New Zealand Travelogue – Thursday, 15th October 2015

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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