Tekapo to Christchurch… sorry to be heading home…

All good things must come to an end, so they say… and sadly, this was the day we were to head home….

BUT… a couple of things to do on our way…

We had hoped for a dusting, or even more, of snow in the morning at Tekapo.  Alas, it was just another hard frost with snow just out of reach on the nearby hills. The weather was obviously cold but not too windy for a drive up to Mt John. I had hoped to do some star gazing at the observatory on Mt John the previous night but it was closed due to which winds so we star-gazed from the hot pools instead.

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“The hills are alive with the sound of….. wind and flippin’cold!!” 

I still needed to take Rosemary and Steve to the lookout anyway so that is where we headed after breakfast. Well, I’ve never been so cold… 4 layers of thermals and/or wool and I could still feel the cold on my skin! Luckily Jim was alert to the wind direction and strength or the vehicle door could have been swiped off it’s hinges! There are brilliant views to be seen from the top but, after a quick walk around the cafe (the outside, that is) to see all that can be seen, a few “must-have” photos and we were really pleased to jump back in the vehicle and Jim and someone else enjoyed the luxury of the heated seats!

Another mandatory stop was at the church  fullsizeoutput_29f2and the sheepdog  [Info spot: to honour collies which the Scottish shepherds brought out with them to farm in the area.] on Tekapo Lake shore.
fullsizeoutput_29faThe wind wasn’t as bitter down here though we weren’t tempted to wander for long.  Jim and Steve had a chat to the church “caretaker” of the day while Rosemary and I wandered and took just one or two photos before taking a short drive around the eastern shore of lake. The Caretaker suggested a Pie stop on the way home …. we must do that as it will be our last chance.

And then we really did feel like it was homeward bound.

fullsizeoutput_29fc  Burke’s Pass is a quaint village with a group of unusual “shops” clustered on a bend in the road. And not far past that is Fairlie where it really does feel like we are “nearly home.” However, it is in Fairlie that we “must stop” to sample our final pies. The Bakehouse is the home of Lieber Pies, hand-filled with imagination, and well-known for many miles around.  I needed to compare the “Pepper Steak” with Sheffield’s “New York Pepper Steak”…. very close but I did feel Sheffield’s pie had a slight winning margin – though, as I said, I am definitely not a pie connoisseur!  We also tried the “Pork & Apple pie” and decided the pork would be better “pulled” rather than in chunks.

At Rakaia it was time for leg-stretch… jolly cold out of the car so that was short-lived! And then the most boring (actually, only boring) part of our journey…

We arrived home to gale-force winds and a very cold house… tempted to carry on and come back when we felt more welcome!

So, here ends my South Island travel blog. Would I repeat the trip? Absolutely! Would I travel with the same company? Well, we became such a well-oiled machine, who wouldn’t?… chef and shopper on board, dishes, breakfast, lunches, driver, packing, etc all down to a fine art… Next time I will ask Steve to cook with Rice Bran Oil, though, as I believe that has a higher smoking temp and we mightn’t have to open so many doors and windows just when we are trying to warm up a unit on a cold night! And I will ensure all units have separate bathrooms – not walk-through-bedroom ones – and well-equipped kitchens. And Jim will fix the CD player in the vehicle so we can have some music to sing along to – especially when we’ve heard enough of his “stories from long ago”! And Rosemary, well…. she can continue making perfect sandwiches and showing so much appreciation when it’s her turn to sit in the front on the heated seat!

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Cromwell to Tekapo via Aoraki/Mt Cook … is it really there??

More rain as we left Cromwell [Info spot: Named after Oliver Cromwell. Previously known as “The Junction”, “The Point” and “Kawarau”]…. oh well, can’t complain… it is winter!  But some snow would be lovely… we do have chains and plenty of cold-weather coats.

fullsizeoutput_173Cromwell is “The Fruitbowl of the South” and has an interesting past. It was not only once a large gold-mining settlement but much of the old town was drowned to create a dam, now Lake Dunstan.  Some of the old town has been preserved (now called “Old Cromwell Town”) and is well worth a visit and wander. So many historic sites around Cromwell that we didn’t have time to visit but they’ll be there for another time.

The rain eased as we followed Lake Dunstan (Clutha River) northwards.  Another scenic drive though the Lindis Valley and Lindis Pass – New Zealand’s ever-changing terrain never fails to astound me no matter how many times I travel the roads!

 

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“Antiques” and “Collectables” enjoy a spot of sun on the verandah!

A morning tea and  “pie” break was called for at Omarama. Glider pilots love the air here, near the southern end of the Mackenzie Basin. The skies are usually clear and empty providing accommodating updrafts. We enjoyed a hot cup of coffee sitting under the verandah of an antiques shop, closed for the winter months, and reading many amusing and quaint sayings through the door of the shop and around us. fullsizeoutput_29e8

Onward and upward, after buying some of the best-ever fresh salmon at the salmon farm by Twizel – a “must-buy” whenever we are passing.

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Aoraki/Mt Cook is up there somewhere!

A left turn at Lake Pukaki and I’m looking for a glimpse of Aoraki/Mt Cook [Info spot: NZ’s highest mountain. Aoraki means “Cloud Piercer”]… oh, sad… it’s once again shrouded in cloud – the story of my visits! However, it is a lovely drive on an exceptionally well-maintained road (necessary for all the traffic, I guess!) Thank you to “Peter” who provided a wonderful viewpoint – as cold as it was!

It must be many years since I visited the tourist centre and Hermitage as I didn’t remember any of it – beautiful new(?) accommodation and restaurants; a well-stocked shop and the Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre.  We agreed not to spend the time or money to wander through the centre – a pity is so expensive for NZers.  But we did think a weekend stay at the hotel was within the realms of possibility in the future. It was so cold outside the doors that we didn’t even venture along one of the many trails we had hoped to wander on to catch awesome views of the famous peaks somewhere up yonder.

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Rain? sleet? snow flakes? on the windscreen at Lake Pukaki.

So back down the mountain road to Tekapo with thanks again to “Peter” at whose lookout we stopped for a sandwich – in the vehicle!

 

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Another great lake view from our motel unit – this one of Lake Tekapo.

We were delighted to find that we had another brilliant lake view from our motel unit – and the unit was warm and welcoming, too. Rosemary, Steve and I braved the cold wind and icy air to stretch our legs with a wander around the shore to the Church of the Good Shepherd. Two of us called in to a very-touristy shop on our way back and had a browse in the warmth.

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Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo from the new pedestrian bridge.

After another yummy tea, cooked by our resident chef Steve, we drove the short distance to the thermal pools for a delicious soak – definitely worth the chill running between the pools!

 

Te Anau to Cromwell… landscapes, cloudscapes and derelict buildings.

A wonderful sleep was had by all!! The rain arrived in the morning as it does for me whenever I visit Te Anau.  We agreed to take the slighter longer route to Cromwell rather than back-track to Queenstown.  It wasn’t long before we left the rain behind to enjoy the different and varied scenery through Southland farming country.

 

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I wonder if I’ll ever see a pencil sketch of this…??

Old buildings squat in fields at frequent intervals and soon Jim declared that I should be taking photos of these to add to his “accumulation”.

“What accumulation?”

“The ones on the computer that I am going to draw with pencil one day.”

“Oooo…kaaay… ” (I’m not sure just what he was referring to here…) but, with this confession, we were then on constant lookout for old rundown and dilapidated buildings.

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Not much left of this one…

Not only did the landscapes keep us focussed but so did the cloud-scapes. The rolling farmlands were luscious and green and above brilliant shapes and swirls spread before us in amazing displays of white on blue.

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Amazing cloud formation.

“I know what we’re having for lunch ….! Jimmy’s Pies!”

“Jimmy’s Pies? You haven’t made any pies!”

“No, Jimmy’s Pies at Roxburgh – I used to stop there and buy a pie at Jimmy’s Pies when I was young on the way to the possum festival.”

Well, I guess if ‘Jimmy’ has been making pies since our Jim was a lad, and is still making them, they can’t be too bad!

And when we pulled up at Jimmy’s Pie Shop there were enough customers lined up for us to think we were on to something worth tasting!  I chose an apricot pie, being in the heart of apricot country, but as it wasn’t apricot season, this pie tasted like any other apricot pie much to my disappointment – my mistake!

 

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Someone was trying to confuse us in Clyde.

Another stop at Clyde while Rosemary checked the wool and craft shop in her continual search for certain merino wool – she got lucky this time! Jim had a wander around the old buildings looking for earthquake damage… yes…we wondered about that too – it has just become a habit of his since working for several years with earthquake repairs here in Christchurch. We drove to the top of the dam, took a couple of terrible photos, and continued to Cromwell where it was, again, too wet and cold and miserable to do anything but find our accommodation and settle in for the night.

 

 

Onwards to Milford Sound and back to awaiting comfort at Te Anau..

With all the tourist buses on the road to Milford we were pleased to see an almost equal number of toilet signs along the way… stop in 5kms… 6kms…4kms. We didn’t avail ourselves of any of these (largely in fear of being overrun whilst in the conveniences!) but I was delighted (I think!) to read signs in many of these “little rooms” all over Southland asking users to “Please put ALL paper in the toilet” – some in no less than ten languages and all with accompanying pictures demonstrating the correct and incorrect ways to dispose of the said paper.

But, enough “toilet talk” and on with our journey…  The mountains rise up beside us and one can easily get the feeling that they want to close in and engulf the unweary traveller.  Mighty, sheer rock faces are stunning to view but hard to capture their true magnificence on camera.

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The mountains appear to be closing in on us!

There is a constant “Wow!” factor in this land of the Hobbit and I feel the first uncomfortable feelings of claustrophobia. How amazing were the men who “conquered” this terrain!

There are many short walks and tracks one can take on the way to Milford from 30 minutes to 6 hours or more.  Our time only allowed for a couple of short walks so after driving through the Homer Tunnel [Info spot: Named after William Homer who discovered the Homer Saddle on 27 January 1889 and suggested that a tunnel would provide access to the Milford Sound.]

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Homer Tunnel from Milford end.

we had a second break in our trip at The Chasm.  This is a pleasant stroll through a “goblin forest” to, as the name suggests, a chasm in the rocks where the water falls in dramatic fashion. It was impressive enough to us but, as mentioned previously, the region had been without the usual rainfall when we visited – to see the chasm after a decent rainfall would truly be awesome.

In the twenty-plus years since I was at Milford, things have grown… buses lined up in the car parks, cruise-boats lined up at the wharves, tourists buzzed around the info centre and cruise-boat terminal, cruise-boats came and went… We ate our sandwiches in the terminal, took the mandatory photos of Mitre Peak and had a wander to the info centre.  One day I will return for an overnight cruise… in the summer after some heavy rain… so I can truly enjoy the magnificence of the sound.

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The boat timed itself perfectly for this shot with Mitre Peak!

The two hour trip back to Te Anau was broken only through the Homer Tunnel where we saw some keas flitting about. [Info spot: Kea is the only true alpine parrot in the world. It is endemic to NZ; a very curious and unusual bird.] We hadn’t seen any of these birds on our travels thus far so I was keen to make an acquaintance. As there were no obvious signs telling us not to feed the birds Jim threw a small piece of biscuit at one of the pair as I prepared to capture the beautiful colours under the wings.  It took a few tosses and I gave in to the cold before the keas obliged!

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A kea poses for the camera.

IMG_9117The mist rolled in as we wound our way back through the towering alps so the luxury of our “new” motel unit beckoned us without further delays….

 

Toward Milford Sound… after a bad night but a better morning…

As I mentioned and photgraphed, the view was great…

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Our first unit on the right of this block.

We had actually been given the choice of two units at Te Anau – the first one being two bedrooms with a bathroom between but no lounge and minimal cooking facilities in each – not an option! The second unit had decent lounge, dining and kitchen facilities but, once again, the bathroom was through a bedroom. Oh well, seems like we were lumped with this one – especially as it had the great lake view.

So… Steve, as per usual, starts cooking… uh, oh…. the cooking has stopped… all by itself… “Not a problem, we’ll just turn the fuse back on.”

And we’re cooking again… until we turn on the telly…

“Turn the fuse on again…” …. cooking again … check emails and Facebook … plug in computers…

“Fuse again…” re-charge phones….

“Fuse… Oh, this is going to be a fun night!”

We reached our limit when the fuse blew once more right in the middle of a major rugby match – Canterbury playing Otago, I think – not a positive outcome for Jim, an Otago supporter!

But wait… there’s more… lack of electric blankets… heater in bathroom not working… noisy neighbours…

It was too late to mention anything to staff that night as they had gone home to their warm, electrically-sound homes but in the morning my man, Jim, hot-trotted over to the office to (politely) explain our frustrations of the previous evening.

Now, full marks to the management who humbly and compassionately listened to the list of “grievances” and immediately offered us a room in the adjacent new motel block. Would we be happy to accept that at no extra cost? Mmmmmm…. what do you think??

 

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Our upgrade – 2nd and 3rd doors downstairs.

No sooner had we transferred all our gear and were revelling in the two separate bedrooms, separate bathroom, well-appointed kitchen, spacious lounge and heat pumps in all rooms than we noticed an electrical van parked outside our previous unit – 10/10 for quick action! Another bonus for us – our view was the same!

 

 

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View from new unit – could wake to this quite happily!

Anyway, today was the day we were going to do item number two on my “must do” list – drive to Milford Sound. I walked the Milford Track with my children over 20 years ago but I had never driven in or out as at the time of our tramp we had to fly out as the Homer Tunnel was closed due to a slip.

The day was not brilliant but it wasn’t raining. (Mind you, some rain would have provided the rivers with some water to flow into the waterfalls.) But one thing that was in abundance was tourists… on buses! We (unintentionally) timed our trip so we didn’t become part of a “bus jam” but we passed what seemed like myriads of tourists spewing out of buses at one photographic point to snap pics of cloud-covered mountains.

The map to Milford highlighted several places of interest along the way.  The first of these we chose to stop at was…

“Guess what….we get to see more Mirror Lakes!”

“I didn’t know there were lakes out here!”

Oh darn… we pull up behind a parked bus or two… and go down the path to view the mirror lakes.  We meet the tourists coming from the other direction! Camera at the ready, shuffling through the Asians… and Asians… and Europeans… and Asians, I hear an odd but somewhat familiar sound… “My old man’s a dustman, he wears a dustman’s hat” in a sort-of tune…

Mmmm, I think I’ll ignore that and focus on the “mirrors”. I was right – there are no real lakes here but the tiny bodies of water we’d stopped to look at did reflect almost perfectly the surrounding scenery.  Nothing compared to Lakes Kaniere, Ianthe and Matheson but maybe the tourists didn’t realise that yet… _MG_9042

Queenstown to Te Anau via the lake tips.

There were three “must-see” destinations on my list this trip.  The first one was Glenorchy at the northernmost tip of Lake Wakatipu. I had never been to this peaceful, sparcely-inhabited settlement so today was the day.

Rosemary had a request to buy something specific from the Queenstown market so we stopped there on our way and had a rummage around the variety of stalls and chatted with a few stall-holders – and came away without Rosemary’s request.

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Lake Wakatipu looking south.

Glenorchy [Info spot: Named after Glen Orchy in Scotland] is about a 45-minute twisting and turning scenic drive along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. For some reason I thought it was a metal road so was pleased to learn I was mistaken! The well-sealed road led us to a well-established settlement with pubs, cafes and plenty of accomodation. We had our morning cuppa, a wander around with, naturally, a photo shoot and, as the day’s activities were plenty, headed to the next “corner”  of the lake.  I have since learned that we could and should have ventured further into “Lord of the Rings” territory… but that will happen another time, for sure!

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I didn’t want disturb a woman feeding her baby in the sun so asked her to “photobomb” my photo!

A seemingly much quicker trip back to Queenstown and a quick trip up to Coronet Peak to (maybe) find some snow and see the sights.  Well, the snow was as sparse as the snowmen but the view was brilliant and the wind-chill factor rather high so it was back to lower ground for lunch.

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View of Queenstown from Coronet Peak. Wouldn’t it look so much more spectacular surrounded by snow!

At Franklin Arm the chill was still so biting that lunch was consumed while sitting in our vehicle.

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Looking south-west from Franklin Arm, Lake Wakatipu.

Our third “corner” of Lake Wakatipu was Kingston at the southern end. [Info note: founded in the 1860s as a service centre for the gold mining industry]. The drive along the opposite shore of the lake (to the drive to Glenorchy) is beautiful as one winds the way around the “Devil’s Staircase” [Info spot: apparently so named as this windy section of Highway 6 was quite a ‘hair-raising’ drive before it was sealed.]. Of course, here in the home of the now moth-balled Kingston Flyer, our train-buff driver was very happy to expound on the beauty and wonders of the old steam train to Rosemary and Steve while I braved the still-present chill to capture the scenery. Although the township was very quiet at the time of our short visit, I believe it would be a delightful place to stop over for a while during the summer months when the lake is a hive of activity.

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The winter’s day is foreboding and grey mid-afternoon at Kingston looking north-west.

One and a half hours later we arrived at Te Anau. Jim has an oft-told true tale of the time he preached (many years ago) in the Presbyterian Church here. Guess where the vehicle headed? That’s right… to the Presbyterian Church.  And once found, right by the lake shore, guess where Jim headed? Right again… into the church – being a Sunday afternoon, there were folk milling around. Thankfully for the three of us left in the vehicle (the rain had arrived) it was a short visit but the man was pleased to have had a peep inside the church and introduce himself to one or two parishioners.

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Late afternoon view from our motel at Te Anau looking northwards over the lake. What more could we ask?? Well, quite a lot it turned out…!!

Our motel was easy to find and on the lakefront.  And what a  view from our window… straight up the lake toward our destination the following day – Milford Sound. However, the evening’s “adventures” didn’t end there…

 

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.