Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Wet

Leaving Wanaka, the winds are fierce, especially at the lakefront.


We pass the summit 



and then on to an old historic town of Arrowtown where we walk through the main street and stop briefly to shop for knitting wool. Always ambitious to improve my knitting, I purchase yarn to make scarves. 
      Queenstown has grown considerably since our last visit, visible in the traffic jams and density of housing. We visit the Bird Park to see kiwis up close. This facility serves to rehabilitate and conserve birds such as kiwis, keas and other bird species. There are a few kiwis housed inside  with the goal to breed and return them to protected  areas. Kiwis have a lifespan of 50-60 years and are raised for 10 before being released. We see a kiwi under red lights, mimicking night. No photography is allowed. We learn that the kea, who does indeed look naughty, is a very mischievous bird that favors attacking rubber, such as on cars in public spaces!


 Rain has been falling for most of the day and a steady downpour increases as we near Te Anau. Rain is predicted for the next few days unfortunately. Can you believe this continues to be the wettest summer on record?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mt. Cook

     Blue skies and warmer temperatures, perfect for a day trip to Mt Cook and its surrounding lakes. The 2 1/2 drive from Wanaka passes through tan and yellow canyons and high rolling hills, the only vegetation - bushy yellow grasses. On the side of the road, we do a doubletake and u-turn, seeing thousands of bras hanging along a long stretch of fence. It is to bring awareness and to raise funds for breast cancer-very clever!




     The information center at Twizel has a salmon shop, featuring locally farmed salmon. We buy some cold smoked salmon for lunch. A few minutes later, the view in front of us is breathtaking, a turquois blue Lake Pukaki shimmering in the sun, and at the opposite end, the base of the Mt Cook range covered in snow. Lake Pukaki is fed by the glacial waters of the Tasman River and Tasman Glacier. We find a side road to the campground and have our lunch overlooking the blue waters. 




     The village of Mt. Cook is about 30 min away. Along the way we stop at a lavendar field to take photos, which remind us of Provence. At the edge of the field , we strike up a conversation with a British couple and hear their romantic tale. Maggie and George are making their second trip around the world. Together for 7 years now, they were reunited after 50 years apart. George had chosen his other girlfriend over Maggie and she was heartbroken. Maggie has recently written a book, Loves Me, Loves Me Not, chronicling their rekindled relationship which started when George came across an old photo of Maggie at age 15 and went in search of her. He posted a birthday message with his email and they found eachother, divorced their spouses, and have been travelling since. Never mind that their kids don't speak to them; they are happily travelling 10 months out of each year. We promise to look up her book.


     Mt. Cook has several trails and we hike 2 short ones, one of which overlooks Tasman Glacier. Along the way, we hear a crash and look up to see an avalanche of snow tumbling off the cliff. We all agree that it must be terrifying to be on a mountain during an avalanche.



The sun is beginning to set on our way back and Lake Pukaki is a bit more reflective. 


     We stop for dinner at Poppies in Twizel and enjoy a fabulous meal. Twizel, incidentally, was the location for the Lord of the Rings Battle of the Pelennor Fields with thousands of Orcs transported to this tiny town. The grassy plains were Rohan in Return of the King and the mountains provided the backdrop in the opening scenes of The Two Towers. We decide that we must see the movie again to identify these NZ sights.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Walking in the Rain

     Snow capped peaks, beautiful lakes and wonderful trails of Mount Aspiring National Park provide a gorgeous setting for Wanaka. We wake to very gusty winds followed by showers and a steady downpour. In true kiwi fashion, we brave the weather, don rainpants, ponchos and boots and hike through the lush forest to the Blue Pools and Cameron Creek. On our drive back, the skies clear and Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea are beautifully colored. This is sheep country and freshly shorn sheep are everywhere. We chuckle to see a long line of sheep trotting quickly, following eachother across the pasture to some unknown destination. 






     We brave the very crowded supermarket, emerging with dinner fixings. It is a fine dinner of grilled lamb, vegetables and potatoes, which impresses us all. Even in the smallest of towns, food is extremely fresh and unadulterated. We find prepared foods to be much less sweet and of higher quality than the US. I find the lamb here to be superb!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Glaciers

the      The town of Franz Josef Glacier consists of a few motels, restaurants and a large gravel bed helioport to take tourists up to the glacier. We opt for a 3 mile walk through the wide glacial canyon rimmed by tall cliffs and ribbons of waterfalls. The walk ends at what used to be the terminus of Franz Josef Glacier, which shockingly has retreared considerably since our last visit almost a decade ago. I look at the remaining stretch of blue streaked ice and am disturbed at the thought that our granddaughter Zoe may not grow up seeing glaciers like this.







     I am surprised by the number of tourists from China- even the motel has a version of the town map printed all in Chinese. The restaurants even offer a variety of Asian street foods which are quite good. I later read that New Zealand has made a concerted effort to woo tourists from China, offering end to end travel packages with a focus on providing a great experience. Last year during the "golden week" of Chinese New Year, they saw 50,000 Chinese tourists, an increase of 40% from the previous february. We make note to add these dates to our list of weeks to avoid.
     Our visit here is short and we head out of town toward Fox Glacier and do a short walk at Lake Matheson. It is quite windy and we miss seeing the reflections it is known for. 
     Today is our long driving day as we are heading to Wanaka. We drive through the mountain pass and past the "neck", the strip of land that separates Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, both enormous bodies of emerald colored waters, pristine and totally natural. No dams here. We are amazed that there is no development around either of the lakes; the lakes are void of boats and people. 
     We find the apartment complex and a minimart, and gather enough supplies for a simple dinner. Distinctive Wanaka, resort apartments are comfortable and well equipped. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Kiwi Spotting

   We leave Greymouth under cloudy skies and head south along the coast, stopping in the historic and quaint downtown of Hokitika, an old gold mining town that now consists of local craft studios.


     We watch greenstone being carved into beautiful Maori designs. In the middle of town is a possum goods store with everything possum- slippers, blankets, socks, gloves etc. Possum fur is incredibly soft and I can't stop feeling the pillows and fur hats. On the back table are hundreds of possum skins stacked up waiting to be sewn. I am horrified by the thought that animals are being trapped for their skin, thinking how mink stoles were so popular in the '50's. I am told that possums like rodents are predators of birds and are being baited with poisons in the preserves in order to control their population. I'm still not quite sure but maybe it is ok?



     Down the street is a yarn store selling possum/merino wool yarn.  This unique shop has a collection of old sock knitting machines, mostly from England, Canada and the US. The back room holds several large spinning looms, for possum fur I imagine. 
     





     Our next stop is Okarito Lagoon, one of New Zealand's largest wetlands and home of the kiwi. We wander through the dense forest and walk across the wetland boardwalk. No kiwi here.





     After checking into our motel in Franz Josef Glacier, we decide to go back to Okarito to do some kiwi spotting. These nocturnal birds come out to feed at night and can often be spotted crossing the road after dark. We walk along the road and think we hear one calling but are not successful in seeing one but it is fun nevertheless.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lush and Wet

     The west side of the south island is incredibly lush but also very wet. it reminds me of the road to Hana on the island of Maui. Rain has been in the forecast every day alternating between mist, showers and very brief moments of blue sky. We are glad we have brought rain jackets, rain pants and hiking boots. Many of the trails in this area are closed due to mudslides, flooding and muddy conditions. We spend part of the morning at the mouth of the Grey River as it enters Greymouth, watching the striong surf crashing on the breaker walls. 
     We follow the scenic coast road north winding our way uphill and into the very lush canyon with huge ferns and dense vegetation lining the cliffs, and thin waterfalls flowing in every direction we look. 



     Our destination today is Paparoa National Park, 115 sq miles containing the coastal settlement of Punakaiki and its dramatic Pancake rocks and blowholes. These bands of limestone separated by thin bands of mudstone appear as layered formations. Deep caverns have been formed as water has eaten into the cracks, forming blowholes that shoot plumes of spray. The low clouds float across the heavily forested cliffs, a mysterious backdrop to this unusual scene. We spend several hours here, watching the explosive plumes and rivelets of milky froth run down the canyon walls.





     From there we head further north to the Fox River. The walking trail leads us into a dark jungle like forest before deep pools prevent further access. 



     We turn back to find Ray trying his hand at fly fishing. The wet weather causes us to turn back to Greymouth. 
     We are enjoying the very fresh lamb in New Zealand and in three days have tried lamb chops, rack of lamb and lamb shanks. It has all been delicious.







Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Slip

     Summer mornings are delightful and as we walk into the botanic garden, the canopy of trees above us is alive with the sounds of birds chirping. In the creek, ducks forage for their breakfast with tail ends sticking up out of the water. I am eager to photograph dahlias in the morning light and spend an hour studying their intricate designs and contrasting colors. I am captivated by a bee, working so diligently to extract nectar that it ignores my camera lens, practically on top of it. 





     The storms that were predicted, never materialized, and we venture onto Arthur's Pass with hopes that the journey across will be smooth. The plains give way to silty cliffsides and mountaintops with a rare glimpse of snow as we climb in elevation. Outside the wind gusts are strong and we do not dally over our picnic lunch at Lake Pearson.


     We stop at Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall and hike to its base, a misty torrent of water that cascades to form a milky river tumbling over grey boulders. The beech forest reminds me of Chinese paintings with their layered foliage. 





     From there, we drive over the Arthur's Pass summit at 3,000 ft. and find the western side to be lush and the cliffs dripping with water. We are now 20 miles from the "slip" or landslide. The road is open for 10 min. on the hour, and our timing is impecable as we only have to wait for 2-3 min. Crews are busy at work clearing the massive mud slide, not surprising as the cliffside is steep and saturated. We are relieved to be past this section of highway and continue to our destination of Greymouth. 



       The most incredibly delicious lamb is found in New Zealand and we enjoy a dinner of rack of lamb tonight. The locals say the weather is completely unpredictable but we have high hopes for tomorrow.