Edit Blog Post
Published: April 23rd 2007
In our previous blog entry, it was impossible to describe Doubtful Sound: the usual adjectives (looming...; majestic...; towering...; mystical...) all seemed cheesy when applied to what we saw there on an overnight boatride. And it was a bit tough to point our van away from Fjordland too-- but we had only ten days to go and a vast chunk of the South Island yet to explore.
The next two days were spent at the edge of the Southern Alps in two dazzling towns, Arrowtown and Wanaka, both outliers of the tourist-frenzied Queenstown. Here, at last, was the long-promised fall color-- shimmering gold willows and poplars against lakes, rivers and towering bush-covered mountains. Along the roadside at Lake Wanaka, we stumbled into one of those serendipitous treasures: a huge outdoor display of perhaps 100 huge (6'X 4') photos taken from a helicopter of some of the most splendid, astonishing and heartbreaking scenes of dozens of corners of this planet. (The exhibit is entitled "Earth from Above", the work of Yahn Arthus-Bertrand, www.yannarthusbertrand.org.) The purpose is to draw attention to both the glory and degradation of the natural world and its human-plundered ecosystem. Most photos were accompanied by statistics or statements
about environmental justice (and, of course, injustice). This exhibit is a owrk in progress that touring the world, so we might even encounter it again in our lives.
We followed that mountainous road eastward through the Mount Aspiring region, then down the Tasman Coast to the region famous for its two huge glaciers, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Enticed by the stunning photos we had seen of vast mountains of ice coming almost to the sea with a backdrop of snow-capped peaks of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman, we found a great campsite and made our plans. But, alas, we were foiled by one of the few instances when the unfavorable weather interrupted our adventures. Clouds covered all but the monstrous, bush-covered shoulders of the high peaks, and we had to content ourselves with a modest hike to see the receding lowland tongue of the mighty Franz Josef Glacier. Thus, the title of this blog (copied from the reader board outside the pub by our campsite): "When it rains, we pour." And we did.
That was redeemed by more than alcohol, however. We found our way to the magnificent saltwater lagoon just off the Tasman Sea north
of the glaciers. The lagoon is a reserve for native birds, and a 2-hour paddle in a kayak led us to close views of little black shags (close to U.S. cormorants), heron, and a large blue and red long-legged pukeko. (They look like the creation of a cartoonist who's been smoking something illegal.) Best of all, the upper canopy of trees along the lagoon vibrated with bird calls.
Heading farther north with the Southern Alps just to the east, we were officially in Westland, a region that is ruggedly beautiful and quite unpopulated. The main highway, in fact, follows ON (not beside) the railroad tracks as it crosses two long, one-lane bridges. We couldn't figure out how the cars know if a train is coming--but we could just imagine the Kiwis laughing at our concern and shrugging, "Well, mate, if you see a train coming and you're on the tracks crossing the bridge, you'll just rush a bit or sort it out somehow, now won't you?" We did sort it out and made it to Greymouth (population 20,000 and the largest city on the west coast) for a fine Indian meal.
From Greymouth it was just 30 minutes
The Earth From Above
Photo display that we happened upon in Wanaka
inland to our campsite in the village of Moana, on the shores of Lake Brunner. This is the lake described by the phrase, "where the brown trout die of old age"! Since we pulled into Moana well after dark on a moonless night, it was the next day before we glimpsed at the huge blue-glass waters of Lake Brunner just across the road, surrounded by green mountains that reminded us that we were still in the Southern Alps.
Thus began two days of fishing for Bill. The lake itself was crystal clear, and Bill worked around the edge of the lake, going up beautiful, clear rivers hunting for Brown Trout. The best fish he got was a two-pound brown. The NZ browns put on an impressive fight: once hooked, they dive deep and dare you to figure out a way to bring them up and out without snapping the line. That had happened four or five times on the earlier Mataura River and, this time, he was able to bring the fish in. A memorable feature of NZ flyfishing is the clarity of the water in all of the rivers and lakes--surprising with intensive dairy and sheep farming in the
While Bill was stalking brown rout, Carol went off on her own adventure. The Tranzalpine Train that crosses the South Island from east-west twice a day stops at Moana, so Carol took a scenic overnight trainride, staying overnight in the alpine village of Arthur's Pass at a hostel.
In the carpark (see how Kiwi-like we sound?) outside the ONE store in Arthur's Pass, Carol got into an altercation with a pair of Keas (alpine parrots)who were busily pulling all the black rubber insulation from the windshields of a parked Nissan and eating it. Six feet away was a sign warning visitors, "Don't feed the Keas. It's bad for the health of these prized native birds."
Heading out of Moana, we took a side trip to the down-in-the-heels village of Blackball, where Bill tracked down a Scottish butcher known in these parts for his haggis and his nearly fat-free venison salami. The salami was delicious. We didn't try the haggis.
Back on the coastal road North of Greymouth, we found the road almost traffic-free, so our VHWT (very herky white toad) could keep its own pace on the highway. We weren't prepared for anything special, but the
scenery was spectacular: one rugged palm-covered ridge after another, most leading to beautiful inlets of gleaming sand beaches with the tide coming in fringed, foaming scallops. (Carol took so many photos that she's exhausted the power of her camera battery.) What do you do when confronted with otherworldly beauty around every turn? You just sigh and t ry to store it in your bone marrow to access on a gloomy February day in Seattle.
Punakaiki, on the Tasman Coast north from Greymouth, .is an example. We knew there was some kind of geologic anomaly there on the edge of the Paparoa National Park and planned to spend a little time to explore. What we found was a large chuck of coastline littered with towering limestone monoliths. These huge, dramatically-sculptured stones are comprised of hundreds of 2-3 inch layers called "pancake rocks". Although geologists have competing theories about their formation, there's still some mystery about how they developed. We spent several hours at Punakaiki and decided to camp there. The lush, lovely campground was right on the ocean, where we watched the sunset on the beach as we waited for the coals on our little barbeque to get ready. It
In Okarito Lagoon
Two hour paddle to see native birds
was a sweet evening with the Southern Cross and Milky Way as clear as a bell overhead.
Sunday dawned with low clouds, so we spent a cosy few hours in a e-mail cafe down the road, catching up on our cyber-lives, sipping coffee, hoping that the clouds would burn off. It didn't happen, so we headed down the road to Cape Foulwind, where we hiked at the edge of Tauranga Bay to a point overlooking a permanent colony of 80 or so magnificient fur seals. Dozens of 4 month-old-seal pups scurried over steep rocks and dove into the water. If seals taunt and tease, it was definitely happening that day!
From Cape Foulwind, our lumbering VHWT followed the road east away from the coast, winding on narrow ledges above the Buller River. The cloudy day muted the fall colors, but it didn't deter the merciless sandflies. When we stopped to walk across the Buller River on a 110-meter long swingbridge, we were swarmed by the nasty varmints. Tonight we are camping in a kayakers' campground still on the Buller River. The skies are clearing, the Southern Cross is peeking through the clouds, and tomorrow we head to city
of Nelson and the Marlborough Sound, crossing our fingers that they live up to their reputation for sunny, subtropical weather. Thus we begin our last week in this stunning land.
Tot: 0.847s; Tpl: 0.062s; cc: 11; qc: 49; dbt: 0.0256s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb