Early start this morning. Not because we wanted to, but today New Zealand moves to daylight saving so we are now 3 hours ahead of Brisbane. Day was forecast to be clearing during the morning and a fine afternoon and that is exactly how it panned out.
First up it was Christchurch to Geraldine. We didn't take the road less travelled today, instead it was straight down the quicker highway across the Canterbury Plain before turning west to meet the inland route to Geraldine. For the first time since getting here, the drive took on a different outlook. Primarily dairy and sheep farming, the Canterbury plain is the largest flat area we have seen over here. Around 50 - 60 klms without a hill or the backdrop of the mountain range to the west.
With the temperature hovering around 9 degrees, we stopped for coffee and a look around the town. Checked out some shops, the bakery and some Sunday morning market stalls before heading on through Fairlie and Burke's Pass to Lake Tekapo. This area is called MacKenzie Country and in Fairlie we came across a sculpture of a man and dog which turned out to be one James MacKenzie. It appears he acquired some land in the area and was required to stock it. He acquired 1000 head of sheep from a station by nefarious means and was apprehended by the station overseer. He escaped, was recaptured, tried, imprisoned and escaped and was recaptured a couple of times. Having brought some notoriety to the area, pioneers began calling it MacKenzie Country. The name stuck and became official. Though a bit of a rouge, he obviously became a folk hero like Ned Kelly and there are also streams, streets, business and other things named after him.
Lake Tekapo is a lovely spot with a little stone church built in 1935, still in use and right on the shore of the lake. The congregation must have trouble concentrating and the backdrop to the altar is a full width window looking out onto the lake. The town also has a sculpture of a Collie dog in dedication to the pioneers and the dog that helped develop the sheep industry.
From there it was westward until we skirted the southern end of Lake Pukaki. Interestingly, there were times while passing through this area when the dryness and sparse vegetation was almost like western Queensland. We then headed north for about 55 klms along the side of the lake with Mt Cook and the associated ranges directly in front for the whole drive. Really picturesque.
After settling into the motel, we went for a drive and then walked/climbed up to a spot overlooking Tasman Lake at the base of the Tasman Glacier, the longest glacier in New Zealand. Broken off blocks of the glacier floating in the lake looked like small icebergs. The end of the glacier is at the northern end of the lake and while the last couple of hundred metres of the glacier are dirty and brown, the white of the fresher snow was clearly visible toward the snow line.
It is forecast to drop to to minus two degrees tonight so we'll see how we survive to travel to Dunedin tomorrow.
Late rise by the clock, still getting used to daylight saving. Headed south toward Twizel following the same route we came up yesterday. I doubt the temperature fell to -2 overnight but even though it was obviously very cold this morning, there was no wind so the temperature in the sun was quite OK. From south of Twizel we headed towards Omaru on the coast via Omarama, Kurow and Pukeuri to Oamaru.
With a couple of photograph stops on the way, we were out of the car with wind having picked up. Quite cold with that wind. Smoko in Kurow out of the wind so not too bad.
On the subject of smoko, most days we look after ourselves for smokos and lunch. That means finding a rest area to do all the things necessary at such a stop. This subject is the search to solve the greatest New Zealand mystery we had failed to solve before Kudrow: Find a rest area that has all the essentials, a toilet, a table, and a sign that actually shows where it is. We have found some that have two of the three but I think only the one that had the lot. For example, you see a sign the says Rest Area 400m. Might even show a picture of a table. But that's it. No sign when you get to it, you have to work that out for yourself. Easy to spot you say, no, the rest area could just be a bit of gravel with nothing to show it is a rest area, the promised table may not even be there. A public toilet. Not in roadside rest areas unless it is the rare portable over a hole in the ground. In town, sure if you can see the small sign half way up the electricity pole. The same sign issue goes for the brown tourist signs. A sign 4 - 500 metres before a turn off but no sign for the actual turn off; (Is this it?, where is it? was that where we were supposed to turn?)
Between Omarama and Kurow you travel past two big dams that form part of a hydro-electric scheme. The dams are so close they almost seem like one continuous water storage.
After Kurow we stopped near Duntroon to view some Maori rock art. Not that spectacular but the sandstone rock formation was impressive even with the warning of risk due to potential rock falls.
South of Omaru we stopped at Moeraki to view some boulders that are on the beach. These boulders are spherical and of varying size, just on the one part of the beach and believed to have been created 60 million years ago and uplifted and subsequently rolling onto the beach.
Working our way south still trying to find a rest area, detoured to a little place called Shag rock. A breeding area for seals and shags. Spotted a few shags flying around and feeding and a few seals. Wind was threatening to blow us off the bank and into the water and the toilet was the old portable with the hole in the ground so it was a couple of photos and back on the road where we saw a local Albatross. We found a public toilet in Waikouaiti and it must have been fate as the local area map showed a scenic route through Karitane that we weren't aware of. After lunch at a rest area that at least met the table requirement, we took the route and were rewarded with a magnificent view across a beautiful double bay. Well worth the detour.
Into Dunedin about 4:30 and into our B&B then a bit of city centre exploration.
Another beautiful sunny day, probably the warmest day we've had so far. The morning was spent doing a bit of shopping for souvenirs then a walk through the art gallery. After an inspection of the art we headed for the lookout we had read about within the gallery. Apparently it doesn't exist. We read about it in some brochure and so must have others as the receptionist had been asked about it before. If you come over and read the same thing, it's not true.
While wandering around the city we snapped off a picture of the railway station, claimed to be the most photographed railway station in the world, so we had to add to that. Then a picture of the Law Courts building across the road to help its photo tally. I'm not sure who is keeping count though. This walk resulted in an unplanned encounter with the Cadbury factory so we had to drop in there and try the local fare.
Then it was off exploring, first to the Signal Hill lookout for a view of the city to put it in perspective. Terrific view of the city and the Otago Peninsula where we were heading shortly. On the way to the peninsula we went via Baldwin Street, claimed to be the steepest street in the world. Drove up it, it was steep going up but even better coming down.
One the way out to Taiaroa Head, a sea bird nesting ground at the tip of the peninsula, we stopped off at Larnach Castle. More a mansion than a castle, it was built in the 1880s by Larnach for his wife. He called it "The Camp". He later added a ballroom for his favourite daughter. Unfortunately it wasn't a lucky place as the daughter died, he had financial problems and committed suicide in 1898. The buildings are now fully restored together with the gardens and is quite a serene spot with great views over the harbour and peninsula. Apparently Larnach, his wife and daughter are all still there haunting the building.
At Taiaroa Head, nesting season is in full swing and although there were no Albatross about, there were plenty of seagulls and shags.
Back to town for a fish and chips, (fush and chups), dinner where the fisherman owns the shop and the fish and calamari are just so fresh. Met up with a couple of guys from Nelson and ate tea with them and had a good yarn. With the exception of one girl the other night, everyone is very friendly. The girl the other night was seriously in need of a personality transplant and then training in how to actually use one.
Early start tomorrow morning as we have our longest drive day, apart from the day on the bike, and we seem to be travelling slower as we stop at more and more things.
On the road and heading out of Dunedin by 7:30. Had to get our B&B host up early as breakfast is usually at 8:00am. Travelled down the scenic route that follows the coast line, nothing in particular planned but a couple of places suggested. The first was Nugget Point lighthouse. Found the turnoff, had to go back to it though. No distance mentioned so couldn't be far. After a few klms, we came to another sign that said 16klms. With little time to spare as we had to be in Te Anau before close of business, we decided that seeing we had already come a distance, we may as well keep going. Didn't check the mileage though. Next sign turned us onto a gravel road, can't be far now! About 6 kilometres later we actually spotted the lighthouse in the distance, rethought it and again, almost there so keep going. This had better be worth it. Stopped for a photo session with a seal on the beach. Finally reaching the parking area near a locked gate, found a location map. 900 metre walk. You have to be kidding; no time for that. A few quick photos and head back to the main road with a short stop at a vantage point where we could get a long distance shot of the lighthouse. If there was any wildlife to see there, well, that's life.
Continuing on with the lost 50 minutes on our minds, the next proposed stop was abandoned. Looking out for a couple of waterfalls, each seemed to be at the end of a 20 or 30 minute walk, no way. Finally found one that was a bit more promising. Sign says 3 klms. Away we go and almost immediately onto a gravel road again. Oh well, if we have to drive in 3 klms, the parking lot should be pretty close to the waterfall. Yeah, I know I'm a slow learner. 40 minute round walk. Back on the road and I suddenly thought of a song that goes "Don't go chasing waterfalls ........". Great, we found a nice park in a little town and had smoko. That made up for some of the morning.
We were now heading along the southern coast closing in on Invercargill. We had planned an hour or so there as I wanted to visit and view the original Bert Munro's "Worlds Fastest Indian". Had planned to visit Curo Bay to view some fossil forest of which there are only three in the world. Only visible at low tide though and we knew that was a long way off so that went by the wayside as well. I was now wishing that I had used one of our Christchurch days for one at Invercargill.
By this time,Therese is reminiscing about the time, forty years ago when she and a girlfriend did a trip to New Zealand. She had recently looked at one of the photos from the trip where they were under a sign that pointed to the South Pole, London and a whole lot of other places. Into the Information Centre and the local Museum to get directions to Bert's Indian and also where the sign was and whether it still existed. Low and behold it did, about 25 minutes south at Bluff, the most southerly point of the South Island. As the museum also had a Bert Munro display we quickly checked that out and then went to Hayes Hardware where I knew the original was displayed together with some other motorcycles and cars. What was going to be a quick visit quickly changed. What a great collection of bikes and cars, all displayed around the shop between the hardware items. Absolutely brilliant and worth the visit. Quick run down to Bluff for the treasured photo and back on the road with a probable 4:30pm arrival time, give or take.
Nice drive alongside the mountain range and maintained time with the GPS and into Te Anau and at the booking office at 4:30. Sign on the door. "Business Hours 7:30 am - 8:30pm". So much for the rush.
Settled into a nice B&B tonight, big room, big bathroom and kitchenette. Called Shakespeare House and we are in the Romeo and Juliet suite so anything could happen. Arriving early actually meant we had a chance to relax and I even washed the car to remove the deposits made by a seagull yesterday. It must have wanted to buy the car I guess.
Great weather again today, hopefully same again to Milford Sound and back tomorrow. Snow forecast for Friday when we leave, but then again, today was supposed to be rain.
Going chasing waterfalls again! After a great breakfast cooked by host Ray, we got an early start for the 2 hour drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound for the 10:30 tour. Good road all the way up to the top of the range but there were warning signs out for the road to close at 5:30pm due to expected snow. Sunshine again but with high rain cloud over the mountains. Problem here was that instead of the clouds coming down to us, we were going up to meet them. By the time we reached the top and started down into Milford Sound, the light showers had started. The downhill run starts with a one-way tunnel hewn out of the mountain between 1935 and 1953. A long time with numerous problems from snow melt through the fractured rock to avalanches that killed three men during the construction. This tunnel is mainly unlined with the rough hewn rock on display in the headlights. A steep descent drops the road down to the sound.
The tour of the sound was an enjoyable experience even though there were almost constant rain showers requiring us to break out the ponchos to keep some of the water off. The most impressive part of the tour is the massive size of the sides of the sound. Had to put everything into perspective when you are looking at it against a 100m mountain. For example, looking at Stirling Falls, it doesn't look that impressive until you realise it is 155m, that is higher that the Niagara Falls, the height of a 50 story building. The steep rock faces continue down into the water and with the boat about 30 metres from the edge, there is already 160m of water under the keel. The sound is about 350m deep.
Wildlife includes NZ Fur Seals, penguins, albatross, dolphins and numerous other birds and fish. The highest peak in the sound is Mitre Peak, towering 1682m above the sound, one of the highest in the world to rise direct out of the water. The peak is on a fault line and has a crack running from bottom to top. In the earthquake 3 years ago, one side moved up 500mm.
While the drive up was quick and relatively traffic free, not so the home journey. There would have been 20 buses there by the time we left with massive crowds. Buses on the steep climb over the range resulted in a slow crawl in many places, at least we were lucky enough to catch the green light to the tunnel both ways.
Once closer to Te Anau, the weather cleared to fine and sunny with the high clouds of the morning. A stop off at the Mirror Lakes, more like ponds than lakes, beside the road was remarkable, not for the claimed reflections which were actually missing due to the breeze disturbing the surface but for the crystal clear water allowing us to see to the bottom of the water and see the fish swimming around.
Back to the unit, and I'll again tell you how great the Shakespeare House accommodation and host is, then down to a wonderful little Italian place for dinner.
Tomorrow we are off to Queenstown for two nights. The B&B there is going to have something to live up to.
Rain overnight and cold this morning. For once the weather forecast got it right, snow down to 600 metres so there was a dusting of snow on the mountains around the lake. I didn't mention that we are right beside Lake TeAnau, the largest and deepest of the New Zealand lakes. After another fine breakfast we set out for Queenstown with the rain just starting again. The weather continued like this almost all the way and on one occasion we were actually driving through a snow storm. These things add excitement to the day, especially as the car is fitted with Crosswind Linglong tyres. True. The snow fall of last night was so even in the height to which it had fallen appeared as though someone had drawn a line along all the mountains and said "No snow below this point" .
Travelled through the town of Mossburn which claims to be the the deer capital of New Zealand. Was a bit worried about that claim for a while as we didn't see any deer in the immediate area however further up the road there were quite a few farmed herds in a short space of time.
Stopped for smoko at a nice little town called Garston. Only a small town with a hotel, school and a small population but appears to be proud of its history and people.
The final part of the drive follows the shore of Lake Wakatipu. Very nice drive and at times the mountains looked quite eerie with the low cloud blocking out the lake and the mountains.
Booked into the motel with views of the lake and mountains then for a walk to the city centre for some more souvenir shopping. Caught out in the open in a sudden flurry of snow but it didn't last for too long and we were able to seek some shelter in a nearby doorway.
Could be a cold night but the room heaters work very well and you don't realise the temperature until you walk out of the rooms. I think we are starting to become acclimatized to a degree as over the past week, on the few occasions that the air temperature reaches above 15 degrees, it starts to feel hot.
Today started with low cloud cover but no sign of rain or snow overnight. We took a drive up to Coronet Peak, a close-by skiing area to have a look at the snow. Very steep drive up the mountain, 1649 metres and we drove to within 3 - 400 metres of the top. A light flurry of snow as we arrived but otherwise sunshine until we were leaving. There was snow on the runs and people skiing but it is the end of the season and as there was no snow on the mountain around the ski area, it was obvious that the snow was man-made with the snow machines permanent fixtures along the ski slopes. Still, something different.
Back down the mountain for a drive around some other parts of the town and out along the shore of the lake.
The rest of the day was spent finalising the souvenir shopping, Taking a break then picking up some things so we can do a bit of self catering over the next couple of days at Fox Glacier. There comes a time when a break from buying meals from restaurants might be a pleasant change although dinner last night at an Irish Pub was pretty good.