Wednesday, 23 November 2011

New Zealand Tour, 21st September 2011. Franz Josef Glacier.

The plan today was to get on to the Glacier in the morning and then drive up The West Coast in the afternoon. We had seen a Heli Hike advertised with The Helicopter Line and they had a half day tour leaving at 09:30.  It was an expensive option at NZ$395.00 each, but due to time constraints we decided to go for this tour three hour tour so we would be finished at 12:30.
 We arrived at the office on the corner of Cook Flat Road and Highway 6 on time and having been weighed on scales were led across the road to a converted container, (we saw containers used for every thing in New Zealand) where we were fitted out with waterproof trousers, coats, socks, walking books and ice crampons. This last item worried me, why did I need crampons to fly up to look at a Glacier? The pilot advised us where to sit in the helicopter and then it was a short flight to the top of the Glacier. On the ice, our guide briefed us about  walking on the glacier, advising us what to do and what not to do, it was at this point that I realised this was not just a helicopter trip up, a quick look round then helicopter ride down, but that this was a walking tour on the glacier itself. The crampons would be in full use, and indeed they were. Our guide spent a full three hours guiding us through ice caves, pinnacles and formations. Showing us the extraordinary colours of the ice, and best of all hearing the ice creak and groan as it cut through the rock. It was an amazing experience, and our guide was outstanding.

Despite my trepidation, I soon got the hang of walking with the crampons on and really enjoyed myself. The trip took well over 4 hours in total so it was rather later that I had planned when we left the small township of Franz Josef bound for Greymouth.
We did drive down to Okarito as the lagoon here is the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand and it is famous for its White Heron, the lagoon was large and we did not have time to do this destination justice. This was the same for the small town of Hokitika where we filled up with petrol. We arrived at Greymouth late in the evening and checked into The Greymouth Seaside top 10 Holiday Park, the location of this park was good, it is on a lovely stretch of beach facing the Tasman Sea. The camp has mixed accommodation, from simple camp sites for tents & campervans, cabins, studio units, and small apartments. There was a jumping pillow, playground, large TV room (with sky) BBQ, kitchen, laundry and a games room. As with all accommodation in New Zealand we were asked what kind of milk we wanted upon check in, and given a pint full fat or low fat milk.  Just another good thing about this lovley country.

New Zealand Tour, 20th September 2011. Wanaka to Franz Josef Glacier

The weather today was perfect, cold but sunny, the air crystal clear, I felt like visiting Milford Sound again so that I could see it on a perfect day. Many companies run flights from Wanaka to both Doughtful and Milford Sound and the cost is a lot less than in Queenstown. Instead, due to time limits, the plan is to drive towards The West Coast towards Franz Joseph Glacier, about 250km away.
Following the SH6 we passed through Albert Town following the Hawea River. According the tourist literature, Queenstown is livelier than Lake Wanaka and Lake Wanaka is livelier than Lake get the picture. If you do want a holiday spot nestled in spectacular Alpine Scenery, with a very laid back atmosphere and a magnificent lake all to yourself then Lake Hawea is the place for you. The Lake is a deep blue, as opposed to Lake Wanaka’s turquoise, at one point, called ‘The Neck’, this is the narrow isthmus separating the lakes, you can see both lakes to compare the colour of the water in them. Magnificent!

We followed the Makarora River towards the Haast Pass. The Haast Pass Drive has a lot of rain forest and waterfalls. Firstly we stopped at Blue Pools, here there is a short walk over a swing bridge to a fenced viewing point looking over a very deep, very blue, glacier fed, crystal clear river with large Brown Trout in it. A little further on was a short walk to the Fantail Falls. Thunder Creek Falls was next and full of tourists from a tour bus. This was followed by Roaring Billy Falls and a waterfall that is not signposted from the road, Depot Creek Falls. 

At around lunch time we got to the Munro Beach Track, this was an easy 45 minute walk through thick and very cold rainforest to the west facing gravel beach. The elusive Fiordland Crested Penguins live on this beach, but we were too early in the day to see them.

Munro Beach
The Coast Road, or SH6 was spectacular. Along with the tour buses we stopped to take photos at Knights Point, Bruce Bay, Maori Beach and finally Lake Matheson. Lake Matheson is 5KM west of the Fox Glacier township and famous for reflecting a near perfect image of Aoraki Mt Cook. it is a tiny lake, well protected from the wind, its brown waters are very still, so provide a perfect mirror for the mountains above. Here you can walk round the lake to get the best view of Mount Cook Tasman reflected in the lake. The walk is an easy one hour circle round the lake. Late afternoon is the best time of day to see the view and that was when we arrived! we were also lucky as it was a perfect day.
It was getting late as we drove through the town of Fox Glacier towards Franz Josef Glacier Vally Track. Here we walked to the edge of the Glacier and I was not particularly impressed with what I was looking at, a pile of very dirty ice!

It was late when we arrived at The Rainforest Retreat. This large campsite has 56 gravel sites for Campervans, as well as Cottages, a Lodge and a Motel. It has an on site Bar, Restaurant, camp kitchen, TV lounge and toilets and showers. For the amount of campers on the site there were not enough Toilets and Showers (the men’s were in a porta-cabin) and the Kitchens were very busy, as was the Hot Tub. Also, this sounds daft, but the campsite is, as its name states in the rainforest, and the rainforest is very cold, so the campsite was cold. I did not really like it, but cannot tell you why!
To end the day we went to the Glacier Hot Pools complex and relaxed in the pools. It was the end to a fantastic day, the weather had been kind to us and we had driven through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen.

Monday, 14 November 2011

New Zealand Tour. 19th September 2011, Dunedin to Wanaka.

For the third time in 2 weeks we hit Highway 8, heading first to Balclutha, driving South on part of The Southern Scenic Route out of Dunedin. This took us from Dunedin City through the sleepy seaside towns of Ocean View, Brighton and Taieri Mouth where we rejoined Highway 1. Then we continued on what was becoming a familiar route for us, up through Lawrence, Roxburgh and Alexandra. At the town of Cromwell, named after Oliver Cromwell and located on the shore of Lake Dunstan.There is a display of a giant fruit salad, an Apple, Peach and Nectarine (I think), please enlighten me as to why they are there? We turned left towards the town of Wanaka. Passing the Puzzling World attraction, with its giant 3-D Maze and The New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum and its display of war aircraft on the way.
Once again we were surrounded by spectacular Alpine scenery, and although quieter and more laid back than Queenstown, the town was busy, full of skiers and snowboarders relaxing in the late afternoon sun. Wanaka is close to the Cardrona ski fields. The Cardrona and Treble Cone ski fields are suitable for both beginners and experienced skiers, there is cross country skiing at Snow Farm as well, if it’s your thing. Wanaka was beautiful, with its crystal clear lake and snow-capped mountains, my camera was on overtime and the photos don’t do the place justice. The atmosphere is almost beach like and in the summer the lakefront beaches are busy with people swimming and relaxing. It was cold but sunny today, ideal for walking, so that’s what we did.
We checked in at Aspiring Campervan Park, this was a 5 minute drive from the main town of Wanaka, it had grassy sites and a good view of the lake. This was a really good campsite, with under floor heating in the bathrooms. A spa and sauna. The large log burner in the lounge / kitchen facility made it very homely. It also had free Wi-Fi, always a bonus.

Wanaka is a lovely, laid back, relaxing place and I would like to visit again in the summer and get to know it properly.