Now ... where was I?
Ah yes, we had invited Bill Bryson to New Zealand and I had said to him, "Here is the route, Bill - now you find and write the story". The North Island has been covered and now we turn our attention to the supreme challenge: the South Island. Why such a challenge, you ask?
It is because I have given myself three parameters:
(a) No more than 20 days on each main Island
(b) No more than 300 kms traveling on State Highway 1 (SH1). I have 114kms left to use.
(c) No more than 150 kms of traveling twice on the same road. I still have all 150kms to use.
Fasten your seatbelt once again.
[Click on the map to enlarge it. Numbers in brackets add up to 20 days].
An early morning flight from Auckland to Nelson gets us started. Straight into our rental car and off we head south and then west on SH60 to Motueka and Marahau, departure point for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. A lot of driving ahead of us and so it is into a water taxi to Bark Bay and the leisurely walk back to Anchorage. Another water taxi has us back to our car, to Motueka and on the back-road to Richmond (so that we can stop and pick some berries on the way). It is summer time, the days are long and so we keep driving on SH6 and stop in Murchison for the night (1).
If the sandflies have not eaten all our flesh overnight we follow the Buller River (SH6) to Westport. Cape Foulwind is a must. I am sure mine is not the only family with pictures of children standing by the sign with their buts pointed towards the camera and their fingers grasping their noses? (oops - maybe we are...) Then it is down the West Coast, pausing at Punakaiki and the 'pancake rocks' and a lunch of pancakes too. Just south of Greymouth we head inland on SH73 and up and over the Arthur's Pass and turn south on SH72, enjoy a walk and a wander at the Rakaia River before settling down for the night in nearby Methven (2).
From our Methven base we travel into Christchurch for the day, easily avoiding SH1 there and back. Sumner, the Avon River, and a trip over to Lyttelton Harbour content us for the day before returning to Methven (3).
We find our way onto SH72 and the drive to Geraldine, at which point my children are trained to say in unison, "Now here is a town that takes pride in itself". I love it and not just because it is home to Barker's berry toppings and jams. But now that you mention it, Barker's isn't such a bad place to stop for a coffee and a brunch because one of the simple delights of the South Island awaits us. The drive from Geraldine to Fairlie (SH79) ... and then on we go to Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki and the colour blue like only God could do. Worshipping God in the Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo is difficult with tourists everywhere but it must be done - as must the drive up to the Cookie Monster (ie Mt Cook) alongside Lake Pukaki. There is time for one of the short walks at The Hermitage, that iconic NZ Hotel. Then we use up almost half our quota of kms for traveling twice on the same road with the 55kms back alongside Pukaki to Twizel. We stay south on SH8 and I am tempted to use the rest of that quota going back and forth over the Lindis Pass half a dozen times - but that would be to gorge myself on the gorgeous. We content ourselves with the drive to Alexandra, passing ever so slowly over the Lindis Pass, and then alongside Lake Dunstan, the Cromwell Gorge and a night of rest (4).
We take a day away from driving for some cycling along the Central Otago Rail Trail (Omakau to Wedderburn would be my choice, maintaining a little altitude above the Ida Valley - 5). The next morning we head north from Alexandra on SH85, with our first stop being St Bathans. It is one of the great mysteries of life that so many Aucklanders will travel multiple times to the Gold Coast and Fiji before they make a pilgrimage to St Bathans (and Queenstown, Milford and the Cookie Monster, to be fair). But just look at it:
In fact with apologies to Moto Moto in Madagascar 2, "it is so nice you need to see it twice": [photos courtesy of my friend Damian Velluppillai]
Anyhow after we've had a swim at St Bathans we rejoin SH85 and head towards Ranfurly and some of the coldest places in New Zealand. Thankfully, it is summer time - remember? I am so tempted to take you on the Pig Route but that means many kms on SH1 which we just cannot afford. And so we head south on SH87 after Ranfurly for a leisurely drive all the way to Middlemarch and then on to Mosgiel(6). A drive into Dunedin is on the agenda for the next day, with my choice being to go up and around the Peninsula before returning to Mosgiel where we, rather sadly, rejoin SH1 for 72kms as we travel south to Balclutha. The church I pastored in Invercargill knew that I loved the farmland around Balclutha so much that they commissioned a painting as a gift when we left. We head on to Owaka near the coast for the night(7).
A day for a quiet drive through the Catlins area and the "Southern Scenic Route". It could well be wintry conditions in the middle of summer - but whatever you do, don't mention the weather to the locals. We enjoy Invercargill more than many who pass through simply because it is where we lived and loved. We stay coastal, finding our way to Riverton which in my day had a decaying sign on the Bowling Club, announcing Riverton to be the "riviera of the south". Then it is on SH99 and the back door into Manapouri and the Te Anau area. There has been a lot of driving so we stop for the night (8). The next day is the fabulous boat trip across the lake to Doubtful Sound and out towards the Tasman Sea(9).
Now we have a problem, a big problem. Milford Sound is spectacular but there is only one road in and one road out and I have only 95kms left in my 'travelling twice' quota. So, here is what we are going to do. We'll take a lingering scenic flight into Milford Sound absorbing as much of the Southern Alps as we can while we are in the air - before the boat trip out from Milford to the Tasman Sea. Then we'll hitch a ride on a bus back to Te Anau because the Milford Rd is a road that must be more travelled (10).
We make our way to Queenstown and the Wakitipu Basin, surely one of the most beautiful places on earth. There is scenery to savour just as there is thrill-seeking on which to risk our lives. Days 11-13 are easily spent here. The drives up Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski field. Arrowtown and its delightful river out the back. Glenorchy and its Paradise out the back. On and on it goes - with maybe a ride on the Shotover Jet which these two young tourists seem to be endorsing.
Day 14 finds us driving through the Kawerau Gorge (SH6) to Cromwell and then on up to Wanaka (a favourite of Tom Cruise, as he mentions it in MI3). Staying on SH6 it is up and over the Haast Pass, without ever really knowing it! Stop at the Gates of Haast and then just luxuriate in the drive down alongside the Haast River to the West Coast. Yes, sometimes I really do believe that God wants me to be a courier driver serving the southern part of the South Island. Staying on SH6 as we head north we pause for the night at Fox Glacier (14). A very early morning trip to nearby Lake Matheson for the classic calendar picture of the mountains in the Mirror Lake is followed by a walk up to Fox Glacier itself - probably a bit closer then they suggest! The weather is so fickle in this region we add a rest day here (15). Then we hop in the car and do it all again, walking up to the Franz Josef glacier further up SH6. But also taking in one of the many walks in the area (16).
On the road again, we make our way north to Greymouth, adding another 18kms to our quota of traveling on a road twice, right at the end. This time we travel inland on SH7 and towards the Lewis Pass but we can't cross it as we do not have enough kms to travel back on the East Coast. So we take SH7 to SH65 and turn north to Murchison. Then we travel twice on SH6 for 47kms before turning off at SH63 and head towards St Arnaud, Lake Rotoiti and the Nelson Lakes region (17).
Then it is SH63 down into Blenheim and sadly, the 28kms on SH1 into Picton - but we aren't catching the ferry to the North Island this time. It is the long and winding road known as the Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive into Havelock that we want where we pause for the night(18) ... with one final day on the water in prospect - this time somewhere in the Malborough Sounds. Pelorous? Kenepuru? Take your pick (19).
... before the drive back to Nelson on SH6 and the flight back to Auckland (20).
That makes it 286km on SH1 and 120km traveling on a road twice :) And somewhere along the way Bill Bryson will find a story or two among the locals.
The Great Omissions?
Ah, Kaikoura must head the list - but there will be many more, I'm sure.