Catching up again

New Year has offered another chance to write up our travels.

Thursday 25th December 2014. Day 108   Sumptuous supper

We returned to Christchurch Cathedral Nelson for their Christmas day family service at 10 am. Parts of the service were repeated in Maori and the theme of the sermon was again Marsden’s first sermon, with readings from his log describing, how the Maori chief had become a Christian through Marsden’s kindness and care for him, after he was attacked by sailors; and the arrangements that the Maori chief had made for the service, which was to be a joint one with the pioneers. The ship was greeted with a haka and a mock battle and canoes were used to form the lectern and the seating.

We then sang the hymn Te Harinui

“Not on a snowy night, by star or candlelight, nor by angel band, there came to our dear land.

Chorus: Te Harinui, Te Harinui, Te Harinui, Glad tidings of great joy.

But on a summer day, within a quiet bay, the Maori people heard, the great and glorious word. Chorus

The people gathered round, upon the grassy ground, and heard the preacher say, I bring to you this day. Chorus

Now in this blessed land, united heart and hand, we praise the glorious birth and sing to all the earth. Chorus”

We also sang the New Zealand national anthem and a good range of popular carols as well as appropriate bible readings, prayers and communion.

We returned to our motel feeling more of the Christmas spirit than we had thus far, although it had been building slowly, helped by the numerous messages of Christmas cheer from family and friends.

At the motel we had coffee and the delicious special bakery cakes we had bought in Picton. The sun was shining, although a bit windy, so we decided to hit the beach for some sun bathing and swimming. We found a comfortable spot on the narrow zone of dry sand at the top of the beach and laid out our towels and ourselves, turning occasionally to tan evenly. The sun was very welcome but the wind proved a nuisance as the very fine sand was easily entrained and we soon sported a fine coating of fine sand, which did not detract from the delight of sunbathing on Christmas Day. After a suitable time for tanning Eric went for a short swim. Given the slight wind-chill the water temperature was most acceptable. After the swim we paddled along the beach for a while before returning to the motel to prepare our Christmas dinner.

We had tried to find a restaurant locally or in Nelson that was open today, without success. Our fall back plan was to cook in our room using the microwave, and this Joyce did, preparing a splendid repast of baked potato, baked beans and very nice meaty sausages. To complete the meal we enjoyed a slice of Christmas cake.

After dinner we skyped Clare, having a good time to exchange seasonal greetings. We then tried Andrew, but the connection unfortunately failed after we had shared brief greetings and despite repeated efforts failed to reconnect, which was very disappointing.

Friday 26th December 2014. Day 109  Farewell frolics

Today was another sunny day, with less wind as we headed for Farewell Spit at the very north of South Island. We had looked at trips into Abel Tasman National Park but a road trip, albeit one retracing the route, seemed better use of our time.

We traversed the limestone massif of Taraka hill by a series of hairpin bends, pausing at Hawke’s lookout to admire the views, albeit the higher peaks were shrouded in cloud. The karren features in the exposed limestone attracted Eric’s attention and he felt fully at home. From the col the road descended towards Golden Bay by an even steeper route, with even tighter bends. On was so sharp that it confused the gps into thinking we were heading in the other direction. Once on the valley floor we passed through Tanaka. By passing Collingwood we followed the road to Puponga Park, where we left the car and walked a short distance to view Farewell spit, from here the Southern Maori believe their souls leave for Hawaiki. We decided not to walk the 4 kilometres on to the spit but had lunch and paddled in the clear waters of the nearby shell beach.

After lunch we drove to Cape Farewell, the furthest point north on South Island (59.7767° N, 43.9046° W) and enjoyed an excellent view of the arch. From here we drove back into Collingwood for an ice cream, beach view and a short visit to the museum, before we retraced our steps over the hills, with views into the National Parks, Abel Tasman to the east and Kahurangi to the west.

On descending the southern edge of the pass we diverted to Kaiterteri, a very pretty bay with lots of beach actives, to enjoy another paddle and some time on the golden red sands. A short drive along the coast, including Ruby Bay, brought us back to the motel where in best Boxing day tradition we enjoyed the left overs, a delicious sausage Bolognese and pasta, again complemented by Christmas cake. We were delighted to be able to watch this Year’s Dr Who Christmas special, just 12hrs after it had been aired in Britain and followed this by watching a rerun of the 2013 programme.

Saturday 27th December 2014. Day 110. Pancake peregrinations

This morning saw us heading south once more. Bypassing Richmond we followed SH6 along the Motupiko Valley and then the steeper climb up the Clark Valley to the Hope Saddle viewpoint offering good views of the Big Bush Conservation Area, with its protected natural bush vegetation dominated by native beech trees. As we climbed we could see in the sides of the cuttings the Moutere gravels, layered deposits of cobbles, pebbles and gravel, which in places are over 1,000 metres thick. The weather was changeable, overcast with intermittent rain and occasional glimpses of sunshine.

At Gownabridge we took a side road which took us into the Nelson Lakes National Park and to the shores of Lake Rotoroa, where we made our first acquaintance of the sandfly, west coast irritants which accompanied many of our viewing experiences for the next few days and which give really itchy bites.

Leaving the lake we rejoined the highway and continued south westwards through the impressive Buller gorge, the River Wye on steroids, which traverses the Paparoa range of mountains. We stopped briefly at the site of the now disappeared Lyell township, which in its day was a thriving town based on gold mining. We emerged from the gorge just south of Westport and skirting the town turned south to Cape Foulwind, where we had an enjoyable walk along the cliff top. Our next stop was Tauranga Bay and a short boardwalk led us to a viewpoint of the fur seal colony where resting seals, some with pups, could be observed. Unfortunately there was no obvious sign of the blue penguins that have a rookery in the nearby islets. This section of the drive had given excellent views of the marine terraces along this coastline.

The next section coastline, within the Paparoa National Park, proved to be particularly dramatic with cliffs, roiling surf, stacks and stumps galore. The Inimawuwharo lookout provided an excellent viewing platform. A little further on we reached Punakaiki and just south of it we stopped to view the pancake rocks. Here a fine bedded limestone acted on by subaerial and marine processes has produced a fantastic coastscape of solutional and erosional forms. Unfortunately the low tide and low swells combined to negate the blow hole phenomena, with the chimney only producing occasional anaemic gouts of spray. This location was very busy compared to our experience thus far and suggested that we were now on the west coast tourist route.

As it was getting late we headed straight for our accommodation in Greymouth, at a holiday park. This was one of our budget nights so we had a small room, able to sleep six, with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. The kitchen was the first one we come across that did not supply crockery or cooking equipment, so continuing the budget theme we headed out and found a nearby MacDonald’s for dinner.

 

Sunday 28th December 2014. Day 111  Glacier Gold

After breakfast we walked to the Greymouth beach, it was indeed grey, grey sky, grey sea and long stretch of dark grey sand with grey driftwood. We were entertained by the antics of a Weka, a flightless brown feathered bird. From the park we headed back into Greymouth for a quick tour, stopping only at the floodwall to view the grey river mouth under the grey sky. Having fuelled the car, as there was no petrol for the next 120 kilometres we again picked up SH6.

The weather again was foul, with pouring rain but Eric was attracted by the delights of Shantytown, another heritage village based on the gold mining history of the west coast. He reasoned that an activity that offered indoor attractions would be good in the rain. In the event the rain relented for much of the tour and we again enjoyed viewing the old buildings with their fixtures and fittings, plus a view of gold mining techniques, a reconstruction of a Chinese settlement and a ride on a steam train, the locomotive built in Bristol. Many of the buildings had come from now defunct mining towns such as the church from Notown.

Continuing our drive along the coast we travelled next alongside the railway line, which on occasions crossed the road through the centre of a roundabout and also shared a bridge with cars, the trains being exempt from the Give Way directive. Just after Houhou we reached the town of Hokitika, another tourist hub, where we enjoyed some retail therapy, before pressing on southwards to Lake Mahinapua, where we had lunch and admired the remains of a steamboat that plied the lake, when it was a key link in the transport system to the goldtowns.

The route then took us through Ross, another historic gold town, the Pukekura Scenic Reserve, past Lake Ianthe, through Harihari and the Mt Hercules Scenic Reserve to Whataroa. As we drove this section the cloud began to break and we glimpsed our first view of the majestic peaks of the Southern Alps with their capping of snow. We stopped in Whataroa for an ice cream and to book the tour to the White Heron nesting ground, as recommended by Peter and Janet Levinsohn. We were too late for the 3.00pm tour but succeeded in booking for the 1.00pm tour the next day.

Having accomplished this we drove to Franz Josef to book in to our hostel/motel and immediately headed out to look at the glacier, as the weather had definitely improved, now sunny with only a little cloud on the tops. Having secured a parking place and after an abortive attempt to reach the Peters Pool viewpoint, which did not seem capable of offering the advertised ‘stunning’ views of the glacier we took to the main access track. We enjoyed the views of the many waterfalls cascading down the sides of the glacial trough and were impressed with the well made track, traversing the fluvio-glacial deposits of the valley floor. Joyce decided not to undertake the last few hundred metres climb to the viewpoint for the snout of the glacier but Eric pressed on to the lower viewpoint. The snout here is very dirty, with lots of surface moraine, and there is an extensive section of ice cored moraine, where stagnant ice, left behind by retreat, has been observed by the insulating sediment cover. Above this section the clean, heavily crevasses ice fall is very impressive, as is the waterfall flowing into the ice from the valley side.

We strolled back to the car, stopped to admire the one lane main road bridge across the outwash plain, visited St James’ church, with its chancel windows overlooking the river, then found a restaurant for an excellent pizza and salad.

 

Monday 29th December 2014. Day 112   Helicopter horizons

It had rained heavily overnight and continued to rain as we got up at 7am and ate breakfast. Our helicopter trip was booked for 10am but rather than being told later that it was not going to happen we pre-empted the decision by phoning the company to rearrange the flight. We then tried to rearrange the trip to the Herons, which initially was not possible, but after some toing and froing we had a workable programme, herons at 11.15am and helicopter at 2.15pm, check in for both 15 minutes before.

This left us some time in hand so we visited the local Wildlife Centre to see their kiwis. These were ‘rowi’ only identified as a separate species in 1995 and the most threatened kiwi. By virtue of a tracking, egg retrieval and captive hatching programme, the rowi numbers are increasing as the chicks are protected from predation by stoats, cats, rats and dogs, when they are released into the wild on a predator free island, when they are mature enough to survive independently.

Travelling the 20 minutes back to Whataroa we arrived in good time for our tour. A minibus took us to the river bank where a jet boat took us downriver for 20 minutes to a boardwalk which led to a hide directly opposite the heron nests. Although the trip involved a jet boat Joyce’s mind had been set at rest by the description of that portion of the trip as being ‘sedate’. In the event the boat ride was exhilarating, with high speed traverses of rapids, round tight bends and through narrow gaps but without the spins that had affected her before. The behaviour of the Paradise ducks, flying ahead of the boat to lure us away from their ducklings, proved a dramatic accompaniment and we also saw some Pukeko, the flightless blue feathered, red billed bird. Travelling through the pristine rain forest was a really beautiful experience.

The hide offered excellent views of the heron, still with their mating finery of long tail feathers. These had almost led to this population’s destruction as they proved irresistible to Victorian ladies as millinery decoration. The herons were brooding or tending already hatched chicks and proved a delight to watch. Also present were Royal spoonbills, with their distinctive plume, and cormorants.

Our tour ended well on time and we were back in Franz Josef in time to book in for the helicopter at 2.00pm, in pouring rain from low clouds. It came as no surprise to be told that flights were on hold. With two hours yet to travel we could not wait too long but a potential solution was offered as the company also flew from Fox Glacier and we could transfer our booking to their 4.30pm flight. We had little hope of the weather improving, but switched the booking, with the understanding that our voucher could be used at two other points on our tour, Queenstown and Mt Cook, or fully refunded if not used.

As we drove south the rain continued but let up as we got to Fox glacier. We had an hour to fill so decided to get a ground level view of the glacier. From the car park we walked up the steeper track and caught a glimpse of the icefall. Joyce decided the remaining climb to the viewpoint would take her too long, so Eric speedily pressed on alone and enjoyed the view of a steep, moraine free snout, with the meltwater stream issuing from an ice cave.

Returning in time, we found the helicopter office and booked in, with three other passengers. A short minibus ride took us to the airfield where our helicopter was waiting. We were soon strapped in, with headphones on, and took off towards Franz Josef. Looking up there was still a layer of cloud which suggested that our views would be limited. Climbing over a ridge the glacier lay beneath us in all its glory, bathed in bright sunshine from an almost clear sky. We flew up the 11 kilometre long glacier, with clear views of the dramatic icefalls with their seracs plus the waterfall we had seen from the valley floor. As we climbed to the cirque the full extent of the snowfields were revealed with clear views of the aretes, knife edged ridges, with steep rock faces and frost shattered pinnacles. Climbing over the headwall of a cirque we then saw the 26 kilometre Tasman Glacier in all its glory, we had not realised we would see this, the longest glacier in NZ. We then crossed the Murchison valley and landed on a snowpatch which gave us uninterrupted views of cloud free Mt Tasman, Mt Seaton and, directly in front of us, Mt Cook set against a brilliant blue sky. After time for photographs we reboarded the helicopter and headed towards Mt Cook, traversing its glacier and crossing the eastern col. A swing around the northern face brought us over the Fox glacier and we travelled down its 13 kilometre length with clear views of crevasses and moulins with parties of glacier walkers. The pilot took us in a circuit for clear views of the Victoria waterfall, before returning to the airfield, with views of the outwash plain and the one lane bridge.

On landing we were transferred back to the office and swiftly found our car. We still had a long drive ahead so we pushed on towards Haast. We stopped for some coastal photo opportunities, notably at Knight’s Point, where the stacks were illuminated in the setting sun. The stop was brief as we were driven back to the car by the prolific sand flies.

We crossed the Haast river by the longest one lane bridge in New Zealand, with two passing bays, and continued towards Jackson Bay. We found our motel accommodation, where we had been upgraded to a two bedroom property. Miles from anywhere Joyce used the kitchenette to produce a delicious Spanish omelette.

Tuesday 30th December 2014. Day 113   Waterfall wonders

This morning petrol again was a priority. Eric ignored the sign indicating last petrol for 88 kilometres, reasoning that there must be petrol in Haast, which proved to be a wrong decision. We retraced our steps to the petrol station and bit the bullet of the price, $2.16 a litre, although not completely filling the tank. We then headed into Mt Aspiring National Park and the Haast Pass. It was again raining as we drove up into the mountains. We sped past the first scenic attraction, as it was poorly sign posted. Turning in a layby we spotted a waterfall across the valley, which turned out to be the Roaring Billy Falls. Returning to the designated car park it turned out that it was a one kilometre walk to see the falls. Joyce was happy having seen them from a distance but Eric decided to take a closer look. A pleasant walk through bush forest, dripping in the continued rain, brought him to a viewpoint overlooking the main river, coloured a beautiful azure blue, with its extensive gravel deposits. Across the valley there was a clear view of the falls. Tripping over a tree root and almost falling down some steep steps reminded Eric of the need for care in such solo expeditions.

Back in the car we resumed our travels and reached Thunder Creek falls, close to the road. These proved a dramatic sight, although our time was again cut short by the unwelcome attention of the dreaded flies.

Our third waterfall stop was at Fantail Falls, where we learnt the importance of following the signed path rather than making assumptions. We walked beside the river and finally found the falls, again on a tributary into the now much smaller Haast river.

As we drove further the valley closed in and we stopped at Haast Gate bridge to admire the rush of water through a narrow rock channel. A short distance further on we stopped to look at Trickle one and two, two smaller waterfalls incised into the rock wall right next to the road.

We finally crested the pass and began our descent towards Queenstown. A pause to use the facilities at Cameron Flats then a lunchtime coffee at Makaroa North brought us to the drive along Lake Wanaka, with a number of photo stops in an increasingly vicious wind. Crossing the divide led to the beauties of Lake Hawes, with its spectacular mountain backdrop.

The road then passed through the town of Wanaka where we sought out the Cinema Paradiso, as recommended by Clare and Ed. This cinema, bar and café offers its film viewing patrons a choice of sofas and lazy boys on which to sit while watching a film and enjoying their food.

We found that we had arrived just in time to catch a screening of Mr Turner, starring Timothy Spall, a biopic covering the last years of the life of JMW Turner and directed by Mike Leigh. This proved to be a fascinating film, visually rich, capturing some of the inspirations for his more famous paintings, and with excellent performances. It even had an interval, allowing us to enjoy Fish and Chips (chocolate) and Paddington’s Marmalade ice cream.

We left Wanaka at 6.20pm and headed across the Crown Ranges to Queenstown. Driving the narrow twisty road to the pass we saw the Rhythm and Alps festival site, with music lovers gathering for a New Year’s gig. The side of the road and the stream banks were festooned with beautiful swathes of lupins in a variety of colours including yellows, pinks, blues and purples. These petered out before the hairpin bends rising to the pass so Eric could not use the line that we were almost lupin the loop or lacking a magnifying glass lupin the loupe .

From the pass we could see Queenstown and Lake Wakitipu laid out before us within its mountain frame. A short drive, with equally steep and tortuous bends brought us to the north of Queenstown to Arthur’s Point and our accommodation in the Top 10 Shotover Holiday Park we were soon ensconced in our self contained cabin. Too tired to go out to eat we resorted to our emergency rations, with macaroni cheese for Eric and creamed rice and peaches for Joyce, before falling into bed.

 

Wednesday 31st December 2014. Day 114. New night

We had planned in some recovery time and enjoyed a slow start this morning. At 11.30am we decided to drive into Queenstown to recce restaurants for tonight and to find out where our lake cruise departed. We also needed to do some food shopping. Entering Queenstown we found the roads almost gridlocked and after a fruitless cruise around a car park we were fortunate to find an on street parking space just outside it. The weather was still dismal and we were wrapped up against the rain. We strolled to the waterfront, examining restaurant menus and checking if they took bookings. In the event it was the first restaurant we had visited that we booked. We also found the ticket office for the TSS Earnslaw and obtained our bearding passes for tonight.

Driving back up Gorge Road we found the supermarket and a parking place. We stocked up for the next few days before returning, via a photo stop at the Shotover Canyon, then had a bacon sandwich lunch and a quiet afternoon, with Eric blogging and Joyce sleeping.

At 5.40 pm we headed back into Queenstown in the rain. Surprisingly traffic was lighter and we found a parking space in an off road car park we had spotted, next to where we had parked this morning, which was free after 6.00pm. We sat in the car for 15 mins, until the rain eased a little and visited the Village Green, with its information boards on Queenstown’s history. We visited St Peter’s Anglican church where we lit a candle to give thanks for 2014 and pray for a joyous and blessed 2015. We then had a short foray into the gardens on the peninsula next to the beach. We reached the restaurant at 7.00 pm, the time we had booked and were given a secluded table with a view of the village green. Joyce enjoyed rack of lamb followed by triple chocolate dessert, while Eric had rump steak and sticky date and toffee pudding. The weather outside was frightful so we stayed in the shelter of the restaurant and enjoyed a coffee after the meal.

At 9.10pm we ventured out into a dry spell and explored some more of Queenstown, including the location of the cable car. As the rain swept in again across the lake we sheltered in the Steamer Quay complex to await the arrival of the steamship. Built in 1912 she offered a comprehensive passenger and freight service along the lake, serving Queenstown and the surrounding wool stations. She could carry 1,050 passengers and 100 tons of freight (400 sheep or 200 bales of wool or 90 cattle).

At 10.00 pm the ship returned from an earlier cruise, emerging from the curtains of rain. Having docked and disembarked its passengers it was our turn to board, being welcomed with a glass of champagne and canapes. The cruise took us northwards through the driving rain to Frankston and then back. The lights of the settlements were glittering as we cruised past, enjoying the live music and joining in with classics such as American Pie. Eric enjoyed the visit to the engine room to see the twin boiler, twin-screw propulsion system.

At 11.50 pm we tied up at the quay and stood outside, the rain having stopped, near the bow at the starboard rail, gazing expectantly towards where we hoped fireworks would erupt at midnight. On the waterfront a large crowd had gathered, despite the earlier downpour, entertained from two stages by live music. As the countdown to midnight reached zero the sky was illuminated by a coruscating series of aerial fireworks which lasted for a good 15 minutes. It was a spectacular display and we had a grandstand view as the launching barge was directly opposite our position.

Once the display had finished we worked our way back to the car through throngs of happy revellers, who were clearly going to party for a long time yet. Our car park was well positioned for a quick and easy departure, avoiding the gridlock of the centre, and we were soon back in our cabin. Thinking of our loved ones, we sent off some emails with our best wishes for a Happy New Year before settling to sleep at 1.30 pm.

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