Thursday 19th November.
Travelling south to Otago and Queenstown.
Last night's camp site was at Lake Paringa - a DOC campsite one hour's drive south of the glaciers.
It was probably very pleasant but as we arrived after dark and left at 7.30am, we didn't have much opportunity to check!
There were 2
Good reasons for our early departure. The first was a wish to make the 240km journey south through South Westland and the Haast Pass in good time, in order to reach Queenstown by mid afternoon.
The second reason was that nearby was Monro Beach - a rocky shore where a small colony of the rare Fiordland crested penguins or Tawaki were breeding. Early morning was the best time to spot them.
As we drove out of the camp site there was a faint must on the windscreen. When we arrived reserve near Monro Beach, there was a steady pitter patter of rain on the skylights. By the time we had got our running gear in the rain was drumming heavily on the roof.....
Both us us were too stubborn to want to be the one to suggest an alternative plan, or delay and appear weedy, so wearing kagouls and shorts we set off down the 5km path through the rain forest(!) to the beach.
It was a lovely meandering and undulating path and on the way we met a young kiwi on his way home after spending the night on the beach having caught and cooked two fish.
On arrival at the beach we were alone and the scenery and serenity alone made the effort worthwhile. We watched the sea and built stone towers out of the beautifully patterned semi-translucent wet stones. Then... WE SAW PENGUINS!!!
At the far northern end of the beach we saw a little white and black figure appear from behind a rock. It waddled down to the sea, looked at the waves and then waddled back up the beach. We moved a bit closer and hid behind a boulder, observing the tiles suggesting we should keep at least 4 car lengths away.
The penguin re-appeared with a friend and the two of them waddled back down to the waters edge and one of them flopped in and disappeared, presumably off fishing for food for its young. The solitary penguin waddled back and hopped up into a rocky ledge before vanishing again.
About thirty penguins nest in this beach. They will have laid two eggs in a nest in scrubland at the bank of the beach in August. The chicks hatch after a month, and the parents then leave the chicks in a 'creche' whilst they fish during the day. In February time the adults and young disappear off to sea where their life is still a mystery.
The penguin we had seen made one final appearance the waters edge, before disappearing into the waves.
Thrilled to bits we returned back along the path for a hot shower and breakfast at the Hotel Madge.
The journey south was really very scenic. We followed the coast at first to the coastal town of Haast and the sun started to shine. We followed the river Haast inland and up past the Gates of Haast - a series of churning cascades - and over the Haast pass to the tolling grasslands of central Otago.
We drove along the shores of the beautiful Lake Wanaka and then stopped for a picnic lunch on the yellow Lupin strewn dunes on the beach at Lake Hawea.
We drive through the lovely lakeside town of Wanakz and on to the Maui centre in Queenstown. The traffic was dreadful and the Msui staff monosyllabic but pleasant enough and a technician ('engineer') set about our drawers with a screwdriver and replaced our broken crockery.
Job done, we deserved a reward and found it at the esplanade in Queenstown. What a nice place!
To be truthful, we thought that we wouldn't like 'Queenstown - the adrenaline capital' of South Island. We imagined it to be full of tourists and one big 'hard sell' of activities and attractions. Not so. There are lots of activities on offer but there are also loads of nice places to wander, trump, shop, eat and drink.
The i-site provided us with a heap of information about walks and other tours in Fiordland and we then wandered along the lake front in the sunshine admiring the spectacular mountain scenery and enjoying the ambience of this young and bustling town, preparing itself for the Queenstown marathon on Saturday.
We stopped on the esplanade for excellent latte and chocolate at the Patagonia Chocolaterie. The slab of dark chocolate contained figs and the White chocolate contained cashews.... The sun shone, the buskers played, the coffee was good and the mountains were picturesque. Jet boats and other craft moved people around the lake.
All good things must move on and we drive on to the mundane activities of fuel stations and supermarkets before driving the magnificent road north along the eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy.
The lake water reflected bright blue under the sky and the surrounding mountains glowed in the late afternoon sun. Further north the mountain tops vanished under clouds and looked increasingly menacing. In contrast the view back south sling the lake remained idyllic and we stopped frequently to admire that along with the roadside lay-bys full of pink, blue and white wild lupins.
In Glenorchy village we stopped at the hotel to ask for a weather forecast, and to share a couple of beers an a plate of potato wedges.
The forecast was not good. Rain. And wind, with a chill factor of minus three tomorrow morning, improving during the day.
We pressed on along the gravel track for a further 15km to the Sylvan campsite at the start of the Routeburn Track. It was a very remote spot with spectacular mountain views. We found a quiet spot near trees to protect us from the wind and rain, and with a panoramic view down the valley.