Monday 23 February 2015

Back on the Mainland

Leaving Mangaweka we continued on heading south. We took SH54, the scenic route, turning off the main road at Vinegar Hill. At the bottom of Vinegar Hill is reserve beside the river where freedom camping is allowed. Luckily it wasn’t one I chose to stay at on our way through; it was a beautiful spot, a large grassy area under trees on the edge of the river sheltered by those ever present white cliffs. But the entrance was a narrow and low tunnel through thick bush, there would be no way anything larger than a small campervan would get through. More’s the pity, as I’m sure it would be a very popular spot- maybe that is why they keep the trees low!

The road's quite twisty with a lot of climbing as we wound our way up and over the many river plateaus that have formed over hundreds of thousands of years. The lookout at the top had 180 degree views looking west out over farmland. I should have done a panorama, this shot is looking north west, the direction we had come from.

Foxton Beach was our next stop, we’d decided on a camp ground as we needed to do some laundry, give the batteries a boost after being off the grid for over two weeks and have a decent long hot shower- even though there were signs everywhere stating “5 Minute Showers Only Please!”. We figured as we were the only ones in camp there’d be nobody lining up to use them.

Foxton Beach Campground is obviously a very busy camp in the height of the season, it’s large and sprawling. There are many semi permanent baches that looked to be owned (or leased) in the campground. Most have a caravan with a ‘lean to’ attached- I would say this must be part of the rules; able to be moved off the site and not leave a trace. Although looking at some of the more elaborate ones I guess that will never happen. Most have a quad bike garage attached too, the best mode of transport in beach communities. There are many batches for sale.

The camp is beside a river and on the edge of the beach but there is no easy access to the beach as there are a lot of high dunes between the sea and the camp. There’s also no access gates through the fence or tracks at the back of the camp. Instead a sandy vehicle track follows the river to it’s mouth and at low tide you can drive right around out onto the beach. We did.

There are plenty of signs regarding driving on the beach- it’s to be treated as a legal road, all drivers must be licensed, helmets must be worn if on a bike and the speed limit is 30kp/h. You also must stick to the hard sand, definitely no dune driving. It reminds us of Oreti Beach near Invercargill in the deep south, we had a lovely day there with the family back at the beginning of our travels. It looks like it must stretch as far too, disappearing over the horizon. We drive up the beach until we reach the Foxton Beach Surf Club where there is another entrance/exit to the beach.

We think about coming back in the morning and maybe doing a bit of fishing but I’ve been watching the weather and Friday is the best window of opportunity to have a calm Strait crossing;  a fine day between rough seas and high winds. Foxton fishing will have to wait.

We leave Foxton Thursday morning, heading for Evans Bay in central Wellington where we’ll stay the night before catching the 8am sailing with Bluebridge on Friday morning. We pull into Queen Elizabeth Park near Paekakariki for lunch, driving through the park to the beach front but stopping on the way to view the US Marine Memorial.

It’s a very interesting and informative memorial, there are six ‘hut’ walls with information panels on them, at the rear of the walls is another memorial, part of a LCVP (landing craft, vehicle & personnel) with the names of ten men that lost their lives in rough seas while on an exercise off the beach nearby.

Over 15,000 US Marines camped in the area during WWII, this was the training base for infantry regiments preparing to fight the Japanese in the Pacific and help defend NZ if it had been attacked. NZ solders were away fighting in North Africa & Europe and couldn’t be spared. British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill asked the US President Roosevelt to send a division of US Marine troops to NZ. The first US Marines arrived in mid 1942 and the last left in late 1943. Troops returned to Paekakariki for R&R after battles in the Pacific and were not always welcomed by the locals & the missing NZ troops who called the Marines 'bedroom commandos'. Over 500 marines married Kiwi women.

We made it safely through the Wellington City traffic and pulled into Evans Bay mid afternoon. What a transformation this free camping area has gone through since our last stop there, on our way to the North Island last November. Then it had only just been given the green light as an parking spot and we were the only ones in overnight. Fast forward 3 months and it was like Piccadilly Station, at last count around 10pm there were 27 vans & sleeper cars parked up- it’s meant to be for CSS vehicles (certified self-contained) but at least half of the overnighters were in cars that would not have been self-contained. I can see that this will be another site we’ll lose because people don’t follow the rules.

We had to ask a couple of vans to move as they parked outside the marked parks & too close to the corner which we had to pull around at 6am in the morning. One of them, a large motorhome, pulled in at around 11:30pm and parked mostly in the drive right in front of us. I don’t think David got an hours sleep all night, every vehicle he heard he was sure it was going to park right in front of us- I told him not to worry, I'd be happy to knock on their window at 5:30am. And before anybody asks, yes we’re taking up more space than most- it was all mostly clear when we arrived. We pulled into a double park but were overhanging too much. It is actually a large carpark but most wanted to park down our end away from the corner traffic noise I think.

We were up and gone just after 6am and were lined up to board the ferry by 6:30am, missing all the morning traffic through the city. David had no problems driving on, we were squashed into place between two large trucks near the front. We found ourselves a comfy seat upstairs and settled in for a boring 3 hours. I always forget to bring something to read and the movie wasn’t that great. I did go outside a number of times but between the diesel and cow poop smell (a stock truck was directly below the back deck) it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Mind you the strong coffee smell inside wasn’t much better. As I had hoped & planned for, it was a smooth crossing and not before time we were pulling into Picton once again.

We were hoping to call in and see friends in Picton before heading off but they were out of town for a few days. Initially we had planned on leaving the van at Nelson Lakes & then driving the Rainbow Road & Molesworth Station over two days, staying in Hanmer overnight, before picking the van up again and heading west. These plans were thrown into disarray when the Molesworth Station road was closed a few weeks ago due to the high fire risk because of the extreme drought situation over much of the South Island.

We decided to head east to Ward Beach for a few days, then catch our friends next week before heading west to Murchison. Some of you will remember Ward Beach from when we stayed there last July, in the middle of winter!

The transformation of the surrounding hills, since we last passed through this area, is amazing. It’s bone dry everywhere you look except, of course, for the bright green of the many vineyards.

There’s not much stock in the paddocks although I do see a few lonely (and hungry, no doubt) sheep & cattle here and there.

Near Dashwood Pass we can see where a grass fire has burnt out a large area. I recall when this happened back in January and the main highway was closed for a few hours as they fought the fire. Toady we’re stopped for a short time at road works.

Finally we pull into the camp site at Ward Beach, once again we’re surprised, it’s looking much more inviting than it was when we were here in winter- last time the sun (when it made an appearance) disappeared behind the hill before 3pm, now it's about 5:30pm.  It’s also amazing how a fine day can change your outlook. This time we’re not the only van in camp, there are 6 or 7 parked up and they come and go all weekend.

The land belongs to a local farmer and is right beside the beach reserve. All he asks for is a donation and you can stay for as long as you like. It’s strictly for CSS vehicles only and there is no fresh water available. It’s a beautiful spot and if you’re a keen diver, paua & crayfish can be found just off shore. This morning a pod of dolphins frolicked around the rocks offshore, we think they may have been the tiny and rare Hectors dolphins.

Here's the camp today and below it, the camp last July. The river on the right has now dried up and there's just a large stagnant pool near the rocky bank.

Next - Unfinished Business.
I wonder how many might know what we do next….


  1. I think, even you don't know what you'll be doing next.
    Great to see the blogs becoming more personal, Makes the reading more enjoyable.
    Murchsion awaits your discovery, I can recommend Hudsons General Store and Dust & Rust, the antique/ curios building in an old stable.
    Welcome back to the Mainland...the fishing better too David.

    1. Thanks for the Murchison recommendations Jimu, I'll look forward to checking those out. And as you'll see we did know what we were doing next! :)


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