top of page
  • Writer's pictureTom

NZ South Island Road Trip: A Day in the Life

Updated: Mar 31

It has been a while since we last posted anything. I decided that reading about the boat maintenance jobs, which have consumed my time recently, would be about as interesting as watching paint dry. And there is a reason for that. After all, for a good part, boat maintenance IS watching paint dry (see note1). So, instead, I want to describe what an OAP skipper has to put himself through to keep up with his super fit daughter on a NZ south island road trip, organised with military precision to fill every minute of her few weeks here. This is 'A day in the life', from our February road trip.

After our last day in Christchurch, we had left the city and camped just off Highway 73, close to Sheffield. The alarm went off at 06.00. By 06.30 we had washed, breakfasted, packed up the campervan and were on our way. Today, we would make it across the country and into Glacierland on the west coast. But not before various stops on the way.

The first stop was the Kura Tawhiti Conservation area. The limestone Tors led the early settlers to name the area 'Castle Hill'. Kura Tawhiti has Tōpuni status, which is a legal recognition of the site’s importance to the Ngāi Tahu tribe. This status ensures that Ngai Tahu values are recognised, acknowledged and respected and Ngai Tahu take an active role in management.

 the start of the trail around the limestone Tors of Castle Hill, NZ
At the start of the trail around the limestone Tors of Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill)

We took the short 40 minute trail through the rock formations before jumping back into the campervan for the short drive to our second stop.

Cave Stream, just twenty minutes further up the road, gives you the opportunity to follow a small river underground for around 700 metres. Perhaps I should define 'follow'. It is required to wade big stretches of it, waste deep in the relatively fast flowing water. None of the 'moves' required are difficult but you need a good torch per person plus one backup. Do not be fooled by the 'only 700m length'. Be prepared to be underground for up to an hour.

Wading upstream in Cave stream, NZ
Wading upstream in Cave stream, NZ

The exit would be really hard except that a ladder has been added. Do not miss it ( on your left) or you will end up with water up to your armpits (he said, speaking from experience!).

By 11.00 we arrived at Lake Pearson and stopped for half an hour to make a warm drink and take in the views.

Lake Pearson
Lake Pearson

We decided not to make lunch there but to drive on to Arthur's Pass Village and try a cafe. The village marks the start of the last 'up' to take you through the mountains and down onto the west coast. We might have started early, but lunch was over by 12.30 and there was only three to four hours drive left to our final destination. Seemed too good to be true. Then Ellen mentioned the ' after lunch hike' she had planned. Expecting another 30-45 minute ramble I was not worried. Until she told me we would climb Avalanche Peak. She passed over the guide book. 1200m of ascent. Estimated time: 5-6 hours. So we set off - at a pace the 2nd Seascale Venture Scouts would have been proud of. It was an extremely steep ascent, requiring hand holds etc. but we made it to the top in just under two hours. This was our first 'proper' mountain in New Zealand. We gourged on the great views for a while before deciding that our schedule demanded that we begin the charge back down the mountain.

View from Avalanche Peak
View from Avalanche Peak

Unfortunately, it was steep enough that we had to 'turn and face' the mountain on numerous occasions and the descent took longer then the ascent. But we got back to the car just before 17.00. However, before we left, Ellen wanted to see the waterfall on the opposite side of the valley and off she went.

So our motorised ascent of Arthur's Pass only began around 17.30. Our final destination was supposed to be Frans Joseph so there was still a long drive once we reached the west coast. We arrived in Hokitika around 19.00. Still almost two hours driving, but doable. Except.

Ellen had added the Hokitika Gorge as a 'must see'. This added a one hour detour plus a 30 minute return hike. The gorge is worth visiting thanks to the unique turquoise blue colour of the water.

Skipper and daughter on the bridge over Hokitika Gorge
Skipper and daughter on the bridge over Hokitika Gorge

Taking pictures on the bridge, the number of insects told us that, although it was still light, the day was ebbing away from us. By the time we were back on the highway, it was already dark. Driving in the dark after such a long (and tiring) day was not easy so, after just over an hour and by mutual consent, we stopped short of Frans Joseph and parked up at 21.45. By 22.00 the campervan was set up for the night. We crashed out without food. The end of a tiring but very enjoyable day. I think even Ellen was surprised that we had managed to 'tick off' all the items on her list.

Our route from Sheffield to Frans Joseph
Our route from Sheffield to Frans Joseph

And if you think that I selected an exceptionally full day: The downside of stopping short of our destination was that the alarm went off at 05.45 the following morning as we needed to check-in for our Sky-diving adventure at 07.30 in Frans Joseph. But that story is for another time.

Note 1:

When varnishing, there are different paint systems available. But, for hard wearing, wet areas, the varnish system typically requires 7 coats (3 with primer), leaving 24 hours between coats. Having had two dinghies stolen in the first year and a half of cruising, I settled on the tactic of buying a really old (from 1992) inflatable, working on hte principle that nobody would want to steal it. (So far so good). However, in he 1990's wood was still an affordable commodity and James has a wooden transom and wooden floorboards. It was time to strip old varnish, treat the floorboards with oxalic acid to try to reduce the black stains and then to re-varnish. Given that the floorboards have two sides, this turned out to be a 14 day project. Sure, the sanding between layers and varnish application took less than an hour. But the remaining 23 hours, over two-weeks, required patience waiting for paint to dry.

Then the floorboards in Skyfall needed doing. I left alternate boards in place, but this meant I needed a further 2x7 days to complete the task. If we add in the companionway steps and the forward cabin,I had to put up with the boat dominated by the smell of varnish and solvents for a full six weeks.

The definition of 'watching paint dry'!

53 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page