NZ 2014 Day 14

This was really the last day of our trip. Tomorrow we have a 6:20 am flight out of Christchurch that should have us in Brisbane by 7:30 am and heading home to Toowoomba just as soon as we can clear immigration and customs, retrieve our cars and get away.
We had scheduled our departure from Twizel for 8:00 intending to be back in Christchurch for the afternoon. Most were up early and some were keen enough to spur us into an early departure so that we had eaten breakfast, packed, and checked out by 7:40 am. We headed north and then east along the southern shore of Lake Pukaki and toward Lake Tekapo. Just before we reached Tekapo we saw a bunch of cyclists about to leave a military base and assumed they were military personnel on a training exercise.
IMG_9489In Tekapo we went first to look at the historic Good Shepherd Church by the lake. Although it was not especially cool there was a gale blowing and most of our party rugged up before stepping out to look at the church beside the lake. We discovered that it would be open from 9:30 am so we headed back into town for coffee and snacks.
As we sat in the cafe we watched the group of cyclists we had seen go by and then saw at least two more groups following them. At that stage we still didn’t know what they were about but later discovered that they were riding for the Central South Island Charity Bike Ride, a 3 day, 369 km fundraiser. We later passed several groups further along the road.
IMG_9493Before leaving town we paid another visit to the church which was open by then. The window behind the altar offers an amazing view across the lake to the mountains. No need for stained glass there.
From Tekapo we pressed on toward Tinwald where Majella had been advised to visit Annie’s Country Quilt Store. That was a hit with the women and those of us not so interested in such shops found a seat on the front porch where we waited.
A little way down the road in Ashburton we stopped for Majella to capture her ‘V’ for Victoria Street photo and then drove on toward Christchurch. Majella consulted her Lonely Planet Guide and selected Addington Coffee Co-op as a lunch destination. That was a good choice. We enjoyed lunches from an interesting menu in an establishment geared toward supporting fair trade enterprises and other worthwhile causes.
IMG_9519After lunch we dropped by our accommodation at the Airport Lodge Motel, where we had stayed on arrival, to check in. That was a brief stop on our way to the International Antarctic Centre which was our touristic target for the day. We arrived there in good time for the 3:30 pm feeding of penguins. The birds they have there are all disabled in some way and have been rescued because they could not survive in the wild. One of them is known to be about 23 years old, three times the normal life span, so the care they get must agree with them. All but 2 of the group then opted for the 4:00 pm ‘blizzard’ experience. The room is chilled to -8ºC and 40 km/hr winds add a chill factor that makes it feel close to -20ºC. We were surprised to find one young local who did not don the coat that was supplied because he was on a dare to do it in his singlet and shorts. We were cold enough in the heavy jackets.
A quick trip to the supermarket secured some hotdogs for dinner and supplies to wash those down. We had pooled most of our photographs by then and were able to watch slide shows of the various days as we shared dinner. Quick conversation about highlights of the trip revealed that everybody had one or more great memories to share. It was early to bed in preparation for our 4:00 am rising and 4:45 am departure for the airport.

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NZ 2014 Day 13

Our goal for today was to drive from Dunedin to visit the Aoraki Mount Cook park and overnight at Twizel. That was going to require a considerable amount of driving and some luck with the weather. Forecasts had been variable but it seemed that it could be expected to become overcast through the day and rain sometime during the night. Arriving early would be our best chance of getting a clear view of the mountain.
We were on the road at 8:00 am and arrived at Oamaru around 9:30 am. Majella and I had visited there on our previous trip and recalled the Whisky Distillery where we had lunch that time. We set a course for Harbour Street in the historic district, intending to try that cafe as our first option. There was much enthusiasm about the old buildings we saw on the way into town and the area around Harbour Street. The cafe was not as we remembered it and was more a gift shop with coffee as an option. Whisky tasting did not begin until 10:30 am so we were too early for that.
IMG_9406After some looking around in that store we set off up the street to see what else was on offer. Majella bought a small limestone carving from a carver up the street and we had our morning coffee in the Lazy Cat Pottery further along the street. From there we wandered up and around the block where Majella discovered the Textile Emporium and bought a pattern for a knitted optical illusion. We’ll all be interested to see how that turns out.
From Oamaru we headed west and then north toward our destination. We’d taken more time than we expected in Oamaru and had some further delay locating a service station on the way out. The makings for our picnic lunch had been bought before we left Dunedin so we would be able to stop at any suitable location along the route. An hour or so along the road there was some thought of eating but we passed by more than one spot overlooking a lake that might have been suitable. We had one near mishap along the way when a large piece of farm machinery coming toward us insisted on having more than its fair share of the road. Skilful driving by Russell averted disaster.
IMG_9427As we approached the junction with the northbound road south of Twizel we were able to see snowcapped mountains in the distance. By the time we were approaching Twizel, the hungrier among us were ready to settle for any patch on the side of the road. We had already caught glimpses of Aoraki and would have preferred a picnic spot with a view of it. We did turn off just south of Twizel to investigate a lakeshore but found a grave and no picnic area. We passed Twizel and continued north. Soon after we reached Lake Pukaki we found Peter’s Lookout. There was no seating or shade but it did have a great view of Aoraki and an ice cream van. We ate lunch and enjoyed the view. Several members of the group supplemented lunch with a thick shake or other offering from the van and somebody pressed a fellow tourist, from the Netherlands, into taking a group photo with Aoraki in the background. We had clear views of the summit of the mountain though there were already wisps of cloud threatening to obscure it.
After lunch we drove on to the Aoraki Mount Cook park where we visited the information centre and had coffee and treats in the Old Mountaineers Cafe before driving back along the road and out to the Tasman Glacier. Five of us walked up the hill to the top of the terminal moraine for a view across the lake to the glacier. The others waited below with the van.
IMG_9477When we returned to the van we headed back down the road to Twizel. It was already approaching 5:00 pm and time we were checked into our accommodation. We paused a couple of times for photographs of the views up and down the lake but otherwise went as quickly as we could to Twizel and sorted out our accommodation.
We treated ourselves to dinner at Poppies Cafe, just across the road from the Mackenzie Country Hotel where we stayed. The food was interesting, tasty and well presented. Majella and I shared a venison pizza with venison salami and blue cheese, an unusual but tasty combination. Service was attentive and Majella took the opportunity to practise some French with our waiter who was from Normandy. The weather held out for us to the last. It did become windy but no rain had fallen by the time we headed back across the road to bed.

NZ 2014 Day 12

We left Invercargill just before 8:00 am intent on arriving in Dunedin in plenty of time to catch our 2:30 pm train up the Taieri Gorge. The 200 km was expected to take about 2.5 hours of driving plus coffee stop, getting us there in plenty of time for lunch before the train departed.
For most of the way we drove through rolling hills dotted with sheep and occasionally cattle. The low sun was sometimes in our eyes but mostly added interest to the landscape by casting shadows that emphasised the contours. After a couple of overcast days we were pleased to have it shining.
Our coffee stop was at Balclutha. We found parking in the main street near Heart and Soul Cafe. That made it an easy selection. The coffee, muffins and other refreshments got good reviews from the group.
We made good time into Dunedin from there. Majella had me locating a needlework shop recommended by a friend so that she could make the most of her shopping time. Her plan had been to park in town and check into our accommodation later but the accommodation was in town so we drove there to see if we could park. It was too early to check in but we were allowed to park off the street and arranged to meet back there at 1:30 pm to check in and catch our train.
The Quest where we were staying is across the street from Cadbury World, next door to a supermarket, and just a block or two from the main shopping area. All the women were going to the needlework shop and some needed their men along to carry their wallets so we all headed in that direction. Once that mission was accomplished we split up as couples to find lunch and otherwise fill in the more than an hour until our rendezvous.
Majella and I wandered up a lane way where we found The Albion Cafe – named for the lane. That was an obvious choice for lunch and noon seemed late enough. The cafe was run by two men who had only recently opened it and had an interesting menu of sandwiches that we prepared in advance and then served toasted so the cheese was melted.
From there we browsed some of the local shops, picked up some essentials at the supermarket, and headed for Cadbury World. The queue there was long and many of those standing with baskets of chocolate selected for purchase looked as though they might be better to swear off chocolate for life. Majella’s selection of goods seemed puny by comparison. We waited in line, made our purchase, and walked back to the Quest where we checked in and dropped our bags. As the others arrived they did likewise and by 1:45 pm we were on our way to the station to catch our train.
Dunedin Railway StationDunedin Railway Station is an amazing building decorated with stained glass windows glazed tiles in railway themes. It is worth a visit just to see the building. On this occasion we were there to ride the Taieri Gorge Railway. We had booked in advance (necessary) and had a group discount as one of the advantages of travelling together. We paid and collected our tickets in good time.
When railway traffic declined in the 70s and 80s the line was to be closed and the Dunedin station sold off. The city council bought the station from the government for $1 and the historical association uses it as its base to run the train as a tourist attraction that keeps the rail going. The building also houses an art gallery that we had time to browse before boarding the train.
The train was about 5 minutes late leaving because there were some adjustments needed after the morning run. It headed out quickly on the mainline south drawn by a vintage diesel engine. Once we had turned off onto the gorge line it slowed as it snaked up the gorge. Taieri GorgeThere was intermittent commentary about sights along the way and lots of photography. The train included a dining carriage where we could buy food and drink, an ice cream on the way up and refreshing cider on the way back. Other than at the turnaround point, Pukerangi, we had one real stop along the way for the viaduct at Deep Stream where, on the way up, we were able to get out, walk across the viaduct and rejoin the train on the other side.
Our train journey was scheduled for 4 hours and we arrived back in Dunedin around 6:40 pm. We walked back to the Quest, picked up the van, and headed for Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. We gaped at the steepness of the street but nobody felt up to walking or driving up it after what must have been a more tiring day than we had expected.
We drove out onto the Otago Peninsula hoping to find somewhere there for dinner. A few kilometres along the winding foreshore road we had not found food and some of our travellers were finding the road, despite the water view, less than enjoyable. We turned back to town and parked at the Quest.
In the end, dinner was BBQ chicken, bread and salad from the supermarket. We enjoyed that with drinks and conversation until rather later than usual.

NZ 2014 Day 11

Our plans for today were loose. Accommodation had been booked in Invercargill to facilitate our driving as far south as reasonably possible and Majella had done some investigation about the tuatara exhibit at the Southland Museum and had determined that Bluff was as far south as we could drive on the mainland. The day was expected to build on that skeleton and she declared a ‘late’ 9:00 am departure as a bonus for those who needed a rest.
Our plan had been to drive from Te Anau back toward Lumsden, south of Five Rivers, and then on south to Invercargill on the main highway. Not long before we were ready to load the van and set off there was a sudden thought that we could take the southerly route from Te Anau past Manapouri, down to the coast and then along to Invercargill. Majella checked with our host, Leonie, who assured her that the road was good and our course was set.
We took the main road out of Te Anau and the turn off to Manapouri but turned south before we reached Manapouri. Majella had pulled up her ebook copy of the Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand on her iPad and ascertained that the route we were taking was designated as the scenic southern route. She also managed to turn up some information about things to see along the way.
Clifden suspension bridgeOur first stop was at the historic Clifden suspension bridge. It was built across the Waiau River in the 1920s and, at 111.5 metres, is the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand. Its single lane has been superseded by a dual lane bridge but it is preserved for its historical value. Some of the group were nervous about stepping onto a suspension bridge with the memory of the Marian Cascade bridge form yesterday still fresh in their minds. However, there is a substantial difference between a narrow suspension bridge designed for pedestrians and this much more substantial bridge designed to carry vehicles. With all 10 of us on the bridge and moving about it was possible to detect some movement by standing on the edge of the roadway but nothing like the drunken swaying they had experienced yesterday.
Next stop was at Tuatapere where the Lonely Planet guidebook had recommended the local butcher as a purveyor of fine quality sausages. We had decided that they were worth investigating for dinner. On the way into town we spotted a motel that seemed to have a coffee shop but cursory examination persuaded some that it was not up to their usual standard. Majella, or one of her fellow shoppers, asked the butcher about coffee shops and he recommended the Yesteryears Cafe and Museum further through town. The shop, its contents, and the operators appeared to be all of similar vintage but the coffee was OK and the various scones and other edibles were pronounced very good. IMG_9178There was some time needed for the women to explore the cafe and ‘museum’ and then they discovered a craft shop next door that required even more time for exploration and shopping. the men managed to amuse themselves looking around town for a while but there was a limit to its entertainment value.
We continued south until we hit the coast and then in a generally eastward direction. We were amazed by the extent to which some of the trees appeared to have been pushed into extreme shapes by prevailing westerly winds but, at more than 45º south, we are well into the ‘roaring forties’ and should not be much surprised by strong winds and their effects. Majella had advised us that Colac Bay was a prime spot for surfing but, though we saw a wide round bay with beaches the waves were smaller than even we would have considered worth riding.
We passed through Riverton and drove on to Invercargill. Knowing we were going to arrive too early to check in to our accommodation, we had decided to eat lunch first. Lonely Planet recommended The Batch Cafe and we set a course for that location near the middle of town. There were no parking spaces in the immediate vicinity but we found an untimed space just a couple of blocks away, parked, and walked back to the cafe. They were busy, always a good sign, and could not accommodate the 10 of us immediately. They suggested we come back at 2:00 pm, about an hour later, and we agreed.

Southland Museum Fossil Garden

Southland Museum Fossil Garden

Southland Museum was on our plan and was just a few blocks up the road. We filled in our hour easily enough and lucked out at the museum where we encountered one of the staff who was able to give us an up close experience of the tuatara that was the main reason for our visit. We learned more than we might have expected about the ‘living fossil’ in the time we spent there. The gardens around the museum were also worth the visit for the colourful hydrangeas and fuchsias.
We walked back to The Batch for lunch at 2:00 pm. The food was interesting, well presented and tasty. The service was excellent. They managed to take orders for 10 and serve them all at the same time with attention to detail. It deserves its good reports in Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor.
After lunch we drove to our accommodation and checked in. The women were keen to explore the local shopping and set off to do that, promising to be back at 4:45 pm. The men decided that it was necessary to replenish the supplies of beer and wine and began to look for somewhere to do that. Warwick asked in a nearby store and was directed to Invercargill Brewery, a microbrewery a few blocks away. We walked there, sampled their wares, and purchased supplies for the evening. We liked most of what we tasted but decided the beetroot beer was probably best left alone.
IMG_9217We regrouped as planned and climbed back into the van to drive to Bluff, which is as far south as it is possible to go by road. We drove to the end of the road at Stirling Point where the signpost indicates the latitude (46º S) and longitude (168º E) and distances to various points. At that point we were just a bit more than halfway from the Equator to the South Pole. From the lookout at the top of the hill we were able to catch glimpses of Stewart Island through swirling mist under a clear sky.
We returned to our accommodation for dinner of sausages and fresh bread washed down with some of the locally brewed beer and other beverages.

NZ 2014 Day 10

Our reason for coming to Te Anau was to take the day excursion to Milford Sound. We could have happily driven ourselves and taken a cruise as we did when we visited with Pat and Laura Ryan at the end of 2007. However, when Majella was arranging our accommodation with Birchwood Cottages they had suggested that they could arrange a guided excursion with cruise included with an attractive group discount. We could have opted for a private tour but decided that 10 of us would be sufficient to overwhelm any others who might join the same tour.
As we discovered today, our accommodation and Fiordland Tours, with whom we travelled to Milford Sound, are both operated by the same couple, Ray and Leonie Horrell. Ray dropped by our cottage last night to brief us about departure time (8:00 am) and some other details. At that time there were to be 2 other passengers travelling with us but by this morning somebody else had pulled out and they had been transferred to the other bus operating that day. Our tour had become a de facto private tour with Ray as our driver and guide.
We were ready for a prompt departure at 8:00 am. the weather was overcast but the forecast suggested that might improve by the time we reached Milford sound. Ray regaled us with ‘tall tales and true’ most of the way to Milford Sound and a good part of the way back though he did take a rest and allow Elvis to entertain us for part of the way home to Te Anau. He was an informative guide and entertaining host and obviously enjoyed having an Australian audience to tease.
First stop was at Te Anau Downs where Ray was to collect the freshly baked date scones for our morning tea. Our host, Tania, also offered coffee and Ray had dubbed her the Afghan Queen for the afghans that she makes with cornflakes adding the crunch. Ray had thought that our early start might break his record for reaching that first stop by a minute or two but we cleared it by 5 minutes leaving a mark that will be hard to beat while staying within the law.
Eglinton River flatsOur next stop was a short photo opportunity on the Eglinton River flats, a little way beyond the point where we departed from the Te Anau lake shore. We grabbed our photos of the scenery and Ray kindly offered to take group photos with various cameras we were carrying.
Next stop was the Mirror Lakes – oxbow lakes formed by the meandering river and sheltered so they provide a reflective surface under most conditions. We parked and walked through the board walk pausing for photos at various points. There were some good reflections but without the lupins that were there on our previous visit with Pat and Laura there was not so much colour.
From there we drove on. pausing briefly at Knobs Flat, past Lake Gunn (brief pause for photos) and Lake Fergus, and on toward Marian Cascade on the Hollyford Road. We drove by the look out because the view was obscured by cloud and headed down the gravel road where we parked and walked up to the cascade. Access from carpark to cascades was via suspension bridge across another creek. As we crossed, the bridge developed a sway and made some of our party look and feel like the legendary drunken sailors. Beyond the bridge Ray was able to point out glow worms hanging on their threads in a dark depression on the side of the track. He had a new Samsung phone and had not downloaded the torch app but we had one and were able to assist. The cascade was a torrent fed by glacial melt with some addition from the recent rain. It roared impressively down its rocky channel.
Morning tea was a little further down that side road at Gunn’s Camp. It had originally been built for the workers on the Milford Road and the side road that had been planned to link up with the road from Haast. The latter was long since abandoned but Davey Gunn had bought the camp when the government resumed his grazing lease and had converted it for use as tourist accommodation. The buildings and facilities are basic but walkers would probably find them luxurious after a few days in the bush. The date scones went down well with instant coffee. A few of us ventured a short way into the bush to see the big kahikatea tree which is reputed to be about 1000 years old.
After morning tea we headed back up the track to the main road and on through the Homer tunnel and down the hill toward Milford Sound. We paused at the Chasm to take the 5 minute walk on the path through the bush to view another mighty torrent rushing down the hill.
Milford SoundWe reached Milford Sound, still shrouded in cloud but with signs of some lifting, in good time for our cruise. Ray collected and distributed our passes and we boarded. Some chose to sit in the main cabin out of the weather but a few hardier souls opted for the top deck which had some shelter but was mostly in the open with great all round views. By the time we got up there the outside seats were taken but there were some in the sheltered area so we grabbed those and distributed lunch to those of us upstairs before taking the balance down for those inside.
Our cruise went first to the deep water area used by the fishing fleet and then out along the southern side of the sound, actually a fiord (both are backfilled by sea but V-shaped sounds are carved by rivers and U-shaped fiords are carved by glaciers), and back along the northern side. The cruise lasted about 2 hours and took us past waterfalls and fur seals on both sides of the fiord, out to the mouth where the ocean swell soon encouraged us to turn back, and back to the harbour. The cruise boats nose right up to the cliffs at waterfalls and, depending on wind conditions, the spray drenches most of the passengers who are at all exposed. There were intermittent showers and occasionally the clouds seemed to be lifting but were still there, though a little higher, when we returned to shore. The benefit of the rain was that we saw many more waterfalls than might be there on a finer day. The skipper commented at some stage that Milford Sound has rain on 360 days per year and between 7 and 14 metres of rain each year. We’d have been lucky to score one of 5 fine days and were lucky to have had a few mm of rain rather than bucket loads. Regardless of weather it was a memorable experience.
KeaOn the way back we stopped briefly at the car park on the inland side of the Homer tunnel to see some Keas that frequent the area. We had seen a couple across the road as we came up this morning but by afternoon there were several of them sitting on cars or on the ground in the car park and, in some cases, accepting fruit from tourists. There were plenty of opportunities for photographs. On close up observation we noticed that they were more colourful than we had thought with orange shades under the wings. I wasn’t able to capture the full effect of that but there is a little patch in this image.
Lake Te Anau from Te Anau DownsBecause Ray had picked up an extra job conveying tourists from a broken down bus back to Queenstown we hustled back to Te Anau from there, pausing only briefly at Te Anau Downs to drop off the container from the morning tea scones. By that time the weather had improved considerably, at least on our side of the range, and some of us were beginning to feel a little warm.
Ray dropped us back at Birchwood Cottages where we paused briefly before heading down town to find dinner. We settled on La Toscana which offered pasta and pizza with a variety of unusual topping combinations. Dinner seemed to meet with universal approval across the group and we returned to our accommodation to settle in for the night.