We prefer not to arrive at new camping grounds after dark, so stopping during daylight hours with time to prepare dinner (preferably a BBQ) is important. Last year there was the problem with delays on the Kaikōura coast part of the journey, but this year there was no such impediment.
Once I get on the road I like to press on to whatever destination we have chosen, although there are obvious temptations to dally, and as we proceeded south we passed all those lovely vineyards with their tasting rooms, and the co-driver decided we should stop in to at least one, or more. That would have been lovely had I not been driving! Fortunately, from my point of view, they all displayed closed signs and that meant we could proceed without delay. One day I would like to stay nearby, perhaps in Blenheim, and hire a limo to take us from vineyard to vineyard, the only possible downside being the temptation to buy at least a case of wine at each.
We were very impressed with progress made in the past year on the rebuilding of the highway, albeit there’s still much to do, and we really liked the fact that there is such a nice big pull-over area where one can take a break and watch the seals cavorting on and around the rocks. We also took the time to stop at The Store at Kekerengu, a very nice venue with its ocean views and access to the beach. The food is pretty good as well.
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Very soon it was time to begin the search for a suitable camping ground. The best-sounding one was at Gore Bay, but with no phone communication (to make a booking) we just had to hope for the best as we traversed the narrow road between SH1 and the bay. My heart sank as we drove into what was just a dry and dusty field with a scruffy looking toilet block, albeit with some power pods. I soon discovered that no electricity was flowing to the pods, so we packed up and drove away. The decision then was ‘do I turn left or right?’. Fortunately I decided on left, and a little way down the road we came upon another camping ground that was altogether much more to our liking – I reflect that at times, when finding the best location is not proceeding smoothly, the atmosphere up in the ‘command centre’ can become somewhat cool, with testy exchanges between driver and navigator. (Grumpy driver; feisty navigator!)
We entered this camping ground, and after one of the occupants gave us the rundown on the system we settled in. Out with the BBQ, then a walk down to the beach where the co-driver, who has a bit of a thing about paddling in the sea, was able to get her feet wet. Toilet block quite good, washing machine not so good, location excellent, so overall we gave it 6/10. As nobody appeared to take our money we put it in the envelope and slipped it under the office door prior to our early departure on the Thursday morning, with Ruapuna and the SKOPE races being our destination.
We made it to the circuit at Ruapuna by mid-morning, ascertained that there was a parking place saved for us in the Formula Junior Series compound, and then headed for Russley golf course after collecting our third player Louise, whose husband Alex was racing in the South Island series. Having driven past Russley a number of times over the years – usually on my way in or out of Christchurch Airport which is directly opposite – it has been high on my wish list and I was very happy to finally play there. Russley is a really nice club, with an interesting history, and for those who are keen on aviation archaeology there is the tragic story of the Bristol Freighter that crashed on the course following a structural failure.
It was an enjoyable round (aren’t they all?) and then because we needed to use a dump station, fill with water, and get loaded with provisions for the weekend, after delivering Louise back to the circuit we headed to a camping ground near to the airport as recommended by a very nice group we had met at Gore Bay. They had a family involvement in the North South Holiday Park, so having read the brochure they gave us we decided we would give it a try. We were not disappointed. There was easy(ish) access to a supermarket (we needed lots of bacon, eggs, bread rolls, and Mateus Rosé wine) and nice ablution blocks. We gave it 8/10.
We also got a bit of extra excitement during dinner when a couple of police cars drove in, arrested a nearby camper, and took him away. Rather like watching a detective series on TV, but actually played out live, at no cost to the audience. Somebody then came and packed up his tent and belongings, so we figured he was probably going to be doing his ‘camping’ in a police cell and would not be back any time soon.
Arriving out at the racetrack next morning we took up our allotted space in the paddock, awning, furniture and BBQ out, and we were ready for a full weekend of racing. At the earlier Hampton Downs event I had begun cooking up bacon-and-egg rolls for hungry people and so repeated the exercise at Ruapuna. I have written about the SKOPE weekend racing and other activities in the sister magazine NZ Classic Driver, so I won’t repeat it all here.
Monday morning and we all departed the track, and for us that meant heading south to Ashburton.
Last year we arrived at the Ashburton Aviation Museum just as it was closing, so it was at the top of our 2019 list for a visit. We were a bit too eager and arrived early (it opens at 1pm each day) so a search ensued for a nice lunch place in Ashburton. We were lucky enough to spot the Robert Harris café; we now recommend it to other travellers.
Returning to the museum we found our English racing friends Susan and Robin Longdon ready to take the tour of what I consider to be one of the best aviation museums in New Zealand. It occupies two hangars on the former RNZAF base, now much reduced in area, and has a very comprehensive array of aircraft, the most notable of which is the BAE (formerly Hawker) Harrier, purchased by the museum from an RAF disposal sale.
Tour over, we said farewell to our friends (“see you next weekend”) and went our separate ways. I had decided that instead of a camping ground, a night of free camping – preferably at a lake with really nice views – would make a welcome change from the normal routine and we found just the spot. Lake Pūkākī.
Great site with views over the wonderful blue lake all the way to Mount Cook. I found the most level piece of ground, up at the top of the hill, and then with our short planks got the RV well squared away. Unfortunately a couple of RVs soon appeared, crewed by folk who seemed to be from one of the Teutonic countries, and of course they just had to park right in front of us, blocking our lovely view.
The fact that their vehicle was well listed over seemed not to bother them. By that time I was not inclined to move, and opined to the co-driver that they would be gone early in the morning as soon as they had taken their cold showers and set off on a route march, and so it proved to be. So we breakfasted enjoying the wonderful views once more. Then on the way out we came upon the nice row of long-drop dunnies down in the trees. What more could a bloke ask for of a morning!
The destination for the day was Wanaka where we wanted to play the golf course which had not been possible the previous year due to a tournament being held there. No such problem this year and we enjoyed the very nice course, which we would certainly revisit. For our evening stop we chose the Mt Aspiring Holiday Park, which we had also visited last year, and were given a top corner site with more wonderful views.
Nice facilities as well, so we gave it 7/10. Wednesday morning and we were headed for Dunedin, with a quick stop at Wanaka Airfield to photograph the Canberra aircraft atop a pole, but having visited the excellent aircraft museum last year we bypassed it with the idea that perhaps we would come across another nice golf course along the way.
Sure enough, we spotted Alexandra’s course through the trees, so naturally we swung in and found we could get an immediate tee time. One of the attractions of New Zealand courses is that it always seems relatively easy to get a tee time. So another fun round on yet another nice course, albeit slightly spoiled by coming up behind a four-ball of noisy guys wearing those special caps that have the peak attached to the back instead of the front, and who do not always observe golf course etiquette.
We stopped to take a look at the Clyde dam, an interesting hydro scheme that apparently has no storage and relies on the amount of water arriving in the lake to supply the turbines. While there we chatted to a couple of motor cyclists who were among the large numbers all proceeding south to Invercargill and Ōreti Beach for the annual Burt Munro Challenge. I am not a motorcyclist but I would love to go to that event one day – as would probably everyone who has seen Roger Donaldson’s fabulous movie The World’s Fastest Indian. Now one of the largest events of its kind, the Burt Munro Challenge includes road races, beach races, hillclimbs, drag races – in short something for every motorcycle enthusiast.
For us it was time to press on to Dunedin and the Leith Valley Holiday Park, as we had a round booked at the St Clair Golf Club next morning. When the Scots founded Dunedin they had to bring their love of golf too, and one of the outcomes was the building of St Clair on the hillside above the city with great views of the sea. As nice as it is, on the day we played this fairly exposed course the winds were strong, so it was quite hard work. We agreed that we would like to return and play it under more benign conditions.
Next stop was Timaru and the Levels racetrack for the Southern Classic weekend of racing, and thanks to race committee chairman Brian Dixon we had a slot in the rear paddock to park the RV, not too far from the toilets. And even better, shortly after our arrival a man appeared with a large generator into which all the RVs plugged. Cables running everywhere! At the previous race I had been asked by South Canterbury Vintage Car Club member Grant Stewart to give a talk to the members on the night of our arrival, and he duly collected us in his 1929 Durant to drive us to the Club. I hope they enjoyed the talk.
Next morning we were at the Timaru Golf Club, just a short drive from the circuit, together with our new playing partner Louise Morton. Of all the courses we played, this was the only one we revisited from last year. There followed another superb weekend of racing, which I have already covered in NZ Classic Driver magazine. Added to the racing was the Robin Longdon BBQ evening as well as the Car Club dinner, and we all had a great time socially.
As soon as the Formula Junior races were over on Sunday we were again on the move as we needed to be back in Dunedin that night – staying once more at Leith Valley, lulled to sleep by the gently rushing water of Leith Stream.
Last year while searching for Taieri Airfield, we spotted what appeared to be a vintage train, or at least a train with vintage carriages. Further investigation revealed this to be the Taieri Gorge Railway, and it was immediately put on the 2019 ‘must do’ list. So early on Monday we arrived at Dunedin Station, a magnificent structure (“created to be the jewel in the crown of New Zealand Railways”), and were able to secure a place in the station carpark. Within 30 minutes of our arrival the park was completely full, so if you plan to take the train make sure you arrive early. There is a good RV slot at the far end. We opted to ride in one of the older historic carriages, with nice seats, although we did make our way forward to the dining car early in the outward journey – something of a disappointment, especially as the coffee machine had broken down. On returning to our booked seats we found them occupied by another couple, and it took a certain amount of assertion to reclaim our rightful places! The history of the railway construction is amazing, a great feat of engineering all carved out with picks and shovels, and the scenery is spectacular as the train makes its way up the gorge through 12 tunnels and over the high viaducts (something of a vertigo challenge!). A very worthwhile excursion. For 2020 we plan to go in the opposite direction – north on the Seasider.
From Dunedin we were on our way once more to Queenstown, having booked a place at the Lake View Park which we had used last year and which is conveniently located for the Gondola, and for the town. The first evening we walked down to the Steamer Wharf and ate once more at Pier, an excellent restaurant with good food and good service. The co-driver is very partial to seafood so the evening special of crayfish suited her very well. We had tried to book rounds at Queenstown Golf Club and Arrowtown golf course, but Queenstown had no suitable times available which meant we only managed one round, at Arrowtown, an unusual layout among many rock formations. We will return. There was then time to take a trip up the lake to Glenorchy, and even buy a couple of possum skin novelties for the co-driver.
We decided to try a different restaurant down at the Steamer Wharf and selected FINZ, which proved to be an excellent choice and one we will visit again. On the way back to the RV we checked out the never-ending queue at Fergburger, bought some of Ferg’s sourdough bread (not sour enough, Ferg!) as well as Mrs Ferg’s ice cream. Sorry, Mrs Ferg, but Pōkeno has you well beaten!
With no golf scheduled for the next day I decided that the co-driver needed a good jet-boat ride, and so I booked the one on the Shotover River (having done the Dart River some years ago). Arriving early we watched the boats coming and going, assessing the different driver techniques from what we could see on that stretch of water. We were worried that we might get one of the less skilful ones, but in fact we drew the perfect driver who, apart from giving us a great ride, had the ability to dump several gallons of water down the backs of our necks.
In checking him out at the reception centre afterwards we discovered that he is also a golfer, so he is a proper bloke! I had asked him if the boat’s propulsion unit was still Hamilton, which he confirmed, leading me to reflect on the fact that the inventor, Sir C W F (Bill) Hamilton, was one of New Zealand’s first successful racing drivers; among his notable feats was winning three races in one day at Brooklands, the very famous pre-war circuit in England. Now a first-class heritage centre, Brooklands is a place I recommend you visit if you are taking a UK tour.
From Queenstown we were on to visit our friends Glenys and Paul Halford together with a number of other racing folk, all guests at the Halford’s home, and a great BBQ evening. The eight RVs crowded into the driveway overnight made quite a sight. All of us, including Paul, were headed for Invercargill and Teretonga circuit next day, in our case including a stopover at Mandeville airfield where the co-driver had hoped to indulge her aviatrix longings with a ride in a Tiger Moth, but as we got closer to the airfield the weather continued to worsen and on arrival we were informed that all flying was cancelled for the day, so we contented ourselves with a tour of the aircraft museum, which is very de Havilland oriented, as well as a visit to the restoration hanger where Tiger Moths and other aircraft are restored and created. A return visit is on the list for 2020 when, hopefully, the weather will be more suitable for flying.
It was while we were traversing the long, straight roads of the South Island that I was reminded once more of that strange overtaking behaviour (or not overtaking) that I assume is encountered by many RV drivers, and in fact I have previously written about it. I hear constant complaints from regular motorists that their journeys are spoiled by lumbering RVs ‘blocking up the roads’. Being sensitive to this, I always keep well to the left and if there is no passing lane pull over into a driveway or other suitable area if I have two or three vehicles behind. However, I have noticed that even when one arrives into a passing lane, very often the following cars will only slowly drift up behind, and then only be in a position to overtake just as the lane runs out! Why are they so tardy?
There should be no problem overtaking on the long, straight roads, especially as I keep to 90km or less, but so often they catch up and then just sit behind for kilometre after kilometre even when there is no oncoming traffic in sight. I try to tempt them out but at times it is necessary to slow down to less than 50km before they will pass. I do not want another car tucked right up behind in case there is an emergency, which they will not see. One such was the bus which suddenly pulled out from a side road (just south of Dunedin) directly in front of us. Brakes locked on and using the hard shoulder I managed to miss him. Goodness knows what his passengers must have thought. He should probably surrender his PSV licence before he hurts somebody!
On another subject – I am intrigued by the railway lines that traverse the country, sadly so many of them no longer in use. One can see where many of the rail tracks used to be, as fortunately (sensibly) many are now turned into cycle trails. It is not often that we stop and look at a former railway site, but on this trip we made a halt at the old Fairlight station which is a convenient rest area. The co-driver makes wonderful ham sandwiches, so at around lunch time I like to pull over while she assembles a snack. A well-fed driver is a happy driver!
As usual we found a good spot in the RV line-up at Teretonga, just behind the ‘racing’ paddock and a short walk to showers and toilets. On Friday morning we collected our golfing companion Louise, and drove the short distance (less than 2km) to Invercargill Golf Club. The course was almost deserted so it was a speedy round and then we were back to the circuit where we found that Louise’s husband Alex was once more fastest in practice.
The downside was that in mid-afternoon the bad weather hit, which rather spoiled the social part of the weekend (with much reduced demand for my free bacon-and-egg rolls) but the racing remained as intense as ever. After the final Formula Junior race and prize-giving we said goodbye to another good friend of many years (I met him first in 1961), Wal Willmott, the first employee of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing, before setting out on the long haul back to Auckland. Sadly, Wal died three months later.
I had hoped to make Christchurch that night but we fell short.
We did make a quick stop along the road, at the entrance to the St Andrews Golf Club where we played last year but found it has now been closed and sold for farmland. The long grass already consuming the greens. St Andrews is an interesting little town and has remained ‘little’. The founders must have had high hopes. A great location on the coast, on the main highway, on the main railway line (with twin tracks at that point) and a significant golf course. What could possibly go wrong? Answers on a postcard!
We stopped for the night at the Coronation Holiday Park in Ashburton and then pressed on to Picton the next day, stopping once again at The Store for lunch. We reached Picton early afternoon and ensconced ourselves in the Top 10 Holiday Park from where it is an easy walk into town, via the marina, where there is a good selection of restaurants. The co-driver chose Oxley’s Bar and Grill.
Prior to parking up we had driven about town and found the logging port that I had spotted on the southward voyage. Our interest had been raised by the sheer number of logging trucks one encounters in New Zealand, often travelling in opposite directions to each other. The Picton log port is quite impressive. Logs? You want logs? We have lots of logs!
Having arrived in Picton early, dined early, and gone to bed early, we were appropriately early at the Interislander terminal next morning. The lady at check-in informed me that there “might be a bit of a delay”. “How much delay?” I asked. “Well the ship hasn’t left Wellington yet.” She suggested we go back into town for some breakfast. Back at the dock again later we finally saw a ferry arrive. I wondered how they would cope with two sailings worth of cars and passengers, but once on board it was obvious there was plenty of room for everyone. I have drawn my own conclusions – I will leave you to draw yours.
All of this meant we had now wasted almost a day, so it was an unhappy crew that finally made it to the camping ground at Foxton Beach, having picked up dinner at KFC on the way through Levin. We gave this one, with its excellent showers and toilets, 8/10. Being so late meant we had to miss a scheduled visit to Ohakea, kindly arranged by Grant Stewart, and pressed on toward Auckland. Just stopped long enough to photograph the DC3 on the pole at the ‘Mangaweka International Airport’ and then breakfasted at Flat Hills café where I was able to enjoy one of my favourite Kiwi dishes, mince on toast. On the road again via Waiouru (no time to visit the Army museum). Finally arrived back at my sister Nicki’s place and next day we unloaded the vehicle, did all the cleaning and emptying at a dump station before returning the RV to the Iconic depot – 15 minutes late!
So would we do it again. Yes, we have already booked a larger model for 2020. With Robyn’s indulgence, I will tell you how it goes, in the fullness of time.