Monthly Archives: November 2014

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.