Today was the second day of our long drive to our homestay in Tata Beach, Golden Bay – on the northwest corner of New Zealand’s south island. The night before, some planning was undertaken to divide the approximately 8hr drive into ‘chunks’ that we could all manage without getting cramps or losing feeling in our backsides! So here we go – in case anyone else might want to try this route – with the goal of making it from start to finish in the daylight.
The team at Bella Vista Hotel Fox Glacier let us know that we were in for a long day – and the signs that say ‘On New Zealand roads trips take longer’ did not give us much hope of matching the 7.5hr drive time on Google Maps. Our plan though was to hit the road at 7:00am and arrive by 5:30pm – including stops, allowing for the camper vans, or the slower mountain roads where doing 100km/h seems a bit much.
7:00am : In the car and ready to go (we made it by 7:06am)… this was the start of our shortest leg of the trip, as we were going 30 minutes to Franz Josef to eat breakfast at ‘Full of Beans’. Breakfasts are not included in the New Zealand hotels – unlike our experience in Asia earlier in our trip. Breakfast set us back $62NZD for the least expensive items on the menu.
8:15am : Rolling towards our 10:15 stop in Greymouth where we intended to visit a wool shop, grab a coffee and pick up lunch for a stop at a ‘campsite’ on the drive. We stopped in at ‘Blanchfield Bakery’, a family bakery now into its fifth generation of operation. Great stop – only a few minutes after our planned 10:15am arrival! Managed lunch, coffee and shortbread cookies for under $30NZD. The sandwiches were amazing and we also hid away a couple of sausage rolls in case hunger struck later in the day.
We then headed out of Greymouth by 11:00am (planned departure time) and headed out looking for a picnic stop somewhere on route around 12:30pm. We couldn’t find anywhere with shelter for a picnic, so we just pulled over at the side of the road, enjoyed our sandwiches while walking around trying to avoid being bitten by the insects that seem to have found us on this trip, and then back in the car to continue on… only to find a picnic stop with washrooms some 500m down the road – of course! (At that stop we read about a fairly new 80km-long mountain bike trail through the jungle here — the Old Ghost Road — funded largely by local volunteers. Lots of warnings that it’s not for the faint of heart. Appeared to start with a rickety suspension bridge — and lots of signs not to eat possum poison along the way)!
Our next stop was planned for ‘Flat Rock Cafe’ in Kohatu. It is located at a fork in the road and the squares we shared and the latte were excellent. So glad we managed to find all of these great stops on the way.
We arrived at our home exchange destination at 5:15pm (an incredible property — on the edge of Abel Tasman National Park. We may see penguins nearby if we’re lucky), a bit ahead of our planned time as we did not use the full hour at lunch, were quick at the gas stops, and we managed to avoid being behind too many slow drivers – in fact we even had people pull over to let us pass – we must be getting good at driving these roads.
Quick notes : Everyone agreed that having a plan, complete with exactly where we were going to stop, made the day much easier than expected. The first 30 minutes and the last 45 minutes saw us travel on very windy roads that covered a significant change in elevation both up and down. The posted speed limit was 100km/h at many points, but then signs limiting the curves to as low as 15km/h, no guardrails, no shoulders and significant drops off the edge, made paying attention a necessity. We found some great stops – especially the bakery and the afternoon coffee stop – which allows us to stretch, catch our breath and prepare for the next leg. We saw such a variety of landscapes and vegetation again, ranging from windswept ocean to farmland to vineyards and orchards to rainforest/jungle — amazing.
So all in all, a long day, but a good driving day in the rain – which was perfect, as we did not have to miss out on any planned sunshine activities. Forecast looks more promising for tomorrow.