Day 145: But So Big

Sat. 5th January 2013

Snow capped Southern AlpsThis seems to be the theme for today:

  • The camper van is much bigger than anything I have driven before;
  • The amount of diesel we will get through will be big;
  • The amount of road covered before we see another vehicle is big;
  • The panoramic scenery is big;
  • All the lakes are so big.

View from pew in churchWe headed out of Fairlie on the road to Lake Tekapo, which in hindsight we could have reached last night. Whilst the kettle was boiling for the all-important morning coffee, we nipped out between the coachloads of sightseers and took photos. The other attraction causing the coaches to stop is the Church of the Good Shepherd, a tiny church on the lake shore. It has a huge glass window behind the altar affording views of the lake behind – a distraction if the sermon gets boring? It reminds me of Bodmin crematorium in Cornwall with views over the moors were our friend Bob was cremated.

Mt John ObservatoryThis area is famous for spectacular night skies, which I had read about before, but forgotten about, as it is here that the Mount John Observatory is. The observatory is a 4km detour off the main road up to the top of a nearby hill and well worth the trip. Our new van chugged up the hill easily and we even turned it around in the compact car park – Dave at the wheel and me gesticulating madly as we agreed on the required hand signals. With the two bikes on the back the van is ridiculously long.

View from Mount John ObservatoryThe second lake of the day is Lake Pukaki which provides views over the water to Mount Cook. We would have loved to have taken the road up to Mount Cook but decide that time just does not allow so we will try to fit in a helicopter ride over all the glaciers from Franz Josef next week. The next town en route is Twizel which was only built in 1968 as a temporary residence for the construction of one of the biggest hydroelectric power schemes in the southern hemisphere, and the waterways were impressive. The town remains as a hub for the nearby ski resorts.

Benmore DamThe Waitaki scenic route which we were following today commenced in the next town of Omarama (not to be confused with Oamaru where we will be staying tonight) and what a scenic route it turned out to be.

The route passed along the edge of lakes, crossed over the top of dams, weaved up and down hills and finally ended with a view overlooking Oamaru Harbour. The first dam we reached was Benmore Dam which was impressive and a bit scary to drive across the top.

Mount Cook from the bottom of Lake PukakiI decided it was time I tried my hand at driving our new van which Dave said had the aerodynamics of a brick! I cannot remember having driven anything this big before, the nearest is a big truck we landed up hiring in Vancouver to drive to Whistler, when we asked for a four wheel drive vehicle and I had to jump down from the cab as it was so high. This van however is longer and taller.

Oamaru is famous for its penguins and when we check in to our camp site we are advised there is an evening trip leaving in an hours time taking in the historical centre, yellow eyed penguin colony and blue penguin colony returning at about 10 15pm, which is tempting, but as we have been on the go all day and not eaten feel we must decline. We saw loads of penguins in Chile and there is a chance to see more in Dunedin tomorrow.

Memorials under the treesAfter all the driving we took a walk through the park next to the camp site to the supermarket to buy supper.  We can only think one day ahead at the moment – the skill to shop for a week alludes us and I do not think the fridge is big enough for much more (no separate booze fridge here).

The road on the way to the supermarket is lined with trees and each has a little white cross at the base with the name of a soldier who lost his life in WW1. This seemed quite out of place but even this far from home it reminded us of how small the world can be.

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