We are lagging behind in our Blog.. so here come the edited highlights...
05.12.2005 18 °C
We awoke in Akaroa to a grey sky so time to make tracks. We headed away from this idylic town up into the hills. Where yesterday we had taken a low lying valley road, today we headed up... and over. The Banks Peninsula is crested by a scenic summit road. The views from the top are spectacular... according to our guide book. To us it was just a bit cloudy. But we did get chance to take the van off road... along an unsealed road , which stretched for some where in the region of 20km. We had some good views of Pigeon Bay and Port Levy, before rounding the headland into Lyttleton. Basically this is no more than a suburb of Christchurch, but is where alot of the shhipping lands. We parked up and found the booking office of a tour company, got ourselves booked on and set out on a 2 hour scenic wildlife watching cruise.
2 hours later... we did at least see some wildlife. The trip was billed as a chance to see Hectors Dolphins... which are smaller versions of their Bottle Nose cousins. These small chaps like to hang around and show off in the surf out of the harbour entrance. We did catch a glimse of them... but not quite as impressive as our past few trips out on water when the wildlife has been the bonus. Still we got a free cup of coffee so it was all good.
Back on dry land we thought it time to make tracks inland. So pointing the van west we drove up into the mountains. Basically for those who have not seen what the south island looks like its just one big long mountain chain running down the middle of the land... with less land on the west than the east. Anyway we took ourselves up to Fairlie. Fairlie is just a quiet little stopover town on the way up to the mountains. Not much to write home about, but as it was getting dark and the mist was sitting on the hills we thought we would stop and make a night of it.
We parked in a motor park, by the edge of a stream and in a sectioned off area of the Domain. Domains are parks... sort of local recreation areas. All was fine... with the exception of the ducks... does noone know how to make use of them round here.. the place is full of them! Anyway we went to sleep in a light drizle.
Next morning it was still dull.. so we headed back onto the road. From Fairlie we drove up... over the Burkes Pass along SH8. This route lead us up into the Southern Alpine area. As we rode the crest of the pass the mist suddenly lifted to reveal bright sunlight and lovelly views of snow covered peaks. We stopped to take pictures of the cloud and the mountains. Our aim for today was to see Mount Cook.
We drove round some of the clearest bright blue water I have ever seen. The lakes we passed were all part of NZ power generating system. 1/3 of the power needs of the country is generated from this source. Masses of water are stored and forced through hydro stations to generate power. The recent dry spell has drained much of the water from these lakes though so there is a fear amongst some of the population that there will be power shortages and limits put on it.
We drove the 50km + road to Mt Cook village. Seen from this angle the mountain looked very impressive but tame. Strange when you think its about 3 times the height of Snowdon. We lunched outside the massive Hermitage... something of a badly named building as it looked more like a Nazi concentraightion camp than a top flight hotel, with rooms at $450 per night plus! We wandered along to look at the view from a vantage point looking up into the snow field on the top. Yet again I realised how bizzar it was... being summer and it being sunny and winter at home, yet here we were looking at snow! Mt Cook is very stricking and looks like a challenge to climb. We resisted.
Once more we called it a day and got back in the van and made a move. Back on SH8 we passed through Twizel, a town built to house the dam constructors who were tackling the massive building project of the Hydro scheme. The construction finished and the town was saved by the locals instead of being buldozed. There is even a Twizel Development Agency.
We dashed up the Linden Pass and headed down the otherside to come to rest in Wanaka for the night. Wanaka is a lovely lake side town. Being close to civilisation ment chefs night off... we went and had the most fantastic meal in a local restaurant. Very nice. But then it was an early bed... Friday was time for us to take flight.
We made an early start... to Makarora. From this point the plan was to take a scenic flight into the hills, walk out from a valley and be met by a boat and then get home that way... well little did we realise the plane was a 6 seater... us, the pilot and the pilots mate. We chugged along to the runway... powered up, each wearing our little headsets and bumped along the grass to a smooth take off... thats where the smoothness ended. Every thermal we hit, every gust lifted us. My hands were sweaty... then I looked out... how fantastic a view was that! We skimmed over pine trees and hills looking up secret hidden valleys. We saw crystal clear streams and sparkling water falls. The snow glistened in the sun as we turned past it. Then all too soon the pilot was turning his little handle and pointing the plane down... to Siberia... such a big international airport... not. The landing was as smooth as the take off... why can't big jumbo jets make it that smooth?
Once on the ground and my fingers had returned to thier normal colour we headed across a stream... well we would call it a river, and began our hike out. One thing noone had told us was that this water would be cold... and when I say cold I mean freezing cold. Glacial meltwater is not known for its warmth. And the icebergs floating past weren't too offputting. However with our shoes tied round our necks and our back packs tight on our backs we made it over this raging torrent. As we left the valley floor the views were as stunning.
We met our jet boat 3 hours later and hopped aboard. Then the most exhilerating ride ever down the Wilkin River back to Makarora. We both want a jet boat now. The 360o spins at 300hp were most impresive.. like a waltzer on water. Sadly I felt the woman next to me shake and was concerned she was going to empty her lunch onto my lap... fortunately for international relations she kept it down!
Back on dry land we headed along another deserted road over another pass.. this time the Cardrona pass. We headed into Queenstown to spend a weekend shopping and soaking up town life. So far 2654km travelled... how many more... who knows.
Tune in next time folks.