Wednesday 15th February
The sun was shining and there were blue patches in the sky, but the mountain peaks were covered in clouds. We drove south to Fox Glacier Township and turned off just before it to go to Lake Matheson. The guide books say it is a 'must do' and "It is hard to imagine a New Zealand picture book without a photo of Mt Cook (highest mountain in New Zealand) and Mt Tasman mirrored in its waters." Hmm. It was cloudy, so we couldn't see the peaks and there was a slight breeze so the surface of the lake was not mirroring anything today! The one and a half hour walk round the lake was nice enough, but you only got to see the lake in at four small view points, with one bench in each (we had taken our lunch with us). The walk was mainly through the thick rainforest surrounding the lake. This was a slightly different rainforest to Maits Rest and the Blue Valley in Australia, being much wetter. The trees were literally dripping with mosses and the mosses were dripping with water. It was nice and cool and not too dark. We can tick it off the list as 'done' and it was a pleasant morning, but we have seen better lakes and views at home. There was a very nice café and a superb gallery shop there though where Martin bought a black New Zealand polo t-shirt with a fern leaf emblem to add to the 48 other polo shirts he has.
We drove through Fox Glacier Township to the Fox Glacier View car park. There were markers along the road to the car park showing you where the glacier was in 1750 and 1953. It was a 20 minute walk across the boulder strewn gravel plain to get close enough to see the leading edge of the glacier. We could have got closer but you lose the perspective if you get too close. There are over 360 identified glaciers, the largest being Franz Joseph and Fox. As with all glaciers they are retreating fast.
We went back to the township to stay the night at the Fox Glacier Lodge & Motorhome Park. It was quiet other than the clicking of the cicadas, which we have now got used to as we have heard them every night since we got to Australia, and the occasional screech of a kea, a grey green parrot like bird with a large hooked beak.
Before humans arrived there were no mammals in New Zealand other than those that could swim (seals, sea lions, dolphins) or fly (bats) there. There were 120 species of birds, 70 unique to NZ and many were flightless as there were no predators other than eagles at the top of the food chain; 60 species of geckos and skinks and the tuatara, a lizard like reptile 50-10cm (2-3ft long). They also have the giant weta, a wingless cricket up to 8cm (3-4in) long, and 21 species of Powelliphanta, a giant meat (worms & slugs) eating snail as big as a man's fist. Animals/mammals now on the islands were all introduced during the last 900 years for farming (cattle, deer, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, possum) or as stowaways on early ships (rat, mice etc).
Thursday 16th February
A bright sunny day today but with some cloud in the sky. We left the campsite relatively early for us (9am) and stopped to eat breakfast at Bruce Bay, watching the Tasman Sea crashing against the shore. The gravel beach was covered in huge pieces of driftwood thrown up by the rough sea - too dangerous to swim in the leaflets state. As we sat and admired the view 3 dolphins passed by not far out from the shore! They were too quick, and I was too slow, to get a photo :o(
On to a Salmon Farm for a quick look (free). The car park was almost empty when we went in but when we came out 30 minutes later it was full of cars, motorbikes, minibuses and motorhomes. It was nearly midday ; I think the café made more money than the salmon farm products!
Lake Paringa a few miles down the road was the next photo stop. A beautiful calm surface with the reflection of the background hills & mountains in it. Swimming, camping & fishing were allowed here and there were toilets and freshwater taps available. The sand flies were out in force today - little black flies the same sort of size as 'thunder flies' that we get in the summer in the UK, but with wings - they bite, but are more annoying than anything, nothing like the Highland Midge! However, we have both got bites about the size of a little fingernail that itch for days. We are not sure if they are from the sand flies that we haven't brushed off, or from something else.
Half an hour further down the coast Knights Point Lookout provided views each way of separate, small golden beaches and a scattering of rocks just off shore. Very picturesque. Back into the van again for the last leg of today's journey. The road left the coast and we travelled inland where the steep forested mountains so close to the road seemed to practically engulf us at times. Suddenly the mountains lost their trees and the valleys widened slightly. It was reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. We followed the edge of Lake Wanaka for several miles (it is 26 miles long by 6 miles wide) before crossing through a small pass (The Neck) to join the road around an only very slightly smaller Lake Hawea (22 x 5 miles). At the far end of the lake we pulled into the Campsite and managed to get a pitch right next to the lake. It was beautiful and reasonably quiet. That evening we watched the reflection of the sunset in the clouds above the mountains across the lake.
Friday 17th February
After the sunset last night we were expecting nice weather, and it was, with sun all day and a few fluffy white clouds in the sky. Hot enough to want to sit in the shade every so often. Breakfast was outside overlooking the lake :o)
We drove to Wanaka on the edge of Lake Wanaka surrounded by mountains, what a beautiful place! Had to stop for a drink just to sit and enjoy it for a little longer. Then we drove through the Bannockburn wine region, a two mile wide flat valley in between the mountains. The vineyards covered the valley floor and every mile or so a different winery offered 'tastings'. We stopped for lunch at the Goldfields Mining Centre high above a turquoise blue river, served by yet another Irish waitress. Then a brief photographic stop at the Roaring Meg Hydroelectric Power Station where they make use of the Kawarau River squeezing through a 1.5m (6ft) gap.
The next photo stop was at A J Hacker's Bungy Jump, the home of the 1st ever bungy jump. Luckily there was a free viewing platform where we could watch the fools that had paid $180 (£90) to throw themselves through the air. At least they got a free photo and T-shirt - a new pair of underpants would have been better!! Seeing so many people doing made you think it must be a piece of cake and it took a lot to convince me otherwise…not!
We rolled into Queenstown just down the road, full of adrenaline from watching the bungy jumpers, so we did the next best thing and took the Skyline Gondola (cable car) high above the town where we could see far across the Remarkables mountain range and Lake Wakatipu. We then took the chairlift even higher and rode back down to the top of the Gondola on the twisting Luge (go-karts) track. The gondola then took us back down to Queenstown, past another bungy jump station hanging off the edge of the cliff. Queenstown is the all year activity centre of New Zealand and in the winter is a packed ski resort. In the summer it is bungy, biking, rafting, horse riding and loads of other energentic activities.
We drove a short way out of Queenstown to Arthurs Point to find a campsite. There were a couple of campervan sites in Queenstown, but they were packed in like sardines. Arthur's Point site was much smaller, but nice and quiet.
Saturday 18th February
A 'rest' day today; no serious driving for Martin (note: I am on the documents for driving the motorhome, but Martin is not a very good passenger, so it's for emergencies only), just a few miles back to Queenstown for a leisurely walk around the town and lunch on the quay. The Arts& Craft market is held on Saturdays next to the quay so I was in my element and had to refrain from buying something from every other stall! In the end I settled for a dark cream and brown striped silk and merino (fine wool) scarf. The weather was overcast, and cool enough for thin fleece jumpers over our t-shirts today.
On the way back to the campsite, where we were staying for a second night, we stopped at Shotover River to watch the jet boats roaring up and down the canyon. We have booked to do a jet boat trip down Skippers Canyon tomorrow! Check out www. skipperscanyonjet.co.nz/imagery/ for the photo galleries of the jetboat and landtour (don't look Mum!). Sam's comment was "Once you've been down Skipper's Canyon Road you'll jump in the boat because you'll never want to go back on the road!"
Rain this evening, but the forecast is brighter tomorrow. Doesn't really matter as we'll probably get wet in the jetboat anyway!