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|Touring New Zealand 2006 - Part 4|
Our next stop was at Wanaka which we planned to use as a base for several days. We had hoped to camp at Albert Town on the outskirts where there is a DOC camp site on the banks of the mighty Clutha but the winds were swirling round the campsite and more than one tent looked a little sad. We therefore went to the more sheltered Kiwi Holiday Park close to the centre of Wanaka with views over the lake expecting to have to put up a tent as it was late in the day for a popular town - we were however very fortunate as it turned out to get a basic cabin for very little extra. Whilst we were getting settled the wind came up and a small tornado came past in front of us. Pauline rushed to close doors whilst Pete rushed for the camera. All sorts of things were sucked into the air in front of us but it did not look very significant at the time however when we walked across the camp we found most of the washing had been lifted off the lines and deposited over the site, we had probably seen some still rising in it! A little further we found one caravan had been lifted off its blocks and torn away from its awning whilst the one next door had not even had the washing moved. On the showground in front a 50 year old building perhaps a hundred foot long had its corrugated iron roof lifted off and scattered over some new houses and the wooden frame was smashed, whilst the people inside setting up for an A&P show were unharmed. A huge circus tent nearby was untouched. An interesting experience and very rare in the area - it even made national level papers.
Wanaka is beside one of the most beautiful and largest lakes in New Zealand, Lake Wanaka and close and parallel to another, Lake Hawea. They have been gouged out of solid rock by the actions of glaciers and lie parallel, almost connected by a narrow isthmus part way down. To give a scale Lake Wanaka is 45 kms long and Lake Hawea 35 kms. Lake Wanaka is a thousand feet deep and Hawea even deeper and glaciers have smoothed the sides down to the water from their maximum height of 3000 feet above lake level. The bottoms of the lakes are below the present sea level.
These lakes are fed by Glacier melt water and have the most incredible colours, usually a light blue, sometimes almost white, from all the fine rock, ground to a powder by the Glaciers. The colours and the surface are ever changing - we have seen them so still that it is almost impossible to tell the reflection from the mountains behind when you turn a picture upside down and we have seen the with wave crashing on to the beaches. They can be so still and clear we have looked down and watched cormorants hunting underwater over a bottom perhaps 50' below. There are a few boats, mostly tinnies or glass fibre boats trailed in for fishing so they are virtually still on the surface, dots in the vastness of the lakes.
The mountains tower above the lakes - the mountains beside the lakes rise to over 7000 feet, some with a powdering of snow or ice at the top but mostly sheer rock faces angled upwards - we are sitting along the joins between the Australian and Pacific plates which are still tearing the fabric of this land and throwing it up at crazy angles to be smoothed by glaciers in successive ice ages.
A huge tract of this land of lakes, mountains, rivers and fjords ranging from alpine dessert to thick rainforest has become a World Heritage Area called Te Wahipounamu from the original Maori for the area, The Place of the Greenstone. This World Heritage Area covers the whole South West region of South Island and alone covers 10% on the surface of New Zealand and integrates and fills in between the National Parks of Fiordland, Mount Aspiring, Westland and Mount Cook, all vast in their own rights. Te Wahipounamu is one of the great temperate wildernesses of the world, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, tussock grasslands, lakes, rivers, fjords, wetlands and 1000 km of wild coastline.
We were looking forward to a good walk, so we took advice from the DOC office, and then set off along the lakefront down the Mount Aspiring Road which has some awesome views into the mountains. It is just over 50 kms to the end of the road at Raspberry Creek car park, and is sealed as far as the Treble Cone ski field. The unsealed part of the road is slow with many cattle grids and the last 6 kms has a number of fords (4x4 in bad weather). It is hard to do speeds in excess of 40 kph on the unsealed parts, even slower at the far end, and we took well over an hour for the 50 kms.
From the car park there it is a gentle 20 minutes stroll along the banks of the Matukituki River to the swingbridge where our walk along the Rob Roy Valley separates from the alternative walk to the Mount Aspiring Hut. The walk to the Hut was longer, although with hindsight it may have been easier because there was less height gain. Once across the bridge the climb began. Fortunately much of the walk was in dappled sunshine although it was very hot. After 45 minutes of steady climb along the Rob Roy Stream we started to wonder how much further to go. We had started our walk late and many other people were coming back and everyone said how beautiful it was at the end, so we persevered. The path levelled out and although there were a few difficult places where the path had washouts, and many uneven patches where there were tree roots, we continued slowly.
As expected, the walk ended at the tree line, in alpine pastures, with a view of the Rob Roy Glacier. It was just 2 hours since we had left the car park. And the view was really spectacular. We sat on a rock and admired the cold pale blue of the glacier ice, disturbed only by the occasional crash of melting snow and the squawk of the Kea parrots circling overhead. It was so much more beautiful than the glaciers on the West Coast which all the tourist tours visit. Sadly it was soon time to return. Walking downhill was quicker and we were soon safely back at Raspberry Creek, and back to Wanaka just before the supermarket closed. In total the walk had taken a full day, of which 3.5 hours was spent walking. It was excellent and we would recommend it, provided the weather is clear enough that the mountains can be admired, and dry so that the track is not slippery.
The following day we spent relaxing at Kidds Bush at the end of Lake Hawea, a DOC camp site we had previously stayed at with spectacular views down the lake, the best flat stones we have ever found for skimming and some of the most aggressive Sandflies we have found. Fortunately the Sandflies were not in evidence this year and we only received one possible bite. When we were tired of sunbathing, and in Pete's case swimming, we crossed over and continued north up Lake Wanaka to Makarora, at the start of the climb up and over the Haast Pass before returning. The Lake Hawea village store had changed owners since our last visit, which concerned us, but the new people serve the most enormous icecreams. Back in Wanaka the temperatures were still rising and we delayed our barbeque on the Red Devil until late in the evening.
After a day relaxing it was time to do another walk. We began by driving south towards Queenstown over the Cardrona Valley Road which follows the Cardrona River. In the past the road was slow and difficult, but it is now sealed and is reasonably flat on the Wanaka side of the Crown Range. Just 3 kms before the Cardrona Hotel, next to the Waiorau Snow Farm, we found the car park for the Roaring Meg Pack Track. This track goes all the way to the Roaring Meg Powerhouse on the banks of the Kawarau River. It was described as a nice 4 hour return walk to either the Meg Hut or the Miners Hut, along the river valley as it climbed into the hills over a 3,500 feet saddle past the remains of old goldworkings. Unfortunately the weather was very dry and hot without a cloud in the sky, and the path climbed steadily and relentlessly. We stopped every 15 minutes for water. Initially there was some shade but as we gained height that disappeared and the stony path gathered and reflected the sun back at us. After 1.5 hours and the GPS telling us that we were barely half way we decided to stop and turn back. It should have been an easy walk but the hot weather made it too difficult. We saw only one other walker, just setting off, although we were passed by two groups of cyclists speeding their way downhill as we trudged uphill towards them.
Cardrona is a small place; the old School and the Church buildings have been preserved and are sited opposite to the Gin and Raspberry gold workings, named after the owners reward whenever a days washup exceeded an ounce of gold. Just a few yards further is the famous restored Cardrona Hotel. We went inside hoping for a simple icecream but then found that they were still serving lunch so we ordered a cold plate. It was said to be big enough for two people to share, and was very good value for $25. The local cat came to help us with our food. While we were eating there were preparations being made for a wedding ceremony in the garden at 1600, and as we were leaving the photographer and the registrar arrived. Meanwhile the bridesmaids were still getting dressed in one of the hotel rooms above our table. With temperatures still rising we were glad of aircon in the van. It was 34 degrees in the shade even after the sun had dropped behind the hills in the evening.
The next day was a Sunday and we discussed whether to drive across to Queenstown but decided that we would like to spend more of our remaining time in the mountains. On our way we stopped at the Fighter Pilots Museum to try to buy the book by Ross Ewing on the NZ Catalina.The Fighter Pilots Museum has had in it's Alpine Fighter Collection one of the largest collections of flying WW II fighter aircraft and trainers in the world. It varies every year but has included a Spitfire XVI, Hurricane, several Polikarpov I-16s and I-53s and a two seat Mustang 51D, Tiger Moths, Fox Moth, Chipmunk and Harvard. There is an Airshow "Warbirds over Wanaka" at Easter every other year which attracts 80,000 spectators and many visiting fighters. Why so much interest in New Zealand in WW II Fighters one might ask? In fact New Zealand contributed, per-capita, more fighter pilots than any other country in WW II, over 5000. The museum not only has aircraft on display close enough that you have to take care not to touch them but also a large number of boards detailing the NZ activities and details of actions by the pilots.
And Pete has always wanted to camp on the banks of Lake Aviemore or Lake Benmore. We had not been able to get the tent out yet this year; each time we went to a good camping spot the weather was either too windy or too wet or too hot. So we explored much of the south side of the two lakes, noticing that many of the camping grounds were full of caravans and boats. Not a surprise on a sunny weekend, during the school holidays. Lake Benmore was passed first, and then Lake Aviemore. They are all artificial lakes, a result of the hydroelectric schemes constructed in the 1960s, of which we will say more later. The camping grounds were built at the end of the project, as part of creating a recreational use for the new lakes. Returning along the shores of Lake Aviemore we explored several few camping sites before finding a nice spot with a view directly onto the lake. We wondered why the spot was vacant, and during the afternoon the wind started to blow. Regular campers said the area was named Peritonitis Peninsular, so we moved to a nice sheltered spot but without the view. Our old tent is too fragile to cope with the wind. It was then whitebait omelettes for dinner - a delicacy and bought frozen because it is out of the season.
We packed up the tent once it had dried out. Our sheltered spot was also out of the sun so we moved it across to finish drying and the wind was so low it did not even have a tent peg put in. We looked at a few more possible places for camping in the future and as we passed the Benmore Power Station we saw a notice that the information centre was open and that there was a tour at 1100. We rushed in and payed our $5 and found we were the only ones on it so it gave a chance to gain a lot of information. The power station was completed in 1965 and our guide started to work there 20 years ago, and became a guide some 6 years ago, so he could tell us a lot about the time when the Power House was full of people. Now it is all controlled by computer and the staff are based at Twizel. It is sad and ghostly, but still does the job well. Most of the on-site work is now done by contractors, and we saw a number of their vehicles at the site.
We collected a sheaf of various pamphlets, and perhaps because Pete had asked too many questions during the tour, we were given a copy of the special book which was published to commemorate the 40th anniversary. We need to sit and absorb all the information when we get home but it is worth noting that the overall scheme generates about 2 Gigawatts of clean power, 550 from Benmore itself which is also the point where the North and South Island connection is made. The power interchange between Islands can be up to 1200 Megawatts and is done with a DC link involving conversion at either end, the logic being that it uses less cables and saves power but the scientific basis is not obvious to Pete yet!
We were looking forward to our venison for dinner, and had no need to buy any more food, but we could not resist fresh salmon at $12.90 per kilo from the High Country Salmon Farm. They have large ponds full of enormous fish. Pete wanted to buy a small side of smoked fish at $19 but was eventually persuaded to buy a complete fish at the same price and double the size. It was too long to fit in the chilly bin so we emptied all the fishing gear out of a white polystyrene box and stored it there. Fortunately they gave a free bag of ice with each purchase. We find that the cheap white boxes have better insulation that the expensive plastic chilly bins. The day was incredibly hot and we were not inclined to stop so we decided to go and see Mount Cook, it was not as crystal clear as some days but it is extremely rare to see it without cloud. The lake was the usual entrancing pale blue - the colour comes from all the fine dust brought down in the melt water from the glaciers which have been grinding their way down the mountain sides. It is a colour almost impossible to describe, a pale, almost iridescent blue. Beyond the lake, and nearly 50 kms away the central mountains were outlined against the blue sky, all with snow-covered tops and with Mount Cook towering over them. We drove down the side of the lake towards Mount Cook stopping occasionally to take pictures but turned back before the village of Mount Cook.
Instead we drove back to the camp site at Lake Ruataniwha which we used last visit to the area. The lake is used as a rowing centre, and the local Canterbury rowing competition had just finished the previous day, and everyone had gone home. Eventually we got the cabin we had last time which we knew had a big cool Verandah - it was unfortunately more expensive now as it is a Tourist Flat with fridge freezer, microwave, TV, tables, toaster, kettle, outside chairs etc with full crockery and kitchen tools but still good value at $55. A normal cabin is $40. If you stay there look at the cabins before checking in as they vary considerably in size and they prefer to rent the smaller ones first. It was still too hot so we got back into the van and turned on the aircon, and continued down the side road as far as Lake Ohua to look at the Terminal Moraine area. We were following roads along the hydroelectric canals. At one point two joined with a fascinating interplay of colours as both were glacial melt but from different streams and lakes.
We returned to sit on the verandah until it cooled enough to cook. The weather on TV recorded 35 degrees in our area, and it was 32 degrees on our verandah. So it was time to open the cold white wine which we had left in our fridge. We had a bottle of the Pegasus Bay 2004 Sauvignon Semillon, a most interesting and surprising wine. We have always thought highly of the Pegasus Bay red wines and have perhaps underestimated their white wines. The Sauvignon Semillon blend is one we also liked in Australia from the Margaret River region and the Pegasus one stands comparison with any other New Zealand white. It is a classical blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon, both naturally fermented from unclarified juice and aged on their lees for 9 months to develop mid palate complexity, the Semillon being in old oak barriques. The combination is very good already and will have the ability to develop extra depth and nuances with age. When we visited the vineyard, two weeks previously, we bought a couple of bottles of the Sauvignon Semillon and a couple of our old favourite Cabernet Merlot.
In the morning the weather had changed and it was incredibly windy with dust storms whirling through the camp site and across the town of Twizel where we stopped to stock up with essentials including petrol which we were pleased to find had dropped 6 cents a litre overnight. The Bentley cars we had seen the previous day on the road to Mt Cook had all chosen the same petrol station and we were able to admire some of the beautiful vehicles. They are all going to Napier on 14 February so we will need to think about changing our plans so we can see them all again. Going back to the main road we passed a park containing some old earth moving vehicles, in the shadow of a piece of steel pennstock which was typical of that used for the building of the local hydro scheme.
We followed backroads as much as possible towards Tekapo - there are many private roads following the canals, which connect the various lakes and power stations providing hydroelectric power. These roads are open for use with some restrictions, such as speed, and most are tarmac and to a very high quality, in fact some of the Heritage trails such as the Bullock Trail, use these roads. There has been much argument over the flooding of the valleys but the results are, to us, a number of extremely beautiful areas with good recreational facilities. You can follow these hydroelectric scheme roads for miles along wide canals with pale blue waters and past vast power stations with banks of pipes several metres in diameter bringing the water down from the canals above. The waters are the same incredible light blue colour of the lakes.
We then went on to Tekapo - the mountains were covered but the lake still had the magnificent pale blue colour. Tekapo lies in MacKenzie country, a vast basin of golden tussock grass with the lake at 2,300 feet above sea level, an area known for sheep. Maori were the first to venture into this area. In 1855 James MacKenzie, of sheep stealing fame, found the pass used by the Maori opening up the area which now bears his name. The Maori name for the lake comes from Taka, sleeping mat and Po, night. In the past we have often stayed at Lake Tekapo Holiday Park, and drove past to see whether anything had changed since the new owners. To our surprise there was a nice new Backpackers next door, and at the end of the road there were major earthworks and tree cutting. New houses and subdivisions we thought, such a pity. But no, it was a new project to upgrade the old Ice Rink so that there would be a a new ice rink and curling rink, as well as a spa and a number of public and private hot pools. We will see what it is like on our next visit.
We drove past the tiny and very beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd which was open, and there were lots of tour buses outside and swarms of tourists all taking photos of themselves against the mountain backdrop. We stopped for a few moments once we were beyond them all, and it was quiet again. The church has a plain glass window over the altar with a stunning view of the lake and mountains - far better than any stained glass. I use this picture taken in 1999 for Xmas cards. The Church was built in 1935 and is now interdenominational and as well as regular services it does a good trade in Weddings. The builders of the Church were instructed that the site was to be left undisturbed - even the matagouri bushes surrounding the building were to remain. Rocks which happened to be on the lines of the walls had to remain. The stones for the walls had to be procured within 8 kms of the site, were to be unchipped and left in their natural condition. The original wooden shingle roof has however had to be replaced with slate.
It was then on to Fairlie, another regular overnight stop in the past, to look in at the museum. It spreads over a number of large buildings including an original pioneer cottage, now in a time warp and the blacksmith's premises. The entire Fairlie railway station had been added - it had been moved complete from its original site in the main street and must have been quite a sight as the building and transporter was 114 feet long and about 24 wide. To these had been added a number of new 'hanger like' buildings which were full of basically agricultural and transport machinery from a stage coach similar to those of 120 years ago carrying 17 people inside and hanging onto open seats on top to veteran cars.
There was a big collection of tractors in working condition, fixed engines and lots of farm machinery as well as the railway exhibits and hospital equipment in the old station. There is even an autogyro hanging from the roof. There was also a lot of interesting information about sheep farming, especially shearing through the ages. We spent over an hour and it needed at least that to do it justice and felt it alone merited the stop in Fairlie - entry is via a $2 turnstile big enough to take a small family.
Our final stop and change of driver was at the small town of Geraldine which Pauline recalled had an Op Shop (Charity Shop) as we had lost one of our knives and secured two matching ones of excellent quality for the great sum of 50 cents (20p). The town has been a regular stop for icecreams and bread from the excellent bakery. They also have a useful hardware shop where we bought our first camping stove after our first night under canvas at the nearby DOC camp site at Waihi Gorge - it seems a long time ago now and it could well be our tenth year with the tent.
It was then on to Mount Somers Holiday park where we had rung ahead for a cabinMt Somers Holiday Park to check there would be no problem with accommodation before we started the 150 km drive from Tekapo. We have stayed before and it comes high on our list of places to stay. The office is always surrounded by pots of the largest lilies we have ever seen, this year they still looked good to us but the owners were disappointed. They have half a dozen of the basic cabins we were interested in on the site - good value at $39 as they are new construction and very well equipped with crockery cutlery, kettle and toaster to complement the full kitchen, laundry etc. in the facilities block. Outside the kitchen there are beds of every sort of herb you could wish for when cooking. The site even has a games room with table tennis and the pub opposite does good meals. We went across to see if was still as good as ever and got seduced into a couple of huge mixed grills which are all of $13.95 each washed down with a jug of ale; the salmon will have to wait until tomorrow. In the past we have even sat in front of a roaring log fire, the weather can be very variable in the mountains!
The walls of the pub are covered with information boards on the history of the area and walks through it. It used to be a small-scale coal mining area and there are pictures of the railway, initially narrow gauge and with several homemade engines, one based round a 20 HP McCormick Deere tractor engine that we had just seen an example of at Fairlie. There was also an 'inclined plane' called the jig for a balanced up and down coming truck covering the final 164 metre height gain. . The combination of the accommodation and pub makes it a perfect stopping place even if you do not want to do the "Road to Erewhon", our prime reason for this visit.
Unfortunately in the morning we had a complete change of weather and the clouds were hanging low over the valley so the trip to Erewhon looked less desirable. We have done the trip into the mountains down the gravel road a couple of times. It initially passes the mines, an old limestone working and a limekiln that we stopped to look round on the return trip. The road had superb views and leads eventually to Erewhon Station which was featured in the book Erewhon by Samuel Butler, one of the classic New Zealand books we bought and read several years ago. Now the book has been mentioned in the Lord of the Rings Location guidebook by Ian Brodie it will probably become extremely expensive and difficult to find, however it may lead people to also read the other classics in the series - fortunately we now have copies of most of them!
Sitting in the pub looking at the boards we had however realised we had not taken the side trip to look at the coal mines and the Jig that served them. There is a turn off about 8.5 kms up the road which continues as a gravel road another 3.5 kms to the Woolshed Creek carpark. By this time the drizzle had ceased so we put on our walking boots and set out on the initial part of the Mt Somers walkway which takes one up past the Jig to the old Blackburn Mine coal workings. The Jig was a tramway arrangement with an up and down trolley linked by cable with suitable brakes to allow a load of coal to descend whilst the empty truck was taken back up. It ascended 170 metres in 550 metres so even the old miners track which ziz-zaged a little gave us a little exercise. We climbed through the forest of black beech which has a thick black coating over the bark which seems to be a sweet fungus which delights the wasps which feast on it. There were quite a lot of artifacts and interpretation boards on display when we reached the mine but little left to see of the Jig and we had difficulty in following its course. The mining started in tunnels but after the coal seam was set on fire by spontaneous ignition it converted to open cast and the fires were put out every morning before work started - there was a hydralic monitor on display and we are not sure if the overbody was sluiced away or if it was used to put out the fires. On the way down we took an alternative route via a nature trail - it involved two crossings of the Woolshed Creek which involved a little rock hopping.
We took a longer route back to Christchurch so we could call at the Ashburton Aviation Museum, it had been recommended by Dave Newman who is restoring the Mosquito at Ferrymead. It was one of the best aviation displays we had seen, one could just wander round the aircraft and the restoration areas with no real restrictions for a gold coin donation although we gave more and bought a few aviation oriented paperbacks for light reading. They are basing the collection to some extent on the aircraft that used to fly from Ashburton, a grass strip training airfield and to that end have a Tiger Moth and Harvard which have flown recently although not currently intended to be flown again. They also have a Harrier Jump jet undergoing extensive work in the workshops and many other aircraft including crop dusters, a deer catching helecopter, and a V???? twin boom jet. They also have a number of gliders including an Olympia 2b, a type Pete has flown, and a Bergfalke II and a Weihe under restoration.
We also stopped at Wigram's Air Base so we could buy the latest edition of the Catalina book and take advantage of a special offer for the 3 DVD set covering the last three Warbirds over Wanaka airshows at $49. It was then back to the Adorian Motel to finally cook our whole salmon, it was almost as red as that from Akaroa and just as sweet - we baked it slowly in the oven in Aluminium foil.
After a frustrating time on the internet trying to work out if our Barclaycard bill had been succesfully paid as well as updating everything whilst we had access to a landline we decided to cross to the West Coast over Arthur's Pass. This is a delightful trip in fine weather either by car or on the Transalpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth, a trip we did a few years ago. The first part was beautiful and sunny and we had magnificent views, we had forgotten how long the journey was and how one reached an upper valley after the first saddle with wide gravel river flats across which the railway line runs on a low viaduct. We stopped at various points for pictures and debated whether to stop at the The Cave Stream Scenic Reserve which we had writen about in the past - it sits amongst spectacular limestone outcrops with views of the Craigieburn and Torlesse Ranges and contains a 362 metre long cave which is one of the most outstanding natural features in the Canterbury region. To quote DOC "the open country is ideal for picnicking and gentle short walks while going through the limestone cave is a cool adventure" what a refreshing contrast to the normal approach of a government agency. Their information boards positively encourage people to go through the cavern whilst offering sensible advice. We plan to have a go some time and make sure we have some extra waterproof torches and suitable clothing - they say the water level can be up to waist level at one point and you have to climb a 3 metre waterfall on the way out however they state that if care is taken, fit but inexperienced cavers can go through. We could however see the clouds building so we put off once more this cool adventure.
By the time we had completed the final climb to Arthurs Pass the clouds were a threatening dark colour. We spent some time in the DOC information office where we got our first confirmed sandfly bite to welcome us the the West Coast - a land ruled by the sandfly. The Arthur's Pass information centre which is a must as you go by,they have a good set of information as well as periodic talks by DOC, guided walks etc. Recent boards cover the latest upgrades to the road through the Otira Gorge, which was always a problem with falling rocks, slips and steep gradients in icy conditions - there are now some new sweeping viaducts. The showers started as soon as we had gathered enough information for a short walk to the Punch Bowl Waterfall - we instead looked from the road and took a picture of the 131 metre fall and marked the spot for the future. The mountains were now draped in cloud - in some ways it made them even more impressive as we descended on the new road scheme down the Orira gorge and eventually out onto the coastal plains where the rain stopped. The West coast ranges get considerable rainfall, about 4 metres a year at Arthur's pass. The roads in South Island are different to what a European is used to, bridges are often one way even on main roads and there are still a few where trains and cars share one way bridges - all without even a traffic light.
This seems a convenient point to break and the journey will be continued at Hokitika on the coast where we stayed the night in Part 5