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Silencing the voices in my head

Justine Tyerman behaves in a far from ‘age-appropriate’ manner on a recent trip to the Catlins . . .

Woohoo! Book those Easter flights NOW, I shrieked as I spotted the $99 airfares to Queenstown.

Feeling daringly-spontaneous, we jumped on the Air New Zealand site, found some ridiculously-cheap airfares from Gisborne to Queenstown return, emailed JUCY to book a rental vehicle and phoned our good mates in Wanaka to say we were coming to stay . . . again.

“Remember the days when actually we DROVE all the way to Wanaka,” I said to my husband Chris as we headed to the airport like a couple of excited teenagers.

“Yes,” he shuddered as memories of hours of driving with cranky kids in the back seat and his severe sea-sickness on the Cook Strait ferry crossings came flooding back.

“Seems ages ago now. How many years did we do that?” he asked incredulous. “And why?”

In years gone by, we used to load the kids and cases into the car, take a deep breath, and set off from Gisborne on an annual two or three-day road trip to Central Otago, my turangawaewae.

For the kids, the excitement of heading south would last about five minutes. But the rest of the time, with the exception of the spectacular Kaikoura coast and Tekapo to Arrowtown legs of the journey, was an endurance test . . . especially the return trip.

Lives, times and economics have changed. The ‘kids’ have long since flown the nest, airfares are way cheaper and so are rental vehicles.

I’m no mathematician but now that there are just the two of us, flying to Queenstown in a couple of hours and hiring a car at the airport thus saving four-five days’ driving, ferry fares and precious leave, is a no-brainer.

Our Easter weekend turned into eight days with absolutely magnificent weather and sublime autumn colours.

We managed to squeeze in quite a lot. We hiked our favourite tracks, the Millennium, Rob Roy Glacier and Mt Iron in Wanaka and the Arrow River in Arrowtown, ebiked the Kawarau River and Gibbston Valley and then did a road trip in a mini campervan through the spectacular Catlins — all new territory for us.

It’s an extraordinary place, quite different from the rest of New Zealand, a land of statuesque white lighthouses on remote headlands, petrified forests frozen in time, rare sea lions and penguins, ancient trees, sea caves, blowholes, wind-battered vegetation that grows horizontal to the land, rocky bays, mirror lakes, tidal estuaries teeming with wildlife, and rugged, remote coastlines pounded by the ocean.

The Catlins starts at Kaka Point, 20 minutes southeast of Balclutha and ends at Waipapa, about 50 minutes from Invercargill. The distances between must-see attractions like Nugget Point Lighthouse, Purakaunui Falls, Cathedral Caves, Curio Bay and Slope Point are not great and many people drive through the area in a day.

‘Do it while you still can . . .’But to truly explore what the region has to offer and do some hiking, we spent three days meandering from place to place with no fixed itinerary.

We slept a couple of nights in the back of our comfy, cosy JUCY Cabana mini campervan, and it was so mild, we cooked outdoors in our little “kitchen” — so convenient, like an upmarket tent on wheels.

Our Wanaka mates thought we were nuts, too old for such things. They thought we should be doing an “age-appropriate” trip, staying in hotels and motels along the way.

But the young ones we met in the camping grounds thought it was pretty cool to see a couple of “oldies” sleeping in the back of a bright purple and green stationwagon.

That really did make us feel like teenagers again. It brought back fond memories of the carefree roadies of our youth.

Having driven large motorhomes, we liked the ease and manoeuvrability of the basic little campervan, being able to travel off the beaten track and the freedom of not being tied to pre-booked accommodation.

Following the untimely deaths of a couple of friends, the road trip also helped to silence a cluster of voices in my head urging me to make the most of my good health and “do it while you still can”.

I felt so privileged to be able to enjoy the simple, unsophisticated pleasures of cooking outside in the fresh air, sleeping in the back of a stationwagon and hiking in bright sunshine under clear skies amid the beauty of Aotearoa in her autumn regalia.

There will be time for more “age-appropriate” activities . . . when we grow up.


* Pick up a JUCY campervan, 4WD, people-mover or car from JUCY Rentals at Queenstown Airport. We’ve tried them all but this time we had a two-berth JUCY Cabana campervan with a double bed and a little kitchen which gave us the freedom to camp out whenever we felt like it. The Cabana is not self-contained so we stayed at camping grounds and met some awesome people along the way.

* Hire ebikes from Outside Sports in Wanaka, Queenstown or Te Anau . . . or any sports equipment for that matter. www.outsidesports.co.nz/

* Book airfares from Gisborne to Queenstown from $99 – there’s no reason not to at that price. www.airnewzealand.co.nz/





A historic cottage amid the autumn leaves beside the Arrow River, one of my favourite places. Picture by Mike Langford
Waterfalls cascade from the cliffs and the terminal face of Rob Roy Glacier near Wanaka. Picture by www.ecowanaka.co.nz
Nugget Point Lighthouse in the Catlins.
Chris making a cuppa in our ‘kitchen’ at the end of our hike up to Rob Roy Glacier.
Our cosy bed made up in the back of the JUCY Cabana.
Justine and the campervan on the shore of Lake Hayes.