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Published: December 15th 2015
Nostalgic pangs were eased as we drove away from the West coast of New Zealand's South Island by the previous night's deluge of 100mm or so of rain. I had come across this poem in a book about the area whilst staying in the Copland Valley which summed up the West coast's climate well:
It rained and rained and rained,
The average rainfall was well maintained.
And when the tracks were simply bogs,
It started raining cats and dogs.
After a drought of half an hour,
We had a most refreshing shower,
And then the most curious thing of all,
A gentle rain began to fall.
Next day was also fairly dry,
Save for a deluge from the sky,
Which wetted the party to the skin,
And after that...the rain set in!
Despite incredible drives whilst overlooking the wild beaches of the wind swept Tasman (see photos) we were looking forward to November heralding the true onset of NZ spring and some sunshine. After traversing the Haast Pass in our trusty Subaru steed, we decided to camp at the
enticingly named 'Pleasant Flat' campsite for the night, only... it wasn't.
Previous blogs have failed to mention the presence of one prominent New Zealand native, the sand-fly, largely because I am generally a great invertebrate enthusiast and am reluctant to sully the name of such heroes as the hoverfly, butterfly and dragonfly by association. However our experience at Pleasant Flat cannot go unrecorded, at the very least to save other unsuspecting tourists from a similar fate than ours.
On arrival at about 6pm, after a good four hour drive, we were ready to erect our tent and heat up some tasty three bean chilli. We were also excited to see the beautiful snow capped Mt Hooker in the distance that would be our view for dinner. Unthinkingly we embarked in our scanty shorts and t-shirts from the stuffy station wagon and looked curiously across the sunny campsite observing our many fellow campers staring out at us from their vehicles. Why was no-one basking in the early evening sunshine or paddling in the babbling azure waters of the creek we wondered? As we walked toward the lush green banks of the Haast river to pick
a prime spot for the night, a rather unusual fog seemed to lift in front of us. Before I could utter a word ,I felt an eye-watering stab to my ankle, then my foot, then my toes, no wrist... ahh, now my ear and eye-lid and then to pretty much every part of my exposed skin.
Slapping furiously at myself, I turned to Drew to call a retreat only to find him mimicking my spasmodic dancing as we tried to eliminate as many of the attacking sand-flies attached to our bodies. It was not necessary at that point to suggest a return to the vehicle.
In scenes reminiscent of 'Night of the living dead' and 'The Thing', we sprinted to the car, screaming 'close the door
' as the little b****s swarmed around us.
Needless to say our night at 'Pleasant Flat' was not a restful one and we awoke the next day, dishevelled, grumpy and incredibly sore and itchy. Not to be deterred, I suggested a stop a half hour hence where hot coffee and a gentle nature walk was advertised, further along our route. It was only on seeing Drew's
AKA little *******
extreme skin reaction to the sand-fly onslaught at said hot coffee stop, that I recognised that the suggestion of an early morning 'nature' constitution might be a little ambitious. We drove on.
The route from Haast via Makaroa to Lake Hawea and Wanaka is indeed a stunning drive. I can only lament that on the day we passed our tempers and savaged skin were not in harmony with the serene landscape without. After a fairly sombre two hours in the car, we arrived at our destination, Wanaka.
Now I had been told before leaving England by a number of folk familiar with NZ, that if I was going to fall for anywhere in particular in New Zealand, it would be Wanaka. Yet having already visited so many welcoming towns and passing through a myriad of stunning landscapes, it was hard to imagine anything that might trump all. Indeed on this Friday morning, we were perhaps at our least susceptible to appreciating the great outdoors.
After passing through the obligatory rural New Zealand suburb which often includes agricultural stores, mega vehicle mechanics and one or two random antique
shops, we glimpsed some mighty snow capped mountains and very soon passing through the busy town we were driving along a lake shore that was bathed in sunshine and back dropped by the Mt Aspiring National Park.....WOW.
Firstly, it was hot. Not just sunny but really sun burn level heat. After the wind swept West Coast, this was new. The lake glittered with the thousands of sparling diamonds that only truly dazzling sunshine can conjure on water and the happy looking kayakers and strolling beach walkers suggested this was a place to linger.
Wanaka is best known for its skiing, in particular the impressive peaks of the popular 'Treble cone' resort are inundated with the snow boarders and skiers every winter. As we had arrived in spring, the town was in transition, with many of its seasonal visitors departing, creating a lull in the often busy and crowded tourist town. Our friendly warden pal, Tyler from last blog had also suggested we seek him out when we arrived as this was his place of residence, only fitting for any self respecting Coloradoan in New Zealand.
After a tasty buffet
picnic on the shore of Lake Wanaka, joined by several ducks and several more red-eyed gulls, we set off in search of Creek house. Tyler very casually suggested we walk up from the main street and find a house with a creek running through it. We did!
Now bearing mind the haunting scenes, still fresh from our previous night at 'Pleasant Flat', it was with a little less enthusiasm that I found the commune style accommodation of eight people in the three bedroom Creek house. Of course I could not be ungrateful at the generous hospitality of a guy we had met for only 24hrs, tired as I was and ready to collapse onto the nearest flat ground. We took the only sensible option, we went out and bought wine for both ourselves and our host.
Fortunately after the therapeutic qualities of an Australian Shiraz (you wouldn't believe how much cheaper it is than NZ wine in NZ!) we felt able to take a sunset stroll around the town. We found ourselves atop a small hill where a war memorial stands and could only gape at the many different mountain ranges evident in all
directions, some with still heavy snow and glaciers. As the sky purpled, the moon began to brighten and the stars glowed, I felt a real sense of tranquillity.... what a place.
So we stayed for a month!
To be continued....
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