Tyne Cot, Passendale and Brugge.

Valenciennes is our home port for the winter and due to low water levels in some of the French canals we have found ourselves tied up rather early this year. With more than six weeks before we head back to New Zealand for the Southern Hemisphere spring we find ourselves with time on our hands and plenty of interesting options to choose from.

So first up we hired a car from Europcar near the Valenciennes railway station and headed to Le Quesnoy as I mentioned in my last post. It’s only a 20 minute drive from Valenciennes and well known to Kiwis as the place where, in November 1917, NZ soldiers liberated the German occupied town by literally going over the wall. Using a ladder. Sometimes the simple ideas are the most cunning. And who doesn’t love a cunning plan! The town has NZ place names and memorials to commemorate the victory and a good walking map to follow.

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Fortified gate in Le Quesnoy

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NZ place names

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St Thérèse school excellent mural

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The site where the NZ soldiers went over the wall.

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We drove back to the boat for the night but next morning headed up again to Belgium, first to a chandlery in Antoing, to purchase a couple of new ropes.

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The floating chandlery in Antoing, Belgium

Then on we drove to Tyne Cot, (named after Tyne Cottage by the Northumberland Fusiliers who saw a resemblance between the many German pill boxes and typical Tyneside workers cottages), a cemetery near Zonnebeke, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, anywhere. There are 11,900 commonwealth servicemen graves of World War 1, more than 8,370 are unidentified, a very sad statistic. The memorial wall commemorates nearly 35,000 servicemen from the UK and NZ. We found an R B Twisleton listed on the wall who was a distant relative of the Alan’s family on his mother’s side. Considering the population of NZ at the time most people probably have a connection to someone who was killed or injured here in the Passendale area.

(As a side note Passendale is the new spelling of Paschendaele, as is Ieper is the new form of Ypres).

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Tyne Cot cemetery

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Tyne Cot cemetery

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Tyne Cot cemetery

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Tyne Cot cemetery NZ commemoration

Again we returned to the boat in France for the night. The trip is only a hour each way and saved us the cost of a hotel room.

The next morning we drove back into Belgium and to Zonnebeke where the Passendale museum is situated. This is a great museum with an excellent depiction of the realities of WW1 including trench life and the horrors of what happened here. The 12th of October 1917 was the worst day in history for New Zealand casualties, 2700, of which 843 died thanks to an ill advised attack amongst the mud and rain on the battlefield. The objective was the Bellevue Spur but it was never reached, the soldiers and weapons sunk and stuck in the mud while the Germans relentlessly gunned them down. Horrific but visiting is an experience any New Zealander should undertake if in the area as a mark of respect. Similar to my trip to Gallipoli in the 80s.

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Passendale museum, Zonnebeke

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The trenches

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The trenches

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The trenches

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More trenches. They depict different construction methods.

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The New Zealand memorial

To lighten our mood we headed further north to the beautiful and historic Brugge (Flemish spelling!). Wow, this medieval town is unbelievable. Unbelievably stunning and unbelievably full of tourists. Of course it’s worth the hassle of having to weave through the hordes while avoiding losing an eye to a selfie stick because there’s a good reason so many people visit Brugge. The place is all medieval buildings, breweries, canals and chocolate shops. What’s not to love. We did all the touristy things, walking all over the old town, visiting the Museums, the churches, cruising the canals and tasting all the chocolate. Ok not all the chocolate. We also did justice to the Moule Frites (mussels and fries), Jupiler beer and waffles amongst other Belgium favourites. We stayed at the Novotel Centrum using up some Accor hotel points which saved us some €. It was a great three days.

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Stunning medieval buildings are everywhere in the 9ld town, Brugge.

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Me and a canal 🙂

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Horse drawn guided tours are popular and the sounds of hooves (no cars) is very evocative.

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Church in St Amand-les-Eaux

Finally we headed home to Valenciennes. The weather has been really quite cool lately and the next day it rained all day so we stayed in but the following day we made the use of the rental car by firstly visiting the nearby town of St Amand les Eaux (which was mainly closed due to it being Monday) and then did a big shop at the huge commercial centre in nearby Petit-Forêt. Handy not to have to lug everything by hand!

On Tuesday we took the car back (7 days rental cost €234) and got back to walking everywhere again. It’s amazing how much more exercise you get when you don’t have a car. Our next excursion will be by train. Cambrai looks like an option or further to Arras.

As we haven’t been out in the boat we have no new statistics but here’s the year to date again.

Total year to date

Engine hours – 84.3

Kms – 503.7

Locks – 98

Tunnels – 3

Boat lifts – 6

Lifting Bridges – 4

Posted in French Canal boating, Holiday 2019 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Seneffe to Valenciennes, back into France we go.

Bonjour, we are back in France after an interesting and generally enjoyable trip through southern Belgium. The last time I wrote we were in Seneffe and planning our trip down the historical century old but recently renovated four boat lifts on the Canal du Centre.

Seneffe is a great marina with a lovely English Capitain and a small book swap bookcase! We replenished our library, making us very happy readers after having to re-read old books from last year.  

So onto the UNESCO world heritage historical boat lifts and what fun we had. The trip takes a few hours with staff operating them just for us as no other boats were around. There are two tanks or caissons which counterbalance each other, one going up and the other down. Between each lift there is a pretty canal to cruise down, very green with lifting bridges the following staff operated for us. After lift number three we stopped for lunch, attaching ourselves to an old commercial barge for an hour then onto the last lift, a total of 66.2 meters. It was a beautiful day and we had a lot of fun.

The two different boat lift options. The historical four lifts or the modern one. Both interesting.

Heading into the lift basin with its guillotine door.

Heading out again.

Historic boat lift number 1

The canal between lifts was filled with fluorescent green duck weed.

Pretty and easy to sail through.

One of the four bridges the staff operated for us.

Manning the ropes as we descended.

Lunch break with lift three in the background.

17m drop on each lift.

Finishing about 3pm we moored at Thieu boat harbour. The next day we biked up to the new boat lift, Strépy-Thieu, built to replace the historic four and it’s very busy with commercial boating and massive! It climbs 73m in one go, that’s over 20 stories! We spent an interesting hour in the newly opened visitors centre, learning how the lifts work and the massive job building them. We also bought 200litres of fuel off a tanker delivering fuel to the marina, at service station prices. Very handy.

Inside the Strépy-Thieu boat lifts from the viewing platform

Engine room, one on each side as there are two lifts. Only one was working when we used it.

Lift number four of the historic lift, lit up at night. So pretty!

The next day we decided to try out the Strépy-Thieu lift for ourselves. There is one on each side, operating independently of each other but only one was in operation while we were there. We lined up behind a few very large commercial barges and waited for a green light. We duly headed into the pound behind a commercial and tied up. A staff member came to take our papers and once we were at the top she brought them back with our official permis de circulation. This was the only time we needed it although we had heard we would be asked for them  

Strépy-Thieu boat lifts. One on each side. 73.15m total vertical lift.

Heading in following a commercial barge. As you can see there is plenty of room.

Tied up and ready to go while our paperwork was being sorted out. Very efficient and friendly staff.

The pound is big.

Once up to the top we cruised out, along the aqueduct then turned around and lined up for the trip back down. Great fun and so interesting. A couple of commercials even waved us on in front of them which was so nice!

Panorama as we descended.

It’s a long long way up!

After all that excitement we carried on along the canal through two deep locks (with useful floating bollards) and arrived in Mons, finding a mooring by the boat ramp. We stayed for a few days, biking into town unfortunately on a Monday when pretty much everything is closed but did enjoy a coffee in the Place and the bike ride was fun, if very hot, the temperature rising to 37°. During the next week or so this rose to 43°. Very uncomfortable in a steel boat without aircon!

Belfry of Mons, 1672 and. UNESCO site. Unfortunately for us it was a Monday and closed.

Rub the Guardhouse monkey’s head with your left hand for good luck apparently. Tick.

Mons mooring.

After Mons we headed off early one morning through commercial locks and in incredible heat to find a lovely mooring in Péronnes, on the edge of the Grand Large lake area. Lots of yachts and windsurfers to watch and we enjoyed the breeze. The yacht club has a restaurant so we tried the moule frites (mussels and fries) and meat plate plus the drink of the day, sangria  

Moules frites for dinner at the Yacht club in Peronnnes

Our lovely mooring in Personnes. The breeze from the Grand Large was welcome.

The Grand Large Péronnes

Finally it was time to head back into France and our winter mooring of Valenciennes near the border. We have booked for a year and figure we’ll do another trip before we go home but come back here. The marina is new, has security with locked gates and a Capitainerie to keep an eye on things. The city has been rebuilt after the world wars and a lot of the buildings are red brick, not something we’ve seen before. There is a tram line near the port and also a TGV train station only a 10 minute walk away. Very handy.

Maison de Prévôt, Valenciennes

Valenciennes

Next week we’ve booked a rental car for a week and plan on visiting Le Quesnoy, a 17th century fortified town which was liberated from four years of German occupation by 14,400 New Zealand soldiers without loss of civilians but at a cost of 142 NZers. It seems to be a place for Kiwis to visit. Also on our travels we’ll be heading north back into Belgium and the city of Brugge for a couple of days. I’ve never been so we’re looking forward to that.

Luckily the weather has cooled down into the 20s so life is a lot more pleasurable! Long may it continue as the French waterways are getting very dry!

Here are the stats since I last wrote:

Seneffe to Thieu

Engine Hours: 3.3

Kms: 14

Locks : 0

Boat Lifts : 4 (66.2m total climb)

Lifting or swing bridges: 4

Thieu – Mons

Hours : 4.1

Kms : 17

Locks : 3

Boat lifts : 2 (Strépy-Thieu x2, a climb of 73.15m)

Mons – Peronnes Yacht Club

Hours : 4.9

Kms : 38

Lock : 1 (12.5m deep)

Peronnes (Belgium) – Valenciennes (France)

Hours : 4.7

Kms : 30

Locks : 4

Total year to date

Engine hours – 84.3

Kms – 503.7

Locks – 98

Tunnels – 3

Boat lifts – 6

Lifting Bridges – 4

Posted in Belgium canal boating, Canal boating in Belgium, Canal boating in France, French Canal boating, Historic boat lift Belgium, Holiday 2019, Mons, Strépy-Thieu boat lift | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Charlesville to Seneffe. Into Belgium we go.

Last time I wrote we had heard the Meuse would be closing locks 1-8 July 4th. With no time to turn around and head back that way and the Canal des Ardennes closed in the middle, we took the only course available and headed north. (Annoyingly the VNF decided to delay the closure to the 14th and then the 19th of July so we could have made it through). However the Northern Meuse in France and Belgium is beautiful so we’re glad we have headed up this way.

After we left Charleville-Meziere we travelled with a couple of boats also heading north, an Australian couple, Peter and Dorothy on their catamaran that they have sailed from home, and a Swiss couple, Herbie and Elsie, and we joined them for dinner at a local restaurant when we stopped for the night in Bogney-sur-Meuse. Peter speaks English and German and so translated between us and the Swiss!

Bogny-sur-Meuse

Lovely dinner out with new friends.

The next day we moved on to Revin, a lovely mooring and as there was a World Cup cricket game to watch on Alan’s ipad we stayed two days.

Revin mooring

We were on our own again and traveled on to Vieuw-Wallerand, another very nice mooring, a well looked after town and an excellent boulangerie (priorities)!

Vireux-Wallerand

We had a bit of a wait the next morning at the first lock which is attached to the following tunnel and as there were two boats coming from the other direction there was a delay. The éclusier, when we did get in, asked about our depth requirement as they can adjust the water if needed. All good though and no trouble going through the tunnel. We did take the canopy down, just in case. The river here is beautiful with a National Park on either side, very green and pretty.

Entrance to the Ham tunnel.

Givet was our next port where there are pontoons on one side and a quay on the other. €9.40 a night and the capitainerie required our insurance documents which was a first. Lovely town with an excellent sunset that night.

Givet

Silver Fern moored in Givet.

Sky on fire. Givet.

On to Belgium! We travelled with a Danish boat this time and at the first lock we were expecting to get a free permit for this Wallonina area (that I’d read we would need) but the éclusier didn’t mention it so we assume it’s not required any more. Time will tell.

Heading into Belgium waters.

Waulsort was our first stop in Belgium, a very scenic town with the mooring in the other side of the village with a free ferry boat to connect the two areas. The little ferry is hand pulled across by the guy who operates the capitainerie and a very nice young guy he is. It started to rain later and we hunkered down for the evening amongst the surrounding green countryside. Very pleasant. The temperatures have dropped significantly thank goodness and the next morning it was actually quite cold!

Little manually operated ferry in Waulsort.

Back in jeans and jackets the next morning we headed further down the Meuse, the scenery more rugged and lots of cliffs.

Château de Freyr

Rochers de Freyr

The boat traffic increased as we came to Dinant, a spectacular town with it’s Collegiate church almost built into the cliff side. We moored just past the restaurants and bars on the waterfront and enjoyed a few days exploring the stunning buildings and Citadel.

Stunning Dinant

Collegiate Church of Notre Dame, Dinant.

Interior, Notre Dame.

Adolphe Sax the inventor of, you guessed it, the Sax was born here and there are big bright colourful saxes all around town. His home is now a Sax Museum.

A New Zealand flag on the bridge! Dinant.

Saxophones are everywhere in Dinant.

Monsieur Sax with the riffraff

We stayed in Dinant for a few days visiting the Leffe (pronounced Leff-uh) beer museum with a tasting and free Leffe glasses as a parting gift, took the cable car up the hill to visit the Citadel and enjoyed a guided tour. Next to the Citadel is a French and Commonwealth war cemetery with one lone New Zealander buried there. This city holds a very strategic site and so has seen many wars and associated carnage. It’s a beautiful city though and probably the most stunning we’ve seen this year. A must visit if you’re in Belgium.

Silver Fern on the far left of the town quay.

Leffe museum

Old bottling machine.

Dodgy bar maid.

Time for the tasting!

View from the cable car

Panorama of stunning Dinant and the Meuse river

Silver Fern 4th from the right.

Dinant Citadel

Dinant Citadel

We departed Dinant on July 10th and headed along the Meuse to Namur (or Namen). We were in company with two Belgium boats and had to wait at each lock for big commercial boats coming through. Also at one lock we waited for three other leisure boats so six in total. These locks are now 100m long and 12m wide so plenty of room for all of us.

Lots of commercial traffic nearing Namur

This is Château Dave. What a name!

Then it was a race for the moorings in Namur. We wanted to get close to the old part of town so tied up on the pontoons opposite the Citadel. Fairly expensive at €15 plus power and water which you must load a fob with money and pay per use plus €20 deposit. Still it was worth it. The old town is in the middle of roadworks and renovation but it was still fun to wander the streets with plenty of shops etc but the best bit was the Citadel where we were lucky to join an English language tour and really get into the tunnels and hear what was added as the centuries went by. Namur Citadel is one of four Citadels including Dinant, which we had previously visited, known as the Meuse Citadels.

View from the top of the Citadel

Creative displays in the Citadel tunnels made for a very enjoyable tour.

We loved our time in Namur and watched the Cricket World Cup final (excellent game, well worth watching but the end was disappointing), and also met a lovely couple Russell and Gaëlle on a beautiful barge travelling with their young daughters. Gaëlle gave us some excellent information on the Belgium waterways as we only have one map and no books so that was very helpful.

It was time to move on and so on Monday July 15th we turned off the Meuse and headed onto the Sambre. This river, at least until the turn off south, is dismal. Industrial all the way along and hardly anywhere to moor for the night.

It pretty much looked like this for 12 hours

We left Namur at 8.30am and with no great options to stop we kept on going and going. 10 locks, 74km and 12 hours of boring scenery and bleak weather later we finally pulled into the SNEF Yachting marina near Seneffe. Thank goodness there was just enough room for us, we tied up and collapsed. I wouldn’t recommend that trip and in retrospect we should have turned off onto the southern end of the Sambre and stopped for the night down there but it was a experience!

Seneffe SNEF yachting

This is the route we are taking through Belgium.

We had ourselves a day off and just chilled the next day while the weather improved. Looks like warmer weather is on the way again though but hopefully not too hot. France is still suffering from low water levels and a few waterways are looking at planning closures in the next few weeks which is frustrating. Up here in Belgium all seems ok but who knows. We don’t have access to as much information here as we do in France.

Next up is the historical Canal du Centre with its four 100 year old boat lifts. Sounds fun!

Since I last wrote:

Charlesville-Meziere to Bogney-sur-Meuse

Engine hours – 2.4

Kms – 17

Locks – 3

Bogney-sur-Meuse to Revin

Hours – 3.2

Kms – 22

Locks – 4

Revin to Vieux-Wallerand

Hours – 4.3

Kms – 26

Locks – 6

Vieux-Wallerand to Givet

Hours – 2.1

Kms – 10.5

Locks – 3

Tunnels – 1

Givet to Waulsort (BELGIUM)

Hours – 3.1

Kms – 14

Locks – 3

Waulsort to Dinant

Hours – 1.5

Kms – 10

Locks – 1

Dinant to Namur

Hours – 4.3

Kms – 27

Locks – 6

Namur to Seneffe

Hours – 11.7

Kms -73.2

Locks – 10

Total so far this year:

Engine hours – 67.3

Kms – 404.7

Locks – 90

Tunnels – 3

Posted in 2019 adventure on the French Canals, Canal boating in Belgium, Canal boating in France, France, French Canal boating, Holiday 2019, Meuse, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Verdun to Charleville-Mézières. The beautiful Meuse.

Leaving Verdun we continued our trip north with no fixed destination in mind and stopped for the night in Consenvoye where we cycled up to the German war cemetery. Here lie 11,146 German soldiers, a nurse, a Russian and 62 from the Austrian-Hungarian army in a beautifully kept treed cemetery.

Nice mooring in Consenvoye

German cemetery in Consenvoye

We tried out the bread from the bread machine as sadly there is no boulangerie in Consenvoye and actually the bread was excellent, much better than the offering from the machine in Toul.

The next day we headed on to Dun-sur-Meuse having our first incident in a lock this year, getting the rope jammed while descending and forcing us to quickly cut our way out of it, losing another good rope. These things happen though and we will just have to be more creative with the ropes we have left until we can replace it.

Pretty village of Cléry-le-Petit-Le-Petit on the Meuse

Dun-sur-Meuse is a great mooring although lots of biting bugs that had a good feast on me. You’re welcome. There is a steep hill with a fortress and church at the top with stunning panoramic views of the Meuse. The heat has really pumped up the volume with temps over 35°. It was a hot climb!

View from the top

On the way back down the hill

The following day, June 20th, was a cooler day (yay!). As we pulled up to the first lock the door jammed with a massive tree stump lodged in the way. We called VNF and reported the problem. A man arrived half an hour later but he struggled to move it. Eventually he put the lock through a cycle and let the tree stump out and an hour later we were on our way again.

On our way again

Remind me not to swim downstream!

It rained on and off all day and we tied up on Stenay for the night. The mooring is nice here but the town was a little disappointing with a lot of closed shops. The next day was market day with a few fruit and vegetable stands and a rotisserie chicken/paella caravan. We bought some salad veges then headed to the local Lidl for other supplies (wine and beer). Having ticked all the major food groups it was back to the boat to spend the day catching up on washing.

Heading further north we motored 25kms to the next stop in Mouzon. There’s a strong current here and we took a few attempts to get close enough to the quay to moor but finally managed and what a lovely spot it is. We visited the Abbey church, did a walking tour and tried to stay cool in this heatwave.

The buildings here are beautifully restored

Abbey church

Sunday Mass

The mooring got very busy during our two days there and we had a lovely surprise to meet up with friends and fellow kiwis Tony and Kay on their new boat. We enjoyed having a drink with them on Silverfern that evening.

We dragged ourselves away from Mouzon on June 22nd and had a long day on the water to arrive in Charleville-Mézières and yay! a spot under some trees on the long quay.

That’s us at the front

Shade!

As I said the canicule (heatwave) that is hitting all of Europe is upon us big time with talk of temperatures over 40°! Luckily there is the odd breath of wind on the river which is very welcome. This city is beautiful, well cared for with stunning architecture. Named after it’s creator, Charles de Gonzague,

The man himself

the ‘new town’ was built in the 17th century with roads leading to the beautiful Ducal Place with arcades running along all four sides, offering bars and restaurants as well as shops.

Place Ducal

Place Ducal

Museum of Rimbaud, the famous French poet who was born here in 1854

There is an amazing patisserie close to the Place with the best baguettes I’ve tasted this year.

We visited the museum of the Ardennes which has artefacts from 2000BC through to current day art works. They have a great collection marionettes from different countries as well. Charleville-Mézières is known as the World Capital of Puppetry Arts.

Last night there was a salsa dance class next to our mooring on the river. Great music. Brought back memories.

So we are here In Charleville-Mézières until Sunday. Today we found out just by chance that this canal/river will be closed at the southern end due to lack of water. Next Wednesday. Not very good news for us as the only other way south is the Canal des Ardennes which won’t reopen this year due to a broken lock. You really have to be flexible doing this lifestyle! After working out we would have to really put the accelerator down and race back (in the raging heat), in order to get through those locks by the closure date we’ve decided to carry on northwards and see what happens. Maybe it will rain all of July and everything will be open again, who knows. This is the hottest June on record apparently and the earliest waterways have been lacking water that we’ve encountered.

The journey this post:

Verdun – Consenvoye

Engine hours – 3.6

Kms – 25

Locks – 4

Consenvoye – Dun-sur- Meuse

Engine hours- 3

Kms – 17

Locks – 5

Dun-sur-Meuse to Stenay

Engine hours- 2.3

Kms – 13

Locks – 3

Stenay-Mouzon

Engine hours – 3.5

Kms – 25

Locks – 3

Mouzon- Charleville-Mézières

Engine hours – 5.7

Kms – 40

Locks – 8

Total so far this year:

Engine hours – 34.7

Kms – 205

Locks – 54

Tunnels – 2

Posted in 2019 adventure on the French Canals, Canal de la Meuse, French Canal boating, Holiday 2019, Meuse | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

St Mihiel to Verdun. Taking our time.

We left St Mihiel early on 30 May and headed north, stopping at Lacroix-sur-Meuse, only 9kms along the canal. We were tied up for the day by 10am! It was Ascension Day and on our walk through the village we saw families gathering to celebrate. The village is quiet with an Epicerie/boulangerie which was closed the next morning although the hours on the door said it would be open. Viva la France.

The next morning we arrived at the first lock of the day to find our éclusier ready and waiting as promised when we spoke to them the day before. Fantastic service! It was a longish day, 27kms, 7 locks and 5 hours with 3 different éclusiers. At the final lock before the Verdun mooring we passed under the city walls and into the lock where we had to wait 20 minutes for the local tourist boat to enter the lock behind us and we descended into Verdun. There was a Silver Fern sized space on the Quai de Londres right in front of the bars and restaurants. Parfait. We moored up, plugged into power (free) and decided to stay a while!

Silver Fern on the quay in Verdun, 3rd from the left on the far side.

Porte Chaussée

Over the next week we did all the touristy things you do in a town with such history. The local Visitors Centre set us off on a self guided walk, checking out 20 must see sights including Porte Chausée, a fortified gatehouse dating back to the 14th century when Verdun was made an “imperial free city” which meant the town had to maintain its own ramparts to defend itself from attack.

Bishops Palace, 18th century now houses the World Peace Centre.

16th century Cloister of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Beautiful stained glass windows inside the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Monument to Verdun, built after WWI, has 73 steps leading to an enormous statue of a Frankish warrior leaning on his sword and looking to the Eastern frontier and symbolises the French victories of the Battle of Verdun 1916 and Armistice of 1918.

Another war memorial erected in 1928 and dedicated to those who died in both World Wars, shows five arms of service, a cavalryman, an engineer sapper, an infantryman, an artillaryman and a reservist. The motto of the city, On Ne Passe Pas, They Shall Not Pass, is inscribed here and is the Verdun’s motto. At night the statues light up in red white and blue. Very moving.

We also checked out the Souterrain Citadel, the Underground Citadel and went on the tour which includes a train ride. The citadel was constructed from 1623 when France was defending itself from Germany, (not much changes). The Franco-Prussian war of 1871 saw Verdun become a major fortress close of the frontier. 16m below the surface the Engineers carved out munitions stores, barracks, kitchens and war rooms. The tour shows the daily life of French soldiers in 1916 with light and sound (we each had an English language headset) and it was excellent, well worth the €9 each.

Above the ground of the Citadel the ramparts are enormous.

Suffice to say Verdun is an amazing town with so much to see, not all of it war related, going back 30 centuries. We stayed a while, fixing a small fresh water tank issue and then Alan has been watching the Cricket World Cup. We’ve walked all over the town, every evening enjoying another stroll amongst the diners and drinkers on the quay.

Enjoying the evening!

One night, at about 2.30am, we had a couple of ‘visitors’ on our swim platform, perhaps trying to steal our flag, and Alan had to confront them and tell them to f*** off which they did. Unfortunately they came back carrying a couple of rubbish bins, dumping them on our neighbours deck. Idiots. It hasn’t happened again but each night we bring our flag in just in case!

The vast majority of boats coming through here are Dutch, heading south for the summer, but that changed in the last couple of days with enough Kiwi and Aussie boats to warrant sharing a few drinks on the quay. The port is always busy, both on the water and on the bustling quay with all the bars and restaurants. We are really loving it but have to leave sometime so we’ll be off on Monday morning heading further north towards Belgium.

Market day is Friday.

Talk about focus!

Here are a few other photos from our Verdun stay.

There was a military recruiting drive while we were in Verdun.

The journey this post:

St Mihiel – Lacroix-sur-Meuse

Engine hours : 1.5

Kms : 9

Locks : 2 (manual)

Lacroix-sur-Meuse – Verdun

Engine hours: 4.7

Kms: 27

Locks : 7

Tunnel : 1

Year so far:

Engine hours : 16.6

Kms : 85

Locks : 31

Tunnels : 2

Posted in 2019 adventure on the French Canals, Battle of Verdun, Canal boat, Canal boating in France, French Canal boating, Holiday 2019, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Christchurch, Paris, Toul, Canal de la Meuse. We’re off!

The sun’s shining, the birds are singing and all is right on the canal. We have liftoff. After a week and a half since leaving New Zealand we are finally on our way! Bring on our 2019 adventure…

We flew Air New Zealand from Christchurch to Sydney and Etihad to Abu Dhabi and on the Paris. Both airlines did a great job with excellent service and the A380 was impressive. However. We were unimpressed with Etihad’s new food service. Very basic, no menus and the feel of it was very much of the low cost model. Air New Zealand did a much better job on the first leg. On those long sectors (15 hours and 7 hours) you need the food to punctuate the utter boredom so these things do matter. Come on #Etihad, what are you doing?

Anyway we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, collected our luggage and headed into the city on the Roissy bus which drops you off in the Opera district. From there we lugged our luggage (!) to a hotel I had found online, Hotel Atheneé, very cute, highly decorated and teeny tiny. Perfect Parisian experience, the staff are excellent, the lift takes 2 people or one and a bag and about 2 hours to reach the top floor. All part of the fun.

Our room Hotel Athenee
The hotel is very theatrical.

We had 2 nights in Paris, mainly to get to the Free mobile shop to buy a new phone number and internet connection then we walked for hours, checking out the sad Notre Dame after the recent fire and then along the banks of the Seine onto the Rive Gauche and just meandered along enjoying the sunshine.

Note Dame minus its spire.

Dinner was in the Place Vendôme in the 1st , sitting outside enjoying our meal a police car pulled up and the officer wished us “Bon Appetit”. Gosh I love France!

Santé

We took a TGV from Gare d’Est to Nancy and picked up a Europcar rental to drive our final leg to Toul where we left the boat last year. Luckily it was still there! The Capitainerie are good here and our mechanic had sorted out our battery charger problem, there was no mould and it all looked pretty good. Yay! After last year’s sad reunion with Silver Fern this was a relief!

Having a car for a week meant we could stock up on food and water, buy pots of herbs and geraniums and do a bit of sightseeing away from the reach of the canal by walking or biking.

Bargain. A good quaffer.

One day we drove to the area around Verdun, scene of the catastrophic Battle of Verdun during WW1. Here we have an account of our day out by a guest writer, Captain Alan Hodges (Retired)…

Last Wednesday, while we still had our rental car, we drove to some of the WW1 battlefields & monuments around Verdun. Verdun is a small city on the banks of the Meuse River & has several forts (in varying stages of disrepair) dating back to the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. The German forces at the start of WW1 decided that if they could take Verdun & the surrounding forts, it would be a major strategic setback for France. So in February 2016 they began the largest artillery battle of the war, with 1400 artillery guns packed into an 8 mile front, firing up to 100,000 rounds per hour towards Verdun. In the 300 days of the battle millions of shells were fired from both sides, devastating the surrounding towns & countryside. Nearly one million casualties, 300,000 deaths shared almost equally from both sides, for no strategic gain. Makes you wonder of the futility of it all.

We first visited the memorial & museum at Fleury-devant-Douaumont. This was first opened in 1967 & documents the battle of Verdun with lots of interactive displays. Excellent museum. We then walked around the fields that had once been the town of Fleury-devant-Douamont, totally destroyed, along with 5 other towns that were never resettled.

Fleury-devant-Douaumont memorial at the site of the mairie (town hall).
Another memorial at Fleury-devant-Douaumont

Fleury changed hands between the German & French Force’s 16 times during 1916. The whole area is referred to as Zone Rouge (red zone), a term familiar to Christchurch residents from the earthquakes. Some 42,000 acres were never resettled & were allowed to revert back to forest & bush, although in some parts nothing has ever grown due to soil contamination that still exists today. They say it could be another 300 years before the contamination from gases & acid in the soil disappear.

Our next visit was to the Douamont Ossuary, a memorial where the skeletal remains of 130,000 unidentified soldiers, from both sides, are stored in alcoves under the floor, which can be seen through small windows at ground level. Inside the impressive building is listed all the names of the French soldiers who lost their lives in the “Battle of Verdun”.

Ossuaire de Douaumont
View from the tower of the Ossuaire

On next to Fort Souville, completely derelict & overgrown. Didn’t wander around this one too much as apparently still lots of unexploded ordinance in the surrounding area.

Fort Souville

Then a visit to Fort Vaux, which is in much better shape & you can visit inside & imagine what it must’ve been like for the French defenders. During the battle it was defended by a garrison of 670 men. After a 100 day siege, a week of fierce fighting inside the fort, & running out of food & water the 22 French survivors surrendered to the Germans in June, 2016. The numbers of the soldiers garrisoned in Fort Vaux are from info at the fort itself but does vary a bit in various articles on the internet. Suffice to say that the bravery that the French fought & in particular Major Raynal, the fort commander, was never in doubt & was recognised by the German Command. Even the last courier pigeon sent back to French command headquarters with a message requesting help was supposedly awarded a posthumous L’egion d’Honneur! After a counter offensive by the French army, the Germans retreated & gave up Fort Vaux without a fight in November 1916.

Fort de Vaux
Fort de Vaux interior

So all & all an interesting history lesson about a battle that lasted 300 days, 300,000 lives lost for naught. Makes you wonder………

Thanks Alan. Well said. Back to me…

After returning our rental car to Nancy and taking the train home we made ourselves ready to head off on this year’s adventure. After a week in Toul we finally cruised out of our winter mooring, east along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, through 12 locks in 14kms and the Foug tunnel to Pagny-sur-Meuse where we stopped for the night. A really pleasant village with no charge for the mooring although no power or water. It was a quiet day with not much boat traffic.

Pagny-sur-Meuse mooring

The next day we motored for about 3 hours, on to the Canal de la Meuse which follows the Meuse river up to Belgium, and only passed through 5 locks. We met a very happy VNF man who needed to know what our plans for the next few days are as until the 1 June there aren’t lockeepers at all manual locks and we need to book an ‘itinerant’ person to follow us along, operating the locks that weren’t automatic, as we go. This starts south of Verdun apparently but they track us all the way along and expect to be informed of the next days plans before 3pm the day before. It’s a bit hard to know what your plans are if you’re not sure there will be room on the next quay but we did our best.

Canal de la Meuse
Rural and very pretty

Anyway we managed to sneak in on the end of the quay in Commercy, our next port of call, most of the 60m quay being taken up with what appears to be long term residents in clapped out old boats that don’t look like they move much which is a shame as the town is lovely with an amazing Chateau, formerly one of the favourite residences of King Stanislas I, and there’s plenty for visitors to enjoy including the town’s specialty, Madeleines, little golden cakes made famous by Proust and thought to be named after Madeleine Paumier, a lady-in-waiting in the court of good old King Stanislas! We tried some with our coffee and they are delicious 😋

Commercy mooring
Chateau de Commercy
Registry office for the mairie in the chateau.
Commercy streets

Leaving Commercy after a couple of nights we headed downstream past rural landscape, lots of Charolais cows grazing, and into some cold rainy weather. We rugged up, wooly hats and all, passing down 5 locks. We hit bad luck at ecluse 7 when our telecommande (remote control) failed and I had to call the VNF base in Verdun to send someone out which held us up about 30 minutes but finally we arrived in the lovely town of St Mihiel. There was space on the quay and free power and water. Bonus! The town is very pretty, the local mairie planting out the quay side in spring flowers as I write,  and we walked to the Abbey right in town with it’s magnificent church and famous ancient library containing manuscripts dating back to the Carolingian period. There has been a tug of war over the years for ownership of the prized collection with handwritten works from the 9th century onwards and of course as we are now on the front line of the WWI, destruction during the Great War. There are 3,441 books of many subjects and we were able to go into the beautiful rooms where they are displayed.

Ancient library of St Mihiel
Sculptured organ chest in the St Michael’s Abbey church dates from 1680
These guys are rather creepy!

Also in the same building was one of the best exhibitions of WWI we’ve visited, explaining how St Mihiel was occupied during the most of that time. Frightening stuff but an incredibly well curated display, especially as we were able to use an English language hand held translator.

And so we are here in St Mihiel, the weather has been all over the place with sun, rain, wind, I guess classic Spring weather. Tomorrow we continue North towards Verdun and what looks like a warm weekend to come.

Mooring in St Mihiel

The journey so far:

Toul – Pagny-Sur-Meuse:

Engine Hours 3.5,

Kms 14,

Locks 12

Tunnels 1

Pagny-Sur-Meuse – Commercy:

Hours 3,

Kms 15,

Locks 5

Commercy – St Mihiel:

Hours 3.5,

Kms 20,

Locks 5

Posted in French Canal boating | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Road Trip! South Island of New Zealand.

‘Don’t leave town ‘til you’ve seen the country’. Who remembers that tag line of an advert for New Zealand Tourism in the 80’s? It’s still relevant advice and some I needed to take so when Alan suggested we buy a campervan or caravan and spend some time checking out the many places we haven’t yet seen in New Zealand, having spent many years travelling overseas, I was all in.

The choice in options is huge. Motorhome, bus or caravan? How many beds, what were our necessities versus niceties when it came to kitchen and bathroom facilities? Lots to think about but we made our decision, settling on a ex-rental motorhome (MH), 3 years old, quite a few kms on the clock but well cared for and serviced and with the excellent staff at Smart RV in Christchurch helping us, the decision was relatively easy.

Once we returned from France last year we took the MH, now called Riley as in ‘Living the Life of Riley’ and we spent a weekend up in daughter Sarah and husband Steve’s vineyard in Hanmer and then on to Kaikoura for a shakedown trip and all was great.

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Hanmer Springs Winery

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Kaikoura Coast

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South Bay, Kaikoura

We had to get our heads around living and cooking in a space that makes the 11.5m boat seem roomy not to mention our cavernous 80m2 apartment. And the whole toileting issue takes a few days to come to terms with! But once you get into the habit of dealing with grey and black water disposal it’s not that bad. Alan’s great at it.

Over the Christmas and New Year break we spent time at Lake Benmore Halden Station campground with friends Terry and Roz and in Twizel, parked up on the lawn with family in a rented holiday home and having the van was really handy, making us self sufficient. But our big trip was mid February to early March when we spent 3 weeks touring the southern part of the west coast of the South Island, through the Haast Pass and down South to Queenstown and the Catlins.

We left Christchurch mid February hoping to have avoided the school holiday crowds but there were still plenty of tourists especially since our trip coincided with Chinese New Year. Lots of camper vans out there, lots of people. But it’s usually a time of settled good weather so it’s just one of those things we all have to deal with and it wasn’t too bad.

The first day we headed to Lake Pearson, on the way to Arthur’s Pass. The lake is very pretty and has a Department of Conservation (DOC) camping area right on the lake front with one toilet available. The weather was very windy but our view was lovely and we shared the space with a number of other MHs, some tents and a school trip, out in kayaks.

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What a great spot. Lake Pearson.

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Lake Pearson

The following day we moved on to Arthur’s Pass, stopping at the excellent tourist centre and parking in the Avalanche Creek DOC park while we walked up to the Devils Punchbowl waterfall. Be warned, there are A LOT of steps on the 3.8kms return walk to the parking spot.  The waterfall is stunning and well worth the effort and we enjoyed an excellent coffee at the Arthur’s Pass cafe while being entertained by a local Kea, hopping along the tables.

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Walking up the Devils Punchbowl

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Cheeky little Kea

Deciding not to stay the night at the very busy DOC camp we continued on to the Otira Stagecoach Hotel, a mad pub full of an extremely eclectic collection of collections including stuffed animals, bones, photos, period furniture, bottles, toys, paintings, mannequins. You name it, they had a few. Plus a (live) parrot called Gracie. If you get a chance, drop in. The restaurant does good pub grub and they have rooms to rent. We parked the Riley in their car park for the night and enjoyed a drink at in the beer garden to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary.

 

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Viaduct through the Otira Pass

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast in the pub then carried through the pass to Hokitika on the West Coast. This place has changed considerably since I was last there and is a mix of cafes bars, tourist shops and adventure companies. We saw dolphins surfing in the bay, a bonus! The heavens opened later on but luckily we were tucked up nice and dry in Riley, parked at a NZMCA campground, and played scrabble and rummy safe from the thunder and lightning outside.

Onwards the next day to the Walk The Treetops rain forest canopy walk. Amazing! The platform is 20m high and 450m long with a tower of 105 steps. We saw a kereru (NZ native wood pigeon) fly close by and heard grey warblers, tui and bellbirds. Just stunning amongst the native forest.

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Tree Top Canopy Walk

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The tower

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Rimu trees

After a coffee at the cafe we continued to Lake Mahinapua which has a DOC campsite and is a definite must do next time we come this way but we carried on to Ross, where we walked the Gold Rush walkway which follows the water race built in the 1870s for the gold mining operations. The weather had turned lovely and warm and we camped the night in the Ross Top 10 motorcamp, $50 for a beach front site where we enjoyed a hot shower and then settled in to watch the sun set over the stormy Tasman Sea.

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Lake Mahinapua

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Native Ferns

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On the Gold Rush Walkway in Ross

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Ross beachfront campsite

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Watching the sunset, Ross

Next morning we headed away from Ross and on to Okarito where you can take a eco trip to see local White Heron in their native habitat, and something we will do next time! Next stop was Franz Josef Glacier, staying in an NZMCA campsite, close to the village. The next morning we walked up to the glacier, an hour and a half return from the car park, and a stunning experience in the misty mountains. Sadly the glacier is receding due to global warming and used to be down to the current car park site so you can imagine how far it has retreated.

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Franz Josef Glacier

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Intrepid hiker

Next up was Fox Glacier where we parked in the Fox Glacier Lodge campground for $40 per night on a powered site. That evening when it was dark we did the Minnehaha glow worm forest walk. There’s something magical about glow worms in amongst the forest, like natural fairy lights. Beautiful.

Alan lived in Fox Glacier over a summer in the early 70’s when he worked for Mount Cook Airlines and flew Cessna 185 ski planes so it was a trip down memory lane for him. We visited the hut on the airfield where he used to sleep and the local pub he frequented. Early the next morning we drove down to Lake Matheson, which on a clear day has stunning views over the lake which reflects Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. The morning was fine but misty and as we walked the hour and a half it takes to circumnavigate the lake we thought we might miss out on the spectacle but suddenly the mist dissipated, the breeze died out and we were rewarded with the gin clear reflections of New Zealand’s two tallest mountains. What a photo-op! We felt so lucky to live in this stunning part of the world and the atmosphere amongst the few tourists around us was hushed and in awe. I had 20 amazing photos to choose from.

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Lake Matheson

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Lake Matheson

We had a change of weather later on as we drive though to Haast. A brief stop at Lake Paringa had us fighting off the sandflies. Its a well known phrase that the West Coast sandflies ‘will carry you away’ if you’re not careful and they were feral here so we continued on to Haast where the weather turned wet and cool, leading to torrential rain the next day as we drove though the Haast pass. The bonus is the waterfalls are stunning through here, including the Fantail Waterfall, although sometimes they gush across the road in this weather. The downside are the slips and only a day later there was a huge landslide that took out the road for a few days so we were lucky to have got through when we did.

Now we had officially left the West Coast and that night we parked in the Boundary Creek DOC campsite at the top of Lake Wanaka, a stunning lakeside area, quite busy with campervans and unfortunately the weather still wasn’t great with a gale blowing. The lake looked amazing though and it would be a great place to swim on a sunny day.

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Lake Wanaka

From there we visited Cromwell where the sun came out, the temperature rose to 26°C and we enjoyed a lovely swim in Lake Dunstan. Putting up the canopy we enjoyed drinks in the shade. This is what it’s all about!

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Lake Dunstan swimming spot near to the camping area

For the next four days we stayed with our friends Tim and Bronwyn in their beautiful home near Queenstown. They kindly lent us a car, an easier means of transport than Riley, to visit nearby Arrowtown with its stunning walks, Coronet Peak where we watched paragliders and parapunters throwing themselves off the top of the mountain. We also enjoyed a great catchup with daughter Georgie who now lives and works in Queenstown.

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Along one of the many walks around Arrowtown

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Walking track near Arrowtown

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View from Coronet Peak

Moving on we drove towards Glenorchy, up the side of Lake Wakatipu, and turned off towards Moke Lake, along a sometimes narrow gravel road. Unfortunately we met a Ute and trailer coming from the other direction at the narrowest point and when I say ‘meet’ I mean collided with. Once we came unstuck from their trailer with only superficial damage done, and swapped details we continued on to the lake, a beautiful, quiet (apart from our swearing) DOC campsite surrounded by mountains. There is a horse trek company operating here and good camping facilities including two toilet huts and a shared kitchen area. There were also the odd nudist swimming in the lake if you’re into that. Bit cold for me!

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Moke Lake

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Scenery around Moke Lake

Back out to the main road without mishap we continued on to Glenorchy and enjoyed some excellent walking tracks. One thing about NZ, we have great scenery and with the beautiful weather we made the most of it. We parked up at the Glenorchy Pub for the night and shared a pizza in the beer garden.

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The old Railway shed in Glenorchy

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Glenorchy walkway

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Lake Wakatipu

The next day we travelled back to the Lake Hawea area and parked up at friends Debbie and Lloyd’s house for the night, enjoying an lovely catchup with them while the wind and rain were squally outside. The weather is so changeable down here amongst the mountains.

On down the other side of Lake Wakatipu we stopped at Kingston to have lunch lake-side and on to Lumsden, staying at the NZMCA park and enjoying coffee at their Route 6 cafe with a Dodge parked in the middle of the room. Very quirky and good coffee. There’s a good dump station and water available in Lumsden too. Not as much fun as drinking coffee but just as essential!

Next up was Mandeville and the amazing Croydon Aviation Heritage Centre with aircraft from the 20’s and 30’s including the largest collection of de Havilland aircraft in the Southern Hemisphere, many of which were restored by the adjacent Croydon Aircraft Company where we chatted to the engineer himself, Colin Smith. It was a really enjoyable visit and I highly recommend it.

 

We stopped the night in Gore, parking in the A and P Showgrounds and walked into Gore to visit the Creamoata porridge factory museum, another interesting and quirky display included wedding dresses from 1800-1900 and moonshine memorabilia.

From here we headed further on to the Catlins, a conservation area on the south eastern corner of the South Island. This is a stunning part of New Zealand and one we had been meaning to visit for a while. Having the MH works really well in this area with DOC camps along the way and yes it was busy with other tourists but not too bad considering the natural beauty the area holds.

Our first stop was Curio Bay where we walked the beach pausing to admire the petrified forest logs along the way, dating back to the Jurassic period, that’s approximately 160,000,000 years old, killed by a volcano spitting ash, preserving them. The resident penguins were all out fishing unfortunately.

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Curio Bay

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Jurassic Period petrified wood

We drove further to a NZMCA park by ‘Niagara Falls’, a tongue-in-cheek name as the falls barely fell 20cm. Nearby, however, we discovered an excellent cafe housed in the old school house. The weather was beautiful that evening.

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The tongue-in-cheekily named Niagara Falls (NZ).

Next day we visited a couple of waterfalls. The Korupuku Falls are tucked away along a walkway built by 2 local men, Peter Hill and Wayne Allen, through beautiful native forest and babbling brooks, with native birds singing happily. A memorable experience!

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The stunning Korupuku Falls

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Korupuku Falls, a little dry when we visited but stunning all the same

Next we visited the McLean Falls which while spectacular, didn’t have as much water as normal and perhaps didn’t have the X factor of Korupuku. Both are worth the walk in.

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McLean Falls, lacking water somewhat.

That evening we camped at the Papatowai DOC camp, the best camp so far. Lots of room, lots of greenery, a walkway to the tidal river and beach. They even have a little grocery shop. And would you believe we ended up parked next to some friends from France, Kiwis from the North Island who have both a canal boat there and a motorhome here. Small world! We had some very enjoyable catch up drinks that evening.

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Evening sky at Papatowai

The following morning we were reluctant to leave this beautiful spot but needed to head home to attend a funeral so we packed up and headed to the Purakaunui Falls, a short walk in with lots of native birdsong in the cool rainforest. We also stopped at Nugget Point, enjoying a cup of tea on the beach then walked up to the lighthouse with its beautiful 180° views right across the Southern Ocean. It’s hard to stop taking photos in the Catlins, there was so many wonderful opportunities!

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Time for a cup of tea with a view!

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Nugget Point lighthouse and view

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This pic could be of any Pacific Island.. great spot for lunch.

From here we drove to Balclutha, parking up for the night in the Town and Country Club carpark and then we continued our travels north, stopping for a visit to Oamaru’s eclectic SteamPunk themed streets (very cool) and then, for our final night, we stayed at the NZMCA park in Waimate, a warm 24° for our last day away.

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Balclutha sunset

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SteamPunk craziness of Oamaru

It was a wonderful 3 weeks away. The highlights would have to be the Catlins coast and rain forest, Franz Josef glacier and Lake Matheson at Fox. Also the Devils Punchbowl at Arthur’s Pass and in fact all the waterfalls we walked up to see. Great exercise which helps with all the coffee and biscuits we munched on along the way. We loved catching up with friends and family and just being on the road.

A bit like on the boat in France but different!

Posted in Campervan trip South Island New Zealand, Life of Riley | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments