Thursday, December 31, 2009

NZ Sth Island - Pt 8 Lake Matheson, Heli Flight and on to Hokitika

Day 16 (Monday 30 November)

In amongst the driving over the last few days there's been quite a bit of discussion about the layout and vagaries of Lake Matheson and that I chose to stay at Fox Glacier so as to be nearby the lake in the early morning when conditions are most likely to be still. Last thing last night before heading into the motel we took a quick spin down the road to the Lake Matheson turn off just to get our bearings. So today, I am awoken at 5:40 am by Mum. Didn't I want to go to Lake Matheson for sunrise? We peer outside. The weather looks a bit damp, cloudy. Not windy though. I'm half inclined to go back to bed, but I suppose I'm awake now so we may as well give it a shot. By the time we get away I feel like we're fighting against time. It'd be good to see it with a colourful sunrise. Daughter is up for it. No way Sis is venturing out thismorning and this surprises me considering how much she loved the Mirror Lakes.

The three of us jump in the car and head off to the lake. Another family of Paradise Shelducks are waddling along the roadside here. Always exciting to see ducklings! Mum starts her nebulising in the car but isn't finished by the time we get to the car park. I'm still dreaming of a colourful reflection, so we leave mum the car keys saying to just take her time and just do what she can do, while we hurry on to the lake and try to catch the early light and explore the vantage points. The car park has numerous vehicles and we assume that these must be people who have come to see the lake. The landscape around the car park is pretty ramshackle. There appears to be a newish building nearby that seems to be something touristy to do with the lake, but of course it's shut at the moment and I'm just not that curious about it. Maybe when it's open it provides more civilised access to the track. From where we were it was not really pedestrian friendly.

It's a pretty walk into the first viewing platform. Dense and luxuriant rainforest. There is not so much as a breath of wind thismorning and the lake is reflecting beautifully. From this vantage point however, and in these conditions, we can't see much of the snowy mountain tops with only the lower ranges unobscured by cloud. The sky shows nothing in the way of colour and in the pre-dawn light the view here simply whets my appetite for further exploration.

The first viewing area is deserted. Where are all the people I wonder. I take a few quick photos and decide to explore further along the path. It is a very pretty walk. Only the walk at Purukaunui Falls could top it among the various walks we've done. The terrain involves a reasonable amount of incline. Aside from the various viewing platforms the path does not provide views across the lake. Which is excellent of course, otherwise everyone anywhere around the lake would have human figures sullying their enjoyment of the scenery and their photographs.
After a time the path heads down some stairs and onto a boardwalk bridge that crosses to the other side of the lake. I'm tempted to really take my time and enjoy the reeds and natural lake environment. It is very pretty indeed. A very special place. From the boardwalk bridge however it is still not the view I am seeking so I press on. Eventually a sign points me in the direction of a path leading to a flight of stairs and a plaform without railings bordering the inky stillness of the water. Ah. This is IT. The brighter daylight now is also more conducive to successful photos.

I fail to come across a single soul out here in the early morning. I've got no idea who those cars belong to. There doesn't seem to be anything likely nearby. Doesn't matter I guess.
I relax on the landing taking in the serenity. I play photographing some reflections of myself in the water. Sort of thing Daughter 2 would do. I wonder how she's doing.

After some time, a group of young women stop past. Just enjoying the scenery and the early morning exercise. No sign of cameras or anything. Eventually daughter catches me up. I don't recall how we got separated, but she calls out and we meet up and begin walking back. She's not a morning person and is suffering a bit today. She didn't appreciate how far around the lake the walk would take her. I toy with heading back the way we came, just in case Mum's been silly and gone further than the first viewing area. Surely she'll see that uphill slope and think better of it.. but daughter wants to continue on the round trip. Probably quicker she thinks.

As we walk we continue to enjoy the areas where the perfect mirror effect is visible.

The walk winds and weaves through the lovely forest with plentiful ferns and mosses and other small flora, then you emerge into an area on the edge of open farmland. A bench seat a little off the track is provided where you can relax and take your ease watching the clouds form and disperse and float across the face of the ranges and over the rich green fields. The russett of the wet seed heads provides a beautiful contrast to the greens of pasture.

If only there were more time. Having arrived at about 6 am we check our watches. It's now around 7:30 and we have an 8:30 check in for our heli flight thismorning. We feel a guilty for the length of time we've been away and wonder what mum is up to. Praying that she was sensible and just went to the first viewing area we walk swiftly back to the entry point from the carpark. We meet up with mum right as the two paths come together. She expresses great relief to see us and tells us the tale of her adventure. I can hardly believe my ears when she tells us that she got to the first lookout and decided to move on and find us. We'd had a number of conversations about the lake and the walk around it, and that I wasn't sure if she would be able to actually get in to the lake at all and that the circuit would be out of the question. She'd forgotten all that and continued on the walk. She even got as far as the board walk bridge. This means that she had to head up some pretty decent inclines and at a pretty decent sort of pace too to be back here now. By the time she got to the boardwalk bridge she started to think perhaps going so far along wasn't so good an idea. So she decided to head back, wondering if she would actually make it out alive. I know that feeling. It was like that the time 8 yr old daughter and I walked to the bottom of Ellenborough Falls outside Port Macquarie. Madly trying to keep up with other fitter people so as not to lose the track, which had been perfectly apparent on the way down but was far from obvious on the way back up. Having spent the return walk with visions of helicopter rescue floating in my mind the whole time I've never been so happy to rejoin a trail head. Anyway, Mum pulled out all the stops and here she is. I suspect her adventure might be the most memorable thing about Lake Matheson for Mum. We head back slowly together and our moderate pace gives daughter opportunity to spot a little colony of trigger orchids similar to those we saw on Ulva Island, growing on a rotting log bordering the path.

We climb back in the car, head back to the motel, pack up, check out and high tail it to the heli flight check in, noting the continued presence of the Kereru in the tree in the carpark.
We are checked in for our heli flight at 8:15 am. They are only offering the tour of both glaciers this morning as there is too much cloud up high. Oh well, at least it will save some dollars.
No time for brekkie the guy tells us, but daughter and I buy a warm savoury scone and a muffin from the Hobnail Cafe and we all settle down at a table to await departure. Unsuspecting the delight that awaits us we take a bite of scone. Oh my god those scones are so delicious!! We are obliged to share tastes around the group. We head back for more scones. Absolutely superb. By far the most scrumptious scone on earth I am quite sure. They are perfection itself. $4 (?) . Worth every penny. She is so impressed by the scones daughter lobbies for a sample of the tan slice. I think I know what this will be like and am not too fussed but daughter is keen. It is, as I expected, the sort of slice you make with boiled sweetened condensed milk, albeit a very good example of it's kind. The muffin was good too... but no competition for the scone! Not even close.

It's only a short time before we are boarding the bus across to the heli-pad. In no time at all we are off the bus, getting our briefing about the safe approach to the chopper and heading across to climb aboard. It is a roomy and comfortable proper 5 seater chopper. Mum has some difficulty getting aboard and it's lucky she's with family. She laughs as we give her bottom a hefty shove from below to help her aboard. I have claimed the front seat for the first time ever, and oh boy was that a shrewd move. I didn't realise for all these years how strategic it would was to prove to have always have let mum have the front seat!! We did a deal in Kaikoura that I would sit in the front here at Fox. YES!!
What can I say to communicate the magnificence of a flight over the glaciers?? There simply are no adequate words. There is not a lot of chit chat with the pilot. He's busy constantly in touch with the base or other pilots in the main. Every move he makes he's reporting it over the radio. This is demanding flying, that is certainly apparent. He's just concentrating on the job at hand and we certainly don't mind that in these conditions. We fly first up, along the river through to Fox Glacier. The scenery is just awesome. Such an inadequate word. Awesome.

Before it starts to rain it is decided to get the snow landing out of the way. We land. I could never have imagined how fantastic this part of the trip would be. No idea. Many of the party were a bit ho hum about actually landing. Before leaving Australia Mum was saying she was happy to just stay in the chopper. Once we're there though there's no way you could have held any of us back. It was fantastic. We're lower down for the landing than they do when the weather is clearer. Perhaps up top is even better, I don't know, but we were more than satisfied to be here. The glowing blues of the snow and ice. The sense of deep quiet. It was absolutely thrilling and as everyone will tell you, not really very cold at all.
Before we move too far, our pilot got us together with the chopper for a photo. Then we are free to wander around a little. Another chopper has landed over to our right. Both pilots are keeping an eye on the alighted passengers as they wander about and give a firm wave of the hand when they think we're venturing too far or too close to the edge.
Sis has wasted no time and is squatting down making another little snow man. I swear from the look on her face she is just about fit to explode from happiness and excitement.

Mum's made it over to Sis but is pretty much bogged. Can't really walk at all in the snow she reports, but she's obviously enjoying herself immensely. Daughter and I are more adventurous skipping about here and there, but we're keeping a close eye on our pilot to make sure we don't stretch it too far. We do want to stay alive.

It seems all too soon before we are being gestured back for reboarding. This operation is very organised. We are shown the photo pilot took of us and told it's $20(?) for a little folder with the photo and certificate evidencing our heroism. If we could let him know if we want one he will just print them off now before we leave while we're getting ourselves back in and belted up. Saves delays back at the helipad. Smooth. Of course we're all going to want one. Especially while the excitement is still full upon us. Do we look happy or what?

Pretty soon pilot is climbing back in his seat and preparing for take off. The other chopper across to our right is a step ahead of us and we see them head for the edge of the landing area and swoop down down over the glacier itself. Awesome. Are we going to do what they just did?.. why YES!! YOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOO!!!! OH MY GOD! This is freaking unreal!! The glacier is absolutely gorgeous. You would never pick it from the ground. Fox Glacier is churned up and has pretty brown feathering along blue patterned blocks of ice. Superb. Perhaps encouraged by our obvious relish of the take off, our pilot treats us to another roller coaster rise and fall over the spectacular river of ice. AMAZING!! This is the best chopper flight I've done. No competition. Absolutely positively a must do!! We are still only at best half way through the flight and I have already absolutely decided I am coming back with hubby to do another flight like this. Imagine trying one from up near Glentanner and Aoraki. Surely you must get Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki, the mountains and the Glaciers. Costs more from up there. Considerably more, but how freakin' awesome would it be!
We settle down for the flight across the ridges to Franz Joseph. Each glacier is distinctly different. Another sensation of falling when we come over the ridge and the ground drops suddenly away. It's all an illusion of course, but it is totally thrilling. We complete our circuit travelling back along the coastal plain. Admiring the broad glacial braided rivers, farmland, sea and clouds.

The video has been working overtime on the camera. Oh boy this flight was worth every single penny. It was simply bloody fantastic. For younger fitter persons the heli-hike must be wonderful. Just DO IT!!

We are absolutely floating on a high when we land and clamber out of the chopper. A careful check that I have all my gear as I had to change camera batteries mid-flight and I really don't want to lose anything. Then we are forking out the money for the photos, gushing our thanks and heading back to the bus for the ride back to the office and our car. Absolutely wonderful. What a day so far and it's only 10 am.
Back at the gift shop my companions are doing what feels like an extended stint of post card and souvenir buying, then we're on our way north.

First stop is at Franz Joseph where mum wants to head in and get a photograph of the excellent statue of two life sized moa. Then it's on the road again. Before we can go too far though, we need to head back to Okarito and try to find Sis's camera.

Sis is pretty distressed about the loss of the camera, but feels a little better when we remind her that we have back up photos for lots of the things she wanted to show the girls. We stop at the carpark where we pretty much figured the camera had to have fallen from the car. No joy. Then back to ask Ian at Okarito Kiwi Tours, having only been able to leave a message this morning. They haven't seen it, but we enjoy catching up and hearing about what the outcome was after we packed it in last night. We leave contact info just in case someone has found it. We wave our goodbyes and move on. I'll cut to the chase. Ian gave us a call when we were up in Hokitika, quite late. One of the parks personnel found the camera early in the morning before we'd had a chance to get back to the car park. Ian kindly arranged postage of the camera back to Sis at home in Australia. It was undamaged and all photos intact. Thank you SO much Ian. We all really appreciate your help with that, as well as the great time we had last night!

Before we head off we decide to take a little while to have another look at Okarito Lagoon. Beautiful. Looking across the plains to the mountains dancing with passing cloud it's a pretty spot. Tours of the lagoon and the white heron nesting area are available and while this is not on our agenda I think it would be a quite different sort of experience to the other larger scale boat trips we've done. Certainly sleepy little Okarito has a really relaxed atmosphere and especially if staying in the village a tour of the lagoon would fit nicely with the kiwi tour.

The weather now is getting settled for some serious rain. We take turns driving and napping with all three drivers having a stint. Half an hour or so out from Hokitika we come across a farmer moving a herd of young cattle along the road to fresh pasture. They clearly have no plan to vacate the road, but we're not fussed. We love this sort of thing and are quite happy to just creep along behind the herd. I start videoing and the fatigue is evident as I take the most appalling video ever. It's so hilariously bad we just have to keep it. The vast majority of the thing has the screen completely consumed by the car's rego sticker!! I start again. Got to pay attention this time. I carefully aim the camera and am pleased as punch at what I'm seeing in the screen. This is going to be one cool little video. The cattle jogging along nicely. Great stuff. I go to stop the filming and realise I had never hit the record button! Doh!! Only time now for a quick still shot as the cattle turn off the road and into their destination paddock. Just as well I'm not driving! Letting Sis sleep in thismorning is paying off and she's behind the wheel!

We arrive in Hokitika on a grey and miserable day. The weather is of no matter though as it's only shopping we have on the schedule for this afternoon.
First we need some lunch. We've heard the fish and chips here is good. I was a bit of a wreck leaving Australia and I have left a few silly gaps in the planning. I haven't recorded the name of the particular fish and chip outlet that was being recommended on TA. We pass two. One that is a bit like a co-op down nearer the water. Looks OK but there's noone around. Not even clear if it is open. The alternative is the apparently award winning Porky's on the main street in the tourist/historic area. Porky's is clearly doing a roaring trade, so majority figure surely that must be it. Despite the crowds I think Porky's looks iffy and as a matter of principle the co-op places tend to be better but I'm too tired to agonise over the decision or swim against the current so Porky's it is.

We wander in and order. They have jam wraps. Someone gets one of those. Daughter and I go for the blue cod and kumara chips. we decide to head out to the beachfront and eat overlooking the beach, though it's a bit miserable in the rain we manage to get a reasonably flattering shot of the landscape along the beach and across the estuary and the long road bridge to the mountains.

I had gone next door to a souvenir shop while the others waited and collected the food, so my first sight of it was when I opened the bag. Hmm. The batter is heavy and greasy. That's disappointing. The kumara chips taste Ok but are pretty limp, which I would imagine would be reasonably unavoidable. I eat those first. I clearly have a pretty good idea what the fish will be like. Eventually, finishing off a phone call from home I decide launch time for the fish can't be delayed further. I try the fish. Ugh. Yuck. Every bit as greasy as it looked. Overcooked to buggery. A blue cod died for this. What a shameful waste of a blue cod. I simply cannot eat the whole thing. The grease is making me feel ill. There's some birds around. Lovely black billed gulls. Daughter hops out of the car and heads across to feed them. They seem un-naturally nervous. Who has been abusing these lovely little chaps? Daughter theorises about young teenage louts a theory which was probably encouraged by the ambience of the reserve we are at. However after a while another theory reveals itself. Black backed gulls. Once they come on the scene the black billed gulls are nowhere to be seen. If I were a black billed gull and these big monsters were part of my environment, I'd be looking over my shoulder too. I think the local youths can be given the benefit of the doubt in this case.
We find the Annabelle Motel and check in. It is everything it should be. Mum is totally wrecked after her adventure this morning and the excitement of the heli flight. She heads in for a rest while the rest of us run errands or do a bit of souvenir browsing. I visit the Hokitika Glass Studio and several pounamou galleries. Some have some quite nice and expensive sculptures and of course everywhere is the mass marketed koru, twist etc in pounamu, bone and shell. I duck through the rain and make my way across to the Sock Museum and wander through looking at the vintage sock knitting machines and depression era ads encouraging women to earn a bit of extra cash at home, all they need to do is buy this sock machine. All quite quirky and entertaining for a few minutes. The book store is a must too and I browse through the kiwi authors section. Hoping to pick up some Frank Sargeson but no luck. Instead I get one called Kiwi Hunter about a bloke who's been involved in a range of environmental related activities over a number of decades. I don't think I'll find that one at home. I note the obvious popularity of The Denniston Rose. I'll have to pop that one on my reading list, but I can get it at home. No need to add to my luggage weight.

At one store that shall remain nameless I am conducting the sales transaction and the woman behind the counter says. "Where in Australia are you from?"
"Where in Sydney"
"Oh, way out west."
"I came from Sydney. Long time ago. 1960s".
"Oh, what part of Sydney were you from?"
"What brought you to NZ?"
"I was running from the coppers. NZ was the only place I could go without a passport. I hadn't done anything really bad, but I thought it was bad."
Then she proceeded to short change me by $5!!! Which I successfully challenged of course. Ah well. Gave us a laugh anyway.

After a few meeting ups and separations, Sis meets up with us again, picking us up with the car in the pouring rain after having gone to the shops to buy another pair of generic reading glasses. She's been going through both prescription glasses and these cheap backups like noone's business. Dropping them and stepping on them seems a favoured technique. She reports that she popped back to the motel and Mum is out like a light so we'll leave her be for now. We have been recommended to Stumpers restaurant in the local pub for dinner by our accommodation so we decide to go over and sus it out. It's raining very heavily. We have a very pleasant break in Stumpers and discover that they mix their own LLBs (Lemon Lime and Bitters). We've not been having a lot of success on that score in the trip so far. So many places copping out and just using the bottled version which is vastly inferior.
Everything about Stumpers is nice so we make a reservation for dinner.
We head home, shower and change, collect Mum and head back to Stumpers. They served us a delicious bread platter with nice fresh pesto, absolutely delicious salmon dip and another dish with a nice fruity olive oil and balsamic. A deliciously dressed small salad was a nice touch on the side. We're beginning to suspect that there must be a law in NZ that anyone caught providing a bad bread course in a restaurant shall have their license removed or something. We haven't had a dud one yet. All have been truly excellent. For mains mum and I had fillet steak with blueberry and cranberry hollandaise sauce, baked minted potato and vegetables, also with hollandaise. Our steaks got mixed up, but we figured it out and swapped and both were tasty. Daughter had .. you guessed it - the blue cod. This time rolled in coconut and chili with pineapple mango salsa. Daughter felt that the flavours overwhelmed the actual fish a bit and that this would be a good fish course for someone who didn't actually like fish much. We think the blue cod should be prepared so as not to overwhelm the flavour of the actual fish. I have a hole in my notes as to what sis ordered so that's a mystery.
Now I don't really want to leave you dear reader with the impression that I should be in a high chair and be equipped with a bib, but as I bring some dropped rice to daughters attention I look down and I find I have comprehensively slopped hollaindaise sauce down my possum merino jumper. Oh no!! This couldn't have been discovered in a funnier contenxt, but bloody hell this thing cost a fortune! We madly reach for the serviettes and do a clean up job. It is unbelievable how completely the fabric surrendered that fatty sauce just with the serviettes. Unbelievable. I cannot remember who it was we were discussing this with, it was a kiwi at any rate, and they said that yeah, the possum merino is extraordinary that way. Extremely dirt resistant. Extraordinary.
For dessert we shared and ordered Chocolate tart with strawberries, Kahlua Crunch and a Berry Parfait. All were good. 15% surcharge for it being a "statutory day". 30 November being the local provincial anniversary day. Overall our meal at Stumpers was the best meal we've had in ages and we really enjoyed Stumpers all round. The service was friendly and chatty, and there was a happy busy atmosphere without being too loud. Most meals we saw heading to other tables were huge and looked great. Ours were not quite so large which was good news to us.
Home to bed quite late, and Sis points out the possum products shop on the way home. We have a few shopping stops to make in the morning before we head off to Christchurch. The possum shop is definitely one!

Anyone for bed?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NZ Sth Island - Pt 7 Wanaka to Glacier Country and Okarito

Day 15 (Sunday 29 November)

Surprise surprise I'm up for sunrise! The sky is painted with colour and the first rays of the sun shine pink across the snowy ranges beyond the lake.

By 8:30 am we are on the road again. This time, as I believe is entirely predictable, we are off across the pass and down to the West Coast and Glacier Country. We have a booking for a heli flight grand tour with snow landing at 3:30 this afternoon (weather permitting) and we expect that this should give us ample time for stopping and exploring along the way.

Somehow I was expecting this drive to be more involving of winding roads with precipitous drops, but in the main I find the road far less hair raising than I had anticipated given some of the reports I have read. Now the drive up the mountain at Mt Kaputar National Park in NSW - THAT is hair raising. The road is however is quite exciting territory with interesting winding sections and bridges over white water. But lets not get ahead of ourselves.

We started by heading out along the lakes past beautiful views that we are completely taking for granted by now. Soon enough we're travelling among beautiful beech forest. Our first stop is at the Blue Pools. We read the signs and it seems interesting so we decide to give it a go. A decision we do not regret.

As we meander down the forest path we come to a large tree the ground around which is covered in fallen bright yellow honeycomb structured balls reminiscent of 1970's christmas decorations. The fallen balls extend to the other side of the path. There must be hundreds of them. We are puzzled as to what they are. Are they a fruit? A fungus fruiting perhaps but there are SO many. They are growing all over the tree in positions many of which would not be inconsistent with fruit of the tree itself, but we end up concluding that they must be fungi fruit. They are textured like fungi. Squooshy but firm. Yeah, we're pretty sure they're fungi. Hmm. Nifty aren't they.

The path is gently sloping heading downward to a suspension bridge that takes you out over a braided river unsullied by any obvious weeds. In the clear water below you can observe trout swimming in the stream. The water is not as crystal clear today as the signage by the road would have us expect. However as our eyes adjust to the task we see more and more large fish riding the currents. We bounce across the first long bridge admiring the beautiful blue of the water. Not unusual in our travels so far, but we have not become in the least blase about the intense aquatic colours in so many of the beautiful watercourses and lakes.

A short gravel path around the edge of the hillside and we come to another suspension bridge over the blue pools themselves. Today the river is more blue and more striking than the pools which are quite turbid with comparatively dull colour and low visibility. I am enticed to explore a little further along the path which causes Daughter some consternation. I just wanted a quick squizz... We are simply blown away by all the parks infrastructure virtually everywhere we have been. I know that tourism is a major industry in New Zealand and they certainly don't seem to take that for granted. Virtually everywhere we've been you couldn't ask for better maintained tracks, bridges and facilities in general. It really is very impressive. Virtually everywhere has secure boxes for people to make a donation towards the provision of better infrastructure. I can only assume that many people donate generously as I can't imagine a country of 5 million people or so could cheerfully afford infrastructure on such a scale otherwise, especially as I would imagine in such an extreme climate the maintenance required must be considerable. Here the suspension bridges appear quite new attracting yet another round of admiring comment.

My quick foray completed, Daughter and I hurry back to let the others know there's no need to go further than the first bridge. By the time we get back, Sis is already heading back. She's doing her best to be stoic, but she's suffering a bit of pain and is having a bit of a struggle to stay engaged in the activities.

Mum too is looking a bit strained, but she seems to be enjoying herself. We help her spot the trout which she had not been able to see by herself, but she gets the hang of it with some pointers and is quite excited to see the fish there. I'm often surprised at what she can see. Her eyes aren't that flash either really. Cataracts and a few other problems. I think she's keen to see what she can while she still can, as her father went blind from cataracts for a time.

It doesn't take long to take our fill of the river and we head back to the car. It's all uphill this time, though luckily not too steep. I can't believe I'm typing that. Before we left home a slope like this would have been a major drama at least and more likely impossible without a great deal of time in which to cover it. It is again when we get home, but adrenaline can work miracles can't it. Like that Turk in the battles for the Dardanelles who was lifting absolutely massive shells into the artillery guns. They tried to get him to repeat the feat for the photographers after the battle but he simply couldn't lift them. They did get photos but they are staged with dummy shells. Fortunately someone is on our side and mum's uphill trek is punctuated by some first class birdwatching. Birdwatching is the perfect hobby for someone like mum. Having to stop frequently she can use the breaks to both catch her breath and look for birds. First up some twittering alerts us to the presence of someone new. Someone we haven't seen or heard before. We look up and scan around the trees in the direction from which the call has come. There are several smallish birds foraging in the trees nearby and they are conveniently making their way closer. Mohua!! YES!!!!! And there are at least three of them. We work on giving ourselves a respectable dose of birdwatchers neck as we admire these lovely creatures. God bless them they are in no particular hurry to move away. An active looking middle aged couple approaches on their way to the river and look questionly at us. They have bins around their necks. "Yellowheads" we say. At which they stop and give a look through their bins for a minute or two before heading off down the path. Not very friendly really.
We continue to watch until the Mohua's foraging takes them beyond range. Mohua! Well! How about that!! That was worth the stop!
Breath regained we head on. Daughter is photographing close ups of pretty fern foliage. Collecting potential home decor. Sis has been keen to capture the trees in the beech forest. She wants to be able to show "the girls" (her grand-daughters aged 7 and 5) that it was so cold even the trees all wore jumpers. She did get some shots of this in Fiordland, however we find the forest here has some good candidates and daughter and I snap some shots as backups in case sis's photos don't turn out or get lost.

As we continue slowly along the path we spot some movement off in the bushes. A tiny bird flitting quickly here and there. Absolutely silent. We wait and watch patiently as it works its way closer to us. Gasp. Is this a rifleman??? It has a very sharp pointy and slightly upturned bill, a bit like a varied sitella. It is working the trees in a way that seems consistent with similar sorts of species at home. We are almost holding our breath as the bird gets closer and closer to the path. It perches but not long enough to get a shot of it. It flies across the path between daughter and I. It can't have been more than a metre and a half away from me. And yet it was so silent no sooner had it gone than I was wondering if I had imagined it.
"That WAS the bird wasn't it? Not an insect or something?"
"yeah, that was definitely the bird". It perches again on the far side of the path. Daughter manages a quick portrait. It's not got the green we have seen illustrated for the male rifleman. If it is a rifleman maybe it is a juvenile or a female? TICK TICK TICKETY TICK!!!! You can see I'm not a twitcher I'm sure. I'm not sure my identification has been competent enough for someone who keeps lists, but whatever bird this is I haven't seen one before and it is absolutely BRILLIANT! I'm persuaded by the intense silence of this little darling that a rifleman is a definite possibility. I think I've read/heard that that's why they got the name..

I'm walking on air as we head back to the car. I would have been very disappointed to head home without seeing mohua and a rifleman. I'm not absolutely sure it's a rifleman, but sure enough to be pretty damn chuffed just the same. Please say it's a rifleman Zappers.. (fingers and toes all crossed). Daughter thinks maybe it was a rock wren or something judging from the illustrations in our field guide.

My euphoria is interrupted by a sweet little brown bird (LLB) daintily skipping about foraging on the path ahead. None of us are especially interested in disturbing it, so we proceed extra slowly and it doesn't seem too fussed by having us nearby. No idea what he might be and mum still has the field guide for photo comparison.

I stop for a quick look at the information boards again and as is fairly typical for me, snap a picture to read it later. Had we paid closer attention we would have seen the advice about sandflies. Apparently Black, red and blue clothing seems to attract more attention than white, green and yellow. The signage confirms that some people seem more attractive to the sandflies than others. This is certainly consistent with our experience. Daughter is at this stage progressively collecting a large embellishment of desperately itchy bites. She says they're getting her even through her clothing, though I have to say her clothes are quite lightweight compared to mine. I, albeit more comprehensively covered up, have no bites whatsoever. Occassionally I've caught one having a bit of a go at my hand, but a quick splat and that's the end of the argument. No bite. No itch. Nothing. Neither of us are fond of covering ourselves in toxic chemicals, so for now daughter is preferring the bites, though she may live to regret it.

Down through Haast Pass and some pretty dramatic white water and our next stop is Fantail falls. Sis and daughter are waterfalled out. That is NEVER going to happen to Mum. We pull over and she and I hop out to take in the sights. the signage informs us that the road through from Otago to Haast was only opened in 1960. Gosh, it's not much older than I am. It's only a very short path to the viewing area for the falls which are situated across a pristine creek. There is the usual grey stone providing a sort of braiding effect and as we are finding more and more frequently people have erected stone cairns from some of the larger rocks. The water is absolutely crystal clear. Mum is a bit restricted in getting down from the made path due to the rocky surface of the creek surrounds and decides to rely on her zoom. I wander across to enjoy the water and the rocks as the water sparkles and quivers around them. It is an idyllic spot and the falls are particularly lovely. Mum and I are both very glad we made the effort. We tell the others they're really missing out, but we are unable to raise any enthusiasm.

In almost no time at all we are pulling up at Thunder Creek Falls. Fantail Falls were so good Mum and I are keen to have a look at these ones as well. Again it's only a short walk and the river and falls are pretty, but if we had to award a winner Fantail Falls would win hands down. Thunder Creek Falls is more a straight up down job, whereas the Fantail Falls are arrayed like lace across a tastefully scaled rock outcrop.

By now it's coming on for 11:30. We head past ..was it Roaring Billy Falls? Something Billy Falls anyway. According to my trip plan we'll need to be a bit business like from here so we give these a miss.

An hours passing finds us on the west coast marvelling at the vegetation along the road. A Japanese master gardener could not hope to do a better job of sculpting the shrubs and trees. It is simply extraordinary. Natures defence against apparently consistent and powerful westerly winds off the ocean. This demands a stop.

We can really feel the change in climate which is reflected in the forest now showing greater diversity and density of plantlife. It is bright and clear and the ocean is a rich sparkling blue in flashes at the occassional lookout lay by. Along the way southern rata are flowering sporadically. South Island Christmas Bush. It's flowers are a bright shining red. The occassional bush with a larger density of flowers absolutely glowing. What beautiful trees, although the peak of flowering is some way off I expect. I think Hubby and I should be in Northland when the pohutukawa is in flower and these southern rata are really sharpening my anticipation for that floral display.

Knights Point is a more substantial lookout and we chose this to take a short break. It's a beautiful spot and there's rata about, but we don't really manage any shots that do it justice. We wander across to the lookout shelter and admire the ocean views. A quick comfort stop at the local facilities which are OK but not quite up to the usual kiwi standard, and we are on our way. Actually, thinking about it the toilets on the west coast were not as impressive as on the eastern side of the south island. However we find that here on the west coast they are more inclined to give motorists advance warning of slower speeds ahead and the signs graduate from 100 down to say 70 before finally hitting a 50 zone. Ah. That's easier to manage. Thankyou west coast roads authority.
Another little quirk of the west coast administration is revealed when we come to the first of the "boob" signs. We have a similar sign at home that means "dip". This is where the road dips noticeably as it crosses a swale in the landscape and where periodically, if we're lucky enough to get rain, the water will cross the road. Go too fast across a dip and you're quite likely to become airborne. We slow and drive carefully. Nothing. We've got no freakin' clue what these boob signs are on about. We brainstorm, we watch the road environment for hazards. We draw a blank. We check the road atlas page that lists the road signs and what they mean. No joy. It's a complete mystery. We keep our eyes open for generously busted young women on the roadside... no... none to speak of. That can't be it... and surely warning of them would only further distract any virile young men who happen to be passing. None the less the frequency of the signs suggests that the roads authority seems particularly keen that we should be looking out for stray boobs. We resolve to do our best.

Having been travelling through forest for a while, it's clearly time for another sojourn along the ocean and this has thoughtfully been provided at Maori Beach. The most striking feature here is the illustrated rocks stacked along the beach. Tourists have left their names, or a message to mark their passing. The dry wall of messages stretches a considerable way and where something on a lesser scale might look a bit tacky, this has reached the proportions of something of a minor spectacle. A quick inventory of our gear in the car reveals that we simply don't have the wherewithall to participate in this modern tradition. We stop and manage a portrait that I have to say is quite misleadingly flattering of the general beach environment. We're happy to move along to Fox Glacier fairly smartly.

First on the order of business now we have arrived in Fox is to check into our accommodation at the Rainforest Motel. We're a bit uneasy about this after Rakiura Retreat as it does not appear to be a Qualmark property and with the high rainfall on the west coast this could be another disaster. Our fears are completely unfounded and we find that the Rainforest Motel is conveniently situated, clean, comfortable and homey. Perusing the little information folder provided we are deeply impressed at the thoughtfulness and friendliness of the hosts. We unanimously vote this the best information folder we've ever seen and we feel very welcome. Not only clean and comfortable, but at a very reasonable rate. We're more than happy with our choice for tonight's accommodation.

I was supposed to ring Ian of Okarito Kiwi Tours last night. The lost night of fatigue in Wanaka. Oops. I realise the oversight and am anxious to ring asap. Poor Ian was wondering if were going to show after all. Details confirmed, we head up the road to check with Alpine Adventures as to the status of our intended grand tour. We pull up in the car park and there is a Kereru sitting in a tree in the carpark. We see Kereru a lot. They're all over the place. We thought they were supposed to be harder to see than that. Maybe we are just overflowing with good luck!

The weather has been blowing up some cloud and it's looking decidedly iffy for our flight. The advice is that there is a band of cloud obscuring the lower parts of the glacier, but it's clear up top around Aoraki and such and the top of the glacier with all the craggy stuff you want to see is also OK. It's up to us or we can leave it and see what the weather does. Forecast for tomorrow is also a bit iffy. Having never done this sort of thing before it's a tough decision but it's mainly the glaciers we want to explore. We are advised to leave the decision until right before flight time and see how things evolve. We amuse ourselves in the cafe with a snack that included a pretty average milkshake for me. Sis and Daughter sampled the toasted sandwiches and thought they were quite nice. By the time the flight is scheduled to go conditions have worsened and there's no flying. It might open up again, and we can hang around if we like. They can call us on our mobiles, although once you get beyond the township reception can be unreliable.
..Us hang around doing nothing? .. doesn't sound likely does it. We need to be up at Okarito for the kiwi tour tonight so Sis is is keen to head towards Okarito. Daughter is massively keen to head to a Glacier for a look. Mum's in favour of visiting the Glacier too, although I warn her it involves walking and she wouldn't be able to go right to the glacier. Consensus reached we opt to go north to Franz Joseph Glacier.
It's quite a long drive into the carpark from the turn off and the road follows the path of the river running off from the glacier which lies across a very broad braided river bed. Some kilometres out from the carpark we pass a sign that says this is where the glacier came to in 1750. My God! Really. I must have been huge. I had no idea it had retreated such a long distance in that time. The glaciers advance and retreat according to the snow fall high up in the mountains. We park and climb out of the car. The weather is very dull and sort of threatening. We um and ah as to whether to take our brollies (those of us that have one) but in the end decide we'll risk it as we are with our coats. There is a pair of kea in the carpark. Just hanging out. Plenty of people around admiring them enthusiastically but noone feeding them as there are signs prohibiting feeding the kea. They're cool of course, but we want to beat any rain that might be heading in so we move along pretty smartly. It's a pleasant well made path down to the viewing area but fortunately pretty level. As per usual Mum and Sis take their own slower pace and daughter and I move along quickly to reccie the ground. I suggest that perhaps as we are well ahead and I imagine Gma will take a while to cover the distance we could duck up the Sentinel Rock walk for the "spectacular glacier views". Daughter is firm. Nah, we don't have time. Just stick to the Forest walk. Disappointed I obediently stick to the agreed route. We enjoy sweet little violets and buttercups along the path, but there's no question this walk is for one thing - getting to the glacier viewing area.

The viewing area is reached and there is a seat and beyond the viewing area a path. A tempting path. And the glacier is seemingly kms away. There's no restraining Daughter. Glacier fever has her by the throat and it's not letting go. She blithely walks down from the lookout and sets off for the face of the Glacier her mother trailing behind making feeble protestations about the distance and the time it would take.. didn't the sign say an hour and a half.. it's got to be several kms way... all these objections fall on deaf ears and with apparently glazed eyes and robotic responses of "nah, it's not that far" she is trudging purposefully ahead to commune with the icy deity.

As we walk choppers buzz overhead. So they are flying again then. No point second guessing ourselves though. We can only hope tomorrow morning is OK.

I fall a little behind taking photos of a very pretty waterfall coming down in a triple strand across some attractive boulders. I'm worried about Mum and Sis. What if it rains. Then the penny drops. Who has the car keys? Daughter was driving! Yep we've got the keys, the others are stuck in the elements if it rains. Final straw. I swap with daughter. Camera for car keys, and turn back. We'd come a long way in that time. I ford the little trickle we'd passed and trudge back past the waterfall for what seems an age before I get back to the viewing area where Mum and Sis are waiting. Daughter is nowhere in sight.

I'm a little anxious about the time, and dinner, but nothing for it but to make the best of it. We take some happy snaps of each of us in varying combinations with the glacier view behind us. Thinking daughter will be an age I borrow mum's camera and head off on a side trip to Sentinel Rock, carrying instructions from Mum to be sure and photograph the patch of buttercups along the path on the way back (see above). The path up to Sentinel Rock is fairly steep and has a number of hair pin turns in the path but in a fairly short time I'm up at the lookout taking in the information boards and admiring the view across the braided river and the glacier in the distance.

I stay long enough to feel the effort was worthwhile for reasons other than the size of my rear end and head smartly down the hill to meet up with the others. Daughter is still nowhere in sight, but mum is huffing and puffing along the path to the car park. The kea must know we have some time to kill and are putting on a concert. They are perched in likely vantage points. One on a rock by the garden and the other atop a high trunk of a dead tree fern. They take turns in calling with their lovely voices. Very easy on the ear for a parrot. We take a nice long video to record their performance for posterity. Wonderful, wonderful birds.
As we're just finishing up with comfort stops and so on (facilities quite pongy) daughter appears and gives her report on her adventures. She's taken some nice photos to show us, but says they involve a lot of zoom and you don't really see that much better from the further lookout to make it worth the walk. Definitely not for Aunty and Gma at any rate.

One of daughters favourite things about the glacier view up close was some of natures artistry where bright orange lichens and green mosses decorated the rocks.

After some continued enjoyment of the kea we pile into the car. We've got 1/2 an hour to grab some dinner. The others are optomisitic we might be able to pick something up in Okarito and just want to get there to be sure we're not late. I don't think it's likely we'll be getting anything in Okarito, but whatever. I turned out to be right...but we're not going to fade away to a shadow any time soon!

My interrogation of google maps told me that it would take us the better part of an hour from Franz Joseph to Okarito. We found this to be needlessly generous, today at any rate without much in the way of traffic. Without speeding it only took 40 mins so we're in Okarito a little early. As we drive in a pair of paradise shelducks with several ducklings is moseying about on the verge, but at our approach smartly tell the kids to get down in the rather deep and unattractive ditch that runs along the side of the road. How cute!
We explore down to the beach. It's raining lightly and this keeps us in the car so we read the signs near the path across to the sand with our binoculars.

At the allotted time we head into Okarito Kiwi Tours and make our greetings to Ian and to Paul, our guide for this evening. There's a bit of concern about our clothes. Noisy. We need to be very very quiet when waiting for the kiwi to emerge. We have a choice, maybe we have something else to change into, or they can loan each of us a polar fleece. Don't worry about possible rain, you can't view the kiwi in the rain anyway as the noise of the rain on the forest prevents you hearing the kiwi and they are chiefly located by the sound of their footfalls in the forest. We take the offered hats with fly nets, some don borrowed polar fleece, I change into my other coat. We also have torches for getting back to the car when we're done if we need them and gloves are also available.
Paul is decked out in black, with a black beanie. Sis, as she informs us later mentally dubbed him the "kiwi commando". He looked the part I have to say. I should note here that no disrespect is intended by that title in any way. After all, commandos are highly skilled professionals are they not, and getting to see wild kiwi on cue demands military style planning.

Along with us tonight on our tailor made tour - specially adapted to accommodate the frailties of our party - are a young couple who are brimming with excitement to be seeing Rowi (aka Okarito Brown Kiwi). They have done their research and are keen as #. We get our briefing for what's to happen then we drive our own cars following Paul to the car park near where we will be viewing this evening.
[#keen as = extremely keen. Kiwi's and Aussies both use this sort of phrase.. following a word with "as" is pretty much the same as preceding something with "extremely" eg "she was angry as, eh" Often seen in NZ as "kiwi as" ie "it doesn't get anymore distinctly kiwi than this" - it can save a lot of words sometimes.]

Some jollity as we put our fly nets on and laugh at how ridiculous we look. Snap some quick photos. Then we're hushing up and moving as quietly as we can manage up the path. Paul spaces us out like a rugby back row along the path. In the bush in front of us about 20 metres or so away is a pair of rowi who at the moment are sitting on an egg. As dusk falls one of the rowi will come out to feed. The female. The male can watch junior. It's a bit early now so we need to quietly get ourselves comfortable then spend half an hour to 40 mins in absolute silence listening intently. We need to adjust to the sounds of the forest so that when the kiwi's substantial footfalls begin we can distinguish them from other things. My possie is in a possum's territory, so I have a particularly challenging job as possums are noisy. If the rowi gets round me, that's it. She's gone and we won't see her. We all must work as a team if we are to see the rowi.

In position in our listening posts our vigil begins. Itchy face. I reach up to scratch. Bloody hell my coat is noisy. Should have taken one of the polar fleeces. I hear a sound. I go to turn. The noise of my fly hat against the collar of my coat is deafening. Bloody hell. That hat's just going to have to go. As quietly as I can I knock the hat down from my head. In future as I turn I have to turn my whole body stiff like a board to avoid the noise, but I manage OK. Tip, wear or borrow the polar fleece!!

One awkward moment as the young woman needs to cough. She nearly chokes as she follows instructions and heads quickly away from our listening posts to actually do the cough. We don't want the rowi realising where we are. Composure regained she returns and takes up listening duty once more.

Paul is flitting like a shadow up and down the line. He has a radio tracker. Occassionally he turns it on and listens for the rowi's transmitter. Darkness encroaches. What was that? A hand signal from Paul. We listen in the direction he points. He glides spectre like to the other end of the listening pack. Then he's gesturing us in. In almost inaudible whisper "Can you smell that?" Sis indicates a firm yes (she is well known for her sense of smell). The rest of us shake our heads.
"Rowi shit. Has quite a strong fresh smell. Not at all unpleasant. She's out and about. Won't be long now."

The time goes quickly. We are all hanging intently on every twig snap, every slight move Paul makes. A false alarm. Then suddenly Paul points with urgency just off the path. We know from our briefing this means we all move quickly and silently (keep on grass not the gravelly bits of ground) to where he points. This accomplished Pauls pointing shifts. He's pointing into the forest. The rustling is getting louder. Pauls red light goes on. THERE! She's right near the path. Right there. No mistaking it. She's rustling in the undergrowth. Then Bam. She's out. We gasp. Sis lets out an involuntary whispered "ow wow!!" before catching herself. The rowi trots purposefully up along the path in front of us then heads into the undergrowth on the other side of the path. FANTASTIC. AWESOME! UNREAL!! Paul gestures and we follow quickly to where he points up along in the direction where the rowi has gone. We continue to listen to her leisurely foraging before it is clear that she has moved off deeper away into her territory. Excellent result. Paul comes back to debrief us. "Well done team! That was perfect. The rowi had no idea we were even there. You can see from her behaviour she wasn't alarmed at all. That's exactly what we're aiming for."
On cloud nine we walk back down to the car park where we can talk more freely. We have an option. Paul is going to be continuing to monitor rowi into the night. We get a run down on the likely scenario. Paul then leaves us all in the car park to consider what we will do while he ducks across to another nearby area to see if he can get a reading on some of the other birds. All of us chat with great excitement about our experience so far. Then Paul returns. "Did you hear that" The rowi have been calling off in the distance. We did have a rowi call played to us back at base so we would recognise it, but we've let our concentration slip in our need to vent our excitement.
It's 10pm. We decide to call it a night and leave the rest of the trekking about in the forest for the young couple unhindered by the old and frail. They kept on and didn't get back to the car park until midnight, but they did see more rowi. A wonderful wonderful experience. And brilliant value too. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

We're back at the Rainforest Motel and trying to get inside quietly so as not to disturb other guests. Sis can't find her camera. No she really can't find her camera. Everyone hunts. We go inside, but later she is back out in the car hunting. I go to help. No joy. Most of us aren't concerned. You definitely had it in the car park on the tour. It simply can't be too far away. In the end we have to give up and call it a night. The camera is a mystery we will have to solve tomorrow.

Monday, December 21, 2009

NZ Sth Island - Pt 6 Milford again and on to Wanaka for a rest.

Day 13 (Friday 27th November) - Milford Deep, Milford Road and on to Wanaka

The weather is bright and clear early but by 8 am the wind is up and it's quite cold. We're checked out and on our way back down the Milford Road by 8:30. In the morning light rainbows are lighting up the lake and the countryside. We are entranced and stop for some photos.

We make a longer stop at the Mirror Lakes. The wind is rippling the water which prevents the mirror effect when we first arrive, but the birds here today are excellent! A family of grey ducks with half a dozen cute fluffy ducklings is feeding.
Several NZ scaup are diving in the crystal clear water and we watch and video them as they swim around under the water. Unique birds. I'm sure I've seen something about them on one of those David Attenborough documentaries. AWESOME!!
Then a pair of Paradise Shelducks fly in and land right in front of us, wasting no time in getting down to having a bite. Even a local chaffinch is ducking out and lightly sitting on the water plants feeding.
At long last though we see a fantail! Our first for the trip. It's doing the typical fantail thing of course, sitting on the waterside vegetation and flitting out over the water catching insects on the wing. With patience daughter manages to catch him in one of his rare stationary moments, his feathers all puffed up in the morning chill.

As we spread out along the lengthy boardwalk by the lake daughter has the good fortune to observe a robin. She was by herself at the time but fortunately managed to get a reasonable photo for us.

Having spent the better part of half an hour birdwatching the wind eases and we start to get some beautiful mirror effects on the water. The reflections of the snowy mountainsides are rippled as the scaup dive or surface. Who can resent a ripple when it's caused by such a special bird putting on a fascinating display right in front of you!

We still have a way to go and a deadline so we tear ourselves away from this delightful little spot after about 45 mins. As we drive away Sis announces that she thinks the Mirror Lakes are absolutely awesome and her favourite part of the trip so far!! I'm pleased of course. I have to admit to have been feeling ready to move on from Fiordland this morning so to be having this good a time along the way today is something of a relief.

Once again as we come up to the Homer Tunnel the weather is close and it's raining and cold. Waterfalls aplenty and as it's my turn to drive in, daughter is having a ball being able to concentrate on the scenery. She's in luck as there is even more of a display today in the rain.

We arrive at the cruise terminal bang on time for check in at 11:15 am for the "Discover More" cruise with Red Boats. We approach the desk for check in and find we have to present the credit card that paid for the tickets which seems a bit like overkill. A bit of guess work as we go through the range of potential cards I could have paid with all those months ago, but eventually the guy behind the desk hands the passes over with a smile and we head out to wait for boarding.

This cruise includes "a genuine kiwi bbq for [us] to enjoy" and as we step on board the staff greet us cheerfully and explain that the BBQ is ready and recommend we line straight up at the Bistro which we proceed to do. The lower floor of the boat is wall to wall tables and associated seating. A bit like a staff cafeteria in ambience. The array of food is disappointing to say the least. Patties of sausage meat - very hard and unpalatable, another tray with sausages. Limp chicken legs that looked like they'd been steamed.. Several salads, some kumara, some ocra and of course bread rolls and butter. While it's not terribly appetising to look at we each take a sample of various things and settle down at our table. Well. There's nothing else to do but report that the food was absolutely horrible. The general consensus was that the sausage was probably the best of it. I had skipped the chicken but others reported that wasn't too bad. My bread roll seemed OK. Having tasted, most of my meal was left uneaten. The bread rolls others went back for when they found they didn't want to eat the rest of their food were dreadful too. As any bread bakers out there would be aware, if you prove the dough at too high a temperature, and/or if you leave the bread proving too long, the gases in the bread go off and impart a really yucky flavour to the bread. I didn't eat another roll, but when my companions reported that the bread was inedible I was puzzled and had a sniff. Yep. Overproved. Geez. That takes the cake.
On return to Australia I did find an email asking for feedback on our experience on this cruise. Good to know that the operation is keen to know what we think and we can only hope that they do something about that food. We found it hard to believe that the food presented was a "genuine kiwi bbq" ... of course we're sure there are operators in Australia palming off horrible rubbish to tourists as genuine Aussie bbq too. Disgraceful. I mean sure, serve dreadful food if you want to, but why bring the national reputation into it?

Looking at the website it also says that we would be drinking pure glacial water on the trip. However when on board, while there was free tea and coffee there was no sign of free water anywhere. If you wanted a drink of water you had to buy the bottled stuff from the kiosk which we thought was a bit poor. More so now I read that we were supposed to get glacial water to drink.
On the up side, Red boats gave us some written information to back up the commentary and they had a table of interesting reading and reference material for passengers to use..and their website does tell you to bring your cozzie for the waterfall drenching LOL.

As we pick over the food, we head upstream to see the areas of the fiord we didn't cover the other day. We see the fishing fleet mooring area and sand fly point where the Milford track emerges. Not particularly memorable and I can understand why other cruises give this area a miss. In other respects the cruise commentary and the route were similar to the Real Journeys cruise. I preferred the ambience and facilities and overall experience on the Sinbad though and if I were heading out again, I'd go with Real Journeys.

In full on rain and mist it is a different mood in the Fiord to our previous visit here and we enjoy the cruise and revisiting the local wildlife. Once again we score the trifecta - Fiordland Crested Penguins, seals and dolphins. We're certainly having good luck with the wildlife!

We pull into the wharf at Milford Deep Observatory. We're curious as to what we're going to be able to see due to all the rain and advice from a number of people that when it's raining the visibility is poor and you don't see anything. Daughter however is not discouraged and reminds us all that lots of people think the sorts of things we are looking forward to seeing is not seeing anything and they probably just mean you can't see off into the distance.

Daughter was absolutely right. Around the windows of the observatory they have attached small platforms and on these they have collected creatures to establish a community of coral, sponges, worms and other things. The platforms can be moved up and down for cleaning the viewing windows or to keep the creatures out of the thick layer of fresh water that sits across the top of the fiord. There are a range of cool fish hanging about and all sorts of tiny creatures which no doubt daughter and Mum could name, but it's outside my area of expertise. It's interesting to me too but can take it or leave it. However this is so far up daughter, Sis and Mum's alley it's just not funny. They could stay down here for hours just waiting for some tiny sea slug or something to wander across a rock. Towards the end the local leatherjackets Bruce (?) and his other half come past. A more characterful fish you would be hard pressed to find and the tour guide tells us some amusing anecdotes about this couple. We were among the first group to go down (to give mum the longest time for climbing up the stairs) and once again she copes OK. Fortunately the up flight is separate to the down flight so her slow ascent doesn't bother anyone coming down. As we climb up the staircase I notice a number of gadgets for testing the salinity which also have a thermometre attached at the salt water level. 12C. I'm still wondering if the fresh water layer - which is several metres deep - is colder.

It's windy and raining and the hillside across from the Observatory is streaming with water as we wait to reboard for the short final leg of the cruise back past the magnificent Lady Bowen Falls.

We are back at the terminal by 3pm and I'm anxious to make a quick getaway as we have a long drive ahead of us. As we queue for Homer Tunnel several kea are loitering about and entertaining us with their antics chasing after the apple being offered by some of the vehicles.

We take our run through the tunnel and find half a dozen or so kea in the car park on the Te Anau side. YES!! We pull over to spend some time with them. Daughter extracts an apple she's been carrying around in her bag and offers small slices to the kea who has landed on our mirror and is poking his head in the window in expectation. He's got his leg in the car and looks like he's about to topple in if we're not careful.
We spend about half an hour entertaining and being entertained by the kea. Surely one of the world's most charismatic birds. They can seem quite drab in plumage if they are just sitting quietly, but whenever they fly you get flashes gorgeous orange red and metallic bronze and green. But no matter how they look, their intelligence and personality are their most striking feature.
After a bit of practice and several reasonable shots, I finally get the timing just right and get one of the kea with wings extended that we are thrilled with. HOWZAT!!

Once again we tear ourselves away. It's about 4pm and we have a long way to go. No further stops possible along the way today and we are very glad to have had taken the opportunity to explore the Chasm and the road down to Hollyford on our first Fiordland day. We stop to fill the petrol tank in Te Anau before Sis takes the wheel for her driving stint. We are very glad to have three drivers along. It would have been impossible to set the pace we did without the ability to change drivers regularly and nap in the car between stints.

The stunning scenery continues as we head north. We travel along yet another marvelous scenic road along Lake Wakatipu. We are suffering quite badly from scenery fatigue by now though. Daughter announced early in our time in Fiordland that when she comes back she plans to make it quite a short trip because as the trip goes on and scenery fatigue sets in, it becomes harder and harder to be impressed. You are faced with one jaw dropping spectacle after another and in the end you just aren't doing them justice. Dipping in and out for a week at a time seems a practical solution when you live just across the ditch.
As we drive along the winding road around beautiful Lake Wakatipu, I find myself wondering what it must be like to be a south islander. Do you stop noticing the beautiful paradise all around you like I did growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? I remember taking the kids back to see where I grew up and, having not been back for some years, driving around the boulevard with sweeping ocean and lake views near my childhood home and actually seeing, I think for the first time, the beauty that had kept my father entranced his whole life. And the time we took the kids on a ferry ride one christmas eve on Sydney harbour and again, having not been into the city for quite some time, actually seeing and appreciating the stunning beauty of Sydney harbour. It is such a loss to have one's eyes clouded to the beauty around you every day. Do these winding and magnificently scenic roads become just a slow irritant in the need to get from A to B? Like the guy we met just north of Kaikoura who was whingeing about the road north along the coast from the town? We hadn't noticed any problem, but he was terribly frustrated by the slowness of the traffic with a truck that was passing through even though he was only jaunting up to Nin's Bin for fun. We are indeed fortunate to be able to travel and come home with freshened eyes.
Another stop for fuel just out of Queenstown and we finally remember to purchase a recharge for the phone.
Along the way we pass a field with some dwarf cattle and coloured sheep. We're really enjoying the different varieties of sheep here. Many of which are very different from what we see at home, which I guess isn't so surprising given the very different climate. Daughter does her grandma a favour and hops out to take a portrait or two. The sweet little guys come over to her expectantly. We wouldn't dream of feeding a farmer's sheep without permission, but it's a shame to disappoint them. They soon figure there's nothing doing and lose interest.

We arrive at the Moorings on the lake in Wanaka just before 9pm when reception closes. We unpack our luggage into our 2 bed apartment and pause to admire a stunning sunset across Lake Wanaka. It was a beautiful sky, but I'm not so sure the sunset setting on the new camera really gives completely realistic colour.

We settle in, daughter and I upstairs, Mum and sis downstairs to try and minimise the impact on bung knees, back and lungs. Daughter hops in the upstairs shower to freshen up before bed while the rest of us are talking and organising stuff downstairs. I hear dripping coming from the bathroom. I'm curious, and of course being Australian conscious of potential water wastage. I open the bathroom door and there is water streaming out of the halogen downlight in the bathroom. A quick call to reception and our host is over. Fortunately there is another 2 bedder vacant and although I would be fine with staying put and just using the downstairs bathroom, Sis is a bit freaked by the whole water/electricity thing and so we opt for the change. Our host helps us with our luggage etc and is appropriately apologetic. Oh well, these things happen sometimes. We laugh at the luck to have had halogen downlights pouring forth water again. Same thing happened to us in Adelaide recently! Go figure.

I'm sure people can imagine how exhausted we all are tonight as we fall into bed once more.

Day 14 (Saturday 28 November)

We are absolutely buggered this morning#. We've been going like the clappers for two weeks, our restful couple of days on Stewart Island notwithstanding. Our time in Wanaka has been reserved as some potential down time so although I've researched a few options we have no set bookings. Turns out just as well. Boy do we need a down day!!
[# For international readers in Australia and NZ "buggered" is not an offensive term. It just means we are beyond serviceable. In this case due to being extremely tired.]
I always wake early and this time I spend a few hours lazing in bed watching TV as the Sis and daughter watch 21 with Kevin Spacey on pay TV and mum potters about doing who knows what. I on the other hand opt for some extremely interesting and entertaining kiwi TV. Now I may have the programming order muddled but first I watched Ground Rules a gardening show. I'm a bit of a gardener myself, so this was an interesting insight into gardening life across the ditch. Then "How Clean is Your House?". The answer to which turned out to be "not at all". This show has a couple of cleaning advisors with pursed faces and filth held at arms length in gloved hands, talking plainly to a young Auckland couple about the state of their dwelling. This was very funny. I love the distinctly kiwi humour.. kiwis have an absolutely brilliant dry sense of humour.. my favourite quote from this program, delivered absolutely dead pan in semi hushed narrator voice after a pile of mess was moved revealing a small fridge "They may be members of a fridge worshipping cult. There's fridges everywhere". Cracked me up. At any rate and as I'm sure the unfamiliar can guess, the wizzes work their wonder. The hygienically challenged young parents return and have seen the light and we get a follow up visit where we see what a good job the young couple are doing with some trouble shooting advice for areas where standards are slipping. Most entertaining...
Next in the line up I enjoy Country Calendar. This time about long line tuna fishermen working out of Paihia. We learned about the strategies being employed to avoid unwanted fatalities in sea birds, specifically albatross, and this particular operations efforts to develop Tuna Gold. A health product they sell at the markets in Kerikeri on Sundays (we must keep an eye out for that when we're there).
Another amusing program followed a british chap as he set up a B&B in France somewhere. He goes through all sorts of bother and he's just about right to open when he is awoken pre-dawn by the blood curdling screams of chickens being slaughtered en masse in the nearby chicken farm! You can just imagine the patrons of the B&B coming away for their idyllic country break to be awoken by that. I did feel for him, but honestly separated by half a world of distance and total lack of personal financial involvement I laughed so hard!! You had to see the funny side of it. I imagine he'd just have to find out when slaughter days are and not book anyone during that period. Oh dear!!
Finally I drag myself out and head off on my own for a walk along the lakeside. There's a lovely kids playground complete with dinosaur slide. Great big fish you can feed from the pier near the i-site. I'm tempted to buy some food for them right away but figure the others would enjoy it too, so I'd better just let them know and we can do that later. I check in the i-site for what's showing at the cinema paradiso. Nothing tempting. Then it's off to explore a few souvenir and other shops, which all seem more expensive than other places we've been. Finally a stop at the supermarket for milk and cheese and a few other basics before walking "home".
Late morning we drag our weary bones out to the car for a drive up towards Mt Aspiring. This is a bit of an iffy exercise due to the terms of our car rental but we're keen to sus the drive out and maybe find somewhere for our picnic.
It's great to hit the dirt again and as always we very much enjoy an encounter with a nice herd of cattle that are on and along the road. We pass one or was it two pretty waterfalls which appear to involve a bit of a walk. We've seen SO many waterfalls though and exertion of any variety just doesn't attract any enthusiasm, so we leave those to the folk whose cars are parked there.

We come to the first ford across a fast flowing creek. The water looks deeper than would be sensible under the circumstances. Seems there are a lot of people who thought similarly and there's quite a lot of parked cars on the Wanaka side.
As we sit taking in the vista for a while a car approaches full of young people. They pull up before the water and get out. Then wander down to the river for a good look. They consider for a few minutes then the driver hops back in the car while the others wait and makes a dash through the water emerging up the far bank to cheers from his companions. The water came pretty high up the wheels. We're not up for that I'm afraid especially given being on this road at all is risky given our hire contract. We turn around and head back to town.
Once again we enjoy some beautiful views across the lakes which in the bright sunshine thismorning show a rich blue that is beautifully complemented by the yellow lupins along the road. I still can't get over the way in which the weed flowers coordinate with the rest of the scenery wherever you go.. These yellow lupins wouldn't look nice with the blues of Lake Tekapo and the blues that grow up at Lake Tekapo would be a bit lost here against the deeper blue of Lake Wanaka. I'm going to pay attention to this issue at home also. I'm wondering if this is some sort of deep intelligence in nature.. now I think of it, I don't recall seeing jarring weed flowers at home either.. though I guess with the more muted palette at home the chances of a clash is much less.

The route back to town takes us along tree lined streets of elegant stone houses. The whole town exudes an atmosphere of quiet prosperity. An alpine resort. A haunt for beautiful people. This effect is even more so when we get to the town and find that great crowds of people have emerged to enjoy the warm weather. The lake is full of bathers who are jumping off the pier and swimming within an area which is roped off, we presume, to provide a clear demarcation to motor boats who might be out and about. So much for feeding the fish now. They've made way for the laughing and leaping youngsters. Daughter and Sis head off into town on an errand and to photograph the dinosaur slide to show Sis's grandchildren and Mum and I head back to the Moorings for something before meeting up back near the i-site and heading off to seek some dinner.

It's Saturday night and we have no reservation. Always a tricky situation and sure enough Missy's Kitchen is closed for a private function and Botswana Butchery is fully booked so we end up at Trout along the main drag. Here, after yet another excellent bread course this time of garlic bread with balsamic reduction, I dined on lamb rack with mint and kiwifruit sauce accompanied by a side of way too peppery mashed potato. Daughter once again opted for the blue cod and this was quite acceptable of course, but everything is in the shade for her after the steamed cod from the Kai Kart on Stewart Island. Sis had steak I think, but my notes are quite sketchy on that particular point.
Mum mustn't be as picky about cheesecakes as the rest of us and decided to try the baked lemon curd cheesecake for dessert. It was OK for a baked cheesecake which is not really my preference. I had the chocolate pots which were very nice and Sis went for the Creme Brulee. This was old and past it's best. The custard had separated some and the toffee was soggy. It got sent back. They tried again but that was not better so it also went back but we opted for no replacement. It's time we retired for the night. Tomorrow we're off to Glacier Country.