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Journeys : June July 2009
Destinations the new Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, which incorporates a dramatic tribute to the famous mountaineer as well as a spectacular 3D audio-visual presentation ranging from Maori creation legends to skiing the Tasman Glacier with Alpine Guides. Our room in the Aoraki Wing of The Hermitage looked out to the summit of New Zealand’s highest peak – we watched the sunset splash gold on the snowcapped summit, then saw it blush pink early next morning. Perfect weather greeted us for our cruise with Glacier Explorers, crossing the terminal lake of the Tasman Glacier in an open boat. Massive icebergs, calved from the end of the glacier, floated in the white water, turned opaque from fine rock-flour carried down by the ice. Hooker Valley track and Aoraki/Mt Cook destination. This gave us the chance to try two different campervans. In Auckland we picked up our Pacific Horizons 4+2 van, built on a Mitsubishi Canter light-truck platform. It felt a little unwieldy at first but it didn’t take long to get used to the size of the vehicle. By the time we’d cleared the suburbs of Auckland, the driving was pretty cruisy, even passing through the many areas of new roadworks. (The New Zealand government’s approach to the global financial crisis has been to fund extensive road building rather than giving away cash – so when it’s all over, the Kiwis will have great roads instead of flat-screen televisions). One of the special appeals of independent self-drive touring is discovering unplanned attractions along the way. We’d heard about a hot spring off the highway northeast of Rotorua and sure enough, the natural pool on a quiet side road just before we reached Lake Rotoma made a welcome break from driving. We waded waist-deep across the pool towards a fern-shaded gully, the source of the spring – from five metres away, as close as we could get, we watched the water boiling up from deep below. Each afternoon we’d check the guidebook in our van to choose a place to stay. New Zealand caters brilliantly for campervan travellers, with well-equipped campgrounds and holiday parks offering excellent facilities for overnight stops. They’re good places to meet fellow travellers, swap suggestions and compare notes. Our North Island journey took us to the coast of the Bay of Plenty, the surf beaches of Gisborne, the art deco streetscapes of Napier, the vineyards of Martinborough and the capital city of Wellington, where we returned our van to the friendly people in the Pacific Horizons depot and caught an Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch. If we’d Cantered up north, down south we Sprinted – our Pacific Horizons Mercedes Sprinter 2+1 camper was a joy to drive and it took us in a couple of comfortable hours to the Lake Tekapo Motels and Motor Camp, set among trees on the southern shore of the lake. A short walk from our camping spot we found Tekapo’s new Alpine Springs & Spa, its cascade of three large hot pools set in terraces giving views across the lake to a range of russet-coloured hills. An ice rink, snow tubing park, dayspa and cafe are part of the complex. As devotees of al fresco bathing, we visited later in the afternoon and early next morning – and called in again on our way back to Christchurch. We’re hoping to return to ski in the Mackenzie Country later this year – a hot soak after a day on the slopes is high on the list of must-dos. A couple of days of luxury followed. We parked the van and enjoyed a stay in The Hermitage, the splendid hotel at the head of the valley, with the serene peaks of Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Tasman and Mt Sefton dominating the skyline. The hotel houses Later that day, the aerial view on a flight with Mt Cook Ski Planes put the lake and the glacier into perspective – we crossed black moraines covered in rocky rubble and flew over the white lake dotted with bergs, then followed the gleaming fissures and ripples of the mighty glacier, almost 30 kilometres long from the snout to the head near Tasman Saddle, where our ski plane touched the surface and skittered across the snow to a halt. In this huge landscape – mountains all around, light blazing from the ice, the blue arch of the sky – the silence of the high mountains replaced the throb of an engine. A recent storm had left a few centimetres of dry powder – our footprints meandered out from the plane and we kicked the snow off our boots as we boarded for the return flight. Taking off was a simple matter of pointing the Pilatus Porter downhill – it gathered speed and lifted-off surprisingly quickly. Before long we were landing in the valley and looking forward to a frosty New Zealand Steinlager in the comfortable bar of The Hermitage, as generations of alpine travellers had done before us. www.kirratours.co.nz www.mount-cook.com www.mtcooknz.com Touring by campervan is a great way to experience New Zealand. For your free copy of the Kirra Tours brochure – and everything else you need to know to plan a New Zealand campervanning or car touring holiday – call us on 1300 368 111 or visit your local RACT Travelworld branch. June / July 09 15 Chris Viney
April May 2009
August September 2009