Sunday, 30 January 2011

Heading to the West Coast & Living in the Van

South Island West Coast

This campervan has virtually everything we could want and is the best equipped van we have every used (that is only two by the way!) and when you compare the published info for a Britz, Apollo  or any of the other big companies with this one, then there are obvious differences.

By Day


a wrap around settee (green) with storage space under one side and a dismantled table (white) which is stored under the floor.  
Van TV flat screen TV on the wall (it pivots out) plus a radio / cd / dvd player and control switches for power, central heating (!) and hot water plus a gauge showing you how much water you have left.
roof mounted storage spaces Van Cupboards
Van cooker cooker with four hobs and a grill (storage under), sink with mixer tap (storage under)
side door with electric step (push a button and it swings out)  
Van fornt seat front seats (which rotate 180 degrees to give you more space when parked
wardrobe, fridge (with ice box) and cupboard over  Van fridge
Toilet 2 
Toilet / Drying room and
 Toilet 1
a shower

By Night


At night, we close the curtains and use the table top to fill in the gap in the bed base, rearrange the cushions to give us a mattress and store the backs of the settee on the front seat.


Then we make the bed.

Fellow campers comment most on the fact that we have a wrap around settee (which is in fact very cosy on a cold day) as compared to their bench settees, our mattress is thicker than theirs, we have no advertising on the van and that we have things (such as wine glasses!) which they do not. In our opinion, this is a well designed van and two months living in it is not a daunting prospect – apart from the lack of an electric kettle (which we solved by bringing our own travel kettle), Wilderness seem to have got it right.

Towards the West Coast

Between our last resting place and the next one are some challenging roads, challenging in that they go up one side of the mountain and down the other. Look at this photo of Takakaka Hill for example (hill it is not by the way !)

Takakaka Hill Road

The road we are on goes up one side of the hill and down the other, covering a distance of 29 kms along the way.

Takakaka Hill Road with markings

The road itself is shown in red. Bends are so sharp that many carry a maximum speed sign of 15 kph (10 mph). Whilst you are coping with a road like this, you are also being wowed with great scenery such as



Views and weather

Murchison is a town on the road to the West Coast, it has certainly seen better prosperity (most towns in this area used to be “Gold Towns”) but it still retains a few buildings with tremendous charm such as the town church.

Murchison Church

Nearby it the Buller Walkway – the longest swing bridge in New Zealand (called “swing” because it swings in the wind)

Gorge Swingbridge

So of course it had to be crossed, Pat sacrificed the chance to have a heart attack in the middle of it in order to photograph a thrill seeker.

View from bridge

The view from the middle of the bridge is of the Gorge and raging waters below – quite impressive.

Further along the road is the Lyell Walkway – this time a track starting where the old gold town of Lyell used to be and heading off into the forest.

Lyell Old

We stood on the spot where this picture was taken in the late 1800'’s and there is now no trace at all of the town other than

Lyell Cemetery

the cemetery (which is tucked away in the woods) and a few grave stones –all died at an early age which is not surprising given the hard life they lived in the gold town.

 Walkway good  

The walkway itself follows an old track used by the miners to get to the workings and also a Dray Path used by them to get supplies to and from the mines. It is described as “challenging” in the guide book – parts were easy and

Walkway good

parts where the path had disappeared having collapsed in the recent floods in the area were certainly challenging.


Although this does not look much in a 2-D photo, the path has collapsed and as a result you have to clamber up a new vertical hillside with nothing to catch you if you fall into the river about 50 metres below!

Lyell Bridge

Other parts were simply too picturesque for words. There were also lots of Black Flies awaiting us – something of which we no doubt will comment upon more at a later date. You can rough camp here but the Black Flies make it a challenge.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Isolation and “choose your van”

South Island Farewell Point

There are numerous camper van rental companies in New Zealand, at one small site we stayed at had 12 different companies amongst the 18 or so vans parked up.

Pitch for three

Vans came in all shapes and sizes. The bottom end of the market seems to be taken by

Wicked Camper

“Wicked” style vans – very cheap, luridly decorated, few facilities and significant kms on the clock (400,000 is not unusual). They rent for as low as $20 a day

Van cheapo

Wicked Pooh 2

Wicked Pooh 1

Camper Van

Home made “wicked” conversions are very common and sell on the second hand market for a few $thousand (2$=1£).

More common this year is the space saver van such as these two varieties - essentially a car / van with a tent add-

Van with Tent 1

Van with Tent 2

on at the back for use at night. Their great disadvantage is that a lot of your camp life has to be spent outside of the van which is alright except when it rains which is quite common in New Zealand. They are also “not certified” which means that wild camping is more difficult (no toilets / waste tanks etc) although that does not stop people doing this much to the anger of many New Zealanders. But they are cheap and that is why they are so common.

Epy on site  

Our van seems to be a popular style (toilet, shower etc) and size for couples but above average in terms of specification and fit out. On those occasions where campers have compared their vans and companies, we find that ours (Wilderness) have given us many things which others do not have and they have one thing which our van does not normally have - an electric kettle (except we brought our own because we knew our van was lacking in this regard).

Van with Dish  

Towards the top end are vans such as the above – sleeping 6 to 8 this has most mod cons including a satellite dish, something we are seeing more frequently this year. We have not however seen many of the super large lorry sized campervans (common in Australia), perhaps because New Zealand back roads are quite unsuitable for large vehicles driven by amateurs.

Cape Farewell

The north western most part of South Island is known as Cape Farewell and was given this name by Captain Cook.

Farewell Spit

Farewell Spit is a large sand spit running out into Golden Bay sticking out from the north west corner of the island. People only come here deliberately since it is not on the road to anywhere. We have come here because it is “nowhere”, it is quiet and also there is a chance to go out onto the Spit and experience its uniqueness.

Farewell Bay at dusk Right

Farewell Bay (on the inside of the Spit) is stunningly

Farewell Bay at Dusk - Left

beautiful (here at dusk). At its peak in the 1980’s, there were around 400 people living here mining coal, now there

Remains of Coal Pier

are only around 20. All that remains of the industry is the stumps of a pier that ran out to sea for loading the mined coal and a few rusty rail tracks.

The local cafe / restaurant – The Paddle Crab Cafe offers an astonishing view of the bay to compliment your lunch.

Paddle Crab Cafe View            

North of the bay is the Spit and the only way to get out onto the Spit is to take an official tour in a 4WD Coach because it is a nature reserve.

Tour Bus

Nature is immediately apparent because the Fur Seals

Fur Seal 2

Fur Seal 1

and Birds (Oyster Catchers) are fairly unconcerned with

Oyster Catcher

our appearance as is this Jelly Fish!

Jelly Fish

The Spit is over 30 kms long and of course there is a lot of sand

Nothing in Sight

sand dunes


and not much else

Dune View

Tourists on Dune 

except the odd pair of intrepid travellers who have climbed the dune and quite a lot of driftwood, some of it of


astonishing size.


Towards the end of the Spit is a lighthouse – now automated but manned up until 1985. Three staff and families lived there in

Senior Light House Keepers House 

houses that would now command a premium price because of their isolation. Their duties focused around the


lighthouse with the "Maintenance Reminders” to control their day.

Long Drop

For the convenience of us visitors, a “long drop” loo has been installed.

This area also has its share of rough roads equivalent to good off-road tracks in Australia, tourist drivers here

however seem to have had little experience of rough roads and hence tend to drive at too slow a speed for comfort and too close for safety.