Two go 4 x 4

Day 20. Sunrise at Patterson’s Pond freedom camp….

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Tekepo Adventures…. Off the beaten track in a 4 x 4, 3 hour return. Again our weather luck was holding for this pre-booked excursion, maybe too hot at 32 degrees.

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Our lovely tour guide/driver Cristina, immediately made us feel easy both in her company and transport a 4 x 4 Landrover. Cristina and her partner Ben started the company eight years previously. We felt we were in safe hands. A brief outline of the tour – the group tour usually takes up to six people – only on this occasion it would be just us. The usual Health and Safety and we were off on our own private tour!

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Ten minutes later off the main road we approached the first of a good few gates, this first padlocked, giving us private access to the Braemar Station region of Mackenzie back country, thereafter it was down to Long-suffering to jump out as gatekeeper – and chief photographer – to all the remaining stock gates – keys not needed.

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Proper off roading now, we bumped along farmers tracks. A gentle undulating, flat landscape. Dry, rocky, thin soil, broken up with brown mounds of tussock grass and patches of green farmed land as far as the eye could see, stunning views over the the mountains and lake from a different perspective.

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Cristina was an informative and enthusiastic guide and was obviously passionate about this landscape and the wider areas around. Temperatures can get as low as -10 here and wind speeds through at 200km an hour.

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Photo stops were encouraged giving us lots of opportunities to stretch our legs. Crossing literally in front of our path huge Hares zig-zagging away, herds of Red Deer grazing then in full graceful flight. Pretty inquisitive cows gate side and Perendale sheep.

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We stopped at an old sheep station, a basic two room hut to weather the worst of the elements. Wood bunks in the bedroom, the interior lined with old newspaper clippings. A kitchen area, wood burner stove and seating.

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Our final stop, could the views get any better? Oh yes, on this tour they did! Breathtaking views over Lake Pukaki to Aoraki/Mt Cook, Mt Tasman, and the Ben Ohau Mountain range, clear, uninterrupted, and oh so quiet, just us three. Made even more special as Cristina produced hot tea and Whittaker’s Chocolate – our favourite since coming to NZ. A fantastic way to see the really wild side of NZ with Tekapo Adventures.

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Lunch Stop scenic lookout patchwork of Rapeseed fields…

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Mount Somers holiday park, good facilities, especially the Tavern up the road showing the World Cup Rugby Final! The muse showed willing in case long-suffering was the only Brit. It was even numbers two NZ one the owner and two Brits. Half time the muse was gone…..

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Our Road to Paradise

Day 16 Sunrise at ‘That Wanaka Tree’

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Mount Iron Loop Walk…. A short 5km walk, popular with Wanaka residents as well as tourists. According to a local, one direction on this two way track was an easier climb than the other. Long-suffering glanced over hopeful but resigned, as his muse moved off in the direction of the steeper climb!

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Throughout this walk unlike any other so far, the steady hum of traffic from the main road below was nearly always in earshot.

As we made our assent, looking down Albert Town and Wanaka spread out below us.

The white flowers of some Hawthorn trees  – Crataegus monogyna lined some of our route. Step ladders instead of stiles!

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The track was steep and craggy in places making us breathless in the hot sun as we neared the top, discarding layers at intervals.

Reaching the top a 360 degree view greeted us, as well as a cold wind making us reach for our discarded layers.

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A group of well behaved dogs posing for the camera.

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Clay Cliffs of Omarama…. A 12 km detour seen from the highway on our way to Lake Pukaki….

The cliffs are reached via a gravel road, long stretches, of which most are incredibly bumpy – think driving over a washboard. But wow! Just when you think you have seen everything another landscape comes along to surprise you.

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These incredible cliffs are on private land, the owner charges 5 dollars per vehicle, believe me they are worth it.

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Reached by a 30 minute walk the cliffs command your attention with their towering presence. Rugged spires, pillars and arches separated by narrow ravines show stripes of yellow, orange and grey, made up of layers of gravel and silt.

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A narrow entrance led to what is known as the Cathedral, inside sky scraper walls of pipe like spires reached for the sky. We felt we had entered another world, lord of the rings comes to mind.

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The clay cliffs really are off the beaten track and not really advertised, hence we almost had the place to ourselves.

Lake Pukaki freedom camping …We stayed beside the Lake 3 years previous. Long-suffering was keen to stay again. Very keen it turns out, as once more I drove for miles and miles down gravel roads in search of the perfect ‘freedom’ spot by this vast lake. Every so often a track was found and out he got running out of sight only to come back shaking his head as the spot was either too small, too uneven, or in the case of most spots a barren logging destruction covered in dead chopped trees lying in funeral pyres.

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Approximately 45 minutes later we found – desperate by now – the PERFECT place. We were in the middle of nowhere by a beautiful turquoise lake completely and utterly on our own. We really had found our own slice of paradise!

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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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