A Loop through the North

We headed up the east coast to catch up with friends at Kaikoura. A walk along the shore showed how the shoreline has changed when it was lifted by a metre in the 2016 earthquake. We continued to the north west past the vast vineyards in the Marlborough region and across to the Cobb Valley from where we set out on an overnight walk.

We started under clear skies but the cloud quickly rolled in and we completed the day’s walk past the atmospheric Lake Peel in fog. It lifted for a moment and we were pleased to see the hut appear. We were dismayed to arrive and find that there was no longer gas supplied to the hut so we had to light the stove. It did an excellent job of heating water but it also heated the hut which we didn’t need. A family arrived in the late afternoon and shared their gas stove with us so we didn’t have to warm up the hut. We decided to head out the next day and were pleased to have beautiful weather with the bonus of fog in the valley.

We made for the west coast to revisit Wharariki Beach with the attractions of sand dunes, photogenic islands, caves and seals.

It was then time to start back southwards and after a night near Nelson Lakes where we were swarmed by sandflies it was good to head up to Arthur’s Pass where the shelter ensured we could hide from the much reduced numbers. After visiting the spectacular waterfalls we headed inland. I was hoping to walk through Cave Stream but as I waded in and it quickly became apparent the cold water was going to be at least waist deep I chickened out and we just visited both ends of the cave.

Staying at Lake Tekapo gave me the opportunity to photograph the lake and famous Church of the Good Shepherd in pleasing light though I couldn’t escape the crowds.

We then moved on to Mt Cook where we set out on the Hooker Lake walk in good weather. Unfortunately as we headed up the valley it started to haze over and we soon realised we were once again under smoke from the Australian fires. With rain in the evening it cleared for a clearer view in the morning. We also had our closest encounter with keas as they had a lovely time trying to pull an awning to pieces.

One last night at Arrowtown and a stop to watch the drama of the Shotover jets and we were on the plane back home.


Walking down south

After the other visitors had left us we picked up a small camper and were free to camp as we pleased. I finally got to stop and photograph some picturesque ruins I had spotted on our numerous trips up and down Lake Wakatipu then headed for Mavorra Lakes, a locals’ paradise, and we soon found out why. There were two lakes with a river between and lots of beautiful scenery.

On our way to the Divide to begin our walk into Howden Hut where our daughter is the summer ranger, we stopped to enjoy the scenery along the Milford Rd. A rainbow showed off the end of the showers and the many places to pull into along the road provided lots of varied scenery, mossy forests and reflected mountains.

It was a misty walk into Howden Hut which showed off the mossy forest to perfection. As the weather cleared in the evening Jess and I ducked up to Key Summit so she could clean the toilet and make sure the puddles were draining properly. It was my first visit of three over our stay, seeing the panorama in different light every time.

Rather than make the trip along the Routeburn Track on our day trip which we had walked before, we headed off along the Caples Track to Lake Mackellar and then up a well-made, gentle track to Mackellar Saddle. Back at Howden Hut we enjoyed the changing light over the lake as the sun lowered.

With the clear skies, Jessica and I headed for Key summit for sunrise and were well rewarded. As Ray and I walked out we also headed up and I saw it in full sun with blue skies – the postcard shots.

Five days after we left New Zealand Fiordland had a massive flood that knocked out roads and stranded many people. Howden Hut was hit by a landslide in the middle of the night but luckily there were no major injuries to the 32 people at the hut though the hut is written off. Jessica was not on duty and has now been relocated to repairing infrastructure on the Milford road. Here is an article about the ordeal.

We joined Jessica, who now had 6 days off, at Wanaka and walked into Aspiring Hut while her husband was on a canyoning course. It was an easy walk through farmland to the hut but the heat and lack of shade made it seem longer. Unfortunately the side trip to the impressive Rob Roy glacier was closed so we just had to peer through the gap.

We had two days to explore so we chose the easy options while Jessica climbed high. While we walked to the head of the valley she climbed 1000m to French Ridge Hut and then once back in the valley ducked up to Liverpool Hut, only 600m higher. It was our turn to climb the next day as we headed up to the tree line on the Cascade Saddle track. Naturally Jessica climbed all the way to the saddle!


Dunedin to Wanaka

We had time to ourselves before picking up our son and girlfriend and delivering them to the airport. We headed for the east coast beginning with Moeraki Boulders as the tide came in. a visit to Kapiti Point saw us miss out on seeing yellow-eyed penguins as we did last time but lots of sea lions and a nesting colony of gulls.

Dunedin is full of beautiful, granite buildings, especially the railway station which is the most photographed building in New Zealand.  Tunnel Beach was made by a father excavating a tunnel through the soft sandstone to a beach to provide a private beach for his daughters to swim.

We had a last night in Wanaka before dropping the young ones at the airport. We made the most of our visit with fish and chips from a van and a visit to the famous Wanaka tree. The next day it was over the amazing road across the Crown Range.

A belated Christmas

As Jessica and Nick were in NZ for Christmas we decided to join them with the family. They were working on Christmas Day so we all headed over for the New Year. We flew into Queenstown and drove down the lake to stay the night as the tourist town is so expensive.We took a side trip to Glenorchy the next day before finding our historic accomodation at Bannockburn Post Office.We awoke to find the fires from Australia had caught up with us in the form of smoke. We could smell it in the orange haze as we read the papers and kept up with the heartbreaking news.On this day we visited a couple of old gold mining areas – Bendigo with deep shafts into the hillside and Bannockburn where all the soil had been sluiced out by water to find the gold.Next destination was the Catlins where we wished we could send some of its rain back to Australia. The showers alternated with sunshine but we managed to stay dry on all our walks – mostly to waterfalls and the coast. Cathedral Cave did get us wet though as we tried to sneak around the corner as the waves rushed in.A night at a lighthouse was our final night together as we stayed in the keeper’s cottage overlooking the impressive location of the light.

For another viewpoint please read my daughter Sara’s blog.



We finished walking and  headed towards Christchurch to dispose of our van and fly home sooner than we expected. We passed by Maruia Falls, created by an earthquake in 1929 that caused a landslide which filled the river channel so the river was forced to find a new way. We briefly stopped at Hanmer Springs and then carried on down to the coast.

We placed our ad on the internet and then diverted to Banks Peninsula to drive out to Akaroa, a small touristy village with a huge cruise ship in the harbour. We mingled with the tourists who were being ferried ashore in the lifeboats to wander the street or join a variety of tours. We sat on a seat by a cricket match to enjoy  our lunch where Ray scored a duck in his lap trying to join the feast. He then almost got taken out by a cricket ball but the wicketkeeeper was more worried it was going to hit the ducks.

We stayed in a campsite by the beach  and then returned to Christchurch to find we had replies to our ad. We ended up spending a week in Christchurch as the first buyer wanted an AA check and that took time. The deal then fell through as he wasn’t happy with what was found so we moved on to the next interested person and had it finalized after two days. Meanwhile we visited the ghost town that is central Christchurch. We were surprised that after four years not much has happened. There are lots of empty spaces and new buildings are beginning so builders are the main people there. Most of the buildings still standing were fenced off and empty. It was sad to see the cathedral minus its bell tower and front while they debate starting again or restoring. However there’s an interesting temporary (could last 50 years!) cardboard cathedral (only some of the fittings are made out of cardboard, not the structure.) At least the Botanic gardens were still full of people.

It then just remained to fly home leaving drizzly Christchurch where the mountains were the only places escaping the all enveloping cloud and return to sunny Australia.

Nelson Lakes

We  returned to Nelson Lakes after bypassing it early in our trip due to heavy snow on the mountains. We came down from Arthurs Pass and visited Carew Falls near Lake Brunner. A huge storm had gone through in Easter bringing down vast swathes of trees and the track was still not officially open but it was cleared enough for us to get through easily.

We detoured from our path to visit the famous Hawks Crag in the Buller Gorge. It’s a tight fit for trucks and buses.

We arrived at Nelson Lakes to find there was still snow on the high passes but Ray still wanted to do a walk so we decided to walk in and out to Blue Lake. We thought we had found a beautiful, previously unseen NZ bird but it turned out to be somebodies abandoned pet – a Mandarin duck – very striking and unable to breed with the local birds.

Our first day turned out to be hut too far. We walked to Speargrass Hut on a rough track with lots of tree roots to carefully clamber over and a half hour steep flood detour so we arrived after three and half hours. After lunch it was then another five hours to the next hut (we took five and a half) with lots more roots, two large detours around areas where huge areas of trees had been brought down by the Easter storm and a tricky climb down to lake level. We arrived exhausted at 6.30.

We thought we had an easy day the next day – five hours and 13 km up the Sabine River. It drizzled most of the day and we ended wet and cold, the streams needed fording so our feet were soaked and we took six and a half hours. The hut was very welcome and Ray got the fire going so we could dry off. The next day was a short trip to Blue Lake but when we set off again in the rain, we found the  side streams quite high and lots of them so decided to retreat to the hut. During the afternoon a group from Auckland Uni arrived up the Sabine river track having waded through waist deep streams. After a break they continued on to Blue Lake. We are not that gung ho! (No pictures – too wet!)

The rain finally stopped and we set off for Blue Lake in the sunshine on our fourth day. The river and streams had all dropped and were easily forded though I would hate to have gone through some on the previous day. We had to cross a large snow bank that half crossed the river but luckily it was easily traversed. Blue Lake was just reward for our efforts, shining bluely in the sunshine with the clearest fresh water in the world (scientifically proven). We climbed up to look at Lake Constance above.

We strolled back down to West Sabine Hut enjoying the sunshine and the views.

Heading back down the Sabine River without the rain was much easier so we covered the ground more quickly and enjoyed the walk. Neither of us were looking forward to the walk back to the car so we accepted an invitation from the uni students to join them on the boat ride down the lake and they would give us a ride back to our car. We had to pick up half of their group from a hut on the other side of the lake where they had joined a hunter whose prowess was on display.

We still wanted to walk to Angelus Hut but the weather was turning again so we decided to retreat for a while and return in the sunshine. After admiring the huge eels that lived under the jetty at Lake Rotoiti we headed north to Motueka. A DOC pamphlet introduced us to the Cobb valley area and we decided to head there. We followed a hydro road up to a manmade reservoir high in the mountains. We camped beside the river and took a day walk to Lake Peel, a lake in a dramatically carved, glacial valley. We then walked to Sylvester Hut, only five km but taking us up to 1300m where we had patches of sunshine and blasts of snow.  I  lost Ray there as he managed to walk past the hut which was 50m off the track and he had his head down as it was snowing.

We arrived back at Lake Rotoiti to forecasts of sunshine for two days – long enough to get to Angelus Hut and back. We had to return along the ridge as the valley was closed for helicopter drops of poisoned baits. We climbed the zigzag path that took us above the tree line. From there we walked along a narrowing ridge as the scenery got more and more amazing and dramatic. We had to sidle some parts and gradually had more snow to deal with though it was all soft. When we thought it couldn’t get any better we dropped down to Angelus Hut, nestled beside two lakes and ringed by dappled snowscapes.

The fog rolled in before sunset but cleared during the night for me to creep out and take pre-dawn and sunrise photos. The clear skies meant that the snow froze so we had to take it very carefully until the sun melted it. Luckily there were footprints  frozen into the snow to make it safer and there was a lot less snow on our return along the ridge. One part had us sidling belong a rocky ridge above a steep snow slope and we were very pleased to be across it safely. It was then a pleasant return tramp on one of our most dramatic walks.

The Southern Alps

We arrived back at Wanaka with good weather for our walk to Aspiring Hut. We camped at the start of the walk and were treated to the sight of the full moon rising above the mountains and then a lovely sunrise the following morning. It was a nice gentle nine kilometre stroll through farmland beside the West Matukituki River with lambs gambolling and mountains rearing their snow topped peaks above. We planned to climb a ridge for views the next day so we ducked up another one on the afternoon we arrived. After two hard hours uphill we popped out of the trees to find a magnificent view spread around us. We could see up and down the valley and at the head was the sight of Mt Aspiring flanked by other mighty mountains. The next day turned out to be cloudy so we just took a short stroll to a waterfall with a snowbank beneath it. The warden told us we’d had the best view anyway.

We stopped off at the clay cliffs at Omarama on the way to Mt Cook and explored this naturally occurring eroded landscape.

As we approached Mt Cook the weather was clear so we decided we had better do the best walk that afternoon. This was the day walk up the Hooker valley crossing three swing bridges and ending at Hooker Lake, below Hooker Glacier. We had the bonus of numerous icebergs in the lake and ice washed up onto the shore. The weather stayed clear for sunset but clouds started to roll in the next morning as we climbed to Red Tarn.

With the weather turning we left Mt Cook and headed north via Lake Tekapo and the popular Church of the Good Shepherd where we competed with busloads of tourists for the best photo vantage points.

We arrived at Mt Somers and packed for a three day walk on the roadside. We arranged to be dropped at the start of the walk. The first day we climbed up beside  Woolshed creek which became more and more gorge like as we ascended. We ended at the hut surrounded by rocky peaks and impressive canyons which we had leisure to explore after our five kilometre walk.

We explored the water caves the next morning which was just an area where the creek went under big boulders. It was then a climb up to a pass with views of the mountains. We sidled around the valley to the next hut perched on the mountain side with The Pinnacles, a magnet for rock climbers, above us. We had the fire going and stayed cosy and warm as it started snowing outside to our excitement. It turned the scenery into a wonderland though it quickly started melting once it stopped snowing.

Another snowfall before dark meant we had a good covering in the morning and we walked carefully until we dropped below the snow. This day was the hardest despite again only walking six kilometres. Once we dropped down beside the river we were clambering up and down over rocks, roots and ridges and our pace was slow. We were pleased to arrive at the tourist path to Sharplin Falls and an easy end to the walk.

We were aiming for Arthur’s Pass but made a number of stops along the way. First was the Raikaia River,  blue water between white cliffs. Castle Hill is an area of limestone tors much loved by rock climbers but also an attraction for tourists. We walked around admiring the rocks until a fire started and smoke drifted across. We thought it was planned but when the fire brigade arrived realised it wasn’t. Finally we went to Cave Stream with intentions of wading through the hour long passage but when we met two wet adventurers who had been through in waist to chest deep freezing cold water and then found too much pouring down at the top so they had to return, we quickly abandoned our plans and just visited both ends.

At Arthurs Pass we were disappointed to find high rivers put most of the walks out of our reach. There are few bridges here and tramps all ford streams. The only one within our abilities didn’t sound as interesting so we contented ourselves with climbing Avalanche Peak , just above the village.  We climbed above the trees but stopped soon after as we hit the fresh snow line. We were happy with the great view we received. Devils Punchbowl is an impressive waterfall. We headed on westwards crossing the Otira viaduct, built to bypass a tricky bit of road bedevilled by slips. At the lookout stop we were suprised to find a kea poking about under our car. As we saw what was in his beak and all the rubber seals scattered on the ground we quickly left before our car was disabled!


Southland took us away from the mountains but still provided plenty of interest. We did our usual disappearing down caves and tunnels by visiting Clifden Caves. Unfortunately this one beat us. Ray didn’t like the squeeze and stopped. I went on but not all the way as we met people coming out who said it was too deep. We tried from the other end and climbed down a ladder where I could hear a waterfall but it got too tricky. Our trip through Tunnel Hill on an old railway line was much more sedate and successful.

The coast was very varied as we visited a picturesque harbour with baches ( New Zealand’s version of holiday houses), the graveyard for the obsolete boats from The Bluff oyster fleet, a petrified forest, a blowhole that was 200 metres inland and didn’t blow but the sea surged in impressively, a lighthouse on a rugged rocky point and lots of panoramic views.

The Catlins is famed for its wildlife and the chance to encounter seals, sea-lions, penguins and dolphins up close. It didn’t disappoint as we stumbled on sea-lions on the beaches, saw seals frolicking in the water, spied yellow eyed penguins returning from the sea (though our close encounter with penguins had to wait until Moeraki) but missed out on Hector’s dolphins.

Waterfalls are the other famous feature of the Catlins and I wasn’t disappointed. We saw the well publicised and magnificent McLeans, New Zealands answer to Liffey Falls – Purakaunui, and lots of other less well publicised gems that sometimes took a bit of finding but were worth the effort.

As the bottom end of the island dips into the Roaring Forties the plant life has to adapt to the gales that regularly blow. We saw some very windswept trees down south.

Tunnel Beach near Dunedin has an interesting history. Apparently a fond father dug the tunnel down to the beach to give his daughter her own private place. Now it gives tourists a thrill and great scenery.

We then headed up to Dunedin where we toured  the town in the rain. The railway station was the standout with its grand architecture. We also visited the Otago Peninsula for more coastal walks.

I’ve always thought Moeraki Boulders looked fascinating and now I’ve finally seen them. We visited them in the drizzle and then I returned for a less than spectacular sunrise.

It was then back inland again as we made our way back to mountain country with a stop off at historic St Bathans, a ghost town now with a lake formed by the goldmining and surrounded by mountains with fresh snow. It even dropped more on us while walking around Blue Lake in the form of hail that turned the ground white.

Mountains and Lakes

We moved from the west coast to the southern lakes area where there are lakes galore surrounded by high, snow-capped mountains. Everyone says this is a highlight of New Zealand and everyone is right. We began at Wanaka, a quiet town on a large lake ringed by mountains providing great opportunities for dramatic sunsets and sunrises.

We took advantage of the good weather to venture further into the mountains, driving up the scenic Matukituki valley to the track to Rob Roy valley. We then followed up this valley across a landslip with a huge rock still hanging precariously above  to the point below the headwall where we could admire towering views of the glacier hanging above and dropping chunks of ice. Next to this was a high waterfall dropping metres straight down into the valley. We sat with the other walkers eating lunch and being amazed at the spectacle.

Another day, another walk. This time we climbed a small hill for a panoramic 360 degree view of lake on one side and mountains on the other. Such a great reward for not too much effort. We moved across to Queenstown area, skipping quickly through the crowded tourist town to find a delightful campsite by a little lake ringed again by mountains. We took a walk that we had done previously with our children 10 years ago and enjoyed so much we repeated. It led to a little cabin  used by a miner and preserved as well as a delightful stream with a number of waterfalls.

We drove down Lake Wakatipu and past Glenorchy to stay at Kinloch with a wonderful view of a dramatic sunset across the lake. We then took what could be our hardest day walk yet. It was only about 8km but we climbed over 1000m in that time. The track began by gently zigzagging and then decided it would never get to the top that way and straight up the side we went. Just when we were breathless, the trees abruptly stopped and we were scrambling up through grass, across scree and clambering up rocks to finally reach the ridge top. It was then a gentle amble to the high point apart from the screaming, ferocious wind that threatened to blow us off again. Was it worth it? Of course because we got the most fantastic view! The Rees and Dart valley on either side draining to Lake Wakatipu and snow covered mountains disappearing into the cloud at the other end.

We saw some different gold mining areas. Bannockburn was mined by sluicing away the alluvial gold leaving a denuded landscape reminiscent of Monument Valley and Bendigo was reef mining with vertical shafts all over the place including one monster that went down 200 metres. The miners used the rocks they dug out to build their houses, sometimes beautifully crafted without the use of mortar.


We found out that the Fiordland Great Walks could be walked before the end of October and we would only have to pay $15 a night instead of $54. We would have to do without flush toilets and gas cookers but we normally do without those things. There were also a couple of bridges removed from the Routeburn that were in avalanche paths but it was too good an opportunity to miss so we headed for Te Anau. We stopped to admire the brave or foolhardy people who were bungy jumping on the way and then took advantage of the many DOC campsites in the Eglinton Valley on the way to Milford Sound.

We were waiting for good weather to begin the walks and got a bonus of a beautiful day at Milford Sound. We drove in and enjoyed the perfect reflections but didn’t bother with a boat ride. We instead took a walk to a hanging lake perched in the mountains.

We knew we had a miserable day to sit out before a good run of weather to begin the walk. Lake Gunn provided a contrast in moods from one day to the next.

We had a glorious day to begin our walk. We climbed up to Key Summit which gave us a view down into three different valleys and across to lots of different mountain ranges. We then sidled around one of the ranges underneath Earland Falls and dropped down to Lake Mackenzie, a beautiful green lake studded with moss covered rocks, ringed by forest and with unique mountains reflected in its calm surface.

Another clear day greeted us for out big day climbing over the high point of the walk. We began by climbing up above the lake and then sidled high up the Hollyford valley side to Harris Saddle. This led to the large Lake Harris before we descended to the top of Routeburn Falls overlooking the steep drop to Routeburn Flats.

A red sky presaged a change in the weather. We rushed to get back across the pass before the rain and managed to make it back to Lake Mackenzie in time. We were heading back to overcome the 360km difference between the two ends of the walk. The cloudy and foggy weather caused a different focus on the close view and the alpine plants as the dramatic views of the previous day were hidden. Lake Mackenzie looked very different in the rain.

The last day brought us better weather again and the surprise of ice at Earland Falls wherever the spray had hit.

We had a grand meal out in Te Anau, showers and washing and then set out again on the next day to walk the Kepler Track. Luckily the first day was very easy as we followed the river and then the lake shore through a beautiful beech forest, sometimes carpeted with moss and other times a sea of ferns.

The second day saw us following a valley upstream through more forest and across side streams, often a path of destruction during rain storms. We came to a lovely hut on the edge of the forest and walked to where the burn tumbled over a cliff side.

The next day was the high point of the trip, literally and figuratively. We climbed up through the forest to an icy ridge and then climbed it on a series of steps before we continued along the tops with our track sidling the high peaks but giving us glorious views. The snow covered mountains gradually emerged from cloud and we could see an arm of Lake Te Anau far below. The alpine plants were beautiful and even the toilet at the shelter had a grand  view.

We arrived at the hut that was perched on the tussock covered hills with a superb view and windows to take advantage of it. A side trip took us to Luxmore Cave and a visit from a clowning kea capped off the day.

The sunrise was beyond beautiful with the valley below being filled with cloud and the golden grasses gradually coming alive in the morning sun, all overseen by snowy peaks. It was a shame to leave but the weather forecast promised change and we hoped to be off the mountain before then. We steadily zigzagged down past the limestone cliffs to arrive at a serene Lake Te Anau. The afternoon rain cause it to lose its placidity but it was restored the next morning with a fresh coating of snow on the mountains including over the Kepler Track, by now far above us.

The Wild West Coast

The west coast lived up to its reputation most of the time for us with rain, drizzle and wind but we managed to get good weather in the right places.  We headed south down the coast visiting lots of old gold mining areas because we can’t resist all those tunnels. The first one was one of the best, the Charming Creek walkway, which followed an old rail line that had been build through a wild gorge. We had tunnels, old machinery and to cap it off a superb waterfall.

We timed our visit to Pancake Rocks with high tide and they performed for us in the rough seas. We followed a walk up a canyon and visited some of the local sights – Truman track leading to a colourful curved cliff and a huge sea cave that used to be used by the maoris. We revisited Pancake Rocks at low tide in better weather but not performing well.

The wild  weather causes the sea to create lots  of foam which is rich in nutrients but also is fascinating to watch as it gloops its way onto the shore and flubs over rocks. Another pretty waterfall and then a visit to a secret beach as recommended by our guidebook and only able to be accessed at low tide. It gave us lots of sea stacks, holes in rocks and arches and as the tide retreated, rock shelves covered with huge mussels and clusters of starfish.

More gold mining tunnels, tailraces dug out by hand that were 10 metres deep and a recreated site where NZ’s worst mining disaster occurred with the loss of 67 lives in 1896. We visited Hokitika where their sign was looking a little lopsided. It is the home of jade (greenstone) carvers on the coast and we took a tour but only saw someone putting holes in pieces. It also shares its name with the river which slowly flows through a gorge giving it a chance to show off its amazing turquoise colour even in the rain. The rain also caused Dorothy Falls to thunder though they quickly dropped overnight with no rain.

We finally had good weather in the morning when we were at Franz Josef glacier so we quickly made us dash to Lake Matheson to catch the almost perfect reflections. The clouds started coming over again soon after as we visited the two glaciers. We found the less visited Fox glacier much more impressive as we got closer to the snout and didn’t have those annoying helicopters flying overhead delivering tourists to their glacier walk.