Makarora to Queenstown – wilderness to luxury.

_MG_8968No snow behind us but the ground (and vehicle) was sure covered in a firm frost at Makarora! This tiny settlement is the starting and stopping place for many mountain tramps so we also termed it our “Wilderness Experience” (or in Jim’s case: “Macaroni”). Fortunately, the heating was adequate in our chalet so after a cooked breakfast we set our sights on Wanaka for a short stopover.

Travelling with companions has its benefits, especially when these companions are prepared to have some fun on your behalf… I previously mentioned Jim’s desire to “collect” smiley faces on the flashing speed signs but forgot about his search for elusive trains.  For some reason Jim loves to see “choo-choo trains” as we travel (a residue from his childhood??) and follows railway lines wherever possible in his search. He is fascinated by the Otira Tunnel in Arthurs Pass and went to some lengths to explain the construction of this to Steve while we were in the DOC centre in Arthurs Pass. As we drove on we would hear the comment, “There’s the railway line…” quite frequently.  Naturally, as we travelled, whenever a railway line came into sight… “Oh, Jim… look…. there’s a railway line…” The “choo-choo trains” were not to be seen much to the man’s disappointment as many lines are now part of the “Rail-trail” – a biking network that follows old railway lines.

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Shore of Lake Wanaka

But, back to Wanaka… Rosemary and Steve went in search of a bank or wi-fi access, Jim found a street preacher to challenge (another “hobby” of his) and I enjoyed a walk with a coffee along the lake shore in the sunshine, noticing, once again, how low the water level was.

Back in the vehicle and we headed toward the Crown Range, the highest main road in NZ and one of two routes to Queenstown. In winter the road is often covered in snow and ice so driving can be treacherous (but we had snow chains, just in case!).

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From the top of the Crown Range looking toward Lake Wakitipu.

Today the weather was fine so we just enjoyed more awesome views along a windy but well-sealed road. With a slight diversion, once over the Crown Range, and we arrived in Arrowtown.

This is such a delightful and picturesque little town, so well-photographed in the autumn when the leaves are turning all shades of autumn colours. It is steeped in history of gold-mining. Many miners were Chinese immigrants and as a reminder of these immigrants there is a Chinese settlement preserved adjacent to the shops.  As one wanders around the huts one wonders how the miners coped – we were there in the early afternoon and there was still frost on the ground which wouldn’t have lifted all day! Dirt floors, wooden walls, no insulation, open fireplaces – these men must have been tough – or just gold-crazy!!

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Rosemary tries a hut in the Chinese settlement, Arrowtown for size… yes, that’s frost on the ground!

A stop for a late lunch at the scenic Stopover Gorge where we timed it so well we saw the Stopover Jet take off amidst flurries and swirls of water. Maybe we’ll join them another time when the weather is more temperate!

Time to find our motel in Queenstown… oh, luxury… separate bedrooms and bathroom, well-equipped kitchen, free unlimited wi-fi and all with a peek of the lake… no, we don’t need to go out again today!

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The view from our motel, Queenstown.
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Lake Matheson to Makarora (and smiley faces)

Many of the small towns along our travels had flashing road signs as we approached the town boundaries…. 60…55…50… 🙂 …and small things amuse small minds. Well, that’s not such a nice thing to say about Jim (or correct, for that matter)! But the smiley faces worked… it became Jim’s goal to receive a smiley face every time we entered a small town with the flashing road sign which, when the goal of 50kph was reached, the smiley face flashed just for him! It did seem to be a West Coast thing as the smiley faces ceased once we got to Otago or Canterbury.

 

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Steve continues his walk to the face of Fox Glacier.

But back to our travels … Fox Glacier was our next stop. [Info spot: Named in 1872 after a visit by then Prime Minister of New Zealand Sir William Fox. In 1998 the name of the glacier was officially altered to Fox Glacier / Te Moeka o Tuawe.] The glacier car park is just a few kilometres off the highway with the nearest sighting point within easy walking distance from the car park.  The glacier can be seen from about a third of the way along the track so I stopped there while Steve continued as far as he was permitted.

Time was running short as we still had two and a half hours to go to our overnight destination so we had one short break on the rest of the west coast. Knights Point is where the road meets the Tasman Sea again and awesome views can be seen to the north and the south.  Unfortunately, the viewing platform is unsafe and cordoned off so views are limited.  On reconsideration, I should have booked us into Haast for the night but Rosemary had not enjoyed a stop she and Steve had made there a couple of years ago so I chose the next “town” for our short stop.

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Looking south from Knights Point

 

 

We passed through Haast township at dusk so missed many sights through the Haast Pass.  However, water levels were very low so the Gates of Haast and Roaring Billy would not have been terribly impressive anyway. The trip seemed to take forever as we knew really not where we were going … just a name on a map… Makarora… with, hopefully, a well-equipped kitchen for Steve to cook tea and a couple of comfy beds for sleeping.

As we rounded yet another bend in the road we spied a car pulled over on the side. Someone was standing outside with what looked like a camera.  Naturally, I immediately looked up to where the camera was pointing. “Wow! Look at that moon!  Pull over! Pull over!”

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Full moon rising through the Alps.

Another half an hour or so –  the sign “MAKARORA”.

“Look for “Makarora Tourist Centre””.

“Was that it?”

“Mmmm… must have been cos we’re out of Makarora now…”

A quick U-turn, yes, a sign stating our accommodation… but all is dark and closed up.  Oh well, we pull up in front of the “Reception” sign and there is our “welcome” cellotaped to the door with my name on it. Instructions are clear enough and we find our chalet.

Oh dear, for the second time in 3 nights we have the bathroom-through-bedroom situation.  Without going into details, that was not the only problem we had that night so Rosemary addressed the issues before paying in the morning and managed to get a reduction in our costs.  [Lesson learnt: do let management know if there are any issues with accommodation.  Apart from expecting to pay for comfort and use of facilities, management need to know so repairs can be done.]

Next… a frosty morning, more lakes but a 10/10 motel!

 

Hokitka to Lake Matheson – serenity reflected in mirror lakes…

We had an early start to the day as we knew we had much to see and a way to travel.  I had planned the trip in “bunny hops” so we didn’t have to back-track at all and had plenty of time to explore this beautiful and scenic New Zealand highway… with so many one-way bridges!

Our first planned stop was Okarito [Info spot: Okarito is known for its many species of wading birds, notably the extremely rare (in New Zealand) kotuku. Ōkārito is the kōtuku’s only New Zealand breeding place.]. However, as we were enjoying the windy trip through the luscious bush a lake with an unusual name popped into view.

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Rosemary appears to send vapours of mist from her phone at Lake Ianthe.

Lake Ianthe was so clear, the reflections mirror-like, morning mist still rising – what a photo opportunity with a jetty as well… disturbed only by an overnight “freedom camper” still eating her breakfast.

It was soon after this short break that we almost met some Asian travellers head on! Their campervan was straddling the white and yellow lines in the centre of the road. As we pulled over to let a police car past,  the police car followed us…”Uh,oh… Jim? were you speeding?” But no, the yellow, blue and white car immediately swung a U-turn – we weren’t the only ones to have seen the wandering campervan!

Twenty-five-ish years ago I sped down the Waitangiroto River in a jet boat to see the nesting Kotuku. Today I knew I wouldn’t see any of these beautiful birds but was keen to visit the famous lagoon anyway.  I wasn’t disappointed and have noted that it is a place I would love to return to to stay, such is the peace we felt there. It was time for morning tea and a picnic table was perfectly placed.

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Morning tea at Okarito Lagoon

Photos aplenty of the simply serene lagoon and the quirky, beautifully- coloured baches, a short wander along the stoney beach (yes, Jim kept his nose down looking for greenstone!) and a quick and very short amble into the bush by Steve looking for the rare kiwi [Info spot: Rowi are the rarest of the five species of kiwi] known only to that area and we soon headed back to the main highway.

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Still looking for greenstone….

It is well-known that many sandflies chose (well… maybe that’s not quite the right word!) to live in Westland. And it is also known that sandflies are more attracted to some folk than to others. Rosemary must have “delicious” blood… they soon found her and loved what they found!  But only her, much to her disgust – we other three were not at all desirable!!!

A quick tour around Franz Joseph township told us that Fox Glacier was more accessible so we continued heading south. At the town of Fox we saw the signs pointing us to our next “must see” – Lake Matheson.  This must be one of the most photographed lakes in New Zealand and I was keen to add some personal ones to my library. I knew that dawn and dusk were the most desirable times to take photos as that is when the reflections of Aorangi/Mt Cook are the clearest but we were truly blessed when we arrived early afternoon.  Because of time restraints we walked to the closest viewpoint – the jetty. “Wow!” and “Wow!” and “Wow!” yet again … Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Tasman were mirrored perfectly in the calm waters of the lake…. the photos capture it all… fullsizeoutput_294f

On our short walk back to the vehicle for lunch, Jim complained of a sore toe – probably caused by a toenail which should have been trimmed.  Steve had a couple of solutions for him… “I could find a suitable stone and grind it off for you…. or….maybe cut it with a sharp stone and chisel…”  (Maybe he’d seen a greenstone chisel back in Hokitika and fancied testing its sharpness!). Jim continued walking without further complaint!

Still in day three of our tour we continue to Fox Glacier…

 

Lake Brunner to Hokitika – more lake reflections and an elusive search…

Lake Brunner Lodge
A cool start by Lake Brunner

Dawn arrived cool and calm – Jack Frost was nipping at our fingers and toes so a heated car seat was welcomed by driver Jim and the front seat passenger of the day – Rosemary. We decided not to return to the lake as we knew there are many more along the way and we had plenty of exploring to do around Hokitika.

The men were keen to have a quick look at an old  mining site just before Greymouth but we drove through the town without stopping. The previous year Jim & I had  been there during a stormy weekend (see previous blog – “A Wet & Wild Weekend”) and we were all keen to get on down to Hokitika.

 

Lake Kaniere, Hokitika
Mist rises from Lake Kaniere

Our initial goals were Lake Kaniere and the Hokitika Gorge. We were in need of a coffee break so, as Lake Kaniere was closest, we chose to call there first. What a beautiful slice of water – well, as much as water can be a “slice”… A few holiday homes stood quietly on the bank, a picnic area beside the lake beckoned us and there was just one other vehicle parked within eye-sight. Mist hovered over the water at the dark end of lake and beyond the far shores snow-capped mountains towered in the distance. A small jetty which jutted into the water was reflected perfectly in the mirror-calm water.

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Reflections and snow-capped mountains.

Stomachs replenished, photos shot, short walk accomplished and we headed back to town.  Unfortunately, a call was made and agreed to that we didn’t need to continue on the road to the gorge as we still wanted to explore Hokitika. We do regret that now but the gorge will still be there next visit.

After checking into our motel we drove to the beach with our lunch and sat in the replica ship Tambo [Info spot: The schooner went ashore when crossing the Hokitika bar on 12th November 1866] to enjoy our sandwiches. A boulder seawall has been erected since Jim & I were there in the stormy weather last year so we are were not able to walk along the beach.  Instead we drive to the iconic driftwood sign now seen in all West Coast brochures [Info spot: sign created in 2014 as entry in driftwood art competition]. fullsizeoutput_29bc

As Rosemary & Steve wandered around “the cool little town”, Jim and I headed just out of town to do one of Jim’s “must do”s of this trip – search the beach for greenstone (jade) for which the town is also famous..

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A cool but scenic place to search for jade.

The fact that it was elusive didn’t matter at all – the fun was in the seeking! And we did spot a seal pup on the beach which happily took off into the waves at our approach. fullsizeoutput_29bd

 

 

 

 

We know west coast sunsets are worth waiting for so Rosemary and I checked the predicted time and headed back down to the shore… but our “sunset” was also elusive tonight – hidden behind a long, thick layer of cloud.

Sheffield to Moana – 2 passes, 1 viaduct, many villages.

Guess what…? 10k down the road… a very straight road at that… is a the little town of Springfield… and on that road, in that little town, there is a cafe/shop advertising “famous” pies!

“Should we stop?”

“No, they’re probably just the Sheffield pies anyway.”

Onward and upward… we come to our first pass – Porters Pass. [Info spot: Named in 1858 by the Porter brothers who were farming nearby and is, in fact, higher than the more well-known Arthur’s Pass to follow.] This is a popular ski-ing area in the winter and boasts amazing rock formations at Castle Hill so naturally a photo stop and short walk is called for at Cave Stream Reserve.

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Pristine blue skies from Cave Stream Reserve.

The road continues to wind its way through the mountains, along the Bealey River and into the second pass of our travels – Arthur’s Pass [Info spot: Previously called Camping Flat then Bealey Flats. Named after Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson (1841–1934) who traversed it in 1864 with his brother.] Tucked amongst the “vast swathes of beech forest” is the little village, also now called Arthur’s Pass.

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Waterfall at Arthurs Pass is clearly lacking its usual volume of flow.

Here one finds a DOC and visitors’ centre with a museum well worth visiting, several eateries and accommodation options, a railway station and a church, also worth popping into for the view.  Many alpine tracks begin and end within a short distance of the village but we have time only for a short stroll to view a waterfall. Unfortunately and unusually, there has not been much rain preceding our stopover so the water is not falling in spectacular measure but it’s a pretty sight anyway.

Such a beautiful drive winding through the trees but soon we approach the Otira Gorge viaduct. [Info spot: Built to avoid rockfalls. Opened on Saturday 6th November, 1999]. Can’t miss the chance to view this incredible engineering feat from above so sandwiches and hot drinks are extracted from the boot as the photographers shoot away from the lookout.

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The magnificent Otira viaduct.

We take a slight detour to drive around the tiny village of Otira [Info spot:Meaning of the name is ‘place of the travellers’. During construction of the rail tunnel, opened in 1923, Otira housed about 600 workers and their families.] and discuss that on another trip we may even stay in the quirky hotel as it has been recommended and there are certainly a few artefacts to be examined!

Our destination is not too far away as we follow the Taramakau River and turn off at Jacksons to head north. The mainly-holiday-home settlement of Moana lies on the northern shores of Lake Brunner and our overnight destination is a few kilometres beyond that. After checking in we return to Lake Brunner to capture some photos and scenery in the calm of the late afternoon. [Info spot: Lake Brunner was named for the 19th century explorer Thomas Brunner. The Maori name for the lake, Kotuku moana, means “Sea of herons”.] 

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A tossed stone sends ripples in a very calm Lake Brunner

From Christchurch, NZ… pies and other (almost) “p” words…

It all began one wet Christchurch morning…

but…. half an hour out of town heading in a westward direction that changed (the wet that is)!

We left the clouds and rain behind and set our sights on the sunny West Coast…

The cast:

Jim: Our driver

Steve: Chef and No 1 food shopper; chief vehicle-packer… (an Aussie, as well!)

Rosemary: Steve’s wife (another Aussie), my cousin, chief sandwich maker

Judy (myself): Jim’s wife; tour director and planner and dish-washer (yeah well, I had to give myself some label, didn’t I??)

 

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“Go west, young man”… or in our case, “not-so-young-men-and-women.”

The plan: To traverse the alps and passes and countryside and see as much as possible in nine days.

We were equipped – snow chains, coats/jackets (about 3 per person), scarves, gloves, beanies, long-johns, wooly socks, boots, thermals…. snow… here we come!!

Everything had been booked by aforementioned planner (self) and Steve had bought food to be cooked on our first night at Lake Brunner.

Hang on…. someone mentioned pies…. Springfield… top pie shop… that’d be at about morning tea cum lunch time… oh well, sandwiches will keep for a day….

Sheffield is a few “k” short of Springfield and begins with same letter so when the sign “Award-winning pies” was spied approaching Sheffield where else would we stop… “someone” must have got the “S”s muddled…

Judy pops into the said pie shop, looks for the “necessary”, can’t see one, enquires… “500 metres down the road”…. gives Jim her pie order and says, “I’ll meet you at the loo”, and off she trots (well, strolls, actually) in keen anticipation.

When one is in a hurry for a “short stop” 500 metres is a very long way… and one hopes one’s driver might just come, pick one up and make the journey a little shorter or briefer! However, one’s hopes are often dashed… My driver was so excited to get a hot “award-winning” pie he couldn’t wait to consume it so did so sitting right outside the pie shop…. while his wife strides it out down the main road to the nearest you-know-what. And this particular “u-no-wot” (short for “you-know-what”) was in a sports ground – at the back of the sports ground – so it wasn’t just 500 metres, it was 500 metres plus another 200 across the sports field!

Driver and passengers arrived as I was about to cross the sports field so I (with a little bit of annoyance apparent!) jumped in the vehicle and was taken the last 100 metres to the u-no-what.  Feeling much relieved I then said we would stop at a picnic table adjacent to the sports field and have our coffee and pies… oops, change that to pie – mine, the only one not yet consumed!

Now, on the subject of pies (to which we will return not infrequently) … I don’t actually like them.  Jim does, but as I am his dietician (ha! ha!), he rarely gets to eat them (mmmmm….. in my sight!).  However, I was willing to give one of these special pies a taste… I chose a New York Steak & Pepper pie… and I must say that it was the best pie I can ever remember having eaten – full marks to Sheffield’s Award-winning pie shop.

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Rosemary & Steve examine the map while I enjoy my delicious pie…

Well, we haven’t progressed far this time but soon we will continue our journey west – from Christchurch through Arthur’s Pass to Lake Brunner near the West Coast…

Te Maika – 16 …. boat adrift…

While on the subject of boats…

Our holiday was at an end and we were packed and ready to depart. “We”, in this case, was a friend, her son, a friend of said son and Jim, my husband.  We’d had a great week at Te Maika enjoying the usual experiences. This day of departure was quite windy and therefore the harbour was rather choppy. The tide was out-going and it was about mid-tide, which meant that the water flow heading out to the open sea was at its greatest.  I’m not sure why we were confident leaving at this time or tide but I guess a three-hour car trip home was to follow.

Homeward bound - on a calm day!
Homeward bound – on a calm day!

The wind was blowing across the harbour into our bay… the boat was determined not to leave the shore… small waves insisted on buffeting the bow making it difficult to keep it pointing towards the channel. The boat was loaded with luggage and Jim, my friend’s son, Regan, and I were set to go across with the first load.  Jim would then return for our friend and Regan’s friend. I was (and am) quite capable of driving the boat so took the helm this particular morning.

“Ready to go?” I shouted to whoever was pushing off.  I started the motor and lowered the prop as we headed toward the channel.  “It feels very sluggish…” I commented to Jim.

“You’re just fighting the current,” replied Jim.

I was sure it wasn’t just current I was fighting but what do I know…?

It must have a been a very few seconds later when Regan called, “The anchor… did anyone bring in the anchor?”

And then … “Clunk…clunk…clunk…” I cut the motor…

We were adrift – right in the middle of the swiftly-flowing, out-going current.

Jim started to climb over the back to free the anchor chain as I called to him to put on a life jacket (nowadays the life jacket goes on before we leave the shore!). Next call was to my friend on shore, “Get help!” I hardly needed to tell her this as Regan’s friend took off on his 12-year-old legs.  I could see a small craft a long way off so stood up and started waving my arms as one sees portrayed in the movies.

I don’t know what happened over the next minute or so except that the open sea was calling us very quickly… and there was nothing we could do to stop the call!  It did seem like the small craft which was in the distance was alongside us in very quick time. Miniature people had gathered on the shore to watch – where did they come from?- and we were soon to be in very choppy waters.

The open sea where we were "rescued" - but the current was flowing at an amazing rate!
The waters from the beach where we were rescued – but add a ferocious current!

The men on both boats tossed ropes and shouted orders… “Judy, you and Regan lie on the luggage as far to the back as you can…. grab this…. move that…” I did as I was told and prayed for good measure, too! A second boat summoned by Regan’s friend came to check on our progress and left us again when he was sure everything was under control.

Eventually, with two motors revving very hard, the “rescue” boat towed us, fighting the current all the way, to our departure point. A quick look at the prop showed that the motor would start but whether or not it would make it all the way to Kawhia was debatable so luggage stayed on board, Jim in the “pilot” seat, and all other passengers climbed aboard our rescuer’s craft and we motored side-by-side back to Kawhia.