Saturday, 31 October 2009

NZ 2009 - Week 2

Bluff was a depressing place, opposite an aluminium smelter. Our impression was not helped by the gloomy overcast sky and the howling wind. The small holiday park was extremely clean, and worked on an honesty system, but also had a caretaker. It was the most expensive, so far to stay at, but I got a $4 discount anyway, as I only had $30. In the morning, we drove up to Bluff Hill lookout, and although the sun had finally come out, and the views were extensive, the wind was still bitterly cold. 

North of Bluff is Invercargill. Queen's Park has beautiful gardens with a small zoo, bird aviaries, and the Museum and Art Gallery. We enjoyed the animal sculptures created from old cars and farm machinery, the display around 'the fastest Indian', the Tuatara display and the shipwreck survivors display.

Further west is Riverton, and although we stopped here for afternoon tea, the driving rain meant we did not leave the van. We continued our journey and arrived at 'Long Hilly Track' at Roundhill while it was still raining. Despite this, Darryl took off on the 2 ¼ hour track.

He only took 45 minutes before he returned. We cooked dinner and then I sauntered part-way along the track, taking photos, before we turned in for the night.

Breakfast was at Orepuki Beach, purportedly the 'gemstone beach', but once the rain stopped, and we went for a walk, we decided that this was more of a descriptor term, highlighting the river-worn boulders and pebbles eroding from the cliff and sitting in the sand like gems.

Clifden suspension bridge was built in 1899, and this longest NZ suspension bridge is still a sturdy structure (although I would no like to attempt to driver over it). 

 We had morning tea on the shore of Lake Manapouri, at Fraser's beach, and although cold, it was beautiful enough, being surrounded  by snow-capped mountains, for us to also have our lunch there.
To Kepler track

Further north was the start of the Kepler track, and at this place the Waiau river was stunning – deep and perfectly clear, and very fast running. Darryl crossed the suspension footbridge and made his way to Shallow Bay hut, where he enjoyed beautiful views across the lake. He loved the Beech Forest, views of the snow on the mountains, and the bogs. Next was Te Anau where we filled up with fuel and then started out on the road to Milford Sound.

The first campsite in Fiordland National Park was Henry's Creek, along the shores of Lake Te Anau and we found a secluded campsite then had our brie and wine sitting on the stony shore, watching the sun set behind the snow-capped mountains. The only negative was the sandflies which arrived as soon as the wind died down, but Darryl's 'secret' mix of Dettol, Methylated Spirits and Olive Oil kept them at bay.
Mirror Lake
The drive out to Milford Sound was just stunning...with lots of opportunities for beautiful photos of snowy mountains behind the lakes. Mirror Lakes was beautiful, mirroring the peaks, but the ducks kept on making ripples!

At Monkey Creek we stopped and a couple of Kea were entertaining everyone – bathing in the creek and jumping on cars. There was a procession of tourist buses and motorhomes.

Milford Sound

At Milford Sound we went on the lakeside walk, where we were able to see a spectacular waterfall, and the lookout walk, which doesn't appear to be finished. The walk along the Hollyford River to Lake Marion was through the mossy beech forest, with the river roaring over the boulders beside us. We only went as far as the lookout.

Camp was made at Cascade Creek, where the sandflies were thick, but we went for a walk up a gravel avalanche debris and saw fascinating rocks and boulders (granite with sheets of schist). We slept well beside the fast-flowing river.
Cascade Creek

In the morning Darryl did the nature walk to Lake Gunn, while I enjoyed my bacon, eggs and coffee. We had a quick stop in Te Anau before a dusty, gravel road to Mavora Lakes. The fine loess dust penetrated everywhere in the van – even inside cupboards, and nothing we did would stop it. It was the Labour Day Long weekend, and campers were everywhere, but this picturesque spot was one of the LOTR filming sites, and a lovely spot for lunch.

The ragged Remarkables Range at Queenstown was still quite snowy, and Lake Wakatipu beautiful, but we did not stay long in this very touristy area. Driving down the Kawarau Gorge towards Cromwell was pretty amazing with huge swathes of jutting rocks, and Roaring Meg at the bottom where the River raged through them.

We ended up in Bannockburn, and old gold-mining area for the night. Darryl was not impressed by the plumbing standards at the holiday park. This area is one of the most arid in NZ, but still looked pretty green to us. The farmer's markets were on in Cromwell on Sunday morning. They were held in the historic old part of town. We bought some delicious cheeses, one a Silver Medal winning sheep's cheese called Balfour, from Gibbston Valley Cheeses, and the other a Haloumi. We were disappointed that there were no fruit and vege stalls.

Just before you get to Wanaka is the very interesting and challenging Puzzling World, where we whiled away quite a bit of time doing puzzles. Across the road was Mount Iron, a 545m glacier-formed mountain which we walked up for beautiful views of Wanaka, Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea and the Mt Aspiring Mountains. Wanaka also had markets, but these also turned out to be fruitless! They were art and craft markets. At Hawea we called in on Nicholas (one of Geoff and Gay's sons) and Ingrid, his wife, who live in a house facing the lake and mountains. It was a spectacular place to enjoy a cup of tea.

Our pull-up spot for the night was at Cameron Flat, in the Mt Aspiring National Park. We took a short walk down to the Blue Pools, over a couple of suspension bridges, where we were amazed to see huge wild salmon swimming in the intensely blue waters. The river rocks here fascinated us, with schists having twisted, and sometimes even criss-crossed,  veins of quartz. Although our campsite was high and exposed, we were still inundated with swarms of sandflies. Any cm of skin not protected by clothing or doused in Darryl's mix, ended up with a bite – they even got m in the web of my fingers where I had missed.

Fantail Falls and the Gates of Haast, (where the river roared between sheer rock faces of the gorge), were scenic features before hitting the west coast at Haast. North of here was Ship Creek, a lookout over a seal colony (but they were apparently all away for the day!), which was called that after the remains of an Australian shipwreck were washed up in the 19th Century. We called in at Lake Paringa, where Darryl caught up on some sleep.

Fox Glacier

When we first arrived at Fox Glacier (township) it was raining, so we went to the Info Centre, and then drove back to the Fox River, parked and walked to see the Glacier. Wow! It was a stunning tongue of ice almost glowing with aqua blue facets. Darryl walked as far as the public are allowed (without guides), and I viewed it from further back. Back in the township we  checked into the Holiday Park, which was immaculate.
Lake Matheson

It rained during the night but the morning was clear and perfect. First destination was Lake Matheson, where we paced it out to the first lookout to get a magnificent mirrored view of Mt Cook across the lake. We paced back to the van and arrived back at the booking centre only to find that all the walks had been booked out the day before, (I wouldn't have wanted to book then in case it was raining and miserable), but still I was slightly disappointed. We drove back out to the glacier and walked to the leading edge. It was pretty cold but quite amazing. A sign on the road out there indicated that the glacier was at the point in 1750, and although it has retreated since then, it is has been advancing again since 1984.

Franz Joseph glacier

Franz Joseph glacier

We weren't quite sure whether to bother with Franz Joseph glacier as well, but all the information said that they were different experiences, so we decided to go. A short walk took us to Peter's Pool, a transient small lake left after the retreat of the glacier, where it was mirrored on the surface. We then headed to the leading edge. This was a much longer hike, but not as difficult terrain, and once again we were wow'ed. This glacier, although apparently smaller than Fox, was much steeper and more rugged, and hence more visually impressive. One side of the leading edge (which is advancing at about 1 metre per day), appeared to be pushing moraine debris, but closer up it proved to be a whole block of ice just covered in debris. The forward movement was causing continual rock and ice falls – you could almost imagine you could see it coming towards you. Darryl headed up to a rocky cliff to get a higher vantage point, and I was again delighted to see a Kea playing on the rocks. There was a constant stream of helicopters flying over, and at one point there were 4 circling.

The drive north varied through farmlands, and close to the ocean. We stopped for a break at the enchanting – especially in the warm afternoon sun – Lake Ianthe. The water was warm enough that I could have swum! Further north was Hokitika, where we visited the Jade Factory. Although beautiful, nothing that we fancied was in our price range (actually what we really wanted was just a stone, which they didn't have). But we really enjoyed having delicious fish and chips (and yes, my fish was battered in gluten-free batter).

Arthur's Pass

Arthur's Pass

Shortly after this we turned east along the road to Arthur's pass (our evening destination). Along the way were several features, including Otira Gorge, a vehicle rock shelter with waterfall spillway (at the viewing site a Kea got friendly with me, and as I was squatting down to take his photo, came up and started nibbling on my knee), and a viaduct (at the viewing site there were 3 Kea, and when one landed on the roof of the van, Darryl decided it was time to go before it started damaging the van). When we stopped we discovered that the second battery was nearly drained, and this will require some investigation.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

NZ 2009 - Week 1

NZ 2009
This trip to NZ, we are only travelling around the South Island, and have 4 weeks to do so.
We flew out of Rockhampton at 1.30pm on Tuesday, but did not leave Brisbane until 6.25pm. The flight to Christchurch took 3 hours and 10 mins, being aided by a tailwind. Due to the different timezone we arrived at 12.30am. A taxi took us to James O'Donnell's home (a cousin on the Anderson [Parker] side of my family. We chatted for a while before hitting the sack. In the 'morning' I really didn't feel like getting out of bed, even though it was 8am NZ time. 
But after going over some family history with James, he kindly took us to pick up our motorhome. This time we got a slightly bigger one, with a small combined shower and toilet. We had to pick up groceries and a prepaid SIM card, so it was well after lunch before we left Christchurch. Darryl had decided that we would go south first, so we drove to Ashburton, booked into a van park, and walked back a block or two to the cemetery. This one had a chapel with a computer index, but it soon became obvious that there were far too many of the surnames I was looking for. We decided to return in the morning, just to find the progenitor couple, Thomas and Augusta Woolley. We slept very well, and found  the graves in the morning. We also found the grave of Gary Woolley. This is a tragic family story when in January 1975 Gary, and 3 of his sister's children were caught and drowned in a flash flood at Peel Forest. We drove up to, and past, Peel Forest, finding Rangitata Gorge, and eventually the memorial, at Blandswood, to Gary and the 3 children. Then we drove to Orari Gorge for lunch. Darryl started out for the Gorge walk but came back shortly after, as he didn't have any Staminade, and was concerned about cramps. 

We then drove to Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki, and on to the magnificent snow-covered peaks of Mt Cook. We had intended to stay, but Darryl was not yet tired so we drove back about 50km to the tourist info centre at the bottom of Lake Pukaki, and ate dinner watching the beautiful snow capped mountains becoming shrouded in clouds, while the setting sun streaked through.

An early start was required, so we set off, stopping after about an hour, at a picnic area beside a creek to have breakfast. At Pleasant Point we bought Rump Steak, and gluten-free sausages from a local butcher. Timaru was the next major location on the map, (we  were partially following a geological tour from At Timaru there are cliff exposures of basalt and loess at Caroline Bay. From there we travelled south on Highway 1, making a detour off just after Makikihi, where we were looking for walks in a reserve. The first road led to a 'Private Property' sign, so we had to turn around, the next road had a closed gate, and finally we came onto the sign which said Forest Entrance. We drove up the gravel road, but it soon became apparent that this was a logging track, and, once again we were forced to re-trace our route. After this, I was not game to suggest further forays, and we rolled on into Waimate. This town boasts fancy 'automatic' public toilets which play music, but one was blocked up, and the other had no paper. I retrieved some from our van, but it seems you are only allowed about 20 seconds to complete your activities, and I was aghast to find the door opening well before I was ready! Aaarrrgghhhh!!!!!!

We drove out of town through the small, but interesting Waimate Gorge, found some fascinating rock formations at Waihao Forks, before driving down Elephant Hill Road to see the red cliffs. We were still 10km from Glenavy, where we met up with Geoff and Gay Dunckley. This wonderful couple took us in, gave us hot coffee in their warm wood-heated house, while we discovered that they shared many interests with us – geology, bushwalking (or tramping, as it is called here), birds, plants...and, of course there was the interest that had prompted my first contact – family history. Their daughter-in-law is also a member of the Parker [Anderson-link] family which came to NZ in the 19th Century, and Gay had done the research, and submitted the family information to New Zealand's First Families. We exchanged files, and then spent an enjoyable evening with them, before camping in their back yard. In the morning we were farewelled, laden with fresh vegetables from their garden.

 At Kakanui there had been an explosive eruption nearly 32 million years ago, leaving a mineral breccia outcrops for us to admire.

The Morekai Boulders is a standard tourist stop on the highway, but you must walk down to the beach. The boulders are both beautiful and amazing, and only seem to be at the one spot. They are made of mud, fine silt, and clay cemented by calcite, with crystalline calcite forming in cracks formed by weathering.

We could see four seals draped lazily over the rocks at Shag Point, with only an occasional stir to prove that they really were alive.

Horse Range hosts Trotters Gorge, a little reserve with a half-hour walk to eroded limestone caves.

We were off the main Highway, as usual, driving along the shoreline, when we came to an excellent lookout near Karitane.

At Dunedin we took Geoff and Gay's suggestion, and stayed at Leith Valley Holiday Park. This little park was the site of an old paper mill, and although only 2.5km from the centre of the city, was surrounded by bushland, had a creek running by, and is at the bottom of the city's first water supply reservoir. 

On Sunday we drove into town, and did a self-guided historic walk around the old buildings. We thoroughly enjoyed our roast meal at the Wig and Pen Restaurant at the historic Law Courts Hotel. 

The Dunedin Railway Station is another historic building, but also hosts an art display, where we saw some beautiful paintings of Mt Cook. 

In the afternoon we boarded the train for the Taieri Gorge rail trip to Pukerangi, enjoying the scenic, mica-laden schist gorge with yellow wildflowers, the viaducts, and numerous tunnels. 

In the evening we returned to Leith Valley Holiday Park and I walked to the reservoir with Darryl.

Baldwin Street is acknowledged as being the steepest street in the world, so we went to have a look before heading to the Cadbury factory tour. The factory was immaculate, and smelled devine, and handouts along the way didn't stop us getting a couple of big blocks of dark chocolate, and a small bag of jaffas at the end. 

We returned to the Wig and Pen for lunch, and then drove out to the Otago Peninsula, doing a loop up to Portobello.

When we arrived at Nugget Point it was freezing, hard pelting rain, so we waited for a bit in the van, this proved to be a good strategy as shortly the sun came out and we walked along the cliff path and were able to view baby seals frolicking in a pool while the adult sunbathed nearby. Further on, at the lighthouse there were many more clambering on and off the rocks, while the huge kelp swirled nearby. The area had many birds, and vertically jagged upright rocks poking out of the sea. We drove back a kilometre to the viewing platform for the yellow-eyed penguins, and while disappointed by their non-appearance, a huge sea lion entertained us by coming up onto the beach and then wallowing in the shallow waters. Once again we managed to avoid a heavy shower. We thought Jack's Blowhole sounded interesting, but a 30 minute trudge through the sheep paddocks was a high price to pay for this disappointing feature.
We headed to Purakaunui Reserve (at a bay with steep limestone cliffs) to camp, and on the way the van slid off the wet gravel road into a ditch. Apart from the slight shock, the only damage was a thick coating of sticky mud (Loess), down the passenger side, due to Darryl being able to expertly manage to situation. It rained heavily during the night, and for part of the morning, so we stayed in bed, as it was also quite cold. On his first venture out of the van Darryl was hit with ice in the rain. Eventually Darryl headed out for a walk along the beach, when he had a close encounter with a sea lion, which chased him, while I languished in bed until I had to get up and organise breakfast.

Purakaunui Falls were our first stop, and as we walked along the track it looked as though the tree-ferns had froth in the centre, but this turned out to be ice! I 'knew' I was cold! The waterfall was very beautiful. 

The next falls to visit were Matai Falls, and Horseshoe Falls, and this was another 'between showers' walk – we really were very lucky. Darryl had Lake Wilkie on his list, but I had a sleep in the van while he did this short walk. Apparently the best falls are McLeans Falls, and although beautiful, I would argue this, as Purakaunui would equal them. Cathedral Caves was closed due to lambing, but we were able to view the fossil forest at Curio Bay, and drive past Slope Point, the southernmost point of New Zealand.

Niagra Falls is a joke...they are the smallest falls in NZ! For the night we found a holiday park at Bluff, south of Invercargill.