Middle Earth – Week 2

Day 8 – Wednesday New Years Day 2014 – Wellington to Kowhai Point on the Wairau River West of Blenheim

Our first night of “free” camping beside a river with lots of rocks.

Woke up reasonable early, had breakfast and packed up. Left for ferry about 7:50, due there by 8. It only took 5mins to drive there to join about 5 queues of cars, campers, bikes and trucks of all shapes and sizes. Loading was very fast and we were soon upstairs in the bistro area tucking into bacon and eggs. Unfortunately as we were some of the last to board all the good seats had gone but G&S found us some seats in the cafe were I ordered coffee whilst Karen went off exploring.

Got my coffee and went exploring as well and found my way outside. It was windy but not raining so I stayed on deck whilst we steamed out of Wellington harbour. As expected the views and scenery were fantastic and I stayed out for most of the trip even in the rain!

Karen, Siobhan and I were on deck when we docked in Picton until called back to or vehicles. Unloading only toog about 10-15mins and we were soon driving out of Picton heading for Blenheim. We were undecided on which route to take but settled on Blenheim to Westport rather than Nelson. We wish we had done Nelson in some ways but the trip through the mountains was amazing. We soon found ourselves following a huge river with mountains on either side and more of the spectacular NZ scenery.

As we were all exhausted from NYE celebrations we decide to stop early in a campsite next the the river and have an early night. The campsite was basic with a long-drop toilet and not much else that cost us about $21 (DOCS set a small fee for all their campsites). Campsite was Kowhai Point on the Wairau River West of Blenheim.

We explored the river for a while which was so bloody wide. We scrambled over the river stones to the water which was scary as it was flowing so fast. We had seen a graveyard up the road with a number of gravestones for people who had drowned in the river. I would love to see it in flood.

Got to bed about 9:30 after watching the rest of LotR1.

Day 9 – Thursday 2nd January – Wairau River to Ross 

I appear to have lost a day here with no notes.

Day 10 – Friday 3rd January – Ross to Geraldine via Arthurs Pass

 Poured with rain most of the night. Slept much better after taking Celebrex and Panadol and sleeping on the sofa bed.

 Mountains covered in cloud again but clear out to sea for a little while. I love the view of the mountains to one side and the sound of the sea on the other.

 Poured with rain most of the morning as we breakfasted and showered and packed. Drove up to the iSite office and did all the toilet emptying and water refilling, etc. Spoke with the ladies in the shop who told me that the Haast pass was closed again during the night due to the earlier landslip[ which killed two people. It was still closed and the weather was really bad as well so it was unlikely to reopen. Also all glacier tours were cancelled so there was no point driving further South and we made the decision to turn back and cross via Arthurs Pass instead. There were warning for this as well but only for strong winds and rain. Left around 10am.

 And boy was that the right decision. Words cannot describe that crossing through the mountains. High peaks, some with snow, lots of huge land slips and a massive river with waterfalls. The viaduct and the avalanche refuge was a highlight. How do you describe the refuge? It was like a tunnel over the road but open on the low side. Huge concrete supports and a huge concrete roof. Water flowed over the roof and down to the river. Then next to it a huge concrete culvert, like a ski jump channeling water over the road in a huge waterfall. Quite impressive.

 Stopped at Arthurs Pass township for a sandwich and a cup of tea in the van then on again. It didn’t get any easier on the eye. It changed and was not quite as rugged as the first section but peaks still reached over 2000m. Numerous stops on the way to take photos.


Day 11 – Saturday 4th January Saturday – Geraldine to Queenstown

Another good nights sleep, very tired! Got packed away, into Geraldine to fill up and off to Queenstown.

 Through Fairlie to Lake Tekapo, our first view of a glacial lake. What a fantastic colour the lake is, apparently due to ground up rock particles in the water. Once again the scenery is becoming spectacular, with once again mountains everywhere!

 Then we come around a corner, and there it is, Mt Cook! Not just a mountain but the biggest mountain in NZ (3754m) and at the end of a huge, blue, glacial lake, Lake Pukaku! What a photo opportunity, the lake is huge, the same glacial lake blue and the mountain at the far end and lots of snow! At 3754m it is a wee bit higher then Kosciusko at 2228m! Damn these Kiwis! Of course it is surrounded by lesser mountains but it completely dominates the range.

 We hope to drive up there to get a closer look but may run out of time.

 Onwards from here as it is getting on and we need to reach Queenstown today. So through Twizel, a lovely looking place with an Alpine feel to it, through Omarama to Cromwell, then the final stretch through Arrowtown and Frankton to Queenstown. But NZ hadn’t finished with us yet with the final stretch through the amazing Kawarau Gorge. This is one of the great rivers for rafting and jet boats which roars through a narrow rocky gorge with mountains on either side. It was also the set for a few LotR scenes including River Anduin and Pillars of the Argonath. We stopped briefly at the old cable bridge and site of our first buggy jump!

 So into Queenstown, and through the centre of town up the hill and into the camp ground.

 Not the best camp ground so far. Very commercial with the camper vans and tents jammed in tight. I tried to get into the first slot and clipped the van next door. Eventually they moved us to a slightly better spot and promised to try and keep the next door slots free. The problem is that the roadways are too narrow to allow the manoeuvring of the vans.

 Settled in, plugged in power and put everything on charge then walked down the hills into town.

 Queenstown is huge with lots of shops, restaurants, bars, clubs and even a cinema. There is a long jetty with various boats including the steamship Earnslaw and more eating places and even a casino. Being a ski resort it is built on the slopes of the mountains surrounding Lake Wakatipu. Beautiful really although tough work to walk around. You can see some of the ski resorts in the distance and there is even snow on some of the higher peaks.

 We ended up in a bar where we ordered beers and 4 x $15 steaks all rare. Not a bad meal at that price. Gareth went off to meet some Russian girls he met on the ferry and we headed back to bed.

 Weather not too bad today, it cleared up as we headed South West and the sun was signing when we got to Queenstown.

Day 12 – Sunday 5th January – Queenstown

Rain most of the night, quite heavy at times but woke to sunshine. There is of course some cloud around the mountain peaks but a the moment its not too bad. Karen and I went for a walk about 8am up too the gondola to check prices then down the hill to the lake and town. Took lots more photos of course. A slow morning today as we don’t need to go anywhere today.

 Walked into town and explored. Nice coffee down at wharf and wandered some more. Fish n’ chips for lunch at a very nice little shop with great service from the guys that run it.

 Wandered some more then back to camp. Karen and I then went off to the supermarket for more fun.

 Gareth sick with a cold and S & KA complaining about it too.

Day 13 – Monday 6th January Monday – Queenstown to Te Anua

Up reasonably early today as we had to check out of the camp. Went into town about 10:30. Got a coffee and wandered some more around the shops. At 12 we went and had lunch at a place offering $10 lunches and we had burgers or soup. Nothing special but a sit down table service lunch for $10 is pretty damn good.

 At 1:30pm we sent S & KA off for a horse ride and G went back to the van for snooze. I wandered around town then went for a walk around the point to get a different perspective on the town and the lake. A beautiful walk.

 Back into town at 2:15 to meet Gareth at the movies to see “Wolf of Wall Street” with Leonardo di Caprio. It was good but went on and on. I eventually checked the time and realised it had been running for 3 hours and we were due to meet KA&S at 5pm, 1/2hr earlier. So we snuck out and went on search of them only to get e message that they were running very late! G & I went off to Pogs Irish pub for a Guinness while we waited. I think they eventually got in at about 6:30pm. So we rushed back to our camper van and headed to Te Anua. It was a lovely drive but it took 2hrs and we didn’t get there until 9:30 and were completely exhausted so we ate fish fingers and went to bed!

 Raining again today on & off, and especially later in the evening.

Day 14 – Tuesday 7th January Tuesday – Milford Sound

Te Anau – Up early, around 6am for our Milford Sound trip. Eventually got everyone else up but the bus was late so no problems. Eventually left the cap site about 7:50. About 15mins into the trip and we had had enough of Curlz commentary. She was very boring, dry & droll and kept getting it wrong and repeating herself. G was going crazy and was ready to get out and walk until at last we left the farmland and entered the National Park.

 The drive in was amazing with the beech forests slowly changing to mountain beech with moss and ferns everywhere. Stopped at Mirror Lakes which were broken thanks to the constant rain but still beautiful. More amazing mountain views with a lot of snow. Saw numerous results of avalanches, both rock and snow even some remaining dirty ice from snow avalanches.

 Reached the Homer tunnel and waited for the lights. The tunnel is fascinating as it was mostly cut by hand so it is very rough and ready and slopes down gradually. When you come out the end the view is amazing as usual with a steep drop down Milford Sound. Both ends of the tunnel have avalanche shelters in the form of strong open roofed structures extending from the tunnel mouth.

 Down we went Milford Sound which was everything you would expect. A busy little port/town with numerous tour boats, limited accommodation and temporary shelters for the Milford Trap trampers while they wait for their transport.

 Boarded our boat the Milford Mariner, a 3 masted coastal steamer. Very spacious and comfortable and a well stocked bar and cafe with continuous free tree & coffee. The food and drink was also reasonably priced and the staff very good.

 We cruised for 2.5hrs right out to the mouth of the sound with the next stop Hobart! A bit of a swell in the mouth but they had a couple of sails up to help with the motion and stability, The sound is of course beautiful, with steep cliffs most of the way rising to over a 1000m. Plenty of snow on the tops. We even had some dolphins riding the bow wave and some seals on the rocks. Because of the rain their were hundreds of temporary waterfalls as well as the usual 3 big permanent falls which were pumping due to the heavy rain. The rain hardly stopped whilst we were out but that didn’t dampen anyones spirits and plenty of people went out on the bow when the skipper steered the boat under a couple of the larger waterfalls. The spray, noise and wind form these was incredible,

 Lunch was a sandwich and lots of hot, steaming coffee through the trip. Hundreds of photos and some videos.

 So Milford Sound lived up to all expectations and more. The views were fantastic, seeing all the snow capped mountains was great and the waterfalls due to the heavy rain added to it as well. Once again, cold, wet and windy and we all loved it. G even found his Russian girls on the same cruise and then found a guitar so he was very happy!

 The drive back was good as well as we stopped a couple of times to look at things. First we stopped at the Eastern end of the tunnel to see the views and look at the remains of a small glacier at the top of one mountain. Then on to the Chasm a huge natural channel through the rocks with roaring water and a beautiful walk through the forest to get there.

 I can’t say enough to express how much I enjoyed the trip, well worth the trip to NZ just to see this and I will be coming back one day, maybe to walk the trail.

 Not so good when we got back with Karen & Siobhan quite sick form the cold and Gareth tired and still recovering from his cold. I walked into town along the lake to do some shopping then we all snuggled down under quilts to watch LotR The Two Towers and then bed.

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