Day 1 of my Epic May 2016 Road Trip around New Zealand - 159km/98mi - 3h 24min RT
The day started with a bang - literally - as I incurred my first punctured tire - ever! - This ain't my first rodeo......I had been road tripping for years: all over the US, even up to Alaska and the infamous Dalton Highway ("Ice Truckers"), as well as the African Bush where a so-called Highway suddenly turned into rocky bushland - without a 4-wheel drive... - and most recently, Australia.
Yet somehow, in all these years and after more than 100K miles of spectacular adventures - I never once found myself with a punctured tire!
This was finally the big day and it happened very unceremoniously in downtown Christchurch, not even somewhere rugged or wild.
Not only that - I didn't even notice it at first, but had pulled over to program my GPS when a friendly parking attending suddenly knocked on my car window and asked if he could change the "puncher" for me. Seriously......? - he just showed up like that? Talking about serendipity....
His name was "Hans" and of course, I gladly led someone with a German name handle the big job and Hans had it fixed in 5 minutes. Cool dude, that one.....
After a brief stop at the rental company for a new tire - SNAP RENTAL - who I can highly recommend as THE best (and cheapest and fairest) car rental company in all of New Zealand - I was finally on my way along the stunning coast for another amazingly beautiful New Zealand road trip. This country never seizes to amaze with ever changing spectacular beauty - paired with a serenity and calmness - a feeling of Zen - that is absolutely unique.
A little gem called "Diamond Harbour"
After a short breeze on the major highway, I entered the scenic section and soon decided to take the detour via Diamond Harbour - after all, what could not be spectacular about a place named "Diamond"....?
I would not be disappointed...
The drive there was lovely and eventually opened into this:
yes....that's what I thought - wowww.......
And it would continue like this for the next few hours. A mezmerizing, ever changing waterfront scenery set against steep cliffs, rolling hills and gorgeous, turquoise blue water,
Picture perfect - added by beautiful Indian Summer coloration, as if it wasn't beautiful enough already.... Apparently, this year fall was unusually warm with temperatures in the 70s (22 C).
First came a small village named Charteris Bay picture postcard scenery everywhere.
Soon after, quaint little Diamond Harbour emerged like a vision and also offered a handful of cafes and bakeries - and tasty local draft beer - to strengthen the beauty drunken visitor for the adventures still to come - and they sure were adventures.....
I kept driving, stopping every few minutes to take in (and photograph) the amazing vistas (it is one of those drives....) and eventually reached a crossroad shortly after Port Levy with my GPS pointing up the hills to a small unsealed path, a so-called "stock road" (stock as in livestock). Wouldn't really call it a "road" though....
The Adventure begins......
This little gravel path seemed to be the only option (save turning around and drive all the way back), so I decided to try my luck.
Just as a heads-up......if you want to explore New Zealand by car, you better get used to gravel roads. They are everywhere - for the most part in good condition - and the best, most spectacular scenery can usually be found there - this drive would be no exception....
Just when I started to wonder whether this was a one-way road since I didn't see any space for 2 cars to pass and long stretches didn't even have a security fence to protect from falling off the steep cliffs, my question was answered by an oncoming car racing around a corner and almost crashing into me - I had barely enough time to break.
Breaking takes a little longer on a gravel road.....;-)
Somehow it all worked out though - amazing how little space you need to pass another car when you have to - and I continued on my way. There was hardly any traffic and I only met two cars on the entire drive.
As I said, it was WELL worth it because the scenery and remoteness were spectacular - no comparison to the regular highway people take to Akaroa.
See for yourself:
If you ever come this way - take heart and don't miss this amazing stretch. Just don't drink the famous local draft beer in Diamond Harbour......;-)
Eventually, I reached Pigeon Bay and from there - crossing another collection of hills - rejoined the regular highway to Akaroa.
Akaroa - French charme with Kiwi flavor
This little town was certainly worth the effort. Charming with a strong French influence, it is absolutely gorgeous, nestled within a bay and studded with pretty historic homes, lovely eateries, and a yacht harbour.
And then there was this amazing place just outside of town:
Don't miss the cheese tasting - the best cheese I've ever tasted.....absolutely sublime!
From here I took the highway back to Christchurch - also a lovely drive, though no comparison to the scenic route of the first half.
There were many highlights on this drive, but if you love quiet places far away from busy civilization and clouds of tourists, the area around Diamond Harbour is the place to go. It was serene, sublime and peaceful. Rarely, do I use all three words to describe a location, but it was certainly adequate here.
An amazing adventure - and I even graduated to my first punctured tire.....