Sunday 12 March
Roo, Nicky and Caroline - sitting in a 'studio' in the Haast campsite. This is day one of our road trip up the West Coast with Caroline.
We only have a week, and departure was delayed a day by Roo as he got roped into competing in the team's event of the Te Anau Enduro.
Amusingly, Steve thought Roo was strong paddler :) . As it turned out, the rules had changed and there was no benefit in paddling at all if it was going to be slow, so Steve, James and Roo ran and bikes all day, and managed to win the open men's team event; mostly due to the fact that both Steve and James are much faster at both biking and running than Roo, so the team managed one lap more than anyone else. It made it worth delaying leaving on the road trip though.
Not much to report on the road trip yet. Will add more as we get internet and pictures.
Tues 14 March
Sunday was just traveling, and the weather was pretty poor. Most of the way the view was the inside of the cloud. Monday was much the same in terms of weather, except slightly worse.
We made our way from Haast to Franz Josef. We hadn't organised accommodation there, so spent an hour or so sorting that out, and then went to the Kiwi house. The kiwi house is part of the breeding program for Rowi - the rarest kiwi, only found in a small area near Franz Josef called Okarito. So although it's all a little artificial, it's all providing funds for the kiwi preservation, and it was great to be able to see close up, for as long as you wanted two young Rowi.
A little trip to the coast at Okarito completed the day.
Today was a little more exciting - the weather returned to the usual for Caroline - 20+ degrees. From the room in the campsite there was a peek of the glacier.
Caroline decided to do a short (read cheapest) heli-trip to get a good view. We did some shopping around, and the cheapest company operated mostly out of Fox Glacier, 30mins south (the way we'd come yesterday). So she paid the deposit and off we went. We had some time to kill before Caroline's flight, so we walked up to the viewpoint of Fox Glacier. It was bit surreal really. Reminded me (Roo) continually of the last seen from hitchhikers Guide, with Arthur and Fenchurch helping Marvin along the track to "god's last message to creation". I kept expecting to see angels wearing orthopaedic sandals. There were some splendid looking cliffs in the valley as well as the glacier.
Caroline called in at the office to discover there had been some sort of mess-up and the flight she was to take was cancelled, so she ended up on a longer one. It cost more, but afterwards she decided it was definitely worth it. She was buzzing when she got down. Fatastic views of Fox, Franz Tasman glaciers, and of Mt Cook, and a short snow landing. She had a great time.
Meanwhile Nicky and I headed towards the coast a little from the township of Fox and were rewarded with some excellent views of Fox Glacier, and glimpses of Douglas Peak (3077m) through the cloud.
After collecting Caroline, we set off for Black Point near Reefton. We've rented a bach here for the next few days and are going to use this as a base to explore.
Wednesday 15 March
Another glorious clear blue sky day. We got off to the customary Pealing late start and headed off for Punakaiki and Pancake Rocks. We stopped off on the way at Cape Foulwind and watched the seals and weka playing for about an hour. A cuppa and bite to eat in Punakaiki before wandering at a leisurely pace around the Pancake Rocks walk. We haven't been for around 17 years and were slightly surprised by how structured the walkway is. The number of visitors now though makes this essential. You can still make out traces of where we used to wander (anywhere you wanted really), but the damage to the place by hundreds of thousands of feet a year would be immeasurable. It's still spectacular. The blow-holes weren't doing anything - the sea was so calm. I don't remember ever seeing it completely flat on the West Coast before.
A late picnic on a random beach toeards Greymouth, sharing snacks with the sandflies, before making our way back to Black Point.
Thursday 16th March
The plan today was to go to Denistone.
I got up and went for a run amongst the local bush, passing old gold workings along the trail. I was longer thatn I had intended, but it didn't matter as Nicky and Caroline were longer than they intended pottering around Reefton.
So another latish departure for Denistone. It's an old coal mining area on top of a plateau around 700m above the sea. Mining started in the late 19th entury and stopped in 1967.
It's famous because the way the coal was transported down to the trains at the base of the plateau - it's called the Denistone Incline. Effectively they tied an empty coal truck at the bottom of the hill to a full one at the top of the hill. The rope went around a large pulley, and they pushed the full one over the edge.. It was incredibly steep. There were hydraulic (water) brakes to control the speed.
Fifty years since production stopped and nature is taking it ack. It's a beautiful area. There's very little bush on the top of the plateau and the scene is reminiscent of high Peak District. We thoroughly enjoyed the place.
Friday 17th March
A quieter day. Nicky was keen to do some gold-panning and Caroline was keen to give it a go. We pottered into Reefton in the morning to find some old-timers dressed in period costume in the "Bearded Miner's Museum", with a coal stove brewing tea and cooking scones, and telling visitors a bit about the history. One guy was demonstrating panning from a trough, and told us were to rent pans and where there was a designated river for panning with no legal stake (until very recently there was still commercial gold mining in the area). So we rented a couple of pans and set off about 15km south of Reefton to Slab Hut Creek. A beautiful little campsite next to a river. Caroline and Nic spent a happy few hours panning and collecting tiny flakes of gold in a jar. Afterwards we pottered out of Reefton to Springs Junction to see what was there, which turned out to be very little, so we made our way back with a stop off for a cuppa by the river.
Saturday 18th March
We were leaving today, but decided to do things on the way. Headed off to Hokitika where a few hours were spent wandering around craft shops, pounamu (NZ jade) carvers, and galleries. One or two small purchases later, we set off south making our way to the "Tree Tops Walk". It was really good. A steel walk-way makes it's way around the bush at about 20m above ground - above most trees but below the rimu. Half way round there's a tower which takes you up to about 47m, roughly level with the rimu. It was a very pleasant, different way to wander amongst the rain-forest and see the epiphytes and lichens and mosses at close range.
The cafe was closed by the time we came down so we had a cuppa from the flask in the car-park, and then set off. Nic had read about Hokitika Gorge, so we decided to head that way. It was very touristy, but very beautiful. My phone's camera didn't cope with the light very well, so only a couple of pics I'm afraid.
We had already decided that instead of trying to stay somewhere that night, we would just drive in shifts to get home. We had to retrace our steps to Hokitika, so the side trip to the gorge had added quite some time to our trip, but it was well worth it. We had dinner in Franz Josef, and after that Caroline slept whilst Nic and I counted wildlife (there were no vehicles to count!) By the time we ot home we'd seen 25 (live) possums, 27 rabbits, 2 stoats, 3 hedgehogs, 1 deer, and been pulled over once by the Police for a random check. We made it to bed at 04:30 am, with Wales already losing 10-6 to France (what a farce that was!)