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!

No comments: