Posted by: Tom Lancaster | May 18, 2010

Free possum, slightly squashed

Episode 14: Hokitiki/Haast/Wanaka/Twizel/Methven/Kaikoura/Hanmer Springs, New Zealand

Beard length (Tom): David Bellamy

Skin colour (both): Raw chicken

Location: Hanmer Springs, NZ

Date: 18th May 2010.

If you are a bird of prey (and I concede that if you’re reading this the likelihood is slim), fly immediately to New Zealand where, if you’re partial to slightly squashed possum, you’ll never have to catch your own food again.

It’s said that there are more sheep in New Zealand than people, but without the motor car, the possums would outnumber the sheep by some distance.

The only things more plentiful on Kiwi roads than dead possums are stupid signs (i.e. ” Works End” when there’s been no indication of it starting) and stupid drivers.

Novel - a stretch of road with no small, furry corpses

New Zealand has been free for us since I last posted. Apart from food, water, campgrounds and petrol we haven’t spent a bean.

This is thanks to the wonderful national parks and walking here. Granted, a picturesque landscape or natural feature isn’t close to enjoyable to a Kiwi unless you add one of the following:

  • Bungee jump
  • Jet boat ride
  • Kayaking
  • Hot air balloon
  • Sky dive
  • Helicopter ride
  • Scenic flight
  • Heli-hike
  • Heli-ski
  • Flying fox

However, we have snubbed the lot and have enjoyed our cheap tramping (this is Kiwi for walking, we haven’t taken to drinking hard liquor and shouting obscenities at passers-by (any more than usual)) immensely.

We started in Paparoa National Park for a walk along the Porari river where unluckily the pathway was mostly closed, but we did get to see a French clown doing Tai-Chi as he walked along in front of us, which more than made up for it.

The crystal clear Porari river

Whilst in the area we visited the crazy Punakaiki pancake rocks and blow-holes, which were very impressive and the latter shown off to their best as the tide was in and the waves fierce.

Nobody is quite sure why the rocks have formed in this way, but I suspect it’s the flattened cadavers of millions of possums.

Pancake rocks

The following day we had a long drive with yet more fabulous scenery to the glaciers on the west coast – Franz Josef and Fox.

Franz Josef was impressive and you could get relatively close, but I’m afraid it’s not in Perito Moreno’s league and yes we know how pretentious that makes us sound.

Franz Josef

20km further on, the Fox glacier was quite a disappointment since the bloody thing was closed! We had a fleeting glimpse from some distance away but were quite miffed.


Jane’s continued insistence on bleating on about how good the weather had been to us bit her on the arse that afternoon, when the heavens opened.

We’ve barely seen the sun since and she has sheepishly stopped claiming how lucky we’ve been.

After a night in Haast in the rain, we drove the Haast Pass to Wanaka in similarly inclement conditions.

The poor visibility on these twisting roads was compounded by the Toyota patented “reverse-seatbelt” installed in Scooby (yes Katharine, you’re the “name that hideous van winner”), which clamped me to my seat throughout, meaning that I was, to all intents and purposes, paralysed from the waist up.

This was not ideal, but naturally when I test the “reverse-seatbelt” with a firm jolt forward, it lets out more than enough slack for me to crack my nose on the steering wheel (even I am not stupid enough to go that far, but believe me, it was designed by the devil).

Stunning, if a little obscured, scenery on the Haast Pass

Since the rain was still falling in Wanaka, we decided against a tramp and headed the next morning for the wonderfully named Twizel.

We had planned to walk near the town in the afternoon, but the weather cleared to the extent that we thought we’d have a drive up to Mount Cook (again, impossibly lovely scenery), in case the rain returned the following day.

Mount Sefton and friends

The God of Weather was not on our side because the low cloud we had hoped would clear, lingered that afternoon, while the following morning was glorious.

Undaunted, we completed our 2 hour tramp and got some pretty decent views of the range, even though Mount Cook coquettishly refused to remove its cloudy robe.

Mount Cook - apparently

Jane even claimed to have seen a small avalanche, but I suspect this is similar to the Galapagos hammerhead story (OK, I confess I heard it and several other people saw it – I’m just a bit put-out that we didn’t have to run like billy-o to escape it).

Next stop was Lake Tekapo for an uphill 3-hour tramp overlooking the lake from Mount John. The views were superb and the lake an incredible colour, so the puffing and panting was worth it.

Lake Tekapo

We then drove to Methven, another town where at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, everything is shut. Can anyone tell us why is this? How do the businesses make any money? I suspect it’s something to do with a national rugby obsession or maybe Kiwis are just work-shy, lazy buggers?

Another driving conundrum presented itself on the way to Methven – the etiquette of waving politely at camper-van drivers passing in the opposite direction.

As far as I can see, I’m in a no-win situation: if they wave and I don’t, Jane chastises me for my rudeness; if I wave and they don’t, I feel small and unloved.

The only answer is to keep my eyes firmly fixed on them and my hand at the ready, but under no circumstances wave first – I realise that this is rather dangerous to possums and other road users, but I’d rather a minor collision than risk Jane’s wrath.

Views of the Mount Cook range the day AFTER we were there!

We were in proper red-neck country here, so lingered no longer than necessary and headed the following morning to Christchurch, which quickly turned into Kaikoura when the rain started again.

We’d come to Kaikoura specifically to do whale watching – it’s the only place in NZ to do it we understand. That said, there’s only one company in town who offer it and they charge what it would cost for about a week’s accommodation in Australia for a 2 hour cruise.

Now call me Ebeneezer, but I can see a whale on the telly. Muttering about the injustices of such a monopoly, we drowned our sorrows with more excellent fosh and chops.

It's not every day you see a seal in a tree

In lieu of the whale watching we partook in a bracing/tiring 3 hour tramp on the cliff-tops, seeing fur seals up close near the car park and ridiculously, a traveller-type taking his guitar on this walk. I suspect he was French.

Kaikoura cliff-top

We left disappointing Kaikoura in more rain and headed to Hanmer Springs, where you find us having just returned from a quick woodland walk and a steamy soak in the thermal pools (literally the first activity we’ve paid for since the thermal park near Rotorua some two weeks ago).

Tomorrow a more taxing tramp awaits before I try to engage Jane in a winner-takes-all battle on the mini-golf course in town. She beat me a couple of years back in Majorca, but that was a terrible course and the conditions were adverse.

I’ll report back with the result in my next update.

Any comments or questions are very welcome. However, bear in mind that we’re travelling around the world for 11 months, with varying standards of internet access, so won’t always be able to respond quickly!


  1. Hey Guys,

    Looks like your having a blast!
    Reading your blogs has brought back many memories especially the ones about the drivers….. Maybe that’s why we all end up in the UK?
    I also read that even though I was ridiculed for my ridiculous accent whilst at work I see that it has meant that you are able to order a meal in my native language… Next you will be saying singlet, jandals and choice.. Or maybe not!
    Have you not noticed the amount of “things” that are either made entirely out of possum fur or at least contain it? Imagine what our clothing lines would be like if the little buggers didn’t get themselves run over!
    Anyway… Keep the stories coming… They always put a smile on our faces!

    Take care

    “H” x

    • I thought it was just you who said “awesome” for pretty mundane things like a cup of tea, but it’s the whole bloody country! You need to let on why they shut the shops so early – what’s going on?

  2. I did whale watching in Kaikoura and it ended up being more a case of looking after/trying to avoid a lot of seasick people, so I wouldn’t mourn the loss too much! I’m sure I’ve got some pics somewhere if you really feel the need… or not! 🙂

    Sounds like you’re having a fab time anyway, keep ’em coming and looking forward to assessing beard length and skin colour in person in August!


  3. More great stuff for the book – and pix too, egad! It must have felt nice to have your second bath of the trip so far in them thar thermal pools. Do they supply the soap or do you share the tablet you took with you?

    Marvellous time you’re having! Can’t wait for the next post. Watch out for those possums, possums!

    • You’re not far off with the washing gag Gramps. Most of the campsites here have showers you have to pay extra for, so we’re looking forward to being back in hostels where we can get clean!

  4. Tom,

    The hat man, the hat. Even your best friends won’t tell you… but I will. The hat really isn’t working for you. The beard is scary enough but the hat/beard combo is, well, frankly disturbing. Just thought you should know.


    • I am hugely offended. Jane chose this hat (admittedly we’d looked at upwards of 40, so she may have been choosing it just to get me out of the shop). Anyway, it was about 2 quid, so I’m sticking with it until it falls apart (like the rest of my travelling clothes!).

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