After breezing through Invercargill and only quickly looking in at Dunedin, I managed to avoid the temptation of another Saturday night on the town by just not being in one. However, I should have taken a hint from the map and stayed in town. Driving down the west coast, I was passing a camping ground every few miles. After Dunedin there are hardly any, I think it’s because there is not much there. The Kiwis seem to have noticed this and tried to make it look more interesting. All the other places I have driven through, between mountains and through forests and amazing valleys, I never noticed any signposts for a ‘Scenic Route.’ This is probably because they would have to put them on every road. Driving out of Invercargill though, I saw one. A quick check of the map and it only took me slightly off course before rejoining the main road, so I took it. What could be so amazing that by their own high standards, the people of New Zealand chose to call this bit scenic? By ‘Scenic’ the Kiwis obviously meant ‘Farmland.’ Soon I was driving through what is best described as ‘like what we have back home.’ Around another corner and I could have been driving back into my home town. Eventually I came to the place I wanted to stop for the night, at the end of the Otago Rail Trail, a town called Middlemarch. Only to find the campsite had closed down. The grass was knee high, a forlorn and lonely caravan sat next to a pile of car tyres and birds had taken up roost inside the shower blocks. It was still on private property, people lived in the house on the site but no one was in. I toyed with the idea of just parking up, but I wanted a shower and the birds were living in the shower heads. Consultation of ye hallowed book of maps showed a second site not far away, but they wanted to charge $25.00 just for me to park on their precious turf, which was barely better than what I had just left. Onwards. The sun was low in the sky and what looked in the map to be only about ten miles away turned out to be about twenty-five. I found the next place, a field set aside for camping on, next door to the local bowling club. No showers, but it was only two dollars for the night and was near a pub. I had a pint in there, only myself and three other people were present. My search for a shower block continued the following day.
I’ve been slowly making my way back toward Christchurch in time for Christmas, but with the vast amount of nothing at all to see, I was at risk of getting there a might early, about two weeks early in fact. Since there was little in the way of entertainment in most of the places I called in at, I only spent the night and was gone the next day. In order to slow down I decided that I had to pick a campsite and stay there longer, instead of driving on to the next one as a means for something to do. Turning inland again I headed toward Mount Cook, but decided that I had to stop for the night somewhere between. I pulled in at a boating lake, a nice picturesque place and told myself that I had to stay for the night. It also had showers, but in the small village nearby. It was two in the afternoon. Boredom set in at two fifteen. I walked around the lake, nothing special but it killed time. I had a look at the nearby hydroelectric dam, impressive but not what you could call a day out. I read a bit, the bad guy had just escaped from a padded cell by walking through a wall. Time ticked by, and by five o’clock I decided to walk the half a mile or so into the village and have a shower. The shop that operated it was closed, but the blocks themselves were open. I inserted two dollars into the box to get them working, and out gushed the water. Cold, it never heated up. I wasted two of my precious coins and got a cold shower for it! At least I could go in the pub and not risk stinking the place out, but I needn’t have bothered because no one was in. Back to the van, and the night was taken up by watching repeats of the Sopranos on my computer. Ho hum.
I left early the next day, Mount Cook was the next stop. The countryside became more rugged and interesting the closer I drove toward the mountain range, the opposite side of the Southern Alps I had past on the west coast. The approach road to Mount Cook, or Aoraki as the Maori call it, is flanked on the right hand side by Lake Pukaki. If I didn’t know any better, I would say this lake had suffered from some sort of industrial accident and had been polluted horribly. The entire lake was a pale blue colour, not sky blue, more the colour you would paint the room of a newborn baby boy. I fancied that a mining operation just out of site had been digging for this ‘Blue’ (like gold, only blue) and over the years it had leeched into the lake. It kept me chuckling for miles, anyway.
I reached the end of the road and the Mount Cook visitor centre and camping ground at one in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the main attraction was obscured by clouds, just my luck. I found a place to park in the campsite, paid the fee and went to have a look at the museum. Like other places in New Zealand, it was a homage to the first European settlers. A display of mountaineering equipment from down the ages, set up in period cabins, showed what life was like for the first mountaineers of the mysterious mountain that lay behind the cloud. There was also a film showing the work of the Search & Rescue helicopter crews, brave men indeed. But the best part was the tribute to one man, Sir Edmond Hillary. He was the first man to successfully reach the summit of Mount Everest, along with Sherpa Tensing, and is practically worshipped by the people in New Zealand. His face adorns the back of the five dollar note and his bronze statue stands gazing at Mount Cook, for this is where he practised before heading off to climb Everest. Before I left the museum, I noticed the cloud had broken and there, standing proud and snow capped, was Mount Cook. I had waited most of the day for that to happen, had it being earlier in my travels I wouldn’t have had the patience and would’ve left after only a few hours. Good things come etc etc…
So, thankfully there are many more people in this campsite and hopefully someone will break into song and there’ll be entertainment for all. Yeah, right. It’s strange camping near the mountains, occasionally you’d hear a low rumble or a crack as snow and ice break off and avalanche down a mountainside somewhere in the Alps, making everyone stare peak wards in the hope of catching a glimpse. There are showers here too, coin operated, but this time I will check they are hot before dishing out the dough.
This may be the last blog for a while, I’m going to be concentrating on another project of mine. Hopefully, I’ll get something done for Christmas though, and I’ll be back to normal as soon as I can! Until then, there is a certain Air Group Captain I need to re-acquaint myself with…
Mini Count :- 23
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