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Freedom camping, glaciers and our best coastal road yet

New Zealand is SO set up for tourists to hire campervans and travel around.  The app CamperMate is a great place to find free and paid places to stay overnight.  There are lots of freedom camping sites with toilets (that have all had toilet roll in and are regularly checked).  The problem is, they’re a bit too good.  As a result, New Zealand is swamped with rental campervans.  Our friends suggested a lovely spot for us to stay but unfortunately it has now been closed down because it has been trashed by tourists.  Lots of people come here for the amazing scenery and wildlife, but seem to have no concerns about littering.  With the volumes of tourists travelling through, this then becomes a big issue.  I know it’s very rich of us to complain about ‘tourists’ because that’s exactly what we are, but it’s the inconsiderate tourists who are a real problem.  

In Europe we got very used to being the only people wild camping in a spot overnight.  Occasionally we were joined by the odd one or two other van owners and often we would chat about our vans and the journeys we were on.  It was always great to get new tips about other countries, and our route often changed as a result of talking to other travellers.  In New Zealand, the vibe is very different.  It is mainly holiday makers here, and because there are so few roads in New Zealand, lots of people are generally doing the same route.  We’ve recognised some people in at least three different locations.  But people keep themselves to themselves, so we haven’t really chatted to many other people like we did in Europe.  This photo gives you a bit of an idea of what ‘wild camping’ looks like here... still amazing views, but just a very different experience to Europe.

One of our favourite wild camping spots was actually one that we found ourselves that isn’t on CamperMate.  It was lovely and peaceful with views of the mountains.  As long as you check the local district’s rules on freedom camping, there are often other options away from the busier ‘sites’.  

From this spot, we headed to the Franz Josef Glacier.  In most of my photos, I wait (sometimes for quite a while) to get a shot without people in.  They look much nicer in the albums!  But I thought I’d show a slightly more realistic side in this blog.  Like a number of the walks we’ve done to some of the key attractions in New Zealand, it was a busy one. 

We were shocked at how the glacier has changed over the past century.  This is the point at which the glacier ended in 1908.  

When you look at the figures, you can see why.

The population is more than four times the size it was then and the temperature has increased.  We are really noticing the difference in the heat from the sun here because of the hole in the ozone layer.  I was chatting to a lady in the Body Shop and they don’t even stock face creams with a UPF of less than 30 here as it’s pointless otherwise!  Even in the past nine years, the glacier has shrunk considerably. 

Because the glacier is so unstable, the only way of getting to it is by paying a tour guide to walk up with you, or to get a helicopter up.  Every few minutes of our walk there were helicopters flying overhead.  It was a little bit ironic that the tourist information on the ground was so ‘hot’ (pardon the pun) on global warming, but then the helicopter rides were really pushed by the tourist board too.  Again, I am well aware that this isn’t something I can complain about having just flown from the UK to New Zealand!    

After stopping off at Hokitika, a local suggested we visit the nearby gorge, which was worth the detour. 

We stayed outside of Greymouth that evening and were treated to a lovely sunset.  

The following day we drove along the best coastal road we’ve even been on - the aptly named ‘Great Coast Road’.  With a great mix of mountains, sea views, forest and fauna, this roadtrip has everything going for it on a nice day.  

We stopped off along the way to see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.  

Geologists still aren’t completely sure why they’ve formed this way, but they are fantastic to see.  They are very well protected and visitors view them from various platforms along a walkway.  My grandmother has given me her guidebook on New Zealand which was initially published in 1984 (and updated in 2005) and we were surprised to see the photos in that showed a young child climbing on the rocks!  

We then headed along the Great Alpine Highway where we did a VERY dark walk to see some incredible glowworms.  

The Great Alpine Highway drive alone is spectacular.  

We made a couple of stops along the way and did the Devil’s Punchbowl walk from Arthur’s Pass to a waterfall.  

We also stopped off at Castle Hill Rocks where we very much missed having our bouldering gear!  Unfortunately our travel insurance doesn’t cover climbing without a guide here, so we watched with envy as we wandered around the rocks.  

Of the roads we’ve driven along so far, we can definitely recommend the Great Coast Road and the Great Alpine Highway.  They are both really... great!

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