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!