Day 23: Tramping in trampers paradise

When in Rome, act like the romans. Or so they say. And so we did.

With this part of the country being considered to be perfect for taking a walk, it should be foolish of us not going for said walk.
There are quite a few tracks out here, of which Routeburn, Greenstone and Caples are the most well known. These are long tracks, ranging from 2 to 4 full days of walking and with lengths of up to 100km. That is really lovely, but not for us.
We only have one day, so we chose to walk the Lake Rere Loop.

In order to get to the track we need to get in the car outside of the lodge and drive to the right. That road is unsealed and less maintained. It is 12km long and has 3 (actually 4) places where a small river crosses the road. Crosses over the road. These are called fords, and driving through those is only recommended for 4×4’s.
We asked around a little and found out that we should be fine, even though out little rental car is tiny by any NZ standard.
As long as the weather stayed dry, everything would be golden!

The track around Lake Rere is truly wonderful with views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains around every corner. Only an hour in, the drizzle started and got worse to just full on rain right around the time we reached Lake Rere. That is when we had the choice: go back 2 hours or go on for another 3. We decided 2 would be better than 3, and turned around.

Yes, we got really wet. Again. Not all equipment like last time though, but shoes, socks and pant all had to be dried. Most unfortunate, the views also went away as quickly as the clouds rolled in: at a certain point we couldn’t see the coast of the lake anymore…

A few hours after this bad weather, it all cleared and we are now (8pm) looking at blue skies dotted with a few white clouds and mostly sunshine. I guess that is the way things go around here!

Tomorrow we are leaving early for Te Anau as there are lots and lots of activities over there. It should take us 4 hours. Let’s hope we don’t bring the rains with us!

Day 22: Back on track

Geraldine has been nice to us!
A lovely breakfast with muesli and pancakes, together with sunshine and blue skies: one could easily forget we are firmly off course.
Yet we are still. We needed to cover about 400kms today to get to Glenorchy, instead of the 160 it would have been if we slept in Wanaka where we should have been.

This detour is now 450kms extra over the 290 it should have been. Together with the distances to and from the Haast Pass we drove 700 kms extra thus totalling 1150kms in just two days.
But, those were 1150kms of wonderful scenery and we even got sunshine and blue skies in the latter part!

The original trajectory was Fox Glacier -> Haast -> Wanaka -> Cromwell -> Glenorchy
We did Fox Glacier -> Haast -> Fox Glacier -> Hokitika -> Arthur’s Pass -> Mt Hutt -> Geraldine -> Twizel -> Tarras -> Glenorchy
All that because the Haast Pass was closed. I didn’t dare to check it today. 😉

We are in a little settlement called Kinloch which is on the other side of Lake Wakatipa opposite to Glenorchy. It takes 30 minutes to get here via really small roads and the final 10km is dirt road. The settlement has 4 houses, of which one is the Lodge we are staying in. There is no shop, no gas, no nothing. 3 other houses and the lodge.
And a boat ramp.
It is really out there!

If the weather stays fine, we’ll be out for a walk, as the girl who checked us in described the land over here as ‘hikers heaven’. The views are stunning everywhere you look, and there is not a soul in sight.
Let’s hope for some more sunshine!

Day 21: Taking the looooong way around

OK, first things first.
I am not where I should be right now, but we are fine.

We should be in Wanaka, in a motel over there and should also have been spending the afternoon walking alongside the shores of magnificent Lake Wanaka. Instead, we spent the afternoon, and much of the rest of the day, driving like madmen to get somewhere else than where we started from.
This day started like many others before it, with us sitting at a table having breakfast while enjoying the rains falling down on the roof.
This day however was different, we were going to hop over the mountains to the other side, and would do so on Highway 6. There has been a slip, where part of the mountain started sliding down and that took away the highway at a place called Diana Falls. This is on the Haast Pass, one of two passes useable to get of the other side of the Southern Alps in NZ.
The problem with this slip is, that is gets more unstable the harder it rains. And with the weather we’ve seen the last few days, it would not be good.

This morning, the road remained closed. It closes every night at 7, and reopen sat 8 in the morning. Today, it did not.
The website of the traffic agency said they’d update the status around 10. The rains started lifting at fox Glacier, and we took the chance of just going to Haast to see if the road had opened by then.
Unfortunately, it did not. We arrived at Haast around 10:30 only to find that they’d issue another status update around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
That is way too late! If the pass opened right then and there, we would make it safely and timely to the other side and to Wanaka, but if it didn’t, we would be stuck in Haast. And you do not want to get stuck in Haast, as the town is tinier than tiny. And it certainly has not got enough rooms to put all the stranded tourists in.

So, we made the decision to not wait for the update, and leave Haast to go to the one other pass: Arthur’s Pass. The unfortunate thing is that route would take us 12 to 14 hours to complete, instead of the 2 through the currently closed pass.
Auch.
So instead of driving the final 141 km, we embarked on a massive detour. We didn’t even start counting the kilometres of the detour, all we know is that the final tally for today is 741km, 600 extra.
And here we are.
In a town called Geraldine, about halfway to Glenorchy, which is where we should be tomorrow.

The B&B we found is actually really great, and the hosts are wonderful! It is called The Downs B&B, and is in Geraldine Downs. Tomorrow, we have to drive about 6 hours to Glenorchy, and by then our itinerary should be fine. We would have connected back up, and continue from there.
Let’s say today was quite interesting!

By the way, the Fish and Chips were amazing, and the contents of the fridge are complementary with the stay. 🙂

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Day 20: (Not) trotting like a fox

Yay, more rain!
It might sound a little boring, but there it is. Consecutive day of rain número 10 has started, and we do not like it.
Also, the people at Fox Glacier Guiding don’t like this amount of rain and have cancelled all tours which are going onto the glacier itself.
Instead, they are offering a walk to the Glacier Terminal Face, which is the end of the glacier itself. You’ll be able to walk to it and check out the awesomeness of the icy highway from a small distance, while standing in the rain.
We opted not to do this instead of our own tour, and received a form for refunding of the tour.

Ok. Our daytime activities are now limited to virtually nothing. Everything here is outdoors, and usually takes longer than a few hours.
We don’t like getting soaked, which leaves only a very few activities.
As the rain lifted a little bit, we decided to ignore the weather and walk around Lake Matheson. Being really nearby and with a total time outdoors of about 90 minutes, we figured it would be ok.
And, we also borrowed a big umbrella each from the Lodge, to ensure we’d stay dry.

The walk is really nice, and we were lucky enough to stay mostly dry! We did not however see the surrounding mountains, as the clouds were hanging too low. After this, we drove to the face of the glacier ourselves.
The guided tour takes you to about 100 metres from the glacier, while the general public is only allowed at about 600 metres distance. The difference is negligible, especially under these conditions as the majority of the glacier and mountains are covered by clouds.
This walk also is lovely, and should be repeated with better weather!

After our dinner, we looked up and spotted two things: no rain, and the clouds had lifted just enough to show the snowy caps of Mount Cook and the glacier in its entirety!
Like madmen, we drove to Lake Matheson, and I even ran to a vista point called Reflection Point. This lookout shows the high mountains and sometimes their reflections in Lake Matheson. The stuff postcards are made from!
The pictures are good, but I was a little late to the party as the clouds already started rolling in from the left. The views are still great though!

Tomorrow, we leave this place already and head for Wanaka. We are too afraid to check the weather reports, so we’ll let faith decide for us.

Day 19: First day of 2014

Again a rainy start of the day here in Punakaiki: we woke up to the thunderous sound of the rain falling in these rainforest like surroundings.
Bummer.

Happy new year by the way! These warm holidays are messing our feeling for time up. Christmas was weird, and now New Years is also a little off.

As we are going to sit in our car for the majority of the day, so all is not lost, but the count of consecutive days of rain has been upped once more, now to 9. After we ate our breakfast of hamburger buns with jam and bananas, we started packing for the journey only to find that the rain had temporarily stopped to let us put the bags in the car.
Also, we decided to pay Pancake Rocks another visit as the sun would be in a much nicer spot for photography. Yesterday, it was directly in our face and quite low already due to the late hour in the day we were there, now the sun was going to be in our back (and hidden behind some clouds) but the views would be nicer like that.

The drought persisted for about another half hour, which was just enough for us to walk the park and take the pictures we wanted to take with the right lighting conditions. Yay!
We quickly returned to the car as the clouds started packing again, and with the slight tinkle of the first raindrops on the windshield we set about to get to Fox Glacier.

During the complete 5 hour trip, it has rained non stop. As driving in those conditions is quite tiring, we swapped drivers every one in a while, just to keep moving and be safe on the road.
Fox Glacier is named after the glacier with the same name in the vicinity, and consists of a few hotels, lodges, motels and B&B’s, together with the companies that do excursions on the glacier itself and helicopter tours for the mountains nearby. Of those, Mount Cook is the largest and the one that feeds the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers.

As the rains are still falling without stopping. We decided it was not time for us to do a short walk in the vicinity of the Lodge, but instead we went about 20kms back up the road (Highway 6) to Franz Josef where the rarest of all kiwis is on display.
Situated in a Wildlife centre, there is an open facility where the flightless nocturnal birds can be viewed during daytime as the rhythm in the display is reversed for our viewing pleasure.
They have a total of 3 Rowi Kiwis scurrying about in the pen, and about 20 eggs still incubating. Also, a lot of young kiwis were still there as the were not yet old enough to be returned to the wild. With about 375 Rowi kiwis still living in the wild, the species is on the brink of extinction and that is where this little sanctuary comes into play.
Viewing the birds was wildly expensive but it is for a good cause, so it is definitely money well spent.

Tomorrow, we are destined to go for a walk on the Fox Glacier, but the forecast says it’ll rain the entire day, with the winds growing stronger and the rain becoming heavier. All in all, about 200mm of rain is going to fall on Fox Glacier tomorrow, which is a lot by any standard.
But with the area experiencing about 5100 mm of rain each year, it just is what it is.

Day 18: A very remote New Years Eve

What a lovely surprise this morning: we woke up to a blue sky with a few white clouds in it and the temperature was still a lovely 20 degrees. After a wonderful breakfast, this time with eggs on toast with some smoked salmon on the side, we decided to warm up a little more and lie on the breach for an hour before commencing or trip to Punakaiki.

Right after we lied down on the lovely golden sand of Kaiteriteri the clouds started getting in the way of the sun and the wind picked up. After the hour had passed the temperature had dropped to an uncomfortable level and we decided it was a good time to leave the ocean and head out.

Right before we left we shopped for groceries, as the accommodation we had booked in Punakaiki was to be self catered. As it is the 31st of December today, we figured everything would be closing early. Also, Punakaiki is a really small town, so it would be quite something if there would be anything at all!
We bought ingredients for a homemade burger with chicken, and set out on the 4 hour drive down south.

It turned out that leaving was a good idea: throughout the drive the rains differed from just rain to downright torrential, only to lift minutes prior to us arriving at our destination.
The place would be called Havenz but we are directed to go to the Canoe Building.

Apparently, the guy who owns the houses also built them, but he does not run the day to day business. This means he does the bookings, but does not hand out the keys. This is done by the guy who rents out canoes, and he made a mistake just before we arrived.
He gave our room to the wrong people, and left us with the wrong one.

Usually, this would be quite nice, but as the house we should get was not quite the same as the one we got, a switch had to be made. We should get a room, but instead we got a huge three story house with 5 rooms and enough space to live in.
Unfortunately, we had to leave it and instead got a single room on the ground floor level of a 2 story house down the road.
Not luxuriously upholstered like the other one, no Wi-Fi, no cellphone reception, and most importantly it is a shared place. In total 5 families in one very noisy house. Wonderful.

Let’s just say this was one of the more memorable New Years Eves in quite a while. 🙂
Eerily quiet and no fireworks, with the rain steadily falling: different.
We did however get to see the most beautiful sunset in NZ yet at the Truman Track, a walkway leading from our house connects to the track. That was quite an interesting walk after the sun had set through the dark forest!

Before we checked in at our house, we went to see the two main attractions of Punakaiki: Pancake Rocks and the Blowholes.
These are really picturesque!
The rocks are limestone layers, wedged in between mudstone slabs. The erosion of the mudstone is faster, which shows the layering even better. The blowholes are vents of underground caves where the ocean swells break in. These vents then spew out the air and spray to form nice white columns above the ground.

Also, we walked the Truman Track to two hidden and beautiful coves. If you ever go to Punakaiki: go there!

Tomorrow, we are driving to Fox Glacier. It should take us about 4 hours, let’s see what it is like over there!

Day 17: Soggy shoes

Well, the forecast for today was pretty much bang on: rain.

There are basically two ways of getting into Abel Tasman NP: on foot, or by boat.
We chose for the latter, as the full Abel Tasman Coastal Track will take about 3 days to complete. And with the current weather, that amount of time outside is just intolerable.
We booked something called Abel Tasman Day Explorer, which means you embark on a boat at Kaiteriteri to go all the way north to the most northern point in the park, after which you get dropped off somewhere along the way back.

We chose to do a two hour walk from Torrent Bay to Medlands Bay, as this is the most beautiful part of the entire Coastal Track. We considered doing the longer 4 hour walk from Medlands Bay to Anchorage Bay, but decided it would be a bad thing if we were to walk in rain the entire time. Remember, we had to choose this morning, during breakfast, and you can never be sure of the weather here.

Considering the title of this blog, you probably guessed it: we chose well. Our entire two hour walk was wet, with rain varying from drizzle to near torrential. Everything got wet, even through our raincoats. We were very glad to not be outside for 4 hours or longer, but were kind of miserable anyway.
On the plus side: the cameras and other equipment all survived this ordeal, and by now most of the stuff we carried is not soaking wet anymore. On the down side: the walk and the views should both have been really wonderful, but I’m afraid we didn’t quite experience those aspects of the trip very well. Too bad.

Weirdly enough, by the time we arrived back in Kaiteriteri around half past 4, the weather had cleared all the way up, and we hurried to go to the beach! With temperatures never dropping below 20 degrees, it definitely was not cold and with the sun on the beach it could even be considered to be very nice!
This was a very nice end of an otherwise quite miserable day.
Thoroughly warmed and very much drier than before, we headed back to the B&B.

Tomorrow, we have to do some shopping for New Year’s Eve as the place we are going has absolutely nothing. It is going to be a very special 31st of December! So, Punakaiki, here we come!

Day 16: To Abel Tasman NP

Yet again, we wake up to cloudy skies and near torrential rain. The forecast says it will be better after Tuesday, but seeing it is Sunday today, that will take a while.
Today we’ll have to travel a few hours to Abel Tasman National Park, and as we won’t be outside much, the rain is of lesser importance. If would however, be nice if it dried up a bit. 🙂

After a quick look at the local NZ Fur Seal colony, we were off, back to the north.
As Abel Tasman No only has one road in it, and no permanent residents, we cannot stay inside the Park overnight. Therefore, our destination today is Kaiteriteri, one of only three places around the park offering a way into the park.

After 4 solid hours of driving through heavy rains, we were both really tired and fed up with the local weather. Unfortunately for us, the warm weather the other couple told us about the other day has not stayed in Kaiteriteri and has made way for a lot of rain. Not only today, but also in the coming days. Blegh.

So, today we did nothing basically. We arrived at the B&B, and were greeted by our hostess Jude. She informed us about all available options to spend the day outside, but had to confess there is little to do on a wet day.
So, we have made arrangements to ignore the weather and go out on a boat into Abel Tasman for a walk.
We’ll see what it brings us, it should be a really lovely walk!

The most memorable moment today has to be the dinner we enjoyed at the local Eco Resort! We ate in the vegetarian restaurant, and thoroughly enjoyed it! The atmosphere was quite something else to be honest, seeing all food was not only vegetarian, but also locally grown, fresh, non spray, organic, and really ‘green’. Even the drinks were organic, and we both had an organic Coke. Weird!

Day 15: I’m on a boat (again!)

After a full night of rain we had hoped it would clear during the day, but unfortunately it did not.
Luckily, the wind died down quite a bit, as it had caused for a full on stop of the whale watching boats yesterday. None had sailed.

Today though, everything was going out, and we were to be on the 07:15 boat. We were warned that it would be rough outside, and boy were they right! Kirsten had grabbed a anti seas sickness pill from their own local pharmacy, and I did not as I usually don’t get sea sick. Apparently, this time I did.
As did the entire boat. Green faces all over the place, and the only cheerful people in there were the crew.
I guess I was lucky, as I only suffered from it for a couple of minutes in the last half hour, but for the other 50+ people on the boat it must have been the longest 2,5 hours of their lives.

The boat and the ride were both great by the way! A jet powered catamaran with airplane like seats in it for optimal comfort, and equipped with enough power to go fast. The boats are designed for whale watching on a large scale, and they are lovely for doing so.
It is just the weather which does not fully cooperate.

We’ve seen 2 Sperm Whales, and a really large school of Dusky Dolphins and just had a blast doing so. Even in the rain!

After the adventure on the water we would have liked to walk around the peninsula, as we were told the coastal walkway offered the best viewings of the surrounding scenic country. As it was still raining cats and dogs we decided that was not for us today which lead to us getting in the car and driving a leisurely drive along the coast down towards Christchurch. As we are destined to go north tomorrow, we quickly returned to our B&B to visit the sheep shearing show the host is giving. Peter is not only running the B&B with his wide Gwenda, but is also shearing two sheep a day for tourists while explaining more about the farm, the shearing process and the sheep in NZ. It is a great way to spend some time on a rainy day like today.

As we were fed up with being outside, we also bought tickets in the local cinema to go check out the second part of The Hobbit. It is in 2D only, so we have to see the 3D version when we’re back in NL!
Tomorrow, we are off again, this time to Abel Tasman NP. We heard from some people we met today that they had been lying on the beach in swimwear only hours before arriving in Kaikoura, so we are looking forward to that already!

Day 14: I’m on a boat!

Als we took one of the earlier ferries across the Cook Strait, the alarms on our phones went off a little too early in the day for comfort. Barely past 6 in the morning, we made breakfast on our room and started to pack our stuff into the car.
By 06:30 we checked out and made our way to the Interislander Ferry to Picton.

As we couldn’t take our rental car with us on the boat, because the rental company does not like to transport cars between the islands, we had to leave it on the North Island, and grab a new one on the South Island.
Weirdly though, as it was still early in the day, the offices for the rental companies were still closed. Therefore, all we had to do to ‘return’ the car was to leave it in the parking lot (double parked of course, as it was way too busy) and drop the keys of the car in a designated letterbox in the departure terminal of the ferry. That was the weirdest thing ever!
We’ve learned not to ever depart with the keys of the car, and now we are deliberately leaving them behind, seemingly unattended in a nondescript box with a hole in it.
We did it anyway, and luckily were able to collect our second car on the other side.

The trip on the boat itself was quite interesting as well. It was fully booked, and with a strong breeze the boat started swaying and rolling a few short moments after we departed from the dock. This kept on going for about an hour, after which quite few people were feeling the effects of the ocean on their bodies. Lots of green faces all around!
Luckily, the ride started getting a lot smoother after that, and we even had some time to enjoy the trip.
As the weather was not good at all, with dark grey low hanging clouds blocking all views that aspect was toned down, but the rest of the trip was lovely.

As I bought a large case of beer a few days ago, I wanted to carry it with me on the boat, but was informed that I was not allowed to do so. The case had to be checked in with the suitcases to go in the cargo hold of the vessel, and was labelled fragile. On the other side, I was greeted by the case on the conveyor belt. It was probably the weirdest thing they carried today!

We traded in our blue Mazda 3 for a white Toyota Corolla which is a wee bit smaller than the other one, so our suitcases only just fit in. Unfortunately they don’t fit in the trunk, so we have to pack smart!
From Picton, we had to drive about 2 more hours to Kaikoura. This place is about as touristic as they get, and their main selling point is whale watching. We are no strangers to that trade, and have booked a tour for tomorrow.

But first: checking in at The Point B&B, and try to get some food. We hear pizza from The Black Rabbit Pizza Company is really good!
Now let’s hope the rain clears away for a while, as it has been chucking down since we arrived here around 2pm. Also, a lot of rain is forecast for tonight. We’ll see what happens tomorrow morning!