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(2013 - Winter/Spring Issue)


My husband frequently toys with the idea of driving a recreational vehicle (RV) across Canada, the USA and perhaps even down to the southern tip of South America.

Now, I do realize some North American models are huge and equipped with every modern appliance and convenience one could ever imagine needing on the road, giving a whole new meaning to the term, “road warrior.” Yet, I cannot fathom life in a metal container on wheels for a year or more.

Baby Steps

As I planned our trip to New Zealand’s South Island, I decided to rent an RV. We would drive an RV on the left side of the road for three days, between Invercargill and Christchurch. This, I surmised, would surely test our marriage vows.

A 20-minute flight from Stewart Island brought us to Invercargill Airport, where a Britz agent waited, eager to hand over the keys to our campervan. It was much smaller than I had anticipated. However, I didn’t have much time to dwell on size as the agent immediately began to brief us on how to operate everything. “Turn on the water pump when using it . . . turn gas on outside first . . . flip switch . . . remember to empty the toilet.” Really? It was too much information, too fast! “Any questions?” he asked. Other than asking him to repeat everything slowly, we really didn’t have any so we hoped for the best as we watched him scurry off.

In the rear, two cushioned benches doubled as a place to eat and sleep. Linens and bedding were neatly stored in compartments under the seats. In the centre, a kitchen featured a sink, a gas stove, a microwave, a kettle, a toaster, hot and cold pressurized water as well as dishes, cutlery and cooking utensils. Between the kitchen and the driver’s seat, a miniature washroom contained a shower and toilet. This constituted our home for the next three days.

On the Road

Dunedin was our first destination. We opted to take the Southern Scenic Route along the Chaslands Highway, an estimated five-hour trip for those familiar with the roads. Along the way, we stopped at Florence Hill lookout to view the picturesque Tautuku Bay and South Pacific Ocean where surfers come from all over to ride the big waves. Known for its symmetry and beauty, this beach was once a European whaling base.

Other points of interest along the way included the Purakaunui Falls, amongst the most photographed in New Zealand. Another, Nugget Point, is great for viewing seals, sea lions and penguins. A historic lighthouse built in 1869 still works today. Of course, we couldn’t resist brunch at the Niagara Falls Café.

San Francisco Vibes

Once we’d checked into the Dunedin Holiday Park, we embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Dunedin Railway Station; University of Otago; Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records; the peaceful Dunedin Chinese Garden; and the historical (c. 1876) Speight’s Brewery, where an outside tap pumps water up from a spring deep below, providing fresh, pure water to all free of charge. How civilized! Our day ended with a delicious dinner at Plato Café.

It was a cool February evening when we returned to our campervan. I waited patiently while my husband made our bed. I can’t say he executed the plan perfectly but we did manage to sleep in spite of some discomfort.

The following morning, we headed off to the Royal Albatross Centre to observe these majestic birds in their natural habitat. Making our way down to the water’s edge, we later took a one-hour cruise around Taiaroa Head on the Monarch Wildlife Wellers Rock tour for unrivalled viewing of the diverse array of wildlife.

Then, we were off to Larnach Castle, built in 1871 by William Larnach for his beloved first wife, Eliza. It took more than 200 workmen three years to build the castle shell and master European craftsmen spent another 12 years embellishing its magnificent interior. Today, the castle is privately owned by a woman who purchased it 47 years ago for a pittance.

We loved Dunedin. It reminded us of a much smaller San Francisco and exuded a quirky, youthful vibe. Dunedin is also home to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory and, every July, people flock to the weeklong Dunedin Cadbury Chocolate Carnival, which wraps up with the iconic Jaffa Race when 25,000 of the orange-coated chocolate-filled balls (a Kiwi favourite) are released to roll, jump and jostle down Baldwin Street that’s lined with cheering crowds. What a sight that must be!

More Discoveries Ahead

It was time to head off to Oamaru. Stops en route included the Moeraki Lighthouse and boulders; a walk on the beach at All Day Bay; and a lookout point on the coastal route via Kakanui overlooking Oamaru.

In Oamaru, we strolled through the Victorian Precinct, a magnificent collection of limestone buildings adjacent to the Oamaru Harbour built in the 1870s as grain and wool stores and offices for the commercial district.

Later we dined at the Portside Restaurant, immediately adjacent to the scientifically monitored Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. This memorable ecotourism venture invites visitors to sit and watch as rafts of adorable penguins return from their day at sea. This must-see experience begins every evening around dusk.

Back in the campervan, I was particularly pleased to learn my husband had figured out how to make a proper bed and we slept like angels.

The Last Stretch

On our last full day in New Zealand, we took the inland scenic route to Christchurch, which brought us through small towns and past stunning turquoise glacier lakes backdropped by snow-capped Mount Cook. The scenery was simply spellbinding and frustratingly impossible to capture in a photograph.

By mid-afternoon, we reached Christchurch. We had survived the trip with our marriage still intact. I have to admit I enjoyed the RV experience much more than
I thought I would. However, at that moment, I yearned for the long, hot shower that awaited us at the nearby Copthorne Hotel.

Travel Planner

Air New Zealand offers direct non-stop service from Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco to Auckland. When renting a campervan, keep in mind that New Zealand’s twisting roads usually consist of two lanes. So bigger is not always better.

Sadly, a year after the 2011 earthquake that devastated it, Christchurch was still a designated “red zone.” Plans for the new city blueprint were unveiled in July 2012 to reveal the shape of a post-quake 21st-century city that is bordered with parks and capitalizes on the picturesque Avon River as it meanders through the city. Blueprint plans are found at http://ccdu.govt.nz.

For more information, visit:

Air New Zealand: airnewzealand.ca

Tourism New Zealand: newzealand.com/ca

Tourism Dunedin: dunedinNZ.com

Visit Oamaru: visitoamaru.co.nz

Britz: britz.com

Copthorne Hotel Commodore: commodore.net.nz

Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours: wildlife.co.nz

Royal Albatross Centre: albatross.org.nz

Speight’s Brewery: speights.co.nz

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