Thursday, May 21, 2015

South Island Scenery – The Sunny North: Beaches, Boulders and Blisters

Even though it meant missing out on Arthur’s Pass, Mark and I were happy with our choice to drive all the way to the northern part of the island in pursue of sunnier weather. With our camper, we reached Golden Bay, the extreme northern tip of the South Island. Takaka hill was an hour long endeavor of hairpin roads up and back down. That hill is big! The long distances still surprised us, but the emerging sun was worth the effort.

We made some longer hikes to a waterfall, over the marvelous beach of Wharariki (reputedly the nicest beach in New Zealand!) and in the rolling hills along the coast. A good test for my new shoes and blistery feet. The views were once again stunning, with a surprise around some of the corners. :-) 

We finished our three week camping adventure with a day walk in the famed Abel Tasman National Park. We followed the coastal track for a steady hour and a half, before turning back to our starting point. Based on its popularity, we couldn’t begin to imagine how touristy this place would be in summer. In the evening, we soaked up the local atmosphere of cute and mellow Mapua; a nice end to our South Island travels.

All that was left, was the long six hour drive back to Christchurch, New Zealand's second-biggest city and the South Island's largest. Here, we returned the camper van and enjoyed the hospitality once again of our hosts Neil and Ollie. A quick look around the city center revealed the sad reality of the damage earthquakes can cause in just a few fateful minutes!

While we are happy to have made this three week and 4000 km trip of the South Island with a camper, we totally underestimated the cold temperatures (or better, the inability of the uninsulated camper with a crappy little heater to heat up our “home” sufficiently), the short days, and the cost of fuel and other necessities. Summer time, albeit even more bursting with tourists, has its merits! Also, it was extremely hard for Mark to combine the frigid morning hours in altering remote locations with the business. For all of these reasons, and many others, we are very happy and thankful to be able to spend our last three weeks of New Zealand time in a comfortable flat in Auckland. What a luxury! :-)

Here are some photos of our last few days in New Zealand’s South Island:

Golden Bay:
Funky rock formations and jungle in The Grove, Takaka

The tides in Golden Bay and Tasman are big - at low tide, the boats just tip over or make use of their stabilizing keel(s)

The scariest of all NZ swing bridges! Metal wires as flooring, very narrow and bouncy!

Wainui Falls near Takaka

Viewpoint near Farewell Spit

Parking amongst the local residents at Farewell Spit

Sand dunes and off shore islands, Wharariki Beach

Part of the vast, sandy expanse that is Wharariki Beach

Mark and this incredibly cute fur seal baby startled each other! What an amazing creature. We had a hard time not picking him up for a cuddle, but gave him ample space and left again quickly.

Part of Wharariki Beach

One of the many scenic arches on Wharariki Beach

Under a Wharariki arch

Islands in front of the amazing Wharariki Beach

Cape Farewell

Walking up and over many grassy hills to reach Pillar Point Lighthouse

Pillar Point view over Golden Bay and Farewell Spit

A beautiful day in stunning scenery

Freedom camping is very popular in NZ! Even in the chilly fall. The cold temperatures seemed to bother us more than other campers, though. Must be that tropical blood, after all those years in a "one season" climate! :-)

Te Waikoropupu (Pupu) Springs near Takaka - said to be the clearest water in the world
Abel Tasman National Park:
Ready for another hike?

This stubborn tree provides a scenic environment at low tide

Pretty and quiet Coquille Bay - the quintessential Abel Tasman golden beach (low tide)

And, the -oh so typical New Zealand - fern trees are everywhere!

Beach near Apple Tree Bay

The bay of Marahau - departure or arrival point of Abel Tasman's coastal track
The drive to Christchurch:

Roaring Maruia Falls

Autumn means wild mushrooms. Perfect for gnomes. Kabouter Pinnemuts is nog niet langs geweest, maar zou zich hier wel eens goed kunnen amuseren! :-)

River valley along the road
Pizza evening at Neil and Ollie's place - our other South Island hosts from Alexandra (Neil and Garth's parents) were also present!

Christchurch's cathedral's future is still undecided, after four years!

Some of the wrecked buildings in the CBD (Central Business District) have been replaced, while others (see reflection) are still standing.

Some of the damaged buildings are being torn down as we speak

The Re: Start project is a cool initiative to revitalize the commercial area a bit

Businesses that lost their space after the 2011 and 2012 earthquakes have set up shop in shipping containers

The tourist tram has started running again, but there is still a lot of road work going on and most of the downtown area remains a construction site.

Making new friends in Mapua - the fire felt great!!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

South Island Scenery – Relentless Rain, Rushing Rivers and Roaring Falls

After being lucky with the sunny weather in the Catlins, Mark and I hit the other side of the spectrum, with five days of rain. Since our next destinations were Milford Sound and the West Coast, both areas already reputed to receive heaps of annual rain fall, we initially didn’t mind the drizzle, low clouds and wet surfaces of Fiordland National Park. “Misty Milford” still looked attractive, but hiking the longer trails was out of the question.

All our plans for New Zealand’s “activity central” called Queenstown (some drives in the mountains for great views and watching some of the world famous action from afar – I did all the adrenaline activities, like bungee jumping, white water rafting, skydiving, … when I was backpacking here 14 years ago and when it was much more affordable) literally fell in the water. We did eat at the recommended, famed and wonderful hamburger place “Fergburger”, and I bought new waterproof walking shoes – very exciting! - after suffering from wet, cold feet the previous days.

Next, we drove our campervan to Haast pass. Falling snow along the way made us second-guess this South Island adventure once more. When snow turned to rain again, some over-fed waterfalls on the route provided quite the noisy and eye-catching entertainment. It kept on raining, so we continued driving, being prevented from outdoor activities. At Fox Glacier, we were disappointed by the view. I remembered from my previous visit here that it was possible to walk all the way up to both glaciers in this area – Fox and Franz Josef – but this had been made impossible by the weather. Because of the heavy rainfall, the river – and trails - had flooded and the only way to see the glacier was by walking up a hill and being 600m away. When we heard that it wouldn’t be any better at Franz Josef (view from 2000m away!), we decided to skip that one and head further north along the West Coast.

One of the highlights in the South Island is the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, where high tide provides a unique blowhole spectacle. When we arrived, it was still pouring rain – hail at times - and high tide wasn’t until after dark. Luckily, a freedom camping spot is located only 1 km from the site, so we parked and hoped the weather would improve by dawn the next morning. It hadn’t. After the usual and cold morning work hours (6am – 9am), we braved the liquid sunshine and watched the amazing spectacle of waves and rocks. As our luck would have it, the massive storms from the previous night had kicked up the waves and despite it being two hours past high tide, the blowholes were still impressive, putting on quite a show!

Trying to figure out what was next – we really wanted to drive cross country over the spectacular Arthur’s Pass – we opted for the better weather in the north of the South Island and headed towards the Nelson-Tasman area. Photos of this last part of our journey will be posted in my next blog. Here are some images of our most rainy stretch of the trip: Milford Sound and the West Coast.

Fiordland National Park:

Waterfalls abound along rock faces in the park

Mirror Lakes - not as clear when it is rainy out

Waking up next to Gunn Lake in the park

One of the many rushing rivers in the park lands

Along the "Milford Road" in Fiordland NP

Some years ago, an ice field filled this valley!

Mitre Peak in Milford Sound

Two keas looking for scraps in Milford Sound

Unimpressive waterfall at the end of the "Milford Road"

Misty Milford - still pretty!

A roaring fall at the head of Milford Sound

Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park

Icy river in the mountains

The only "alpine" traffic lights in the world, to let you safely traverse the tunnel in the park. Note the "cheeky kea" on the road, trying to attack windshield wipers or steal a traveler's snack.
We hoped to walk the Gertrude Valley track, but the path and river crossings were flooded.

Another impressive waterfall in Fiordland NP

Swing bridge over pretty, icy blue water
 Queenstown area:
Drive partway up to the Remarkables near Queenstown

Rainy day in Arrowtown - the Chinese Settlement

One of the reconstructed houses the Chinese mine workers lived in during the Gold Rush in the 1800s in Arrowtown

Driving over the mountains from Queenstown to Wanaka - Time to head back north!!
 Haast Pass:

Waterfall at the end of a short walk

And another one: "Quick, take a picture, the sun is out!"

A stroll in New Zealand's lush forests
Fox Glacier:
The expanding river - is it ever warm enough to (try to) swim here in glacial water?

Brown water rushing down after days of rain

Fox Glacier, seen from 600m away

A perfect blowhole!

Pancake Rocks

It is cold and wet, but the rocks look really cool!

Interesting rock formations bashed by a frothing ocean

Many signs, but no penguins to be seen along the West Coast!