The importance of being able to keep in touch with friends and family whilst travelling was emphasised this week by the earthquake.
We have two mobiles with us, one on a UK network (Vodafone) which has a good deal on overseas calls and one on a New Zealand network which we use out here for calls within NZ. Having a NZ based mobile is fairly essential when here because it enables you to book ahead as well as more easily summon help if you breakdown. Calls to freephone numbers are free from mobiles in New Zealand and that means that we often use our NZ mobile. Sim cards are available to purchase in most supermarkets and phone shops and it is simply a matter of buying and then registering the sim card with some credit. However there are numerous areas of the country with no mobile coverage either due to the physical geography (usually mountains) or the relative isolation.
New Zealand does not seem to have as good an internet backbone throughout rural parts of the country as some others we have been to, but never-the-less, Wifi is usually available somewhere and our netbook has been invaluable. Wifi or kiosk access is typically $5 an hour although the charge rate various dramatically depending on the whim of the site owner. Sometimes internet access is radio based rather than cable / phone and this is often slower than one is used to. Hence an email account which has a fallback to a low speed option (such as gmail) is very useful.
Our van has a TV but the strength of signal reception is very variable (usually poor) and FM radio really only seems to work in or close to cities.
Arthur’s Pass National Park
Heading away from Christchurch and inland takes us into the Arthur’s Pass National Park and what an amazing place it is.
The landscape is big and challenging and it is absolutely obvious how much tectonic activity has taken place here in the past (and still is) to produce mountains of the number and grandeur we see before us.
Here is an element of Castle Hill – a hill (really a small mountain) where large boulders have been left behind and resemble the collapsed ramparts of a castle. This area was used as a location in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.
This is a section of a large valley landscape with enormous hills everywhere (when we get back we will stitch a few photos together to better show this view)
The mountains create their own engineering challenge solved in this case, by a road bridge which crosses a deep valley, has a steep gradient (about 1 in 5) and goes around a corner all at the same time. Unsurprisingly, the view from which this picture was taken before we crossed the bridge has the name “Death Corner” – driving it and the section of road which follows is a challenge for both driver and
passenger. One section of the road is so prone to avalanches that a protective barrier guides the debris over the road as well a waterfall. Building this road must have been a real challenge.
Tramping (as rambling or trekking is called out here) is a national past time and we have tried to participate whenever the opportunity presents itself. On a walk through
one of the rain forests in the area, our objective was to get to a waterfall which was somewhere up in the forest.
This we did but the trekking was hard and the flies active.
The waterfall was worth the effort however and is not seen by many people because it is not signposted from the road and is tucked away high up in the hills. Had the water been warmer (or perhaps us braver), there is a nice pool at the bottom of the waterfall where you could swim. Never-the-less, it was a good spot for a picnic sandwich.
The same area of forest has glow worms which come out at night – they were not as bright as those in the Te Anau caves but it was nice to see them out in a forest.
By the side of the main road on the way through Arthur’s Pass is Jacksons Tavern which dates back to the 1800s and has changed little since then other than some modernisation.
A good local beer, fresh food and interesting conversation was all provided. Pubs are a way of life out here, something we have not visited a lot because you can be very independent in a van.
We do not normally mention where we have been staying in this blog or how good or bad it was (we sometimes post reviews into Trip Advisor) – this is an exception. Because of the situation, we decided to stay at Jackson’s Retreat just west of Arthur’s Pass. It says its objective is “to be the best campsite in New Zealand”. In summary, we think they may have achieved it. If you pass down that road, do consider staying there.
Now north and east, how far depends on the fuel situation. Local garages are reporting that diesel is freely avail;able everywhere except central Christchurch where supplies are a bit difficult. Supermarkets are said to be well stocked – we will see.