February 26th 2011 - Bluff, Invercargill
February 25th 2011 – We didn’t wake up until 8.00am this morning surprisingly and some of the other campers had already left. I had heard it raining in the night but thankfully that had stopped by the time we got up. We had a cup of tea and some cereal for breakfast then went to explore the campsite a little more. We wandered down to the lake shore, the view was amazing, a beautiful lake with a backdrop of towering mountains, lovely! Still a bit cloudy but there was a little patch of blue sky which gave us some hope that the day might improve.
We were surprised at how clear the water was, you could actually see ducks under the water whilst they were dabbling. It was really, really clear!
The clear water of Lake Gunn
The campsite itself was quite small really, some vans and tents had pitched on the shore of the lake and some in the forest, we hadn’t had a choice really, we had just grabbed the last space available which was under the canopy of the Beech forest, we were surrounded by enormous Beech trees, absolutely beautiful!
Camped under the Beech trees at Lake Gunn DOC campsite
Once again the sandflies were a major problem here, I think the ones that were here last night had all rushed home and fetched their mates!! They were really bad this morning so we made a sharp exit! We had contemplated driving back up towards Milford Sound this morning but as it was still quite cloudy we didn’t think it was worth it as it is very unlikely that the mist would have cleared the mountain tops, so we headed back on the road to Te Anau. It was a lovely journey though, the road was lined on both sides by Beech forest, miles and miles of it then it finally opened out into flat grassland with mountains on either side, alas still with their heads in the clouds!
Yesterday, on the journey up to Milford Sound we had passed a sign to Mirror Lakes. We didn’t stop at the time but decided we would go and investigate on the trip back. It wasn’t long before we saw the sign and prepared to pull in. There wasn’t much space to park when reached the spot, there were at least three coaches and several campervans but we managed to squeeze into the little spot that was left! We wandered off down the boardwalk, following the signs and a short while later we arrived at the lakes, which surprisingly were quite small, in fact they weren’t much bigger than ponds really! However, they really did have a reflective quality about them and looked lovely with the mountains in the background – once again, shame there was no snow on the peaks!
Mirror Lake living up to its name!
I had quite a job getting the photo actually, the place was teeming with Japanese tourists! You know how they like to photograph each other in front of every view well one guy even took a photo of his wife in front of every information board! We kept having to say excuse me to get past them and they kept bowing and smiling – so funny!
After our brief sojourn at Mirror Lake we continued our journey back to Te Anau. When we arrived we made straight for the public conveniences for a quick pee and to brush our teeth! That is the only problem with the DOC campsites, as there are no facilities other than the dunny there is nowhere to have a wash or brush your teeth. We could do it on the van but then there is the problem of what to do with waste water, you are not allowed to throw “grey” water out on any of these sites. Anyway, public conveniences in New Zealand are much more pleasant affairs than the ones at home in the UK – I don’t think I would ever consider brushing my teeth in one of them!!
Once cleaned up and after nipping to the supermarket for a few more bits and pieces we hit the road again, still heading South. Our destination for the night being Manapouri. It didn’t take us long to get there but once again the scenery was spectacular, mountains on the left and more mountains on the right, fantastic. I persuaded Clive to pull over so I could take some photographs. There are range after range of mountains in the South and they all have different names. We think these are the Kepler Mountains.
We soon arrived in Manapouri and as there is only one campsite there we headed straight to it and got checked in. It is a very quaint site run by a rather elderly couple, Clive said he thought she was American and her husband couldhave been Dutch! There were lots of interesting things about the site, for a start there was the Morris Minor collection!!
Morris Minor Collection!
Secondly, when I nipped into the ladies I was surprised to find a board on the wall of the cubicle with snippets from Monty Python!! However the kitchen facilities were very nice indeed, the dining room had lots of lovely round wooden tables and chairs, a bit like something out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears!
Once we were settled in we went for a walk down to the lakefront. Again, the water was crystal clear – why is that? British lakes are always dark and gloomy looking, the water seems almost black doesn’t it. The lakes here though are so clear you can see the bottom! You can see in this photo of Clive and the lake just how clear it is.
Clive and the clear waters of Lake Manapouri
We stayed on the beach for a little while then headed back up to the road. Next door to the camp was a bar – oh goody! We sauntered over and got ourselves a couple of drinks then went to sit outside. There were a load of bikers there too, we had seen their gorgeous motor bikes in the carpark! One couple were Canadian, the rest were from Australia, well apart from one who was born in New Zealand but now lives in Australia. We were laughing when we heard him saying to the Canadian couple that they refer to North Island, South Island and West Island (Australia!).
After enjoying our drinks in the sunshine – yes I did say sunshine! It had finally put in an appearance! We wandered back to thecamp. I went into the camp kitchen to prepare the dinner, well the potatoes and stir-fry veggies, Clive was going to cook lamb chops on the campsite barbecue. Now although I said it was sunny I didn’t say it was warm! It was flipping perishing! I was OK in the kitchen but Clive was feeling pretty chilly outside cooking the chops, bless! In actual fact for the last two days we have both been wearing long trousers, something neither of us have done for many, many weeks! However you have to remember, we are now a long way South, it’s a bit like going up to Scotland at home! We’re not actually that far from Antarctica here you know!
February 26th 2011 – we left Manapouri after breakfast this morning and continued on the road South heading for Invercargill. This journey was in total contrast to the last week or so, it was completely and utterly flat! I can’t believe how different it was! Certainly over the last week we have been driving on roads with vertical sides, looking up at towering peaks! Very soon after leaving Manapouri it just completely levelled out! The road wasperfectly straight, barely a curve and there was nothing to see but grass,sheep and cows, with an occasional Silverbeet field every now and again!
To break the monotony we turned off at a sign pointing to: Historic Suspension Bridge! This old bridge was amazing, its called the Clifden Suspension Bridge (not to be confused with the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol!). It spans the Waiau River (which again is absolutely crystal clear!) Its once claim to fame was being the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand.
Clifden Suspension Bridge, once the longest in New Zealand!
It was officially opened on April 5th 1899. This opening was followed by a dance in nearby Clifden Hall, which evidently went on into the small wee hours! Over time the horses and mules crossing this bridge were replaced by motor cars and the bridge remained in use until 1978 when it was finally replaced by a new bridge.
So, we crossed the river, via the new bridge and continued our journey South. The journey was actually beginning to get boring can you believe, we hadn’t seen anything other than field after field of sheep and cows for what seemed like hours, then all of a sudden we saw the sea! The Tasman Sea to be precise, we had finally got back to the coast. There was a view point up ahead so we decided to stop, have a look at the sea and also have a coffee and TimTam – late Elevenses!
View of the Tasman Sea as seen from McCracken's Rest
It was great to see the coast again, I’ve missed the sea! After coffee we continued our journey and eventually we arrived in Invercargill, the most Southerly city of New Zealand. However, we didn’t stop there, we drove right through the centre and continued on to Bluff! Bluff really is the furthest South you can get to in New Zealand by car! Well unless that is you go over to Stewart Island. Not everyone realises that New Zealand is not just made up of two islands, there are many actually but the main ones are North, South and Stewart! Stewart Island however only has one road, which is very, very short indeed! It is a wildlife haven however and many people do venture over the Foveaux Strait to the island. We decided not to in the end. Bluff however was wonderful! It is basically the “Land’s End” of New Zealand. So, we have now been to the very top of New Zealand, Cape Reinga and now the very bottom, Bluff. The distance between these two points is 1401 Km. How do I know that? Because there is one of those signs that shows you how far it is to everywhere, just like there was at Cape Rienga! The compulsory photographs were taken of us both under the sign just to prove we had been there and done that!
Mel at Bluff, the bottom of New Zealand!
On the journey down here this morning we had been discussing Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand, which I am sure many of you have seen. I asked Clive if he knew where it was that Billy had been photographed with a huge sculpture of a chain? He, like me, vaguely remembered it being down Invercargill way but we weren’t sure just where. Well, after having our photos taken under the sign we turned around and walked back up towards the van – there it was – the chain! I was just about to take a photo of Clive with the chain when a guy came over and asked if we would like one together – how kind. We said yes and handed over the camera, he took a couple for good measure. Then Clive reciprocated and took one of him and the rest of his family. He sounded South African to me and said he was here visiting his sister.
Clive and I with The Chain
You may be wondering what this chain is all about. Well, in Maori legend, Maui was a legendary Polynesian voyager with god-like powers. Creation stories tell of how he pulled Stewart Island/Rakiura from the ocean floor to be the anchorstone (Te Puka a Maui) for his canoe, or South Island (Te Waka a Maui – which means the canoe of Maui). Thus anchored Maui was able to cast his line and haul out the giant fish which was to become North Island (Te Ika a Maui). The chain links also symbolise a history of inter-relationships between the peoples of Bluff. The chain seems disappears into the sea here at Bluff but reappears at Lee Bay on Stewart Island. This story about Maui also explains the Maori symbol of the fishing hook. Clive wears a bone one as a necklace and we also have a large one, beautifully carved out of Kauri wood, on the wall of our boat at home.
We finally tore ourselves away from Bluff and its legends and headed back towards Invercargill. We had contacted a campsite on the journey down and booked ourselves in. It wasn’t hard to find and we soon got settled in. Just one problem – no Vodafone signal here for the dongle! Meh! So, I have had to wait a couple of days for a good signal in order to post this blog - now I'm behind again!!