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Multiple Perspectives on Te Anau

Thursday 12th November 2015

sunny 16 °C

Sadly it was our last day in Fiordland today and with the help of our host we had already decided to make the most of it. She was very helpful when we went to check out and arranged to have our bags taken up the the Real Journeys office later in the afternoon while we were on another boat trip. Once this was all sorted we made our way to the offices of Takitimu Tiki Tours and met Heath our guide/ driver for the morning. He initially showed us round the town and the edge of the lake and explained a bit of the history. We then went to a lookout from where we could not only see the whole of the town, but also the lake and the mountains beyond.


He is a really lovely friendly guy and as well as talking about the history and geology of the area he also spoke about his family, his children and his English wife. Once we had finished admiring the view at the lookout we went to the river, the same one we had got on the day before with Luxmore boats but much further up near the dam.


The water was a real emerald green but very clear and because it was shallower at the waters edge than it had been further downstream you could really appreciate the colours. We looked for trout, but there didn't seem to be many in that spot this morning. We then walked for a fairly short distance through the beach forest, which was at the end of a very heavy flowering year and so there was lots of pollen about.


Once we had finished, Heath very kindly walked back and got the van. Whilst we were waiting I was listening to the sound of some of the beach trees creaking in the wind. Nigel then saw some discarded fishing line and as we were concerned about this hurting the wild life we wound it all back up and gave it the Heath once he arrived. We then made the fairly short journey back to the town. One of the crew on the Doubtful Sound trip had told us about a film that had been shot from a helicopter over the Fiordland National Park and that this could be viewed in a cinema in Te Anau. It turned out that Heath's uncle was the primary pilot and the person whose idea the film was, and so Heath played a short trailer of the film in the van.

We had time to go and have some lunch at the delicious if not so deliciously named Sandfly Cafe. We then went to watch the film the cinema specially built by the guy that made the film. It made stunning viewing and really gave a sense that you were up in a helicopter. It was so impressive that we bought a copy so that we could watch it again once we were back at home. It was then only a short walk to the lake from where we were catching the boat that would take us to the glowworm caves. The journey across the lake gave us another perspective on Te Anau and also up one of the fiords that leads off the main lake.


The boat was pretty full and so once we arrived at the caves we were split into four groups and while some went straight into the caves the rest of had to wait a short while. We were in the second group and as soon as we entered the caves we could hear the loud sound of rushing water. As we continued along the raised metal walkway we were along side a fast flowing underground stream and several quite spectacular underground waterfalls. We then reached the small landing stage were we got on board a small boat and continued a little further along the river. It was here that we saw most of the glowworms. There weren't as many as we had seen in Waitomo and the experience wasn't as special but the cave itself was probably one of the most dramatic I had ever been in. We then went back into the visitor centre where we were given a cup of tea and had a short presentation on glowworms by our guide.


Before long we were back on the boat and making our way back to Te Anau. Much to my relief our bags were waiting for us and we had just enough time to go and have a coffee before we needed to catch our bus. It was very full and we were quite lucky to be able to get seats together. It was a couple of hours back to Queenstown, and although there was a film showing our seats were too far back to see it, so Nigel listened to his music while I read my book with one eye on the scenery beyond the coach.


It was about 7:30pm by the time we got back to Queenstown so it was quite a relief that we knew where to go, and our way around the hostel. So we just got some food and then settled in to watch the film The Fastest Indian (about a New Zealand motorcycle fanatic and starring Anthony Hopkins) that we hadn't been able to see properly on the bus.

Posted by Gill's Travels 00:59 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains trees queenstown rivers new_zealand te_anau Comments (0)

Exploring the Franz Josef Glacier

Monday 2nd November 2015

rain 12 °C

We had made some enquiries about doing a guided walk along the glacial valley but the guy Mike hadn't got got back to us so we weren't that hopeful. We got up quite early and as soon as it was reasonable to do so, rang him up to check whether he was able to accommodate us. He was a bit vague about whether he had got my confirmation email and didn't seem to have any free slots. He also runs the town glacier shuttle service which takes people from town centre hotels to the car park nearest to the glacier. We agreed that it might be as well for us to do the walk unguided and arranged for Mike to pick us up at our hotel at 12:45, which he duly did and so we arrived at our starting point just after 1pm. Mike explained to us briefly what short walks were possible and the best order in which to do them.

The main walk would take us near to the snout of the glacier. The footpath started at the end of the car park and took us a short distance through typical New Zealand forest. It then opened out into the wider river valley, much of it filled with moraine with several small glacial meltwater streams.


We crossed the nearest one on small stepping stones and then the clearly marked footpath took us past the appropriately named Trident Falls and along the valley floor.


The snout of the glacier was visible for part of the walk, and the colours of lichen and moss on the rocks gave quite a bit of colour to what otherwise was quite a grey landscape. After about two kilometres we reached the old terminal face of the glacier. It was at this point that the walk became quite steep and we had to be a bit careful as the gravel was a bit unstable. After a few ups and downs we reached the roped barrier beyond which it isn't safe to walk.


The Franz Josef Glacier is quite unusual in that the snout is only about 300 metres above sea level. Generally it is retreating at the moment, probably due to a mixture of lower than average snowfall and global warming. This means that huge lumps of ice are prone to break off making it dangerous to venture beyond the barrier. The weather had closed in a bit and so we had a limited view of the glacier but it was still very spectacular. We were very lucky because whilst we were sitting admiring the view and munching our way through some fruit, a kea was jumping around amongst the walkers.


Kea are the only truly alpine parrot in the world and they are renowned for being highly inquisitive, which this one certainly was. We sat waiting and hoping that the weather would clear a little so that we would have a better view of the top of the glacier but this wasn't to be, we had already had the best of the day and if anything the weather was getting worse. After about half an hour we decided to make the walk back, and even though it was by now raining the misty views back down the valley were lovely.


Although we could have had a pick up at 3pm we had decided that we wanted to spend more time walking, so once we got back past the trident waterfalls and on to the forest track we made a right hand turn and made the very steep but fortunately short walk up to Sentinel Rock.


On a clear day we would have had great views of the glacier but in the drizzle we could only just make it out, however the view was very impressive nevertheless. Once we had finished looking at the view we walked back down and continued on the forest walk as far as the car park. There was a third short walk to a place called Peter's Pool which could be done as a short return walk or as a longer circular one.


Once we got as far as the pool we decided to carry on a bit further but after about half a kilometre the path started to rise steeply. We continued for a short way but there seemed to be no let up. Given that we were getting tired and 5pm, when we were being picked up by the shuttle bus, was not that far away we decided to return the way we had come. We got back to the bus stop with about 10 minutes or so to spare. We stood and waited in the drizzle feeling a little sorry for the people who were only just embarking on the glacier walk. Mike picked us up on schedule and dropped us back at our hotel. We popped over the road in order to book ourselves a session at the Glacier Pools for tomorrow. We had enough to time to relax for an hour or so before going out to a nearby restaurant for dinner. We had a lovely but very filling three course set menu. Once we got back to our room we just wanted to relax and rest our slightly weary legs that were reflecting the fact that we had walked fairly tiring eight kilometres.

Posted by Gill's Travels 19:23 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains rivers glacier new_zealand franz_josef Comments (0)

Crossing the Alps

Thursday 29th October 2015

semi-overcast 15 °C

We had a fairly early start this morning as the Transalpine Train that would take us across the South Island to Greymouth was scheduled to leave Christchurch at 8:15am. We decided to have breakfast on the train and so all we had to do was pack up our things and check out in time for the taxi that we had arranged to pick us up at 7:15am. He was the friendliest taxi driver we have had so far on our trip and he soon got talking to us about his experience of the earthquake. He said that his wife had been particularly affected and that until recently she would cry every time she felt a tremor. He also told us that approximately 10,000 people had left the city since the quake struck. The population is now slowly on the increase and more and more people connected with the rebuild have come to live here. He seemed hopeful that many of these people would settle and stay permanently perhaps giving new life and young people to the city. He dropped us off in plenty of time and again we said a heartfelt goodbye to him and wished him well. The train was in the station and we checked in and as soon as the baggage handlers were ready we stored our large bags in the baggage car. Our seats were in a great position, on the right hand side of the train we had requested (for the best views) and near to the open observation car.


This meant we were quite a way from the buffet car but you can't have everything! We settled in our seats and Nigel went and got us some breakfast as soon as they started serving. For the first half an hour or so after we left the station we were travelling across the flat landscape of the Canterbury Plain, passing agricultural land and the odd milk processing plant. The railway line then starts to climb as it makes its way through the northern foothills of the Southern Alps. At first it was hilly with lots of gorse, and then the hills became higher and we were travelling along gorges and crossing over spectacular bridges with milky blue meltwater streams below.


Once the scenery became more interesting I went up into the open air observation car along with many other passengers and it became a bit of free for all with people jockeying for the best position on the ever changing most scenic side of the train. The hills gradually got higher and we could see snow capped mountains in the distance. As we approached Arthur's Pass the train line ran alongside the Bealey River.


We stopped for a while in the station and at that point nearly 100 people left the train, presumably with the intention of exploring the area. The township of Arthur's Pass is 740 metres above sea level and has some good views of the surrounding mountains.


One of the reasons that the train has to stop for a while is that almost immediately after leaving the station the train enters the Otira Tunnel. This is 8.5 kilometres long and inside the track descends at a gradient of 1 in 33 meaning that the town of Otira is 250 metres lower than Arthur's Pass. In order to control the descent two more locomotives join the one that hauled the train from Christchurch. There is also a fan and door system in order to take away any fumes. For this reason the observation car is closed for the whole time that the train is in the tunnel. Otira station was interesting and slightly weird not only was there an old Fiat parked there but also a figure of a monk with one arm laying beside it!


Some of the buildings in the very small town were also extremely colourful. The mountains slowly gave way to hills, and the gorse that was a feature of the eastern side of the range returned. The valleys became wider and we went past a lake and then the line ran alongside the Grey River until we got into the town of Greymouth.


Once we had collected our bags from the luggage car we went to the Avis desk to get our hire car. This took much longer than we expected and we had been upgraded in that they had given us a a four wheel drive vehicle, not something we would normally want to drive but something of a bonus on some of the roads in New Zealand. Given that we had been advised that there weren't any shops near where we were staying we needed to go to the supermarket and get enough food to last us for the three days that we would be there.

The drive up to Punakaiki took us about 35 minutes and we were pretty pleased when we arrived. We had a lovely little cottage which had partial view of the sea, and as if to remind us of its presence it could be heard as a permanent background roar. Once we had settled in we drove the short distance to see the Pancakes Rocks and blowholes. The view was stunning and we had great fun watching the blowholes spouting.


We both felt that it was the most dramatic coastline we had seen since we had been travelling, probably trumping even the great ocean road in Australia. It had been a great day and we relaxed in the evening and had a home cooked risotto for dinner washed down with a glass of wine.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:41 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains trains ocean new_zealand Comments (0)

Doing it Like the Locals Do

Saturday 24th October 2015

sunny 18 °C

We woke up to a lovely sunny morning proving the old saying 'red sky at night, shepherds delight'.


It was another moving on day today as we were going back towards Picton in preparation for a train journey to Kaikoura on Sunday. We had some breakfast and packed up and loaded our bags into the car, before going to say goodbye to Sue and Jim. We got chatting and they offered to show us round their garden. They have a large plot of land and they had obviously done a lot of work to make it into the garden it is today with lots of native plants as well as camellias and rhododendrons (which may or may not be native I'm not sure). I got the impression from Sue that keeping the rabbits out is a harder job than preventing the native bush from encroaching. We spoke for quite a while and it was lovely chatting to them, but after half an hour or so we decided we ought to get on our way.

Before we left the area completely I wanted to have a brief look at the coastal area near Riwaka that we could see from our cottage. From there it looked as though there was a small island joined to the mainland by a causeway. Sue had told us that you couldn't actually walk to Outer Island as it was linked by a muddy estuary. Nevertheless we thought it was worth a look and indeed it was very pretty and at the time we visited the mud flats were exposed as the tide was out.


Once we had finished looking and taking photographs we got on our way, passing through the town of Motueka and then circling round the bay and on towards the town of Nelson. Once we got some distance between us and the Abel Tasman area we were able to see the height of the mountains in the distance with their snow covered peaks.


We decided to stop off for coffee at a little place called the Boat Shed Cafe that overlooks Nelson Haven and the Tasman Bay beyond. We didn't have anything to eat as be had a picnic with us, although we regretted that somewhat when we saw the delicious food they brought out for other people.


Once we had finished our drinks we continued on State Highway 6 passing through wide valleys and farmland until we reached the small town of Havelock. This was where we turned off onto the smaller and more winding Queen Charlottes Drive. In the end this wasn't as difficult a drive as we had expected and although there were quite a number of bends it was always wide enough to let two cars pass. As we started to climb we had a good view back over the town and Pelorus Bay, one of many that feed into the Sound. At the top of the hill there was a lookout at a place called Cullen Point. We hadn't eaten and it was well into the afternoon so we took some food with us. In the end this was a little further and much steeper than we anticipated.


Fortunately there was somewhere to sit once we got to the top and so we were able to rest and eat at the same time. It was then time to get back to the car and continue round to the village of Anakiwa where we would be staying for the night before driving back to Picton in the morning.

Our B &B, Owika Bay Lodge was in a stunning position overlooking the bay and Queen Charlottes Sound beyond. We had a great welcome from our hosts Susie and Martin who had moved out from the UK about five years ago. They showed us to our room which had the best view in the house and then Susie made us a cup of tea and brought out some home made biscuits.


They had contacted us a day or two previously asking us whether we would like to go to a charity art auction with them in aid of the nearby school in Linkwater. We just had time to have a dip in their lovely wooden hot tub before we needed to get ready to go out. Martin drove us the short distance to the village hall, and once there we were given a glass of wine and there were loads of delicious canap├ęs brought round by some of the children from the school. There was some lovely artwork on show and it seemed a good idea to loosen people's wallets by plying them with wine before starting the auction. We were quite surprised just how much money some of the pieces went for, not that they weren't worth it but because it meant people parting with quite a lot of money. It turned out that some of the bidders where dealers from Christchurch, such is the reputation of this annual event. Although there were a couple of pictures and at least one sculpture I would have liked to bid for, this was totally impractical given the distance we were from home. There was a well known local jeweller who had put there rings in, and although I didn't bid for them at the time, I did speak to her afterwards and ended up asking her to make me one. We agreed that we would sort out the finer points in the morning as she would be back then helping out at the family fun.

Martin bid for quite a few pictures including two very professional looking ones done by children at the school and two very nice photographs of local scenes. He is quite a keen amateur photographer and makes items out of wood and there were quite a lot of examples of his work in the house. While he collected his purchases we went back to the house with Susie and two of their friends who were staying the night. We had a cup of tea when we got back and we all sat together chatting for a while before turning in.

Posted by Gill's Travels 13:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains new_zealand abel_tasman Comments (0)

Moving on to the Abel Tasman

Wednesday 21st October 2015

sunny 20 °C

I had enjoyed Picton so much that I didn't particularly relish leaving, but leave we must. We packed up our things (again) and left them in the apartment while we went to collect our hire car from down by the ferry terminal. We only just caught the woman who said they only wait at the sub office until 10:15 and then they go back to their main office. I was slightly irritated as we hadn't been made aware of the time limit or the fact that there was more than one office. Anyway despite this and other minor irritations we were soon in the car, and having gone back and loaded our bags, were on our way to Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park beyond. The most direct route initially runs north and then west winding its way around the edge of Queen Charlotte's Sound. The longer but less winding route goes south before turning west and then north in a squared off U shape. We decided to go by the latter route because although longer was an easier and faster drive. Also we are staying for one night on the edge of one of the bays after our visit to the Abel Tasman and will travel the 'scenic route' then.

The early part of the journey was the most picturesque with high snow topped mountains in the distance and the Marlborough Vineyards either side of the road.


We stopped at the Hunters winery cellar door and tasted several of the whites and a couple of reds. Nigel, who was driving was the one that had to 'spit' again, I on the other hand happily drank all that was offered to me. We ended up buying just one bottle of 2013 Pinot Gris as we couldn't really manage to carry much more as we still had the two bottles of the Hawkes Bay red. We then continued on our way passing by heavily forested hillsides as we went, until we reached the coast just outside the town of Nelson.


We stopped here to get enough provisions at our now favoured supermarket chain New World, to last us for the next three days, as we presumed that we wouldn't have many shops near where we were going to be staying. For most of the rest of the journey we were running alongside the coast but initially this was a bit industrial and then we were a few streets away from the shore so any potential view was obscured by shops and streets of housing. Once we were north of the town of Motueka the road started to climb until we reached the turning for our accommodation. We then had to drive about a kilometre up the gravel drive before we got to the house. Fraser Highlands Retreat is a modern building but with some of the grandeur of a Scottish lairds dwelling. The owners Jim and Sue met us on their doorstep and we all walked back up the drive to the little cottage that was going to be our home for the next few days. Sue explained that she was originally from Lancashire and met Jim, a New Zealander, in the UK. They originally built/ converted the cottage and lived in it whilst building the main house. The cottage is very cosy and homely and couldn't be more different from our apartment in Picton.


Given that it had been home for the owners for a couple of years it would certainly do us for a few nights. There is clearly a Scottish connection and given their name is Fraser and Jim plays the bagpipes (according to the visitors book) I am presuming it is on his side. We settled in and spent some time admiring the view, before Nigel cooked us a delicious meal of spaghetti bolognese washed down with a glass of red.

Posted by Gill's Travels 02:42 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains new_zealand abel_tasman vineyards Comments (0)

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