April 7

From Hokitika the drive down the West Coast to Westland/Tai Poutini National Park takes about 2 hours and is probably very nice, but I drove it in the dark and in the rain. I got up at 5am and was on the road by 5:30am in anticipation of seeing The Postcard of Lake Matheson, which you have to catch early in the morning, standing below the Franz Josef Glacier reflecting Mt Tasman and Mt Cook in majestic glory. But it was not to be.

I didn’t even bother to get to the lake since I’d have to walk for 1 hour in the rain and mud and still be guaranteed The Postcard would not be there.
I didn’t even bother with the glaciers either, except to get as close as the road would take me. Here’s Franz Josef/Waiau...
And here’s Fox Glacier.

Good thing I wasn’t hanging this trip on a glacier experience! Were it not that I’ve had stunning glacier experiences in Alaska and Patagonia maybe I would have just stayed until the weather cleared. Or maybe not. When traveling I try to give myself over to the gods of rain and heat and mosquitoes, and clear blue skies and puffy white clouds and temperatures in the high 60s, and try to take it as it comes.
I took this quick from off a bridge so I could tell about glacial water which is this milky blue from the crushed sediment, crushed so fine by the glaciers that it is suspended in the water and reflects light, giving it this color.
From Westland/Tai Poutini National Park you drive for a while more along the coast and then travel inland a bit along the north edge of Mount Aspiring National Park, and through the Haast Pass/Tioripatea. This area was a total knock out with ‘wide valleys, alpine meadows, sheer mountains, and more than 100 glaciers. Now we’re talkin' Lord of the Rings country.
You leave the park and then travel along through the break between two stunning lakes, Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. I don't know which one this is.
I looked at postcards in the gas station and at the visitor's center and they ALL are like this so it's not just me. This whole reflecting on still water thing is just what there is.
This is a shot from the back door of the Haast Pass/Tioripatea Visitor's Center.

The DOC names its trails and reminds you that safety is your responsibility. There are long descriptions for each but I’ll just list out the first and last and notable changes.

1) Easy access short walk. Easy walking for up to an hour; even surface, well formed with no steps or steep sections; suitable for people of all abilities, wheelchairs, buggies and strollers: streams and rivers are bridged; walking shoes required.
2) Short walk.
3) Walking track.
4) Great Walk/Easy tramping track.
5) Tramping track.
6) Route. Challenging overnight tramping; track unformed and natural, may be rough and very steep; suitable for people with high level backcountry skills and experience, including navigation and survival. Be completely self sufficient; track has markers, poles or rock cairns. Expect river crossings; sturdy tramping / hiking boots required.
This is out from the Visitor's Center and would have to qualify as a Short Walk since you can't get here by wheelchair.

I think the cliff-side walk back in Akaroa was a Walking Track - I turned back when it got too steep (‘some sections may be steep, rough or muddy?E. At this level the tracks are up to a day long but still well posted and the water crossings are bridged. I don’t know what they would have named the one mile of two foot tall steps in Arthur’s Pass!
April 8

Here's where I've stayed, in Arrowtown, a super-tricked-out ex-gold mining town made up for the tourists. But it's small and quiet at night and the scenery is gorgeous.

Except at this backpackers where all the kids are upstairs right now watching tv!
This is a brother and sister traveling with the brother's girlfriend. They must have been traveling together for some time since they made the breakfast, ate it, and cleaned up like a well oiled machine. Their division of labor was easy and exact.

Except for the interest the younger people took in the tv, it was a nice place with park views from every window.
I took a nice walk today down by the river and then...
...I also did a harder walk - they even called it a track! Both walks were said on the brochure to be '1 hour return'. But since the first was a 'walk' I did it in 50 minutes or so and since the second was a 'track' it took me Two Hours.

I was lapped by bikers a dozen times.
And these folks passed me by without even breathing hard. But I made it!
You can't see the sheep probably, but there are dozens of them along the dark line in the middle of the picture. They follow each other around like sheep. And they yell like crazy BA-AHAH-aH Ba-AH-AH BA-A-aHH.
I drove into Queenstown to check out the sights. I wanted to see those people who jump off bridges. The town is chock-o-block with the adrenaline set. Young people, seeking adventure.

You know that thing your mother used to say about just because everyone else is jumping off a bridge does that mean you should too?

They do. And they're mostly very young and I want to say 'WHERE IS YOUR MOTHER?'
Hanging from your HEELS?!?
Then they pick you up in this rubber raft. Upside down. See the guy there with the hook? That's for you to grab if you can't stop swinging.
It's Easter Sunday today and all the ticket-girls and all the snack and souvenir-girls were wearing bunny ears. Somebody here told me they don't take religion too seriously in New Zealand.
This guy is 'on deck' getting his instructions. He is vibrating excitment. It costs NZ$150 to jump off a bridge. From the eagerness and skill with which some of these kids fly I have to think this was not their first time.
Having fun are we?
After you get picked up by the boat you have to climb the 43 meters from the botton of the gorge up to the landing. And even that doesn't stop them!
I would guess at least 40% of the participants were girls. I'd also guess 40% were between 10 and 14 years old. Young. You get to jump for free if you are at least 65. Guess I'll be coming back in a few years?
Here's one girl, stylin'.
And this? Can you guess?
April 9

Today I drove off to the far south. There was a bus load of these cuties pulled over taking pictures of each other. The driver said they were kids from all over the world here on an English study program.

I wonder if they were down the road jumping off a bridge?
The place I chose for tonight and tomorrow night is...here. No electricity, only cold water, stove operated by propane, toilet-shower-fridge in a common building faar from my cabin. This thing cost NZ$30 and I knew these details before I booked.

It's kind'a like Okie land or something. A few of the other cabins have the backseat of a truck on their porch. But there's a great view and it smells like country.
Me on the porch.
That's right, there IS a laundry line hanging from my porch.

The town consists of a few houses, a few motels, a gas station and a cafe. Really.
So far.

1) 3 nights in Akaroa
2) 1 night in Arthur's Pass
3) 2 nights in Hokitika
4) 2 nights in Arrowtown
5) 2 nights in Manapouri

I'm staying the 9th and 10th in Manapouri for a visit to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound weather permitting. We'll see. The forcast is for rain!
April 10

I got up at 5am so I could make it out to Milford sound for the first tours. This scene did not bode well for clear skies ahead.
This is Homer Tunnel. Begun in 1935 and finished in 1953, it's long and dark and pretty freaky.
He sold me a cruise ticket and said I could come back as many times as I wanted until it stopped raining. Of course you can't keep coming back because if you race along the road the closest accommodation is two hours away.

This is the postcard view of Milford sound.
This is the reality.

Both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are not sounds at all but rather fiords. This area of New Zealand is called Fiordlands. The difference is that fiords are created by glaciers as they empty into the sea. Sounds are created by rivers. Who knew.
This weather was not entirely surprising since it rains 6 meters per year in Milford Sound 'that creates a spectacular deluge of cascading waterfalls...
... and adds a ghostly mist to the scene.'
Some of my fellow travelers came prepared.
Driviing back to Manapouri from Milford Sound I stopped often - whenever it wasn't raining too hard. This is handsome.
Doesn't it look like gnomish trolls live here, or Hobbits perhaps?
There are wonderful lakes everywhere.
April 11

Saying goodbye to my modern-convenience-free cabin. The other side of this sign says 'Welcome' and this side says 'Shalom'.

I came to be fond of this place. I cooked myself a big dinner, like camping out, and stoked the old stove for a toasty fire until I fell contentedly asleep.

During the night I occasionally woke to pounding rain and howling wind. It was fun, but solidified my decision to skip Doubtful Sound and move on north.
Gotta stop for every rainbow. This is the actual town of Manapouri that I mentioned before. It's got everything a traveler needs - a few gas pumps, some tasty food, and toilets.

NZ is quite coffee mad. I don't see that there is a predominant chain (but I've not been in the cities either.) Every establishment no matter how small or out-of-the way exclaims over its coffee.

You can get a short black (a shot of espresso), a tall black (espresso with water), a flat white (espresso with hot milk, no foam), and then the regular lattes, cappuccinos, etc. I order 'flat white trim'. Trim is the name for low fat milk. They have all been perfect lovely.
Driving all day I arrived in Dunedin around 3pm and my first 3 choices of accommodation were full. It was Friday and I would have been better served had I made a reservation.

Here's where I ended up...
...and it was actually quite fine in every way except location. It was raining off and all all day and threatening even when it stopped so walking down this hill into town and then back up was not too appealing. Parking in town was madness.

The town itself was indeed appealing and I would have stayed longer except it was here, the next morning, when I realized after talking with my sisters, that I'd better get home.
I had several hours before sunset so since I was going to be driving anyway I headed out to the Otago Peninsula nearby renowned for its Royal Albatross Center and Yellow-Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve.

The wind made you stagger!
To go out into the Albatross reserve you had to pay for a tour, and it was already too late. Some birds were hanging out here - it's hard to see because...
...they blend right in! They are spectacular in the air, soaring and diving with the drifts, but when I lifted my camera, litterally, I fell down from the wind! Here I could support the camera on a fence post.
The Yellow-Eyed Penguins don't come in until sundown so I had plenty of time to get to that place on the opposite side of Otago Peninsula. What a pretty drive.
But when I got to the place where you park your car it was raining, the wind was blowing like mad as you can see from the plants there, and it was a 45 minute walk to the blind where you could hope to see some penguins, no guarantees. I punked out without the least hesitation or a second thought.
April 12

The backpackers here - you can see the outside from yesterday, was really fun inside, not at all somber like the exterior.
It was today that I talked to my sisters and realized I'd better be heading home.

I needed to start making arrangements and they had no internet at all here and the only place they could suggest was a cafe in town where you could catch the wireless from a business across the street. Other places had internet no problem but only for their own guests or customers.

Since I was so far from where I could return the car I decided to start the journey and find a place with internet to get tickets, make calls, etc.
April 13

I got as far as Oamaru and it was wonderful too. Here's the common room of the backpacers where I stayed. It was late already so I wanted to take a last chance to see the worlds most rare penguins, the Yellow-Eyes.
This is the beach where they nest. There are several down there now.
I watched them for more than an hour, until it got dark, as they came in and out of the water...
...with that great penguin I Am So Cool waddle.
They were singing to each other so loudly it was easy to hear.
And for that hour they wandered around, visited with each other, took a dip. It was massively massively entertaining.
I liked the little town a lot. This cafe was right outside where I was staying.
Looking along the other side of the street are more of the businesses that would support a real town, not just a tourist town.
This was the last shot from my last night in New Zealand. Thinking everything was ready, the following morning I got up at dawn and spent the next 2 days getting home, because, no, it was not all ready.

Click here to see the funeral and family reunion or click here to see my mother's testimonials.
HomeAustralasia • New Zealand • '07 Apr: the Glaciers-Oamaru

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