Otago 2022 – an EV winter road trip.
About this post
This post is about a road trip in August 2022 to Central Otago and Southland NZ, in our Mitsubishi Minicab Miev electric tiny van (Squirrel). We fitted two long tail cargo bikes and associated riding and maintenance gear into the van, then added our full camping set up just in case we had troubles with accommodation along the way.
Due to the remnants of a tropical cyclone causing havoc with ferry crossings for the critical weekend in February, our summer trip to Otago was cancelled. We were not able to rebook our ferry crossings so felt a fresh start was a better idea, and we decided August would be a good time to visit Central Otago and see the trails and mountains in the frosts and snow.
Obviously at our ages (67 and 63) we were not going to camp for 7 or 8 nights of frost and snow while cycle packing the trails, so we re-thought how we would travel, what accommodation we would use, and just where we would visit.
I have produced a simple spreadsheet of our trip showing dates, times, locations, charging stops and accommodation choices and costs, and this blog fills out the details and provides some pictures.
I will try to keep this shorter than the last couple of blogs.
By the numbers.
We were away for 18 days, we camped for just two nights, and used cabins and motels for the rest.
We traveled about 2300 kms and charged about 62 times, a few of these were overnight at campsites and motels. one was at a campsite when the only charger for 40kms was faulty, and some were just to top up to 100% at campsites and motels for a difficult leg to come.
We arrived at 7 chargers with 2 or less kms on the range meter, and two of those we had been in turtle mode for several kilometres.
Our coldest night was -7 degrees, and our coldest day got up to about 5 degrees. It was fine weather for most of the trip, we had a couple of days of high winds and rain driving down, one of snow, and a nasty day on our last day driving back.
We left home two days late due to a health problem.
Day 1 , Whitby to Kaikoura
A 5:30 am start, and as we shuffled cars in and out of garages, Lynn noticed that a brake and side light had failed, and a quick test erroneously showed that the whole cluster was not working. As I had recently rewired a reversing camera in and had taken the light cluster out several times, I assumed I had stuffed up an earth connection or similar. No time to fix now, so we drove into Wellington and recharged at Barnett Street carpark. While there I checked the wiring but could not do much in the dark under the van.
We had an uneventful ferry crossing, very high winds but no swell, and arrived at the correct time, but we needed the assistance of a tug to berth, possibly because of the high winds.
We drove to Blenheim, found an electronics shop and bough a cheap multimetre, then went to Pac’n’save to charge. There was a bit of a queue, a Hyundai and a Tesla, but it was a lovely day so while I waited I started checking out all the connections and voltages at the back of the car. Annoyingly, I found that the reversing light and indicators were working fine, and that both the brake and sidelight filaments of the single bulb were broken! So after charging, we dropped into the local Repco as we drove past, bought a bulb and fitted it. Cost $13 and 5 minutes time!
Our next stop was Flaxbourne Cafe at Ward, to charge to 95% and refresh with a coffee and a bite. We considered stopping at the Flaxbourne Motel and charging to 100% there for the long trip to Kaikoura, but foolishly decided to carry on, despite it being about 5:00 pm, and it going dark at 5:30! The trip to Kaikoura was horrible. The temperature dropped, the wind swung round from a Northerly tail wind to a Westerly side wind off the mountains. We took it really easy, but we were struggling to get any decent power usage figures, much nearer 5kms per kW than our usual 6.5kms. We literally rolled into Kaikoura at 6:40 pm with our range meter showing just 2kms for the last 3 or 4 kms (mostly downhill)! A wee bit scary, but a sign of things to come.
We stopped at Alpine Pacific Holiday park in a cabin, and charged on a caravan plug to 100%, ready for the drive to Cheviot the next day.
Day 2, Kaikoura to Spencer Park
The drive to Cheviot looks hard, 69kms and some serious hills on the way, but for some reason, we normally arrive there with a good range left. Today was a good drive, but we had a bit less than 20% charge left when we got there. Encouraged by better usage on the first leg, we only charged to 90% for the leg to Amberley (67kms), and paid for it, by arriving in Amberley with just 2 kms of range again! This was getting a bit stressful! Fortunately, the rest of the trip is much easier, or so we thought!
Because of the stress, we decided to rest up, and went to Spencer park, and booked in for a couple of nights on a powered campsite. We slept in the van for two nights, which was more comfortable and warmer than we were expecting. The serious rainfall the area had been having had water logged most of the campsite, we had to camp on the edges of the paddocks.
Day 3 Spencer Park
When we went for a walk in Bottle Lake Forest very few paths were walkable, as all the low lying areas were flooded making it impossible to proceed. However, we got a decent walk in, and we also got a couple of bike rides to the rather distant local supermarket.
Day 4, Spencer Park to Geraldine
So refreshed and relaxed, and charged to 100%, we continued south, through Christchurch, Sydenham, Halswell and Lincoln, to stop at Leeston. The charger here is relatively new, added in the last year or so. Leeston is a village with toilets, Cafes etc, and the charger is 25kW, which is great for the van. We also topped up at the ABB charger at Raikaia, and the same at Ashburton, but only to 80%. Its only 54kms to Geraldine, but again it was getting cold and windy, so we arrived at Geraldine with just 2kms on the range meter AGAIN! Geraldine Motel allowed us to charge for free at a Caravan plug, making life much simpler.
Day 5, Geraldine to Dunedin
A day of relatively short legs, stopping to charge at Timaru Pak’n’Save (25kW), Waimate – with a coffee at the cart, Oamaru, Hampden and Palmerston. At Palmerston we thought we could get to Dunedin on an 80% charge, but it is 57kms and a couple of nasty hills, including a 350metre summit just before Dunedin. It was cold and getting late, and we arrived at the top of the hill into Dunedin, with over 12kms to go, with just 6kms of range left!
We arrived at the bottom of the hill in Dunedin with 12kms of range, and had gained a bar back on the battery (from 1 bar to 2 bars), so we pushed on to arrive at Dunedin Motor Camp in St Kilda with just 2kms of range left again. The lady at the campsite was a bit vague about charging, telling us to run a cable out the window! I mentioned charging at a caravan plug and she didn’t object, so I waited until I was fairly sure no one else was arriving and plugged in at a site behind our unit for the night.
Day 6, Dunedin to Roxburgh
With 100% charge we started off fairly confident we could get to Milton quite easily, so decided to go via the Scenic Coastal Route, over the hill from St Clair’s to Brighton, then on to Taieri Mouth. I did know about the hill out of Dunedin, it doesn’t matter how you leave Dunedin it’s always a big hill. However the hill out of Taieri Mouth took me by surprise. It climbs to about 400 metres, and seems to go on for ever. It also started snowing over the top, and persisted all the way down to Waihola on SH1. Hills, cold, wind don’t help our range at all! So once again we drove into Milton Foursquare with just 2kms of range left. This was getting to be a bad habit.
Milton to Lawrence was simple, one very big hill, but only 40kms or so. But it snowed all the way to Lawrence, and cleared up totally while we charged and refreshed at the Walnut Cafe. Because of short cables on the Veefil charger, we had to ask a customer of the Foursquare to move her car so that we could park sideways on.
Next stop was Roxburgh, and we stayed athe Roxburgh Motel for two nights, charging to 100% before we left on a domestic 10 amp plug.
Day 7, Roxburgh to Millers Flat return
The first real day of our intended cycling holday. We decided to ride down the Clutha Gold Cycle Trail to Millers Flat, have a coffee and some food, and cycle back the same way. Only 40kms, but a great shakedown trip to sort our bikes and equipment and cold weather gear. A great days riding, good food and coffee, and a warm motel room to return to and rest.
Day 8, Roxburgh to Clyde
This is a very short, but very scenic drive over to Alexandra via the Roxburgh dam, and a recharge at Thomson Street in Alex. We then drove on to Clyde and was very kindly allowed to book into the Antique Motor Lodge for 3 nights when we arrived at about 10:30! A beautiful comfortable and warm place to stay, very convenient for the town and cycle trails.
After unpacking, we explored Clyde on our bikes, visiting the dam on both sides of the river, as far as the view point, and the rowing club. We then rode down the Riverside Trail to Alex. This trail is much improved since the last time we did it, but the heavy rains had caused a few slips and washouts, and there were three or 4 trees down over the trail. We cycled through Alex, attempting to use the Riverside Trail, but it was too badly damaged, so we used the roads to get to the Central Otago Rail Trail for the ride back to Clyde.
Day 9, Clyde to Cromwell return.
Fiz, the lovely motel owner offered a shuttle service either to or from Cromwell to suit our requirements. In the end we decided to drive our van with the bikes to Cromwell, and leave it there, and then have Fiz drive me to Cromwell when we completed the ride to pick up the van. We charged at Cromwell to about 90% over two charges, one before the ride and one after.
We grabbed some food at the supermarket, got ALL our cold weather gear on (it had been -5ºC overnight) and set off from the Cromwell Heritage Precinct, around the Kawerau Arm of the lake to the Bannockburn bridge and back to Cornish point, opposite where we parked the van. We had done this section before, and it was a pleasant ride on a very cold, crisp clear day.
A few more kms of riding along the edge of the Dunstan Arm of the lake, using a few “clip on’ walkways and a couple of new bridges brought us to the coffee boat (Coffees and Burgers Afloat). The venison burger (which has won awards) was out of this world, and Lynn’s bacon butty was a work of art, succulent ham like bacon in a toasted panini with beautiful textures and flavours. Two long blacks each completed the stop.
It felt like the stop had been too soon, the path so far had been easy, mostly wide and well surfaced, with a couple of narrow sections, and some exciting bridges to negotiate. However it fortified us for the rest of the trip, and we set off refreshed and happy.
The next section was up the Cairnmuir Staircase, a switch back trail up to a saddle at about 300metres. There was some rain damage in places, small slips and washouts. There was one short section with 3 or 4 slips, which narrowed the path dramatically just next to a large drop off, so I got off to walk this bit, as did Lynn. The views on the way up and down, as well as along the top were stunning. The Cairnmuir Slide slip prevention work was so impressive, and if you looked at it unawares its “pixelation” effect just messed with your eyes and brain!
The ride to the top was long, but our ebikes made short work of it, and the ride down the other side was exciting at times, as a lot of thick, clear ice remained in the shaded areas, and was difficult to walk over, let alone ride over. After the initial descent, the trail settled down into a normal cycle trail along the hill side and the riverbank, until we reached the rowing club and then Clyde itself.
This ride was the main purpose of out 3 week trip south, we missed it by a few months on our last trip, and I was determined to do it while I was still fit enough and able to cope with the trails. It is probably the best one day ride I have ever done, and will ever do (at my age) and was so worth the hard work driving down and back, and the expense of accommodation and charging. We could have flown down and hired bikes, and it would probably have cost much less, but taking our own bikes to somewhere as good as this was so worthwhile, I may do it again in the future (with a better vehicle).
Back at the motel, Fiz had sort of double booked our shuttle trip with a trip to Queenstown she had planned, so she combined them into a single trip, dropping us off in Cromwell a couple of hours later on her way to Queenstown. This suited us fine, we found an Indian restaurant that looked a bit rough, but the food was excellent and cheap. We drove back to Clyde, well satisfied with our day.
Day 10, Clyde to Auripo return
While we were in the area, we wanted to revisit some of the better parts of the Central Otago Rail Trail, and as we only had one day available to us, we chose to do Auripo to Omakau, though the Poolburn Gorge, starting on the side of the Ida valley, and finishing at the domain in Omakau.
We were a bit low on power, having driven back to Clyde from Cromwell, so we set off to charge at Alexandra. We arrive about 3 minutes after a vehicle owned by The Warehouse Group (TWG) had just started charging from 50% to maximum. There was no real need to charge to maximum, it is less than 40kms in any direction to another charger, and their Hyundai has a big battery and a lot of range. However, this is what TWG vehicle drivers do, complaints about them blocking chargers abound on the various EV groups, but as they are totally within their rights to do this, there is nothing we can do about it, however rude we might feel it is. So we were “Warehoused”! It took about 90 minutes to fully charge, I think they put in about 27kWh in the end. The last 5 percent took 7 minutes per 1% increase, so 35 minutes from 90% to 95%! Eventually they finished, we unplugged them and started our charge to 80%, and were back on our way having lost over 2 hours topping up our van.
At Omakau, we parked up at the Domain Campsite, and plugged into a caravan plug to charge to 100% for the trip back. We put $10 in the honesty box, and a note on the windscreen in case someone got upset with us, got dressed up nice and warm and set off.
We rode on the road past Ophir, and up the hill to the viewpoint at the top of the Raggedy Range. Just like last time we were here the views were stunning, blue skies for ever, and snow covered mountains surrounding us, and even a bit of snow in the car park of the viewpoint.
The ride down towards Poolburn in the Ida valley was fun, a couple of hundred vertical metres down a smooth, safe road, not too steep, just a nice easy coast to the bottom. Just before the settlement of Poolburn, we turned up a farm road that headed due north up the Ida Valley towards the point where the rail trail approaches Auripo. I think it was 13 kms in almost a dead straight line on the gravel road. It sounds horrible, especially as it was slightly uphill the whole way, but we quite enjoyed it.
We then had to take a road off this main drag to get to where we joined the rail trail. Maybe we shouldn’t have, but we ignored the road closed signs, deciding that if we couldn’t get through we could come back. Going round was a long detour. We got to the river crossing, and while the bridge was still intact (if slightly underwater), the river had decided to go around it, and the road approaching it was washed out and covered in mud and gravel, with a fairly major stream running through it. I managed to ride through the stream, and parked up so I could catch Lynn as she rode though it, which worked quite well. A 15 metre trudge though the washout and we got to the bridge and across the original stream.
The road then started up hill, and the next kilometre was mostly OK, a bit soft but rideable. At the next junction we had a very stiff climb up to the rail trail, totally unrideable. So I put a strap between my bike and Lynn’s, and used the walk function to tow Lynn and her bike up the hill to the top. Job well done!
At the top we joined the Otago Rail Trail and set off back to Omakau. We did this section the other way 18 months ago, and it was interesting going back down it. We had a picnic at the Poolburn Viaduct, with the food we bought for yesterdays trip. Delicious sandwiches, and some iced coffee to share.
Next up were two tunnels through the top of the Raggedy Range, and then a long very gentle downhill to Lauder, where we would have like to stop at the Stationside Cafe, but it was closed for the winter.
So we rode on towards Omakau, along a gently undulating, very straight rail trail. Yet another great days cycling, exciting for possibly the wrong reasons, scenic and very cold!
We drove back directly to Clyde, where we put the van on charge for the night.
Day 11, Clyde to Pounawea Campsite, Owaka
We took our leave of the motel bright and early, and drove directly to Roxburgh, through (but not stopping at) Alexandra. We drove into Roxburgh around the back of the town, and while charging we went across the road and bough a pie at Jimmy’s Pies, and Lynn did some shopping in town while we had a coffee.
Next charging stop was supposed to be Lawrence, but as we were leaving Roxburgh I noticed on Plugshare that the charger in Lawrence had a fault. We checked it out anyway, reset it a couple of times, but it seemed to have a power supply problem. It’s 40kms or so to the next charger at Milton, so we had to charge. We drove up to the Goldpark camping ground in Lawrence, and was allowed to use a caravan plug for just $10. It took about 4 hours to put enough charge in, during which we listened to our audio book, and visited the Walnut Cafe again for a cup of tea. Thanks to the campsite for letting us charge.
One of the other things I wanted to do on this trip, was a ride on the Tuapeka Mouth Punt across the Clutha River, unfortunately it does not run when the river is running over a certain number of Cumecs, and it was above that today, so even if we had been able to fast charge, we would not have done the crossing today.
So a few hours later than we planned we set off to Milton, and because we didn’t fully charge, we arrived in Milton again with just a couple of kilometres of range left. It was getting late, but we decided to carry on to our planned destination, a motel in Pounawea. We charged to 80% at Balcutha Warehouse, and then drove on towards Owaka. It was getting late and was dark and cold, and the motel we had picked out was closed, and the only option was the Pounawea Motor camp. We booked into a cabin, and the manager was quite happy for us to charge at the caravan plug in front of our cabin.
Another stressful day over. The cabin was a bit cramped but warm and comfortable, so we decided to stay two nights.
Day 12, Pounawea to Slope Point return
The third thing I wanted to do on this trip was drive through the Catlins to Slope Point and beyond. We ran a bit short of time because of the late start and the need to allow an extra couple of days to get back because of possible weather and range issues, so a decision was made to drive down to Slope Point and back again, and we stayed at Pounawea to make this possible. This means we will not be visiting Fortrose, or Bluff, but we will be visiting the Southernmost Point on mainland New Zealand, and the southernmost charger in New Zealand.
The first leg is to Papatowai, a beautiful drive to a remote place. The charger is a 25kW, at a store that is closed for the winter, so we had a walk around the DOC campsite while we waited. The road out of Papatowai goes to the top of Florence Hill, with a viewpoint down to the most beautiful bay in New Zealand – Tautuku Beach. Chaslands Road is a great drive, the Fuscia Trees along side the road are a bit bare in winter, but they must be spectacular in the warmer months.
Next stop is the charger at Curio Bay, and we stop to refresh ourselves at the Curio Bay cafe. The weather is changeable, so we set off to Slope Point as early as we can. An encounter with a large mob of sheep on the remote road was a bit of a highlight! While it rains and blows most of the way there, as we park up the skies clear, and it is a beautiful day.
A short walk from what is probably the loneliest car park in NZ takes us down to the point and a somewhat smaller sign than I was expecting, showing the way to the equator and the south pole only. A bracing photo session was followed by a return to the van, and a return drive to Curio Bay.
Another maximum charge at Curio Bay, another recharge of ourselves with tea and a bite to eat. This was followed by an investigation of the Penguin Walk, the petrified forest, the forest walk, and the beach at the campsite.
We looked for Niagra falls on the way back through Niagra, and realised that the name was a very old joke by one of the original surveyors or settlers. Another charge at Papatowai (with a walk to the very pretty beach ) and then on to Okawa, where I put a little bit of charge in, just so that we can add a visit to the charger onto Plugshare. Back at the campsite we paid for another night, cooked a nice meal, and retired for the night, after putting the van on a 100% charge at the caravan plug.
Day 13, Pounawea to Waikouaiti Beach Motor Camp
Time to start going home, firstly we reverse the trip to Milton, stopping at Balclutha to charge and get the van washed at a service station. At Milton we charge to 95%, as we are going back via Taieri Mouth again. The weather is much nicer, and it is easier to hypermile over the hill and along the beach road to Brighton. Finally over the last hill and drop down into Dunedin, to find the Otago University Charger on the way out of Dunedin, with plenty of charge left this time. We had a beautiful organic meal at the Good Earth Cafe while we charged to 95% across the road.
Going out of Dunedin we went up the North East Valley Road and head down to Waitati (rather than SH1). This looks like it is going to be a hard road, but the reality is that the hill is no higher than going over SH1, the road may seem twisty, but it is a lovely drive with amazing views, and with little traffic we can go at our own pace, and regenerate all the way down the other side.
After a couple of kms on SH1, we turn off again, and use the scenic route through Warrington and Karitane, which really is scenic and fun to drive, crossing and recrossing the Main Trunk railway line many times. Again, back onto SH1 as far as Waikouaiti, where we turn off down to the Waikouaiti Beach camp. We can only have a cabin if we book for two nights, so we booked for two nights. This is a really basic, old style, aging campsite, but it was a quite lovely area to stay, with walks around and across the lagoon, a very loud surf beach, so it was no real hardship.
Day 14, Waikouaiti to Karitane Return
An easy day today, just a nice ride back to Karitane to explore the headland and enjoy the views.
We also stopped for a perfect long black and a slice of Apple and Rhubarb crumble. On our return, we charged the bikes and went for another lagoon walk.
Day 15, Waikouaiti to Geraldine
A longer day today, first stop Palmerston for a tiny charge up to 80% from about 75%, a nice drive over the Horse Range Road and through Trotters Gorge, a great little detour off SH1, another charge at Hampden, and a drive to Oamaru along the scenic route through Kakanui into Oamaru to charge. Fortunately a lady was just finishing up on the charger, so no waiting here for a change. Quickly on for a charge at Waimate, and a lovely lunch and coffee at the Bakery in the town. Ever onwards a quick charge at Timaru Pak’n’Save and on to Geraldine.
Since we charged at Lawrence for 4 hours we have been listening to our Audio book through the car speakers whenever we charge, a chapter or two makes the charge time simply fly by.
At Geraldine we book into the Geraldine Motel, where we are told that the new owners were quite angry that we had been allowed to charge for free when we stopped on the way down, and it would now cost $15 to use a caravan plug for the night. We politely refused, and after getting settled, went to the charger in town where we charged to 80% for just $10.
Day 16, Geraldine to Amberley
Racing north and homeward now, at Ashburton we get stuck behind a Mitsubishi Phev charging to max, and a Leaf also charging to max. The Phev had actually finished, so we unplugged him and got the Leaf going. The lady with the leaf was going to Timaru so “needed” a maximum charge. It appears she was unaware of the chargers at Geraldine, Temuka and the new one at Orari, and obviously not aware of Plugshare or Chargenet apps. I attempted to help her out, but I think she was just adamant she was going to charge to 95%. It seems to be a South Island thing.
A small top up at Raikaia, and on to another nice stop at Leeston, and another at Halswell, hoping 80% here may get us to Amberley. We drove through Christchurch which was very stop go and heavy on range, and we stopped in Papanui to buy some new underwear for Lynn. It was getting late and I wanted to get to Amberley, and even though I passed the charger at Rangiora Pak’n’Save, I thought we had enough to get to Amberley so carried on. As the temperature dropped so did my range, and the road rose gradually out of Rangiora towards Amberley. We finally got to Amberley having done about 5kms in turtle mode, finally plugging in with just 6% showing on OBDzero! After charging at the Countdown charger, we drove 100 metres across the road to the Delhaven Motel, where we got a motel unit and use of a caravan plug for a very reasonable fee. We also enjoyed chips and pizza (left over from Geraldine) for tea!
Day 17, Amberley to Ward
This is a hard day. Two or three long hard legs, depending on where we wanted to stop. The weather started great, but declined a bit as we headed North, mainly a cold northerly. We could stop at Kaikoura and make it easier, but…
The first leg to Cheviot is for some reason very hard on the battery, we got to Cheviot, but we were down to 2kms again as we rolled in. We charged to 95% at the fast charger, and tried a new (to us) cafe. We then went to the Cheviot Motor Camp, where we were charged just $5 to plug into a caravan plug. As we only needed 5% it only took an hour or so, and we listened to our audio book again.
Cheviot to Kaikoura again was relatively easy, arriving with 11 or 12 kms left. We charged to 90% at the information site, had a nice meal at a cafe in town, then drove down to the Alpine Pacific Holiday park where we topped up to 100% for just $8.
Nothing I did driving to Ward seemed to save any power, a Northerly headwind sprung up as soon as we left Kaikoura, and we started up the hill to Ward with the range in single figures, and arrived in Ward after another 3kms in turtle mode.
We found a nice motel room at the Flaxbourne Motel and de-stressed a little.
Day 18, Ward to Whitby
We had charged to about 70% last night so popped back to the Cafe for a coffee and to top up to 95% for the trip to Blenhiem. Its a lovely drive to Blenheim, mainly because there is no stress about range, just take it easy up the hills, and let gravity do its thing down the other side. We drove on to Spring Creek and charged to 80% for the trip to Picton.
In Picton, we re-booked our ferry ticket for today’s 2pm crossing rather than tomorrow’s, went into town for a cup of tea, and a walk along a very rain damaged path along the headland, and then back to queue for the ferry. Another beautiful crossing, it rained a lot of the way, it was a bit windy, but no swell again.
The last leg after the ferry was to Churton Park for a last top up, with lots of planning to avoid slips and floods, and finally we drove into Whitby and home.