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Published: September 14th 2007
Hello again everyone, we hope as ever that you are all well. It is with a tear in our glass eye(s) that we bring you one of our final blogs from New Zealand. It is only a couple of weeks now until we leave Kiwi land, but we are packing in as many hijinks as we can before we leave. We won't bore you with what we got up to during our last few weeks in Dunedin, as you've all heard enough about that side of things. Needless to say we had a couple of leaving dos before we left. I even managed to cry at mine when my colleagues gave an impromptu speech, and that was before a wee wine!!
September 1st, we moved all of our worldly possessions out of our house and back into the Honda. It was sad to leave Dunedin as it was a gorgeous warm spring day, and it really had become a home from home. No room for sentimentality though, we had some Fiords to see. Our first stop was Te Anau down in Fiordland (no it isn't spelled with a 'j') in the South West of the South island. Fiordland has a
On the Milford Road
reputation for being one of the wettest places in NZ, and the rain made no exception for us! We couldn't decide between cruising Milford or Doubtful sounds, as they both have different experiences to offer. We read up and spoke to others about both sounds, and the drive up to Milford was the one thing that everyone raved on about. So we decided to drive to Milford Sound and just check out the scenery from the waterside, and later spend the whole day cruising Doubtful Sound. The drive up to Milford was indeed stunning ("obscenely scenic" according to the Rough Guide) and we even got a couple of hours of sunshine to enjoy it before the heavens opened. By the time we got to Milford, the mighty Mitre Peak was cloaked in clouds, but your could still appreciate the grandeaur and natural wonder of the place. One cool thing about the sound is that it has a thick layer of fresh water on the surface. The fresh water has tea coloured tannins which filter out the light making it very dark only few feet below the surface. Because of this, deep sea creatures like coral which usually live hundreds of
feet below are able to survive very near the surface, making it a diver's heaven!! We skipped on the diving and just enjoyed it from dry land.
The next day we obviously hadn't crossed our fingers hard enough, as the torrential rain was still falling. The Sound cruise operators wouldn't survive if they cancelled every time it rains (2 days out of 3) so we got picked up at our hostel early morning and whisked away to our starting point at Lake Manapouri. Our captain Mike had to transport us accross this lake before we could access Doubtful sound.
We had an interesting stop off at a huge power station on lake Manapouri. We got taken on a wee tour deep underground and learned the history of the plant. It was built in the 60s specifically for an (australian owned) aluminium smelting plant further south. The fact that 90% of the electricity does not stay in NZ is not the most scandalous thing. Back in the early days of the plant, the NZ government wanted to raise the level of the lake by 30 meters to increase the power generating capabilities. However, the local communities, followed by the
Currently near the top of the "robs favorite NZ animals" list.
NZ population at large, rose up and fought against this proposal over several years. The proposed raising of the lake would wipe out villages and huge areas of rainforest. Finally the government backed down and changed it's plans, and the age of eco-conservation for which NZ is known was born.
After the power plant tour, we boarded our vessel the 'Charmaine Karol' and hit Doubtful sound for a very wet and choppy cruise. Mike tackled the waves and took us in and out of the islands, trying to keep us as sheltered as possible. One of the islands we stopped at was in the middle of a 5 year plan to create a bird sanctuary without pests such as rabbits and dear introduced by Europeans when they arrived in NZ.
One of the advantages to the intense rain and wind was that it brought all of the many waterfalls to life. There are only 3 permanent waterfalls in the area all year round, but today there must have been hundreds! They were at their most spectacular when the wind blew so hard that they were blowing upwards!! The awesome scenery definitely made up for the several cups of
A little cloudy (as it is most of the time) we could only see about 3/4 up the mountains.
tea I spilled over myself during the course of the cruise.
After Fiordland, our next stop was the west coast, in particular Glacier country. On our last visit to the west coast with Rob's parents in March, we had some pretty bad weather and we were hoping against the odds that it would be nice this time. Must have crossed our fingers hard enough this time as it was stunning weather for over a week (highly unusual for the west coast!). Again the drive up was ridiculously scenic and we had to keep stopping to admire the rivers, views and rainforests. The rivers around the glacier regions are so blue and clear as they flow from the glaciers themselves.
We stayed in Fox Glacier this time round as we had already hiked nearby Franz Josef last trip. On arrival we signed up for a full day hike the next day, and took a pre-hike warmup walk around nearby lake Matheson.
In short....Fox rocks!!!! Our experience on this hike was so much better than our shorter hike on Franz Josef. The perfect blue sky and sunshine played a big part of course, and we were in a small
group of 5 plus our guide which made the experience more intimate and flexible. We and the other guy in our group rolled our eyes at first when we met with two of the girls in our group who had never seen snow or ice before, were wearing skintight jeans and oversize glasses, and suffered from vertigo!!!! Our Argentian guide Lucia from Patagonia who has years of experience on ice took none of their nonsense and made sure they knew what was expected of them on the glacier. Anyway, enough about them.....
One of the main differences between Fox and Franz Josef glaciers is that they are accessed at different points. On Franz Josef you start right at the terminal face and have to hike up the well climbed ice that everyone goes on. On Fox you take an hour long forest hike up the side of the glacier and access it from the side, which means you have access to some of the more interesting and challenging terrain that exists the further up you go. We strapped on our crampons at the ice and Lucia took us across some fresh terrain. We practised walking up and down icy
Vertical waterfalls, Doubtful sound
The wind was blowing so hard it would blow the water back up the hill as it dropped over the cliff.
slopes, making sure we had the correct foot, knee and back posture. Only on the really sketchy parts did Lucia cut steps for us with her ice axe. I managed to have a swing of it without stabbing my foot which was good. We saw loads of examples of the three main structures to be found on a glacier: crevasses (long splits in the ice that move millimeters per day, but can get a few feet wide), seracs (huge tall blocks of ice), and moulins or sink holes (caused by water movement inside the glacier, and eventually give rise to ice caves). After a full day on the glacier we hit the bar for some apres hike drinks, unaware of the sore legs that would plague us for the next couple of days :-(
After saying goodbye to glacier country, we took a cross country trip on the Tranz Alpine railway (recommended by Linda and hundreds of others!) from Greymouth to Christchurch. Again we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day for this scenic journey. Arthurs Pass was particularly spectacular, with the mountains still cloaked in snow. A short stay in Christchurch overnight then back to the west coast
Waterfalls, Doubtful sound
There were falls like this pretty much everywhere you looked.
the next day. We were in no hurry to leave the west coast as the stunning weather continued, so we spent a day or so in nearby Hokitika, famous for it's Pounamu (or greenstone/jade). We had fun scouring the beach for some (apparently if you are patient you can find some) but Rob ended up buying some in a local shop instead. He had really wanted to buy a whale bone carving which he had his eye on, but it is very expensive as it is sacred to the local Maori Iwi - they have first rights to it when a whale is washed up on the beach. I had already been given a gorgeous pounamu pendant from my colleagues at work so I was more than happy with that.
Next stop further up the coast was a little town called Hector just near Westport. Not all that much going on there but we needed a day of relaxation from our travels and had been recommended a fabulous hostel called 'The Old Slaughterhouse'. Sounds a bit grim but it was a gorgeous hostel in an amazing spot. There was a very steep 15 miniute bush walk up to the
Me in doubtful sound
It was a pretty wet day. But then again it rains two out of every three days here, sometimes up to eight meters a year (thats about 24 feet for the americans among us)!
lodge itself, but we were rewarded with magnificent views out to the Tasman Sea. We did nothing but relax on the porch and watch the sunset over a few beers.
Sadly we had to be on our way the next day, heading to Golden Bay at the top of the south island. It's called Golden Bay not because it has golden sand, but because it used to be an area rich with gold. We spent a few days exploring Farewell Spit and it's beaches, and the famous Waikoropupu Springs (or Pupu springs as they are locally known). The Pupu Springs are a natural phenomenon which produce 45000 litres of fresh water each second! The water is very pure and the salmon that are caught in this water are highly sought after.
An hour or so away from Golden Bay is our current location of Motueka, where we are basing ourselves for further exploration of the Abel Tasman National Park. We had been here almost a year ago and it has some of the best walking and kayaking in NZ. Yesterday we did a half day kayak tour and half day hike. Luckily the weather was fine and calm
for our kayaking, but we got a bit soggy on our afternoon hike. We were lucky to get up close and personal with some baby seals and blue penguins, and kayaked round some cool lagoons. It can be quite pricey to do lot of activities within the national park as you can only access it by water taxi, so we will probably move on soon.
Oh, and make sure to see all the pics, there are more on the next page if you click down here...
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