I forgot to mention that at the Glacier look out that we walked to we had a little scare. Aidan has been enjoying getting up on walls, fences, benches, whatever and counting rapidly and a bit nonsensically and at some random number jumping into Daddy’s waiting arms. Well, he was up on the guardrail planning to jump. I got a bit too close to him, he backed up, oops!!! He was over the rail! Good thing that it wasn’t too high a fall in that place and onto grass or something instead of boulders. So we were able to reach down and retrieve him easily. We were lucky! He was a bit shaken but got back up and had his jump. What a bad game!
Our hotel was out a little bit on the way to Lake Matheson. There was an adjacent restaurant a few meters down the road we had a nice dinner at. Aidan unfortunately had a snit over wanting to choice where we sat and it took a while for him to be in a decent mood. I tend to let him chose where we sit at cafes but it doesn’t work for a whole crowd of people! I made good use of the spa tub – unfortunately in the morning I had a tub but then no hot water for a shower! Oops. Thankfully Nanma & Pop let me use their shower next door. We headed off to Lake Matheson. Unfortunately we seemed to have lost our great sunny weather. There is a trail around the edge of the lake in the rainforest with areas opening out to the vistas of snow covered mountains and Fox Glacier. It drizzled on us and the lake wasn’t crystal clear so we didn’t have the “view of views” picture of the mountains reflected in the lake that you see on the postcards and the highest/back mountains were a bit obscured, but we all really enjoyed the walk (1 ½ hours) and rate it highly. After a quick bite at the café at the trail head we drove a couple of km back to the Glacier. The sun popped out just as we were leaving to light up the top of the snow caps. I liked this glacier better – it wasn’t as grungy looking with gravel on it on the lower sides. All along the coast we have been a bit in awe of the river beds. They are absolutely huge. A little stream will meander through a stony (grey rounded usually) bed perhaps a couple of hundred feet wide. And we’ll see big logs strewn here and there. The force of occasional water outflows must be awesome. Apparently even the road at the glacier is rearranged sometimes by the water.
On down the coast we stopped off for another longish walk – to Monroe Beach. We were supposed to perhaps see rare penguins (Tamaki or Fjordland Crested) there – it is mating season. It was about 45 minutes to the beach. After the fact I learned that the penguins would probably be off to the side in the bushes or on the rocks. We of course stood in the middle of the sand… The sandflies were awful as noted in the books (we hadn’t really believed them). They were actually OK if you kept moving. Anyway, the walk was mostly just through rainforest – no views til the beach itself (which was very attractive). Nanma stayed in the car with sleeping Aidan – smart move! We proceeded onward to reach Haast right at sundown/twilight. Quite a miserable little motel I picked out for us at that location! Not that there seemed to be much better options. We ate at Smithy’s Tavern. Quite an experience. Not a vegetable in sight. I understood why the next day when I stopped at their “supermarket”. About 8 tomatoes, 2 red peppers, a pint or so of sweet potatoes pretty much constituted fresh food items. No apples or bananas. My burger was actually OK complete with beets on top. Pop wasn’t so convinced his steak sandwich (in buttered toasted white bread) needed beets on top. We did put away quite a few French fries (chips).
In the morning it looked a bit grey out. We backtracked a bit to Ship Creek beach where there was a ½ hour walk over the dunes – they kindly put up wooden boardwalk for us (the tracks here have been beautifully maintained) and then on to some lookouts over the ocean and a lake and some forest. A really great walk. We also just hung out and stretched our legs along the beach a bit. Nice. Back in the car we headed off for Haast Pass. To our surprise just a few km along the road the sun broke out – I suspect it was out there all day. It was out at the beach too but a km or so then inland was grey. We had a very nice drive through Mount Aspiring National Park and stopped at a few waterfalls along the way to ooh and aah. Had a nice picnic with views toward Mount Hooker and others with snow. Pete jinxed us by declaring “aah, no bugs”. So of course they soon came calling.
140some km along we made Wanaka town. We had a nice woodsy lodgy motel and all of us were rather impressed with the little town on the lake. The lake view was a bit clouded up – it appeared as though there was a fair bit of smoke from a fire down the lake a bit as we drove in. We are wondering what it was all about. Pete was pushing for us to remain there an extra night as the old bird in the hand… Had great dinner at Relishes Café. I had lamb starter in Dukkah spices over some fried noodles with sort of caramelized onions. Really good. Then duck compote on mushroom risotto with kumara sauce. Again excellent. I have also been enjoying very fine wine and last night tried a local Pinot Noir. Yum.
In the morning I kept the wee ones occupied while the rest of the gang had a nice breakfast in the motel restaurant. We then headed to lakeside (I detoured for savory muffin and mocha). Watched some fish fighting their way upstream. Aidan enjoyed splashing a stick in the lake and then playing in playground. We then headed to Puzzling World. What a great place to spend a rainy day. There is a lot of it you can do for free (we did) – tables set up with all sorts of puzzles – get the ring off the stick, tangoes (?), move pieces here and there kind etc. Too bad it was a glorious sunny day! We killed probably a couple of hours.
Mid-afternoon we decided to head to Queenstown via the high pass way – up about 1100 m. It used to be gravel but now is paved. We got to see lots of sheep (Pop got to NZ looking for them). Some even crossed road in front of us. Too bad we drove over big rock along the way… oops, started leaking gas pretty fast. At about 30 mph you could see a definite line behind us… A pretty drive though through mountains and Aidan finally got to get out and crunch in a little snow – a desire for weeks. This is where Pete smelled the gas… Fortunately our rental company About New Zealand had a Queenstown branch and we had a cell phone and they told us to stop off at the Mobile in town. The guys there had us patched up in under an hour and we toodled around town down by the lake and had pizza at Winnie Bagoe. Apricot, smoked chicken and cream cheese pizza no less – very yummy! Nice restaurant too with a couple of fires, lots of wood, casual. We all weren’t so impressed with Queenstown as we drove in – much bigger than Wanaka. But it seems quite attractive down near the lake – which is perhaps a tad prettier than Lake Wanaka. So we’ll enjoy going back in a few days to check it out some more. Everyone here we have talked to has oohed and aahed over Queenstown. Even President Clinton had an hour of sunlight left for our drive to Te Anau – our home for the next 3 nights. That was supposed to be the scenic part of the drive – along the lake. It was very attractive.
Te Anua I can’t comment on yet – seems about size of Wanaka or a bit smaller. Our accommodations get great marks though. The Explorer Lodge. A spacious 2 bedroom with spa tub and full kitchen and a dining room table to seat 6. Even tastefully decorated and nice china.
It is now Friday evening. Phyllis and Dave are out at dinner while we put the boys down and wait our turn. Aidan had microwaved frozen mac’n’cheese for dinner with some added veggies and cherios (sausage). I decided to let Quincy try a piece of pasta – he had finished all he’d eat of mush. Boy did he gobble it up! And then as soon as you would put his spoon down to the dish he would open up his mouth wide and wait impatiently. He is coming along really well with eating more solid food. He also takes bites right off a whole banana. I noticed his 6th tooth (upper left) yesterday. He uses all those teeth to take big chunks out of whatever you give him so we have to be careful that we don’t mind that he eat what we give him…
Te Anua is beautifully situated on Lake Te Anua surrounded by snow capped peaks. Even prettier than Wanaka or Queestown in some ways as it is a bit smaller lake / the mountains seem closer. We didn’t have a lot of time to appreciate the town though (I ran to the supermarket and grabbed a couple things from a bakery) as we had to leave at around 9 for the Doubtful Sound cruise. The weather was glorious here although it clouded in quite a bit as we got closer to the coast, we did see glimpses of sun all day. The drive to Manapouri Lake was very scenic – mountains in background with sheep or deer in the foreground. We loaded onto our first boat around 9.45. There were supposedly 36 of us and the boat holds 150 (and I got the feeling that in high summer season it does). The first boat ride was about 45 minutes long to the other side of the lake where the DoC (Department of Conservation – they do a great job) Visitor Centre and the Power Plant were. After a quick look around we boarded the bus. The only reason there is a road to the fjord (which is what Doubtful Sound really is – carved/created by glacier) is thanks to the Power Plant. They buried the plant and then pipe the water out 10 km to the Sound – and I believe that all manufacturing stuff was imported from the Sound, hence the road. Anyway, as this is all National Park, there is essentially nothing there except a Hostel on the other end for school kids. The bus goes over Wilmot Pass (I think) and has good views of the rainforest and surrounding peaks and quite a few waterfalls despite the lack of recent rain (snow melt I assume). The driver did a very nice job of commentary all day – on the boats too. We then boarded our Doubtful Sound boat for a 3 hour cruise around the Sound and into a couple of the ones branching off it. Our first view of the Sound from the bus was great – it was laced with low clouds and very pretty. The boat is set up with long comfortable benches to seat 3 across on either side of a table. Perfect especially as there were relatively few people so we could spread out if we wanted. They slowed down and stopped the boat at various points to tell us things. They have tree avalanches there – there is really no top soil – just lichens then moss then interweaving roots. Some of the trees grow out at right angles to the vertical cliffs. Come a heavy rain or snow – poof – off a tree goes and since it is so interwoven with it’s neighbors, they go to. You can see large swathes carved out of the vegetation on the cliffs just starting to regenerate. Fascinating. Unfortunately we didn’t hook up with the dolphins or any penguins. We did head out of the sound into the Tasman Sea (next stop Australia!) and saw a colony of seals hanging about on the rocks. It got to be a much rockier ride out there. There were areas of the Sound that were glass smooth. And when the motor was turned off – awesome. Then back on the bus. This time we let off Phyllis, Quincy and another lady and baby and the bus headed down the road to the Power Plant. 2 km along and about 70 stories down there we were. We walked thru the cave/tunnel into the generator (?) room where they had some good information displays as well as the view to the generators of course. The plant was built in the late 60s – and thanks to public outcry there was no raising of the Lake we had come over on and the Plant was buried. Really minimal environmental impact. The driver pointed out along the way the 30 year growth versus old growth. It still had a ways to go but at least it was all green! I was surprised to read that the Plant was essentially built to power an Aluminum Smelting plant. Hmm. I was also interested to read that as early as 1904 the Lake was recognized as a potential energy source. Then back across the Lake and home to our lovely motel for the last of the daylight.
Tomorrow Milford Sound. I am afraid our weather luck may be running out.