Sunday, January 31, 2010


The last part of our time in New Zealand was in the southern mountains and fjordlands, said to be the most spectacular part of the South Island.  It, like the rest of the country, delivered.

The drive from Wanaka to Te Anau was half dry alpine desolation and half pastoral farmland.  The mountains above outside the town of Queenstown are called the Remarkables.

The view down toward Queenstown.

Te Anau is situated on a lake of the same name.  It is the largest body of freshwater in all of Australasia, according to the boat captain who took us out on the lake and to the local glow worm dell.  We hiked inside a twisted limestone cave and took a handpulled boat into the darkness to observe the little glowing worms.

The lake is totally pure and drinkable.  It is surrounded by pristine primeval forests on almost all sides.

The town itself has some interesting architecture.  This little number above was right in our path when walking into town, and we passed it half a dozen times.  Each time I obsessed a new horrifying detail, and the end of our time in Te Anau, I think I actually began to enjoy appreciating what an abomonation it was.  Something like a 1980's McDonald's morphed into a 4,000 square foot family home.

One thing I have to give the hideous house, and the entire town, was their gorgeous flowers.  This Dahlia put mine to shame.

We rose early one morning and headed to Milford Sound (with, we found later, barely enough gas to make it there and back... we coasted into Te Anau at the end of the day on fumes).  Besides that minor stress, the drive was tremendous.

We climed higher and higher into the mountains.

Finally we came to a tunnel bored into this mountain side.  We emerged on the other side looking strait down into Milford Sound.

We took the required boat tour of the sound.  Here are two 4,500 foot peaks that plunge directly into the sea.  Notice the seemingly tiny 500 foot waterfall emerging between them and falling into the sea below.  Milford Sound and its surrounds are big, impressive sights to say the least.

Those 4,500 foot mountains are small fries compared to Mitre Peak, a 6,000 foot mountain that towers above the sound, and surrounding clouds.  It is impossible to understand the scale of the things around you as you cruise the area.  We were told if a person were hiking on the top of the smaller mountains, such as the one in the previous pictures, you would not be able to see them with the naked eye.

As we headed back into the head of the sound from the Tasman Sea, we saw some fur seals sunning on a rock.

Here is that 500 foot waterfall up close.


Our trusty, if empty, Corolla station wagon on the way back to Te Anau.

On the way back to town, just off the side of the road, are the Mirror Lakes.  These are oxbow lakes cut off from the nearby river.  They are crystal clear and very dramatic.

Where do you go to see dramatic nature after you have been places such as this?

Saturday, January 30, 2010


We left Hokitika in a fog, which soon cleared as we continued down the coast.  We drove through stunning countryside, into forest and beside crystal lakes into the village of Fox Glacier township.  After a little back and forth, we decided to splurge on a helicoptor tour of the Fox Glacier.  Adventure sports and the like, we discovered, are cheaper in New Zealand.

In the helicoptor tour waiting area was an art gallery.  Here are The Doors on some doors... think about it.

Anyway, up we went.  I can't say much, other than... well... it was intense.  Take a look.
We soared into and over the valley of the Fox Glacier, over toward Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman, over serveral other glaciers, deep into the Southern Alps.  We landed on a snow field nearly 10,000 feet up, walked around a bit and then flew back down grazing snowcapped peaks, rainforested mountain tops and glacial riverbeds.  It was magical.  Total awe.

We recovered our senses, and continued on.  Here is a spot on the coast just north of the town of Haast, before the road turns inland.

I wish I had better pictures of the drive between Haast and Wanaka, because it was perhaps the most remarkable change of environment I have ever seen in such a short drive.  In the period of an hour and a half we drove along temperate rainforest coastline up into a river valley with even more magestic forest framed by snow capped mountains.  The road was trimmed with waterfalls and huge stone cliffs.  It was indescribable.  Just then, it all opened up, the trees vanished, and we were in a landscape of desolate scrub around a totally glass-clear lake.

We stopped in Wanaka, on the shores of Lake Wanaka, for a couple nights.  The town had a jocky, Colorado feeling, and some good food.

Lunch the following day was a great lamb burger.

After lunch, we went for a jet-boat ride up a nearby river toward Mt. Aspiring.  It almost blew the helicoptor ride out of the proverbial water.

We came around a bend and suddenly our view was filled with a huge glacier with half a dozen massive waterfalls spilling off of it.  Waterfalls spilling down hundreds of feet from a pristine glacier into wild temperate rainforest.  Did you even know this kind of thing could occur outside of blacklight posters?

A neon crystal blue stream ran from the waterfalls into the river we had ridden up.

There was a moment I wandered off from the guide and felt totally alone with nature.  Pure water, soil, air, grass, trees... this moment in time has become one of my favorite spots on earth.  Total isolation, the cleanest air breathable, and a view better than a dream.  New Zealand delivers natural grandeur beyond everything you have heard.  WOW.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


We left the Hapuku Lodge for the west coast of the South Island.  It was raining hard when we left Kaikoura, and as we drove into the hills it began to pour.  We were listening to Black to Comm's album, Alphabet 1968, and it made for a eerie drive through gray hills and shadowy woodlands between Kaikoura and Lewis Pass.  Here is a video of theirs to put you in the mood:

After listening to an hour of this we were dreaming up dark scenarios where the hundreds of wet sheep we were passing all suddenly stood up on their hind legs and slowly turned toward us to stare in unison.  

Just as we changed the music to something cheerier, the rain let up and we drove into the Victoria Forest National Park.

We came upon the Mauria Springs Thermal Resort just in time, and pulled over to take a dip in their very hot natural springs... to wash away the darkness.

The Japanese style baths were just what we needed mid-drive, and after soaking for 30 minutes, we continued on our way toward the coast.

Here is the Buller Gorge, where things started to get really dramatic just a few minutes away from the ocean.

Outside the town of Westport we stopped for lunch at the Bay House Cafe on Cape Foulwind.  Despite the name, given by Captain Cook, the weather finally broke and the sun came out momentarily.

We were able to sit outside and enjoy the cafe's view and beautiful subtropical garden.

South of Westport the fog rolled in and hid the sun again.  This didn't keep the drive from being one of the most dramatic I have ever experienced.  By the time we made it to the boarders of Paparoa National Park, we were speechless: rugged cliffs, seemingly tropical rain forest, black sand beaches, 100 foot waterfalls, bright orange flowers.  It looked like something Dr. Seuss would dream up for a children's book.
Here are the pancake rocks of Dolomite Point in the national park.  Awesome.

After the drama of the Paparoa region, the broad plains and wide driftwood strewn beach of Hokitika, our stop for the night, seemed quaint.

Hokitika was a mining boom town, and maintains an end-of-the-earth feeling of isolation and eccentricity.

The bizarre but pretty town library.

Perhaps the weirdest thing in all of Hokitika was the cuisine.  I listened to the accounts of several guide books and magazine articles and tried the famous whitebait pizza.  Whitebait is the immature version of the local river smelt.  That is right: fish with cheese pizza.  I wanted to like it, I really did... but it was everything you imagine when you think of baby fish and mozzarella together.  Avoid it at all cost.  ALL cost.