New Zealand, so our little van struggled at times. Along the highway there are plenty of viewpoints and places to stop to get pictures. There are a few small towns on the route, but otherwise it is generally just beautiful, untouched landscape.
There are lots of walking and hiking options along the route. Our favourite was Castle Hill, a scattering of hundreds of weathered limestone boulders that emerge from the tussocky hills. This is also a great place for outdoor bouldering. We did a 30 minute loop walk in and around the boulders before continuing down the road to our camp for the night.
We stopped regularly so the 4 hour drive took us much longer than anticipated. We would advise making sure you have a full tank of petrol before you start that drive as fuel is very pricey along the highway.
As the drive took us longer than we expected, we didn’t go the whole way to Christchurch, and instead stayed in a Glenntunnel, a small town about 60km from Christchurch in Whitecliffs domain freedom campsite.
Day 59: Glentunnel-Akaroa
We were wrecked after our adventures yesterday and so set off late morning. We continued towards Christchurch, which thankfully had beautiful blue skies waiting for us. We didn’t explore Christchurch today as we will be spending time there when our family and friends arrive over the next three weeks.
After a quick stop to stock up on groceries we headed east past Christchurch to Akaroa, the main town of Banks Peninsula. We took route 75 from Christchurch which whilst incredibly scenic, it also was extremely windy and steep. There aren’t any notable attractions or things of interest along the route before Akaroa so we went direct to the town, taking 1.5 hours.
Akaroa is a former French colony from the 1840’s and the town still maintains it’s French heritage through themed cafes, restaurants, and buildings. Akaroa and the Banks peninsula area is home to populations of endangered penguin and dolphin species, and a stopping-off point for whales and other large marine mammals cruising the New Zealand coast. You can book day tours when in Akaroa at the iSite centre or online here.
Akaroa has two main camping sites, one paid and one freedom. Naturally enough we wanted to camp at the freedom site, but by the time we arrived into Akaroa at 3 pm the place was packed, with no chance of any spaces. The camp has about 15 spaces and is a five minute walk to the town centre. Having travelled the distance, and the town looking class, we paid for a site in the Top 10 holiday park which was only 20 minutes walk from the town centre and had lovely views overlooking the lake.
By the time we settled in and walked into town, it was getting towards sunset, so we bought a bottle of wine and set up outside the van at the campsite, overlooking the lake and town.
We stayed at Top 10 Akaroa on an unpowered site for $40 for the night. It has great views over the town and lake, and has great amenities. It is also a popular last stop for campervans being returned to Christchurch, and therefore there is a lot of food and camping equipment being given away for free.
Day 60: Akaroa
We left the campsite early today and headed back to the freedom campsite in town. It was class weather so we ventured around the town and the many landmarks highlighted on the local map, provided by the iSite centre. The town was buzzing during the day with the French themed cafes and restaurants packed out the doors. As well as attractions within the town, there are also many walking tracks on the peninsula, ranging from 20 minutes to four days.
The iSite centre will have information booklets for free showing all the tracks. We’ve attached a copy of the main routes below also. Because it was boiling hot, we opted for the shorter routes which were more central to town. The routes took us past the garden of Tane, the lighthouse, Britomart monument, and garden graveyard (numbers 5-7 on the image below). Our freedom campsite was located at point 3 on the map so you’ll cover a fair chunk of the Akaroa coast by doing the short routes.
The monuments and points of interest have an interesting history, particularly with it’s links to French colonisation. For information on these click on the link here. Whilst we were interested in the history of Akaroa, we were more keen on the beautiful scenery it had to offer, and nice vibe around the town itself.
After spending the morning exploring, and the town having a good buzz around it, we headed along the waterfront to one of many bars within Akaroa. Whilst we had great intentions of having one or two drinks, we now can say we’ve thoroughly explored Akaroa. All the bars were great places for a drink and view over the lake so we would recommend exploring them.
Akaroa freedom campsite has 15 carpark size spaces with public toilets a 100m walk away. It a five minute walk to the town centre, and well worth getting here early.
Day 61: Akaroa-Christchurch
We got up quite late today, after experiencing Akaroa’s nightlife. Our friend, Gerard, was landing in today so we took our time back towards Christchurch. There are no paid or freedom campsites in Christchurch city centre, with the closest site to the city being 4 km out. There is one freedom campsite within a reasonable distance of the city centre, Naval point boat ramp camp, but otherwise it is a 45 minute drive to the next freedom area. Knowing we would be too late to get a free site for the night, we booked into a paid site, 5 km out of the city centre. Although it adds cost onto the daily budget, having a paid site means having showers, access to water/ dump stations, and having the freedom to move around in the evening time with no worries about where to camp for the night.
Gerard’s flight got in late afternoon so after he checked in we headed into the city centre for dinner and a few drinks. Although Christchurch is a big city with nearly 400,000 population, and popular amongst tourists, the city is relatively quiet. We found a few nice bars along the high street in the city centre before heading back out to the campsite for the night.
We stayed at Christchurch Kiwi Holiday Park at a cost of $38 for a powered site. The camp was nice and quiet and had excellent amenities. There are buses that run from outside the campsite to the city centre also.
Thanks for reading,
Róisin & Bernard