Soundtrack: Blame It On Me by George Ezra (this was playing in the gift shop when we were there)

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 4 hours 4 minutes
  • Distance: 15 km
  • Calories: 2,339
  • Steps: 22,007

We had a lie-in!

The sheer luxury of a lie-in at this stage in the holiday is hard to describe. We’ve had flights, appointments, tours, we’ve been shuttled back and forth, we’ve queued, we’ve waited… The freedom to just lie in today was great.

That said, we were woken by the ka kas.

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‘Get up you lazy sods!’

You know you have been overexposed to nature when an endangered species comes to your window to sing you awake and you want it to shut up!

We got up gradually instead of in a rush and headed out for a breakfast of crepes at the Kiwi-French Café (KFC, geddit?)

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Kiwi-Frech Café

Had a wee walk around the town and the shops.

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Even the oystercatchers here are All Blacks

Then we decided to walk out to Lee Bay to see the other end of the chains. They’re 6km away (the guidebook says 5km). A 12km walk is a long walk for me, but I guess it’s nothing for the locals and the Serious Walkers who come here.

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“There’s a voice, that keeps on calling me…”

The scenery on the walk was – and I know I’m over-using the word – stunning.

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A gorgeous bay

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The Bathing Beach

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Another gorgeous bay

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SWMBO and bay

After 6km we got to the chain. And I did tell you earlier there was a story behind the chain…

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The story behind the chain

And in case you can’t see what that picture says, here’s the text:

Te Puka – the anchorstone

Maori creation stories tell how Maui, a legendary Polynesian voyager, pulled up from the sea floor the anchor stone Te Puka a Maui (Stewart Island/Rakiura) to act as an anchor for the great ancestral canoe Te Waka o Aoraki (South Island of New Zealand)

The stylised anchor chain is secured firmly on land by a shackle but disappears beneath Foveaux Strait/Te Ara a Kewa to remind us of the physical and spiritual connections between Stewart Island Rakiura and Bluff/Motu Pohue, the traditional tauripa or stern post of Te Waka o Aoraki.

The chain links also symbolise a history of inter-relationships that have given the peoples of Stewart Island/Rakiura a strong sense of heritage and identity.

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The chain going into the water

Ain’t that nice? A chain that is welded to the earth on the Stewart Island, disappears under the sea to reappear at Stirling Point in Bluff, where it’s tethered to the South Island.

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SWMBO and chain

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Me and chain

And of course we took a Feetstagram.

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Chain feetstagram!

And finally for the chains – a picture that was literally days in the making:

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SWMBO in the chain on the South Island, me in the chain on Stewart Island

The guide book said it was 5km from Halfmoon Bay to Lee Bay but it lied.

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5km my arse

After our 12km walk we had lunch (soup) in the hotel and went to the Foot Massage stall beside the KFC so I could get a foot massage. And I failed. The girl doing them said she had a sore shoulder but wanted to keep the sign up for visibility and promotion. She wouldn't be able to do a foot massage until next month. I said I won't be here next month... Ah well. My sore feet and I (and SWMBO!) went back to our room for a cuppa.

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Just some ducks, walking across the path

Then it was dinner in the Kai Kart. We had to phone Phillip again at 7pm for the go/no-go for the kiwi tour but it was looking likely. We met a couple at the Kai Kart who were also taking the kiwi tour -  they’d spoken to Phillip more recently than us, and they said he said it was looking good for tonight. So we went to the pub for some of the quiz, although if the tour was on we’d have to leave before it finished.

The pub was packed with teams – I think a lot of the island turns out every week for this quiz. One of the bar staff – she was from Derry! – added us on to a team of folks from the DoC. They seemed to have the quiz well in hand but we did manage to answer a few questions. And the girl from Derry was the one asking the questions, so all the locals complained they couldn’t understand her. Poor girl! We had no trouble making out what she said.

Mid-quiz, SWMBO popped out to phone Phillip and we were told the kiwi tour was on! So we headed to the docks to get the boat before 9pm.

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Ready to go!

The beach where we were going to spot kiwis was on an island about half an hour away by boat. (It’s the same island David Attenborough went to film kiwis for the Life of Birds series!) The aim was to get there at the feeding time for the kiwis, which is just after dusk.

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Heading out

There’s never a guarantee that people will see a kiwi on these tours. They’re hard to spot, and sometimes you just don’t get to see one. Phillip was hopeful we’d see a kiwi, and said the odds were in our favour, but that he had had a few trips when they just didn’t see any kiwis at all.

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Snapper SWMBO

We arrived and were loaned torches for the trip from the jetty to the beach. We were told not to use the torches on the beach (it annoys the kiwis) and not to talk if there were kiwis around (kiwis are very sensitive to sounds). We were also told how far to stay away from the kiwis, but that no-one had told the kiwis this so if they came towards us we had to stay still until they got bored and left us alone!

The trip to the beach was through the bush (I’m still not used to being able to say that!) and it was far enough. The paths which have been terrific so far were still good here, mostly – although there was one area with a rope bannister to help.

We got to the beach and started walking along it. The guide would sometimes stop us and investigate an area further, and then dismiss it and we’d walk on.

This went on for the full length of the beach. No kiwis.

There were some deer prints in the sand. I didn’t know this, but sometimes deer go swimming! The white-tailed deer here are, of course, an import, but they’re wild on this island.

And there was a seal. A seal on the beach minding its own business, who greatly (and loudly) protested at a group of humans wanting to use the beach at the same time. The guide chased him or her off.

And then, on the walk back along the beach, the guide spotted a kiwi! She was out on the fringe of the beach, feeding away. I was impressed that the guide was able to spot her – it was dark and there wasn’t much movement to see.

We moved in for a closer look, being sure to keep the appropriate distance. And we stood there and watched as the kiwi just went about doing kiwi things.

Photos and drawings of kiwis don’t really do them justice. They’re lovely creatures, and when you see them you just want to protect them and make sure nothing bad happens to them. I can really understand the fondness New Zealanders have for the bird now. They’re flightless, they’ve no real wings to speak of, no tail at all, huge feet, and very long beaks, but they’re just beautiful in real life.

I could’ve stood there watching them for days if they’d let me. And if I didn’t swing for the idiot who kept talking. (Seriously? Why would you do that? We paid to come here and maybe see a kiwi and you want to talk and scare it away?)

People are idiots.

So we watched the kiwi some more, and then watched as she walked away. The guide then dug up where the kiwi was feeding to show the bugs she’d been able to eat with her beak. Fascinating that the kiwi can smell the bugs even when they’re buried.

I didn’t take any snaps of the kiwi spotting because it was dark, and flashes/lights/torches would upset the kiwi. But I do have the memory of this adorable creature feeding on a beach, with a bunch of humans watching on.

We got the boat back and then headed in to the pub for a wee drink before bed. Turns out the DoC folks had won the quiz! I don’t think we answered enough questions to make a difference, I’m pretty sure they’d have won anyway. But still, a nice end to the evening.

Tags: Personal
Created by on Logo15659OpinionatedGeek Ltd.Logo15659

Soundtrack: Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 2 hours 2 minutes
  • Distance: 6.7 km
  • Calories: 1,083
  • Steps: 10,369

Up early (06:15am!) after another poor night’s sleep for SWMBO. Then we check out and walk across to the I Site for the bus. Our mild paranoia about checkout times and the distance to the I Site means we’ve a half hour standing around waiting for the bus to arrive. Still, better than being late and missing the bus – it’s the connection to the ferry and I think there are only two of those every day.

 

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Nice wee statue of Burt in The World’s Fastest Indian

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Me and Burt

The bus took us to Bluff but arrived a little early so the driver took us all to Stirling Point. This is a famous landmark (I think...) — it’s the start (or end) of State Highway 1, it show a signpost to other places in the world, and it has one half of the anchor chains anchoring New Zealand. A surprising stop. We took photos. We always take photos.

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Stirling Point, Bluff

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SWMBO and the signpost

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The famous (apparently) signpost

We dandered down to the anchor chain.

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SWMBO and the anchor chain

There’s a story about the chain and what it means. It comes later. How’s that for some fancy foreshadowing?

We were still early, but the bus took us to the boat terminal and we waited there. Then we got on the boat. There were quite a few folks waiting so I asked what the secret was to getting a seat near the back with a window and was told ‘Just wait over there…’ and she was right – a few minutes after that they started boarding the boat and we were among the first on.

And we got a window seat. This was important because the sea was getting a bit rough. The ferry is a catamaran, and they say that’s so it’s more stable in the rough weather… It didn’t seem especially rough today but it wasn’t exactly calm either. And we’re usually OK on boats as long as we can see the horizon. (Someone told me you get nausea on boats because of the mismatch between what your eyes tell you and what your ears/balance tells you. If you can see the horizon, your eyes then realize the foreground of the boat really is swinging wildly and your ears are right. I don’t know how true this is but it makes sense to me.)

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The ferry. It only seems still because it’s a photo.

So we try to keep an eye on the horizon if the boat is bouncing around, and once we left the harbour there was plenty of that. A few people were sick on the boat, and quite a few more looked like they weren’t far away from it. We just ignored them and kept watching the horizon.

One of the workers said the trip was ‘gentle’. I would not want to be on that crossing on a non-gentle day! The trip took an hour and after 45 minutes I just wanted it to be over.

When we docked at Halfmoon Bay, we were met immediately by Pip from the Bay Motel. Our cases were the first off the boat too, so we waited while the other passengers arrived and got their luggage. Then we were driven to the motel and shown our room. Our lovely, toasty-warm room. Nice wireless internet access too – Pip said the connection was flaky and to lower our expectations but so far it has been the fastest, most reliable connection we’ve had in New Zealand.

We gathered ourselves and headed out, reluctant to trade the cosy room for the windy and occasionally rainy outdoors.

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SWMBO, ready for the weather

Had lunch at the Kai Kart. This is basically a truck that hasn’t moved in a while, and it has the reputation for the best fish and chips in New Zealand. The Kart is packed – the front of it has a take away service, then there’s the cooking area, and the back has a dining area. All in one Kart!

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SWMBO in the dining area of the Kai Kart

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Our view from our side of the dining area of the Kai Kart

It had been a long time since breakfast at 6am, so I was grateful for the huge portion of blue cod and chips. I don’t know if they’re the best fish and chips in all of New Zealand – we were only there 3 weeks – but they were certainly the best fish and chips I had there.

Then we bought some milk (for tea) and some TimTams(!) in the local store and headed back to the room for a nap. I was tired and I’m sure SWMBO was knackered.

When we got there SWMBO had an email to phone Phillip about our Kiwi trip. She called and he said it was uncertain at the minute because of the weather, but she should phone again at 7pm to find out if it was on or off. Hrmm…

We were visited by some kaka parrots. They happily scuttered about on the roof and the outside railings. I think they were just saying ‘Hi’.

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A kaka parrot came by to visit

The nap, however, was great.

Then we went out for dinner. If it sounds like we did little else except eat and sleep, well, today that mightn’t be far from the truth. We had booked a table at the hotel for 5:30pm. It was OK. I had Thai green chicken curry. Lunch at the Kai Kart was bigger, better and cheaper.

We came back and phoned Phillip about our Kiwi trip tonight. Bad news. Cancelled because of bad weather. We may get to go tomorrow night though, if the weather improves. SWMBO is quite disappointed but putting a brave face on it. I know she'd love to see a wild kiwi.

We waited for the rain to die down a bit before heading it for a drink or two. Then we gave up waiting because it seemed like the rain was on for the night,  so we got wet on the 7 minute walk down the hill. Had a couple of drinks, watched some rugby (Canterbury won), then got wet again on the 7 minute walk back to the room.

It doesn't rain all the time here, just when we're out apparently.

But we’re back now. Dry. Warm. Cosy.

Tags: Personal
Created by on Logo15659OpinionatedGeek Ltd.Logo15659

Soundtrack: Mary’s Prayer by Danny Wilson (I have no idea popped into my head)

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 1 hour 28 minutes
  • Distance: 5 km
  • Calories: 863
  • Steps: 9,301

Leaving Queenstown today, so we check out of The Whistler and head into the centre for a final dander. Enthusiastic Wayne lets us leave the car at The Whistler for a few hours even though we’ve checked out, which is handy.

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The Whistler’s driveway. No idea how cars cope with Queenstown’s steep slopes in icy weather.

We look edfor somewhere for a cuppa but it was hard to find anywhere that wasn’t bunged. We ended up in Patagonia Chocolates – SWMBO had the 3-croissant option.

Here’s a puzzler – one that’s been bugging me for a few days now. Why do you get one-a-day antihistamines when they only last half a day? As you can maybe tell, the sand fly bites I got at Lake Moeraki are still bothering me. I bought some Anthisan (and some toothpaste, which we got through faster than expected) in a local chemist.

And then we went for a walk along the edge of Queenstown Park. Lovely scenery. Again.

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Lovely scenery. Again.

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SWMOB looking lovely

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Queenstown selfie!

We headed to FergBurger for lunch. Apparently it’s a Queenstown institution – it’s famous for massive burgers, as far as I can tell. At least that was always the first thing anyone told us about the place. It was very busy, and really hard to get anywhere to wait for the burgers and eat them when they arrived. And we were queue-jumped by an Annoying Queue-Jumper. After a while we did get a table though, and AQJ didn’t so maybe that’s karma in action.

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A FergBurger

Massive it was – too massive for either of us to finish our respective burgers. (We should’ve just bought one between two, we now know.) But it was tasty. Burgers can be a bit rubbish sometimes, especially where the company is known for something other than how tasty the burgers are. Some companies aim for value, some aim for portion sizes, some offer all-you-can-drink soft drinks… That can be a bad sign – the quality of the burger often suffers. The taste of the FergBurger was excellent though. I can see why it has survived so long now. It is worth braving the crowds for.

Then, back to The Whistler for the car and we’re off to Invercargill. This was a long drive – to quote Google Maps ‘Continue on State Highway 6 for 176km…’ – and considerably flatter than the previous drive! The wind definitely picked up during the journey. We could see the road markers vibrating – actually vibrating – in the wind. The drive itself was uneventful, with just one stop for a necessary cuppa.

We got to Invercargill and checked in, then headed straight out again. SWMBO mentioned there’s a general store here that has The World’s Fastest Indian. And after asking at the motel about it and checking it out online, we found it it was a 15 minute walk away and shutting in 45 minutes. We were leaving Invercargill before it opened tomorrow so this was our one chance! I did want to see it – I thought it was a charming film, even if I did forget Burt Munro was from Invercargill.

This was all very unexpected, to go from quiet, leisurely drive mode to yomp mode.

So we went to the E. Hayes store. It really is just a big hardware store, interspersed with a large collection of old bikes and cars. I really like that idea, and it feels a much nicer approach for these items than a museum.

Also, the store had the biggest chainsaw I have ever seen. The cutting blade must’ve been over 10 feet long. If I was a tree I’d uproot rather than face it.

There were lots of lovely old cars and lovely old bikes. And a moose!

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Moose! (I think.)

And an unmodified version of what The World’s Fastest Indian originally looked like:

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What ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ originally looked like

They even have a replica of the aerodynamic shell of The World’s Fastest Indian that you can sit in.

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SWMBO in The World’s Fastest Indian’s aerodynamic shell

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Me and The World’s Fastest Indian’s aerodynamic shell

And here it is. The World’s Fastest Indian:

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Me and The World’s Fastest Indian

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The World’s Fastest Indian

I was very impressed, both with the store and the displays. It’s especially nice that it’s open and available to everyone – there’s no cost to go in and see any of this. (We made a donation to the charity, but it’s not a requirement and there was no pressure to do it – SWMBO had to ask where the donation box was, it was so low-key.)

That was a fun, totally unexpected experience.

We dandered back to the motel via a food store to buy something for breakfast tomorrow – we’re leaving early, before most places are open.

Then we had to leave the rental car back. We picked it up in Greymouth and were leaving it in Invercargill – I figured that would be expensive to do, but it was quite reasonable. And leaving it back with Thrifty was so easy – they were so easy to deal with it’s remarkable. I’m impressed with them and that wee Toyota Yaris automatic we drove.

We took a taxi back from the airport (where the car rental place was) to Louis’ Tapas. SWMBO had looked on Trip Advisor for somewhere here to eat and this was a great choice. By this stage SWMBO was so hungry she said the bread starter couldn’t come soon enough.

The waiting staff had a very hard time with the menus. Normally menus are so easy they’re unremarkable but the menus here were all on large blackboards. When a table was seated the big blackboards would be carried over to them for them to order from.

Why would they do that? It seems a terrible idea. Felt really sorry for the waiting staff having to lug those blackboards around all the time.

Anyway, after that we headed back for a relatively early night to set us up for the early ferry ride tomorrow.

Tags: Personal
Created by on Logo15659OpinionatedGeek Ltd.Logo15659

Soundtrack: E-bow The Letter by REM. (I have no idea why this got stuck in my head. I don’t think I’ve heard this in years.)

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 3 hours 11 minutes
  • Distance: 9.2 km
  • Calories: 1,769
  • Steps: 13,864

For someone who doesn't like travel we sure used a lot of different modes of transport today. Let's count 'em so far:

  1. Hiace mini bus
  2. Plane
  3. Bus
  4. Boat
  5. Bus
  6. Plane
  7. Different Hiace mini bus
  8. Feet
  9. Gondola
  10. Luge
  11. Luge
  12. Gondola
  13. Feet
  14. Beer scooter

(13 and 14 may be the same thing. It's hard to tell.)

And those are just the modes of transport today!

We started the day off a bit tired. I didn't get a good night's sleep, and SWMBO's was worse. Today was another big day  – we were off on a scenic flight to Milford Sound – so this didn’t auger well. At least it’s a lovely day here.

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Another glorious day in New Zealand

We were picked up from The Whistler where we are staying (nearer 9:20am than the quoted 9:05am, but ah well) and taken to Queenstown airport.

There followed a very relaxed approach to boarding a plane. More plane experiences like this please!

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Our carriage awaits!

The plane took off around 10am and followed a very scenic route to Milford Sound. (It was a scenic flight, after all.) SWMBO was in the co pilot seat. She had an incredible view of the whole flight. I thought this was a good thing. She was a bit less than happy at it by the end of the flight.

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SWMBO The Co-Pilot

I sat right behind SWMBO on the plane. Funny thing – the seat had no Jesus Handles, but right up where you’d expect them to be was the Emergency-Pull-This-To-Remove-Window lever. Yeah, the handle that ditched the entire window was right where you’d grab something to hold on during turbulence. I made a mental note not to grab it. Then I noticed how close the propeller was to the window and I made an extra mental note not to grab it.

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The shadow of our wee plane after take-off

The scenery was stunning. All the scenery in New Zealand is stunning. I’ve run out of superlatives for the scenery. But on the scenic flight to Milford Sound, yes, the scenery was terrific.

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This is the view out my side of the plane

The promotional material for the flight made a point of saying everyone got a window seat. I chuckled at that, the hidden meaning being the plane was so small there was only room for two-abreast seating.

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This is the view out the other side

But yeah, stunning scenery.

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Just passing by a mountain

The whole way through the journey I was mentally landing the plane. Some emergency would pop into my head and I’d fret about what to do. There was never any indication that the pilot was unwell, and he seemed very capable, but my brain wouldn’t stop checklisting away.

Turbulence a few times made the trip ‘interesting’ (it took extra effort not to grab the non-existent Jesus Handles) but we landed safely. Never had any doubts!

An uneventful bus journey took us from the airport to the boat for a two and a half hour cruise around Milford Sound.

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A tolerant SWMBO in front of the tour boat

The trip got gradually colder and colder. We were well prepared and took seats outside on the upper deck. So did some unprepared people (in jeans!) but they quickly went inside as they got cold and damp.

I’ve run out of words to describe the scenery. Get ready for a lot of pictures of mountains and waterfalls.

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Looking back at Milford Sound just as we were leaving

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Dolphins!

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A waterfall

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Another waterfall

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SWMBO with me (looking like a Sontaran), posing in front of a waterfall

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A big waterfall

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Lots of waterfalls

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A very big waterfall

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There are at least five seals in this picture

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A spectacular waterfall

The tour boat made a point of dipping its nose underneath one of the waterfalls so I got quite drenched in fresh New Zealand water. (The captain did give plenty of notice this was going to happen, but how often in your life are you going to get the chance to take a fully natural shower on the far side of the world?) The waterproof coat helped a lot, and the rest of me dried out quite quickly.

The boat went to a beach where penguins are known to nest. SWMBO saw a penguin, she thinks, but I didn’t see any. We wondered if it was just an animatronic penguin set up for the tourists, but it was much farther away than the penguins we saw at Lake Moeraki just a few days before.

The scenery of Milford Sound really is jawdroppingly beautiful. There’s more to it than just waterfalls, even if that is all I took snaps of – I  did say I like flowing water!

After the boat tour there was another uneventful bus journey to the airport and then we were on the plane back to Queenstown.

This time I got the co-pilot seat! Terror took a different form for this flight. Instead of worrying about the pilot and concentrating on not grabbing the Jesus Handles, this time I was too big for the seat.

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View from the co-pilot’s seat

I’m often cramped on planes, and being cramped is uncomfortable, but here it was terrifying! All the important controls were just a nudge away. If your leg jumps and you’re in the co-pilot seat, you might hit the pedals. Your knees are close to the yoke. There are buttons and switches on every available surface. My checklist for the flight was just:

  • Do not touch the yoke
  • Do not touch the pedals
  • Do not touch the buttons
  • Do not touch anything

You know when you’re in turbulence and you feel like you’re falling? I kept telling myself that when that happened Do Not Grab Anything. Not just Don’t Grab The Jesus Handles, but the full Don’t Touch Anything.

I spent the entire 40 minute flight cramped, coiled up and terrified I was going to kill us all.

New Zealand did its best again, with more spectacular scenery.

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Beautiful colours

Terrified as I was it was a huge thrill to sit there and I’m really glad I did.

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Landing safely

We landed safely, of course. I did feel a bit like kissing the ground when we got out of the plane though!

Another uneventful Hiace minibus trip and we’re back in the apartment, only to find out we’ve no tea! So, with nothing planned for the afternoon we walked up the gondola to Skyline.

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In the gondola, looking down towards Queenstown

There is increasing evidence that I’m scared of heights. (You may have noticed this.) I never used to be scared of heights but now apparently I am.

Riding a gondola up a mountain is not a good place to discover this. My mind kept playing scenes from Where Eagles Dare to distract itself.

The view from the top is – once again – spectacular.

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Queenstown seen from the Skyline

They have a luge here too – just like Rotorua’s but maybe a little shorter. So we went down the luge. Twice. It was fun.

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Chairlift selfie! This is on the way back up from the end of the luge track

And finally we left there, taking the gondola down. (Yes, the down journey was every bit as terrifying.)

Then it was dinner time so we headed in to the centre for food. We went to Finz – it was excellent. That’s two excellent meals in a row here in Queenstown. I had Oysters Kilpatrick and the overnight-cooked beef short rib. Delicious. The waiter talked about his current obsession with Mondillo wine, so of course we had a bottle.

Mondillo
Tasty wine

This was followed by a dander to Speight’s Ale House (the Distinction Ale was quite nice) and the bee scooter back to the apartment.

And here we are. Knackered!

Tags: Personal
Created by on Logo15659OpinionatedGeek Ltd.Logo15659

Soundtrack: Screams of terror

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Distance: 3.7 km
  • Calories: 802
  • Steps: 7,200

We’re leaving Lake Moeraki today. I don’t know when (or even if) we’ll get to visit a Wilderness Lodge again. While we were at dinner last night I set my phone to capture a time lapse from just outside our room.

I’m very impressed with the camera on the LG G4, even if it was rubbish when trying to capture the glow-worms in the trees. (I say it was rubbish in full knowledge that it was likely me cocking it up somehow.)

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Looks like yesterday was a good day to go penguin-spotting

Gerry asked for a couple of the photos we’d taken, so I set about taking them off SWMBO’s camera before we headed out. This took a little longer than it should have, but I was just grateful it was possible. Managing it required juggling my Android tablet, an on-the-go USB cable, a USB card reader, and the memory card from SWMBO’s camera. It’s a good thing I don’t travel tech-light!

Then it was time to set out on the drive to Queenstown.

We took it in turns driving. The weather wasn’t super.

Rain
Rain

AndMoreRain
And more rain

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There were still some incredible views

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Another wee panorama of an incredible view

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Happy tourists!

The rain cleared up as the day went on, and the route from Lake Moeraki to Queenstown had some beautiful scenery.

And then some that wasn’t.

There are two routes from Lake Moeraki to Queenstown. You can take State Highway 6 the whole way, or you can follow State Highway 6 most of the way but take a shortcut at Wanaka. The shortcut would save us half an hour of driving, so we took it.

‘There are two ways to drive between Queenstown and Wanaka, and this one is the most memorable. It's the highest main road in New Zealand.’

Trip Advisor has reviews of the route with titles like:

  • Breathtaking Road
  • Stunning Scenery
  • A lovely mountain road

I feel like I should add a review of my own:

  • Fucking Terrifying

Seriously, the conditions were fine, I was driving, and I still found the road terrifying.

It’s listed – I kid you not – on dangerousroads.org (there really is such a web site):

‘The Crown Range Road is a memorable road located in the Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand, linking Queenstown and Wanaka. The road is the highest main road in New Zealand reaching an altitude of 1,121m above the sea level.

‘This drive is not for the faint hearted and several of the bends are actual hairpins bends many with 35km to 15km sharp bends, the drive on the descent drops away to a seeminly bottomless gorge. There are some switchbacks on the descent and the road is not advised for towing vehicles or vehicles longer than about 12 metres.’

The problem wasn’t the high mountains around the road. The problem was the sudden drop-off on one side of the road. Sometimes there’d just be nothing visible there, and as you’d get closer you’d see ground, very, very far down with still no visible cliff-face.

I was, and I’m not exaggerating here, terrified.

I have no photos to show you what it was like, what with my hands being busy sweating profusely on the steering wheel. So I drove. Slowly. Very, very, very slowly at times. And I kept thinking of the quote ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’, whether or not Winston Churchill said it.

Eventually we got to the end of that road, and ended up in traffic heading into Queenstown. This was a novelty for us, since we’d seen very little traffic the whole time we’d been in New Zealand – even in cities.

The phone’s GPS got us to The Whistler, where we checked in with Enthusiastic Wayne and went to our room. (Enthusiastic Wayne is one of the folks who runs The Whistler and he really does have an infectious enthusiasm. I don’t know how he keeps it up!)

ViewFromOurRoom
View of our room at The Whistler

We headed out to buy some groceries for breakfast tomorrow. SWMBO noticed… there were an awful lot of signs for physios around the place…

LotOfPhysios
Queenstown seems to have a disproportionate number of physios and other health professionals…

Queenstown bills itself as The Adventure Capital Of The Southern Hemisphere, with a lot of activities for active people not like us. We took it as a worrying sign for all these activities that there were so many health professionals around the place. Must be good money in it here…

We wouldn’t be doing any of that stuff.

GondolaPath
The path of the gondolas up the mountain

We headed out after that to see the centre of Queenstown and then get some dinner. SWMBO had investigated before coming here and had found out about Botswana Butchery. We went there and were lucky enough to get a table without needing a booking. It was a Wednesday evening but the place was quite busy. And the food was terrific. I had a delicious steak that was so big I couldn’t finish it. We chose a nice wine to go with the food but were careful not to accidentally order the £150-a-bottle wine that was one of their recommendations. (I’m sure it was very nice…)

Then another dander around Queenstown’s centre. We were looking for a nice pub that we hadn’t been in already, but could only find an Irish bar and we have a rule – never go in to an Irish bar on holiday. So we kept dandering and chanced upon The Winery.

RelaxingInTheWinery
Relaxing in The Winery

It’s a nice idea – no bar staff, automated serving mechanisms (robo-servers!) and a large selection of wines you can buy by the glass. They sold nibbles too, so we had some of them (it had been a while since The Steak by this stage). We finished off the evening with a New Zealand whiskey, which I didn’t even know existed!

Tags: Personal
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Soundtrack: *being vewwy, vewwy qwiet*

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 2 hours 14 minutes
  • Distance: 4.6 km
  • Calories: 1,148
  • Steps: 8,725

Told Gerry he had us all day today. He was up to the challenge!

9:00am - 12:30pm: Wilderness Seacoast Walk With Small River Crossings But No Steep Climbs - Hector's Dolphins, coastal cliffs, islands, waterfalls, driftwood, gemstones, fantastic photography and enjoy morning refreshments over a driftwood fire.

A splendid walk along a beautiful but rarely visited section of coast. We will discover rockpools, islands, coastal caves and driftwood and we will probably see Hector's dolphins, the world's smallest marine dolphin species. We drive 10km south from the Wilderness Lodge stopping at Knight's Point lookout along the way to view the rugged coastline. Our walk starts across a small stream amongst jungle-like coastal rainforest then continues to an isolated beach. Among the dunes is the rare pikao plant also known as "Tane's eyebrows"! We then follow the coast southwest searching for polished beach pebbles and wave-sculpted driftwood. We explore a cave that leads beneath basalt cliffs into a secret rainforest. There are mussel reefs, starfish, and sea anemones and keep a look out for Hector's dolphins which may be frolicking close in to shore. We enjoy refreshments at the Adiantum Creek waterfall with hanging gardens of endangered sand spurge. Finally we cross Ship Creek and while the guide gets the vehicle there is time to explore a floating kaikatea forest.

We headed out for a nice beach walk. To get to the beach we had to cross a couple of streams. Rather than risk getting boots wet, Gerry was kind enough to carry SWMBO across the streams.

Gerry did not carry me across the streams.

No, I had to take my boots off and walk through the streams, over the rocks, and then dry my feet and put my boots on. SWMBO seemed unsympathetic to my plight.

 SWMBOGettingCarried
SWMBO got a piggyback. I didn’t.

I keep using the word ‘stunning’. I’ll have to try to diversify my vocabulary but really, the scenery often did leave me stunned. I was stunned I was walking through a verdant rainforest.

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SWMBO and Gerry heading into the rainforest

Then, not long after, I was stunned by a driftwood sculpture someone had created on the beach – a beach that felt very different form the rainforest even though it was only a few minutes’ walk away.

DriftwoodSculpture
We have no idea who put this driftwood sculpture together

We had the beach to ourselves – no dolphins, no other people, just me, SWMBO and Gerry.

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We had the beach to ourselves

But what a beach it was. Such a variety of shapes, textures, rocks and creatures.

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Spikey rocks

 

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Life On The Rocks

We did see a seal though.

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SWMBO and Gerry seal-spotting

The young seal was busy sunning itself on one of the rocks. Gerry encouraged SWMBO to go for a closer look.

The waves were coming right up to the rocks, so SWMBO had to count the waves and time it right so she could walk around the rocks to where the seal was sunbathing. Unfortunately, the counting and timing led to a small miscalculation on where SWMBO would be relative to the seal, so when she walked around the rocks she was much closer to the seal than she expected.

This shocked her.

This also shocked the seal.

I was lucky enough to just catch a glimpse of the expressions on both their faces as they realised they were both much closer to the other one than either was happy about.

It would be great if I had a picture of this but I don’t. You’ll just have to use your imagination. Picture a seal, mouth open, gasping in surprise at SWMBO. Now picture SWMBO, mouth open, gasping in surprise at the seal.

I thought this was hilarious.

The seal just thought ‘Cripes, I’m off’ and quickly made its way past SWMBO to the water. SWMBO stood there frozen and let it.

I was still laughing…

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Predator-hair

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Rocks, cliffs and me

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Rocks, cliffs and SWMBO

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New Zealand has a very pretty coastline…

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…with some dramatic scenery

Near the end of the beach walk, Gerry took us towards an area he particularly wanted to show us. He knew we were from Norn Iron so wanted to show us a geological feature of the beach – columnar basalt!

We’re pretty familiar with columnar jointing – as this page says:

Perhaps the most famous basalt lava flow in the world is the Giant's Causeway on the northern coast of Ireland…

Well, it’s here too.

NotQuiteGiant'sCauseway
Not quite the Giant’s Causeway

It’s angled at about 45 degrees, but it’s the same hexagonal columns we get back home. I thought it was a fairly unique geological feature but it turns up in a bunch of places. And it’s here, just about as far away form the Giant’s Causeway as it’s possible to get on this planet.

MeAndSomeColumnarBasalt
Me, standing beside some hexagonal columnar basalt

Some of the geological features of the beach were fascinating and fun.

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A spelunking SWMBO

Then it was back through a different part of the rainforest while Gerry went on his bike to fetch the minibus.

InTheRainforest
Just a few minutes from the dramatic coastline was the dramatic rainforest

It’s really hard to credit the variety of views and environments New Zealand provides. The dramatic beach was only a few minutes walk from the rainforest. And yesterday we were up a glacier surrounded by ice, an hour’s drive (and short helicopter flight) away.

WithoutAPaddle
…without a paddle

Then it was back to the lodge for a quick bite to eat and a change of boots to wellies, ready for:

2:00pm - 5:00pm: Robinson Crusoe Beach and Tawaki Penguin Discovery Walk

We drive a short distance south from the Lodge and walk a hidden trail beneath ancient rimu, silver beech and kahikatea trees to a magnificant wild beach where from June to December up to 30 pairs of Tawaki (Fiordland crested penguins) nest in the forest behind the beach. On our 15-minute walk to the beach the forest abounds in primeval tree ferns, kidney ferns, spleenworts, filmy ferns and many different kinds of mosses and lichens. As we approach the coast we traverse a tangled jungle of kiekie and supplejack vines before emerging onto a stunning white sandy beach where the shy endangered penguins can be seen waddling back and forth between the sea and their rainforest nests and negotiating the often pounding surf to enter or leave the sea. Note that the track to the beach crosses a small stream four times.

Penguins! We went off to try to spot some penguins!

There’s a beach that’s quite secluded that Gerry knows often has some penguins on it. It’s a public beach, but he’s naturally cautious about people publicising where it is. I have a couple of nice wide snaps of it but I’m not going to put them here in case some smart alecs track it down and decide to go penguin hunting.

We got to a nice spot and settled in to wait and see if penguins would appear. It wasn’t long before one walked up the beach to the rainforest and its nest.

GerryAndPenguin
Gerry and a penguin. Yes, there is a penguin in this photo. Honest.

It was lovely to just sit and watch penguins walk up the beach from the surf to the rainforest.

FirstPenguin
A penguin preens itself on the way home

 

They’re Fiordland Crested Penguins and they nest in the rainforest and hunt in the sea. We didn’t see many penguins, but occasionally one would come out of the surf and waddle up the beach to the rocks, stopping every so often to preen itself.

PenguinOnSand
Waddle, waddle, waddle

 

It was lovely just sitting there quietly, watching penguins going about doing their penguin business not too far away.

PenginsOnRocks
A pair of penguins, just being penguins

 

The penguins were far enough away that we weren’t bothering them, but close enough that we could happily watch them without binoculars.

Apparently some guests from the lodge watch the penguins and say ‘Right, now we’ve seen them, let’s go to what’s next on the list.’ I could quite happily have sat there for hours. OK, we did sit there for hours. I mean I could have sat there for even more hours, all the while getting eaten alive by the sand flies.

5:00pm – 6:00pm: Freshwater ecology of the Lower Moeraki River and feed the Giant Eels

Fed by the lake, river and streams of the Upper Moeraki where the yearly rainfall is in excess of 5000mm (190 inches) the river by the Lodge is teeming with aquatic life. Join our nature guide on a short walk downstream to look for brown trout, freshwater shrimps, snails and other small freshwater fish and aquatic insects. We finish by feeding our friendly giant eels.

Back to the lodge and then out again, this time to feed the eels! It was only a short walk through the local rainforest (something I’m still not used to saying).

LocalRianforest
The colours of the local rainforest

At Lake Moeraki, this rainforest was just outside your door.

MoreLocalRainforest
More jaw-dropping forest

We got to the steps down to the lake and Gerry brought the eel food to the water to try to attract the eels. The eel food was really just some meat, I think – just like using chum to attract sharks. The eels can detect the tiny amounts of blood in the water just the way sharks can, but they’re a lot friendlier to deal with.

GerryFeedingEels
Gerry feeds the eels

SWMBO says they feel a bit like monkfish.

SWMBOFeedingEels
SWMBO feeds the eels

Then it was time for dinner and a quiet night. A new guest arrived at the lodge specifically to go see the penguins (apparently this is common – the penguins seem to be quite a draw). The weather forecast for tomorrow isn’t looking as good as today was – he might be getting wet…

Tags: Personal
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Note, 22nd November 2015: These events took place a little over a month ago. Yesterday there was a tragic helicopter crash on Fox glacier. Our hearts go out to all those involved.

Sunday, 18th October 2015

Soundtrack: *sniffs*

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Distance: 2.4 km
  • Calories: 718
  • Steps: 5,101

So, today we left the Wilderness Lodge at Arthur’s Pass. It genuinely is the loveliest place we’ve ever stayed.

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Leaving the Wilderness Lodge. *sniffs*

 

LeavingArthursPass10YearsAgo_thumb4_thumb
The sign has changed in the last 10 years…

On the other hand, today we’re going to the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki, so that shouldn’t be too bad! We’ve never been to Lake Moeraki before so I’m not too sure what to expect. All I really know about it is that Gerry and Anne run it and that sand flies can be a problem.

So the plan is to continue the TranzAlpine from Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth, pick up a hire car in Greymouth, and drive down to Lake Moeraki. It looks like a long drive, and the weather is still a bit grey.

 

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A last look at the wonderful scenery from the Waimakariri river

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Michael from the lodge, leaving us at the train station. He had to walk back through sleet.

The scenery on the train to Greymouth wasn’t as stunning as the scenery on the way to Arthur’s Pass, so I didn’t take many snaps. We did go through an 8 kilometre long tunnel which was a bit weird. Tunnels don’t photograph well so again no snaps.

We picked up the hire car we’d booked from Thrifty. They have a place right at the train station (so do most other car hire places in Greymouth) so it was quite convenient. And we were the first in the queue to get our car. This didn’t seem like a big deal – we didn’t run to the desk or anything – but by the time we’d finished signing for the car the line behind us was pretty big. Glad we got there first and it was so straightforward. The car is a wee Toyota Yaris automatic. It took a bit of getting used to – it’s been a few years since either of us drove an automatic.

Then we picked up some snacks and some anti-histamines (I kept hearing about sand flies) and headed south.

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Unpleasant but visually stunning weather for our driving

We stopped off at Hokitika because it has a reputation for greenstone and SWMBO wanted to go to a particular shop there. (She bought a very nice necklace that I don’t have a picture of yet.) Then we continued south. I can’t remember where we stopped for lunch (Ross, maybe?) All I remember about the place was the sign that said ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá’ by the door. I hoped we’d managed to leave things like that behind… Seems we can’t get away from it even on the far side of the world.

Then we drove some more. It was a long enough drive from Greymouth to Lake Moerake. We did drive through Fox and Franz Josef, and stopped to pick up some information about the glaciers.

Finally we arrived.

Feetstagram_thumb_thumb
Feetstagram, from our room at Lake Moeraki

Gerry was the same bundle of enthusiasm we’d met 10 years ago at Arthur’s Pass. We hadn’t met Anne before, but she’s lovely. This lodge also has an incredible setting – more west-coast rainforest than southern alps mountains, but stunning nonetheless.

Had a lovely dinner (the food here is every bit as good as at Arthur’s Pass) and then we headed out to see some glow-worms! We’d wondered about heading to one of the special places known for glow-worms when we were planning our trip here, but it didn’t make the final cut. We were surprised when Gerry said they had a colony of them so close to the lodge. I thought they were rare things – and maybe they are, but there they were, in the trees near the lodge.

Seeing them in the trees at night is very pretty, but I failed to capture the scene on my wee phone camera. They’re not really very pretty up close though!

GlowWorm_thumb_thumb
This strip of dangly lines with globules is what a glow-worm actually looks like. Not so pretty now…

I asked about the glaciers, and maybe doing a heli-hike. It feels wrong to be coming to Lake Moeraki and not spending all day doing the Lake Moeraki activities, but we missed out on visiting a glacier last time we were in New Zealand so I didn’t want us to miss out a second time if we could avoid it. Trips are very weather dependent, and we were only going to be in Lake Moeraki for 2 days (3 nights) so I wanted to maximise our chances of seeing a glacier. Anne said she’d see what she could do and we should check with her around 9am.

Monday, 19th October 2015

Soundtrack: Ice, Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 2 hours 59 minutes
  • Distance: 6.4 km
  • Calories: 1,579
  • Steps: 11,624

Tsk. Google Fit wouldn’t even round that up and give us credit for 3 hours activity.

Sophie was in charge of breakfast this morning. Sophie and Aaron were a couple we met at Arthur’s Pass – they were stopping off at that Wilderness Lodge to see the place before heading to Lake Moeraki to start work at this Wilderness Lodge. They’re lovely.

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Aaron and Sophie on the sheep activity at Arthur’s Pass

We had our breakfast and as we were finishing (around 8:30am) Anne came to find us. She said she’d phoned the people she would recommend and there were spaces available on the heli-hike today, weather permitting. They hadn’t been running the helicopters yesterday so it seemed a good idea to take the opportunity when it was presented. We phoned the company and gave credit card details to book our places. I was really grateful Anne made this so easy – it would have taken me a long time to find out who had good tours and a good reputation.

We were on the 11:50am heli-hike but the Fox glacier was a bit of a drive away so we headed out in plenty of time. We checked in, then we sat around in a Fox coffee shop, waiting… We didn’t want to go too far from the meeting spot, and there wasn’t much else to do.

GlacierTickets_thumb3_thumb
Me, happy we’ve actually got tickets to go up a glacier!

We waited at 11:50am to hear if the heli-hike was still on. It’s very weather-dependent which means it can be called off at very short notice if the weather changes for the worse, and the weather that week had been changeable. There would be several further go/no-go checkpoints, but we got the go-ahead to proceed. Next step was getting kitted up, part 1. We were pretty well prepared – lots of layers, waterproof coat, gloves, walking trousers, hats and so on, so we didn’t need anything at this point. Then it was a bus trip to the helicopter pads and getting kitted up part 2. We had good stout walking boots, but they made us change to their boots because they knew they fitted the crampons. I’m pretty sure ours would have been fine but we changed them anyway just to be sure.

Then we were weighted in groups, with our backpacks, to make sure there were no weight issues with the helicopter.

Finally we waited for the next go/no-go to board the helicopter.

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Ready and waiting

We boarded the helicopter and got the final go-ahead, and took off! As I mentioned a while ago, New Zealand certainly does provide plenty of opportunities for confronting fears.

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My view from the back seat of the helicopter

After a very, very short helicopter ride, we were on Fox glacier!

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‘Oh, just a waterfall in the distance.’ Another spectacular view.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from being up a glacier. OK, I expected it to be cold and icy, but beyond that I wasn’t sure if it would be a tourist thing like the moving walkways past the Crown Jewels (I hoped not), or a hardcore ‘Here’s your ice pick, head six miles that direction and we’ll see you in two hours’ (again, I hoped not). Turns out it was nicely balanced in the middle.

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You can see the glacier is really just a big river of ice

The final part of kitting out was getting our crampons attached. These were some Serious Crampons – I’d expected spikey but the spikes on these stuck out quite a lot. My trousers suffered some war wounds from these crampons, in the line of duty. It would have been horrible without them though – they were very useful. I still sometimes got unbalanced, but it was because my feet stuck unexpectedly rather than slipping.

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SWMBO The Explorer

I was genuinely surprised at the number of people wearing jeans though. Jeans are terrible for walking in bad weather – they really hold the water, they take a very long time to dry, and while they’re wet they chafe away at your skin. The guiding company says pretty clearly on all its literature not to wear jeans. Nonetheless, over half of the people on the heli-hike wore jeans… Takes all sorts, I suppose.

You know that bit in The Simpsons, where Homer points at a stupid warning label on something and says with pride ‘That’s there because of me…’? Well, that comes to mind whenever I hear some warnings these days, like today’s ‘Do Not Use Selfie Sticks When Getting Out Of The Helicopter’. You have to wonder who thought (or didn’t think) shoving a selfie stick up near the rotors was a good idea. When I asked the guide about it he just shook his head wearily and muttered about the daftness he’d seen.

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SWMBO explores a crevasse in the ice

The guides took us to different bits of the glacier, just to show us the different areas. I was very impressed by the guides – they were knowledgeable and friendly, but they were really there for safety and they took that very seriously. The whole operation felt very safe to me. Just to be careful I’d taken note of where the emergency equipment stash (tents, cookers, rations and so on) was buried.

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We both had big grins on our faces all the time

The variety of colours was just amazing. The ice in the caves genuinely was blue in parts!

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It’s pretty clear I don’t know what to do with my pole in the photo

I mean, just look at the colours and textures in this crevasse:

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All the blues and greens of the oceans…

 

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SWMBO exploring a natural ice tunnel

There were lots of interesting experiences on the glacier, but here’s one of my favourite bits. There was a natural ice tunnel that had been vetted and secured, and we could go through. We had to go up a bit of an ice wall, and then lean over and move along a slanted crevasse. I knew it was quite safe but it still felt a little claustrophobic. And it was surprisingly hard work! Some folks declined to do it, which is understandable, but we did it!

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SWMBO after defeating the ice tunnel

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The ice tunnel from a little further away

Every so often there was another unexpected site.

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A tremendously blue pool, sitting among scarred ice

New Zealand really is ridiculously photogenic, so we chose to capitalise on this by inserting ourselves in a picture of the pool and the waterfall.

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Us, surrounded by natural beauty

After a couple of hours on the ice, we headed back to the landing zone. Up until now I hadn’t realised it was a landing zone, but I can’t think of a better term for it. It’s not a helipad, landing strip or airport, just the place where the helicopters were landing that day.

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Our party heads back to the landing zone

Then we waited at the landing zone for a while for the weather to clear up – there were some squalls that they weren’t comfortable flying through, but after a matter of minutes they were gone and the helicopters brought us away from the cold of the glacier.

Panorama_thumb_thumb
The glacier ice flows from the valley on the left to the valley on the right

I thought the whole thing was an incredible experience. I was (and still am) conflicted about the notion of putting tourists on the glacier, and especially doing it by helicopter. Is it damaging? Would it be better to keep everyone off it? I still don’t know, but I did enjoy the day.

Tags: Personal
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Soundtrack: (I Wish I Was In) Carrickfergus. It’s not that I’m particularly homesick – they played this in the lodge! It wasn’t a deliberate thing, the song was just on the big playlist they were playing and it struck a chord with us.

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 26 minutes
  • Distance: 1.1 km
  • Calories: 223
  • Steps: 2,997

Anniversary Day!

A really lazy day today. We’d planned to have a quiet day to ourselves today, even before the big leg workout we did yesterday. After yesterday  we both felt like a day off from planned activities. We’d had scheduled events and plans ever since leaving Norn Iron so time off to just sit, read and relax was something we looked forward to.

So, we had a lie-in this morning, and when we got up it was a bit windy and damp. Also I discovered some strange scratches on my leg. I’ve no idea how I got them, but I blame the big climb we did coming back from the Mount Rolliston view at lunchtime yesterday. I’m accumulating blisters, bruises and scratches as this holiday goes on.

We headed to the lodge for a late breakfast. Not that late – I think it was 9am – but late for us.

Rainy
The worst weather we’ve seen in New Zealand

Once we got to the lodge it started raining. Quite a bit of rain fell. I’d made a point of telling Michael that we never really experienced bad weather in New Zealand, so the tales of bad weather here were just stories to scare away the tourists. So when it started raining today I tried to pretend it was Michael on the roof with a hose. It was hard to deny all the clouds though.

After breakfast we had more tea, then read a bit in the lodge itself where there was a wifi connection.

I’ve avoided Twitter all holiday. I find it can be a real time sink and I didn’t want to waste precious New Zealand time. Internet access at the lodge isn’t great either – it’s all provided via a satellite over Malaysia, so latency is pretty big. It’s still usable, but the folks at the lodge apologised repeatedly for how bad it was. I didn’t mind. The opposite, in fact – I worry what the lodge would be like if there was fast wifi. Maybe I’d spend too much time head-down staring at a tablet instead of being sociable or taking in the incredible view.

After a while we went back to the room to laze a bit more. As I said, it was a very lazy (and sore-legged) day, with lots of reading.

SWMBO tried the bath. New Zealanders do seem to pay a lot of attention to baths and showers. I like this.

Bath
Not as complicated as the Rotorua shower, but quite complicated enough

By now the weather had cleared up considerably, and the sun even came out.

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A panorama from ‘Our Spot’


So we headed out to the Valley Lookout, where we were married 10 years ago. I think we’ve come to think of it as ‘Our Spot’. It’s a lovely place, with lovely views and lovely memories.

We brought our packed lunch and sat there for a while, just enjoying the Spot. We had to wear our fleeces, not because we were cold but to keep the sun off us. We hadn’t put sunscreen on because it didn’t look necessary for the day but the sun seemed determined to prove us wrong.

PictureInPictureAtOurSpot
‘Ooh, get him. He’s experimenting again. Using both cameras at once this time…’

Also, while out there I was bitten by a sand fly. Michael says I should be prepared for more of that when I get to the lodge at Lake Moeraki… Must get some antihistamines, because the bite really itched.

WonkyTripod
‘OK, so he’s got a tripod. He really needs a spirit level too, mind.’

SWMBO was very tolerant while I sorted out the tripod and camera. I’ve only been taking pictures with my phone camera this trip (an LG G4), and it has some nice features. The picture-in-picture that uses both cameras at the same time is… interesting. The timer is handy too.

One feature that didn’t really work for us was the voice activation where you ‘Say Cheese…’ to take the photo. The idea is that you frame yourselves in the photo to take a selfie, and instead of having to press a button you just say ‘Cheese’ and the camera hears it and takes the snap.

It never worked for us.

It would always trigger when we were testing it, but whenever we framed things to actually take the photo it wouldn’t detect the sound.

We gave up and used the timer.

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Us. At ‘Our Spot’. On our 10-year anniversary.

After all that intense inactivity, we went back to the room to relax some more.

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Another feetstagram

Then it was dinner time. All the other guests that were staying at the lodge had left earlier that day, so we were now the only guests. We had the entire lodge to ourselves! Instead of putting us in an empty restaurant, Clare set up a table just for us beside the fire.

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Anniversary dinner, by the fire

I took snaps of the anniversary dinner menu we had too.

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Starter and main course…

DesertMenu
…followed by dessert

I had a great day, spent with my best friend.

Happy Anniversary, pet!

Tags: Personal
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Soundtrack: 500 Miles, by The Proclaimers

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 1 hour 43 minutes
  • Distance: 4.2km
  • Calories: 882
  • Steps: 6,793

I’m increasingly skeptical of those Google Fit stats. We walked a long distance today (‘uphill both ways’) and I’m exhausted.

7:30am - 8:30am: Special Plants and Birds of the Mountain Beech Forest
Explore the forests that surround the Wilderness Lodge with our naturalist guides on an easy walk with great views. Look for riflemen, New Zealand's smallest bird, bellbird, falcon, tomtit, and creeper. Search for orchids, beech seedlings, and rare mistletoe. Discover the beech forest invading the surrounding shrublands, and learn about Maori and European sheep farmers who pioneered this area. This is a great walk to become familiar with the Waimakariri Valley.

Up and out for a pre-breakfast nature walk. Spring is, well, ‘springing’ here so the days are getting longer and we were out just after everything was waking up. It’s great to get a guided tour with someone who knows all the plants and animals – they’re different from the ones we’re used to, even if some of the names have been re-used.

SWMBOAndMichaelStudyingPlantsSWMBO and Michael examining something. (I’m keeping my distance until I know it’s safe.)

‘The Bush’ always had a glamorous ring to i when I heard it growing up, making me think of jungles and rainforests. The Bush in Arthur’s Pass is a forest that would feel familiar to anyone from back home.

TheBush(Not very) Deep in the Bush

There were lots of little touches hidden away that we’d have missed if Michael hadn’t pointed them out.

Fungus

Evil, evil fungus. (My dislike of mushrooms carries over to fungi in general, apparently.)

I don’t think we ever heard a rifleman, but lots of other birds were making their presence known. But even though the forest felt familiar, there were plenty of strange sights and sounds.

CuriousTreeA very confused tree

I couldn’t handle a second Musterer’s Breakfast (they’re very big) so I settled for something smaller – a mound of pancakes and bacon. That set me up for:

10:00am - 1:00pm: Waterfalls & Alpine Plants of Arthur's Pass
Drive with our guide to the summit of Arthur's Pass on this short nature trip. Walk a lovely nature trail on the main divide of the Southern Alps, to discover waterfalls and gardens of the world's largest buttercup, daisies, insect eating wetland plants, mountain foxgloves, strange grass and turpentine trees, and pygmy pine, the world's smallest pine tree.

We deviated from the script a bit on this one. It all started out normally with the trip to the far side of the pass. It’s fascinating that the weather there was so different – it changed in just a few short kilometres.

OtherSideOfThePassThe far side of Arthur’s Pass. I think they chose the right side to build the lodge on.

We stopped for a quick look out over the far side of the pass, and pretty much immediately a Kea parrot popped over to say ‘Hi’. Then a second one arrived. Birds in New Zealand didn’t have the built-in fear of mammals for a long time but I thought they’d still be generally cautious. These guys stayed a little out of arms reach but showed more curiosity than fear.

SWMBOAndKea
A shivering SWMBO eyes up a Kea, who in turn is eyeing up SWMBO

It wasn’t a curiosity like ‘I wonder what they’ll do next’ or ‘Do they have anything to eat’. Apparently (according to Michael) it was more likely a ‘Do they have anything I can chew, and if so how do I get it?’ kind of curiosity. Keas are noted for their destructiveness around here…

 

Kea
‘Go on, give me a rubber washer or something.’

In these photos you see a dull green and brown bird, but what I didn’t capture was the brilliant flash of colour you see when they fly. It’s like nature gave them a cammo coat to protect them but left them colours on the underside of their wings to allow them to taunt ground predators as they flew away. This would make (a slightly twisted) sense, if only New Zealand had ground predators. Which it doesn’t.

After this we headed in to the Arthur’s Pass National Park.

RunningWater
I find flowing water fascinating even if no-one else does

There’s a nice little well-maintained path through the park. (All the paths we took in New Zealand were very well maintained. We could learn a lot from these folks.)

River
More flowing water. I like it.

It really is all so picturesque that it’s easy to forget how remarkable it all is.

JustAnotherIncredibleView
Just another spectacular view

The path led to a nice spot by a river, with a great view of Mount Rolliston. It was a lovely spot, and it’s where we had our packed lunches.

SWMBOAtLunchStop
SWMBO at the river

 

MountRollistonAtLunchStop
The view of Mount Rolliston and the river, from the lunch spot

The whole area was quite breathtaking. It was a fairly easy walk too, along the nice path. I think Michael was lulling us in to a false sense of security.

Panorama
Stunning scenery, everywhere we looked

The walk back was less easy. Instead of going back the way we came, Michael suggested taking the ‘path’ along the crest of one of the ridges. I think it was because he noticed I was wearing Meindl boots, same as him. Anyway, going ‘off path’ doesn’t scare me or SWMBO and the variety of a different route back seemed nice.

It was nice, don’t get me wrong. It was just tough. Some of the ‘up’s were very, very up. Muddy, slippy, and with some very steep areas. Fun but tiring. (Too tiring for me to take any photos, apparently.)

But we did it. We got back to the minibus tired but happy.

Then Michael asked if we wanted to see the Devil’s Punchbowl, a famous waterfall in these parts. Of course we said yes. It’s quite a sight.

DevilsPunchbowlFromADistance
The Devil’s Punchbowl, seen from where we parked

It is a remarkable sight. Unfortunately for us, it’s a remarkable sight that’s quite far from (and quite far above) the car park. And New Zealand is great with paths, as I mentioned, but paths weren’t enough to get you to the Devil’s Punchbowl – they had to provide stairs.

Stairs. Lots of stairs.

Stairs
SWMBO and Michael coping just fine with All The Stairs

There were a lot of stairs. I know I keep going on about it, but there really were, and this was after the ups and downs of the walk back in Arthur’s Pass National Park. It’s fair to say that stairs and I are not friends.

The Devil’s Punchbowl waterfall was totally worth the effort though.

OutflowOfPunchbowl
The outflow of the Devil’s Punchbowl

I do like watching water flow, and this waterfall was beautiful. The viewing platform was positioned just at the edge of the spray so viewers got just a little damp.

FullPunchbowl
A much closer view than from the car park

SWMBOWatchingPunchbowl
SWMBO, unperturbed after climbing all the stairs

We came back tired, so we rested for a while until:

5:00pm - 6:30pm: Broad Stream Gorge River Cascades Adventure
A guided walk east of the Lodge across glacial landscapes and river terraces to discover special river and bluff plants, and the hanging valley of Broad Stream which has now cut down into this soft sandstone called Greywacke. We walk up Broad Stream through mossy forest, past river cascades to an outcrop of fossil-bearing Argillite or mudstone.

This was a nice gentle walk along the Broad Stream. Much more gentle than the earlier walk! Meg ran along beside us, and sometimes ahead of us, just to keep us company. Occasionally she’d spot something – a rabbit maybe? – and she’d disappear for a few minutes. I’m not sure what ever happened to the rabbits.

Meg, as a reminder, is a sheepdog, not one of the guests.

Once we got to the right part of the river bed, we started looking for fossils. Michael said they were rare, but sometimes if you cracked open a dark argillite stone you’d find a fossil inside.

Cue lots of stone-smashing…

We didn’t break all the argillite stones though – we left at least a few for the next batch of guests.

And we didn’t find any fossils. It wasn’t for the lack of trying.

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Soundtrack: I’m So Excited, by The Pointer Sisters

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 59 minutes
  • Distance: 2.7 km
  • Calories: 506
  • Steps: 4,975

This is the bit we’ve been looking forward to - staying at the Wilderness Lodge in Arthur’s Pass.

We got married there 10 years ago and it was such a wonderful place. The people, the availability of walks, the accessibility of nature, the luxury… It all came together in this place. And we got married there too! I know I keep repeating that but it’s only because I find it so hard to believe.

We left Chateau On The Park early - 07:30! - to get the train.

TrainSelfie
You can see how unpractised we are at selfies here

It doesn’t sound that glamorous - ‘Trains, meh’ - but the scenery is stunning. Back in 1988 the TranzAlpine (as it is known) was voted one of the top 10 short train journeys in the world. It still markets itself as one of the world’s great train journeys and I understand why - the sight of the Southern Alps getting closer and closer, and then travelling through the pass (and the long tunnel), leaving the Southern Alps behind, is beautiful.

MountainsFromTrain
‘See those mountains? That’s where we’re going…’

Somehow, on the ridiculously short walk from the hotel to the van, or the ridiculously short walk from the van to the train, I managed to get a blister on my toe. I’d even put on my bloody guaranteed anti-blister socks to stop this kind of thing. They didn’t work. I blistered. SWMBO reckons I should put myself forward as a tester for anti-blister technologies. This doesn’t bode well for all the walking we’re likely to do around Arthur’s Pass.

The TranzAlpine has an open car for better views of the scenery. We went there early on to catch our first glimpses of where we’re heading. It was busy even then, and very blustery.

Windy
Windy, innit?

There were so many people there it was hard to get a view of anything. So instead we went back to our seats, safe in the knowledge that the views everyone else was trying to capture on the train were views we’d have to ourselves for the next four days.

 OurSide
The view out our side of the carriage

 OtherSide
The view out the other side of the carriage

10 years ago when we got off the train at Arthur’s Pass, we were the only two passengers who got off and our two pieces of luggage were the only pieces that came off. This time, well, our two pieces of luggage were still the only ones that came off but in total 91 people disembarked at Arthur’s Pass. 89 of them were getting buses for different tours around the place. Again only the two of us were going to stay in Arthur’s Pass.

And as before, the Wilderness Lodge had someone waiting to meet us from the train and take us to the lodge. Michael, for it is he, is Gerry’s son - Gerry and Anne own both the Wilderness Lodge here and the one at Lake Moeraki (next stop on our trip). It seems that these days Gerry and Anne spend most of their time running the Lake Moeraki lodge, with Michael and his sister Clare running the Arthur’s Pass lodge.

I should probably tell you a bit about the Wilderness Lodge. It is, simply, the best place I’ve ever stayed. That’s down to a combination of things. The attitude to the natural environment is wonderful - they really make an effort in protection and conservation. There’s the setting, in the snow-covered Southern Alps, which is just beautiful. Then there’s the people - all the people have been remarkably friendly, knowledgeable and willing. And then there’s the luxury of the place.

It is, however, an expensive place to stay. It’s fair to say that there is much included in the price, like the exceptional dinners, that you would otherwise have to pay for. Even so the price is high. We really wanted to go here so we saved up for it, but I definitely got the feeling that most other guests were wealthy and were well used to this kind of luxury. My ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was in full flow while I was here. I was sure everyone else could tell.

We were lucky to have our room upgraded from the type we stayed in before to the new ones that were just being built when we were here last. These new rooms are gorgeous.

Feetstagram
My first feetstagram!

The view from the lodge is still stunning. The trees are a little higher than they were 10 years ago, the snow-caps on mountains are a little receded, and the Waimakariri river still flows a little lower along its braided bed.

 MountainView
Our view of the Waimakariri and the mountains, every day

I love this place, and not just because we got married here. We got lots of congratulations for that from the other guests here when we were introduced to them. That’s another interesting aspect of the Wilderness Lodge - because it’s so small, you get to know the other guests.

We arrived, settled in to the fentestic room, and then took the short walk out to the Valley Lookout where we got married.

 ValleyLookoutSelfie
Note to self: Don’t take selfies with the sun behind you

It was lovely just to sit there and breathe the fresh air. The last few stops on our holiday had been troubling from an air-quality perspective:

  • Kuala Lumpur - smoke from the Indonesian forest fires

  • Rotorua - sulphurous stink from the geothermal activity

  • Christchurch - dust from the considerable ongoing construction activity

The air in Arthur’s Pass was wonderfully clear to breathe.

 ViewOfLodge
Our room was in the building on the right

Then we went back to the room and I had a nap. The lack of sleep the last few days had accumulated to the point where I needed it. SWMBO just took the time to read a bit. The nap must have done me some good, because I was up and ready for the afternoon activity.

That’s one of the distinguishing aspects of the Wilderness Lodge - they have ‘activities’. There’s a morning activity, usually from 7:30am - 8:30am before breakfast, and an afternoon activity, usually from 5:00pm to 6:30pm. These are free to join, or at least are included in the price.

This afternoon’s was:

5:00pm - 6:30pm: High Country Sheep Station Discovery Tour

Join us to help muster sheep with Border Collie sheepdogs. We will teach you about different types of super-fine merino wool and feed our tame rams. A good chance to explore a large farm and learn about High Country life.

 Sheep
‘There’s wool on them there sheep…’

We were taken through a lot of the process of farming sheep - albeit at a very high level - and some of the economics involved. It seems hard work and there's not a lot of profit in it. It made me glad I basically type for a living instead of having to do Real Work. It turns out I’m not a natural at this kind of thing.

MeAndSheep
Don’t give up the day job

We did get to meet Meg the sheepdog. She’s still learning her trade. Haven’t seen Tess yet. Tess, one of the sheepdogs we met 10 years ago, is still around but a lot less active now that she’s 10 years older.

 Wool
Wool. All that effort, for this.

The lodge is quite far from most other places so breakfast and the evening meal is included in the price. The food is excellent - here’s an example of the evening menu:

Menu
Droooooooooooolllllll…..

While it’s possible to just have a table to yourselves in the restaurant, some guests (like us) opt to sit at a communal table and chat. It’s fascinating to hear the stories of some of the other guests. We chatted during the meal and afterwards, then went back to the room for a moderately early night - we wanted to be ready for kayaking.

Google Fit stats:

  • Activity: 3 hours 26 minutes
  • Distance: 8.3 km
  • Calories: 1,762
  • Steps: 14,529

 Waimakariri
The braided river bed of the Waimakariri

No pre-breakfast activity today, but a hearty Musterer’s Breakfast (basically a huge plate of meat) had me ready for the morning activity of kayaking.

9:30am - 2:00pm: Limestone Castles, Easy Kayaking, Rare Plants and Desert Landscapes - a guided high country discovery of the dry lands east of the lodge

Journey in our minibus to the driest landscapes of the high country shaped by glaciers and water into amazing limestone overhangs, outcrops, caves and streams inhabited by some of New Zealand's rarest plants. We travel down valley and walk for 30 minutes up a gentle hill on Cora Lynn station for grand mountain views. We then explore in our safe, stable kayaks lovely Lake Pearson to look for Crested Grebe, NZ Scaup, Paradise Ducks, and other wetland birds. We visit the Cragieburn Forest Park for a forest restoration project and for lunch and continue east to Cave Stream and Castle hill where we explore an area of great significance to the early Maori and the site of the earliest European settlement of the upper Waimakariri. We will walk for 1-2 hours amongst amazing shaped limestone.

Sounds like a lot of fun, right?

LakePearson
‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads...’

It was!

Kayakers
Ready for anything!

The last time we’d been kayaking was 10 years ago on this very lake.

KayakersTenYearsAgo
Ready for anything, ten years ago...

It turns out that my kayaking hasn’t improved much in the last 10 years. Lack of practice probably has a lot to do with that. I coped, but I did manage to get another blister - this time on my thumb. I guess that means I’m not a natural at this either. We did get to see the grebes though!

 SWMBOPostKayaking
SWMBO with that post-kayak glow

Then a short drive. The walk among the limestone ‘castles’ was amazing. The scenery looked so unreal.

 Rock
It really did look like this

It seemed unreal to me, but it might look a little familiar to you. This area was used in the filming of one of the battle scenes in one of the Narnia films. (I’m not certain which, but I suspect it was the main battle in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.)

SWMBOAndRocks
No lions or wardrobes here

 Panorama
Get him, he’s panorama-ing again

It’s all ridiculously photogenic. You could take pictures for hours.

 NonPanorama
Ooh, he’s doing portrait-panoramas for landscapes now

 UnrealRocks
I can picture a movie battle scene taking place here

On the way back to the lodge, we stopped off to pluck some pine trees. Pines are an invasive species here, and it’s much easier to remove them when they’re young. The lodge minibus often stops off at appropriate areas along the route so guests can spend some time removing pines. It’s a nice touch, and it lets people like me feel we’re doing at least a little bit to help the situation.

It’s at this point I’m really glad I applied P20 sunscreen. I’m not an outdoor person so all this activity in the sun would have left me with some significant sunburn. P20 saves the day again!

After all that we relaxed until the afternoon activity.

5:00pm - 6:30pm: McKay Moa Forest Discovery

A special trip across the Broad Stream footbridge to see rare riverbed plants, strange bluff daisies, and primeval 'inside-out' shrubs that have evolved to resist browsing by giant  Moa birds, now extinct. This is a high valley, home to many wild pigs. There are superb views of the Upper Waimakariri Valley, the Lodge, and the rivers, so take your camera.

I forgot my camera.

Tsk.

There’s a small grasshopper that’s unique to this small section of river. They’ve even had folks from the university out to study it and confirm it’s a distinct species. We learned about it 10 years ago and it’s nice to know it’s still there. The area is very small and there are only around 200 of the grasshoppers in existence. They’re basically the same colour as the rocks (light grey) so they’ve very hard to spot, but if you watch your feet you can occasionally see one of the grasshoppers getting out of your way. SWMBO has some nice photos of it 10 years ago and today.

Finally today we were taken out for a look at the night sky in the southern hemisphere.

9:30pm: (if fine): The Night Sky and Southern Cross Walk

An easy walk after dinner to see the beautiful southern night sky.

10 years ago when Gerry showed us the constellations of the night sky, he used a torch to point out where to look. That’s not a great tool for the job, so when I got back to the UK I sent him a green laser pointer. Green beams are much more visible in the air, so they’re great for pointing out stars, and they were just becoming commonly available in 2005.

Nowadays New Zealand has introduced controls on who can point laser pointers at the sky, so Michael has had to get a license to allow him to do this. It was worth it though because it worked a treat here when he showed us how to spot the Southern Cross and figure out south.

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