Month: February 2014

Rainforest and glaciers

It rained all night and into the early morning. Actually it poured, the kind of rain that drums loudly through your sleep. It has poured off and on all day and is doing so again now. Kate just left in the car to pick up Brian and Jim who went to the store in search of our supper. We decided we didn’t want them or our groceries to be soaked.

This morning, Jim and Kate were lucky that the rain held off long enough for them to have a magnificent helicopter ride to view Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers and Mount Cook and to have a glacier landing. The photos Kate took of the ice look like paintings.

Fox Glacier crevasses making art

Fox Glacier crevasses making art

Brian and I went for a two hour rainforest walk to view the Fox Glacier terminal face from the forest. We walked uphill for an hour and ten minutes admiring and taking photos of ferns and moss and the base of huge trees that in many cases appeared to be made of several trees with tunnels under them. It was good that there was a well maintained gravel path to follow because there was certainly no way to take any shortcuts into the thick undergrowth. We saw one small bird a few times and heard but did. It see a large bird, most likely a kea, a parrot-like bird.

Swing bridge crossing a raging river to dense rainforest

Swing bridge crossing a raging river to dense rainforest

Our return walk was in pouring rain. The rainforest canopy helped shelter us somewhat but I practically ran across the suspension bridge as it was very windy and I was feeling wet and chilled. Poor Brian is suffering from a cold with a bad cough and the weather did not improve his condition. We wore rain jackets but should have packed our rain pants.

This afternoon the four of us went for an hour and a half walk rainforest walk around Lake Matheson, reputedly a great place to glimpse reflections of Mount Cook. We wonder how many minutes in any given week a person would be able to photograph Mount Cook being reflected in the lake. We suspect it is often hidden in clouds as it was today.

Spaghetti and salad are on the menu tonight. We have had the heater on in the apartment last night and all day today. The first day we have worn long pants and long sleeves. During supper the sun came out and displayed Mount Cook. We drove 10 kilometres down the road for a better view and to see the sunset. We sat at the roadside and talked to a big brown bull in the field

Pounamu and possums

Sad to leave our lovely accommodations at Steeples Cottages. Bruce was such a great host and the place was extra comfortable, the garden restful and I loved the open window view of the garden from my shower! I guess that’s why when we were a couple of hundred metres down the road Jim was hunting for his sunglasses just so we could go back for one last good-bye. Bruce was in the driveway with sunglasses in hand.

Downtown Hokitika where the possum-merino wool products are incredibly soft.

Downtown Hokitika where the possum-merino wool products are incredibly soft.

We headed south on highway 6, passing Punakaiki without stopping, and made our way to Greymouth, the largest town on the west coast at 13,500 people…huge! There we had our cappuccino with savouries or sweets and chatted with a local on the Mawhera Quai about the history of this gold mining town turned to coal mining. The coal that is not used in New Zealand is shipped to Japan via Auckland.

Isn't that a structurally interesting tree?

Isn’t that a structurally interesting tree?

Onwards we passed through pastureland once inhabited by sheep or deer, now occupied by cows to export milk to China.   Between Greymouth and Hokitika, pounamu or greenstone, also known as nephrite jade is found along the beaches by people who know how to discover it. In Hokitika, the setting for the good novel, The Luminaries, we checked out shops that sold jade items and wool made of merino and possum, but we were loath to part with any money. By the way, NZ possums were introduced from Tasmania and are thriving in NZ. Efforts to get rid of them have reduced the population from 50 million to 30 million. They are much cuter than the rat like version we have in Ontario, and their fur produces soft wool; so, at least somewhat useful.

We crossed many rivers of a glacial blue hue.

We crossed many rivers of a glacial blue hue.

Up into thick rainforest, we stopped at a historic survey site for our picnic lunch before continuing into Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, featured in this month’s National Geographic.

We will soon be having barbecued steak at the Lake Matheson Motel where we have a two bedroom apartment. It’s nothing like our last accommodation but it is central to Fox Glacier walks and helicopter tours. We are hoping the rain forecast for Friday won’t happen.

Much chillier in the mountains. I got to don my new down filled jacket for the first time.

Seals and shore

It is very relaxing sitting on the deck, with my body in the shade and my feet in the sun, listening to the waves crashing below, watching the colourful flowers wave in the gentle breeze. Brian just started the smoker; so, now burning Maluka wood chips add scent to the breeze. Brian fished on the Buller River this morning and caught three Kahawai, a salt water fish. We will have smoked fish to take with us on our journey south tomorrow.

Brian's Kahawai catch

Brian’s Kahawai catch

While Brian fished, Kate, Jim and I hiked to the Cape Foulwind lighthouse and to the seal colony beyond. Our track led us in zigzags up and down along the edge of the cliff above the sea. I think it’s a law in New Zealand that all paths, tracks and roads zigzag up and down.

New Zealand fur seals

New Zealand fur seals

Jim sped ahead of us while Kate and I took photos. I clicked less than normal since my battery needed recharging. The wooden lighthouse which had character has been replaced by a boring concrete one, but all the sea panoramas were magnificent. From our viewing platform, we were able to watch the female seals and their pups lazing and frolicking on the rocks below.

The beach below at low tide

The beach below at low tide

After our six and a half kilometre walk we were ready for toasted tomato sandwiches on the deck. at low tide we were able to walk Gibson’s Beach which is the cove below our accommodations. At high tide you would have to swim across, but the undertow would probably sweep you away.

We are going to the Star Tavern, an easy walk from here, for fish and chips.

Amazing world

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

Wow, what a day! What an amazing world we live in. So much I have not yet dreamed!

I had heard of the pancake rocks at Punakaiki, but I had not imagined what I saw today. Pillars, columns, massive rock formations, layered like stacks of  a hundred or more pancakes, but not just a few, but rather an undulating coastline of towering rock formations with a pathway which led grinning tourists with cameras clicking from one awe-inspiring scene to the next. People could not help but smile, it was so beautiful.

Truman Track Beach

Truman Track Beach

And there in the parking lot, across from the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, were five Bugattis (1924, 1926 vintage). The International Bugatti Rally is happening in New Zealand.

We walked the Truman Track along the shore and felt the edge of the powerful surf rolling in to the finely pebbled shore, marvelled at the changing blue-green of the Tasman Sea as it crashed against huge limestone formations.

Boys with Bugattis

Boys with Bugattis

This afternoon we took on the five hour Underworld Adventure excursion, billed as four hours. We passed the endurance test, the spelunking test and the rafting test and more than earned the whitebait dinner that our host prepared. By 8 PM we were definitely ready for it.

Wearing a two piece “designer” wetsuit, complete with socks, boots, overalls, jackets, gloves and life jacket, we travelled through the river valley by bus then train on a narrow gauge track. Then we walked a path, collected an inner tube, climbed 150 steps, walked and crouched through a cave system admiring stalactites, stalagmites and columns, were introduced to glow-worms, dropped onto our inner tube in an underground river and flowed under a constellation-like ceiling of a million glow-worms. Mesmerizing! Stunning! Unforgettable! After climbing over more rocks, we exited the cave, still carrying an inner tube and plopped down again now in sunshine where we paddled with our hands then rushed over rapids down river until it was time to stagger out, walk, take the train then the bus back to the beginning. Although we were dripping with sweat for much of our tube carrying exercise, by the time we were back on the train and the sun was gone, we were freezing. when we peeled off our suits we could not get into the hot shower fast enough.

Cave adventure

Cave adventure

If you want to see photos of our rafting experience, go to http://www.caverafting.com….Download your photos…choose February 25 …the 2 PM adventure.

Fabulous day!

Mountains, Rivers, Gorges, Heaven

We are the most fortunate people. The winding, twisting road continues, this time, through mountains, river valleys, and gorges to the sea. It is a blue sky day, but cooler, unless you are sitting on the sunny side of the car.

Hope Saddle Lookout

Hope Saddle Lookout

As with each new place we will be coming to, I have had reservations about the reservations I made. A queen room with ensuite and a studio, in a remote area on the west coast. Hmm, will there be cooking facilities, a barbecue? I booked Steeples Cottage and B and B at Cape Foulwind in September. that is a long time ago. Yes, I look it up on the internet, but I was no longer certain about what we would have. I knew that the cottage was unavailable, but I could not remember what we had access to.

Buller Gorge swing bridge...the longest in NZ. Watch out for sand flies!

Buller Gorge swing bridge…the longest in NZ. Watch out for sand flies!

No worries. Bruce met us at the door and welcomed us home. We have a friend in New Zealand! The very comfortable twenty year old bungalow overlooks the Tasman Sea. We have everything at our disposal, a very modern kitchen, comfy leather armchairs and couch, a big outdoor table and chairs, big stainless barbecue, a view looking out to a garden full of flowers with the sea beyond the garden gate. The only caution: Do not go through the gate! The step beyond is one hundred feet straight down to the rock beach below.  The garden is filled with what would be annuals in Canada, but I am sure most are perennials here: cosmos, petunias, begonias, freesia, ageratum, dahlias, borders of agapanthus. I am in my garden! I am at home! We will not be meeting the chief gardener. Pauline is with her daughter who is tending to a medical problem in Christchurch.

A big step down. 500 metres north of Cape Foulwind lighthouse.

A big step down. 500 metres north of Cape Foulwind lighthouse.

Bruce is loquacious. We learn much about New Zealand and discover that he and Brian are kindred spirits. Would you believe that Bruce only has one sibling and married Pauline who is one of nine children. They are about to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. Bruce is a fisherman, likes to cook and do woodworking. Need I say more?

The Stunning Remote Coast

That is how the Abel Tasman Kayaks brochure describes today’s kayaking adventure…and it was stunning, as well as challenging. We went for a full day guided kayak tour in the Tonga Marine Reserve. the southwest winds from Antarctica added a little chill to the air but mostly blew at us forcing us to paddle vigorously. Our guide said the waves were about a foot and a half but we know they were really a metre and a half or so they seemed!

Beach time after lunch

Beach time after lunch

A side note on New Zealand guides: it would appear that the requirements for being a guide is that they be good looking, friendly, and have a good sense of humour as well as knowing how to save us if need be. Fortunately no one needed to be rescued today.

Incredible stone formations all along the coast

Incredible stone formations all along the coast

There were eight of us in four tandem kayaks for the morning then one couple left after a delicious lunch (we made wraps out of roast chicken, salad and potato salad and drank apple juice, coffee and/or hot chocolate) to hike back to Bark Bay. That was their original plan. We carried on, although because of wind and waves, our guide changed our itinerary. We didn’t see as many marine creatures as we might have in a calmer sea, but we still admired blue penguins, NZ fur seals, different types of cormorants, sting rays, gannets and gulls.

Cave exploration

Cave exploration

Now we are sitting in warm sunshine with not a breath of wind and are going to have sausage and scrambled eggs after our plate of green mussels that Brian prepared so well.

Relaxing

Wooden birds more than a metre tall

Wooden birds more than a metre tall

Today is a day of rest. Although our bodies are tuned to rising early, I don’t think Brian got up before 7:30 AM and the rest of us 8 AM and later. We lazed about on the balcony trying to figure out how to secure a kiwi from the kiwi orchard behind us, even though they are not yet ripe, but they look ripe. Brian suggested using his fishing rod, but in the end we just admired the brave who were hang gliding beyond the orchard.

We walked to downtown Motueka to see what was there, stock up and for me to buy a hat with a brim. I left mine in Russell, but I am hoping the innkeeper will mail it to our last destination in New Zealand.

After lunch, snoozing and reading, we drove to nearby Neufeld winery, sampled a variety of whites and a Pinot noir, settled on a Chardonnay then went further down this German settled road to a sheep dairy and sampled their cheese tray with nine different cheeses. It’s too bad we didn’t have the wine sampling a to go with the cheese.

A few weeks before harvest grapes are covered in nets to keep birds out

A few weeks before harvest grapes are covered in nets to keep birds out

We enjoyed a swim in the waves at Kina beach where Kate had a hard time getting out at shore because the waves kept pushing her down. I found a few shells for my garden. I am limiting my collection so that I won’t have to buy an extra suitcase.

Neufeld Cheese

Neufeld Cheese

I walked a kilometre up the road from the motel to buy some Nashi pears At a roadside stand. I have not seen these in Canada, but they are something like a Japanese pear. We also bought fresh strawberries today. Delicious.

 

Abel Tasman Trek

Our ferry crossing to the South Island was more than two hours in the fog. Kate and I tried to stay out on the top deck, but the drizzle and chill finally sent us inside for a cappuccino and warm scone. Inside Brian and Jim had both found a place to nap. Fortunately we basked in sunshine for the last hour or so and we were thrilled to see the forested high green hilly islands of Queen Charlotte Sound.

Arriving in Picton

Arriving in Picton

I need to expand my vocabulary to include more variations of the words, blue and green, as there certainly are many bejewelled shades of both when it comes to water and trees.  The drive from Picton to Nelson demonstrated that the South Island has hilly S bends just like the North Island, but now there are even more hairpin turns and if we fall off the side, we will be in the sea. Brian has taken up driving in the past couple of days and has mastered left hand driving with round-abouts.

Abel Tasman green?

Abel Tasman green?

Tonight all four of us are ready to crash with various aches and pains, some with burning feet, some with aching knees and hips or shoulders, all headed to bed with a pain pill. We tramped for 25 kilometres of the south end of the Abel Tasman track, and in spite of groaning, we are jubilant that all of us finished. Even in the drizzle of the first two hours, the track is beautiful. We certainly were not alone. There were many hikers of all ages on the trail, although curiously most were going in the opposite direction from us.

Don't step left, Brian. It's a long way down.

Don’t step left, Brian. It’s a long way down.

The locals who described the trail as “flat” must have been referring to the surface of the trail as relatively “smooth” as for the most part it was not plagued with boulders, only tree roots ( for me to stub my toes). Jim kept reminding me that I had said, prior to our excursion, that the track was “easy” because it was “flat”. It was not flat. Brian’s GPS showed us that we climbed more than 100 metres then, naturally, we descended as much and started the upward climb all over again, with hairpin turns being a dominant feature.

To get to Bark Bay to begin our hike, we took the Marahau water taxi. Our captain gave us insight into the history of the area and steered the boat out to sea when he spotted dolphins. Never have any of us seen so many dolphins. Four pods of thirty or forty dolphins cavorted along side and all around our taxi. Our cameras could not capture the Speed or beauty of these magnificent creatures.

Dolphins entertaining us

Dolphins entertaining us

Mount Doom

Rugged Mt Ruapehu

Rugged Mt Ruapehu

 

Sailing in Plimmerton...a joy to behold

Sailing in Plimmerton…a joy to behold

We think that Mount Ruapehu 6 km past Chateau Tongariro is the Mount Doom of Lord of the Rings fame, if it isn’t the volcano that is Mt Tongariro. Some googling required, but connections are not the fastest.  In any case most of New Zealand makes me feel like a hobbit although my feet have not grown fur. I am not especially short at 5’10” but when looking up at tree ferns 30 feet tall and standing beside agapanthus at eye level and being surrounded by forest, rolling hills and mountains, I feel like a hobbit.

This morning I went to the local Department of Conservation office and learned the names of some of the local flora…toi toi (prettier than pampas grass, weeping), a number of different hebes, the Ruapehu hebe, being unique to this area, a four foot shrub that covers the mountains and hills with its tiny white flower clusters, koriko that looks like a flowering cousin of our butterfly bush, but taller.

This was our hottest day in the week since we have been here, more than 25C we think. The car “says” 25C no matter what the weather. We have not watched TV; so, no weather channel. It just isn’t as important as in Canada.

We just had a swim in the Tasman Sea across the street from our five star Backpacker Moana Lodge. Kate had said she wanted to stay in a Backpacker accommodation; so, this is it. We have two  rooms with queen size bed and single in each room, and yes, Brian, communal toilets and showers.  We are seated comfortably in the lounge facing the sea, with large bay windows watching kids have a sailing lesson… About twenty  small sailboats, snarks? and a few bigger ones. There is a beautiful breeze coming through our open windows. We still marvel that windows do not have screens.

We lunched on meat pies and salad or fries at an outdoor table at the Element Restaurant in Wanganui. three of the four of us needed a sherbet cone to finish our repast. Now it’s time for more food, when we have finished our drinks. We will walk fifteen minutes into the village of Plimmerton.

A hobbit considering an adventure to Mt Doom

A hobbit considering an adventure to Mt Doom

 

Chateau Tongariro

The chief challenging us at Tamaki Maori Village

The chief challenging us at Tamaki Maori Village

I am beginning to feel like a pretty good travel agent. Our accommodations get better and better. We are now in the mountains at the famous Tongariro Crossing. We are staying at the Fergusson Motel in a two bedroom unit across from the Chateau, but we have full access to the Chateau facilities. We have already had a swim in the pool and a sauna. For $175 NZ for the night for the four of us, we think we have great value.

We walked the two hour loop to Taranaki Falls. Awesome! Lots of up and down on a relatively well worn path, through desert like conditions in bright sun and in cooler Forest. Lots of purple heather, white flowers (hebe?) and many flowers, shrubs and trees we could not identify.

Because we stayed on Lake Rotorua last night, but outside town, we did not sleep with the pervading sulphur smell. Today we passed thermal pools visible from the road and with accompanying smell. We also drove along side big Lake Taupo although it was quite hazy today.

No barbecue for our rissoles tonight, but that would be the only fault of this location. We even have a washer and dryer and are doing a load of clothes.

See Brian at the top?

See Brian at the top?