The South Island adventure continues - Greetings from Wanaka
Apr 7, 2014
|When we left you we were on the coast just outside Christchurch.
We left South New Brighton on Wednesday 2nd April and headed inland towards the Southern Alps mountain range and a village called Arthur's Pass.
On route we stopped at a cafe in a village called Springfield. There was no sign of Homer Simpson but the woman who served us coffee did a very good impression of Mo the bartender. To say that she lacked customer service skills would be an understatement.
After a hasty departure from the cafe we drove into the mountains and stopped at Castle Hill boulders. This stop had been recommended by Cassie our guide from the 2 week multi activity trip. This was a very impressive limestone outcrop that vaguely resembled the granite tors of Dartmoor in England. (Photo)
We then carried onto a limestone cave system that had a well prepared and popular 500 meter route that followed a mountain stream underground. We stripped down to shorts, T shirts and sandals as from our research the water was going to be waist deep. We donned our head torches and clambered through the cave system, eventually emerging about an hour later with very clean sandals and very cold feet.
(Unfortunately there are no photos as it was far too wet for a camera.)
We decided that we had done enough physical activity and drove on to find a "freedom campsite". This is basically free camping, parking up and using the facilities of the motorhome. We found a wonderful Department of Conservation (DOC) free camping area at Hawden Shelter. This was about 4km down a gravel road that was in the middle of a valley, very quiet, totally empty except, unfortunately, full of sand flies.
The rest of the evening was devoted to doing battle with the sand flies that found a way into the motorhome. Apart from a couple of bites I think we won!
The following day was devoted to the ascent of Avalanche peak at Arthur's pass.
We knew this was going to be a very steep ascent and it didn't disappoint. The first hour of ascent was in forest clambering over tree roots and rocky outcrops before we emerged onto an exposed ridge that led us up to the summit. Not wanting to repeat the same route we picked a different way down that was very loose under foot but a lesser gradient. We must be getting fitter as we completed the route in 5 hours 30 minutes which was well within the recommended timing. We celebrated with fizzy drinks in Arthur's Pass village and then drove on to a proper campsite with eagerly awaited showers.
Friday and we woke to a cloudy sky which saw us having a little lie in before heading to Hokitika for some food shopping and a coffee. We then drove on to Okarito lagoon where we completed the 3 mile beach walk and prepared for an evening of wild Kiwi viewing.
We met Ian our guide at 6.30pm and Ben his black Labrador dog. There were 5 in our group with the remainder being made up of young Germans. Ian gave us a briefing on what we could expect while Ben introduced himself putting his nose where noses are not meant to go. During the briefing the word "patience" was mentioned more than a few times and we were played a tape recording of Kiwi calls so that we knew what to listen out for.
Ian explained that the birds we were looking for were the Okorito Kiwi which were specific to the area. There are only 385 and that what we were going to try to do (view a Kiwi) was near impossible. It had taken until 10.30pm to get a viewing the previous night and not everyone in the group had had a sighting. Ian shared out the mosquito head nets and torches before we set off. After a short drive we got out at a forestry track and Ian got out his secret weapon.
Ian assists the Department of Conversation (DOC) in attaching radio transmitters to the birds legs and he was allowed to track them with a directional ariel. It quickly became obvious that without this device it would have been pointless looking for Kiwis in the wild. We strolled down the track as the light faded, trying to locate one of six birds that had transmitters in a 6km square area. You could not follow the birds in the bush as it was so thick you couldn't get more that a few inches without having to use a machete (and that would just scare them off!). Ian's tried and tested technique was to try and locate a bird close by and wait for it to walk out onto the track. This is where the patience part comes in!
After about 10 minutes Ian had a broad smile on his face and called us together. He had located two Kiwi's and they were a few feet away from the track. The birds he had located were named "BZ" who was a male, he was smaller than the female he had also located whose name was "Beaumont". Ian positioned the five of us in a line along the path facing where he thought a bird would emerge onto the track. As this is not an exact science we were continually moving silently up and down the track as the birds moved in the bush. We heard the birds almost immediately, snuffling and nestling (waking up noises) and then we occasionally saw a fern move or heard a twig snap. For those of you who remember children's TV in the 1970's, It could have been compared with Michael Bentine's Potty time. So we waited and waited and waited.... The Mosquitos also waited with us and we were extremely grateful for the head nets.
After about 90 minutes we could see the bush moving right beside the track and BZ emerged onto the track, lit by Ian's red filtered torch. The Kiwi then turned around and darted back into the bush.
This took no longer than a few seconds and could easily have been missed without Ian's expert guiding. Ian felt we had a chance of seeing the second bird who was less shy and after waiting for about another 30 minutes, Beaumont emerged onto the track and then stood feeding for a short while before going back into the bush. We all had a very good view.
Ian felt it was time to leave the birds alone and we all returned to the vehicle very happy to have seen two of New Zealand's rare and iconic birds in the wild.
The 385 Kiwi's are located over a very large area and each pair has an individual territory of about 1-2 km square.
The photograph is the company notice board and similar to what we saw.
The following morning we woke to rain and low cloud. We had a late departure and drove through Franz Joseph to Lake Matheson which is near Fox Glacier.
We got out one of the few books we're carrying in New Zealand and found a "Lonely Planet" recommended cafe. We had a very nice lunch before a wet dash around the lake. We visited "The view of views" which on a clear day gives a magnificent reflection of the mountains in the lake. Unfortunately this wasn't a clear day! (Photo)
We left the lake and drove through the increasingly heavy rain to the small town of Haast for showers and laundry.
On Saturday night the clocks went back an hour in New Zealand and we enjoyed the extra hour in bed.
We have immediately noticed the difference with lighter mornings and darker evenings. We have definitely left summer behind and had more rain recently than we've had in the whole New Zealand trip. (We're constantly reminding each other it's only a month until we arrive in Mexico and we can top up our tans)
We then drove for the third and last time through the Haast pass, taking in all the views. We visited a number of waterfalls and had a stroll to some pools of water that were a bright aquamarine in colour, this is apparently due to light refraction.
During the afternoon there was a fine spell so we decided to climb Mount Iron which is a rocky knoll just outside Wanaka. From the top there was a fine 360 degree view which made it well worth the effort.
We booked into a local campsite and got our timing just right, as we settled in, the rain started again.
The weather forecast was for a cloudy Monday and on waking and listening to the Radio Wanaka weather presenter announce "the weather will be yucky" how much more do you need to know?
The local police officer came on the radio to give details of the recent crime wave including a distressed duck that had got caught up in an illegal fishing line.
William, Kate and George have arrived in New Zealand, unfortunately they didn't get our itinerary so they will miss us.
The Kiwi's are calling the royal baby "George, the dragon slayer" I think Sir Peter Jackson and his movies have a lot to answer for.
We spent the day doing some chores, getting wifi connections and planning our adventure for when we get back on North Island. (Many thanks to the Active Adventure web site for inspiration)
Were sending this update on Tuesday 8th April and are still in Wanaka.
Today we headed around the lake which borders the town and completed a walk that passed Diamond lake and then up to the summit of Rocky Mountain. (John Denver would not have written songs about this mountain it was more like a lumpy hill).
This was just to keep our joints supple and ready for the main event tomorrow.
As the weather forecast is good we are going to have an early start tomorrow to get over to Queenstown and complete the 1,400 meters of ascent to get to the summit of Ben Lomond. (and of course back down again!)
We have one more week on South Island before we head back over to the North Island by the car ferry to Wellington.