Resting up and rare chicks. Frozen Ice and frozen Kindle…..

Saturday 28th – Resting up and rare chicks……..

Marilyn and Caroline enjoy a local yoga class this morning while John is at work and I look after the lovely Jasper George. He is intrigued by my photos and videos on iphoto and as inquisitive boys of four are want he needs to know all about my dog(s) my family, my boats and where I live. I get to play a bit of ‘Angry Birds’ on his little computer and then the girls are home and we decide to take a stroll through town, have coffee and cake at the cinema cafe and then walk around the lake to the DOC animal and bird sanctuary.

Here we meet two Paradise Ducks called Stevie and Wilson that have been hand reared by Caroline and John and have now been put in the sanctuary with other ducks. Wilson ( the female duck ) has tried to get home by flying out of the enclosure and starting the walk home. She has had to be returned and have her wings clipped or she will try again. As it is they still think that Caroline is mum and they come as she calls them, expecting a stroke and a feed.

We also get to see a Morepork owl. This is a  bird we have heard a  lot at night calling out for ‘more pork’. This one is a splendid beast and she is still awake during the day. Apparently this one hates men and I fully expect the shrieking treatment but she is in a good mood today and just gives me the evil eye.

There is also a very rare Tekahe chick that is being fostered by two adult birds as part of a breeding programme. This is one of the rarest birds in the world as is severely threatened by the introduced predators like stoats and rats. Jasper saw this chick out of the egg and presented it to its foster parents – a real treat for a little boy and one he remembers fondly. He is already very knowledgeable about the conservation needs of the area and can talk knowingly about the various animals and their challenges. Both John and Caroline regularly work on the programme to trap and eradicate predators from the rare bird breeding grounds. As the son of two outdoor people and the veteran already of several long tramps, Jasper is also conversant with maps and yesterday he actually drew us a pretty good one that we could have used to get to the Sound.

So it is a restful day and I am grateful not to have to get in the car. The day is ended as we treat Caroline and John to a dinner out at the restaurant of their choice. My venison is delicious, washed down with a local brew at a nearby hostelry on the walk home.

Sunday 29th…..Heading West…

Sadly we have to move on today and need to head North via the West Coastal road. Our farewells said we head back to Queenstown and Wanaka, realising half way there that Marilyn has left her only pair of sturdy walking shoes behind. Many expletives later we decide that they were rubbish anyway and we should carry on.

The weather is set to break over the next day or so and we decide to enjoy a picnic in the sun on Wanaka beach before heading off over the Haast Pass, considered by some to be the finest drive in New Zealand. We pass swathes of red tussock that shine and sway in the wind and sun giving the landscape a shimmering effect. There are more lakes and then we are back following Lake Wanaka northwards until the slow climb through forested roads and over the pass. The descent is much more dramatic, passing several waterfalls that cut a steep gorge and fast flowing water that cuts through rock at the Gates of Haast. Then on to Haast itself where we stop to see if we should find a camp spot. The place is totally underwhelming. We receive unfriendly and unhelpful advice from the DOC information centre and the cafe has no coffee, no tea and no sparkling water! I decide to head north to a DOC campsite I have spotted that nestles on Lake Paringa. It is a fair way to drive and we are disappointed when we get there to find it chock full of camper vans ( surely more than the twelve allowed) and only a humpy, damp pitch for our tent. We drive on and just half a mile up the road is a small lodge with a few cabins and an ideal camping pitch right by the lake away from everyone. We have free run of a comfortable kitchen shower room and T.V room and I manage to scrounge a spare blanket and sleeping bag because I sense it will be a little chilly.

We get to enjoy another gentle sunset over the lake from the little jetty.

Mercifully the dreaded sandflies (midges) seem to disappear as the sun goes down and the wind drops. They have already bitten us to bits when we briefly stopped on the Pass before we had purchased a repellant. It is a clear sky despite the forecast and that means a cold night. Despite our extra blankets this sleep sees us dressed in nearly all our clothes and we still feel the chill. At one point we break into laughter at the folly of it all. For an extra £30 we could be in a cosy bed with a duvet, but hey….this is part of the adventure!

I would recommend this lodge to anyone who is either in a camper van, wants to stay in a cabin or who has brought some decent sleeping bags rather than the toy ones we have bought. It can be reached on The night may have been cold but the welcome was warm and helpful.

I promise Marilyn that wherever we land up tomorrow night we will get a bed, especially as a storm seems to be threatening.

Monday 30th….From merely chilly to totally Glacial and a frozen Kindle…

Marilyn is up early and defrosting in the kitchen and in her haste has managed to jam the zip on the tent effectively locking me in the fridge. I eventually extricate myself into the misty morning dew and make my grumpy demands for some warm beverage.

I can’t remain bad tempered for long however as the sun comes out and slowly burns off the mist to gradually reveal the lake and mountains in yet another guise. There are photos to be taken and then a tent to dismantle and dry before heading north again we hope as far as Hokitika. And despite our chilling experience at this lovely campsite we also plan to get to the glaciers at Fox and Franz Josef.

We find the road to Fox’s Glacier closed. Apparently there has been a severe rockfall in the night that has blocked the main route and only supervised groups are allowed in. We head on to Franz Josef and walk to the foot of the glacier from the nearest car park. Only as long ago as the mid 19th century the glacier came down to the car park and has retreated some 2 kms in that time and so our walk passes over what is now essentially a river bed that is sometimes flooded.

I find large glaciers like this awe inspiring. It is hard to get the scale of it in photos or until you are actually near or on it. The destructive force they   manifest is plain to see in the sheered rocks that rise steeply for thousands of feet and it is hard to imagine as we walk on this moraine that only fifty years ago we would have been at the bottom of a sixty foot lake and one hundred and fifty years ago ice would be over 100 feet above our heads. 18000 years ago the ice would have spread to the sea over six miles away and would have been over 1000feet deep and a mile wide. Apparently this glacier has slowly been growing for the past ten years or so, a fact that seems to buck the trend with other glaciers around the world.

The thoughts I had at Milford concerning the effects of tourism on these sites revisit me as helicopter after helicopter make the journey up on side of the valley, onto the snow and back again. If global warming is to blame for the gradual warming of the planet and the retreat of many of the world’s glaciers I fail to see how the heavy use of air tourism can help matters with its obvious polluting potential. The thousands of feet that tramp up the foot of this glacier can hardly help either. However this glacier, with its recent growth doesn’t seem to be suffering too much. It is a tricky problem. And as someone who ten years ago took a flight over Mt Cook and landed on the upper snow fields it would be hypocritical of me to say that it is not an experience to be savoured and always remembered.

We have time to ponder these questions as we head north again to Hokitika. This seems a pleasant town and we find a little cabin in a small setup just outside town. It is quiet. We are the only guests and again have the run of the little garden and BBQ, the dining area ,kitchen and loo and shower area. All very tidy and clean and cosy. Marilyn even finds a hot water bottle and there are electric blankets that we don’t need because of the lush duvets. Last night seems like a distant nightmare. There is even a little pet lamb to feed and a lovely old chocolate labrador to wag his tail at us.


The only downer is that the cold last night and the glaciers today have set Marilyn’s Kindle to thinking it might be cool to freeze. Try as she may she can’t get it to go and despite many helpful emails from Amazon she has a useless Kindle as well as having the ignominy of still having too wear socks with her sandals so that she looks like a nerd.

Happy Family, Friends and Fjords……

Thursday Jan. 26th  ….Familiar, friendly faces in Te Anau…..

We leave Wanaka by the Cardrona Ski area and another spectacular pass. It always amazes me to see cyclists bursting their lungs up these roads that hairpin and climb so steeply. Perhaps more dangerous is the descent into the main road to Queenstown. Especially hazardous for cyclists I would imagine are the odd stretches where the  seal in the road has gone and turned to gravel. Even taking the car down takes extra concentration.

Soon we are in Queenstown – the adrenalin centre of this part of New Zealand. Given the choice of bungy jumping, jet boating, paragliding, skydiving, mountain biking, kyaking or a hundred other mad pastimes, I can’t even persuade Marilyn that she should at least take the sky gondola up to the top of the hill overlooking the town. However, she is easily talked into coffee on the lakeside and a trip to Kathmandu – a very good outdoor pursuits retailer – where I buy a shirt and a pillow for making the camping more comfortable.

We leave Queenstown as a fierce wind starts to blow and the lake is soon churning as we hug the shoreline under the shadow of The Remarkeables mountains that loom above us to our left. We have to stay in the car at our lakeside picnic spot or risk getting blown away and the wind has a real chill to it. As we pass through Mossburn we can see a storm brewing in the distance and soon we are passing through heavy rain and visibility is limited to the valley edges. Marilyn has no idea just how spectacular the mountains are around us as we eventually get to Te Anau and find Caroline and John’s place where we are staying for the next few days.

I used to work with Caroline when she started her teaching career in London. I stayed with her and John on my last visit ten years ago and a lot has happened in the interim to both of us. We have both had serious illness to contend with but hers seems too cruel to happen to someone so young. Her positive spirit will see her through as will her lovely family. She and John have a gorgeous four year old lad who exudes energy and joy of life. He is immediately keen to tell us that his name is Jasper George and wants to know our full names and our history as he makes us very welcome.

They have a home close to the lake and looking out to the mountains that make up the Kepler Trail – one of New Zealand’s great walks. It is a three day walk but every year a group of athletes run it as a kind of marathon. John did it this year. He took just over ten hours! I am astonished and in awe until he tells me that the record is a little under five hours.

We are treated to a showing of a film about the local area that was shot by a local film-maker and helicopter pilot. He then built a cinema so that it could be shared. It is a lovely film that shows off the awesome scale of the Fjordland and its biodiversity and is keen to make the point that it is also a fragile environment that needs good care taken of it. Both John and Caroline are committed to helping make tourism sustainable and educational while still maintaining the sense of fun and adventure that being in such a challenging environment should have.

Friday 27th.  Milford Sound……

One of the highlights of any trip to New Zealand has to be to experience the majesty of its Fjords and so we head off for Milford Sound early today to beat the folk who will be coming in by bus to enjoy this spectacle. The road trip there is definitely part of the experience, especially as we approach the high mountains and the tunnel that was built in the 50s. These are high,steep mountains that have been razored by ice that was thousands of metres deep 18,000 years ago. It is hard to imagine that we would have had a mile of glacier above our head as we drive through these carved valleys that are bedecked in trees that somehow cling to the rock. This is prime avalanche country. In the winter snow is a danger but all year round rock falls or tree falls are equally a threat to the motorist below. Everywhere are the grey scars on the hills that evidence a fall of trees that have given up the ghost and lost their grip to tumble down the hillside dragging all those below them in their path.

The tunnel has opened the road to Milford. It must have been an expensive project and it certainly cost lives to build and I have to wonder why this road and tunnel were built to service such a small community. I guess it is the reason why over 500,000 people can now visit every year and the economic bonus of that to the local area are obvious.

After a last vertiginous descent we arrive and book our boat trip on Milford Mariner – a converted sail boat run by ‘Real Journeys’, a firm that was recommended to us. They don’t disappoint. The commentary that there is concentrates on the natural features of the Fjord ( it is technically NOT a Sound ). The rain we had experienced yesterday adds to today’s enjoyment because it means that many of the thousand waterfalls are now on show.

The sea cliffs are among the tallest in the world. The famous Mitre Rock is a mile high coming straight out of the water and towering above. The boat can travel so close to the cliffs that it makes you dizzy to put your head back and look upwards.

Luckily, although there is a stiff breeze coming down the Fjord, the water is calm and so there is no repeat of the falling down and lying still on the floor that poor Marilyn experienced on our trip to Picton. Instead we can try to absorb the full awesome majesty of this journey as the boat takes us out of the Sound and into the Tasman Sea and we can look back and see why Captain Cook passed this spot twice and missed the narrow opening. We see basking seals in three separate colonies and all sorts of sea birds feed in the rich waters. Sadly no dolphins today but the two and a half hour journey has so much to take the breath away that it doesn’t matter.

The only thing that begins to disturb me is seeing and hearing the constant drone of small aircraft and helicopters that are also making the trip from the little airport at Milford. I’m not sure how I square this with a local commitment to eco-tourism. But I have driven a car 3000 kms around New Zealand in order to see what I have seen and it would have taken an awful long time to walk and even more effort it seems to me to have cycled. It is a difficult one.

Talking of walking and cycling – we are met at the car park by a young German lad who enquires politely if we are going back to Te Anau.

“ Yes”, I reply, “ But I will be stopping along the way to do various small walks and so I don’t know how long it will take.”

He wanders off to speak to his girlfriend who he had hidden and who seems to be sheepishly sidling away and we continue to pack the car. He soon returns.

“ Yes that would be good please. We come with you -yes – you take us to Te Anau – yes – and we enjoy the walking too – yes. We come now.”

If I could have taken a picture of Marilyn’s face it would have won a most shocked competition but having done a fair amount of hitching myself I accept his kind offer of company and proceed to unpack our loaded back seats into the boot to make space for the two Germans who it transpires are very nice people and have cycled or hitched here from Christchurch. So I hold a secret admiration for them. And they enjoy with us the walks  around the waterfall at Lake Marian, The Gorge and the stop at Mirror Lakes. When we eventually reach Te Anau I recommend them to watch the film and tell them that we know the guy who manages the screenings.

That evening, over dinner, John tells us of a young German couple who had come into the cinema where he is working, claimed student poverty and blagued a big discount off the price of the screening. He had been so taken with their front he had obliged!