Leaving the farm and getting back on the horse.
We haven't been here for close on twenty years, not like this in a travelling, road tripping way. Our plans are to catch up with family in Invercargill while keeping an eye out for that little piece of land. We chose to fly to Queenstown and pick up a camper van, rather than to drive down from Auckland and cross islands on the Cook Straight ferry. Today, as we get ready to fly back I'm very happy we made that choice, for many reasons - not least because the weather report is brutal. High seas, gale force winds . . . yikes!
WHERE WE STAYED
Friendly, fabulous and grateful to have us.
The theme to our accommodation here is sumptuous newness. The Holiday Inn at the Remarkables is the newest of their four Queenstown properties and it feels like we're the first people to stay in our room. For us who have been living in a tent for a while, this is luxury. Vast, comfy bed with a choice of hard and soft pillows, fluffy white dressing gowns, designer bathroom complete with a rain shower head. . . we feel like movie stars.
Driftaway Holiday Park is also brand-spanking new, opened in March, and we've never stayed anywhere in New Zealand that offers this level of luxury for campers. Glamping with to-die-for views.
The Remarkables are the backdrop to both. Awe-inspiring when we first got here and - just for us it feels like - a dusting of snow now that we're about to leave. Magical.
Fiery autumnal setting, customer service as frosty as the temperatures.
A grown-up, high-end trailer park is what this feels like. Huge, sleek, white vans populated by retirees and skilled migrant workers. There are facilities for children but, mercifully, they've all gone back to school. Maybe the old couple running this place are struggling with the shock of dealing with tourists again. The glorious, golden hills that surround us aren't enough to mitigate their frostiness. We won't be back.
Relaxed, home-grown southern hospitality.
Riverton Holiday Park is much more our kind of place. Small, tucked into green rolling hills above the estuary and not a sleek white van in sight. In fact, until nightfall we're the only guests. Which doesn't stop the owners from making a fire in the common room just for us, chatting like old friends, then giving us space to enjoy it. Later we're joined by an intrepid overseas traveller, almost at the end of an epic hike from Cape Reinga to the Bluff. Fascinating conversations, interesting connections, new discoveries - this is why we travel.
Last call before winter.
Who wouldn't want to spend the night in a holiday park called the Whistling Frog? Turns out there isn't anywhere else to stay in the area and it's getting dark. Everything seems to have shut down for the winter. It's surreal - in a good way - being the only people in a place that feels as though it should be full. We have the run of the designery kitchen, first dibs on the heater in lounge, the ablutions all to ourselves. Bright morning sun melts the frost on our van and cheers our spirits. I'd love to see this place in summer.
Some things don't change.
Dunedin Holiday Park claims to be oldest, continuously operating holiday park in the country. Certainly it was here when we did our first South Island tour over thirty years ago, and apart from the addition of wifi, it's pretty much as I remember it. All the amenities you'd need and then some. We're grateful it's out-of-season and we're the only campers in the unpowered sites. Friendly customer service and proximity to St Kilda's Beach are two more reasons to stay here.
HOW WE TRAVELLED
In a bright green and purple Jucy van. Everyone else being picked up by the complementary airport shuttle looks about fourteen but I suppose they must be old enough to drive. We feel like ageing hippies, out of place with the young 'uns and equally, with the olds. In our own place, I guess.
Our van is what they call a Cabana, basically a kitted-out Previa and we're so glad we chose it. A car when we need it, a snug bed to sleep in at night. We don't use the kitchen at the back much although the utensils come in handy. The Cabana is much easier to manoeuvre than the high-tops, lighter on fuel too. We don't plan on freedom camping and we definitely don't want to empty onboard toilets. No. Just no.
We brought our own sleeping bags with us, which, with the addition of the bright green and purple covered duvets and pillows that come with the van, ensures we're toasty even in sub zero temps.
The most southerly point in New Zealand (if you don't get as far as Stewart Island). Kind of like Cape L' Agulhas at the bottom of South Africa. Although known for its gales and big seas, it's strangely benign today. But it's late, the bite in the wind reminds us how near we are to the South Pole and we're going to have to tramp twenty minutes through paddocks of sheep and cows to get there. So we don't. Close enough to say been-there-done-that.
Autumn in Arrowtown
The time to visit Arrowtown is now, Autumn, when the streets and surrounding hills are ablaze with gold and orange. Thanks to covid there are only a handful of tourists today. It also means lots of closed up shops, pubs and cafes in the main street. We still manage to find one with a sunny garden and the famous South Island cheese roll on the menu, and everywhere is a feast for the eyes.
Nightcaps and Ohai
I've been wanting to come to Nightcaps for the longest time. Now that we're here I can't decide whether it's the middle of nowhere or the end of the world. A broke-down, forgotten place that's about as far away from the tourist trail as it's possible to get. I can't imagine what it must be like to live here. 7kms down the road is Ohai. Both owe their existence to coal mining. Such a rewarding detour on our way to Invercargill.