MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Spring Roadie – Glacier Country

Being one of the wettest parts of the country, receiving the brunt of the weather that swings across the Tasman Sea, it is best to expect rain when on New Zealand’s west coast. Anything better is a bonus. The two times I’ve visited Glacier Country, the region around Fox glacier and Franz Josef glacier, the peaks of the Southern Alps have been shrouded by cloud and out of view. On my last visit here in 2016, my partner and I had stayed in Franz Josef, the bigger of the two villages, but this time round, with my brother, we stayed in Fox Glacier village, the southern of the two. My brother had planned on doing a heli-hike onto Fox glacier, his one big-ticket expense whilst he was over from Scotland visiting me. As I had done it with my partner last time, I was leaving him to it, planning on doing a walk to the glacier instead. So whilst my brother had an early rise to gobble down breakfast and get going, I had a relative lie-in and took my time getting up.

The weather out the window looked dubious, so I wasn’t fully surprised when my brother arrived back about an hour later, his trip having been canned due to weather concerns. I felt bad on his behalf but he shrugged it off. So we set off to do the hike together, making the short drive out of the village and up the valley to the start of the hike. By now mid-morning, it was a busy car park with a lot of people on the trail. Cutting through the scree-filled valley below some steep sided mountains, the clouds hung over the mountain tops, and waterfalls trickled down the slopes at varying intervals. There were rockfall warnings and flash-flood warnings dotted along the trail. Initially I couldn’t understand why the company had voted to cancel the trip as blue sky was visible, as was the top of the glacier, but as we walked further up the valley, the cloud closed in and dropped down. With tourists having been trapped up on the glacier in the past due to inclement weather, the company was taking no chances.

 

The walk was easy and pleasant, only becoming steep on the final section that rises up to the viewing spot. Like many glaciers, those of the Southern Alps are retreating and retreating fast. Eventually, loss of large ice shelves such as those of the poles will be the main cause of sea level rise, but currently it is these mountain glaciers. I hadn’t visited Fox glacier last time so had nothing to compare it to, but photos and markers on the glacier walks really demonstrate how different the glaciers looked a decade ago, never mind a century ago. It is sad to think how much further change will occur in my lifetime. Nonetheless, the view of Fox glacier at our visit in November 2017 was still impressive, and the off-white pillars on the leading face of the glacier were striking. On approach, the sight of the tiny people in the foreground against the towering glacier face was staggering. Once at the viewing spot, the glacier was some distance away. Only with a guide is it possible to get closer, but due to a combination of tourist deaths in the past as well as the retreat of the glacier face over time, it is not an option to walk up to or onto the foot of either glacier.

 

On our return, we took the drive back to the village and out the other side for the short distance to Lake Matheson. The reflections of the mountains on this lake is one of the country’s most famous photography locations, but with that pesky west coast weather, it is either pure fluke or a lot of patience to get the reward of that famous view for yourself. Both my 2016 and 2017 visits to this lake coincided with inclement weather, so not only were the tops of the mountains not visible, but the reflectivity of the lake surface was reduced and less effective under a grey sky. Nonetheless, it is still a nice wee walk around the lake, and the visitor centre has a lovely cafe for lunch.

 

Instead of heading back to the village, we continued along the road to the coast. The last section of this road is unsealed, and winding, but Gillespies Beach is a nice beach to take a walk on at the end of it, and the weather is often better here, being far enough away from the mountain-hugging clouds to make a difference. As such, it was slightly better weather when we got there and looking at the walks in the area, my brother suggested we take the long route to visit a fur seal colony quite some distance north. I’d walked part of this track before, but not the full route, so was more than happy to go with the suggestion. Passing the remnants of some old mines, the track travelled through the bush for some distance before cutting down to the beach a little before Quinlin Creek. This beach was the classic stony west coast beach, making for an awkward meander as we followed the beach to the mouth of the creek. Full of tannin, this dark river snaked upstream, and we followed its bank until some boardwalks took us across it.

 

From the far side onwards, we were fully immersed in bush, with no view to speak of for the most of it. Not only that, but the canopy above us meant that sections of the track were not drying out and time and time again we had to negotiate muddy quagmires. Despite my initial enthusiasm to get to the seal colony, and my usual enjoyment of hiking, I have to admit that as time went on I really started to hate this walk. Normally the Department of Conservation (DOC) signs that accompany most hikes in New Zealand are over generous with hiking times for someone of my fitness, and as such I’ve come to assume that I’ll do these walks in less than the suggested time. So I was irked when the displayed time for the hike came and went and there was no sign of imminent arrival at the beach we were heading to. We’d only past 2 other people coming the other way, and their response on inquiry about the remaining distance had not filled me with much reassurance. When at last we reached the steep descent down to the beach, I was both relieved as much as disappointed that we had so much distance to travel back on.

My brother kept his feelings internal. I’m not sure if he was bothered or not, or just enjoyed the exercise. It’s not often I find a walk disappointing or frustrating but at least there was a fur seal swimming in the water for my brother to see, although no sign of a colony as the sign had suggested. On our return leg, we took a side-track to an old mine which was effectively a tunnel dug through the rocks. As we came back through and down the track we stumbled across a stoat which came bounding towards us then quickly disappeared. As much as I know they are a pest species, and a destructive one at that, I can’t help being excited when I spot wildlife, even if conservationists would like to see them eradicated. The introduction of so many pest species has been the cause of extinction of, or endangerment of, many of New Zealand’s native fauna. This country is a good example of what mess humans can make when they meddle in the natural order of things.

 

The next morning was as inclement as the day before. Again the mountain tops were hidden from view and it was clear that there was no point in my brother trying again for the heli-hike that day. We took the drive through the mountain pass to Franz Josef and headed up the valley road to the start of the glacier walk. This one I had done before on the 2016 visit, and there had been some slight upgrades to the path since then. Unlike the Fox glacier walk, the track is rather more undulating in the first section, climbing up over a hillock before dropping down to the level of the river. The clouds rose and lifted as we walked, giving intermittent glimpses of blue sky and the glacier top. Immediately on arrival to the glacier viewing spot I could see a difference in the glacier front. There may only have been 22 months between the 2 visits but I was convinced there had been a visible retreat. I couldn’t quite put my finger on where or how, but there was a definite feeling of change. It wasn’t until we’d gotten home a few days later and I was able to compare photographs that I could prove there was definitely a difference.

 

As we walked back to the car, we stopped at the waterfalls on route and took a side-track to a viewing spot at the top of a hillock. As an adult I’ve discovered quite an interest in geology, including doing some distance learning courses on the subject. New Zealand is a fascinating country for geology enthusiasts with all sorts of natural forces in play to shape and mould the geography. So I love the glacier paths of the South Island as much as the volcanic rifts and historical lava flows of the North Island. All along the valley walls were clear signs of the wear that the weight of the ice has carved into the rocks as it previously flowed down the valley many years ago. Back in the car, we drove past the signs on the road that mark the end of the glacier in the years gone by, a sad indicator of the rate of retreat.

 

After lunch in Franz Josef village, it was time to push northwards. Past Lake Mapourika, we took the turn-off down to Okarito where a lagoon harbours wetland birds and kiwi spotting may be possible at night. There was a choice of walks from here and we decided to cut across the wetlands and up to the view overlooking them. I was only wearing my jandals (flip flops), so wasn’t really best suited to go onwards, but my brother wanted to keep walking to the trig view point up the hill, so I tagged along anyway, inwardly realising I was one of those hikers that I’ve often rolled my eyes at when out hiking in the mountains: the under-prepared hiker in inappropriate footwear. It was rather sore under foot and not the best grip on the steeper sections, so I was glad when we finally made it to the top and I could give my feet a rest. From the viewpoint we could see just how large the Okarito lagoon to the north was and to the south, the smaller Three Mile Lagoon was also evident, the end-point of a longer walk that we didn’t have time for.

 

Hitting the road yet again, I was finding the driving a bit tiring after multiple days of long distance driving in a row. Even with the regular stops it was still a drag. I’m stubborn though and was intent on letting my brother enjoy the scenery unhindered, so insisted on doing all the driving. However as we got stuck behind a lorry on a particularly winding section, I took my chance to overtake on a slow vehicle passing lane but underestimated the power of my car to gain speed up the hill. Before I knew it, the lane was running short and the lorry readied to pull back in when I was still halfway along side it. I made a split second decision to make a manoeuvre that got us past the lorry but at great risk. I don’t think my brother realised what I did as it was over before he knew it but being prone to anxiety I immediately went into a panic for not driving to my normal standards and found myself having to pull in at a lake side to calm myself down. I felt like an idiot and spent the rest of the afternoon apologising to my brother. He seemed bemused and rather confused about the whole incident, neither understanding the road rules here, nor appreciating why I’d gotten myself into such a state. With me living so far away from my family for many years, they have been spared the sight of me going through my occasional bouts of mental illness. It was with great relief when we eventually reached our destination for the night that evening, but getting closer to home, we both started to realise how close to the end our road trip really was.

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Spring Roadie – From the Lakes to the Coast

With so much choice, it’s hard to pick the best drive in New Zealand. I love so many of the South Island’s roads and mountain passes, we’re really spoilt for choice here. From Wanaka, the road to the west coast via Haast Pass is one of these great drives with so many places to stop at on route. I’d previously driven as far west as the Blue Pools, but beyond that was a small part of the country that I’d never been to before. At the time, nearly 6 years since arriving in the country, I’d already crossed off a large percentage of it, and this was another little section to finally cross off the list.

A short drive from Wanaka, the views start almost immediately with the arrival at the neighbouring Lake Hawea with its small and quiet little settlement of the same name. There was a haze in the air, meaning the view wasn’t as sharp as I’ve previously seen but the lake was still a brilliant blue and by the lake side the water was crystal clear. Flanked by mountains, it is a beautiful vista, and my brother and I took a short walk along the lake side before stopping at the dam at the entrance to the village. It was so peaceful, with few people here compared to Wanaka and with little development here either. Only a handful of people were milling around, so our view of the blue lake under the blue sky was one of tranquility.

 

Continuing along the highway that flanks the lake side, there are a few places to pull in to appreciate the view. The main one is about two thirds of the way along, but it can get quite busy, especially when a coach turns up. From several of these, it is possible to appreciate the length of the lake. These are the trips where I wish I lived nearer as I know there are so many hikes that could be done in the area. Passing a couple on the way, we stopped at the first of two lookouts at the Neck, the narrow isthmus that splits Lake Hawea from Lake Wanaka.

 

Crossing to the other side, we said goodbye to Lake Hawea and welcomed the equally beautiful sight of Lake Wanaka again which the road follows for some distance. Again there are some great view points along this road, and we stopped first at a boat ramp and then at the Boundary Creek campsite which was very busy. At this point, we were oblivious to the time pressures of this drive. We hadn’t hurried ourselves to leave, and with the beautiful sunny sky above us, I was stopping left right and centre so we could take lots of photographs. Although my brother had planned the route, he’d given me plenty of leeway with where to stop each day, and determined as I was to show off the country I now call home, I was taking every opportunity to do so. This meant a very leisurely morning and a slightly rushed afternoon as the enormity of the distance to cover became more apparent.

 

Eventually though, we left Lake Wanaka behind us and started across the valley that would wind us towards Haast Pass. We were able to get a bit of distance behind us, pushing on to Blue Pools before stopping. This place is very popular, not just with tourists but with sand flies, the bane of South Island waterways. I grew up with midges in Scotland, and they never bothered me half as much as the sand flies do here in New Zealand. No matter what repellent I use, their swarms have ruined many an outdoor experience for me, and here was to be no different. They gave my brother with his foreign smell a wide birth, and pestered me like crazy once we emerged from the short bush walk to the river. Like the last time I was here, I thought I’d risk taking a paddle in the glacier water, and like last time it was so frigid it hurt my feet, and I wondered about the foolhardiness (or bravery) of the people who jump from the bridge or go for a swim.

 

From here to the west was all new territory for me and I was excited. Emerging from the trees, we reached Cameron Flat where we stopped first at the campsite and then a short distance further where we trudged up to a lookout over the river. We ate lunch here overlooking the valley below, about half-way between Wanaka and the west coast. Our destination for the night was still some distance away, and from this point onwards I unintentionally took over my brother’s road trip and kept stopping, even after my brother voiced his want to skip some places.

 

One of these stops was Haast Pass where a walk trudges up the hillside to a lookout. It was a sticky walk in the heat, steeper than I’d anticipated, longer than I’d thought it would be and the view a little less spectacular than I’d expected (although still pretty enough). In hindsight, we could have skipped this, as with Fantail Falls which we also stopped at further along the road. A short bush walk brought us out to a pebbly river bank which was littered in stone stacks. The waterfall was on the far bank of the river and as before, the sand flies descended on me.

 

Beyond the Gates of Haast, a road bridge that spans the Haast River, and down the hill was the prettier Thunder Creek waterfall. Feeling guilty now about taking over my brother’s trip, I quickly offered to back-track to the bridge when my brother voiced an interest in seeing it up close. So back up the hill we parked either side of it then walked down to watch the water gush through the chasm. It was exceptionally noisy but we were the only ones there and deep as it was within a canyon in the mountains, we could look up at the peaks that flanked us undisturbed.

 

Eventually the road cut once more across the Haast river, and here at Pleasant Flat campsite, there was a stunning view across a plain to a snow and cloud capped mountain peak. Following the river downstream, State Highway 6 eventually takes a near 90 degree turn where the Haast river and Landsborough river unite. As we headed west, the clouds built up more and more on the mountain tops around us and the sunshine disappeared from view. We stopped at the Roaring Billy waterfall, another stop which with hindsight we could have skipped, and wandered along the river bank a little before the final push to the west coast.

 

Finally we cut through Haast and found ourselves back in sunshine as we reached the western flank of the Southern Alps. I had pre-warned my brother about the pebbly nature of west coast beaches, so found myself eating my words as we got out the car at Haast beach and walked out onto a beautiful stretch of sand. Behind us the clouds shrouded the mountain tops but in front of us the Tasman Sea glistened under the golden orb. The west coast is notorious for its wild weather so it was nice to arrive there in sunshine. Unfortunately we were still about 120km away from our night’s stay and the afternoon was wearing on towards evening. The drive was proving why New Zealand’s distances don’t look much on paper, but can easily take a lot more time than anticipated.

 

We pulled in at Ship Creek which I would have loved to have just relaxed at for a while. There were several people overnighting here and I was a little jealous. We explored the immediate vicinity before getting back on the road. At Knight’s Point the sun was getting low causing a glare to the west, but it still seemed sunny ahead of us. But the road cut inland and as it did so, it plunged us back under the cloud that had been shrouding the Southern Alps.

 

My brother had been keen to do a walk to Monro Beach where it is possible to go penguin watching. But due to me taking over his trip and stopping at so many places on the Haast Pass road, my brother didn’t feel we had the time to do the hike and I felt guilty when he requested we keep going when we passed the start of it at Lake Moeraki. If I was to do the drive again, I’d skip the Haast Pass lookout and Roaring Billy falls if not the Fantail falls also, which probably would have given us a bit of time to do the Monro beach walk. From here onwards though, we drove through light rain, the weather that I’m more accustomed to on this coast. I was so over driving by this point too, so although we stopped briefly at Lake Puringa, the rain hadn’t dulled the sand flies, and I wasn’t keen to hang around long. In the ever darkening skies, we pushed through the remaining 70km to finally pull in at our stop for the night in Fox Glacier, at the southern end of the Glacier Country. I could but hope for the rain to have cleared by the next day, ready for us to explore another unique part of New Zealand.

Spring Roadie – Te Anau to Wanaka

Waking up to grey skies made my brother and I appreciate our fortune from the day before even more. To have had sunshine for our visit to Milford Sound had been glorious. My brother had arranged to take a boat down Lake Te Anau to visit a glowworm cave. Having done this trip on my last visit to Te Anau, and having seen hundreds of glowworms whilst caving in Waitomo, I stayed behind and mulled around the lake side. A giant takahe sculpture represents the conservation work of this rare and endangered bird that is going on nearby, and from here I followed the path along the shoreline, meandering through the trees towards the small marina. I had plenty of time to kill so admired the boats for a while before heading back. I decided to pop to the small cinema at the back of the settlement to watch their film about the local area. I had watched it 3 years prior and had been blown away by it so was happy to sit through it again. Despite looking a little dated now, it was still as spectacular as before and worth watching.

 

When my brother returned from his trip, we reunited for lunch in a cafe at the back of Te Anau before heading off north. We’d driven this road through rain a couple of days prior but had it dry this time round. I drove first to Lake Manapouri a little along the road, where the distant mountains that mark the divide between Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound were shrouded in cloud, and from there we continued onward, eventually returning to the lake side of the enormous Lake Wakatipu. Without the rain though, we were able to stop in places and actually enjoy the view. Despite being a Sunday, the roads were steady enough with traffic as being November, we were into the tourist season and so there were plenty of motor homes around. The view at Devils Staircase was one of the most impressive on the drive where, even on a grey day, the winding drive along the lake edge was pretty. Further north just before the road left the lakeside, we parked up and walked down to a small pebbly beach and this gave us a view almost all the way down the southern arm of the lake. After passing some time here, it was back on the road, returning to Frankton and continuing north before taking the turn-off for the Crown Range.

 

I’d previously only driven up the first few bends of the Crown Range many years before with my partner but the conditions hadn’t allowed us to take the full drive. So this was to be my first time on this road which is the country’s highest sealed road. The weather was thinking about brightening with glimpses of sun trying to break through the cloud, but there was also a bit of wind up high adding a slight chill. The first viewpoint was at the top of the switchback which allows a rapid gain in altitude. Further along there was a scenic lookout which overlooked the Gibbston Valley below and from here it was clear to see how the planes flew low over here when on approach to Queenstown airport. After more bends and a final push in altitude gain we pulled in at the Crown Range Summit where a lot of people were milling around and an old-fashioned car was getting a lot of attention. A plaque marked it as the highest point on the road, and a walk set off from here which I would have loved to have done on a clearer day.

 

From the summit it was a long descent through the Cardrona Valley to eventually reach Wanaka, one of my favourite parts of the country. Unfortunately it is another place who’s popularity is threatening the very virtues that I love, but nonetheless I was still more than happy to be there, and I drove straight to the waterfront to show it off to my brother before we checked in. The surrounding summits were mostly visible although the cloud was threatening to hide them. We took a wander along the path by the lake as the sun dropped low, eventually finding ourselves by the crowds at the lake’s most famous tree. ‘That Wanaka Tree’ amuses me greatly. When I first visited Wanaka in 2012, few people gave the little tree in the lake a second glance. I myself walked past it daily whilst I was there and never even acknowledged it. Suddenly it started popping up on social media more and more and when I returned to Wanaka four years later in 2016, it had its own Instagram plaque and it was forever surrounded by a frenzy of people trying to photograph it. My brother felt obliged to take a photograph of it but was then more intent on photographing the crowd of people that was gathered. A non-social media user, he was greatly amused by the scene. I thought it spoke volumes about the role of social media in modern society.

 

The next morning we were back to sunshine again, and the blue sky overhead made the lake sparkle. My brother chose a route for us to walk and so after breakfast, we returned to the lake side but this time followed it in the other direction. Following Roys Bay towards Bremner Bay, we had an uninterrupted view over to Roys Peak, one of my favourite walks in the area. The summit was hidden from view but as time passed on as we walked, the cloud here, as well as that towards Mount Aspiring National Park on the far side of the lake, gradually dissipated.

 

The main town of Wanaka has changed since my first visit and the main beach can get very crowded in peak season, but round the lake at Bremner Bay, it feels more secluded and this is where I would love to live if I was ever able to move here. The views across the lake here are absolutely stunning and also remind me of Scotland. Continuing beyond here, we eventually reached the lake outlet where the first signs of the development that has occurred since that first visit became evident. We found ourselves in a holiday park that wasn’t there before and we cut from here along a new road past new housing developments to reach the back of Albert Town which had expanded outwards in my absence.

 

Our destination was Mt Iron, a distinctive hill which offers a great viewpoint over the area. There are several routes up depending on which direction you approach from and we found our way up to the top via a route I wasn’t aware of. Our view on the way up was over Albert Town which I could now see had grown so much. From the summit, the view away from Wanaka looked the same, the flat plains spreading away towards the surrounding mountain ranges. It was as we crossed over the summit and started the descent down on the Wanaka side that I could really appreciate how much the town had expanded. An entire new estate had appeared, coming right up to the bottom of the hill and a new car park and new toilet block sat at the bottom of the trail. The facilities are much needed with the increase in tourist numbers but it highlighted the fact that the once quiet Wanaka was losing its peacefulness. I don’t enjoy Queenstown because of its busyness and brashness, and I can only hope that Wanaka never completely gives in to the same folly.

 

We ate a late lunch in a cafe near the lake, and although initially disappointed with my brother’s desire to now do nothing despite several good walks in the area, by the time I’d finished sucking lemons, I found myself give into the laziness very quickly as we sat on the pebbled beach by the lakeside. My brother people watched whilst I snoozed in the warm sunshine. I’m normally an active person on holiday, always on the go, always wanting to pack as much in as possible. I don’t like sitting still, or being lazy or sunbathing. This can make me a frustrating person to travel with, or equally makes me frustrated to travel with other people, which is part of the reason I often enjoy going solo. But every now and again, and usually without forward planning, I’m either forced to or give in to being lazy and just being still, and on those rare occasions I actually enjoy it. As such, I ended up being very glad that my brother was happy to just sit there for a while, and I was very glad to rest my feet and relax.

Another sunny morning greeted us for the long day that we had planned ahead. It was time to say goodbye to Wanaka and head west through the Haast Pass. With a lot of driving ahead for me, I was to be grateful for the afternoon’s relaxing the day before. Before leaving the town behind, we took a quick trip up to the war memorial, the car park of which offers a nice view across the lake. Wanaka is such a long drive from my home city of Christchurch, that I knew I was leaving it unclear of when I’d next return. So I absorbed the view as best as I could to retain the image as a memory, before we had to head on.

Spring Roadie – Milford Sound to Te Anau

Aside from cruising down the fjord on one of the many boat trips, there is also a shoreline walk at Milford Sound that is always worth taking the time to do. By the time my brother and I had arrived back into dock in late morning, the tide was getting low, but the sun was much higher. The pier that sticks out into the water at the ferry terminal was a good place to start the shoreline walk from and after popping out to the end of it for us both to take some photographs, we meandered our way back towards the car park.

 

Beyond the other side of here is a small peninsula that juts out. A little trail leads through the bush here and with the low tide, there was plenty of opportunity to walk out onto the exposed stony shore and take in the view. It’s really hard to take a bad photograph here when the view is so stunning. Even though it wasn’t my first time, I still happily filled my memory card and in between times walked around with a smile on my face. It was a busy little waterfront by this stage with many of the tourists from the morning boat trips having the same plan, but despite this it was still tranquil and didn’t feel overcrowded.

 

But eventually it was time to push on, as the drive back to Te Anau is very scenic and there were lots of stops to be made. The first of these was the Chasm, not too far out of Milford Sound as the road starts its wind back up through the deep valley. The high volume of water through the valleys in Fiordland National Park has long been weathering and changing the landscape. In the case of the Chasm, a narrow channel of fast moving water has created a literal chasm in the rock causing the water to gush through a rocky channel and cascade over a drop. Whilst it is a short walk to see it, the bridge has been placed right over the waterfall which means it is actually really difficult to fully visualise the extent of the fall which seems to me to be a bit of bad planning. None-the-less, the gaps in the foliage as we walked through the bush to get back from it, offered a sneaky peak at the surrounding mountain peaks.

 

From there, the road winds its way uphill to the man-made wonder that is Homer Tunnel. It is particularly impressive to approach it from this side as the steep slopes of the mountains grow closer and closer as if they will swallow you, and all there is to see in front of you is a sheer rock wall. The effort involved in blasting this rudimentary tunnel through such solid rock would have been incredible, but without it, Milford Sound would only be accessible by sea or air. A series of S-bends raises the altitude and towards the top, a large area to pull in at is worth pausing at to appreciate the dramatic rocky sides of this magnificent valley. Snow melt meant there were plenty of little waterfalls cascading down the rockface.

 

Because the tunnel is unsealed and unwalled, the restricted width, height and constant dripping water throughout the length of the tunnel means it is classed as a 1-lane road, with traffic lights controlling the flow during peak season. Queuing to pass through is inevitable but it is efficient, and once back on the other side we again pulled in near the site of the morning’s kea encounter where we marvelled at the snow piled up by the roadside and once again watched the kea causing chaos. Further up the valley we paused at a lookout over the entrance to the Hollyford Valley, an area I’m keen to explore further on foot. Then beyond here, was our main stop on the drive.

 

Having lived in New Zealand for well over 6 years now, and having seen the increasing tourist numbers and the environmental effects that is occurring as a result, I’m torn about recommending my favourite places to go, because I want to keep them the way I found them: quiet and untouched. But if I was asked what one short walk shouldn’t be missed on a New Zealand trip, then Key Summit would be it. Reached from the Divide on the Te Anau-Milford Highway, it is also the start of the very popular Routeburn Track, one of the country’s multi-day Great Walks. But within 2-3 hours, you can hike up to Key Summit and be back at your car, and the views of the surrounding mountain ranges on a clear day are just incredible.

Like the last time I hiked it, the sun was shining and the sky was blue, but this time round, it was so bright that I had great issues with over-exposure of the photographs I was taking. About 3.5 years after the last visit, we pulled into the car park, and not only was it packed, but the extension (which hadn’t been present when I was there last time) was also packed, and a spill-over car park down a steep and rutted slope was also nearly full. I couldn’t get over the difference. The trail was also full of people coming and going and this is why I am torn to recommend my favourite places: I hike to be amongst nature and seek solitude, so I hate walking busy routes.

The initial part of the trail is amongst bush with just the occasional break in the trees to see a glimpse of the nearby peaks. It isn’t until close to the turn-off to Key Summit that the real views begin. Away from the Routeburn Track, the Key Summit route zig-zags up the mountainside until eventually it reaches a plateau where a boardwalk takes you on an alpine nature walk. From shrubs to tarns and the mountain peaks around it, I cannot do the view justice with words. Even the photographs fail to show the splendour of the view and I’m pretty sure my brother was blown away. He wasn’t in the country long enough to tackle any lengthy hiking trails, but here he was getting a good idea of what the country has to offer.

 

Although the plateau is Key Summit, at 919m (3016ft), there is a higher peak behind it which offers a really good view point back down over the tarns. This path had been completely upgraded since my last visit, as had the lookout itself which was busy, unlike the last time I was here when only myself and 1 other person had bothered to take the rudimentary track up the slope. Now a proper gravelled track led up here and I again pondered about the changes that were needing to be made to meet the demands of foot traffic. From this height though, it is just possible to make out a sliver of Lake Marian which sits hidden within a mountain valley near the entrance to the Hollyford Valley.

 

Returning to Key Summit, we continued the circuit of the alpine nature walk, crossing boardwalks, then rocks, absorbing the view around us. In shaded patches, stale snow lay on the ground and I left my brother to enjoy himself, myself slipping into my own wee world as I tend to do when I’m out hiking in nature. Had we had endless hours to spare, I could have happily sat up there with a picnic and just stared out at the mountains. As it was, the hours of the day were creeping onwards and so having had our fill of the fresh mountain air, we finished the circuit and made our way back down to the Routeburn Track, and back towards the car.

 

We stopped at the Mirror Lakes further along the road, which like last time I was here, was not reflective due to an afternoon breeze. Like many reflective lakes in New Zealand, early morning on a still day is the best time to see the effect. We stayed long enough for my brother to read all the info boards before we pushed on. As we cruised through the Eglinton Valley which had been cloaked in a mesmerising mist that morning, we stopped a couple of times at the side of the road just to appreciate the difference that full daylight made.

 

By the time we reached the top of Lake Te Anau, I was getting tired. It was still sunny overhead but the sun was dropping creating a glare across the water. We paused briefly at the pier that the Milford Sound track boat leaves from and eventually pulled into Te Anau in the early evening. We went out for pizza at an Italian restaurant near the main street before retiring to the hostel along the road to rest our legs from a day of activity. I adore Fiordland National Park, but I was just as excited to take my brother to another of my favourite places the next day.

Spring Roadie – Queenstown to Milford Sound

Three and a half years after my last visit, when I had come to hike my first multi-day walk in New Zealand, I found myself back in Te Anau, having driven from Queenstown through rain and arrived in cloud. The area of Fiordland National Park and its immediate surroundings is the wettest part of the country and it is said that you should go there expecting rain, with anything better being a bonus. Last time round I’d managed to miss the worst of the weather whilst walking the Kepler Track and had then been rewarded with a glorious day in Milford Sound. The drive to Te Anau was the first bad weather my brother had experienced since arriving in the country for the first time, and I was inwardly concerned about what we would get the next day. But we busied ourselves with dinner ahead of an early night; an early rise was to follow.

The Milford Highway is one of the most stunning drives in the country, and also one of the busiest. Milford Sound may be at the end of a long dead-end road but it is top of many a tourist’s wish list and so its worth planning the best time to tackle the drive to avoid the bulk of the crowds. I knew from last time that it was best to head off in darkness, get the drive out the way to catch the morning boat trip, and then take your time driving back, stopping at all the highlights on the way. I convinced my brother that this was the best choice, and so we duly set off at dawn. The mist was incredible and I wished I wasn’t driving so that I could take some photos of it, but at least my brother got to soak it in, and I glanced at it often when I was able to take my eyes off the winding road. The sweeping Eglinton Valley was spectacular with the mist, and it only started to disappear once we were more nestled amongst the mountains.

We stopped at Pop’s View Lookout for a breakfast snack overlooking Mount Christina and the Hollyford Valley. There was snow on the peaks poking up in the background, and somewhere hidden nearby was Lake Marion, out of sight. As we continued onwards, I noticed there had been a few road upgrades since I’d last been there and by the time we reached the entrance to Homer Tunnel, we had made good time. My attention was grabbed by some kea on a car parked by the road so I pulled over for my brother to get a look. Immediately a kea flew over and landed on the roof as my brother watched it. I suddenly realised my brother had left the passenger car door open as the kea hopped onto it and eyeballed me inside. I adore kea, the cheeky alpine parrot that is endemic in New Zealand, but with their cheekiness comes a destructive inquisitiveness and I had visions of it coming in the car and causing havoc. I called to my brother to close the door, the bird hopping back onto the roof as he did. We enjoyed the close encounter, surrounded by the steep mountains of the alps. Moving around the car to photograph the kea from a different angle, I realised too late, and to my dismay, that my brother hadn’t closed the door properly, and I cried out as the kea’s sharp beak bit a hole in the door’s rubber seal.

 

Driving through the Homer Tunnel, dripping with water from the roof onto the uneven ground below, and emerging at the far end to the steep mountain sides flanking the valley below, is an utter sight to behold. I was excited that the day was clearly a gloriously sunny one, and for the second time, I was lucky to experience the wettest part of the country on a beautiful sunny day. I was so glad that my brother got to experience the sunshine too. We finally pulled in at Milford Sound where the car park was starting to fill up for the day. We had picked the quieter time to take a boat trip there, but Milford Sound is far from quiet with a plethora of cruise options attracting plenty of tourists at all times of the day.

The foreshore walk from the car park to the ferry terminal offers one of the classic viewing spots across to Mitre Peak, the mountain peak that the area is famous for. Adorning every postcard and promotion material you can come across, the lighting wasn’t at its best at that time of the day, but with the tide in, the mountain reflected well in the water. We were nearly at the terminal when I realised I’d left the ferry ticket in the car and I had to run back through a sea of people coming against me, to grab it. I was knackered by the time I made it back to my brother, where he informed me that he’d checked us in without it. As we waited to board, we were the last boat to load and we discovered that our boat had been changed to a smaller vessel. I didn’t think anything of it, but my brother seemed disappointed, and I realised that this must have been a part of the trip that he was really looking forward to and the limited space on the boat concerned him that it would be overcrowded.

 

In the end though, I think he quickly forgot this as we got going. With the blue sky, sunshine and stunning scenery, it would have been hard to hold a grudge for long. Crossing first to the base of Mitre Peak, our boat joined the procession of tour boats that were ploughing the same route along the western slopes. The sides of the fjord are steep and covered in thick green vegetation, broken intermittently where a waterfall cascades down from somewhere on high. After heavy rain the waterfalls increase in number and strength, but even on a dry day, there were plenty to see. Passing a New Zealand fur seal hauled out on some rocks, we waited our turn to point the bow underneath one of the waterfalls, soaking the people at the front of the boat. Then, a little further along, some rare Fiordland Crested penguins were spotted on rocks and we hovered by them for some time. The bow of the boat quickly became packed with people desperate to take photos but my brother remained at the stern. I was surprised he would let himself miss out on the opportunity to see them, but assumed he was irked by the sudden squash of people on the small boat. It turned out he could see them just fine as the boat had angled enough to the side, and so he spotted his first ever wild penguins.

 

Eventually we found ourselves at the entrance to the fjord, staring out at the Tasman Sea, and here the boat sat for a while, bobbing around on the waves as my brother got to see the west coast for the first time. When we headed back into the fjord, the boat hugged the opposite side which was mostly in the shade. This was the compromise for the morning boat trip in November: the sun wasn’t high enough to light up both flanks. But it was still a gorgeous view, and my brother was able to get a close up of some New Zealand fur seals, another creature that’s different from the wildlife of Scotland. Then a little further into the fjord, a call went up that dolphins were about. I wasn’t expecting them and was caught off guard, and both of us scrambled over to the edge to look, catching an all-too-brief sighting before they disappeared out of view.

 

As we approached Harrison Cove, the view opened up a little to reveal the snowy peak of Mount Pembroke. Nestled within the cove is the underwater discovery centre that I had stopped at on my last trip here. This time round we were skipping this, and passing the cove signalled that the tour was almost over. As we cruised back to the ferry terminal, the familiar face of Mitre Peak crept back into view as Bowen Falls gushed down in the shadows to our side. There was still so much ahead of us that day, but it had been a cracking start and I’m pretty sure my brother enjoyed his sail through New Zealand’s most famous fjord.

Spring Roadie: Mount Cook to Queenstown

My brother and I awoke to a sunny morning, however the mountain tops were nowhere to be seen. Mount Cook village is nestled amongst some of the tallest mountains in the country, close to the west coast, and as such, the area is privy to its own weather system, and at the mercy of the cloud systems. Luckily my brother had had plenty of opportunity to see Aoraki/Mount Cook the previous day, because we were not to see it again on our trip. I love this part of the country because it is surrounded by mountains, littered with walking and hiking trails, and due to being at the end of a very long dead-end road, it feels secluded and a bit less touristy than some of the rest of the South Island. I’ve visited a few times previously, including a visit where the village was surrounded by snow. The most recent visit prior to this one with my brother was to attempt to hike up to the Mueller Hut, high up in the mountains above the village, but I was a bit early in the season to go up, and wasn’t prepared for the snow in the upper reaches, thus being thwarted.

With an action packed 10 days of South Island driving to get through, my brother had selected the Hooker Valley track as his walk to do in the National Park. It is one of the country’s most popular walks, leading across alpine vegetation from the village to the lake at the base of Aoraki. We left the village in sunshine, but the clouds were falling over the mountain tops all around us, and it was clear the weather would close in as we progressed along the hike. There were plenty of other people on the trail that day, and we made good time treading along the well-maintained path. Some of the alpine flowers were starting to bloom, which along with the glacier lakes and nearby river, were a ready distraction as we hiked. As we neared the final rise at the end of the trail, spots of rain began and accompanied us as we reached the viewing area of the lake and Aoraki. The bulk of the mountain was hidden behind the cloud, which was a shame, but there was plenty of iceberg activity below to look at.

 

A path leads down the scree to the lakeside and this is the place to go for a close up of the icebergs. The rain was driving into us a little here which made it cold, so we hid in the lee of a large boulder whilst we had a snack, popping out briefly to take photos and pick up shards of ice. This was my brother’s first experience of icebergs, and it made me realise how much I’ve gotten used to the New Zealand landscapes in the 6 years I’ve lived here. I certainly don’t take it for granted, ever in awe when I see the glacier lakes, the towering mountains and the braided rivers, but I’d certainly forgotten what it was like to see these things for the first time. Whilst New Zealand has many similarities to Scotland, there are enough differences to make you appreciate you’re somewhere different.

 

By the time we had returned to the village, the clouds had closed in a little more. I had wanted to take my brother to the nearby Tasman glacier lake, but it was clear as we passed the turnoff that there would be nothing but cloud to see if we went, so it wasn’t worth wasting any more time. We had a few hours driving ahead to reach Queenstown, so by late morning we were on the road. Down the long stretch of road past Lake Pukaki, and onwards to the south, we had lunch in Twizel before continuing. There is a definite change in landscape as you follow the inland road south, and a somewhat desert quality starts to creep in. A little north of Omarama, I drove off the main road and headed along a dirt track, past an honesty box at the gate onto private property, and onwards to the Clay Cliffs. I’ve driven past the sign for these every other time I’ve been through this way, and so this was the first time I’d actually visited.

From the car park, an obvious track leads up to the base of the cliffs which stood distinctively like pinnacles against the blue sky. We had returned to sunshine, and meandered into the gaps between the peaks. It initially looked like there was an obvious path to follow, but after an initial climb and slide up loose scree, it became quite clear that the path petered out and became vague and loose under foot. Some people ahead of us sent a wake of loose stone in our direction and we did the same to those behind us. In the end, we backtracked a little, picked a different route through then once again reached an impasse. It felt like we were in some kind of foreign desert landscape and I was glad to have finally visited. My brother enjoyed squirrelling around the place also, and we found more paths to follow, away from the main track, as we slowly made our way back to the car park.

 

Continuing south, we cut through Omarama and onwards to Lindis Pass, one of the many mountain passes that New Zealand has. At 971m (3186ft), the Lindis Pass is the highest road pass in the South Island. The vegetation here is rather scrubby, which makes the view a little uninteresting to me, but at the top is a viewpoint where you can stop to look back at the road already travelled. From here, the drive down the other side towards Cromwell is windy, and we snaked our way down the hill, eventually arriving at Lake Dunstan which the road hugs all the way to Cromwell. We stopped briefly by the lake shore and also the giant fruit in Cromwell’s town centre, but the shadows were already starting to lengthen, accentuated by the steep mountain sides that flank the Kawarau Gorge on route to Queenstown. I’ve never had the opportunity to stop anywhere in the gorge before, and didn’t really know where was worth stopping at, so apart from a brief pull-in near a power station, we pushed on, arriving in Queenstown by the late afternoon.

 

Nestled around the shores of the large expanse of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is an odd place. The main settlement is sandwiched between the lake and the mountains and as such sits in shadow for the latter part of the day. Kelvin Heights across the Frankton Arm of the lake is better situated for sunshine hours. Queenstown will always be an immense drawcard for many, with nearby ski fields for winter lovers, adrenalin activities on its doorstep, water sports and hiking within easy reach and a plethora of bars and eateries to choose from. I however, am not one of its fans. I’ll happily visit it from time to time, but it is overcrowded and eager to part you with your cash. We were staying along the lakeshore away from the main drag which was great, and it was a pleasant walk along the lakefront as the sun was lowering. We went for dinner at The Cow, one of my favourite places to eat in town, and afterwards, I always find it impossible not to visit Patagonia, a chocolate and ice cream shop that sells divine ice cream. I didn’t need it, but I sure did my best to shove the cold chocolatey delight down my gob.

 

The next morning was one of sunshine, and we had another morning hike planned. Although Queenstown has a gondola, it is also possible to hike up the hillside to the viewing platform, rather than pay the fee for the gondola. So as we are both avid walkers, and by way of saving money, we left our accommodation that morning and picked our way up into the forest behind the hostel. Ironically, before my brother had announced his visit to New Zealand, I’d already booked to fly to Queenstown for Christmas, in order to hike Ben Lomond, the tall mountain immediately behind the lake. So a month before I’d be back to hike it, we found ourselves on the Ben Lomond track which eventually joins up with the road up to the gondola building. Some old pipes litter the track and as we found ourselves at a waterfall, the route became a little unclear. I discovered when I was back in December that we had taken a wrong turn, but we did eventually make our way back to the proper path.

The route eventually breaks out into the mountain bike park that is scattered across the hillside. Here the Ben Lomond track separates from the road to the gondola building and we had to keep our eyes and ears open as the bike tracks regularly cut across in front of us. There were plenty of bikes out on the trails, whizzing past us at speed at regular intervals. Finally, the familiar view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu opened up below us, and we were back amongst the crowds jostling around the viewing spots. With the ziplines, luge and bungy jump, this was a good example of how you could spend a lot of money here, but we simply meandered around and watched as people either raced down the tracks in their little carts or chucked themselves off a platform. At the time of visiting in November, there was plenty of work being done here to upgrade the facilities and this made a couple of spots extra busy, but we did manage to get some spots of grass to ourselves to soak up the view.

 

We hiked down via the Tiki trail which brought us out at the back of town. Picking our way through the streets, we stopped for lunch at a cafe overlooking a square, and then headed into the Queenstown gardens. The blue skies had been replaced by clouds, but the mountain tops were still clear so despite the change in outlook, we still had a great view over to the summits. It is a lovely walk along the lake foreshore round the little peninsula, and is another example of a free thing to do in Queenstown. In fact, if you don’t mind using your own two feet, there are several free things you can do here. Once on the far side of the peninsula, overlooking the Frankton Arm, we cut up onto the hill in the middle and into the compact Botanic Gardens. Being springtime, there were plenty of flowers in bloom to look at and we both found plenty to take photographs of.

 

We walked back to the car parked far around the lakefront and although we didn’t have enough time to drive all the way to Glenorchy, I took my brother to Bennet’s Bluff lookout about half way there where there is a stunning view across the lake. The cloud detracted from it a little, but the steely colour of the water was still stunning and it was worthwhile taking the detour. We weren’t to see any sun for the rest of the day, and on return to Queenstown, I drove through it and out the other side, cutting across the Kawarau river bridge tracking south. Hugging the southern arm of Lake Wakatipu for some distance, we hit rain as we continued onwards on our South Island road trip.

Spring Roadie: Christchurch to Mount Cook

With my brother visiting New Zealand for the first time, he had planned a road trip around the South Island to see some of the country’s highlights. After all, he hadn’t travelled all this way just to see his little sister! Originally he was going to head off on his own, but after securing the time off work and double checking that he was prepared to spend 2 whole weeks with me (something that we hadn’t done since we were teenagers), it ended up being me & him on the road for a spring-time roadie. I love road trips although they’re inevitably tiring, but I insisted on doing all the driving so that my brother could sit back and enjoy the stunning New Zealand countryside.

My brother had decided the route and overnight stops, so on day 1 we set off from Christchurch to head inland to the lakes of the Mackenzie District. There’s various routes to take there, and I took the scenic route cutting across to the Rakaia Gorge which normally offers a view of the stunning turquoise waters of the Rakaia river. In advance of my brother arriving in the country there had been a recent dump of snow followed by some inclement weather so I had a feeling the river was more likely to be a muddy grey colour, just like the day I had hiked the Rakaia Gorge walkway some years ago, and as it turned out, not only was I right, but the river was in extreme spate and the force of the water gushing through the gorge was immense, and the river was starting to flood into the car park below the bridge. We got out to stretch our legs and wander around, first crossing the old rickety road bridge and then to cut up the river a little to view the bridge from a different angle. Unfortunately, Mount Hutt, which is usually visible from here, was partially shrouded by some cloud. Still, it was a good opener to the stunning scenery that this island is famous for.

 

From the Rakaia river, we followed the scenic highway south to Geraldine, turning towards Fairlie and from there, headed over the mountain pass to Lake Tekapo. This drive reminds me quite a lot of my homeland of Scotland, and my brother commented the same. We arrived in Lake Tekapo late morning, and the sun lit up the water of the glacial lake in a brilliant blue. The lupins were also in flower which always adds some added beauty to the place. As an introduced and invasive species, they are actually classed as weeds or pest species here, but yet locals and tourists alike love to see them in bloom in the alpine regions of New Zealand. We parked at the far end of the village centre and took a walk down by the lakefront, joining the many other tourists that were also there that day, everyone intent on getting their Instagram-worthy photographs against the backdrop of the snowy mountains. Despite my brother’s luck with the warm sunshine, the recent dump of snow meant the mountains were still white and it was the perfect vision.

Since I’d last been in Lake Tekapo, which had been about 18months prior, there had been some obvious developments. New housing estates had appeared, several of the shops in the village centre had changed hands and a new supermarket had been built. There was clear evidence that parts of the foreshore had been tampered with also, a sure sign of further building works to come. Following lunch in one of the cafes that had undergone a renovation since I’d last been there, we crossed the new bridge across the lake outflow to the Church of the Good Shepherd, probably one of the most famous sights of New Zealand. It is often framed by the Milky Way in an astrophotograph or the backdrop for somebody’s wedding, either way it is an immensely busy spot as every visitor to Tekapo tries to photograph it from the same angle as everyone else, whilst desperately trying to find a new angle that fewer people have done before. It’s an interesting observation on human society whenever you turn up to the popular photography spots of New Zealand.

 

For my brother, the blue shade of the lake was a colour he’d not experienced before. For me, the wintery snowy backdrop with the spring-like foreground of lupins and sunshine was a novelty, and I was happy to walk along the lakefront as my brother wandered along. He was keen to cut round to the eastern shore, so we headed all the way round to the south-eastern bay which we had to ourselves. The wind was blowing the waves in our direction and in one spot the lake level had dropped to reveal a patchwork of puddles across the stony beach. Cutting back towards the village, we crossed the lake outflow via the road this time and wandered past the shop fronts back to our car. As we would be self-catering that night, we stopped at the new Four Square supermarket to grab some stuff for dinner and then headed on our way.

 

For me, no visit to Lake Tekapo is complete without heading up Mount John. It is possible to walk up to the summit from the village although strangely, considering my propensity to hike everywhere, I’ve never actually walked up, always driving up instead. I was surprised to arrive at the turn-off up Mt John to discover a hut and barrier due to the introduction of a user fee for the road. Sitting at the top of Mt John is an Observatory belonging to the University of Canterbury. Students come here as part of their course, and owing to this part of the Mackenzie District being an internationally recognised Dark Sky Reserve due to its lack of light pollution, it is also possible to pay to take part in a star gazing tour here.

But the main draw during the day time is the view over the nearby lakes of Tekapo and Alexandrina and the flanking mountains of the Southern Alps. So whilst I objected to the fee, having come up multiple times before for free, the $8 charge was reasonable, and we spent enough time at the summit to feel that it wasn’t overpriced. It is a conundrum in New Zealand though, where tourism has taken off so much, that infrastructure is, in places, struggling to keep up. It is an issue of contention amongst the general public where many object to the mounting costs of maintaining and upgrading facilities that are overused by tourists but paid for by Kiwis. Having paid tourism taxes and had to purchase visitor passes for national parks in other countries, I’m personally in favour of a tiered system where locals pay less or nothing at all and visitors pay more. There will always be plenty of people to argue either way, but as a regular user of the Outdoors, I’m sick of seeing rubbish, waste and inconsiderate habits of tourists (many of which cause damage or harm to native flora and fauna), and am keen to see a positive change happen.

 

From Lake Tekapo, the scenic drive winds across the rolling hillside before finally arriving at the eastern bank of Lake Pukaki, another brilliant blue glacier lake. The road cuts down to the southern end where it crosses a dam and this is one of the first places where the hulk of Aoraki/Mount Cook, the country’s tallest mountain, is really pronounced. We were staying in Mount Cook village that night, a place that I love due to the many hikes in the area, and taking the turnoff that leads up the western side of Lake Pukaki, it is a deceptively long drive there. There are some great views on route though and although the shadows were starting to fall across the mountains to our left, Aoraki remained in sunshine and almost free of cloud.

 

Due to the steep mountains flanking its every side, the village was in shadow when we checked into our motel room. Whilst we didn’t have a view of Aoraki, we still had a mountain view and after taking a breather for a bit, we headed up to the Hermitage where we could see Aoraki’s peak in all her glory as the colour of the snow on her flanks changed with the lowering sun. The alpine setting was reflected in the temperature which was dropping down quite dramatically. I was keen to watch the sunset over Aoraki but was forced indoors to watch it through the glass of the Hermitage’s large front windows. Eventually my brother wanted to brave the cold to take some photographs without the reflection of the glass, and so I joined him outside as the light faded from the sky.

 

We had a nice cosy motel room which was part of a large complex which included a bar, a kitchen serving meals and a kitchen for self-use. It was a busy little place with plenty of backpackers and self-drivers there. After dinner though, we retired to our room, and it was very easy to fall asleep after all the driving and fresh air. This was to be the recipe for the rest of our road trip, and the following day would be no exception.

Coastal Canterbury

At the end of a 90 minute scenic drive from Christchurch, nestled in the remnants of an old volcanic crater, lies Akaroa within the harbour of the same name. Banks Peninsula is the result of historical volcanic activity resulting in the creation of Lyttelton harbour and Akaroa harbour on opposing sides of the peninsula. It is a beautiful drive to reach Akaroa and my brother had plenty of opportunity to take in the Canterbury countryside as we wound our way first round then up and over the hillsides, past the many bays to reach the town. Originally settled by the French before the English claimed New Zealand, it does its best to retain a bit of French flair, with French street names and French flags. It is a great day or overnight trip from the Garden City and always a great place to take visitors.

 

Despite a cruise ship being in the harbour, it wasn’t as oppressively busy as it can be on cruise ship days and we’d arrived early enough to have little problem finding a park. We headed first away from the main pier and down to the little pier and round past the domain and recreation ground where a track led round a few bays to a picnic table. Returning back to town we passed remnants of the whaling days, and the town’s war memorial before following the sweeping bay round to where the main eateries are. Coming from Scotland, where fish suppers are notoriously good, it’s been hard to find a worthy contender in New Zealand. Thankfully, I’ve found a pretty good one near where I live, but Akaroa Fish & Chips is a reasonable place to go to, and I insisted to my brother that we ate there. The place is always busy and table space is at a premium, so even although it wasn’t quite the lunchtime rush yet, we still had to sit on the wall to enjoy it.

 

Loaded up with food, we cut down to the main pier to wander along past the cruise passengers who were busy loading on and off the transfer vessels that were ploughing back and forth across the harbour. The end of the pier is a good spot to look back onto the town from and admire the towering hillside that juts up behind the town. Further round the headland is a lighthouse and we hugged the roadside round the coast to reach it. It was a busy little place, and I’ve never really gone anywhere further round, but my brother wanted to keep wandering so we continued along the road until eventually a path took us up the hillside a little to the Britomart monument. From there, we headed back to town via a bush walk up past the cemetery.

 

Akaroa is one of the few places in New Zealand to see the rare Hector’s dolphin, the smallest dolphin in the world alongside its even rarer cousin the Maui dolphin. Averaging 1.4m in length, they are distinctive in having a round dorsal fin instead of the usual pointed one, and although occasionally seen close to the town, the best way to see them is on a harbour nature cruise. I’ve done this several times here, and usually take people that visit us out on this trip, but my brother wasn’t really fussed so we meandered back to the car and instead I drove him up Lighthouse Road which has a steep incline but also has a great viewpoint from an S-bend where there is a crude pull-in. There were sheep grazing just across the fence, the grass was green, the sky was blue, and a good expanse of Akaroa and the harbour lay below us.

 

Seeing as it was November, we still had many hours of daylight ahead of us, and with blue skies overhead, I drove us out of Akaroa and cut up to Summit Road to take the high road back home. The gorse was in full bloom creating a vast yellow wave across the hillside. Although it is introduced and classed as a pest species here, it certainly reminds me of my homeland and it added a dramatic edge to the landscape. Driving Summit Road, we got sneak peaks of the Pacific Ocean at times, but mainly the view was down over the harbour as we followed the curvature of the mountain. There were so many viewpoints to stop at, and whether my brother wanted to or not, I stopped at many of them before we eventually found ourselves back at the junction with the road to Little River.

 

Through the other side of Little River, when the turn-off came, I took the road to Gebbies Pass to cut across and join the Summit Road that overlooks Lyttelton harbour and the city of Christchurch. Again there are plenty of places to stop and admire the view, including the place where my best friend got married, near the Sign of the Bellbird. There was still plenty of scars from the bush fire that had swept across this area 9 months prior. The regeneration was very evident but it will take a long time for the bush to reach the level it was before. Eventually we snaked down Dyers Pass Road and back home.

 

The next day was more hazy than the previous ones, and giving him the options of walks in the area, my brother decided to go to Spencer Park where a walk leads up past wetlands to the mouth of the Waimakariri river. Although it was decidedly grey, it was a pleasant enough walk, and we managed to spot a spoonbill and a kingfisher amongst the usual ducks, herons and gulls that were frequenting the area. My partner joined us to begin with, but had to leave early to go to work, whereas my brother and I kept walking north for some time until we couldn’t be bothered going any further, at which point we turned around and headed back.

 

It was an easy drive from there to New Brighton beach where we had lunch at the Salt on the Pier cafe. Unfortunately, the pier was under repair at the time so we couldn’t walk far along it. Nearby though, a dune walk heads off across the dune tops towards the southern end of New Brighton beach. There were plenty of flowers in bloom offering a distraction from the sea view, but eventually we cut down to the beach itself and continued to walk down till it ends at the mouth of the estuary that receives the run out from the Avon and Heathcote rivers. The rock structure at the end of Sumner beach looked tantalisingly close being as it was around low tide, but the current of the estuary mouth was clearly very strong and any attempt to swim the gap would be foolish. As we cut back up we came across a dead fish that a black-backed gull very eagerly tucked into after we had passed by. It was the very definition of sushi.

 

In the time it had taken us to walk down the beach and then back again, there were a few windsurfers in the waves that hadn’t been there before. A couple of them were particularly acrobatic, leaping surprisingly high in the air as they zipped over and around the waves that rolled onto the beach. We watched them as we walked. New Brighton unfortunately suffered a lot in the 2011 earthquake and is in need of a good dose of investment, but the waterfront area around the pier was at least undergoing some much needed repair when we were there. Heading home, we had our road trip ahead of us the next day: a 10 day drive round the South Island’s highlights. I’m always eager for a road trip and always eager to explore my adopted homeland, so I was excited to get going.

Family Time

A couple of weeks after returning from an epic 35 days in Australia, I was overcome with the worst bout of anxiety I’ve ever had. This wasn’t the same as the post-holiday blues, although the addition of that certainly wouldn’t have helped, but rather a condition I’ve been living with for a couple of years now. I struggled through week after week, but I was particularly glad to have something in the future to look forward to. A couple of months after my return home I found myself back at Christchurch International Airport, this time to pick someone up, rather than to head off abroad myself. After over 5.5 years living in New Zealand, I was excited to have one of my brothers fly over to visit. He is the first of my family to come and see the place I now call home. It was a gorgeous warm, sunny November Saturday when he touched down and I was eager to whisk him out the airport and get him out and about.

I know well the importance of adjusting to the local time zone, so being mid-afternoon, I was keen to keep him active for a good few hours before letting him wind down for the night, so we headed on a drive out to the eastern suburb of Sumner for a walk along the promenade. It is one of my favourite low intensity walks to do on a nice day and it was nice and easy to let my brother stretch his legs after being cramped up in a plane for hours on end. At the far end of the promenade under the hillside that leads to Taylors Mistake, he was able to partake in his first experience of Tip Top ice cream from the hole in the wall whilst I enjoyed an iced coffee from the cafe next door. After walking the length of the promenade we found ourselves at Cave Rock. The tide was too far in to let us walk through the cave so instead my brother and I climbed up the steps to the top of the rock. For all my visits to Sumner, I’d never actually been up here. It had been fenced off for some time following the earthquakes and I hadn’t really paid attention to the fact that the fencing had gone. It was a great view along both aspects of the beach.

 

We drove home via Evans Pass Road, snaking up the Port Hills out the back of Sumner, detouring to the car park at Godley Head. This is the end of the Taylors Mistake walk, another great walk to do in the area, and even from the car park itself, there was a great view across the blue shimmering waters of the mouth of Lyttelton harbour. The grass of the surrounding hillsides was still green ahead of the browning that occurs every year in the dry summer months. Following Summit Road we followed the contours of the hillside before cutting down Mount Pleasant Road and heading back home. I made home-made pizzas which were cooked on the bbq and enjoyed outside with a cold drink in the lowering sunshine, something that was not the norm for my brother, and by 9pm he’d dozed off on the couch.

 

The next day was another sunny day, and my brother decided to spend the day exploring the city that I call home. My partner and I took him first up to the Cashmere Hills suburb where he could get an overview of the city below him. As usual, the distant Southern Alps were shrouded by haze on the horizon, but the city below was very clear and we could point out various places to him. From there, we headed into the city centre to go exploring. I’ve very much taken the city to heart. Although I moved here in the year following the destructive earthquakes and therefore did not know what it was like before, I’ve seen it change and adapt over the years and I’ve watched it push through the hardship and start to rebuild again. When I first moved to Christchurch, the city centre was fenced off and guarded by the army just 1 street away from where I lived at the time. As the months and years passed, bit by bit the fences went down, buildings were felled and new ones have sprouted up in their place. Whilst it’s still not fully functional, the city has really come on so far, and I feel that you can only really appreciate the progress and gains if you’ve lived through all that. I continue to hear and read about fly-in, fly-out tourists that just don’t rate the place and I can appreciate that a single snapshot of the city in time might not sell it that well. But I for one wouldn’t be anywhere else right now, and I was determined to show the place off to my brother.

 

My partner and I have annual passes for the trams and it seemed only right to take a tram at least for some of the route, so cutting through the colourful New Regent Street, we jumped on at Cathedral Junction and looped past the Cathedral, round the river bank and along Cashel Street to High Street. We got off here and wandered down past some street art to the junction where there is a video arcade game on the side of the Vodafone building. There’s always somebody playing it whenever I pass so I was a little excited to discover it vacant when we got there and duly jumped on to have a go. After my partner had a go, I was a little saddened to see they had removed the retro tennis game from the nearby pedestrian crossing which had been another quirky thing in the city. Heading back towards Cashel Street we cut up to Cathedral Square, where my brother could witness the sad state of the abandoned cathedral. Even now in 2018, the cathedral remains in ongoing limbo, a sad eye-sore that blots the regenerating landscape around it.

 

We jumped back on the tram to head along Worcester Boulevard, jumping off outside the Art Gallery. The nearby cafes were brimming with people sitting out enjoying the sunshine and we too were getting a little hungry. We grabbed lunch at Bunsen, one of so many great cafes in the city and wandered round the quadrangles of the historic Arts Centre before moving on to the Botanic Gardens. My partner headed home but my brother and I continued our wanderings, following the river and cutting in and out of the various garden zones where the flowers were blooming well in the spring weather. I love the gardens in spring time when everything looks at its best and there were plenty of people punting or kayaking along the river.

 

After admiring the plant life for a while and watching the ducks by the river bank, we followed the river downstream past the memorial wall that lists the names of all who perished in the 2011 earthquake. Beyond there, we wandered along Cashel Street via the Re:Start container mall which has since been removed to make way for an indoor market. The containers were one of the first retail stores to open in the city post-earthquake and they became a symbol of the defiance of the city as well as a quirky tourist attraction and retail zone. They moved twice across differing parts of Cashel Street before ending up by the Bridge of Remembrance. It was sad to see them go some months after my brother’s visit, but I can’t wait for their replacement.

 

Cutting up past New Regent Street again we stopped for a refreshment then headed past the Margaret Mahy playground and down to the Transitional (Cardboard) Cathedral and beyond to the white chairs that represent everyone who died in the 2011 earthquake. There had been some strong winds recently and several of the chairs had been blown over which I set about fixing whilst my brother looked around. Then, with aching feet from walking all day, we cut back to the bus exchange which is very similar to the one in our home city of Glasgow, before walking out of the city and meandering home. With the sun still out in force, it was another chance to enjoy sitting out in the garden for the evening. Ahead of us was a few more days in Canterbury before setting off on a South Island road trip.

Christchurch Short Walks

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my home city, Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand. Following the destructive earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, so much has changed, and whilst slow at first, the transformation of the Garden City feels like it has accelerated of late. When I first moved to Christchurch in February 2012, the city centre was fenced off and guarded by the army, just 1 street away from where I ended up living. Fast forward 6 years, and the city centre is once again open for business with an overwhelming number of eateries and bars opening up at a regular rate. The retail heart of the city is well on its way to being complete, and following shortly are entertainment zones, and further in the future, the new sports facilities. But there’s more to see here than just the city itself, with a plethora of short walks in the region.

 

 

CHRISTCHURCH CITY CENTRE

Ease of access: Pick your city car park or bus in to the central bus terminal

Time: As little or as long as you want, with plenty of places to eat and drink to break up the walk

The city centre walk can be tailored to what you want to focus on – street art, shopping, city highlights, or city parks are a few examples. The city centre is demarcated by the four avenues: Deans Avenue to the west, Bealey Avenue to the north, Fitzgerald Avenue to the east, and Moorhouse Avenue to the south. From the Bus Interchange, cross Litchfield Street and cut through the Crossings to reach Cashel Street and follow this west through the retail zone to the Bridge of Remembrance on the Avon river. Follow the river south past the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial, and continue along the river bank to the Punting on the Avon huts and into the beautiful Botanic Gardens. Wander here to your heart’s content, exploring North Hagley Park too if desired, then exiting the Botanic Gardens via the Canterbury Museum entrance and following Worcester Boulevard past the Arts Centre and Christchurch Art Gallery before crossing back over the Avon River and arriving at Cathedral Square. From here, cut up through Cathedral Junction to the colourful New Regent Street then turn east to reach the Margaret Mahy Family Playground. Past here at the City Mini Golf, head south to Latimer Square, and beyond to the Transitional Cardboard Cathedral, and south past here the collection of white chairs that represents everyone who died in the 2011 earthquake. Then either cut down to Tuam Street to explore the popular Little High Eatery or C1 cafe, or cut along Litchfield Street to Dux Central before returning to the Bus Interchange.

 

HAGLEY PARK & THE BOTANICAL GARDENS

Ease of access: Walk from the city centre car parks or the central bus terminal; Catch the city tram and alight at stop 12; take bus 17 and alight at Christ’s College

Time: As little or as long as you want, especially on a sunny day when a bit of sunbathing in the gardens is a great way to pass some time

Enter North Hagley Park at the corner of Rolleston Avenue and Armagh Street and follow the river bank path north to Harper Avenue where the path turns west through the tall trees at the park margin. In spring, this avenue is lined with beautiful blooming cherry blossoms. At Deans Avenue, continue through the trees heading south until the park ends at Riccarton Avenue. Rather than sticking to the road, take the path cutting diagonally back through the park, past the rugby pitches and croquet lawns to Victoria Lake. From here, cut round the lake in either direction to the bridge across the Avon river next to the car park. Now in the Botanical Gardens, wander around as much or as little of the paths as desired before returning to Rolleston Avenue via any of the exits.

 

TRAVIS WETLAND NATURE HERITAGE PARK

Ease of access: The main car park is on the eastern side, accessed from the junction of Mairehau Road and Beach Road, although there is off-street parking also available on the northern aspect; Catch bus 60 and alight on Travis Road then walk the Clarevale Loop walkway to reach the wetlands from the south; Catch bus O and alight on Mairehau Road on the northern aspect of the wetlands

Time: The circuit walk takes about an hour without stopping, but with plenty of birdlife to spot, it’s worth meandering at a slow pace

From the main car park, follow the track south and stop in at the bird hide to watch the comings and goings of the birds. As you head south, the main water course will remain on your right and soon the wetland pastures open up on the left with a view across to the Port Hills beyond. At the southern end of the path, go through the gate and take the Clarevale Loop walkway west past the houses until a gate returns you to the wetlands where the path turns north, following a boardwalk. At the northern limit, the path continues to loop clockwise back towards the car park.

 

NEW BRIGHTON BEACH

Ease of access: There are plenty of parking options along the length of Marine Parade with beach access at staggered intervals; New Brighton is served by buses 60, 135, and Y

Time: Walk as much or as little of this 18km stretch of beach as desired

My favourite route is to head out first on New Brighton pier, the 300 metre long structure that gives a good view point along the beach to the north and the south. Then from the car park just south of the library, a dune walk heads south towards the South Brighton Surf Life Saving Club where it cuts down to the beach. The dune walk restarts beyond the nearby reserve, reaching almost all the way to the spit, or the beach can be followed instead. Depending on the tide, the Shag Pile rocks across the estuary mouth can look deceptively within reach, but the current is strong here and is too dangerous to cross. Return to the pier by the beach.

 

SUMNER PROMENADE

Ease of access: The drive east through Redcliffs and Moncks Bay and round the coast can occasionally be a bit of a bottleneck on sunny summer’s days, and parking by the waterfront in Sumner can also be at a premium on the weekends; Sumner is served by bus P

Time: Walk as much or as little of the beach as you want

The beach is divided into the Sumner sand bar which has the Shag Pile rocks and estuary mouth to the west and Cave Rock to the east; and Scarborough beach which is backed by the promenade and Scarborough Park. Scarborough beach is completely under water at high tide, as is the cave, but at low tide, the cave can be walked through from one side to the other, and a path up to the summit of Cave Rock offers a great panorama along the beach in both directions.

 

TAYLORS MISTAKE/GODLEY HEAD

Ease of access: Drive through Sumner to the east, then wind up and over the hill to Taylors Mistake on the other side. The road ends at the car park behind the beach which can be packed to the seams on weekends. There is no public transport to Taylors Mistake

Time: The full circuit takes about 3 hours and is fully exposed to the elements. Water and sun cream is strongly advised.

From the car park, enter the field to the east or cut down to the beach and head towards the copse of trees where the walkway begins. It follows the contours of the coast, gaining and losing altitude as it goes. Eventually it snakes up towards an old World War II battery and from here it passes the entrance of a Department of Conservation campsite before cutting back to the coast at the mouth of Lyttelton Harbour, where it passes more WWII war relics. Finally it ends at a car park on Summit Road. Returning to Taylors Mistake can be by retracing your steps, or cross Summit Road and take the track directly opposite the car park or follow the Anaconda track, a shared walking/biking track that cuts across the headland taking a slightly more direct route back to Taylors Mistake.

 

BRIDLE PATH

Ease of access: Can be walked from Ferrymead to Lyttelton or vice versa – a small car park is close to the base of the Christchurch Gondola, or park in Lyttelton; A shuttle bus to the Christchurch Gondola leaves from outside the Canterbury Museum in the city centre; Bus 28 serves both the Christchurch Gondola car park as well as Lyttelton

Time: A reasonably fit person can walk from one side of the hill to another in about 60 – 90 minutes. The route is steep and uneven under foot.

It’s a steep and winding slog up the hill regardless of the direction that you walk it. The view north is over the estuary and the eastern suburbs of the city with the Southern Alps on the horizon. The view south is over Lyttelton and across the harbour to the Banks Peninsula. At the top of the Port Hills, the track reaches Summit Road which is closed to traffic at this section. A side trip from here is to head up to the building at the top of the Gondola where there is a cafe and viewing deck. Return the same way or catch the bus back.

 

RAPAKI TRACK

Ease of access: In the suburb of Huntsbury, Rapaki Road is reached from Centaurus Road. Parking is up this narrow dead-end road which can get quite crowded; Bus 145 passes by the bottom of Rapaki Road

Time: Depending on fitness and time spent admiring the summit view, expect to take about 90 minutes return

From the top end of Rapaki Road, the track cuts through a small copse of trees before breaking out into Mount Vernon Park, where for the rest of the walk it is completely exposed to the elements as it winds its way up the side of a valley. This is a very popular walk and is shared use between walkers and bikers which can actually make it feel a little crowded at times. With an initial incline, the middle section is flat before the final push up the hill takes you to summit road where the view on the far side is down over Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour. Return via the same route.

 

QUAIL ISLAND

Ease of access: Reached by Black Cats ferry from Lyttelton (seasonal). Lyttelton is reached by car via the tunnel through the Port Hills from the city or via the Governor’s Bay road; Lyttelton is served by bus 28

Time: The circuit walk is listed by the Department of Conservation as 2.5hrs but there is a shorter loop or it’s just a short walk from the ferry jetty to a swimming bay and picnic spot

The circuit walk provides an overview of the island’s former uses with old stables, abandoned machinery and old quarries in evidence. There are the shells of scuppered ships by the coast and a stunning view of the surrounding harbour and hillsides of the Port Hills to the south and Banks Peninsula to the north. There are swimming beaches on the northern side and a family-friendly picnic spot close to the ferry jetty.

 

CRATER RIM WALKWAY

Ease of access: Depending on section to be walked, access to Summit Road is via Evans Pass Road or Dyers Pass Road from the city side, Dyers Pass Road from the Lyttelton side or Gebbies Pass Road. There are a variety of pull-ins or basic car parks along the road. Various walking trails from the suburbs lead up to Summit Road. There is no direct public transport access, although it can be reached via the Christchurch Gondola which is serviced by a shuttle bus and bus 28

Time: To walk the full length of the crater rim (about 20km one-way) would take all day, but it is easily divided into a multitude of short sections of varying lengths

The views from the Crater Rim Walkway are stunning on a clear day. To the north are the Southern Alps which stand tall behind the city of Christchurch. On the other side is Lyttelton harbour and Banks Peninsula and towards Gebbies Pass it is possible to see Lake Ellesmere. The Bridle Path, Godley Head track and Rapaki track all lead up to the Crater Rim walkway. A favourite section to consider is between the Sign of the Kiwi and the Sign of the Bellbird, two resthouses that sit by Summit Road. Another good spot is around Gibraltar rock.

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