With Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain and La Paz crossed off the official bucket list, I was ready to tick another big item off my agenda. The Uyuni Salt Flats was one of those places I’ve dreamed of being at for a long time and finally my time had come! With my travel buddies Alex, Tommy and Sean, I caught the bus from Potosi to Uyuni.
The bus ride in itself was gorgeous, huge valleys and massive mountains surrounded the road and as we got closer to Uyuni the landscape changed dramatically to desert and the excitement started to build up inside of me. We arrived into Uyuni right before sunset and were ambushed by people selling salt flat tours. One lady sold us with her offer of free accommodation for tonight so we followed her into her office and bargained for the best price. Deciding to do a four-day tour we whittled her down to 900 Bolivianos, which covered everything – that’s about $165 for four days, not too shabby!
We were led to the hostel, which ended up being the same hostel we intended on staying at anyway and dropped our gear off to go find dinner. Tired from the bus ride we opted for the easy option and found a restaurant and ordered some (expensive) burgers. As the tour didn’t leave until 11am the next morning, we decided to just head back to the hostel to chill and organise everything in the morning.
The following morning we packed up, grabbed breakfast and supplies for the trip (cookies and chocolate!) and met our tour guide and car. We had scored and gotten a Lexus four-wheel drive however were told we would only have her for the day because we were joining another group tomorrow. Naming her Sexy Lexie we chucked our bags on the roof, hooked up the speaker and began our journey! The first stop was the train cemetery, which seemed to be the first stop for every trip as there were about forty other cars there! The four of us had nicknamed ourselves Team GoPro because we were all proud owners of GoPro’s and selfie sticks so as soon as we got out of the car, Team GoPro was rearing to go!
If you could imagine four adults running around like dickheads with cameras attached to a stick than you’ll get an idea of how we looked. Not ones to be ashamed we climbed all over the decrepit trains and took more selfies than Kim Kardashian. It was a little hard to capture the train cemetery without a bunch of tourists milling around but we tried our hardest. Afterwards we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove onto the next stop.
This next stop was a repeat of the train cemetery as we parked up next to another row of four-wheel drives. My dreams of a desolate salt flat were slowly fading as I walked through about six peoples photos. This stop was a quickie, just to look at the salt mounds. Luckily our car was a little slower than other groups so after we waited 10 minutes of so we only had to share the place with a few other people. Despite the hordes of tourists, it was magical being on the salt flats. This weird and wonderful landscape blew my mind and burnt my retinas – going without sunglasses is a big rookie error!
Jumping back in the car, we drove for another 15 minutes or so until we reached our destination for lunch. Another place overrun by tourists, we managed to park out the back and enjoy our lunch looking out at a quiet salt flats. After lunch Team GoPro assembled and proceeded to take about another thousand photos and videos. The excitement of finally being at the salt flats was too much for the four of us and we couldn’t contain ourselves. However I think after a day or two of this intense GoPro-ing we won’t be so enthusiastic.
After lunch we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove for an hour and a half across the salt flats to our hostel for the night. It was a crazy feeling speeding across the flats, with only one another car passing us in the that time. This was starting to feel more like an adventure, not like being herded around like sheep. We arrived at the hostel are the place was desolate. The small village was squashed between the salt flats and the large volcano that sat behind it. We waited in the hot sun until the owners of the hostel came to greet us. I have to say; Bolivians aren’t the most welcoming of people. I guess they aren’t as used to tourism as the other countries are. After experiencing the warmth and friendliness of the Peruvians, it was hard to adjust to the somewhat frosty reception we had been receiving from the Bolivians. Nonetheless, the hostel owners took us in, showed us our rooms and left us to it. We had all afternoon to ourselves, with the only thing on the agenda being to see the sunset. With all this free time and space we did what any self-respecting tourist would do – run around like losers on the empty salt flats. We took our GoPro’s and music speaker out to the desolate flats and danced and ran around like small children. We were the only four people on this part of the salt flat and the unusual landscape brought out a wacky side in all of us. As silly as we must have looked to the locals, it was one of the most fun afternoons I’ve had.
We headed back inside for tea and bikkies and to layer up for the upcoming sunset. While it was scorching hot during the day, the chilly weather comes to play at night. We rugged up and got the camera ready for an epic sunset. Racing out just as the sun dropped, we watched as the sky turned into a kaleidoscope of colours. The blues, the pinks, and the purples – it was gorgeous! The salt flats glowed under the last embers of the sun and it truly was one of the most surreal sunsets I’ve seen. We headed back in for dinner once it got dark and then headed back out later that night to witness the unreal sky, full of so many stars that even Coldplay would be impressed. It was funny to hear the others gush over the star-filled sky, as it was a rare occurrence for them to see some many because they are from the city. I forget how lucky I am having grown up in the country where a starry sky is the norm. Not saying I wasn’t impressed though, the clear sky had brought on a seriously cool lightshow. We headed back inside frozen from the chilly air and headed to bed. Tomorrow we were planning to hike up the volcanic mountain and see some more of the salt flats, so we needed some serious shut-eye!
The last couple of days went by so fast. We’d been nearly all around the island, been through coastal, rainforest and volcanic landscapes and eaten our body weight in M&Ms (they have some many different kinds!)
We had big plans for a massive last day in Maui so we woke early ready for more adventures. Grabbing another delicious acai bowl from the Farmacy we then headed south past Kihei to Makena in hopes in finding Turtle Town. We’d come across Turtle Town on the internet which promised heaps of turtles all year round in this elusive bay. After finding the bay, we discovered that a) the Internet lied again and b) snorkelling in a choppy ocean is not a good time. Giving up on the turtle hunt, we sunbaked for awhile before heading back to Kihei for lunch. We were feeling way too lazy to do anything productive so after another ABC lunch (aka whatever random things we found at the convenience store) we sprawled out on the beach once more, trying to get at least a shade darker. It was crazy how un-sunburnt we were getting. I know sun-baking frowned upon but we spent days and days in the sun without getting any darker. If we had tried this at home we would be looking like tomatoes. I guess the hole in the ozone layer isn’t so big over Hawaii, we were pretty well protected.
Deciding to finally be active we went for a snorkel for the last time. Buying our own snorkel set was probably the smartest thing we did. It was so nice to get out anywhere and be able to go for a snorkel. It also helps that Hawaii has reefs right on the beach. Within metres you can see the coral and sea life. We snorkelled for awhile, checking out the fish and coral until we came across a beautiful green sea turtle. He/She was just gorgeous and I spent at least 40 minutes floating above him/her going about their day. Turtles seemed to have the cruisiest life. Just floating about, eating seaweed and making friends with lost clownfish. I watched the turtle until he swam off into the distance before I headed back to the shore.
We hung out by the beach for the rest of the afternoon, only moving from the sand to the shade in the grass for a quick nanna nap. While we didn’t do as much as we had planned, it was nice to just chill out and relax. After running around Oahu and Maui ticking off bucket list items, it was great to just stop and have a break.Though as always it didn’t last long, we had one big thing to do before we left Maui. Around 4pm we grabbed a Coke ($1.50 for an XL, I need to leave Maui before my pants don’t fit), filled up the Jeep and headed towards the Haleakala National Park to catch the sunset.
Haleakala is Hawaiian for ‘house of the sun’. From Kihei it took us about two hours to reach the summit. While the distance wasn’t long, the road was super windy and we kept stopping in awe of the view. It was crazy; from the bottom of the volcano the weather turned bad with a heavy fog surrounding us. We drove through the white mist, laughing about how we chose the worst day to witness the sunset – we couldn’t even see 10 metres in front of us. However as we climbed higher, we drove out of the fog and back into sunshine and blue skies. Below us sat the heavy fog and created the most amazing view!
We reached the summit at approximately 10,000 feet and quickly changed into warmer clothes. The air was fresh and cool up here which was a stark contrast to the hot weather by the beach. We raced over to the edge to find a good viewing spot and waited patiently for its descent. According to my dear friend Wikipedia, the summit area of Haleakala ranks one of the best sites in the world for viewing the night sky due to having almost zero light pollution, above turbulent atmospheric conditions and little atmosphere. And I had to agree, the sky was flawless.
The sky turned from blue to pink to orange. The clouds looked out out of this world as they glowed in the last of the days sun. It was definitely one of the nicest sunsets I’d ever seen. However the beauty of the sunset also brought on a little sadness. It was like a metaphor for the trip, it had been so beautiful but it had to end. Tomorrow we fly back to Oahu for a final day before K and L head back to Australia and I continue onto Peru – which was slightly scary to think about!
We left the summit as the sky turned to black and made our way back to the Banana Bungalow. First we made a dinner stop at Whole Foods, picking up some wine and cheese to toast the end of our trip. K and L had never been to a Whole Foods before so we spent a good 45 minutes in there wandering through the aisles lost in the decision making process. Finally immersing from the store with way more food than we intended we set up a perch for dinner in the common area at the Banana Bungalow and devoured our Whole Foods feast.
Tomorrow brings an early start as we have to be at the airport for our flight to Oahu at 9am.
Truth be told, I didn’t really know anything about the Road to Hana before I booked my flights to Hawaii. But now having done it, all I want to do is tell the world how fantastic it is. The road that spans over approximately 54 miles, has over 600 curves and 59 bridges show cases all of Maui’s beautiful landscapes, from the lush green mountains to the azure coloured ocean, to the rushing waterfalls and even the harsh desolate volcanic hills. It has everything a nature lover could possibly want.
First of all before we delve into the wonder of the Road to Hana I’m going to give y’all a big, fat, monumental piece of advice. Don’t do this drive in one day. Just don’t. Too many people get in the car, race around to all the stops like madmen and turn around in Hana without even getting out of the car. Not only is it a massive day but you miss out on so, so much. My advice, be like the Hawaiians and go a few paces slower. Enjoy the drive, stop at your leisure and heck, make it a two day journey! Also rent a soft top Jeep, because if there is one car built for the Road to Hana, its the Jeep Wrangler.
The road – known as the Hana Highway – is marked out with mile markers that guide you where to stop and what there is to see. I tried my hardest to keep an eye out for mile markers but I have to admit I was too busy staring out the window admiring the scenery. When we saw something we liked, we stopped. Having no expectations of what we were going to find was way better than having a rigid route to follow anyway.
We left Pai’a early, in hopes of beating the hordes of tourists that drive the Hana Highway everyday. Passing the small town of Haiku we waved at the famous surf break Jaws as we passed. Our first stop on our journey was the tiny fruit stand of Huelo selling fresh coconuts, pineapples and a delicious looking selection of breakfast options, making us regret eating breakfast at the hostel.
Getting back in the Jeep, we drove on. The scenery was never short of beautiful. One side of the road was the ocean; sparkling under the morning sun and to our other side was the mountainous ranges, alive with greenery. The road was narrow and at times only a single lane. Sometimes if I waved my arm out the window I would touch the bushes growing on the mountain edges that paralleled us. We pulled in at the bamboo forest, one of the first popular tourist hotspots. There were only a few cars parked on the side of the road so we joined them and went to explore.
It was somewhat spooky to walk through the dark bamboo forest. There were several different tracks through the forest and within steps you could lose where you are. The three of us stuck together and climbed down the muddy track, over a wooden plank until we came to a large opening with many rock pools. It would have been less than 100 metres from the road but the silence was deafening, like our own little quiet haven away from the busy tourist trail.
After playing in the bamboo and by the rock pools we continued on our journey. Our next stop at the Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees wasn’t far at all, only a few minutes drive. Spotting the trees, we pulled over on the side of the road and went to look at this amazing case of Mother Nature’s beauty. The Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees are only found in a few places around the world so it was really special to see them in real life.
We drove on, enjoying the scenery and the still semi-quiet roads. Definitely an advantage to leaving early! Our next stop was the Waikamoi Ridge Track. This short hike takes about 30 minutes and takes you high along the ridge with views out to the ocean. It was a nice break to driving (because we had been driving for SO long – not) but it gave us an excuse to eat bulk food, which we would be doing shortly.
Making a quick stop at Honomanu Bay, which was accessible by a dirt track. I’d advise to only go down this track if you have a 4-wheel drive, it was a pretty hairy looking road – luckily our Jeep handled it easily. The bay itself is one of the few black sand beaches in Maui. It wasn’t the prettiest of the beaches, but the phenomenon of the black sand beach was enough to make us thrilled. We paddled in the cool water before moving on to find some food.
Not much further down the road was a stop that we had been advised to go to. Keanae was a small community off the Hana Highway, which was famous for their homemade banana bread. While you can get banana bread all around Maui, Aunty Sandy’s in Keanae is supposed to be the best, and I tell you after almost demolishing a loaf to myself – it is! I’m a self-proclaimed banana bread expert and this warm and delectable cake was the best I’ve had. I needed to find Aunty Sandy and get her recipe – she is a genius! We sat by the water and ate our banana bread under the hot sun, watching the waves smash into the black volcanic rocks.
We got back into the Jeep and continued on our way until we reached the famous Halfway to Hana stop. Really it is just a small road stand with toilets and some food options but it was one of those stops you just have to do. I wouldn’t recommend making this a huge stop on your journey, there are much better places for food and drink along the way.
We were keen to see some waterfalls, as there hadn’t been too many so far. There hadn’t been rain in a couple of weeks, so most of the roadside waterfalls were dry but we were determined to find ones we could swim in.
Alas, we didn’t have to go too much further! Driving around the windy roads, we came across this huge bridge and waterfall. This is what we were looking for! I’m not too sure which waterfall we were at, I still sucked at finding mile markers, but it was under a huge bridge. We parked the Jeep up the road where there was some space and raced down the rocky path by the bridge until we were at the rock pools and waterfall. Plunging into the icy cold water, we swam quickly to the waterfall and let the fresh water cascade over us. It was such a surreal and wonderful feeling. Within seconds, my body was numb from the cold but it felt amazing to be swimming in freshwater. We floated about for a while, playing under the waterfall and screaming like little girls at how cold it was.
It was such a glorious place and we had it all to ourselves, you couldn’t even hear the cars passing by on the bridge up ahead. It was our own little natural oasis.We stayed for a while before climbing back up the muddy track to the road. I think the important thing about doing the Road to Hana is to not be afraid to explore. The best parts usually take some climbing to get to and you need to be prepared to stop a lot.
Driving on further we came across another massive waterfall that started on one side of the bridge and fell down to the other side. Still wet from the first waterfall we pulled over and climbed over the bridge to the small, steep track down to the falls. Unlike the first one, we were at the top of the waterfall now and the sharp drop down onto the rocks loomed before us. K and I were too intrigued to not check it out so we carefully climbed out to the top of the waterfall. Perching on the edge, it was probably a 25 metre drop to the bottom; a slightly precarious place to be sitting but the view was perf!
Slightly scary but such an awesome view!
Crawling back to the safety of the rocks we clambered back up the steep track and into the Jeep. The banana bread we had earlier was now feeling like a distant memory so we drove on in search of lunch. Like everything on the road to Hana, we didn’t have to go very far. Pulling up at a random roadside stand we ordered hotdogs, chilli rice and pulled pork burgers to fix our hunger pains. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. We ate beside another waterfall that seemed to be a popular tourist stop because there were several buses parked up and people milling about everywhere. A group of Hawaiian boys sauntered in as if they owned the joint and broke up the crowd hovering around a bridge that stood over a lagoon of water. Several moments later one of the boys stood up on the railing of the bridge and made the massive leap into the water below. There was a hush over the crowd of people and as the boys took turns jumping off the bridge, the tourists videoed everything on their phones.
We watched in wonder as the boys leapt for their lives. There were a lot of rocks that stood between the bridge and the water and if the boys miscalculated their jump it could have ended nastily. After all the boys had jumped in, the crowd dispersed and it looked like the show was over. We jumped back in the Jeep in haste to beat the buses and drove back into the beautiful scenery. It had been all of 15 minutes before we were stopping again for food. This was definitely turning into the food tour of Maui!
Coconut Glen’s was a kaleidoscope of colours and had a fantastical whim about it. We pulled in after seeing the rainbow coloured sign advertising their natural ice cream. Assuring ourselves we needed a sugar hit to do the last leg of the trip, we ordered the delicious coconut ice cream and learnt the story of Coconut Glen’s.
Originally from Boston, Glen moved to Maui and opened his vegan ice cream stand in 2008. Since then, Conde Naste has voted him the second best ice cream in the world, which is no mean feat! Giving off a Willy Wonka type vibe, Coconut Glen wants to promote natural and healthy ice cream. Cleverly marketed as ‘ice cream that grows on trees’ its easy to see why its so popular with children and adults alike.
We left Coconut Glen’s full of healthy, coconutty goodness which fired us up for our last stop before Hana. The Wai’anapanapa State Park was one of the major highlights of the Road to Hana, with several different things to see. We drove down the road to the parking area which wasn’t so busy much to our delight. It was getting late in the afternoon now and most Road to Hana go-ers would be on their way back now so we were chuffed with ourselves for choosing to stay the night.
We first wandered over to the blowhole which wasn’t blowing because of low tide. The dark volcanic rocks contrasted brilliantly against the sapphire coloured water. Despite the loud thrashing of the waves against the rocks, I had an urge to jump in for a swim. Opting to wait until we reached the black sand beach, we had a quick wander through the sea caves where we learnt about the legend of the Wai’anapanapa Caves.It was too dark in the caves and we weren’t feeling brave enough to plunge into the back waters to find the princesses secret hiding spot so we walked back to the beach for a swim.
Pebble beaches are definitely better than sand beaches. While not necessary as pretty, the pebbles don’t stick around in absolutely every for days after like the way sand does. We dropped our stuff by the water and raced in. The water was cool, refreshing and ridiculously clear. We floated in the water, talking about the day and finally taking a proper break to relax.
It was about 4:30pm by the time we went back to the Jeep. Most of the other tourists had long left the Road to Hana and as we drove into the tiny, quiet town there were hardly any tourists.
Finding our accommodation for the night easily, we parked into Joe’s Rentals and were shown to our room. The old beach house was ours for the night, with only one other person staying there. It was old and decrepit but the space and privacy was exactly what we wanted.
Going out in search of dinner, we drove through the tiny town of Hana and found some roadside food trucks. K got a burrito from the Mexican truck and L and I opted for Thai. Sitting down devouring our food we talked about the trip so far. It was coming to an end so quickly and there was still so much to do and see.
We were in bed early, the long day of exploring finally taking a toll of us. Tomorrow we’re doing the backside of Hana back to Wailuku, a trip that many people skip. I was excited to see what it brings!
I won’t lie – today we all woke up with a ripper hangover. Thank you very much Nelson and your delicious wine. After a shaky and slow start we left Mimi in the New World car park for a little longer while we searched for coffee to kick this hangover. S and B got distracted by some op-shops so K and I searched on until we found Paula’s Plate just off the main street in Nelson.
This adorable little cafe was kitschy and cute and had the best tiled entrance I’ve seen in New Zealand. Paula’s Plate uses local produce from around the Nelson region to create delicious and fresh food. K and I were still a little too shady to order anything edible – though the menu sounded so so good – so we settled for a takeaway coffee until the remnants of our hangover disappeared. I later discovered (thanks Google) that Paula was runner-up in the TV show Masterchef in 2013!
We caught up with S and B and had a wander through some of Nelson’s shops before the sweet scent of cinnamon wafted under our noses. Eager to investigate, we walked down a little arcade to discover a little artisan bakery tucked away in the back corner. L’Artisan Bakery smelled even better inside the shop, I closed my eyes and let my senses take over. The baker announced she had freshly baked cinnamon buns cooling off, ready to be devoured so not ones to stray from the offer of food, we chowed down the deliciously gooey, sweet treats. We had a sample of some of the other goodies but nothing compared to the sticky cinnamon buns.
Wandering slow back to Mimi, we perused through all sorts of shops and art galleries. It was such a pleasant way to work out the hangover. Deciding it was time to move on, we had one quick final grocery shop at our campsite – the New World supermarket – before driving out of Nelson towards Blenheim.
It wasn’t until we were about 5km that we realised we had forgotten to go to the main thing we wanted to see in Nelson – the World of Wearable Art museum. Chucking a slightly illegal u-turn, we navigated back to the museum all of us pretending that blonde moment never occurred.
The World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum is where many award winning creations of wearable art garments come to live after they are showcased in the annual World of Wearable Art performances held in Wellington. Designed by people all over the world, these dramatic and intricate pieces of wearable art are inspired by local flora, fauna and culture.
The showcase was slightly eery, mainly because I have a slight phobia of mannequins and that they were all in a dark room illuminated by small lights. But there was no denying the hours of work that has gone into these pieces and it shows, it truly was a unique way to display art.
The Classic Cars part of the museum was equally as enthralling, with the cars presented to the highest standard. The exhibition showcased the evolution of the motor vehicle and how the styles and designs have changed over time. I’m no car enthusiast – I’ve been driving the same car since high school – but these metal beasts sure were eye-catching!
By the time we had looked through both exhibitions, our stomachs were growling something chronic so the Speight’s Ale House just across the road was looking mighty welcoming. These ale houses pop up all over New Zealand and really are just a fancy pub, but the meals are absolutely delicious. As usual, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we ordered enough to feed a small nation.
Struggling to walk back to Mimi because we were so full, it was late afternoon by the time we were on the road to Blenheim. We decided to free camp tonight again before splurging on a powered site in Blenheim because tomorrow we intended on doing a winery tour and wanted to look pretty – therefore electricity, showers and mirrors were a necessity! Our free camping spot was outside of Blenheim near a picnic area. It was absolutely freezing so we huddled in Mimi with our heater blaring. We were pretty knackered after a long day of adventure and driving and wanted to be fresh for our wine tour tomorrow so we called it a night early – not even attempting a game of cards!
Tomorrow we sample the best of the Marlborough region!
For a day that we had made absolutely no plans for, it turned out to be one of our busiest and jam-packed days! After saying our goodbyes to Pancake Rocks with one final selfie, we jumped back in Mimi and planned on cutting across the top of the top island towards Nelson. What was becoming a regular trend for the four of us, we only made it an hour down the road before getting side-tracked by a sign on the road. This one said ‘Seal Colony – 12km’ and there was no hesitation from any of us. K slammed the brakes we made a beeline for the seals. Consulting our trusty road map, we learnt that the colony was located at Cape Foulwind, an appropriate name for a point of the west coast.
We found the seal colony easily and after a short walk, we were greeted by a viewing platform that overlooked the colony. Cape Foulwind was certainly living up to its name and the vicious winds were knocking us about for a six. The viewing platform was quite high up from the colony but the shiny fur of the seals were unmistakable. Excited at our first proper seal sighting, we squealed like little girls and were mesmerised by their antics for a good half hour or so.
Stopping in for a drinks break at a lone cafe just down the road, we found a pamphlet for New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. The Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, located just outside Murchison, was a couple of hours drive away so we voted to swing by there for lunch (pun totally intended). It was another windy drive and while the distance wasn’t that long, it took forever to get there! By the time we reached the swing bridge, we were itching to get out and stretch our legs.
The Buller Gorge Swing bridge is 110 metres of swaying rope that hangs precariously across the Buller River. You can walk across the bridge and explore the surroundings of the Buller Gorge area, enjoying a bush walk through the native New Zealand nature. Or, if you’re a little bit more adventurous, try 160m Cometline across the river. Not one to shy away from some fun, we booked tickets and paired up to do the tandem Cometline. It was exhilarating as we whizzed across the river at lightning speed. I’d probably rate it a 6 out of 10 for being an adrenaline raiser. Its no bungee jump but definitely something that the whole family can do.
While our heart rates settled back to normal, we made a quick lunch in the van while the rain started to spit down on us before continuing on towards Nelson. Not going to lie, we may have underestimated the driving time for today as it seemed like we would never get to Nelson!
I took over driving for awhile while K had a nap and I had to commend her on her driving skills. These windy roads took a lot of focus and concentration – the fact that she could sing along with us and drive on the right side of the road was a miracle!
The long day was starting to take a toll on our energy and mood levels and by the time we reached the outskirts of Nelson, we were ready of a wine or five. Discovering that we could free camp at the local New World supermarket, we battled through peak hour traffic and reversed Mimi into a first class park right outside the supermarket entrance. Our mood levels lifted as we giggled over camping spot for the night. It wasn’t quite as spectacular as the snow capped mountains and sapphire coloured lakes we’d camped beside previously, but A+ for convenience!
The need for an alcoholic beverage for pretty high by this stage so we braved the dodgy looking pub across the road and discovered $10 jugs of cider available. Suddenly, the Post Boy on the corner wasn’t looking so dodgy! After a jug (or three, but who’s counting?) we walked to the centre of town and found a Mac’s Brewery offering burgers and wine. Nelson was just speaking our language and we got a little carried away. Several bottles later and a lot of inappropriate conversation, we stumbled back to Mimi – still finding camping beside a supermarket hilarious.
Tomorrow morning may hurt. But we’re exploring Nelson!
We made it to Greymouth with just enough daylight to suss out our free camping spot for the night. Using the Jucy app yet again (this thing was a lifesaver!) we found a secluded spot by the beach just outside the windy city. Greymouth itself wasn’t much to look at – it seemed like a bit of a middle class mining town. There wasn’t a lot of colour around and the dreary weather kept people indoors, making it seem almost ghost town-like. Deciding that our little camp spot would do the trick for the night, we jumped back in Mimi for a quick squiz at the Monteiths Brewery in the middle of town.
The Monteiths Brewery was a far cry from the dullness of its surroundings outside. Like a warm shining beacon of hope, we backtracked our initial thoughts of Greymouth a little and was impressed by the industrial-esque interior that made up the brewery. Monteith’s has been brewing for over 150 years and is the leader in New Zealand’s craft beer market. We were too late (no surprise) for a tour of the brewery but settled with a selection of brews to sample, while we warmed up by the roaring fire. I’m not a huge beer drinker but I sure do love a good cider, and if there is one cider I always fall back on, its a Monteith’s. Back in Aus, we get the usual apple and pear ciders but in the brewery I found a new love – ginger and pear cider. Mmm it was so darn good I could have bathed in it!
Heading back to our little camping spot, the wind was blowing an absolute gale and we were a little unsure of parking up here for the night. Deciding to park further from the beach than another lone camper, we reasoned that if the tide turned nasty on us, at least they’d get hit first. We settled in for a little dinner before dozing off into a beer-filled sleep.
The following morning I awoke early to Mimi swaying more than a crowd at a Bob Marley concert. It was still pitch black outside, making the swaying sound of the ocean even worse. Waking K up for consultation, we decided to move the van to a more covered area just further down from the beach where the swaying wasn’t so sea-sickness inducing. Fighting to get back to sleep for another half hour, I gave up and hustled K to go for a walk with me on the beach.
Now call me a beach snob because I come from a country thats home to some of the world’s best beaches, but Greymouth beaches are nothing to get excited over. The sand is dark and gritty, the water dirty and turbulent and the scattered driftwood makes walking in a straight line near impossible. Yet the darkness makes the beaches hauntingly beautiful. Like where you’d imagine a Lana Del Ray video to be made. It was depressing yet fascinating the way the knarly driftwood held a lifetime of secrets. The rain chased us back to the van and we decided to get moving straight away, while B and S were still dozing in the back.
Since we crossed the country yesterday, it seemed only logical to cross back over to the other side today. Our plans were sort of haphazard and all we knew was we wanted to be in the Marlborough region and Kaikoura for the rest of our trip. Driving along the wild and windy west coast was exciting and slightly terrifying. I’m not sure if its always so grey and dark on this side of the country but it was sure living up to its name.
We reached Punakaiki just in time for breakfast after zigzagging along the west coast for an hour or so. Punakaiki is home to the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes and we were hopeful we’d find some pancakes for breakfast and not be disappointed like we were in Kumara. Thankfully, the pancake Gods shone down on us this morning and we were in for a treat. Pancakes with bacon, berry compote and maple syrup, washed down with a coffee was pretty much exactly what the doctor ordered.
We finished off brekkie and went for a walk to the Pancake Rocks in a pathetic attempt to work off the calories we’d just consumed. The Pancake Rocks are heavily eroded limestone which over time has been formed by immense pressure by the rough sea on alternating hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediments. These layers look like stacks of pancakes, hence the name ‘Pancake Rocks’. The walkway takes you past the rocks and blowholes and gives you up close views and perfect photo opportunities – which of course we took full advantage of!
The deja vu I’d been feeling driving through Arthurs Pass was confirmed as I remembered looking at the strange rock formations with my parents about 10 years earlier. It was high tide the last time I was here and I remember Dad and I watching the huge waves crash into the rocks and water spouting out of the blowholes. Unfortunately we didn’t see the same performance this time round, but the rocks were still a fascinating sight to see!
As per usual, the clock was running against us and our mission to squeeze as much of New Zealand into one trip as possible was starting to look impossible. Never fear however, we didn’t let this beat us and we jumped back in Mimi for another windy drive towards Nelson.
There were a few stops along the way, but this day turned out to be massive, so I will continue our adventures in the next post!
After our slightly creepy visit to Tekapo, we were more than pleased to be driving away. Passing through teeny tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it towns, we searched for a place to camp for the night. The Musterer’s High Country Accommodation caught our eye and we pulled in hoping they had a free space.
Musterer’s High Country Accommodation are a boutique camping development with a variety of accommodation. Theres self-contained luxury cabins, powered camping sites and also a 1930’s carriage for two people (perfect for a romantic getaway!) Plus, they had adorable donkeys and goats on the property, what more could you want? As it turns out, the perks of travelling off-peak season came through again and we had the entire place to ourselves. Our hosts, Paul and Eunice were way more than accommodating by letting us not only have a powered site, but free reign of the delightful wool shed and hot showers. Talk about score! We were tempted by the hot tubs but unfortunately arrived a bit too late for them to be turned on. We cosied up in the fully decked out wool shed and made dinner and watched TV. This little bit of chill out time was just what we needed at the mid point of our trip.
The following morning, we woke to frosty surroundings, caused by the snowy mountains that enveloped us. Since the start of the trip, we had decided today would be our ‘big’ drive day. We were crossing the island and going from east to west across Arthurs Pass to Greymouth. It would take us about five or so hours, which was huge compared to the menial distances we had been travelling in the previous days.
We set off from our stay at Musterers High Country Accommodation, wiping the condensation from Mimi’s windscreen and turning up the heater full ball. It was a rather bitter morning so we were glad to warm up to the day in the warmth of Mimi.
In true BuchAll fashion we got an hour down the road before we were persuaded to stop. After perusing through a few travel brochures we had picked up along the way, we discovered the small town of Geraldine was home to the delicious Barker’s of Geraldine, as well as a popular spot for cheese tasting and a chocolatier. Basically a must-see on our agenda!
Finding a park, we all agreed on a ‘quick coffee break’ in Geraldine before getting back on the road. Ha, famous last words, we spent about two hours more than we should have there but it was such a delightful little stop.
First off we ate our body weight in preserves and chutneys from Barker’s of Geraldine. They had been creating delicious fruit preserves, chutneys and fruit juice syrups for our 45 uears . It was like a little slice of Grandma’s cooking, NZ style. My favourites were the onion relish, roasted vegie chutney and the lemon curd. Mmm! Even writing about them makes me drool. We bought a couple of jars to take home and to go with our wine and cheese nights that were being a regular occurrence on this trip.
Moving a couple of shops down to Talbot Forest Cheese, we tasted some high quality cheeses, made the traditional way. Again, we ate way more than we should and bought half the shop, but with cheese selling at dirt cheap prices it was too hard to resist.
Arms loaded with bags of goodies we wandered through the streets of Geraldine, until we reached Coco Chocolaterie and decided we definitely needed a sugar hit before leaving Geraldine. All chocolate here is made on site, by hand – even down to the tempering of the chocolate. We ordered a stack of different choccies and some coffee and filled the miniscule gap leftover in our stomachs after our morning feeding frenzy.
Before jumping back in Mimi, K and I had a look at the World’s Largest Jersey – knitted by local and as big as the wall while S and B bartered over some animal hides which S could use for her millinery business. It was a pretty successful little stop on our travel day, glad we’d decided to stop in! It was now starting to feel like we were truly in New Zealand and not just the touristy hotspots such as Queenstown and Lake Tekapo.
Now fairly behind schedule, we hightailed it out of there with a mission to stay in the van for more than an hour. This, of course, was a failure and we made a pit stop at the Staveley Store for a quick coffee and a sample of a cheese roll – because we hadn’t eaten enough in Geraldine – before setting off properly towards Arthurs Pass. P.s – the coffee in Staveley is fantastic!
It was a long, windy drive to reach Arthurs Pass National Park, but the view was fantastic the entire way. I kept feeling a sense of deja vu as we drove along and it wasn’t until we reached the small township of Arthur’s Pass that I realised I had been here before – back when I travelled through New Zealand with my parents at the age of 13. Obviously I wasn’t so enthralled by travelling back then as I am now! :p
The landscape changed dramatically as we drove, from looming arid mountains to dense forestry – we couldnt tire from the view. The road was windy and narrow, though it didnt seem to faze the large trucks whizzing by us as we puttered along in Mimi.
In was nearing dark by the time we reached the turnoff to Greymouth. We’d buzzed past Kumura and had our hopes of hot kumara chips shattered as the scattering of houses that made up the town of Kumara didnt look as inviting as we’d envisioned.
The weather looked shocking as we entered Greymouth and we made a decision to only perch up here for the night before heading on towards Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks, but more on that later…