Fiordland

Day 22 – our 25th wedding anniversary. The long-suffering pulled out all the stops for our 25 year treat – aside from a special holiday travelling for two months, that is!

Doubtful Sound overnight mini cruise with Fiordland Cruises. We really couldn’t recommend this operater highly enough, money well spent.

Our tour started from their head office near our park site with a twenty minute bus to Lake Manapouri harbour for a one hour breezy boat ride across the lake to West Arm on the other side. Our driver Brian introduced us to Kirsten one of the two crew looking after us for our overnight stay on our eventual cruise boat.

We were to share our boat with four other couples – two Dutch, one French, and one American all on introduction seemed a good mix of people to spend our special day with, and the early dull weather after a night of rain appeared to be clearing!

Next we transferred along with half the population of sandflies to Kirsten’s minibus for the forty five minute journey over the Wilmott Pass Road – the only road in NZ that isn’t connected by any other road – down to Deep Cove at the start of Doubtful Sound.

The journey was broken up by a stop at the underground hydroelectric power station an amazing feat of engineering – excavating 1.4 million tons of granite – completed in 1971, 75 per cent of the power generated goes to the smelting works at Bluff, the rest into the national grid.

Temperatures fluctuated wildly the higher we got, driving on rough gravel roads we had just about got rid of all the sand flies before the doors opened at another glorious viewpoint and in they all flew, all for the perfect shot!

At the cove our boat – The Southern Secret  – and skipper Jason were waiting for us. Once loaded, safety checks and briefing taken care of, we cast off. Kirsten showed us to our berths – ours was the honeymoon suite at the bow of the boat – very nice it was too, although not if you were very tall!

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Soon after lunch was served, mouth-wateringly fresh lobster – my favourite – and a selection of salad and rice dishes, bring your own drinks were opened helping to break the ice between us cruisers.

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Lunch out the way we all ventured out in dribs and drabs to the sides, stern and top deck, the latter proved to be a bit too breezy for comfort! This was not a cruise with running commentary, rather when there was something of particular note to see – constant scenes assaulted the mind at every turn  – we were alerted by Jason. This left us plenty of time to relax, socialise, eat – food kept coming, cheese and biscuits, home made cake – or scamper about below and above decks.

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‘A shout, we stand as the boat drives nearer and nearer until we are almost touching, the water cascades, down, rushing, noise deafening in its intensity, swirling into the crevices and over the edges. The pull as the boat seems to be sucked in, engines powering to hold her steady at arms length. The spray cold like ice, pricking my skin. The view up is all consuming, drowning in this vertical stream of water. These falls are alive with the power of water, and a blanketing duvet of lichens and mosses camoflaging the ruggedness of the granite cliffs’

During the rest of the afternoon, the interaction on and off the boat kept on coming, there was fishing to do – my reasonable size sea perch we ate that evening.

The long-suffering was not so lucky, first catching a rock on the sea bed causing him great excitement as his rod bent over violently, before Jason enlightened him on his stony catch, not only that he lost the weight and hook off the line in the process of retrieval!

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His second attempt did not fare any better as his catch – a sea perch – was deemed too small and thrown back. Other catches included Blue Cod, more sea perch to eat at dinner and one Tarakihi served raw with soy dip, pickled ginger and wasabi as an after fishing snack.

Kayaking came next, most but not all the party took to the seas, navigating around a small inlet with shallow cave and waterfall.

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A particular highlight was the pod of  bottlenose dolphins that joined our boat, racing along at the prow of the boat, so close as to almost be within touching distance.

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Champagne was flowing – provided by us for our 25th celebrations – for pre dinner drinks.

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Being totally British the long-suffering and I had changed for dinner, imagine my horror – attired in my white Capri pants – as the shout from the skipper came in to hoist up his lobster pots from deep in the sea all wet, fishy and slimed!

Dinner was a feast including roast lamb, the fish we caught, chicken with roasted vegetables, roast potatoes and more besides. Followed by refreshing creamy ice cream and berries mixed.

After dinner Kirsten – a true multi tasker in every sense of the word, fishing, cooking, driver, both boat and minibus, mother and more – produced an electric piano and to our surprise played classical concertos – she was once a professional concert pianist – ending the evening with a beautiful lullaby. It was the perfect way to end our special day.

Day 24 – after an early 6.30am, continental style breakfast Jason took us back slowly to our starting base, but not before more encounters with the Dolphins and all the stunning scenery the Doubtful sound has to offer.

Then it was back in the minibus and ferry boat to Te Anau and Aromoana for the long drive down to Curio Bay the bottom of the South Island. We left the Doubtful Sound behind but took away with us a very special celebration memory to treasure forever.

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Tasman Glacier

Day 21 Tasman Glacier Walk – sixty minute return, straight up, over 200 steps! Worth every one, and the long-sufferings mutters! We branched off down a good track to view the ‘Blue Lakes’ green with algae – a result of now being fed by rain water  – this route from one lake to next over rocks and boulders was a bit of a tricky scramble at times on all fours!

 

Back on the good walking track, more well constructed steps took us to the top with a distant Tasman Glacier now just visible – an interactive information board showed pictures of the vast area the glacier once covered.

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The Tasman Lake with its floating icebergs looked more grey than blue, even with  beautiful clear blue skies. Further views out and over to Mount Cook were stunning.

As we made our way down, even this early in the morning the track was busy with many more walkers on their way up, we were glad to have started early to ohh and ahh in the relative quiet before the hordes!

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Stopped off at Gibston cheese and winery, pre tasting try before you buy to stock up on supplies, breaking up the four and a half hour drive to Te Anau and Fiordland our next exciting adventure……….

 

You must be kidding!

Were it not for the long-suffering, I fear my can do mentality literally speaking ‘will be the death of me’ especially since ‘The Accident’. Having climbed Mount Robert, I was all set to ‘off itinery’ book a guide and climb Mount Cook as our next challenge!

Day 20 Mount Cook – The nearer we drove to this monstrous snow covered mountain the more I realised how naive my initial thoughts of climbing to the summit – all 12,218 feet – really were. Luckily my long-suffering, by far the more intelligent – and sensible – in these matters had over-rode my impulsive misjudged vision, realising no guide would even consider a recovering revision hippie six months out from major surgery!

Instead we took the more hip friendly option ‘The Hooker Valley Track’ although with three suspension bridges to cross, this was not long-suffering friendly. The trek was four hours long with stops, mostly on the flat, some parts rocky, good walking paths, boardwalks and various viewpoints along the way, it seemed easy compared to our most recent walks!

Our trail took us up through the Hooker valley, along the Hooker River ending at the glacier lake – a mere 80m elevation, with clear blue skies Mount Cook was a sight to behold. Our surprise at the sizeable icebergs protruding out from the glacier lake was one of astonishment, as the hot sun beat down relentlessly on us and them!

Sitting eating our packed lunch, the layers soon started to go back on, for me anyway, as the temperature was noticeably cooler here even with the hot sun. I declined the usual urge to swim, not wishing to share my swimming space with icebergs, and merely watched as a young lad stripped off ran in and quickly ran back out screaming as his partner laughing snapped away!

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The return route was back the way we came meaning long-suffering had to endure six walks over three suspension bridges. By the time he got over the last one his height demons were taking flight!

Back at base the sun was still shining, foregoing the planned bike trail ride, we decided to lay out on the grass, soak up the suns rays, down cold beers and do absolutely nothing, just for a change. It did feel slightly surreal laying back with hot sun on my bare limbs looking at the snow capped mountains in front of us, but oh what bliss!

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Lakes glorious lakes!

Day 19 sunrise Lake Pukaki – from our window with a view, the mountains lit slowly from the peaks down their dark crevices, light and shade as the sun worked its magic. The long-suffering quickly disappeared outside, to work his magic behind the lens capturing the moment – inspiration I hope for my future watercolours.

Back having a rare languish in bed looking out at this tranquil view, mists that had first appeared in narrow layers at the bottom of the hills swelled to resemble an oncoming tsunami rolling towards us swallowing up the mountains, hills and shoreline in its wake, until our view was no more just a screen of smoke.

Lake Tekapo – Walk to the Observatory at the top of Mount John. Our walk started out through mixed forest, steep in places before coming out onto open grassland finally ending with ‘more steps’ up to the summit – long-suffering ‘why does every walk have to involve steps?’ he mutters while sweating profusely.

Photo opportunities abound on the way up and from the 360° views at the top, overlooking Lake Tekapo, the Southern Alps and Mackenzie basin flats. Again as has been the case so far for us in NZ, the weather was kind with clear blue skies.

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My revised hip was still coping well with all the hill climbing, not so my calf as halfway up saw it going into spasm, a spot of stretching on the side of the mountain did the trick to continue on…….

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And back down again!

Lake Tekapo Paddleboarding – again my idea, off ‘the itinery’, something I’ve hankered after trying for a while now. While the long-suffering was otherwise engaged I popped down to the shore to see if it was something my hip would like to try.

A quick chat with the helpful hire man convinced me to give it a go. On calling over the long-suffering it was clear he was not so keen but willing as always to indulge his impulsive other half!

After some basic tuition – where to stand on the board, using the paddle – we started off on our knees, quickly standing up almost immediately once out on the beautiful calm turquoise waters.

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All was well until motorboats and jet-skis zipping about nearby created great washes heading straight for us sending us both panicking straight back on our knees! Eventually though as our confidence grew so did our technique and we were both able to ride the waves with relative ease if not style!

Lake Pukaki – second night freedom camping this time prime spot overlooking the snow covered Mount Cook.

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Great swimming workout in the freezing waters of Lake Pukaki, long-suffering predictably declined the invitation to join me citing photo opportunities as his excuse!

Sunset reflection on Mount Cook

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On Tender Hooks

Day 18 Kaikoura – after a night of heavy rain we feared the worst for our reassigned 9.30am Whale-watching trip, already cancelled twice yesterday due to rough seas. Long-suffering on checking the online website found the 7.30am slot as ‘pending’       -hope then – before half hour later ‘cancelled’ – utter dismay!

With our booking looking unlikely, we packed up ready for the long drive to Lake Pukaki although not before long-suffering bought more Danish pastries to cheer us up.

Arriving at Kaikoura Whale Watch headquarters the sky was brightening up although the sea still looked pretty rough. Tentative enquiries revealed our slot was now pending. The morning mists and light levels over the beach and hills made good material for photos while we waited around for a final decision.

Our elation a short time later on hearing the trip was confirmed knew no bounds, we could hardly contain our excitement and disbelief at our luck, especially as long-suffering was all set to leave yesterday! We were warned it would still be rough out at sea though – force 6 – restrictions were in place – no-one with mobility issues, no under eights, or anyone suffering severe sea-sickness, thankfully none which applied to us!

It was rough out at sea, but this only made the trip more exciting as we crashed over the rolling waves the twin hulls bouncing, hitting hard as we sped along in our quest for spotting whales, cocooned as we were below, in our amazingly padded seats. Albatrosses flew overhead, massive wingspans as they glided gracefully above the sea.

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Almost straight away into the trip, the doors were opened and out on the outside decks we huddled as sperm whale number one was up on the surface. To see these magnificent mammals this close is totally awesome, and although only a part was ever seen by us above the water, its size could still be interpreted by the shadow under water. The boat was rocking around but not so much as to be impossible for photography. With numbers on these trips limited you were never vying for room or looking at the back of someone’s head.

And then our informative whale guides voice telling us exactly when the whale would dive for the all important tail shot. Amazing how they know the signs every time! We got our shots, big smiles all round as hustling back below stairs like sheep we sped off for the next whale quest. Four sperm whales came out to play in total and one rare hump back sighting although the latter dived before we could get pictures.

Rare Hectors dolphins we were also lucky to see as they sped through the water by the side of the boat, and Dusky dolphins too. I can’t speak highly enough about the running of this excursion. From start to finish it runs like clockwork – calm, informative, professional, very friendly, helpful and safety conscious, made us feel we were always in safe hands.

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Kaikoura Whale Watch will be one our our lasting memories, from our time in NZ, so very special seeing up close these beautiful mammals of the seas.

As we took the coast road SH1 out from Kaikoura we saw first hand the destruction the November earthquake caused and why the area was cut off. Evidence of landslides and road buckling lined the route. Much had already been done to get this road up and running but although open it was clear work would be ongoing for years to come to repair the damage inside and outside of Kaikoura.

Lake Pukaki Mackenzie Region 8pm – a seven hour drive followed our fabulous Whale watch, I for one was as stiff as a board even with stops! With all our insides and outsides shaken to smitherines on the long gravel road and subsequent boulder filled dips and slopes we found the perfect spot for our nights freedom camp on the edge of this, the largest of three turquoise blue glacier fed Lakes from the surrounding mountains.

Too tired to cook it was cheese and biscuits washed down with cold beers, mummified by the lake – precaution against the sand flies or other biters about – and eventually bed snuggled cosily together in our wonderful Aromoana dreaming about exciting Whale encounters!

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Muscular Therapy

Day 16 Maruia Falls – considering yesterday’s mountainous expedition sleep for us both was a haphazard affair. Parked up five minutes from the falls next to the main road the night was filled with the sound of thundering water and passing traffic.

Nevertheless we were up early to marvel close to, the effect a 1929 earthquake, 7.3 on the richter scale caused a once flat flowing stream. Maruia Falls, beautiful, created by one of earths natural disasters. A short drop by comparison to what we have already witnessed but no less impressive.

Hamner Springs – great place to chill out and rest – our surprisingly few, especially my hip muscles – after a ‘mountainous climb’. Relaxing together in the many man-made pools temperatures between 32° – 38° and three natural sulphur pools fed from a bore hole. The latter, long-suffering could only moan at a) the heat, up to 42° and b) the smell ‘like sitting in a bath of rotten eggs!’

Drive to Kaikaura and our stop for two nights ‘Alpine Pacific Holiday Park’ for Whale-watching tomorrow. Great fully powered site, fantastic showers, laundry facilities, every thing clean and tidy. The best bakery next door, Danish pastries to die for, light and oh so tasty.

Our first meal out in two weeks, Thai Siam restaurant a short ten minute walk from our camp site. The service here was excellent. We shared starters of Thai spring rolls and pork spare ribs followed by the special Penang salmon curry and stir fried chicken noodles. Food, piping hot, tasty, a real treat, and no washing up to do!

Day 17 – Huge disappointment, whale watch cancelled rough seas and zero visibility. Waiting list now for eleven thirty, not holding out much hope though.

Cancelled again, now booked on to nine thirty tomorrow morning, long sufferings itinerary falling by the wayside again! Weather appalling, heavy rain.

Seal spotting on the new dramatic coastline at Kaikoura as a result of the November earthquake. The sea bed rose up by one metre and in some places four metres. The seals seem to be loving the extra land gained for lazing around in the sun or as today, pouring rain.

A Mountainous Climb!

Day 15 – three hour drive to Nelson Lakes National Park. Head turning landscapes lined our route on quiet roads. Beautiful, stunning, incredible, jaw dropping, mesmerising, clear blue skies sharpened and highlighted the mountains and hills at every turn of the road.

Winding, steep, up and through, hairpin bends, strategic viewpoints, then down onto open pasture, sheep, cattle, orchards of fruit, vines protected under great swathes of mesh, fresh veggie signs on the side of the road. Stop, start, stop start, tempting us, slowing our journey and us in the most magnificent way. The Glorious South!

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Nelson Lakes National Park – lunch by Lake Rotoiti sitting outside in the warm sun looking over the lake.

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Mount Robert – This was to be the biggest challenge so far for my renewed hip, not helped by the mis-navigation onto the wrong path which saw us trek forty five minutes through thick forest, heavily root lined difficult paths and some some steep ups and downs. With long-suffering muttering and groaning behind ‘how did I miss the path, I should have known, are you going to be all right?’ it was not a good start – especially as we had taken a photo of the map board as a guide!!

Back on the right trek the real climb began. Steeply uphill all the way, we zigzagged our way back and forwards on clearly marked ‘rootless’ tracks. In full sun for most, by halfway I was vying for ‘miss wet shirt’ along with long-sufferings ‘sweating man’ as behind me his concern was obvious ‘We can turn back, we don’t have to go all the way up’ followed by my curt retort ‘We do! I’m not getting this far and giving up now!’

On we went, funny enough, my revised hip was fine, it was our calves, thighs, glutes and poor long-sufferings feet that had started aching. And then after a few false ‘Sarah we are there’ as another bend and track presented itself, we actually were there and oh the feeling of getting to the top – miraculously on flat ground recovery was instant – was like no other.

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Hugging like our lives depended on it, we broke apart on our ‘Top of the world’ all 4,600 feet of it, our heads swivelling to drink in the 360 views extending as far out as our eyes could see, enhanced by beautiful clear blue skies.

We looked down, to our lunch stop lake, now tiny below us, forests and hills in the distance. On the very top alpines, succulents and grasses blowing in the strong breeze nothing tall survives here. As we strolled over the top a hut stood as shelter, complete with a rain water tank for anyone stuck here against the elements – a frightening thought.

The down track was steeper with less zig-zagging paths, now it was the turn of our knees to suffer, with no respite from increased pressure by the end we were both long-suffering!

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Back in our trusty Aramoana it was off to Maruia Falls for our next Freedom Camp.

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