Plan for the day
Our plan was to drive northward from Christchurch to Lake Rotoiti. The estimated travelling was about 350 km and required 4.5 hours to complete, that was if we did not make stops along the way. Four and a half hours of straight driving would be too boring and meaningless so I planned for at least three stops.
The first stop would be Hanmer Springs, a resort town, then The Tarn along Lewis Pass and the third stop, Maruia Falls. Our goal was to get to Lake Rotoiti before sunset at about 6 pm. If we started early we should have about 10 to 12 hours to get to Lake Rotoiti.
By end of the day
By the time we reached Lake Rotoiti, it was about 7pm, we visited all the three planned stops and made additional stops to catch Pokemons (internet game Pokemon Go).
Picking up the Rental Car from apex Car Rentals
The original plan was to take the free hotel/airport transfer to return to the airport from our lodge. At the airport we would place a call to Apex Car Rentals outlet located nearby for a transfer to the car rental outlet. Our kind hotel van driver suggested sending us directly to Apex Car Rentals outlet to save us some time.
This was our first time renting a car from Apex Car Rentals. In the past, I had rented car from Budget, Avis and Hertz, and in Japan I rented our cars from Toyota and Nissan. All these car rental companies charged high rental cost but for the sake of a reliable car we just foot the charges. This time in New Zealand, I thought I had found a “reliable and low rental charges” car rental company, which was Apex Car Rentals. Two months before our trip I reserved a Toyota Carmy car with Apex. We specifically opted to pay a higher rental cost for a car that was less than 12 months old as we did not want an old car that might breakdown during our trip. The total expected charge for 19 Days with Standard Cover $2000 excess (insurance) and Roadside Assistance came up to NZD$1140. This seemed so much cheaper than the NZD$1600 that I would have to pay at Avis.
Before releasing the car to us, the Apex staff went through the contract conditions with us. She kept alerting us that we had only selected the Standard Cover $2000 excess. When we explained to her that we were fine with that as our personal travel insurance covered us up to $2000 for any damage to our rental car, so we did not need additional coverage. The Apex staff was very insistent in making us aware of the “company policy” regarding an accident. She told us that without full accident coverage, Apex had the rights to take back the car without any replacement if we were involved in an accident even if it was not our fault. There would also be no refund of rental charges for the remaining outstanding days once the car was taken back. It was very upsetting for us to hear all these “unreasonable” conditions which we had never encountered before with other car rental companies.
Yat Thong was a very careful driver and we always returned our rental cars in good condition so we should not be over worried about a possible accident. Unfortunately, the Apex staff kept emphazing and elaborating her company accident policy, she made us felt very insecure. We spent half an hour discussing the accident policy so there was no chance we had misunderstood the “unreasonable conditions”. In the end we paid additional NZD$304 to get a full accident coverage for our car. This so call “full coverage” only covered the first accident with one replacement car.
Our car rental charges came up to NZD$1444 in total which was not much cheaper than getting a similar car from Avis. I was absolutely disappointed with Apex Car Rental, though the final rental cost of the car was still about NZD$100 lesser than Avis’s, the rental experience at Apex was terrible. I felt that Apex hard-sell their full accident insurance coverage with hidden treats and unreasonable conditions. I had no idea if these “unreasonable” conditions were true company rental policy or it was the Apex staff taking us for a ride. But one thing for sure after this round I would never use Apex Car Rental again.
Putting our TOM TOM GPS to use
One week just before this trip, we purchased a Car GPS systems, it was a TOMTOM model 610. The beauty about this GPS systems was that we got a lifetime supplies of world wide maps with no additional charges. The only missing countries were Korea and Japan where these maps were not make publicly available by their governments. Another great thing about the device was I could pre setup and pin point all our destinations in the New Zealand map stored in the device.
With our own Car GPS we needed not rent one from Apex and this helped us to save a couple hundreds of dollars. After we inspected and made sure all scratches on the car were documented we mounted our TomTom GPS on the dash board and were ready to move on.
Breakfast and Shopping at Bunnings Warehouses
Now that we had the car the next thing was to grab some breakfast and outdoor supplies. We set our TomTom GPS to Bunnings Warehouse just about 15 km away. The TomTon GPS navigated us just to the road outside a huge carpark. From there we had to do some self navigation to seek out the entrance into the carpark and to seek out Bunnings warehouse. I guessed it was too much to expect the TomTom device to bring us right into the parking lots directly outside the warehouse.
Beside the warehouse were several other complexes which housed a cafe, a small and a big supermarkets. This place was a convenient one-stop location for us to grab our breakfast, some grocery supplies and outdoor equipment that we would need for our trip.
We had breakfast at the cafe which came up to NZD$25 for two sandwiches and two lattes. This sort of breakfast would cost about the same when eaten in Singapore but we did not eat like this every day back home. Our standard breakfast at a Singapore “hawker center” which included a bowl of soup noodle and a cup of coffee would come up to just SGD$5 per person. Just for the first breakfast in NZ we would dine out as for the meals in the subsequent days we planned to make/cook our meals.
With that in mind we went into a huge supermarket, Countdown, just next door, and bought a loaf of bread, cooked ham, prewashed salad mix vegetable , tomatoes, instant noodles, canned food and a pack of six 1.5-litre mineral water.
I was pretty surprise that the daily groceries prices were not any cheaper than the same stuffs if we were to buy them in Singapore, considering that most of our Singapore foods were imported goods I just could not understand the high raw food cost at Countdown.
At Bunnings warehouse we picked up two cheap outdoor chairs, they costed only NZD$8 per chair. We could already envision us sitting comfortably by the shore of some lakes eating our home-made sandwich whike waiting for the sun to rise or to set.
Hanmer Springs was a resort town about 120 km north of Christchurch. The drive was about 1.5 hour. We had no plan to go into town but to stop at a couple of scenic spots on the outskirt of the town.
We turned off from Lewis Pass onto a road leading toward Hanmer Springs town. About 700 metres from the turn-off on the right side there was a Thrillseeker Adventures” office, which was our first scenic spot. In all, besides the spot at Thrillseeker Adventures we stopped at two other spots and took may scenic shots. The best shots were the ones at spot 3 located on higher ground.
The view from Scenic Spot 1 (cafe at Thrillseeker Aventures office) was not as beautiful as we expected, probably because the ground was not high enough and there was a lot of blockages to the view.
We were not satisfied with the shots we took so we went back into our car and drove inward. We crossed a bridge and came to a bend with a better view. This was our second scenic spot.
Hanmer Spring as view from scenic spot 2 (co-ords -42.580942, 172.784443)
On our way out of Hanmer Springs we found a higher ground which was on the other side of the river opposite the Thrillseeker Adventures site. There was this steep unseal road leading up to Medway spring. We parked our car at the start of the slope and trekked about 100 meters up. At this higher ground we found a good scenic spot (spot 3), it had the best view of Hanmer Springs, we could see the river, the bridge and the snow mountains over the distance.
The Tarn (along Lewis Pass)
Our next stop was at The Tarn (mountain lake) along Lewis Pass road. It was about 62 km from Hanmer Springs and would be great leg-stretching stop for us.
The walking trail around the lake was a 20 minutes loop trek. It was a very flat and relaxing walk with several lookout points/decks to take great pictures.
A scenic stretch of road
Somewhere between The Tarn and our next stop, Maruia Falls, we came upon a stretch of road with a different view. On both sides of the road were tall green trees. It reminded us of a Metasequoia road at Makino Picland in Japan, Kyoto. We could not resist but stop our car by the roadside and came out for a short stroll.
The falls was located along the Shenandoah highway which branched off from the Lewis Pass State Highway. It was about 60km north of the branch off. On the left side of the Shenandoah highway (north facing) a short road led to a car parking area of the Maruia Falls Scenic Reserve.
The falls was wide and the water volume was massive. It could be viewed from a higher ground and a lower ground. From the higher ground there was a well maintained path which led us down to the lower ground. From our perspectives we felt that the view of the falls looked better from the lower ground.
I read somewhere on the internet that in summer some canoeists would paddle their ways down the falls. Too bad we did not get to see any of these thrillseekers today.
Our final destination of the day was Lake Rotoiti. Our original plan was to walk along the shore of Lake Rotoiti , to explore Kerr Bay and West Bay. We intended to set our outdoor chairs by the lake, to enjoy the view of the lake under the setting sun. Later in the night we would check into Travels-Sabine Lodge just one km from the lake.
Unfortunately by the time we reached Kerr Bay it was about 7 pm and had been drizzling for close to 2 hours. The drizzle made it difficult for us to come out and explore. The view of Kerr Bay infront of us was quite gloomy and grey. This lake was a popular scenic spot, but on this rainy day it was deserted. There were only one other car beside ours.
Sadly after 20 minutes the rainy condition still had not improved so we left Kerr Bay and made our way to Travels-Sabine Lodge. Check in to the lodge was done very quickly. Our room was very sparse and boring, not cosy enough to keep us in, so we moved out to explore. This lodge had a shared kitchen where we could cook our dinner but I was feeling lazy so we decided to drive out for dinner.
Unfortunately, when we reached ‘The Clinker Cafe’ it had already closed for the day. We drove around the small town but could not find any other shops or restaurants. It looked like we would have to live on the bread and ham that we had bought earlier in the morning. It was a good thing we stocked up our grocery supplies before starting the trip.
Since we were near the lake and the drizzle seemed to have stopped we decided to return to Kerr Bay a second time. Interestingly with the rain gone and the sun down, Kerr Bay looked beautiful. The water in the lake was very still and we could see beautiful reflection of the distance hills in the water. It was about 8.10 pm, though the sun had set the sky had yet to darken totally. It was the “blue hour”, our favourite hour for photography. Beautiful, stunning, serene, mysterious and absolute quietness were the descriptions I would give to the scenery of Kerr Bay in front of me. We stayed at the lake, moving around as quietly as we could so as not to disrupt the tranquility of the surrounding, until the blueness turned black before we left for our lodge again.
Our Accommodation for the Night
I wanted to book a room in a hotel directly next to the lake so that we could at anytime walk out to enjoy the scenery of the lake. I had wondered how the lake would look like, in the golden hour of the morning sun, the blue hour and when the moon shone onto the lake surface. Unfortunately, the nearest accommodation to the bay was a “bare” campsite with only toilet facilities which was not suitable for us. So for our night accommodation, I had booked Travels-Sabine Lodge which was located one km from the lake.
This lodge was a backpacker lodge, it provided dormitory and private rooms. I reserved a private room for us, it did not come with ensuite toilet. One reason I chose this lodge was its room charges which wer comparably cheaper than other motels in the vicinity.
Our private room had space for four persons, it had more beds than we needed but not enough table top or cupboard for our stuffs. The shared toilets and showers were down the corridor. Though our room was very bare the shared kitchen was wonderful large. It was well equipped with stoves, oven, cooking utensils etc etc. The room for the night was NZD$70 and it was reserved online at the site www.nelsonlakes.co.nz. I gave my credit card details to secure the room reservation, payment was done only upon checkin as for cancellation (without charges) it required 24 hours notice.
Dinner & company
We had the whole kitchen to ourselves. So I toasted the bread we bought in the morning and had a delicious deli dinner with salad and tea. The lodge was quite empty at this time of the year, beside us there were only another couple. The young couple was also from Singapore! They were already in New Zealand for about 6 months on a working visa. We envied their courage to take a year off their jobs to travel and to see the world
Yat Thong and I were so conservative. We always wanted to travel around the world and stay for months at each location. Till now we had not done it. We were only able to take two to three weeks leave each time from our jobs for our travels. As for our dreams of staying at a place for months that would have to wait till Yat Thong retired from his job. We did not take gap years from our job to travel (just like this couple) when we were younger and it became impossible when we grew older because of family and job commitments.