Captivated by Glenorchy

I

Last sunrise of our trip so we have to be up early. It’s about 45 minutes drive to the Church of the Good Shepherd – we visited a few weeks ago but in the afternoon so this was a new opportunity. Florence decided a few more hours in bed were a better option.

We arrived at the church about 6:30am; there was already a crowd gathered so I walked along the lake looking for some different views. There was a lot of mist coming off one of the corners of the lake, which looked like it might catch the first sun. The sky is very clear in New Zealand so almost as soon as the sun’s over the horizon, the best light’s gone. We drove back to Twizel and straight to Poppies for breakfast. I met Florence appearing from the mist having photographed some large machinery left over from building the dams in the area. I had scrambled eggs and a flat white, and a second flat white for good measure.

The final leg of our journey took us back to Queenstown via a section of road that we hadn’t travelled on before – yeah! On the way, we talked about American politics, music, photography and many other less important things.

We arrived at our hotel about 1pm. Queenstown looked busy on the way through so we decided to have a late lunch in Glenorchy at the far end of the lake before looking for sites for our final sunset. Glenorchy Café does some really good food; we had Vege sandwiches – these came with rye bread, brie and lots of salad and roasted vegetables – very tasty! Our leader suggested that a place just down the road had amazing carrot cake; Florence went to investigate and returned with the last slice – it didn’t disappoint.

After lunch, we headed to the lake. The standard view of a group of willow trees didn’t appeal to me so I went for a walk to look at some other views. Nothing worked for a while but I found some other trees I liked and tried a few angles of those. Once the sun had gone behind the mountains on the far side of the lake, we drove to an area of lagoons with boardwalks over them to look for locations to see the sunset over the mountains. The boardwalk is narrow, just wide enough for a tripod, a tricky maneuver if anyone wanted to pass. The perfect view would have meant standing in the lagoon a few feet from the boardwalk so I had to compromise. The lagoon is a beautiful place. A couple of people from our group are staying on for another week so they’ll be going back to spend some more time at the lagoons, lucky them!

Our final evening meal was at the Glenorchy Hotel, a fairly basic bar on one side and a cosy restaurant on the other. I had a Greek salad and we shared a New Zealand cheese board. A number of bottles of Roaring Meg Pinot Noir were consumed around the table. Roaring Meg was a bar maid at one of the local gold mining town in the late 19th century, she now has a wine and a creek named after her.

Our driver/leader spent a lot of the journey back to Queenstown dodging suicidal possums and rabbits on the road. Possums were introduced here from Australia and have thrived. They’re now officially a pest – Kiwi policy is to squash them at every opportunity; we’d heard rumours of bars giving you a beer if you’d got one. A hawk was feeding on some fresh road-kill and only just got out of the way of the van in time.

A few of us stopped in the hotel bar for a last drink before retiring – a long day.

Waves, Rocks and Lakes

5:15 departure this morning, this is becoming a habit! It’s about an hour drive to the boulders – yes the ones we were at for sunset last night.

The sky was getting light when we arrived so the group spread out along the beach to do their respective things. I headed for the small stream a little way away from the boulders to look for reflections of the colors in the sky, Florence headed for patterns in the sand.

Once the sun was above the horizon, the light changed very quickly so I concentrated on the birds on the beach for a while then headed back to the boulders. Once we’d done the proper pictures, we tried the obligatory tourist shot with feet sticking out of one of the hollow rocks.

We returned to Dunedin, checked out and went to The Perc Café for Breakfast. This place is so good; the coffee is one of the best we’ve had in New Zealand. I had halloumi and avocado on toast, Florence had smashed avocado with poached and a side of halloumi – all lovely.

There was one more coffee shop we wanted to try on the way back to the hotel so we got some flat whites – they were good but not as good as Perc!

Long drive north today, we stopped in Palmerston to refuel. There were statues of gold prospectors and the town’s favourite cat next to the main road.

We passed Moeraki yet again – the sixth time for us on this road – and stopped in Kurow for a ‘technical break’ and refreshments. Kurow has produced five All Blacks, most recently Richie McCaw and the town museum has a display devoted to their local, and national, hero. The lady in the museum also told us we shouldn’t miss the dam up the valley – the second largest earth dam in the southern hemisphere.

We arrived in our destination, Twizel, at about 3:15pm. We just had time to have a shower, get the laundry on and meet the motel’s cat before our sunset excursion.

We drove past our campsite from a couple of weeks ago on the shore of Lake Pukaki and carried on in search of a particular tree in preparation for sunrise. After a few false starts, we found the view and had a wander round so we know where to put our tripods when we arrive in the dark in the morning.

We then drove back to the far side of the lake for our final location of the day, Peters Lookout, with a view of Mount Cook over the edge of the lake and trying to use traffic trails as foreground interest.

Dinner was another pleasant surprise. Poppies doesn’t look much from the outside, or the inside, but the food was really good. We’ve been meaning to try a New Zealand whisky for a while and there was one on the drinks list amongst the Scotches – Cyril’s 20 Year Old – it’s very good!

Enchanted Forests

 

5:15 alarm for a 5:45 departure to Nugget Point, a peninsula sticking out onto the Pacific Ocean where the east coast becomes the south coast. It was just getting light when we arrived and as we walked out towards the lighthouse on the headland, the wind got stronger and stronger. There were two potential views, the group divided themselves about 50/50 between the two. We walked beyond the lighthouse to a platform overlooking the headland and the rocks beyond. As the sky lightened in the east, we debated where the next land would be if you went straight out to sea – the answer appears to be the Antarctic Peninsula on the other side of the world.

Some fur seals played in the water below us, a few pups looked for shelter from the wind on the rocks above the waves.

The wind was so strong that the planned long exposure shots of the sunrise were impossible so we got what we could and headed back to the van. I took a few minutes to photograph some waves hitting the dark sand beach below us – Roaring Bay.

We got back to the hotel about 9:45, which left is with 15 minutes to get breakfast. The food and service made Fawlty Towers look slick, they were out of pancakes, out of bacon and we had to beg for coffee.

The sky was blue and almost clear so we took a few hours off until the forecast clouds arrived then headed out to look at a couple of waterfalls.
The first, Purakaunui Falls, were a short walk form the car park. The river fell down a series of wide ledges. The water levels were quite low – because it hasn’t rained much – but it was still impressive. We politely took turns with our tripods in the river to get the best angle. The trees and plants surrounding the river were a rich green colour; the forest had a musty smell – a bit mushroomy.

On the way to the second falls we passed Florence Hill Lookout. The coastline in this area has high cliffs and large beaches; the view here was over Tautuku Bay, a long deserted sandy beach.

We’d planned to have a quick lunch at the Frog café near the second falls. It’s closed Wednesday afternoons from April 5th – bad timing!

We carried on to McLean Falls. These are about 20 minutes walk through another dense lush green forest. The path crosses the river as it bubbles over lots of large rocks and boulders. The lower falls are quite a compact cascade in a deep green ravine; the upper falls have a large drop at the top and lots of smaller twists and turns on the way down.

It was about an hour drive back to town so we decided to drop our bags off and head straight to dinner.

Balclutha is quite a rough and ready town which traditionally existed mainly to service the farms in the area. It does however have one of the best Indian restaurants in New Zealand. One family produces really good take-aways and sit-down food. Service was a bit slow bit the food was really good. If you’re ever in Balclutha check them out!

1/125th f/8

We left the hotel at 4:30 this morning and headed to Milford Sound. Because of the geography of the area – all the mountains run north to south – we’re staying in the nearest town to New Zealand’s biggest tourist attraction but it’s 120kms away. The road only goes to Milford Sound; we don’t see any traffic going the either way. The tunnel under the mountains responds to approaching traffic during the night but we still had to wait a few minutes for a green light.

The car parks were empty apart from a few camper vans staying overnight, waiting for the first boats. The first coaches don’t arrive from Queenstown until midday so all the morning boats are relatively quiet.

We headed out across the rocks and mud flats looking for variations on the classic view down the Sound towards Mitre Peak. Most visitors would consider a clear blue sky a bonus but this is one of the wettest places in the country. We had a cloudless sky on our first visit so we were hoping for a bit more weather action today but we were out of luck. It’s still a very impressive site when the sun hits the peaks.

We retired for breakfast about 8:30. Three of the group were taking a cruise on the Sound at 10.30; the rest of us went up to the Chasm, the waterfall we’d visited last time we were here. This time we had plenty of time to look around and get the pictures we wanted.

We returned to Milford Sound to collect the cruisers then began the 120kms back to Te Anau. Most people slept on the journey, I listened to a podcast and almost stayed awake.

We had an hour off to rest, change, have a cup of tea etc before our afternoon activity – a walk in the forest. We were driven to the start of the Kepler track – one of the many long distance walks in the area – then walked a short way into the trees. The forest floor is thick with ferns, moss and other greenery. The huge trees feel like the forest has been there forever. There are many fallen trunks and stumps being slowly reclaimed. There is so much to look at that it’s difficult to make any sense of it photographically but with some help from our expert guide, things start to become clearer. Time passes quickly and soon two hours have gone. We had the option to go back to the t-shape jetty for sunset or stay in the trees for longer, Florence and I opted for the trees. We were near the edge of Lake Te Anau so as the light faded we could still watch the turn warm pastel shades over the water. Florence concentrated on the rocks on the beach; I took some long exposure shots of the lake.

The plan had been to reconvene later for a group meal but the sunset crew had had enough for the day and gone back to the hotel for an early night – without shooting the sunset in the end. Most of the group only arrived in New Zealand at the weekend after long flights so aren’t as used to this time zone as us. We had dinner alone in Te Anau’s best restaurant. Florence ordered the sweet potato soup from the starter menu as a main course, the waitress asked if she’d like a main course portion, this arrived as two bowls – serving options are obviously limited. I had a roasted vegetable creation with parsnip puree – very tasty.

A Town Fit For A Queen

Today is changeover day. We left our AirBnB this morning and moved a few miles down the road to join our Landscape Photography tour.

We left the house right on 10:00 and I struggled down the hill with my ever-increasing number of bags. It’s only a few stops on the bus to our new hotel and we have bus passes for the week.

Our room wasn’t quite ready so we left our bags and walked down to the nearby Boat Shed café. The café is collection of old buildings that have been moved to a lakeside location. The main building is an old railway booking office; it’s constructed from clapboard, similar to many buildings in southeast England.

We had our usual flat whites and enviously looked at other people’s food. We weren’t in a hurry and the sun had come out so we gave in to temptation and had an early lunch – poached eggs with spinach and avocado for Florence and a quinoa salad for me.

I had some last minute shopping to do for our trip and Florence needed a haircut so we took a bus back into Queenstown. I quickly found what I needed and had an hour to walk round the town and have a closer look at a few buildings. It was a warm sunny afternoon, crowds wandered around the waterfront, arriving or departing on pleasure boats or looking at the toot stalls. A covers band played a Crowded House song – original choice – if I came from here I would leave the weather at home!

Before the town existed, the Maori fished in Lake Wakatipu and collected Greenstone from the area. The first European settler was William Gilbert Rees who set up a sheep farm on what is now the centre of town. Fortunately for him, gold was found in the area in 1862 and his farm was purchased for £10,000 to provide land for the town. His statue on the waterfront doesn’t look as happy as you might expect. Origins of the name are vague, either it was from Irish miners’ links with a town back home renamed to Queenstown in 1850 to honour Queen Victoria or because it was described as a town fit for a Queen. Or both. Or neither. Tourism came early to the town and never left; early in the 20th century there were steamers on the lake and tearooms on the shore. It’s now a fast-growing town of 14,300 with an international airport.

First stop on our photography tour was the Queenstown institution Fergburger. There is always a queue down the street; they churn very good burgers from a menu of about twenty variations. We shared a falafel one called Bun Laden, very tasty.

We then took the gondola to the top of the hill overlooking the town to watch the sunset and try and photograph the town at twilight. A combination of wind, a lot of visitors and a private function closing part of the viewing platform made it difficult to get any decent pictures.

We have a 5:15 start in the morning so early nights all round, at least we’re helped by the clocks going back an hour.

Cloud Spotter’s Guide

One day we won’t need an alarm clock… but that day isn’t today. Our taxi collected us at 8:40 to meet a coach to take us to a boat to another coach to a boat; explanation to follow.

The Real Journeys coach arrived about 9:00 to take us to Manapouri, about 150km south west of Queenstown. Their coaches are designed for sightseeing in mountainous areas, they have windows in the roof, the seats face slightly outwards and the whole bus is wedge shaped so the seat is front is slightly below you.

There are only a few routes in and out of Queenstown so we’re getting quite familiar with them. This morning, we took the road south, along the side of Lake Wakatipu, the way we’d arrived with Flying Kiwi last week.

The driver promised us a café stop on the way – would it be the café in Athol with the nice muffins and excellent coffee? No – we rolled on through Athol and stopped at Five Rivers café a few miles further on, was it the worst flat white we’ve had in New Zealand? Not quite but it was close. The driver gave a non-stop commentary, liberally interspersed with terrible jokes; we both decided early on in the journey that headphones were a better option.

We were early for our boat at Manapouri so we sat around in the sun for a while, watched the ducks and photographed reflections on the lake.

Every lake in New Zealand seems to have its own record – Manapouri was the deepest, then another lake claimed that title but modern soundings suggest Manapouri is the winner. The lake has had many names; the Maori originally called it Lake of Much Rain, it was given its current name by mistake by a British surveyor who wrote the name of another much smaller lake on his map by mistake – the mistake became fact. Our boat ride across the lake takes about an hour; the lake has many arms and islands so it’s an interesting journey, even at midday some cloud hangs over the lakeshore in places.

At the end of the lake, another coach and another comedian driver are waiting for us. This road is the only proper road in New Zealand not connected to any others. It was built along the route of a walking track in 1963 to facilitate the construction of a hydroelectric power station under the mountains that takes advantage of the Lake being 178m above sea level.

The drive takes us up over a pass in the Southern Alps. On the inland side of the mountains, the forests are all beech trees; on the seaward side the increased amounts of rain change the soil chemistry and allow much more varied vegetation. On the way down towards the coast, we got a first site of our destination, Doubtful Sound, and in the far distance the boat we’d be travelling on. Like all the coastal valleys in Fjordland, the sound is actually a fjord – because it was created by a glacier not a river – but when Captain Cook named it, he was more concerned about whether or not it provided an anchorage than its geological origins, he couldn’t decide hence the name.

We were welcomed onto our boat, the Fjordland Navigator, given a brief introduction then shown to our cabin, which was compact but comfortable.

We’d left Manapouri in sunshine but it was now cloudy, but what clouds! As we sailed down the Sound, we were surrounded by mountains and above them clouds with swirls and whorls and patterns everywhere – much better than the clear blue sky we’d had at Milford Sound. The water looked almost black, adding to the mysterious atmosphere.

As we sailed towards the Tasman Sea at the end of the Sound, we could see occasional waves breaking up the cliffs and over the rocks in the fjord’s mouth. There’s a pair of rocks out in the ocean, they’re about 12m high, the commentary on the boat told us they’d occasionally seen waves roll over them. We went out as far as a couple of small islands that have New Zealand fur seal colonies on them; at this time of year it’s just mothers and pups. Unfortunately the Fjordland penguins are all away in the open ocean at this time of year so they will have to wait for another visit. The boat returned to calmer waters and took a left turn into Thompson Sound this is a known location for a local pod of bottle-nose dolphins, we saw them almost immediately, 15-20 spread across the mouth of the inlet, one came very close to heck us out – appearing from nowhere out of the dark water then swimming under the boat. A little further up the Sound we saw what looked like more dolphins from a distance but turned out to be a troup of Tuna jumping from the water. This excited a lot of seagulls but the fish were far too big for them to take.

The boat moored in a small side arm that provided sheltered place to stop for the night, near Precipice Cove. There were options to kayak, take a small boat along the shore or swim. We opted to stay on board and enjoy the scenery from the top deck. It was very atmospheric, the clouds were closing in around the peaks and rain was approaching from both sides. Auckland gets about 1.6m of rain per year; Manapouri about twice that and the Fjordland coast gets over 9m. Warm air from Australia picks up moisture from the Tasman Sea; as soon as it hits the coast it rises, cools and dumps most of it. January 2017, approaching mid-summer, had only two dry days.

The special in the bar was a Fjordland Blue Duck vodka so we had to try that – the pure water apparently gives it a very clean taste, we liked it – a lot. Dinner was a buffet, plenty of choices of vegetables and salads for us.

Florence retired to bed with her book; I went to a short presentation about the Flora and Fauna of the region by the boat’s resident naturalist.

Paradise Found

It was dark when my alarm went off this morning. I made some breakfast and we had quick showers. Just time for a picture of the first light hitting the clouds over the lake before our ride for the day arrived.

Jenny is from Private Discovery tours who specialize in guided trips around the Queenstown area. She was born in Dunedin and has lived most of her life in Otago so she knows the area very well; every time we passed a valley or river she’d walked it, cycled it or kayaked it.

We left at 8:00. Our first stop was at Bobs Cove, a short way up the lake from Queenstown. We walked through some thick woodland down to a small stony beach for some great views of the lake in the morning sun. We could hear a lot of birds in the trees; we walked along the path behind the beach to try and see some of them. We’d heard a few Tui around New Zealand, eaten at the Fat Tui burger bar and drunk a Tui beer but this was the first one we’ve seen. They have a beautiful song and this one had a lot to say, although he was close by he was determined to stay in the shade of the branches. We also saw a South Island Robin and some Fantails – a good omen.

As we turned north towards Glenorchy round a kink in the lake, the mountains of the Southern Alps came into view in the distance. We stopped at a couple of viewpoints to see them; one high up above the lake and one on another small beach. Glenorchy itself is a small town that is growing rapidly as an overflow from Queenstown. It has some nice looking cafés, shops and restaurants, Florence found time to do a bit of clothes shopping while Jenny collected our lunch.

We then headed into the area beyond the lake where two large rivers – The Rees and The Dart – have huge stone and gravel deltas. We went off road to have a look at Lake Reid, a small lake with a large waterfowl population, and then climbed up a dirt road to stop for lunch overlooking Diamond Lake. It was a great view with the lake in the foreground and the mountains beyond. Our Land Rover coped well with the lumpy fields, dirt roads and dust. Private Discovery have an arrangement with a number of local farmers to allow them to drive on private land to get to places other tours don’t, this means a lot of getting in and out to open and close gates and in one instance walking over a bridge that isn’t sufficiently safe for us to be insured if we were in the car.

After lunch, we headed to Paradise Valley; we’d seen some photos of this area when we were researching New Zealand and that led us to today’s excursion. Beyond the valley, we saw the huge Dart River Flats then crossed the Dart River to Kinloch on the opposite side of the lake to Glenorchy. We stopped for some pictures on the long bridge crossing the Dart for some pictures, there isn’t much water in the river at this time of the year, it’s much fuller in spring. Jenny showed us the level of the floods in the early 1990s; these filled the valley and almost came up to the road. Only the Shotover River flows out of Lake Wakatipu, it couldn’t cope with the volume of water coming in from the mountains so the lake level rose and Queenstown was flooded enough for people to kayak down the main street.

We reluctantly returned to Queenstown around 4pm. The scenery around Lake Wakatipu is varied and lovely, this was a great way to see a lot of it.

We had a light dinner followed by two local cheeses and some Pinot Noir.

Slow News Day

We had big plans for today: laundry, charging, downloads and back-ups.

It’s a grey and showery day outside so we decided to stay in for the day and do all our chores. This worked up to a point but the view across the lake to the mountains beyond has been majestical all day so we haven’t got quite as much done as we might have. In fairness, we picked this AirBnB because of the views. The clouds have been moving around the hills all day; the view’s different every few seconds.

We can also see the runway at Queenstown airport; it’s surprisingly busy – light aircraft and helicopters fitting in between the airliners.

We stopped watching the mountains at 14:45 and watched out for the Flying Kiwi bus leaving town. It felt a bit odd watching them heading out on the journey that we started 4 weeks ago. The first campsite tonight is really lovely, next to Lake Wanaka. It doesn’t look like they’ll have quite the sunset that we did.

We watched a bit of TV on our laptops this afternoon – it took me 90 minutes to get through 45 minutes of a program because of the constant interruptions from the clouds.

The last meal I cooked was in Napier about a month ago – pasta, halloumi cheese and Pinot Noir. Without thinking about it, we ended up with the same meal today (something quick and easy). We have got a week here so there will be a bit more variety. I’ve bought some feijoas to keep my vitamins up.

Farewell to Old Blue

 

Today is the day we say goodbye to our bus after 5,500kms – actually three different buses but this one’s our favourite.

We had a slow start in Te Anau. We weren’t leaving until 11:00 so we slept in until 8:30 – wild – had breakfast and checked out. It was a very nice room so it would have been good to stay longer.

It was only about 100kms drive to Queenstown, great scenery all the way.

We stopped in Athol for some very good flat whites and couldn’t resist a raspberry muffin to go with them. After Athol, we drove long the bottom edge of the Remarkables range – apparently named because on finding that the ridge line ran almost exactly north to south, a British surveyor in the 1800s declared them ‘remarkable’. The road also skirted Lake Wakatipu. This is a long thin lake shaped lake a stretched out letter ‘Z’. The Maori tradition has it that the shape is that of the evil giant Matau sleeping with his knees up. It’s the longest and deepest lake in New Zealand and the third largest. It’s also the second purest lake in the world – the water is 99.9% perfect, better than bottled water.

We stopped for a brief photo-stop before the final leg into Queenstown.

We were dropped off at a bus stop just outside town to make our way up to our AirBnB apartment, home for the next week. We settled in quickly then went into town, had a quick wander round then shared a pizza at the Fat Badger Pizza emporium. We were in a hurry so we could make it up the Skyline Gondola to the observation point 500m above the town in time for sunset.

We watched the light fade over the lake then waited around for the stars to come out. The Milky Way was clearly visible. The familiar shape of Orion was easy to pick out but the opposite way up to what we’re used to.

The Land of Doing Without

 

Relatively late start this morning before our long drive across the south to Fjordlands. The drive south of Dunedin passed through the edge of the Catlins, a scenic area of rugged coastlines and forests in the far south east of the country.

First stop was what our Central American guides called a technical stop – fuel & toilets. We were warned off the service station coffee.

First proper stop of the day was the town of Gore. This is the country music capital of New Zealand, which tells you most of what you need to know. The broad main street has a number of small local shops and what looks like a former department store, which must once have been quite grand. The biggest building in town by a long way is a former cereal factory. Gore is the ‘The World Capital of Brown Trout Fishing‘, the shops have signs such as Goregeous clothes for sale. We bought our usual flat whites and walked the high street in search of some lunch, nothing looked very good – I asked one bakery if they had anything vegetarian, he pointed me to a corn fritter sandwich that looked like it should be in a museum. We made do with hummus and pitta bread from the Countdown supermarket. On the way back to the bus we passed the Country Music hall of fame. This has hand prints from a lot of local musicians as well better known artists like Ricky Skaggs and Glen Campbell. Back on the bus we listened to Wichita Lineman in honour of Mr Campbell.

As we drove west – a country line if ever I heard one – the hills got bigger and some snowy peaks appeared in the distance. We stopped in Te Anau at the Fjordlands Visitors Centre to sign the three people from our group onto the Routeburn trek they’re starting tomorrow. The sun was now shining so I bought an ice cream.

The drive onwards from Te Anau into Fjordlands brought more scenery that increased in grandeur the further we drove. We stopped at the Eglinton Valley Viewpoint to look down the valley into the mountains beyond. A few minutes later, we had a look at Mirror Lakes, which was too breezy to be mirrored, and was more of a pond than a lake.

After an hour or so we crossed The Divide which is the watershed between the rivers that flow east towards Queenstown and west towards the sea. Our campsite was about 5 miles up a small road that goes nowhere. When it was started in the 1930s it was planned to cross the mountains to the east but the money ran out and the war intervened and after that it was never restarted, it stops a few miles further on, quite literally in the middle of nowhere.

The campsite is named after Davey Gunn, a dashing adventurer who lived here in the 1930s. He walked out on his family in Dunedin to start raising cows; he also had a sideline in taking visitors into the wilderness. Gunn called the area the ‘Land of doing without’. On one trip he saw a plane crash in the hills nearby. He walked, rode and kayaked for 22 hours to get help then returned to get the walkers. He eventually died trying to save a 12-year-old boy who was thrown into a river by his horse, the boy’s body was found but Gunn’s never was.

The campsite is in a deep valley with a river running nearby and high peaks on either side; they were just catching the last of the sun as we had dinner. We ended the evening round a fire hearing stories of previous trips from Simon our driver, a bit of an adventurer himself.