What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday, 13 April, had a cold start, even with a frost here, followed by a sunny day. About the only thing the day had in common with the same day last year, when Joe and Freya went on the Doubtful Sound cruise. We have been re-living our trip round New Zealand of course, as you do. The whole journey was blessed with luck… everyone being able to get time off, the way the itinerary worked with most days going to plan, and the weather, which can ruin some days, especially in New Zealand with its high rainfall in places. Never luckier than the Sound cruises. On this day last year, a beautiful, sunny day, we took the Milford Sound cruise.

In 2004, the weather was about as wet and murky as it can get here.

 Excerpt from Middle England to Middle-earth: 

 Milford Sound was misty and moody. From a lowering grey sky, tissues of cloud wreathed the dark mountains, making them appear to block our passage.

Trees growing out of moss clung to the rock-face and in this harsh environment, frequent earthquakes caused 'tree avalanches' which would clear a whole mountainside of rainforest that took 80 years to grow back.

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What it looks like on a good day. 2018.

What it looks like on a good day. 2018.

I didn’t seem to mind getting wet after going past one of the waterfalls, summer 2004.

I didn’t seem to mind getting wet after going past one of the waterfalls, summer 2004.

But the sun came out when the cruise ended:

 

As we boarded the flyer to take us back to dry land a curtain of cloud descended, obscuring the mountains all around us and rather predictably it began to pour with rain, just as the next cruise was setting off. We felt sorry for the people on board who must have done that cruise in the rain then left Milford at three o'clock when suddenly, miraculously, the sky cleared. Blue sky advanced from a seaward direction, working its way up the fiord until Milford Sound was bathed in sunlight and the Mitre Peak stood there exulting in its predominance.

Enjoying the sun after the cruise at Milford 2004.

Enjoying the sun after the cruise at Milford 2004.

Joe, 2004

Joe, 2004

Joe, 2018.

Joe, 2018.

I missed going on the Doubtful Sound cruise last year, but Joe took some stunning photos.

Below, is one of my favourites. The butterfly effect!

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Lake Manapouri, 2018

Lake Manapouri, 2018

Lake Manapouri, 2004

Lake Manapouri, 2004

Joe at the Start of Doubtful Sound Cruise, 2004.

Joe at the Start of Doubtful Sound Cruise, 2004.

Joe, Doubtful Sound Cruise 2018.

Joe, Doubtful Sound Cruise 2018.

Freya’s main interest on the Doubtful Sound day out, 2004.

Freya’s main interest on the Doubtful Sound day out, 2004.

Freya, Doubtful Sound Cruise, 13 April, 2018.

Freya, Doubtful Sound Cruise, 13 April, 2018.

Freya at Wilmot Pass, 2018. Doubtful Sound in the background.

Freya at Wilmot Pass, 2018. Doubtful Sound in the background.

From Wilmot Pass, 2004.

From Wilmot Pass, 2004.

Arrowtown Again

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 When I look at any of my photos from the past I get sentimental about my children and nostalgic for the place. I do have a strong sense of ‘place’. You carry memories of a visit and the photos re-ignite that, allow you to re-live the experience. It is quite possible to focus only on the good bits.

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Arrowtown felt very different to me when we re-visited it. It was the sort of one-horse town that time forgot, way out west somewhere… a sleepy backwater, you get the picture. This photo (right) shows just how quiet the main street was in the height of summer. Compare that to a photo taken in 2018 (below). So many vehicles. It is the virtual absence of them in the 2004 street scene that amazes me.

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In 2004 we spent several days here, returning to the same wild camp spot in the centre of the town. I remember making up long stories to get Joe and Freya off to sleep… we wandered into the free museum, panned for gold in the Arrow River, walking through the river waters as far as we could go. We played mini golf, went in the open-air swimming pool.; it was summer, after all. We had all the time in the world, fitting as Arrowtown is the sort of place people come to retire to and spend days ambling about in.

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Autumn is a good time to visit Arrowtown they say. Colder than summer of course, but this is compensated for by the red and gold display of the trees.

Artist: Peter Leitch

Artist: Peter Leitch

On our 2018 trip we did get to see a scene that looked similar to the watercolour print (above) that we have on our wall of the famous row of miner’s cottages in autumn. However, we were here in early April and I think a couple more weeks would have made it even more spectacular.  The avenue of trees was planted along this street in 1867.

Autumn 2018

Autumn 2018

Summer 2004

Summer 2004

The main street, Buckingham Street, looked unchanged in some parts. Remarkably, there was still the ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive’ poster that you could stick your head through for a comical photo.

Joe, wanted in 2004

Joe, wanted in 2004

Reward still out for Joe, 2018

Reward still out for Joe, 2018

 

Annoyingly, the Lakes District Museum now had an entrance charge. Well, I know you have to keep museums running but it would have worked out a bit steep for all of us so we had to leave. At least there was no charge to see the Chinese Miner’s Settlement.

Here is the main attraction of Arrowtown: a legacy of the gold rush of 1862 with the ‘only remaining 19th century Chinese store of the southern goldfields era’ Ah Lum’s store. The store was also a community centre, informal bank and opium den. It closed around 1925 when Ah Lum died.

 

Ah Lum’s Store

Ah Lum’s Store

What shocked me was the description of Chinese people on the interpretation boards the DOC put up. I approached one to look at, just as a young woman (who looked Chinese) was finishing reading it. The words must have been all the more horrific to her. The local newspapers reported the settlers as ‘Almond eyed, leprosy tainted, filthy Chinamen.’ Such incredibly racist comments may have been made by the anti-Chinese European Miners Association. Another newspaper cutting displayed on the board was a little more generous, but patronizing, calling them ‘Temperate, frugal and well-behaved’, also praising their industriousness and ability to extract gold where everyone else had decided there was none. The DOC information told us that in 2002 there had been a formal apology from the government to the Chinese community for discrimination against early settlers.

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Pretty much all of the settlers came from Guangdong in South China, where they had faced disease, hardship, poverty and political upheaval. They sought a better life, leaving their families behind. These were uncertain times, as one in seven miners died on the goldfields. Not only did they risk their lives to send money back home, but they lived in these tiny, basic huts, that were built up against the rock face, with whatever materials were to hand.

https://www.nomadsafaris.co.nz/

Nomad Safaris do over a dozen tours inspired by The Lord of the Rings, including the intriguing-sounding Earnslaw Burn Heli-Hobbit. If I ever go back there, must give that one a try! Their 4WD vehicles are each named after a character from the films. Don’t choose this one if you have arachnophobia.

 

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Freya by the Arrow River, 2004

Freya by the Arrow River, 2004

Freya in 2018

Freya in 2018

Gold panning, 2004

Gold panning, 2004

2018

2018

Track to historic Macetown, now a ghost town.

Track to historic Macetown, now a ghost town.

April 2018 Trails from Arrowtown

April 2018 Trails from Arrowtown

Skydiving in New Zealand

Excerpt from Middle England to Middle-earth:

We knew Henry was planning it but had forgotten about it when, sitting beside Lake Wanaka after a pizza lunch, he suddenly announced: “Looks like a good day for a skydive.” The booking office was nearby, so he went for it. They booked him in for that day, luckily for him.

Henry went along with things quite unemotionally as usual, with no outward signs of nervousness. When we got there the place was buzzing with activity. People of different nationalities were milling round, some watching an instructive video in the building while behind them in the aircraft hangar parachutes were folded up and repacked and outside, planes were noisily landing and taking off.

Henry was paired up with an instructor who was a good few inches shorter than him, a guy with a Greek-sounding name. The plane was filled with four skydivers, four instructors, the camera flyer and the pilot — ten of them piled on top of one another in a single-engine plane. The ascent seemed quick. Henry looked down at the river curling away beneath them, and the lakes and mountains. He played up to the camera, pulling expressions of mock (or was it real?) fear. 

Henry’s Free-fall

Henry’s Free-fall

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do a tandem skydive? Is it on your bucket list? If you have always fancied adventurous sport but never got round to it, skydiving is an opportunity for a one-off indulgence, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is pretty expensive for what you get though. A short plane journey followed by descending back to earth in a matter of minutes. So I’d say you have to be the kind of person who can live mindfully to get the most out of it!

New Zealand is well geared up for skydiving. There are over a dozen skydiving centres over the two islands. And if you haven’t quite mustered up the courage to do it for real, you can limber up with indoor skydiving at iFly Queenstown (the only centre for this in New Zealand).

Aged three, our daughter, Freya, did mock skydives, jumping about in our motorhome with a makeshift parachute. Now she is the only one in our family who hasn’t done a skydive. And she won’t entertain the idea. What a difference growing up makes!

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A bungy jump or a skydive? A Swiss hitcher hiker who had done a skydive over Taupo once told me, “If I’m going to die I’d like a good view.” Awesome views are what New Zealand is all about and there is no better way to see them than floating through the air as you parachute down. That was the best bit for me. The freefall was thrilling/on the edge of scary but the floating down has to be, for me, what you can call a ‘peak experience’.

Our family skydives compared:

Julia’s at Vertical Descent at Glenorchy, January 2004. Now known as Skydive Southern Alps (and previously Skydive Paradise), it is located just outside Glenorchy. A World Heritage Area with stunning views of snow-covered mountains and a river delta pouring into Lake Wakatipu. In my opinion it was a small, friendly outfit and it felt like a very personal experience.

Glenorchy from the Air

Glenorchy from the Air

Henry’s skydive at Skydive Wanaka, February 2004. Still goes by the same name with the tagline ‘strap yourself to a beautiful stranger’.  Though why would that be important when you have far-reaching views of the mountains, glaciers and the Clutha River to see? Our opinion was that it had more of a ‘production line’ feeling than Vertical Descent.

Wanaka

Wanaka

Joe’s skydive at Nzone, Queenstown, April 2018. Tagline: Embrace the Fear. A very slick, professional company which seemed suited to younger people so it was fitting that Joe ended up here. I booked Joe with Skydive Southern Alps, last year, after comparing it with Skydive Wanaka and looking at reviews. But there wasn’t a lot in it. As it turned out, poor weather prevented him from jumping at Glenorchy. After several phone calls I suggested Joe went to Queenstown where it was less windy, as Nzone is part of the same company. Great views again, of course. There was a lot of snow on the mountains in April, making it an even more dramatic backdrop to this photo of Joe and his instructor.

Joe’s skydive near Queenstown

Joe’s skydive near Queenstown

We noticed the differences between 2004 and 2018. When Henry and I did tandem skydives we were allowed to take a small camera up with us so captured our own aerial photos. This was not allowed in 2108. Maybe they had some mishaps, or maybe it is just a marketing strategy to get you to buy the photo/video packages. Henry and I had camera flyers with us. This was too expensive for Joe so he had the Go Pro filming on the wrist of the instructor. These guys are trained to skydive with you, not take photos they warn you on the website, but despite this, we were quite happy with the photos.

Another difference, Joe was able to control the parachute which Henry and I had not had the option to. He got his photos and video on a memory stick of course, but they keep copies for three months just in case you lose it on the way home. Skydiving is not something any of us thought we would ever do. But then, that was before we went to New Zealand.

 

Rotorua Area

Kerosene Creek near Rotorua… thought I’d give a quick comparison on our experience of this over the decades.

Henry, Joe and Freya in summer 2003

Henry, Joe and Freya in summer 2003

The natural hot creek is accessed by turning off State Highway 5, south of Rotorua, and driving along the unsealed Old Waiotapu Road for about ten minutes. Just before you reach a gate which prevents further access, pull into the parking area on the right and set off through the bush along a well-trodden path.

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In 2003, our visit here coincided with a vehicle break-in. We had been warned about the possibility of this by staff at Wai-a-Tapu Thermal Wonderland so took precautions with our motorhome. In 2018, we did not know if this was still a potential crime spot but were extra careful and kept an eye out for unusual activity. We did see some rather rough-looking people turn up in a van, a man got out briefly with his dog but didn’t walk it which seemed odd. They hung around and it looked as if they were casing the joint.

We got there early in the morning and there was a couple already in the waterfall; then a crowd of people came along the path towards us, but walked past. It was a case of take your turn, because sitting in the horseshoe-shaped waterfall is the most exciting thing to do here.

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One thing we noticed was that the water temperature was cooler than it had been in 2003. So, was it the time of year? It would figure that in the height of summer the creek would be hotter… or was this a more long-term change?

In late November 2003 it was like a very hot bath, turning your skin red after a few minutes; you couldn’t stay in for long. In early April 2018, the water was like a barely warm bath, but definitely an interesting experience for a natural water feature if you are not accustomed to this. The one advantage was, we could stay in the water for longer!

Slipping Away

 

If you go to see the glaciers of New Zealand in 2019 there is not a lot to see compared to 2004. If you do want to get up close to one, it has to be done by means of an expensive helicopter flight, or a long walk up the valley.

When I walked on a glacier in 2004 with my seven-year-old son Joe it was totally awesome, like a once-in-a-lifetime experience… at that time we had no idea how true this would be because chances were slipping away for a repeat walk in 2018 on our visit to New Zealand. Due to the glacier hardly being there.

In 2004, we chose one of the many trips offered by Franz Josef Glacier Guides. It was the cheaper option, involving a walk up the valley for about 45 minutes to get to the terminal face where we began walking on the ice.

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Below is an extract from Middle England to Middle-earth:

We mounted some ice steps to a rough, stony area where we strapped on our Ice Talonz. After holding onto ropes to aid our ascent up some steep steps we walked on the level for a bit, seeing some crevasses. The ice was blue in places due to refracted sunlight. We stopped to look at a Moulin, a vertical shaft formed by surface water. Water was streaming into the bluish-coloured large hole in the ice, to join the watercourse 150m below.

After explaining about it our guide continued: “We're just gonna go and check out that nice big cave over there, then we're gonna go for a wander up that side of the glacier and then we might stop for about ten minutes and have a bit of food after that.”

Franz Josef Glacier used to extend down to the Tasman Sea, 18,000 years ago during the Ice Age. Nowadays it is receding back up the Waiho Valley due to climate change. This particularly sensitive glacier responds within a few years to snowfall levels at the névé and is exceptionally fast-flowing. The ice underneath the 20m-thick crust moves around one and a half metres a day through plastic flow and sliding on a river which acts like a cushion.

Our guide walked ahead of us, hacking at the rough, pre-formed steps with his ice axe to make the climb easier. Joe, right behind him, was allowed a go with the ice axe too.

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In 2018 our family walked up the valley to get as close to the Fox Glacier as possible. It still looked quite far away when we came to the end of the path, as you can see from the photos.

Joe is looking pensive as he ponders the disappearance of the glacier he was able to sit right next to in the photo from 2004.

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Signs inform you about the changes.

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Today, if you want to get on the ice, you need to be pretty fit, aged over eight and have a lot of money to spare. Check out some guided adventures on the websites below if you are thinking of visiting the glaciers.

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Franz Josef Glacier Website

 

Photo, right: our motorhome in the car park at Fox Glacier 2004.

Below: in 2018, Henry with our rented motorhome.

Abel Tasman Coast Track and Caples Track

Extract from Middle England to Middle-earth:

 Walking to Mid Caples Hut took us four and a half hours, with stops. The temperature read 26ºC (78ºF) on the thermometer in the shade outside the hut. We had been walking in woods mostly, so far, but now the track headed out into open meadow and we became hot and sweaty. At almost three o'clock we knew we had to press on. The rucksack was incredibly heavy — Henry carried it all the way — which left me with Freya (a big girl for her age of nearly four) when she was tired.

The track went uphill a lot with large creeks to ford. Mountains were on either side of us with a big prominent one at the valley head. This was our goal, taunting us as it appeared closer then daunting as we realized it was not.

The last meadow was wet underfoot, then we entered a forest which seemed gloomy after being out in the open. Tangled roots crossed the path, along with streams and rocks to negotiate. The grey South Island robin and little green South Island rifleman birds came within a foot of us. Our water ran out so we drank from side creeks as recommended by some rangers we had met carrying a load of pipes up the valley. The DOC leaflets tell you to boil water for three minutes or treat it as it may contain Giardia and other parasites or bacteria.

About to set off - Caples Track 2004

About to set off - Caples Track 2004

Joe and Henry went on ahead, Henry planning to come back and help me. We eventually got to the hut at 6.30pm.

I had envisaged a grassy meadow with the chance of a refreshing dip in the river, a reward for reaching the end of our journey. I was swiftly disavowed of that notion. The hut was situated in the middle of a boggy, fly-infested clearing in the bush and next to it, a towering mountain with waterfalls shooting down it. Where the river had got to, I was not sure.

A couple were erecting a tent in the clearing. The hut was advertised as sleeping 20 trampers but there didn’t appear to be more than 16 beds in bunks of four in a row, each fitted with brown vinyl mattresses. We dumped our stuff on a top bunk.

“It would be a bit odd if you were on your own and had to sleep right next to a stranger,” I whispered to Henry.

“That would depend on who you got next to,” he replied, raising his eyebrows at me.

 

In 2004 our big tramping trip was on the Caples Track near Queenstown. It took two days and was one of the few in the area we were advised to walk on due to having young children, as a lot of the tracks have alpine sections.

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 This year we really wanted to enjoy more of the Abel Tasman Coast Track as we had had such a limited experience of it before. I loved this track with its array of beaches, and often beautiful weather as it is in a region that receives a large amount of sunshine. It is also brilliant because you can get a water taxi ride along the coast to a number of drop-off points, then walk back to the start. Which means you get to see more than if you had to walk there and back as you have more time. The coastal track is also easy to walk. As adult trampers, we gauged that form Bark Bay we would take a full day back to get back to Marahau, but it was achievable. Any further walking, and we would have been struggling. As it was, after a certain point the walk became less of a pleasure and we began to wish we were back at the campsite. All done in a day though, no need to take camping gear - damn near impossible, coming from the UK for a limited time.

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Timing

 You have to watch it; don’t under-estimate your timing or you could end up having to jog back. At the time of year we visited (autumn) the sun set at about 6.15 pm which meant twilight was about half an hour after that.

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Although there appear to be two companies, Abel Tasman AquaTaxi and Marahau Water Taxi, they are run by the same people. When I tried to book the aqua taxi, the website for Abel Tasman AquaTaxi had no booking facility but Marahau Water Taxis had easy online booking. We did eventually book it from the other side of the world but there were a few emails flying back and forth in order to sort it out. We wanted to park at the huge parking area near the AquaTaxi centre, as this was closer to the start of the walking track.

Don’t Run Out of Water!

2003

2003

We covered 15 miles (25 km) in a day on the Abel Tasman Track. We were dropped off at Bark Bay and walked back to Marahau. Having two young people instead of two littlies was great. No sitting down in protest in the middle of the track by a four-year-old. Instead… a mistake on our part led to a protest from Freya of a different kind. We left a bottle of drinking water on the water taxi and our supplies dwindled to a dire level. Then Freya started to complain and worry. We had allowed about 2 litres of water per person. It was a pretty hot day and we were starting to feel dehydrated. However, we gave the remaining water to Freya for the sake of peace and Joe and I bombed on ahead.

2018

2018

When I had envisaged emergencies like this I thought that at least we could go down to one of the beaches where they had drinking water (there aren’t that many either); but when it comes to it, you don’t feel like doing an extra mile, especially when it would be uphill on the way back. Joe and I eventually succumbed and drank from a small waterfall. Not recommended I suppose, but we had no ill-effects.

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There is an inland track too, which is steep and more challenging. This 41 km track climbs steeply through the forest where at the top you are guaranteed of amazing views. You can make a circular walk by combining the two different tracks too.

Walking from Bark Bay to Marahau on the coastal track gives the opportunity to take a couple of diversions inland: Cleopatra’s Pool is a ten-minute walk off the main track and worth a look or a even a dip.

Falls River

Falls River

Cascade Falls, however, is a 1 hr 3o minute return walk so we gave it a miss. Walking across the inlet to the Falls River on the suspension bridge though, gave great views of the river below and plenty of people kayaking.

Cleopatra’s Pool

Cleopatra’s Pool

Coquille Bay and Fisherman Island: 2003 and 2018

I seem to have taken these two photos from almost exactly the same spot! It’s obviously one of the more beautiful viewpoints along the track. The first is taken in the middle of the day in summertime, the second one on our way back in late afternoon in the autumn.

2003

2003

2018

2018

 

Towards Frenchman Bay

Towards Frenchman Bay

Wellington - Spot the Difference

 

Once again, in 2018, we were in New Zealand’s capital city. Freya spent her fourth birthday not far from here and now she is eighteen.

December 2003

December 2003

April 2018

April 2018

Excerpt from Chapter 30 of Middle England to Middle-earth:

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“Heading out towards Eastbourne, we too came to the end of the road. Looking for somewhere to wild camp, we parked up behind two housetrucks next to each other, right by the pebbly beach.

While preparing a meal I glanced out of the window and caught sight of a boy and girl cycling round with Joe and Freya. When the meal was ready I went out to call our children in. As I approached them the boy came up to me.

“Hi, I’m Bin,” he said, extending his hand towards me, “and that’s my sister, Hannah. That’s our housetruck over there.” Ben pointed to the Bedford, Ex-horse float from which his father, a blacksmith, ran his business.

Outside was a forge, the coal fire powered by a car fan heater, with a metal chimney which dismantled. The forge was stored behind the cab on top of the engine in transit. There was also a washing machine, a simple affair, the likes of which Henry remembered his mother using in the 1960s: a white cylindrical drum, powered by a lawn mower engine, with a mangle over it.

The next day we met Ben and Hannah’s parents, called James and Diane, when they invited us into their housetruck through the stable doors at the back end of it. Virtually every square inch of space was filled with something. The rear of the truck housed James’ workshop. Antique hand-powered tools hung from the walls: there were vices; a grinder; and a cabinet with many tiny drawers. Handles on the cupboards were fashioned from old spanners, and cup hooks were made out of forks…”

This was Freya’s fourth birthday, made special by having two other children to a little party. It was 2004, the second time we had stayed in the Wellington area.

Cable Car 2003

Cable Car 2003

... and 2018

... and 2018

Windy Wellington 2003

Windy Wellington 2003

The only thing that hasn't changed is the weather!

The only thing that hasn't changed is the weather!

Cave Troll in Wellington

Cave Troll in Wellington

The Weta  Cave 2018

The Weta  Cave 2018

Now and Then - Rivendell

In The Lord of the Rings films, Rivendell is the ethereal, magical realm of the Elves. Set in a steep-sided, wooded gorge, into which waterfalls cascade, it is a tranquil haven for the Fellowship after Frodo is stabbed by the Witch-king of Angmar.

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2003

2003

 

The film site is found in Kaitoke Regional Park, in the foothills of the Tararua Ranges where you can visit or camp (for a small fee) and view the site of the film set near the Hutt River.

In 2003, the former film site was a field with a handful of interpretation boards describing where the set had been situated. Wait for it…

2018

2018

 

 

Wait for it… in 2018 not a lot has changed!

Which is good.

 

Archway Rivendell Henry and Freya pointing.jpg
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There are a couple of interesting additions – an archway depicting the Fellowship’s departure point from Rivendell and a post with the characters on it which shows their actual height so you can compare yourself against it. Henry and Joe are nearly as tall as Aragorn. I am about Gandalf's height... I expected he would be taller! But hobbits take the biscuit. They are supposedly the size of children but this interactive post really brings it home to you. They are seriously small.

 

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The interpretation boards here, in among the trees, give a lot more information than they did in 2003. There is a map showing your position in relation to the former set, this has details such as Frodo's bedroom, Elrond's house and the 'kiss bridge'. The position of certain trees is indicated, showing where exact parts of the set were but all in all quite difficult to figure out. I have included an example here just to illustrate this.

 

 

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Why not just get the feel for this peaceful place by going for a walk like we did in the early morning? We met no one, and some of us did a bit of skinny dipping in the river.

Well, when you see a sign like this, it’s tempting on a hot day. The water of the Hutt River was pretty cool but it was quite early in the morning. Apparently the River Pakuratahi is warmer and calmer than the Hutt River.

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There are a variety of walks and tramping tracks (the longest being 3 hours) in the park, which is open to visitors from 6 am to dusk. We chose The Swingbridge Track, a 2 km, one-hour walk crossing the Hutt River gorge and taking us through rimu and rata forest.

More Motorhome Matters

Having said goodbye to our motorhome in Christchurch, we discussed its shortcomings.

Obviously, being a rental vehicle, it is going to have a lot of wear and tear and potential problems. In the process of dropping off the motorhome, within the space of ten minutes two other people returned theirs who had also had problems – one had resolved itself though.

However, the customer service we had from Britz was excellent when ours got a plumbing fault.

There are some things to be aware of with motorhomes.

You will have to empty the cassette toilet, so if you haven’t got someone in your party with a strong stomach, don’t even consider a motorhome.

Motorhomes are noisy. Things rattle around as you drive – the grill for one. We tried stuffing a tea towel into the grill area with minimal effect.

You have to be prepared to drive long distances and keep pulling over to let people pass. The roads are quieter than the ones in the UK but you can still get a build-up of traffic behind you. ‘NZ roads are different, allow more time’ signs inform you. Yes, they can be winding (on the way to the Abel Tasman Track area they are winding and uphill) but there are also some long, straight stretches, as there are on the way down the West Coast. You can get a move on then.

But basically, you have to be pretty committed to some serious driving if you have about two weeks in New Zealand like we did and want to see a lot of the South Island and some of the North. Four to five weeks would give ample time. In two weeks we covered 3,874 kilometres, meaning we had to pay $256 for the road user charge at the end.

 

A Comparison: then and now

 

Cons for the Britz Frontier

In 2003 we bought our own Mitsubishi Canter 4-berth motorhome when we toured New Zealand. The motorhome was built on a truck chassis and had smaller height and length dimensions compared to the Volkswagen 'Britz Frontier' we hired this year.

The Mitsubishi was brilliantly manoeuvrable - you could fit it into a standard parking bay and it had an excellent turning circle.

The Volkswagen Britz Frontier felt unwieldy and bouncy. In fairness, you are going to get this with a big vehicle.

The Mitsubishi had a good interior layout that felt spacious.

The Frontier was adequate but cramped in certain areas. The shower/toilet room was not so well designed or as roomy. It was also tight for space between that room and the kitchen area, because of the preference given to seating/sleeping areas in this 6-berth motorhome.

Seating was just in the areas near the front of the vehicle. There was no option to sit in the back and look out of the big window.

 

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Pros for the Britz Frontier

 

The Frontier - because it was more modern, obviously - had a reversing camera which was a good safety feature.

A Sat Nav was available. What a brilliant invention. We got lost so many times in our old Mitsubishi.

However, there is a sort of alternative to the Sat Nav. The Rankers app installed on my phone meant we were able to follow our progress via GPS because I bought a New Zealand sim card at the airport. The little blue dot showed where we located on the map and you could search for anything from playgrounds and camp grounds to petrol stations, dump stations and supermarkets. A good feature was Top Ranked Activities.

Britz also do their own Roadtrip app which had a few different search possibilities such as laundromats and public toilets. However, it didn’t work offline. You have 1GB of data available via WiFi through the Sat Nav but it is very temperamental.

 

In summary, we felt that the Britz Frontier was worth hiring and as a family of four we definitely needed the space. If we had been six it would have been uncomfortable. One of the beds had cushions missing, though I’m sure it could have been sorted by Britz. But I recommend checking everything over thoroughly before you set off.

We were glad of the freedom to travel but felt quite shaken about and were happy to leave it after two weeks of intensive travelling. It was probably the amount of time we spent in it that made it seem uncomfortable towards the end, and perhaps I’m looking at things through rose-coloured glasses but I have to say that the whole experience made me appreciate our old Mitsubishi…

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