Thursday 1st January 2015. Day 115. Lupin largesse.
We had left the morning clear to allow some recovery time after New Year’s eve but had booked a tour for the afternoon. After a slow start we felt sprightly enough for Eric to remedy a faux pas made on the journey over the Crown Ranges. He had failed to take the myriad hints Joyce was dropping when she commented on the beauty of the lupins along the valley, especially along the stream banks, at each and every turn of the tortuous road and had failed to stop for a photograph at any of them. We therefore retraced our steps towards Cardona, our gps taking us through Arrowtown. As we drove through we were taken by the attractions of the township and resolved to spend some time there.
Ascending the pass we took advantage of some of the laybys to photograph the scenery in the bright morning light, with the nearby mountain tops sprinkled with rapidly melting fresh snow.
As we descended from the pass the lupins, an introduced species, which has proved not as invasive as gorse or broom and which is appreciated for its early summer splashes of colour, became more prolific and we found several parking places allowing us to indulge in some photography of their beauty.
Once we had enough photographs, if you can ever have enough, we returned via the pass. On the way we passed an extreme example of New Zealand’s way of selling cars, ‘Park to Sell’, with an old car parked inside a hairpin bend with ‘For Sale’ on its windscreen. At Arrowtown we felt we did not have time to do it justice so returned to our cabin for lunch. At 1.00pm we headed for reception for our pick up for the visit to Glenorchy and some Lord of the Rings locations. Our guide was waiting for us and we settled into a 4×4 for the trip. We collected 4 more people as we drove through Queenstown and headed to the northern limit of Lake Wakatipu. On the way we stopped at a number of viewpoints to admire the scenery, and our guide, with aid of photographs, identified the locations of scenes from the films identified by the distinctive mountain backdrop. We were also told the Maori legend of the origin of the lake, which given its distinctive plan form, represents the indentation made by the cremating alive of a giant during the rescue of a chief’s kidnapped daughter. However, despite the almost complete incineration, the giant’s heart still beats in the lake, as evidenced by the 6inch rise and fall of lake level over a twenty minute cycle when the lake is absolutely still. This phenomena had been observed by our guide who had been told it was the result of a resonance within the very long lake linked to the earth’s spin. At the northern end of the lake we admired pigeon, pig and tree islands, the latter without a tree in sight.
A short drive through Glenorchy to admire the church, miniscule library and pier, with its short railway line, led to a brief toilet stop after which we headed out on gravel roads to enjoy the beauties of the area. We stopped to look at the fringes of Fangorn and the setting for Isengaard, plus a location from Wolverine. We then stopped for refreshment in the forest, with its carpet of golden leaves, typical of the scenes of Galadriel’s realm.
Retracing our steps we made one more stop at the location where Frodo and Sam overlooked the elephants. Returning to our cabin Joyce cooked a brace of pork chops with vegetables for dinner.
Friday 2nd January 2015. Day 116 Luge luncheon
We had no formal plans for today so decided that lunch in the restaurant at the top of the cable car would be a nice end to our time in Queenstown. A phone call secured a booking for 1.00pm, giving us a few hours to fill. It therefore seemed appropriate to visit Arrowtown, before making our way to the cable car. Unfortunately we were slower than planned leaving, which did not give us quite enough time to enjoy all the delights of the town.
A 20 minute drive brought us to Arrowtown where we finally found a car parking spot close to the river. We enjoyed a stroll down the main street, with its mix of older buildings now housing an interesting range of shops, including an excellent patchwork shop which caught Joyce’s attention. The museum proved irresistible and we much enjoyed its excellent displays of the history of the area. We then headed for the jail, an upmarket establishment from 1878, before visiting the reconstructed Chinese village, based on historical and archaeological evidence. As we drove out we stopped to admire St Andrew’s Presbyterian church, with its tale.fine redwoods flanking the gate.
It was now well past 12 pm and we needed to check in at 12.30pm. Fortunately the traffic was relatively light so we arrived at the cable carpark at 12.38pm, to find it chock a block. Eric dropped Joyce, who joined the ticket queue while he explored the parking potential of the surrounding streets, to no avail. He finally found the Main Street multi-storey car park and left the car, reaching Joyce, now at the head of the ticket queue, at 1.45pm.
Our booking was registered so after paying we joined the shorter queue for the gondolas and were soon being whisked along the avenue of trees, soaring over the steep slopes above Queenstown. Arriving at the top station we took some photographs before returning to the restaurant, where we were ushered to a window table, reset for us, with glorious views of the lake and the Remarkables range of mountains. These were so named because they are orientated perfectly north-south. Our table also offered clear views of the intrepid souls undertaking a bungee jumps. We very much enjoyed the buffet lunch of prime New Zealand foods.
After lunch we strolled up the hill behind the restaurant, watching the large numbers of people enjoying the luge track. The afternoon was sunny, despite the forecast so we decided that as we were there, and the luge looking so much fun, that we really should have a go. We joined the queue for the chair lift, collecting our helmets, and enjoyed the short ride to the start of the track. Having paid for our ride we were directed to the blue or scenic track as this was our first descent. We were given clear instructions as to driving the device, which runs on four wheels, with a central control wheel between the front two, offering steering and braking.
Once properly trained we headed off down the windy track, round embarked curves and through tunnels, at what seemed breakneck speeds. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience but despite the repeated adverts, for us, once was enough. Having enjoyed the ride we returned to Queenstown where we spent a little time walking the streets before returning to our cabin, where we enjoyed a snack supper and watched the current Royal Variety Show. New Zealand TV only has three free view channels and a very limited range of programmes, the best being British ones.
Saturday 3rd January 2015. Day 117 Glittering glowworms
We took our time vacating the cabin as we only had a short drive today. Leaving at 10.00 am we refuelled, redeeming some points from the AA superfuel card, and drove out of Queenstown heading south along the lake. We resisted the attractions of Frankton’s shopping mall and headed for the open road, stopping at various viewpoints, including Halfway lookout, to enjoy the sweep of the lake and mountain scenery. We drove into Kingston to the foot of the lake, but found little of interest apart from the Kingston Flyer railway station and some rolling stock.
Continuing our journey we drove through wide glacial valleys with flats floors, used for pastoral farming, including deer. On some farms huge old tree stumps had been collected and used as field boundaries. This part of the journey replicated our usual experience of road kill, mainly possums, but in this area they were not flattened but laid out almost intact by the side of the road! The possum, introduced for a potential fur industry, are one of the most damaging alien species with over 40 million estimated to exist throughout the country. There is an ongoing attempt of control by baited poison, the infamous 1080 poison, by the Department of Conservation. In the light of this flattened possums are seen as a cause for celebration by the locals. We have also seen a number of stoats which, along with ferrets and weasels, were introduced to try to control the introduced rabbits.
We drove through Garston, Athol and Five Rivers before stopping for lunch at Mossberg, but the café food was not inspiring so we just had coffee and a date scone. The remainder of the route led us through the Red Tussock Conservation Area, with its distinctive and scenically beautiful, wait for it, red Tussock grass and the Wilderness Scientific Reserve, where a relict ecosystem based on bog pine still exists on the more arid outwash material. Fluvio-glacial deposits were much in evidence, with an excellent example of an outwash plain and attendant collapse bedding. The whole route was edged by views of beautiful mountain ranges.
Driving into Te Anau we stopped immediately and enjoyed a chicken schnitzel lunch at the Fat Duck café and took an orientation walk along the main street before checking into the hotel. At 5.00pm we walked along the lake, Joyce returning to the centre for some grocery shopping before returning for a luxuriating long bath and a relaxing evening while Eric headed for the Real Journeys visitors centre to check in for the visit to the Glowworm caves.
At 5.45pm the catamaran departed for the run along Te Anau lake to the caves. Passing through the islands at the mouth of South Fjord we soon reached the jetty and visitor’s hut. The visitors were split into smaller groups and Eric was in the fifth group to visit the caves. A short and lower section of the Aurora cave system it contains an underground stream, complete with waterfalls, but little in the way of cave deposits. The Oligocene limestone is relatively thinly bedded and interbedded with thin layers of sandstone. The initial 250 metres is along a metal path way, initially headroom is only just over a meter, with clear views of the tall but narrow passage. The sound of the waterfall is deafening in the confined space. The water flow has created beautifully fluted rock forms, waterfalls with well defined plunge pools, with vortical water flow. At the end of the walkway, where the stream has been dammed to create a deeper pool, the party boarded a small boat, sitting back to back. In places the boat brushes the wall of the passage and headroom is limited. In total darkness the boat is pulled by the guide through the tunnel, passing a second party en route. The ceiling is alight with the glow from the larvae, creating a stellar display. The older, hungrier larvae glow brightest while between them are clusters of fainter lights from the more recently hatched larvae. The larvae are fiercely territorial, detaching or even eating competitors that get too close. In the darkness it was impossible to see the 12/14 filaments with their droplets of incapacitating fluid beneath each larva, used to trap waterborne insects washed into the cave and which see the glows as the night sky and hence freedom.
All too soon the boat was back at the dock and we made our way back to the jetty for the return trip along the late. Back the hotel we enjoyed a light supper before sleep.
Sunday 4th January 2015. Day 118 Magnificent Milford
We had transferred to Te Anau to avoid the longer return coach trip from Queenstown on our Milford Sound excursion and because it fitted into the southward flow of our journey. As a result we had a welcome late start this morning, being collects from the hotel by minibus at 9.50am for transfer to the coach from Queenstown. We left Te Anau at 10.15pm and headed along the side of the lake, offering views of the route Eric had travelled the evening before. In the distance the Southern Alps, with snow patched peaks, offered an enticing view. We passed the jetty which is the starting point of the four day Milford Sound walking track and crossed Te Anau Downs, covered with white flowered Manuka plants, the tea tree, used to counter scurvy by Captain Cook, to brew an interesting beer according to our guide, honey and for smoking food. The road climbed as we entered the Fjordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest and a World Heritage site since 1986. The lower slopes are a natural indigenous beech woodland containing the four varieties, with Southern beech dominating at lower levels.
Driving along the Eglington valley we stopped on the river flats for a photo opportunity along the glacial trough. This was followed by a visit to Mirror Lakes, right next to the road, with the classic mirror image of the mountains in its still waters, ruffled only by a light breeze and the passage of ducks. Despite this in the sunshine the reflections were stunning. A short toilet stop at Knob’s Creek allowed more photography.
The road then climbed over the divide into the west coast with even more dramatic glacial scenery, dominated by bare and vertical rock faces, scree and waterfalls. Cirques and hanging valleys abounded and we began to catch glimpses of cirque glaciers hanging above the valley floor. A short stop at an alpine stream allowed for a refreshing drink and a sighting of the inquisitive Kea. We stopped for the red light at the beginning of Homer tunnel and were allowed off the coach until the two minute wait mark, again cameras were working overtime and we were entertained by the exploratory antics of another Kea, although the bag’s owner did not seem well pleased. The Milford Sound route had been part of the Government works in response to the Depression and the Homer tunnel was started in 1929, breaking through in 1940 and open for regular traffic in 1956. A single track tunnel, through quartzite and granite, with traffic at high season controlled by lights, it is an engineering marvel, descending at 1 in 10 to emerge halfway up a cirque backwall at the other side of the mountain.
The whole of this section of the route faces avalanche hazard in winter and is often closed for days. On emerging from the tunnel into the sunlight the sight of the immense cirque and steep glacial trough evince a feeling of awe. A little way down the road we stopped for the short walk to the Chasm with its waterfall, deep gorge and multiple potholes, some large enough to trap tree trunks. On entering the settlement we had a clear view of the Arthur Valley and Sandfly point, the end of the Milford track. No need to ask how the point got its name as the sandfly (blackfly) is a ubiquitous nuisance. In Maori legend it was created by the goddess who made the Sound to discourage the Maori from living in the area, entranced by its beauty too long.
Arriving at Milford Wharf we boarded the Pride of Milford catamaran for the 90 minute cruise. We had booked a buffet lunch, which we ate as the boat left the jetty, although Eric’s meal was intermittent as he kept leaving the table to take photographs. Once we had drunk our coffee we spent the rest of the cruise on the top observation deck, this had a wind shield which effectively reduced the wind and made being on deck much more comfortable for Joyce.
Milford Sound, originally Milford Haven, was the last of the 14 fjords to be found and was named by its 19th century Welsh discoverer, albeit already known by the Maori. It should rightly be called Milford Fjord, as a Sound technically is a drowned river valley while this is unequivocally a drowned glacial trough. The views from the boat are stunning and one is dwarfed by the immensity of the rock masses around you, falling vertically into the water. In places there are overhangs, marking the stages of trough development over repeated glaciations and dramatic hanging valleys. The Fjord is renowned for waterfalls, especially during rain, but the hydrology is very sensitive to rainfall and many water falls stop a couple of hours after the rain stops. Today, on a relatively sunny day therefore there were fewer waterfalls but the views of the Fjord were much enhanced by the sunshine. We were very impressed by the Lady Bowen waterfall, the highest permanent waterfall at 161 metres, close to the Dick and the Stifling Falls, second highest at 155 metres and which the boat’s bows almost touched, dousing us with spray, on the return leg of the trip.
The views of Mitre Peak and Mount Pembroke were stunning and we enjoyed viewing the Southern fur seals resting on the southern and northern rocks near the narrowest part of the fjord. The boat took us out into the Tasman Sea, before turning back off St Anne’s Point. This allowed us to appreciate how Captain Cook could have twice missed the narrow entrance, given the dog leg turn near its mouth.
On our return journey we stopped briefly in Harrison Cove to drop off visitors to the Discovery Centre, then returned to the jetty. Once back on the coach we headed back up the same road, with a pause to drop two passengers at the airport for their scenic flight back to Queenstown. The return trip was about 90 minutes without stops and a minibus waited to take us back to the hotel, where we enjoyed a snack supper and TV films.
Monday 5th January 2015. Day 119. Lakeland leisure
We had nothing specifically planned for today so spent a leisurely morning in our room catching up with ourselves and planning a few more trips we had yet to book. Eric also used the opportunity to catch up with last few days blog.
After a snack lunch, Eric is getting through the kilogram of cheese bought in Queenstown, we headed out to book the Stewart Island day at the Real Journeys office on the lakefront. Before we started in that direction we had a look at our end of the lake and popped into the Fjordlands National Park Visitor’s Centre, with its small but interesting display on the region. Once this visit was concluded we spent some time sitting on a bench on the lake shore, soaking up some sun and enjoying the view.
The booking was successful and our next port of call was the Fjordland Cinema to watch Shadowlands, Fjordland from the air. The cinema was purpose built to show this 30 minute film, without narration but with an evocative musical sound track, which shows the stupendous scenery of the area filmed from helicopters. It was a beautiful film and held us enrapt for the full half hour.
On leaving the cinema we did a small shop then returned to the hotel via the park. A little later we walked back to town for dinner. We enjoyed our main courses, Eric steak and Joyce chicken and cashew salad, but were disappointed by our home cooked dessert of Pavlova, invented in New Zealand, it was nothing like the lovely crisp home cooked Pavlovas at home, but more like the dense frozen Pavlova and meringue desserts