Kaikoura via Greymouth (ouch!)
When we arrived at Franz Josef we had asked the lady at the desk how long the journey to Kaikoura should take. Yet again we were shocked when told it would take at least 10 hours! We had hoped to stop at Greymouth on the way up and as we wanted to go whale watching the day after we arrived at Kaikoura we had hoped that the journey further north would not be quite so long. However, we had to get on the road and our journey took us through Greymouth anyway so we decided to see how the day and journey time went. Someone we had spoken to in Queenstown had told us that Arthur's Pass was spectacular and so our original plans involved going via this route, now we had to change our plans as going this was would add time to the journey.
The drive from Franz Josef to Greymouth was fairly straightforward and along the coast for much of the time. We stopped to look at views at a place where a monument had been erected to the surveyors of the land which turned out to be quite fortuitous. A Kiwi had also stopped and as is the case in this country, he started a conversation with us. He had been to Franz Josef on business and was travelling back home to Nelson so we asked him how long the trip to Kaikoura should take us. When we told him that we had been told 10-11 hours he laughed and said "only if you drive with the handbrake on". (Ironically this had happened a number of times with Var's excuse being that her arms were too short!)
Heartened by this news we felt we would be safe to stop at Greymouth after all and continued north along the west coast road. Greymouth was quite a busy place and we parked up on the street intending to visit the large jade shop and museum. New Zeland jade is prized and has a huge place in the Maori culture. I had seen some korus carved in jade and wanted to get one if I could. Apparently the koru is the most popular symbol and there wasn't much choice left. However we both found pieces that "spoke" to us and picked up a couple of gifts for people back home. Feeling quite pleased with ourselves we decided to visit the bakery and pick up some goodies for lunch. Because we were only allowed to park on the road for an hour we thought it would be best to pick the van up and drive to the bakery. Of course there weren't any spaces available when we got there so I jumped out whilst Var drove around the block. I came out of the bakery and saw Var coming so got across the road and waited. As she pulled up to pick me up, she pulled in too sharply and scraped the side of a car! Var was gutted obviously. Not only was there some damage to the car but the van was scratched as well. Luckily the police station was not far away and armed with all the details we drove back and went to confess to our crime. We were worried and upset but really needn't have been. Everything is so stressfree here that they took the details of the campervan and the car we had hit and that was that. We called Maui, the campervan rental people who were equally uninterested and were back on the road a little shaken but relieved that it had been sorted so painlessly.
From Greymouth we drove inland through Lewis Pass which was stunning. Although we had been disappointed not to have driven Arthur's Pass neither felt we had missed out on the scenery. At times we were driving on a level with the snow capped peaks on narrow, twisting roads. Var did marvelously I have to say as it wasn't a drive for the faint-hearted even in a car let alone the beast. At a place called Culverden we had to come off the main road for a bit to get us across to the East coast and back onto highway 1 and north to Kaikoura. We had 3 bars of fuel and had worked out that we could get roughly 50km to a bar however, not wanting to risk running out we decided to refuel at Culverden, "the last fuel for 75km" except, when we got there, it was closed!
There were two routes we could now go; a fairly shortish run on highway 70 across to highway 1 or the longer route over the Seaward Kaikoura Range which took us into Kaikoura. For some reason we ended up on the longer route. Suddenly I heard the words noone wants to hear when in a campervan, up a mountain, at dusk, "the red fuel light is on". I have to confess there was a fair bit of swearing at this point. We kept going, hoping that we would make it. But with each new climb we knew we were running out of hope. Eventually we decided to stop at a farm and ask if we could buy some diesel. So it's dark, we're in the middle of nowhere, knocking on a stranger's door. Has anyone seen this movie? Thankfully, the farmer was really nice and having been warned of our arrival by the farmhands whose door we had previously knocked at, opened the door laughing. We weren't the first to run out of fuel on this stretch of road and certainly not the first to knock on his door. Having bough 25 litres of diesel from him we got back into the van and continued onto Kaikoura and after a pretty adventurous day, arrived safely, although hungry and tired.