It Doesn’t Look Too Far – On A Globe

Melbourne to Cairns Road Trip

While enjoying our week in Tasmania, I had been keeping an eye out for special RV relocation deals on the internet. The idea is that if hire companies need one of their vehicles moving to a different depot, then you can volunteer to do the drive for them and in return they give you the vehicle for $1 per night.

This sounded too good to be true when I first heard about it, but after much searching I found a deal that worked for us. For less than the cost of a coffee, we’d be the proud, temporary owners, of a 6 berth RV. In return, we simply had to move the vehicle from Melbourne to Cairns. We had 7 days.

Looking at a map of Australia, Melbourne is at the extreme bottom and Cairns is very close to the top. A quick google search revealed that the shortest driving route is 2,944 kilometres, with a best case driving time of 32 hours.

greyhound_pass_melbourne_-_cairns

Coming from the UK it’s hard to comprehend this distance. The furthest we’d contemplate driving at home is maybe 4 or 5 hours in any one direction. Beyond this I’d be booking flights, or else we’d be driving into the sea.

My maths brain kept reassuring me that 32 hours over 7 days was only 4-5 hours driving per day. But it still looked a reasonably long way on the map.

Fresh Tin Can

We arrived feeling fresh at the Melbourne Maui depot at 10am. This is where we’d been instructed to pick-up our vehicle, rather than a random sightseeing trip.

I half expected to be presented with a ten year-old wreck that was being sent to a retirement home in Cairns. Instead we were handed the keys to a freshly minted RV, with its cutlery still in a plastic wrapper, making its maiden voyage to warmer climes.

We felt like campervan pros after our 12 nights in New Zealand, so after a quick inspection we were off. After 0.5 kilometres we stopped for supplies. This took over an hour as the kids were hungry and needed feeding. At this rate, it was going to take us a lot longer than a week to get to Cairns.

After a late start, we stopped off in a caravan park just before sunset, at a bend in the Murray River called Tocumwal. We were only 300km outside of Melbourne, but given the abundance of Australian wildlife littering the roads, I was keen to avoid night time driving unless it was absolutely necessary. It’s hard to see a kangaroo in the dark and I didn’t fancy the job of scraping a dead one of the road.

Instead, I thought we could get an early start the following morning, with the goal of reaching Dubbo by afternoon, which was 500km away.

At 6am it was still dark and a heavy mist covered the ground, with icicles hanging from the wing mirrors. I was starting to question the wisdom of setting off so early. I couldn’t see more than ten feet ahead and visibility was probably worse than if it had been the middle of the night. At least the road was mostly straight and there wasn’t too much in the way of traffic.

Conditions improved as the sun rose and we made Dubbo in reasonable time. After starting to exhibit early symptoms of cabin fever, the kids were ecstatic to find that our campsite had a swimming pool and waterslides. The day had warmed up nicely and I was equally pleased to open a cold beer while notionally standing on lifeguard duties.

Glancing at a map, I was pleased to see that we were now north west of Sydney, which felt like reasonable progress. Cairns was still off the map though, a very long way away. I was starting to formulate a back-up plan in my mind, involving Anja and the girls catching a flight from Brisbane, while I bravely drove the lonely road to Cairns.

A Typical Day in the RV

We reached Moree on day 3, after a relatively short day because we didn’t set-off until gone 10am. The kids wanted one last go in the swimming pool and I was happy to take a break after yesterday’s early start.

Our standard routine was getting pretty well drilled, with a couple of hours driving followed by a rest stop, preferably somewhere in the vicinity of both a playground and a bakery. The bakery was mainly for my benefit, so that I could top up on fresh coffee or grab a pie for lunch.

Two or three spells of driving each day would theoretically be enough to get us to Cairns.

We’d stopped un-making the beds each day to save time and effort. This left us with one small table in the back, where the girls sat during the day and where we could all eat dinner.

Family gap year

Sunset was around 5pm, so by the time we had found a campsite and eaten, it was pitch black and we were all ready for sleep.

Nearly Half Way

Rather than stick to the inland route all the way to Cairns, day 4 saw us heading towards Brisbane. This wasn’t technically in the right direction, but Anja wanted to catch up with some friends from a previous visit to Australia.

Brisbane looked about half way to Cairns on the map, so I was happy that we could afford the diversion and still leave ourselves 4 days up the coast road.

It was lovely to meet our Australian friends and get out of the campervan for a few hours. We were greeted with food and beer, the kids had toys and a few lizards to play with. Everybody was happy.

Australia Zoo

Having come this far, we decided that we couldn’t miss a chance to visit Australia Zoo. This was the home of Steve Irwin.

I’m sure there are videos on youtube if you are not familiar with Steve’s work. He used to be on TV at home quite often, wrestling wild crocodiles and catching ridiculously dangerous snakes. He was killed a few years ago by a stingray, but his legacy lives on.

Australia Zoo contained all the standard wildlife that you’d expect to see, including cuddly koalas, cute wallabies and brick shaped wombats. But we only had eyes today for the crocodiles.

Two crazy Aussies jumped into one of the crocodile pens. This was a planned event that a crowd had gathered to watch, not a spectacularly stupid suicide mission.

RTW family at Australia Zoo

Crocodiles are stealth hunters, evolved over millions of years to sneak up on their prey, before crushing their unsuspecting victim with the most powerful set of jaws in the animal kingdom. Our crocodile man was standing within striking distance of the water with some raw chicken in his hands, which didn’t seem the brightest move.

The show was good fun and the crocodile appeared well accustomed to aiming his teeth at the raw chicken rather than the human surrounding it. But even from the safety of our vantage point, it was still a touch unnerving to be so close to such a dangerous killer.

RTW family at Australia Zoo

Australia zoo contained plenty of other treats and we happily spent the day wandering back and forth. I was surprised to find tigers and rhinos complementing the usual line-up of Australian marsupials. We could have stayed longer, but the zoo was closing up and the road was beckoning.

Night Driving

Is it a good idea to drive around Australia in the dark, in an over-sized tin can that requires a decent amount of advanced warning before coming to a halt?

I think the answer is probably not, and I’m pretty sure the official answer is not.

But there was no way we were reaching Cairns without some night driving, especially after our day at the zoo. So I set the sat-nav for a distant camping spot and tentatively steered a course through the darkness.

It turns out that it is possible to spot kangaroos in the dark, but only at a distance that makes it impossible to stop if any of them decides to cross the road. My driving speed dropped from a steady pace to a slow crawl and we inched into our roadside camping spot, ready for bed.

Life in a Lay-by

After experimenting with driving in the dark, we also discovered that the majority of campsites closed up for the night around 7pm. This left us with two options. Carry on driving, or park up for the night in a designated rest stop just off the highway.

I used our campsite app to locate a potential rest stop ahead, expecting to find little more than a deserted patch of tarmac and an overflowing waste bin.

It turns out that highway rest stops are, in fact, thriving spots of tourist activity. I was actually pleased to find that we would have some company. Safety in numbers. But I was surprised that so many people had decided, purposefully, to spend some of their holiday camping next to a major road.

Having survived our first experience of life in a lay-by, I decided that I quite enjoyed the fact that we could camp for free, surrounded by fellow travellers sharing a simple need for rest.

I could get used to this I thought. Many of our fellow campers appeared to be grey nomads. Caravans attached to their 4x4s, drifting around Australia as the mood takes them. Not a bad looking life.

By this point in the trip, we had dispensed with all but the basic essentials of human existence. We had no need for fancy shower blocks or flushing toilets. We were at one with nature. Focussed only on reaching Cairns in one piece, no matter how bad we all looked.

We Need A Wash

As we edged up the north eastern coast of Australia the temperature started to climb. After leaving Melbourne feeling distinctly cool, we were heading up into the tropics, and officially crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn in a place called Rochampton.

As the weather grew warmer, so the roads became lined on all sides by sugar cane fields. Narrow train tracks weaved around the giant plantations, with toy trains ready to help with the harvest.

Our roadside stops did not surprisingly come with en-suite bathroom facilities, and it was a non starter trying to take a shower in the campervan. The shower enclosure was so small and in such close proximity to the toilet that it would have been easier to take a bath in the kitchen sink.

So I decided to treat the family to a shower.

At Rockhampton we headed for the open air pool and washed, then swam, then washed again just to make sure. Having enjoyed our wash so much, we decided to repeat this process for the next few days. Breaking our journey at whatever municipal swimming pools we could find, in favour of taking playground stops.

RTW family road trip

You Have Reached Your Destination

We didn’t have time on this trip to explore the coastline in any depth, or visit numerous attractions, but we did get a sense of the scale of Australia and an idea of life between the big cities.

Towns that we had never previously heard of are now at least slightly familiar, and we learned about many other places that we would like to visit again.

It was, however, a great relief to reach the Cairns motorhome depot at bang on the agreed time of 2pm, almost exactly one week after we had pulled out of Melbourne.

RTW Family

Next Time

No more driving. We’ll sit still for a week in tropical Cairns and hopefully get out to see the Great Barrier Reef.

Why Can’t We Fly To Melbourne?

After a wonderful week in Adelaide staying with my family, we decided to go on a road trip to Melbourne so that we could drive the Great Ocean Road. I was looking forward to the dramatic scenery, getting out into small town south Australia, stopping frequently for coffee and a wander about. The kids were wondering why we couldn’t just fly to Melbourne.

We set aside four days to drive 1,000km from Adelaide to Melbourne and made our first overnight stop in Mt Gambier, the second largest town in South Australia. This got us 400km along the way to Melbourne, leaving us plenty of time to explore the more scenic sections ahead.

Mt Gambier sits on the slopes of a volcanic hill, with a cobalt blue lake at its peak. The Blue Lake wasn’t living up to its name when we visited, but it was still interesting to see the flooded remnants of a volcanic explosion less than 5,000 years old. The brilliant blue colour is only visible in summertime, and under the cloudier June skies it was closer to grey.

Blue Lake Mt Gambier

Our second night was spent in Port Fairy, which we reached shortly after crossing the state line into Victoria. I was pleased to have driven across an international time zone (+30 minutes between Victoria and South Adelaide). Nobody else seemed too fussed about this achievement, but I stopped the car at the side of the road to mark the occasion.

Family road trip

Port Fairy was well worth a stop. With a whole afternoon to spare we set about wandering up and down the high street to see what food might be on offer. Rebecca’s café served us up a nice bowl of seafood chowder for lunch and by the time we were hungry for dinner Sally Coffin’s had lit the pizza oven. We even managed to squeeze in some crepes for breakfast at the Belfast Man’s place and two trips to the old-fashioned sweet shop.

We could happily have stayed in Port Fairy for much longer, but we’d eaten too much and had a date with the official start of the Great Ocean Road.

From Adelaide, the B100 begins just beyond the town of Warrnambool, marking the start of ocean hugging roads and spectacular scenery.

There is a whale nursery in Warnambool and we’d read about some recent sightings of Great Southern whales with young calves just off the coast. We made our way to the purpose built viewing platform, where a few locals were camped out for the day with their thermos flasks and long lens cameras at the ready.

The sea was choppy and the white waves made it very difficult to tell whether there were any whales breaking the surface or not. We stared out to sea for nearly an hour, entranced by the view but entirely unable to say that we’d seen any whales.

The Grotto made a lovely stop off, just before Port Campbell. The eroded rocks provided a perfect picture frame to the crashing waves.

The Grotto, Victoria

Family road trip along the Great Ocean Road

The Twelve Apostles is a must see on the Great Ocean Road. Unfortunately, everybody else on the road thought so too. Hordes of tour buses lined a large car park on the side of the road, with even greater masses of people lining the pathway to the best vantage points.

Helicopters buzzed overhead, carrying more extravagant tourists on an airborne tour of the coastal sights. I felt like a member of the paparazzi, ducking and diving in a sea of cameras to get a few snaps of the eroded limestone stacks. The view was good, but next time I’d arrive much earlier in the day to glimpse the scenery in a more relaxed atmosphere.

The Twelve Apostles

Family road trip

RTW Family

We spent the next couple of days in the small seaside town of Anglesea, giving the kids some time to recuperate from a couple of days of winding roads. Off season, we managed to land a stay in the Great Ocean Road resort for a very reasonable price. It had an indoor swimming pool, so the kids made sure we got plenty of value for money.

After Anglesea the road passes through the larger resort of Torquay, before starting to emerge into the outer suburbs of Melbourne.

We stopped at the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre, just before reaching Geelong. We hadn’t seen too many other opportunities to experience Aboriginal culture on our trip so far, and the kids enjoyed learning about the painting symbols that were dotted around the animal enclosure.

Kiera also got another chance to overcome her fear of emus. This didn’t exactly pan out as hoped, as an initially calm emu started to rampage around chasing a group of wallabies. It was interesting to see how fast the emus can shift, but Kiera didn’t agree, convinced that she was about to be mown over. We beat a hasty retreat the café for some lunch, where Lexi found an opportunity to experiment with her own symbols on a chalkboard in the café.

Family travel blog

We’d reached the end of the Great Ocean Road and were now battling through Melbourne traffic to catch our next flight. Four days seemed a reasonable amount of time for us to explore this stretch of coastline, although with hindsight I would have put another overnight stop in between Port Fairy and Anglesea. This area contained most of the main sights and it would have been nice to spend more time around Cape Otway and Apollo Bay.

Next Time

We’ve just booked a flight to Tasmania, to spend a week in the Huon Valley, just south of Hobart. One of my early bosses at work was a guy from Tasmania. Not only was he a good boss and taught me loads, but he was very enthusiastic about his home state. Cheers Mike.

The Great Southern Road Trip, WA

The Brig Amity brought the first European settlers to Albany in 1836, setting sail from Sydney with 61 men to prevent an expected French settlement in the region.

Lying 400km south of Perth, on the bottom left edge of Australia, Albany is the oldest permanently settled town in Western Australia. An important port for mail ships heading from London to Sydney. At least until the mail was re-routed to Freemantle in order to reduce travelling time to the new WA capital in Perth.

The Great Southern museum was a perfect, free way to spend a few hours with the kids and brush up on our local knowledge. It’s always hard to tell how much they are listening as we walk through any museum, but it can be a pleasant surprise in a few weeks’ time if they suddenly mention something that we’ve learned on our one of our “educational” day trips.

If nothing else, the girls absolutely loved playing teacher in the old-fashioned village school.

Round the world with my family in Albany

RTW Family Albany

There is also a replica of the Brig Amity alongside the museum. It didn’t take long to look around every nook and cranny, twice, as the ships accommodation only stretched to a few cabins for the officers. Our expectations for old ships are set quite high, coming from the home of the SS Great Britain, but the Brig Amity was a workhorse with few frills.

I try to imagine what it might have been like for one of the crew on this journey. The baker brought along to help feed the new settlement, or the bricklayers required to build a town from scratch. It seems like an almost overwhelming task to build a town from scratch, in a region so remote, with hardship almost certain. But the sense of opportunity and adventure must have been exciting enough to get men onto the ship, unless you were a convict and simply had no choice.

National ANZAC Centre

Round the world with my family in Albany, WA

Albany is notable as the launching off point for thousands of ANZAC troops in World War One. The National ANZAC centre is located on a hill overlooking King George Sound, where the troop ships gathered for departure. The scene looks peaceful today, but a hundred years ago this bay was filled with troop ships, ready for departure.

Family travel blog, Western Australia

After taking the kids through the Gallipoli exhibition in Wellington, at Te Papa, I wasn’t sure if the ANZAC centre would hold their attention. We ended up staying the day, following the individual stories of soldiers, officers and nurses, sent thousands of miles from home into unimaginable danger.

The ANZAC centre provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices that were made on our behalf. One in every three soldiers that set sail from Albany never returned home. Of those troops that made it home, most were deeply scarred in some way by their experiences on the front line.

Great Southern Coastline

The coastline around Albany contains some stunning natural scenery, and would be an ideal place to cool off in the summer.

Little Beach at Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve appears like a scene from the movies. The sea was bright turquoise and the sand was so soft that it felt like fresh powdered snow.

Family travel blog in Western Australia

We arrived in late May, and had the luxury of having this place almost to ourselves. The temperature was hovering in the low 20’s celsius, which in my mind is a perfect temperature for sitting on the sand without melting.

Round the world family trip, Australia

Some blue jellyfish had washed up onto the beach at the last high tide, so we tentatively approached the water to see if we’d be able to swim. The water was as clear as a mountain spring and appeared free of poisonous sea creatures. We dived in, or at least we tentatively put one toe in the water and then very slowly edged in, while all the time keeping a sharp eye out for anything that might eat us or sting.

RTW family trip, Western Australia

There are sharks along this stretch of Western Australian coastline, but I kept reassuring the kids that I didn’t think sharks could swim in water that was only half a metre deep. Or at least that if they could, we’d hopefully see them coming in clear water.

Family gap year

The Gap and Natural Bridge at Torndirrup National Park is a sensational viewing point, with a clifftop formed of rocks that used to be joined to Antarctica. We’re talking a few years ago, when Australia was part of the same super continent as Antartica.

Family travel blog

The good people of Australia decided that the natural wonder of this place wasn’t quite enough. So they decided to stick a metal platform into the side of a cliff and suspend it out over a sheer drop to the sea.

Once the kids had tested the platform to make sure it was safe, I ventured on for a few quick photos.

Family gap year

Greens Pool at Williams Bay is near the small town of Denmark, around 50km from Albany. A wide expanse of golden sand, with a lagoon of crystal clear water formed by a line of massive rocks offshore. This was another great spot to take a dip in the ocean and let the kids enjoy one of their favourite pastimes of clambering over rocks.

Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk was an opportunity to suspend ourselves 40 metres up in the air between some bloody big trees, as the name suggest. The idea of walking in the air is to help preserve the forest floor and to prevent damage to tree roots, but the main benefit has to be the views.

Family gap year

Whaling Heritage

Alongside its wonderful natural scenery, Albany is also blessed to be home to passing groups of whales, visiting the sheltered waters of King George Sound. The whale watching season runs from June to September and cruises run daily from the town harbour. We missed the season by a few weeks, so we’ve added a return visit to our ever growing wish list.

The presence of whales has always been a source of income for the town, but not always in a nice way. As late as 1978, whales were being hunted along this coastline, prized for the oil contained in their blubber.

The Whaling Museum at Frenchman’s Bay provides a disturbing, but very informative tour of the former whaling station. Massive silos stand at the entrance of the whaling station, formerly used to store industrial quantities of whale oil. The oil was used in the manufacture of products including soap and candles.

The stench of whale oil is still faintly detectable, and images of the slaughter in progress and a collection of whale skeletons, vividly captured the horrific nature of what happened here.

Family gap year

This dismal business has now been stopped across most of the world, although Japan, Norway and Iceland do still hunt whales for their meat.

Busselton

On our way back from the Great Southern region to Perth, we called in at the seaside town of Busselton.

We made straight for the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. How could we not.

RTW Family in Busselton, WA

The jetty is 1.8km long, originally built to handle cargo ships, carrying away the regions vast reserves of timber. The jetty had to be built so far out because Busselton bay slopes very gently out to sea, only reaching a depth of 8m at the very tip of the pier.

After a four-hour drive to reach Busselton from Denmark WA, we were ready to stretch our legs, so set off to walk the mile or so out to sea. A tourist train also runs up and down the jetty, but the walk was invigorating and the kids raced up and down the wooden platform.

The cargo ships stopped arriving here in 1972, which threatened to bring the jetty to the end of its natural life.

But the entrepreneurial people of Busselton built an underwater observatory at the end of the jetty in a bid to raise funds for its ongoing preservation. We took a tour of the underwater observatory, and our guide gave as a very helpful 30-minute introduction to the marine life that exists at different depths beneath the waves.

RTW Family in Busselton, WA

It was fascinating to watch life going on all around us from the calmness of the viewing platforms.

Family round the world trip

We finished our day in Busselton with a lovely meal at the The Goose. I felt bad after seeing so much interesting sea life, but the prawn risotto was simply too tempting and delicious.

Next Time

We have a few days back in Perth and then we’re heading to Adelaide to meet up with my Aussie family.

Twelve Nights In A Tin Can, NZ South Island (Part 2)

The first half of our New Zealand road-trip took us from Christchurch to Te Anau, including an amazing visit to see penguins on the Otago Peninsula.

The weather has been very kind to us so far, despite the fact that we are heading into late Autumn and snow is visible on higher peaks. What’s more, after a week trapped in a moving vehicle, we’re all still talking to each other and keen to push on to our next destination.

Day 7 – Te Anau to Milford Sound (70 miles / 2-4 hours driving)

I have been looking forward to seeing Milford Sound since I first started planning our round the world trip. We set aside a whole day to get there, even though you could complete the miles in a couple of hours if you didn’t feel the need to stop.

There are no shops in Milford, or petrol stations for that matter, so after a re-supply in Te Anau we set off at a leisurely pace down the dead-end road. We were in absolutely no hurry. I barely got the camper above 60 kmph.

The road wasn’t busy and it was nice to be travelling at such a relaxed pace. The slower speed also suited the camper better, as the bone shacking vibrations calmed down a little and fewer pieces of crockery were flying around than usual.

The weather forecast for the day ahead was for some rain, followed by some really torrential rain, with a few showers thrown in for good measure. Milford Sound is renowned for being wet, and I kept telling everyone that rain was good because it would top up all the waterfalls.

Pretty sure my constant optimism can be somewhat annoying, but I feel it’s my job to keep up morale when the kids are wondering why on earth we are “going on holiday to somewhere rainy”.

Driving along the road to Milford Sound, nearly every bend seems to reveals a stunning panorama. The approaching clouds seem to make it even more atmospheric, and it feels as though you are approaching a hidden world.

Family travel blog - drive to Milford Sound

To get into Milford Sound requires driving through the 1.2km long, Homer Tunnel. Only opened in 1953, this is a one-way access route, with traffic lights at either end to control entry. The tunnel literally looks as though it has just been blasted out of the rock, with no cement lining and water dripping from the roof.

Travelling through the Homer Tunnel, on a steep downwards incline, we emerged into a world of waterfalls.

Family travel blog NZ

A bunch of Kea birds were gathered at the side of the road, clearly used to posing for photos. One of them jumped onto a nearby car and started to eat some plastic roof trim, so we decided to move on.

We got out to stretch our legs at the Chasm, which is around 10km before the end of the road. Kiera decided to sport a little off the shoulder arm-sling, following some over exuberant trampolining the day before. Luckily this didn’t impair either her ability to walk or her ability to complain about having to walk.

Family travel blog - driving to Milford Sound

There is a ten minute loop walk to reach the Chasm, which is a spectacular series of carved rocks, formed by torrents of water flowing through a narrow gully. The water was so powerful that you could hear it long before it became visible. Even the kids were impressed once we got there, which is saying something given that there was no gift shop for miles around.

Family travel blog

We stayed the night at Milford Sound Lodge, which has powered RV sites set amidst lush rainforest. The idea was to catch a morning cruise tomorrow, thus avoiding the crush of tour buses from Queenstown that disgorge people onto the lunchtime sailings.

Family travel blog at Milford Sound

The rainforest setting didn’t disappoint, as the heavens opened nearly all night. In theory this was excellent news, making for even more spectacular waterfalls along Milford Sound tomorrow. In practice, it also made it quite tricky to sleep, given that it sounded as though the rain was about to come through the campervan roof at any moment.

Day 8 – Milford Sound Cruise / Drive to Queenstown (180 miles / 4 hours driving)

We were booked onto the 10.30am nature cruise with Real Journeys, which would take us down Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea. And hopefully back again.

We were at the quay by 9.40am, keeping up my track record of always arriving way too early to catch any sort of transport connection. The kids are already fond of spending at least 3 hours in every airport we visit, on the basis that I refuse to arrive “late”.

As hoped, there weren’t any tour buses in the harbour when we set sail, so we had the boat nearly all to ourselves.

Family travel blog

The scale of Milford Sound is difficult to comprehend, because on all sides you’re surrounded by mountains rising vertically from the water, up to peaks reaching a mile high.

500 foot tall waterfalls appeared relatively small set against the surrounding vastness. It was only when the boat pulled over for a closer look that you could get some sense of perspective.

Family travel blog Milford Sound

We got incredibly lucky today. The overnight rain had died down, leaving in its place an amazing series of waterfalls.

Family travel blog at Milford Sound

We also spotted some fur seals relaxing on the rocks, which was a real bonus.

Family travel blog

The two-hour cruise was over too quickly and we could have happily stayed on the water all day.

Family travel blog at Milford Sound

Once back on dry land, we weaved our way past the newly arrived gaggle of tour buses, and hit the road to Queenstown.

Queenstown came as something of a shock to the system. After a serene morning in Milford Sound, I wasn’t prepared for the bright lights of town. I’ve got used to arriving into places with one high street and a small handful of people. This has suited me fine.

Queenstown seemed too busy for my liking. There were traffic lights, which hadn’t been necessary for the last few hundred miles of our trip, and an over abundance of stores selling bungee jumps.

It was dark by the time we arrived, but we set-off for a short walk around town to get our bearings and find some food. The town seemed more manageable once we had ditched the campervan and we were looking forward to exploring further in the day light.

Day 9 – Queenstown

Queenstown was much quieter at 9am than 9pm.

We spent the morning catching up on some laundry. Not spectacularly interesting I’ll admit, but after more than a week of camping, perfectly necessary.

Kiera had spotted a leaflet for the Queenstown luge ride back in Te Anau, which she had been faithfully carrying around ever since. She wasn’t quite so sure about the idea when she saw the gondola ride that was necessary to reach the top of the mountain, from where the luge ride descended.

At these moments, we’ve found that the best course of action is to move quickly. So we bundled her into the gondola before she had too much time to over think the health and safety implications of riding in a plastic box, attached to a bit of string, up a very steep hill.

Family travel blog

The luge ride was great fun. There was a beginners track suitable for the whole family, and a steeper track that meant I got to go really fast and pretend to be a racing driver.

Family travel blog Queenstown luge

The views back across Queenstown from the top of the gondola were also pretty special.

Family travel blog

After exhausting our driving skills, it was time to ease off the adrenaline and so we made our way back down the mountain for a few beers in Queenstown.

There were plenty of bars that we could have spent hours exploring in more detail, but bellies were starting to rumble. We headed for the long queue of people snaking out of Ferg’s Burgers to see what all the fuss was about. We had a very tasty burger and sat talking with a family from Canada who were also travelling around.

We learned that there were two potential routes to reach Wanaka, our destination for tomorrow, and our friends from Canada recommended taking the scenic drive across the Crown range. This turned out to be very good advice.

Day 10 – Queenstown to Wanaka (75 miles / 1.5 hours driving)

The scenic route between Queenstown and Wanaka involves winding up to an altitude of 1,100 metres across the Crown range. The road was open, which was a good start, but it makes you think twice that somebody has to decide whether the road is dangerous enough to be closed.

The drive rewarded us with some gorgeous views back to Queenstown and the surrounding mountains.

Family travel blog Crown Range

Puzzling World awaited us at Wanaka, with a giant outdoor maze and a series of indoor illusion rooms. We tackled the maze and appeared to be making good progress, until a highly irritating final corner kept us walking around in circles for what felt like days.

The illusion rooms provided some good photo opportunities, but I was keen to get back into the fresh air after an hour.

Family travel blog

Wanaka proved to be another lovely spot, with a high street of cafes and bars fronting onto a crystal clear lakefront. Situated around 300 metres above sea level, the town is close to some good ski fields, but for now the only snow was on nearby mountain tops.

Day 11 – Wanaka

With a whole day to explore Wanaka, we decided to hire some bikes and cycle around the lakefront.

What was supposed to be a gentle meander along a flat cycle path, soon turned into a five-hour expedition, involving more hills than I’d have preferred. The views were so amazing around each new corner, that we kept pressing ahead when we sensibly ought to have turned back.

Family travel blog

Feeling reinvigorated, but also a little exhausted, we hobbled back into town for some very late lunch at the Big Fig.

The remainder of our afternoon was spent recovering, before we hunkered down for a chilly night in the tin can.

Day 12 – Wanaka to Geraldine (180 miles / 4 hours driving)

It was time to start making some progress back towards Christchurch, as we have a date with a warm hotel bed.

We opted to take the inland route via Lake Tekapo and through MacKenzie country. This was New Zealand as I will remember it, with endless rolling hills and farmland, interspersed with unbelievable mountain views.

Most of the route was covered in low cloud, which meant we didn’t catch a good glimpse of Mt Cook, but the clouds lifted just enough at Lake Tekapo to afford us our last close-up view of the southern alps.

Family travel blog in New Zealand

We decided to stay the night in Geraldine. A quiet country town, named after an Irishman, James FitzGerald. We treated ourselves to some typical Irish fare, with a curry at the Royal India, which made up for several nights of beans on toast in the campervan.

Day 13 – Geraldine to Christchurch (80 miles / 2 hours driving)

A short final drive today, to give ourselves a chance to condense all of our belongings back into two suitcases. To make the job less stressful, we headed straight into Christchurch and parked up opposite the Margaret Mahy playground. While we should have been supervising the kids, we instead made short work of the packing.

Twelve nights in the campervan felt about right for our first attempt at living in the wild. We had an amazing trip and the van was the best way for us to get around so many places in a relatively short space of time.

Compared to the rest of our time in NZ, we also spent a little less money on day-to-day living costs, because we always had a fridge on hand to meet the kids’ voracious feeding time requirements.

We had one final night in Christchurch, staying in a hotel near the airport, ready for an early morning flight to Perth. It felt strange to be living back indoors, but it was nice to have a long shower in our own private bathroom.

Next Time

We’ve come to the end of our time in New Zealand. I have been looking forward to this visit for so long that I am sad to be leaving, but already thinking about how we can plan a return visit.

We’re heading to Australia next, starting with a week in Perth, before heading down to the southern coast of Western Australia.

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