Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fox Glacier

A few entries down on this blog, you will see some pictures of someone touching the ice at the foot of Fox Glacier. In the last few weeks, two Australian tourists (brothers) were stood almost exactly there doing precisely the same thing, when several hundred tons of ice peeled off of the face. The results were not good. While the warning signs are not big, nor very explicit, they are there. Its a real shame when people don't read them. Tragic in some cases.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The blog is finished!

It's taken a few months, but I have finally finished our SKI blog. You can read it below in reverse chronological order, because I wrote it as a day by day account. Ignore the actual dates of the posts, the real dates are in the blog titles.


Day nine 17th February 2008

Last day, we had said goodbye to Andrew the night before, so we set off via Reefton to Maruia springs for a dip in the hot pools. Last time we had been here they had been wonderful, clean and hot. This time they were a real disappointment, they were slimey underfoot, the water was black with some sort of algae or similar and they weren't very hot either! So we compensated with an ice cream, and went off to Maruia Falls. This is quite spectacular, a very large volume of water pouring over them, with a massive swirl of logs trapped at the base.

We had a stop at Murchison on the way back for a coffee, and a visit to the local museum, and then on to Picton. The vineyards down the valley heading towards Blenhiem are spreading at a heck of a rate, and seem to go on forever.

At Picton, we went for a walk alongside the harbour on the Bob's Bay track, and back up onto the hills above the harbour in the Victoria Domain along the Harbour View track. Just a gentle stroll to finish off a week of great walking. And we got to see our ferry home coming into the harbour.

The crossing home was reasonably uneventful, it got a bit foggy in the middle of the strait as dusk was coming on, and we got a distant view of the Queen Victoria Liner, which had just left Wellington Harbour on it's round the world cruise.

Home at last to our own comfortable bed!

Day eight 16th February 2008

Today we were intending to drive to Greymouth to see Andrew again, to make sure everything was OK before we headed back across the strait to Wellington. A bit of a departure from out usual day, as we were going to have two driving sessions, and a single walk in the middle of the day. So the first part of the day was taken up with the drive to Arthur's pass via the Porter's Pass and Castle Hill area. We arrived Arthur's pass at lunchtime, and stopped at Arthur's Hotel where we had a late breakfast type meal. Very nice!

There were two nice walks signposted from the village centre, the first to the Devil's Punchbowl falls. This was a fairly short but quite steep trek up boardwalks and stairs (I hate stairs up the sides of hills, it defeats the purpose of going out for a walk!) to quite a scenic waterfall. This photo is a vertical panorama, so click on it to see it properly.

On the way down from the Devil's Punchbowl, the path to the Bridal Veil falls heads off up the main valley to the right. This is a much more natural path, with a few steps built into it, but is quite a nice one hour return walk. At one point it drops down very steeply to cross a stream, and climbs very steeply up the other side. Quite a scramble for a fat old man! I think this path was put in to service the power lines which run overhead for most of the second half of the walk. The path eventually joins the main state highway, so we turned around and retraced our steps. The old power station back at Arthur's pass village was worth a visit too.

So not a very exciting days walking, but I think we were getting tired by the time we got to Arthur's Pass, so it was about all we were up for!
The drive to Greymouth was fun, and eventually we got back into countryside we were quite familiar with. It was like going home!
We stayed at the Greymouth Top Ten holiday park, camping next to the beach. Andrew was fine, he seemed pleased to be taken out for a meal at a hotel, but after a quick walk we dropped him off at his apartment, and we went off to our tent for a nights sleep!

Day seven 15th February 2008

So after a wet but comfortable night, we packed everything up and headed back to Mt Cook village, for another visit to the information centre, where I bought a merino hat and some polyprop gloves and a map of the area. This brought our kit up to the standard we needed for the walk we had planned up to the Hooker Glacier. This is quite a long walk, but is quite 'touristy', being for the most part a well made track, with board walks and swing bridges etc.

Along the way we saw some superb examples of NZ alpine plants and flowers.

It was a bit of a grey bleak day at first, so there weren't many good shots of the glacier, and as the glacier is retreating we didn't actually get that close. So I have included a picture of me to make up for it!

The weather cleared up on the way back, and we started to get some superb views of the mountains around, and the various glaciers. This one is high up on the side of Mt Sefton (3151metres).

We had a light lunch at a cafe in Mt Cook village, and then set off to Tekapo.

When we had arrived at Mt Cook, the tops had been a bit bare of snow, but the night of rain at campsite level, was a night of snow just a couple of hundred metres higher, and the tops were a picture on the way out of the Lake Pukaki valley.

At Tekapo, we visited the Mt John observatory. The main activity at Mt John is a joint venture between Nagoya University and several NZ Universities (Auckland, Canterbury, Massey and Victoria in Wellington) called the Japan-New Zealand MOA group (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics). They use the gravitational effects of massive objects to detect planets around other systems in the Universe. We were given an excellent guided tour of the facility, and we had a cup of coffee and a cake!

The rest of the day was taken up with driving via Fairlie to Geraldine, where we had a meal of the most disgusting fish and chips ever. We had parked opposite the town's real fish and chip shop and not seen it, and ended up at a chinese takeaway. What a mistake!

We stayed in a cabin at the Mt Somner holiday park. Fairly cheap, but not up to much! Not a good nights sleep!

Day six 14th February 2008

I didn't have a comfortable night on my foam mat in our little tent, so I decided to do something about it. But first, we packed up the car and set off for an early morning walk up Mount Iron on the outskirts of Wanaka.

Not a huge walk to the top (about 248 metres up from the road, about 548metres above sea level) but it got the heart going a bit. Nice views over Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea, the town, and of the surrounding countryside. This picture of Wanaka was taken on the way up the hill.

The two panoramas were taken from the top, the first is North to South going clockwise, and the second South to North continuing around.

An exciting walk down the steep side of the hill contrasted with the gentle walk to the top, and 90 minutes or so after we set off we were back at the car. We dashed back into Wanaka, and bought some supplies for the day at the supermarket, and then across the road to Mainly Tramping, where I bought a self inflating mat, full length and quite a thick one. Not something I would ever take on a long walk, but great for camping from the car which we do a lot of.

So back on the road again for a longish drive to Mt Cook. We set off down the north and east side of the Clutha River to Tarras, then headed north up the Lindis river to the Lindis Pass. Not one of the more dramatic passes in New Zealand, but definitely one of the nicest drives. We had a beautiful day for it, and stopped at the top of the pass for our lunch, and were joined by the obligatory tourist buses! A quick photo and we were off again. This small panorama (3 pictures) was taken from the summit looking North.

Next stop Twizel, after a picturesque drive across the exceedingly flat McKenzie Country plains, surrounded by some exceedingly high mountains. We found a nice little Cafe/restaurant on the way into Twizel, Poppies Cafe. Beautiful coffee and excellent food. We only had a desert as we had a nice evening meal to look forward to, but one day we will go back for a full meal!

Swiftly on to our overnight stop at the Glentanner Motorcamp a short drive south of Mount Cook village. This campsite has great facilities, but the site seems completely undeveloped. So you find yourself a patch of grass amongst the scrub and rocks, and pitch your tent, which is what we did. The campsite overlooks Lake Pukaki, which is a mostly natural reservoir for the power station at Twizel. It's fed by the glaciers in the Mt Cook national park, and is the most amazing blue. It's level was a bit down when we got there, as this summer had been long, hot and dry down here in the McKenzie Country, and the reservoirs had not recovered after the winter power usage. We couldn't actually get a photo that does this lake justice, so here is the Wikipedia entry for it, and I am sure this chap won't mind me linking to his website, which contains a stunning photo of the lake.

We had a few hours to spare before our evening meal etc, so we drove up to Mount Cook, and then onto the Tasman Glacier viewpoint. This is a few kilometres down a dirt road, and then a couple of kilometres walking, but it is quite spectacular, and as the glacier is receding fairly rapidly, we took our chance to see it while we could.

A panorama of the lake, there are 3 tiny orange blobs in this picture which are 12 seater tourist boats. They give the chunks of ice some scale!

We spent some time at the visitor centre at Mt. Cook village, and the weather cleared a little while we were there (it had rained and got very cold while up at the Tasman Glacier) and we got some nice shots of the Mountain through the window!

Back to the campsite, some pasta and sauce for our evening meal, and more photo opportunities from outside the kitchen window!

And to top off a wonderful day, while enjoying a stroll around the wilderness that passed for a camp ground, we saw a New Zealand Falcon hunting amongst the bushes of the campsite!
Off to a much more comfortable night, but it rained as it only can in the mountains overnight, and as we were still learning how to put the tent up, we got a little wet around the shoulders where we touched the tent!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Day five 13th February 2008

Day five was an early start, everything down and packed away by about 7:15 (sorry rest of campsite!) showers and breakfast to follow, then off for our first walk of the day at Fox Glacier. Its not long since we last did this, so it was all quite familiar. I think we were first to the car park, by about 30 seconds. By the time we had our walking gear sorted, another 3 cars had pulled up, and before we left the car park, the first tour bus was arriving!
We had a quick walk up to the face area of the glacier, mainly to stay ahead of the rest of the tourists. The path has changed again nearer the glacier, and stays quite low with a well made path. Had a few minutes to ourselves, when the first grockle caught up, who decided he was going to go past the rope barrier and touch the ice! Still, he provided some scale for the next picture.

If this is you (below) you are a moron!

On the way back from the face, we unfortunately got mixed up in a busload of tourists, who seem to have got as far as they could in their allotted time, and were heading back, cameras flashing anyway! The most noticeable thing about these people, besides the number of northern english accents, was the smell. They were obviously all freshly showered and wearing their strongest deodorants ready for the rigours of the day! An unusual form of pollution.

So, first bit of exercise over for the day, we were back in the car and heading south, into uncharted territory. We had never been south of Fox Glacier before, so it was starting to get a bit exiting!
The drive to Haast is very different to what I was expecting. A cursory glance at the map showed a relatively easy coastal drive. Boy was I wrong. It was mostly inland, went very high in places, and was by no means straight! It was very nice though and the car managed it very well. Haast itself has a quite nice visitors centre, but the rest of it appeared closed. So we decided not to stop for coffee, and carried on into the Haast Pass. There are parts of this which are actually quite spectacular, but I don't think I was in the mood for it. Five out of every six vehicles was a camper van, and the rest were tourist coaches! Of course there is still plenty of room for everyone (this is New Zealand after all) but it was a bit depressing!
We stopped at a lay-by to use the facilities and have some soup, and finally came across the famous west coast sand flies, notably absent until now. Unfortunately, they had a lower opinion of Haast than I did, and tried to hitch a lift out of there in our car, our clothes, our hair and have a bit of a meal off us to boot! A quick spay of insect repellant over everything in the car added an interesting smell to the rest of the journey, but minimised the number of live sand flies to enough to keep me amused swatting them as I drove!
The other side of the pass down to Wanaka, past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea could not have been nicer. A beautiful drive through magnificent scenery, some of which we had seen before in the movie 'Goodbye Pork Pie', which made it even more interesting!
Wanaka is a bit like a British seaside resort, but with a lake instead of the sea. Its quite a busy little place, and has a good variety of shops and food outlets. We found a camp site for the night, threw up our tent, and went off for another walk.
We started at the lake side in the town centre, and walked around the south side of the lake for a few kilometres. Not especially exciting, but very pleasant after a long drive.
Ravioli and a pasta sauce for tea, and off to bed for a somewhat quieter night than the previous night, but just as uncomfortable. Definitely too old for a closed cell foam mat! We had a busy day planned for day six!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day four 12th February 2008

Nice early start from the motel on this the first real day of our holiday. We had breakfast at the Cafe Paris, just coffee and croissant with butter and jam. Even at 7:30 - 8:00 am, there were tourists arriving at the Jade factory opposite, probably their first stop of a long and varied day. More on early morning tourists tomorrow! As we sat outside the cafe, we looked south and got our first view of Aoraki Mount Cook.

A relatively short drive to our first stop of the day, away from Hokitika to the south this time. We parked up at Okarito Township, a lovely little place about 15-20k off the main highway, about 120k south of Hokitika. It used to be a sea port of some importance in the early days of New Zealand, when the West Coast was the wild west of NZ. Its unreliable harbour which needed regularly digging out and blasting out put paid to that. Now the Okarito lagoon is home to the beautiful Kotuku, or White Heron, which only nests here in the lagoon. Another Kotuku, the Royal Spoonbill also nests here, and we have a colony of those near our home in Whitby.
We were not here to go bird watching this time, but to do a walk to Three Mile Lagoon to the south of Okarito. There are two routes, an inland 'Pack' track, used by pack horses to carry supplies south in those wild west days presumably, and a coastal route which is passable at lower tides. We did not know about this second alternative when we set out, so did not check the tide tables.
Any way, these pack horses were obviously tough little buggers, as the route out of the township was quite sharply up a ridge line. About half way up, there is a spur path off up to a trig point, some 250m above sea level, which we took the opportunity to visit, where there were stunning views of the Okarito lagoon to the north, the mountains inland to the east, and the wild coast to the south where we were heading.

Okarito Lagoon from Trig point

South to Three mile lagoon from trig point

The rest of the path after the trig was through native bush, along spurs and ridge lines, rising up to about 250 metres. So when we started dropping down to the lagoon we were quite pleased. We didn't stop at the lagoon, but continued round to the beach, where we decided that the tide looked far enough out to walk back along the beach, especially as people were walking along towards us from Okarito. Lynn was a little worried, but there was only one place we had to scramble over some rocks to avoid the sea, so it was no problem.

Two examples of the wildlife found on the beach can be seen in these two photographs!

So back to the car after a wonderful 9km or so walk, and off we went to go to Franz Joseph Glacier. Just as we driving past the lagoon, Lynn spotted a Kotuku fishing just off the shore, the first we had seen, but I didn't think to stop to get a photo!

We got to Franz Joseph at about lunchtime, so we stopped and had a cup of tea and shared an apple for lunch (OK, we had had some hot pork sandwiches whilst on the beach) and then set off to do some walking at the Glacier. We had planned to do something big, but the path to Roberts Point was closed because of land slips, so we just decided to do the walk to the Glacier face. We have done this a few times before, but as the Glacier is always changing, and the river changes course with every major rainstorm (which are common on the west coast) its a different walk every time!

It was a good walk as usual, it was nice to leave the tourists behind at the rope barrier beyond which only those properly equipped and experienced should venture. Didn't stop people in jandals (flip flops) walking up the face though! The obligatory photos were taken! Its difficult to show the scale of the glacier. I suppose it rises in the distance to about 2500-3000 metres. There's a chap in the first photo who is about 1 km from the face which may help give some scale.

We headed south to Fox Glacier in the car. It was a bit late to do another walk, so we found the campsite, which was very nice, good new facilities etc, pitched our little tent, went off and found a shop where we bought some frozen Lasagne and some veges for out evening meal, had dinner and a stroll and went to our sleeping bags. The sound of the Fox Glacier river a few hundred metres away was quite soothing, but the possum in the tree by our tent, that systematically destroyed the top half of the tree over most of the night, very noisily, was not soothing at all! I am too old for sleeping in small tents on thin foam mats!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Day three, 11th Feb 2008

We had an errand to run in Greymouth for Andrew, organising insurance for all his gear while in the polytechnics 'motel', so one more trip into Greymouth was necessary. This is about a 35km trip, with a couple of one lane bridges (shared with the railway line) to cross, so you can guess we were getting a bit tired of this drive. So we had planned to come back via two or three nice walks in th Lake Brunner area. Dropped the insurance policy off for Andrew at 10 ish, bought a bit of lunch at the local supermarket and headed off towards Moana, at the end of Lake Brunner.

First off, we thought the Rakaitane Track sounded good, just 45 minutes return from the car park in Moana, with wonderful views of the Arnold River. It started well over a 'swing bridge', but in the end was just another NZ bush walk, with a few plaques telling us what the trees were. At the turn around point, the only place we could actually see the river, we watched this Heron feeding for a few minutes, which was very pleasant.

So, we had a bite to eat, and deciding against a 3 hour walk to a view point on Te Kinga mountain, we headed around the lake to Mitchells, and the Carew Falls track. The drive was quite interesting, in that the map showed the road as sealed, whereas about 25 km of it wasn't, and was also mostly single track! Having arrived at the falls safely, we had a great walk up through the bush, about 30 minutes, and maybe 100 metres climb, to one of the most exciting falls I have been near. Notice I don't say 'seen'. We got a great view of the top half, but when we got to the viewing place just under the falls, expecting to stop and have a pleasant picnic, I stepped out to have a look and was soaked to the skin in about 5 seconds. There had been a lot of rain on the West Coast, and I think most of it was coming over the falls. This video may give you a little bit of an idea. Sorry about the download times! Its about 15 meg!

So off we went again, heading back to Hokitika to enjoy a nights rest, but on the way we decided to do a walk we had seen the previous day, when it was too wet to do it. The Blue Spur bushwalk is a DOC (Department of Conservation) path, so we weren''t expecting anything too difficult. The loop walk starts up a stream valley, up onto a ridgeline, where a path takes you through old mine workings. With the heavy rain the day before, the walk up the stream was superb, very wet and slippy. At the top, the bush was 'dripping' to say the least. As we walked around, various mineshafts and tunnels were seen, but the highlight had to be the drainage channels built to move water around the various workings. These were about 70 metres long, about 40-60 cms wide, and about 2.5 to 3 metres deep, and the track followed one of them from end to end. Now I am not a small person, and I was carrying camera gear and a daypack, so these were quite a squeeze! These photos might give you an idea. And finally, to crown it all, this NZ TomTit came to say hello, and follow us through the bush, eating the insects we disturbed as we walked. A fantail came with him, but he was too quick for me!

And with that, we headed off back to the motel, happy with seeing Andrew fully sorted, and having started our 'walking' holiday at last. Only about 3-4 hours today, and over some easy paths, but still a great day!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Day two, 10th Feb

Up bright and early, and decided to walk into Hokitika to buy some breakfast at the supermarket, forgetting that it was Sunday, and it wasn't open until 9 a.m. So, we had to go to the Cafe Paris where we had hot croissant and lovely coffee. What a pity Andrew decided to stay in bed.

Next, off to Greymouth to get Andrew sorted out. We met Rebecca, the administrator at the college, who despite being slightly hungover from a good Saturday night, was on top of things, and layed down te law to Andrew, Fred and another lad while showing them their rooms. The rooms were quite disappointing at first, looking bare and scruffy, but the room had a double bed, a TV, bathroom and fridge, as well as a wireless broadband connection, so life wasn't all bad!

As we had brought quilts and bedding for a single bed, we made a quick trip to the Warehouse for some bedding, and then to the supermarket for food and cleaning materials. The room looked quite nice once the bed was made.

We left Andrew to get to know people and explore Greymouth, while we went back to Hokitika to have a bit of time resting and thinking.

We went for a quick walk along the beach in one of the dryspells of the day, enjoying the fresh air and the howling gale! There are some very creative people in Hokitika, this was one of many examples of art we passed.

Finally, back into Greymouth to get a meal with Andrew, but he was a bit subdued possibly because of the travel, or the idea of living on his own, so after the meal, we left him to watch the Simpsons, and we went back to get a nights rest.