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The Best of Queenstown Without the Adrenalin Rush

Saturday 7th of November

semi-overcast 16 °C

After a great deal of deliberation about what we were going to do in Queenstown, we eventually decided on a tour that seemed to suit. Part of the problem is that we really aren't adrenalin people. Some activities such as bungee jumping were dismissed without even so much as a thought, but others were more difficult. We really wanted to see some of the out of the way scenery but most of the guided trips went to places such as Skippers Canyon and Macetown, both of which involved being driven on high and very precarious tracks with very few passing places and lots of other tour and privately driven 4x4 vehicles. This isn't really our thing! Eventually we contacted a guy called Alan who runs a company called Glenorchy Journeys who seemed to fit the bill. We could go out and see the scenery at the northern end of the lake, with the emphasis on great views, we could also do this as a private tour so we knew the trip would be truly based on what we wanted to do.

After a light breakfast at the hostel we were ready for our 9am pick up. Alan was outside ready and waiting and introduced himself and we were soon on our way. The vehicle, a Toyota 4x4 was a little more comfortable and easier to get in and out of than Mark's Land Rover which was an added bonus. We made our way out of the town and up the north eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu, stopping off a couple of times so that we could see and take photographs of the stunning views.

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We continued up to Glenorchy where Alan lives, which is about 30 miles from Queenstown at the northern end of the lake. He parked up and we went down to the jetty and took some photographs and had a look round.

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From there we travelled up the appropriately named Glenorchy Paradise Road following the Dart river valley into the Mount Aspiring National Park. We continued to the Arcadia Homestead, a beautiful Edwardian house built in 1906 by Englishman Joseph Cyprian Fenn in the hope of attracting his fiancée out to New Zealand. Having built it he then sent for her only to find out that his father had married her in his absence (what a rat).

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We continued a short distance so that Alan could show us the filming that is currently taking place in the area, reputed to be for a Nestle advert. This area has been used for a lot of major films including the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit and Narnia. The isolation and beautiful scenery make it ideal and it brings useful revenue into the area.

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Once we had a good nose we turned around and went back through a lovely protected beech forest, past Diamond Lake and back across Earnslaw Burn. We then turned up onto one of the large sheep and cattle stations in the area. We parked up near one of the disused scheelite mines and stood out on one of the bluffs overlooking the valley.

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The views were stunning and we could see the whole valley and many of the surrounding peaks. We returned to the car and Alan poured us a cup of coffee and handed round Anzac biscuits and we stood enjoying the fresh air and peace and quiet, disturbed only by the occasional noisy cow. Once we got back in the car we went back towards Queenstown although there was still plenty of time to chat about life, the younger generation and much more. Once we were dropped off we went to a local cafe and had a lovely lunch before returning to the hostel. We then had a few hours to relax and sort out some practical things before it was time to go out again. We had booked to go up on the Queenstown cable car, the Skyline. We had bought a package which included the gondola trip and a buffet meal followed by the opportunity to do some stargazing. The ride, although not far, was very steep. Once we got to the top we checked in at the restaurant before going to the observation deck to admire the view and take some photographs.

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We then went back to the restaurant/ bar and ordered some drinks and almost as soon as these were served to us it was time to be shown to our table. The meal was a buffet affair and there was loads to choose from, and as much as one wanted. We both went for prawn cocktails, roast meat and veg and a dessert (despite the fact that we knew we would be having a Sunday roast tomorrow at the hostel). Once we had eaten all we could manage, washed down with a coffee it was just about time for our stargazing. We went to the assembly point but by this time there was quite a lot of cloud cover and so we were advised that it had been cancelled. This was quite disappointing but we always knew it was on the cards.

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We took the opportunity to go back to the observation deck and see the Queenstown nights-cape before getting the gondola back down and making the short walk back to the hostel. Saturday night in Queenstown was at full volume, and what with the chatter, laughter and a bit of shouting, along with the remnants of some bonfire night fireworks it was a bit of time before we got to sleep.

Posted by Gill's Travels 23:13 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes lakes queenstown new_zealand Comments (0)

En-route to a Sunny Wanaka

Wednesday 4th November 2015

sunny 16 °C

We are leaving Franz Josef today and ironically the weather has chosen to clear so we woke to a bright and sunny morning. Although it is a shame that we had not had better weather whilst we were here it was promising something a little better for when we arrive in Wanaka which is our next destination. In the meantime we were able to appreciate the mountain peaks of Franz Josef whilst walking to the bus stop in the centre of the town.

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Ours was the first pick up point of the day and so we could pretty much sit were we wanted and thinking that this would afford us the best views we had opted for seats on the left hand side. There was a bit of a debate as the bus company have introduced a no food policy after a number of spillages had stunk the coaches out. Some of the non English speaking travellers seemed very confused and quite determined to take their food on board rather than have it stowed away in the luggage compartment. Eventually the driver seemed to get his point of view across and everyone got back on board the bus.

When we first left the town we crossed some farmland in the northern end of the glacial valley and then a couple of small streams on our way to the town of Fox Glacier where we had to pick up a few more people.

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As is the case with Franz Josef, it appeared that the glacier itself was quite a long way from the town. I didn't think the town looked as nice as Franz Josef but maybe having stayed there I am a little bit biased. We could still see the mountains on our left as we passed over a number of pale milky blue melt water streams.

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As we travelled further, the road ran nearer to the higher peaks and the streams became more like rivers. Not long after we crossed the Karangarua River we arrived at the coast near Bruce Bay. Like so many of the beaches in New Zealand this was littered with drift wood washed down the rivers.

Shortly after this we turned inland we pulled up at the South Westland Salmon Farm and Cafe just before the wide braided Paringa River for a comfort break. We crossed another couple of rivers, all flowing northwards into the Tasman Sea, before arriving back at the coast again at a place called Knights Point.

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We stopped again so that we could have a view of the coastline and the nearby seal colony which we could just see basking on the sand in the distance. The next time we turned inland we were alongside the wide Haast River which is near the location of another scenic lookout known as the Thunder Falls in the Mount Aspiring National Park.

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We stopped here long enough to go and look at the falls and for our driver, and the one going towards Franz Josef, to swap over so that they could then drive back to their start points. Once our driver and all us passengers were back on board we continued by the Haast River until which we reached what is known as the Haast Gates. This has a series of cascades and it also marks the start of the Haast Pass.

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At about 1pm we stopped at a cafe in place called Makarora where we were able to buy lunch. From there it took us about half an hour to get to the northern end of Lake Wanaka. Due to the topography we continued for a few miles along the eastern shore of the lake before the road turned and went up and over a pass called The Neck and back down onto the western shore of the neighbouring Lake Hawea. Lit

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For the very last leg of the journey the road travels inland southwest across farming land near the Hawea River until we finally arrived in the town of Wanaka at about 2:30pm.

We got our bags off the bus down by the lake shore and asked the driver if he knew where our hotel was located. Rather frustratingly he sent us slightly further round the lake than we wanted to go so by the time we realised our error and walked back, dragging our bags behind us, we were feeling a little weary. We were compensated when we checked in and were shown to our room, which was upstairs and on the corner with great views of both the lake and the mountains. Once we were settled in we thought we ought to confirm our cruise on Doubtful Sound as instructed on our voucher. We were very upset and concerned when they told Nigel that we weren't booked in. When they made further investigations they found that we had been booked in twelve months previously. After a couple of conversations back and forth they said that they could accommodate us in a quad room and after further debate they were able to put us in a quad/ family room that meant that we wouldn't be sharing with anyone else and that would have our own bathroom.

To be fair it wasn't their fault and we knew fairly early on that the error was made by our booking agent (a large and reputable company with a branch in Norwich). I was doubly annoyed because they had so little to arrange as I had booked almost all of our hotels. We contacted them through their emergency contact number and told them what we had been able to secure and asked them to ensure that the money they had taken from us went to pay for our newly booked cabin, and also we asked for some explanation/ apology for what had happened. This cruise is one of the highlights of our while trip so this issue has been pretty upsetting. We didn't feel much like eating, but we went out to a local restaurant where I order some lovely lamb chops and Nigel had some sausages. We both felt pretty full by the time we went back to our apartment we were still feeling a bit down in the dumps.

Posted by Gill's Travels 02:32 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rivers new_zealand wanaka franz_josef Comments (0)

A Wet Day in Franz Josef

Tuesday 3rd November 2015

rain 15 °C

Having done the walks we wanted to yesterday we decided to have a really relaxing time today. It was a really wet and miserable day anyway and so dark and gloomy that I didn't wake up until gone 9am. We didn't rush to get up, we could just tell it was still raining by the noise of the rain on the roof. We eventually dragged ourselves out of bed and showered and had a very late breakfast. I have still been really struggling to get up to date with the blog so I spent most of what was left of the morning doing that. We had also been trying to find an excursion for when we are in Queenstown that doesn't involve an adrenalin rush drive along precarious roads (search on the Internet for Skippers Canyon if you want to know what we didn't want to do). In the end we decided to book a private tailor made tour which would be a lot more expensive but would give us control on where we went. A quick phone call to our chosen company got a half day scenic tour booked.

Back to today, we had decided to go to the Glacier Pools that were little more than over the road from where we were staying. For less than £50 we could share a small private pool for 45 minutes and then free access to the public pools. It seemed like the ideal thing to do in a wet and miserable Franz Josef. The pool was perhaps a little smaller than we expected, it was really just a sunken jacuzzi. What was really nice is that we had our own private little cabin nicely fitted out with a changing area, loo and shower. The tub was lovely and warm and it was great sitting there surrounded by New Zealand rain forest. There was no doubting when our 45 minutes was up as the water just started to drain away, the hot tub equivalent of being at a teenage party and the parents turning the light on!

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Once our time was up we went to the public pools. These were much larger and there were three of them ranging in temperature from 36 to 40 degrees. It was very relaxing and we ended up staying in there for at least another hour and a half. By then we were pretty wrinkly. We had been quite lucky because the rain had stopped shortly after we had arrived there and stayed that way until evening.

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It was gone 4pm by the time we got back so we relaxed some more, did another load of washing and then got an Indian take away from the restaurant next door. We have an early start in the morning so needed to go to bed fairly early, and as we were going to have to walk to the bus stop about half a mile away, I did some packing before I went to bed.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:42 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand franz_josef 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Letting Someone Else Take the Strain

Sunday 1st November 2015

semi-overcast 14 °C

We were awake pretty early this morning in order to watch the Rugby World Cup final. Given that we are now in New Zealand, and England have long since left the tournament, I was certainly hoping for an All Blacks win (sorry Australia). I thought that they were the better side in the first half, although perhaps a little slow to really get going. Once they did the match made great viewing. Australia seemed to rally a little in the second half but then the Kiwis ended in spectacular fashion and we and more than four million other people in New Zealand were very happy. After the match I dozed off for a while, but at 8 o'clock we decided that we really needed to get up and going if we were to check out of our accommodation by 10am. Once everything was loaded into the car we went and settled our bill and then we were soon driving the short distance south towards Greymouth.

Our bus wasn't leaving until after 1pm so we did have a bit if free time that morning. We did talk about stopping off somewhere but in the end went straight to the train station where we had to return the hire car and catch the bus. Once we were on board we settled back to enjoy the trip. The road hugged the coast for much of the journey and the driver pointed out places of interest and gave us some history on the way.

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We stopped for a break at Hokitika and the driver pulled up outside the National Kiwi Centre, a slightly strange and rather amateurish place that had some captive Kiwi birds in a darkened enclosure (presumably because they are nocturnal and therefore to reduce their stress and maximise the chances of seeing them). We had a quick look round and had just enough time to grab a cold drink before we were on our way again. The road continued near the coast before turning a short distance inland. We passed over a couple of rivers and we could see people with small traps trying to make the most of the last few days of the whitebait season. We then entered into the small town of Ross, which was established in the 1860's as part of the West Coast Gold Rush. At its height the town had about 2,500 residents but now there are less than 300 people living there. Our driver stopped and delivered newspapers to the shop here as well as in several other small towns and villages en-route, a good example of multi-tasking!

We also had a brief stop outside The Bushman's Centre in Pukekura (not a very enticing place name) to let one passenger off. This is a museum and cafe (with very mixed reviews) that has an extremely large model of a sandfly on the front gable end. I was quite relieved that this wasn't one of our scheduled comfort breaks.

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The weather then became very wet and miserable and the hills in the distance were shrouded in mist. We continued inland, past another couple of braided rivers before arriving at Franz Josef.

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Our driver very kindly dropped us off outside our accommodation which made things easy for us. We quickly checked in and settled into our very nice studio room. We had some time to relax and get our bearings before going up the street to a good local restaurant for a very filling dinner.

Posted by Gill's Travels 18:41 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rivers new_zealand gold Comments (0)

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