MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “January, 2016”

Bridle Path

Following a gloriously dry and warm spring, during which a near-drought situation arose in Christchurch, the summer has rather failed to start. What should be one of the best months of the year has fizzled out amongst rain, wind, and extreme jumps in temperature, meaning that my hope for a summer full of hiking is rather failing to fulfill itself. With the nearby Alps either clouded over or too windy on a regular basis, I decided to look closer to home to give me my fix. Within the boundaries of Christchurch, in the suburb of Heathcote is the gondola that takes people from the city side of the Port Hills up to a viewing platform on the summit of Mount Cavendish. From here there is a stunning view both back over the city nestled against Pegasus Bay, and also down into Lyttelton Harbour within Banks Peninsula.

In Heathcote, right next to the gondola, is the bridle path, a historical route where European settlers used to trudge over the hill from Lyttelton to Christchurch. It is a popular path, mainly with walkers, but it is also a shared mountain bike track too. I’m yet to see a single biker stay on their bike the whole way up. The path is steep and covered in loose stones, and no matter the weather, it is impossible to walk this route without breaking a sweat. It is definitely not a walk to be considered without a water supply.

Information board on the bridle path

Following the major earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011, there has been a lot of rockfall in the area, and the once distinctive Castle Rock to the right of the path has lost a large part of its structure. Previously another walk branched off the bridle path near the bottom, but nearly 5 years on, this walk remains closed, deemed as too unsafe. Even the bridle path itself has a section in the lower portion with a no-stopping sign due to rockfall risks. Frankly, I think any path around mountains, cliffs or rocks carries some inherent risk, and therefore I don’t see why these paths need any more warning or concern than any other walk, but that is just my opinion.

The remains of Castle Rock

Closed track in a rockfall zone

Rockfall zone below Mount Cavendish

The steep climb starts reasonably early on and maintains itself up a winding path that snakes high above the entrance to the Lyttelton tunnel, until eventually it reaches summit road, off to the side and below the top of the gondola. Looking north, the expanse of Pegasus Bay becomes visible and the city of Christchurch sits by its side. If the sky is clear enough, the Southern Alps span the horizon. Cross the road, and below lies Lyttelton harbour, the mountainous terrain of Banks Peninsula behind it. From here, there are plenty of walks to choose from. The most popular is to follow the Mount Cavendish bluffs track, part of the crater rim track, which rock-hops its way up to the gondola building. Behind here, other paths continue onwards, or there is a cafe, shop, and viewing platforms within the gondola building to take a break and soak up the view. Back at summit road, the crater rim also heads off away from the gondola as part of a very long day walk round what was originally a volcanic crater, and there are two paths down the hill to Lyttelton, one of which is the continuation of the bridle path.View from summit road looking over Pegasus Bay

Hiking the crater rim to the top of the gondola

Panorama over Lyttelton harbour from the gondola viewing platform

On this particular occasion, I was on a mission. I headed over the brow and followed the bridle path down a similarly steep path to the port town. This side is littered with patches of old rockfall, a testament to the power of nature. Whereas on the way up, the view is mainly behind or to the side, on the way down, it is right in front of you the whole way. On a sunny day, the water is a beautiful blue colour, and dependent on the tides, there is a large mud flat beyond Quail Island that is exposed in the depth of the harbour at low tide. The whole way down, I could see my objective: the port.

Lyttelton Port

Flowers on the walk

When the path meets suburban back street, you are still quite high up, and it is a steep walk down the pavement until eventually a flight of steps takes you down to the main road right by the roundabout where the Lyttelton tunnel exits. I headed straight to the port and joined the queue. On this particular day, there was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of an open day on the HMS Protector, an Antarctic ice-breaking patrol vessel that was in port for repairs. It proved very popular with long queues, but I had made it in plenty of time and thankfully didn’t have to wait long. Going to Antarctica constantly feels just out of my reach. I don’t have a relevant profession to work there, and now with chronic back problems for the past 2 years, I would fail the stringent medical even if I did. Going as a tourist remains financially unreachable at this stage of my life, so I have resolved myself to be an utter groupie. Without knowing it at the time, I moved to New Zealand and happened to settle in the city which is New Zealand’s gateway to the continent, and as such, I have had the pleasure of attending enough Antarctica-themed events to keep me satiated… almost.

HMS Protector

HMS Protector

After chatting with some of the crew and wandering round the ship, I headed back to town in search of brunch. Lyttelton varies between bustling little port town and sleepy suburbia depending on what is going on at the time. It suffered a lot of damage in the earthquakes, and the port itself is currently undergoing a major upgrade. This used to be where the visiting cruise ships would dock, but now they skip by and pull in at Akaroa round the coast. But it is still a busy port, especially for the export of logs to China. For people, it is also where boats cross the harbour to Diamond Harbour (from where Mount Herbert can be reached), Quail Island and out to the mouth of the harbour on a nature cruise.

Full of delicious food and coffee, I retraced my steps to the bridle path and worked my way back up the hill and over the other side. The signs at each end list 45mins to summit road, or 1hr 30mins from end to end, but even taking my time and stopping for photos, I was just over an hour each way. With the weather continuing to be grey day after day, it was nice to reacquaint myself with a local gem.

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West Coast Wonders

One of the great benefits of being an immigrant, is that I get to be both tourist and local at the same time. I can find new places to explore, and take part in tourist activities, whilst having the benefit of being able to return or stay longer than many tourists, as well as gaining insider knowledge which is often invaluable. I’ve seen more of New Zealand than many Kiwis that I know, and more of the country than many tourists I’ve encountered, but yet there are parts of the country that I have still to explore, including a few key tourist zones.

With a 4 day break over New Year, it was time to head to one of these spots for the first time. The New Year was welcomed in listening to Six60 perform in Christchurch, then after some sleep, we headed off early for the long drive west. The road through Arthur’s Pass is one of my favourites in the South Island. Arthur's Pass National ParkOnce across Porter’s Pass, the road nestles and winds away across the Southern Alps, and there is so much to look at from mountains, to villages, to braided rivers. There are plenty of options for stops: Castle Hill, Cave Stream Scenic Reserve and Arthur’s Pass village are three good ones, but on this occasion, we ploughed onwards, pushing on to Hokitika on the west coast. It had been some time since I’d seen the Tasman Sea, and it was lovely and calm, crashing onto the stony beach whilst families relaxed on the shore. Hokitika driftwoodThe west coast of the South Island is quite a battered coast, and the beaches are generally stony rather than sandy, and often littered with driftwood. Hokitika has embraced this by erecting a sign on the beach made out of exactly that.

 

 

After a respite and some much needed lunch, we continued south down the coast. Leaving HokitikaIt was a lovely day for a drive, but one of the down sides of the level of tourism in New Zealand is the sometimes dangerous nature of driving witnessed on the roads. Often campervans and hire cars drive too slow causing back logs of traffic and driver frustration, or they don’t know what to do at one of the many one-lane bridges in the country. Driving down the west coastThe dangerous part is their hesitation or last-minute decision making which sees cars suddenly pull over or emergency stop in order to take photos or because they’ve seen something they want to look at. Southern Alps from OkaritoI’ve witnessed repeatedly, tourists stopped on the road round corners, or at bends, when oncoming cars can’t see them till the last minute, and worse, I’ve had a few occasions of the car in front of me pull to an emergency stop in front of me, throw their driver door open into the traffic, and jump out to take a photo. Frankly, when it comes to driving round New Zealand’s roads in the peak season, it pays to have a sixth sense. So it was unsurprising to have several emergency response vehicles whizz past us, and to eventually come across a closed section of road where a car had driven off the road. This was just a day after a tourist bus crashed into a car driven by tourists near Arthur’s Pass. Thankfully, this latest incident appeared to have no obvious casualties and the blockage was cleared swiftly.

Southern Alps from Franz JosefFinally, we rounded the mountains where the ice field and glaciers were coming into view, and we pulled into Franz Josef village. Southern Alps from Franz JosefAt the back of the village, nestled in the mountains is the glacier of the same name, and over 20kms further south, lies Fox glacier and the village of the same name. Helicopters at the Franz Josef helipadCollectively they are a big tourist draw, but the village of Franz Josef is bigger and more developed with more options for eating and sleeping. Franz Josef's back streetOn a good day, the sound of helicopters constantly fills the air as group after group are flown up onto the glaciers for a hike, or up and over the mountains for a scenic flight. We wandered around town and down to the helipads to watch the comings and goings of the various choppers. From the village itself, the glacier isn’t really in sight, but we watched as the helicopters became distant specks as they headed up the valley. The local cinema plays Imax-style movies and we watched a fascinating National Geographic piece about the ‘Age of the Airplane’ before going out for dinner.

 

 

 

 

The next day, the weather was not looking promising. We had an early rise and a sharp exit to make the drive south to Fox glacier where we were booked in for a heli-hike tour. The village of Fox glacier is much more sedate compared to Franz Josef, and I liked it much better. We’d booked to hike Fox glacier for the simple reason that Franz Josef was fully booked for our entire stay. When we arrived to check in, we were given a weather briefing: cancellation or curtailment were a high possibility due to the weather. We went through the helicopter safety briefing, boarded the bus and headed out to the helipad. Flying up to Fox GlacierAfter getting booted up and weighed, we were divided into flight groups, the weight of the passengers being precisely calculated for each helicopter’s load. View from the helicopterWe were in the second flight, and before long we were on board and sailing up the valley, the glacier suddenly in front of us. The sun was nowhere to be seen, and the cloud was thick on top, but it was still an awesome view. Landing on the glacier was simple and quick, and we were out and on the ice fast to allow another load to come up.

 

 

 

Near the landing siteWith 5 loads to come up, there was time to absorb the view, and with everyone present and geared up with crampons and walking poles, we were off to explore. Crevasse starting to formI’ve been lucky to hike on a glacier before: on the Athabasca glacier in the Canadian Rockies, and Viedma glacier in Patagonian Chile. Fox glacierBut each glacier is different, and every time it is amazing. Like a frozen tumbling waterfall, Fox glacier is a maze of crevasses and caves and tunnels.

We stepped around flowing water and watched it fall deep into chasms in the ice. Ice caveWe hunkered down to crawl through tunnels and peeked into caves created by the ever changing ice flow. Looking through an ice tunnelBoth Fox and Franz Josef are relatively fast moving glaciers and are currently retreating. Fox is longer and faster flowing than Franz Josef, and despite moving an incredible 200m in a year, it feels still and quiet and a world away from civilisation.

 

 

 

 

 

View from the glacierThe cloud dropped and rose again repeatedly, and we got rained on for a while, but yet the call never came to decamp, and with relief, we got to experience the full length of the tour. Our guides were great fun, as was our group and we had plenty of time to negotiate a reasonably large area of the glacier. Leaving the glacier behindBut after a few hours, it was time to summon the helicopters, and we bundled back in in groups to head back down to the village. With the weather closing in, the rest of the day’s tours had been cancelled and we realised that we had been very lucky indeed to get up there. I had wanted to do some exploring in the area whilst we were there, but it continued to rain, so after lunch we were forced to head back to Franz Josef where at least there were more options.

The fantastic receptionist at our hostel helped us organise our next excursion and with a bit of time to kill, we headed to the Franz Josef hot pools at the back of town. A little steeply priced and very packed on such a dismal weather day, they were still lovely to soak in and pass some time. Directly across the road was our meeting point, and after bundling into the bus, we headed north to nearby Lake Mapourika for a kayaking trip. This was sand fly heaven, and kitted up, the group spread out across the smooth surface of the water. Halfway across the lake, the drizzle became more of a downpour and it wasn’t long before we were all quite wet. Kayaking across Lake Mapourika (Photo courtesy of Glacier Country Kayaks)But it didn’t detract from the beautiful and peaceful location, and we paddled on, rounding a spit of land and heading to a small opening into a narrow channel. It was fun paddling up the creek even if we did get stuck on some vegetation briefly, and we continued along until we hit the edge of kiwi country where we could go no further. Thankfully the return leg was a lot drier (at least outside the kayak it was, inside I was soaked), and after some obligatory group photos and a couple of challenges where people got out the kayak and ran across the rest of us, we headed back to shore. A few of us raced each other for a while, and back at the pier we headed back to town where following a quick change of clothes, we headed out to eat.

The next morning after breakfast, we headed back to Fox glacier village. Despite being close together, the lay of the land means that the weather in the two places can be very different. When we reached the village, the mountains were shrouded in cloud with only the base visible. Lake MathesonWith no spare time to try on another day, we headed out to Lake Matheson, a famous mirror lake not far from the village. Lake MathesonI was surprised to find a gift shop and cafe here, and it was very busy despite the less than ideal conditions. On a good day, the mountain range, including New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki/Mount Cook reflects on the surface of the lake to give a stunning picture postcard view. It was an easy 1hr walk through the bush round the lake, and despite the lack of visible mountains and the grey sky, it was still a pretty place to be.

 

Gillespies BeachFurther down the same road, and progressing onto a winding unsealed road was Gillespies beach. Here there was no cloud at all and the sunshine was beaming down on the coastline. Like most west coast beaches, it was stony and covered in driftwood. Remnants of a gold rushThere were a few walks in the area, including one north along the coast to a seal colony. We had a deadline to get back for so didn’t have time to do it, instead we went for a shorter walk to visit the remnants of a gold mine. Dotted up the west coast of the south island are multiple remnants to the gold rush of the 19th century. Heading back towards Fox we re-entered the overcast sky zone and headed back towards Franz Josef. This 22km drive is itself exceedingly stunning.

 

 

Franz Josef glacierWhilst my partner went quad biking, I drove out the back road up the valley towards Franz Josef glacier. Fox GlacierDespite being into the evening, the car park was still packed. River flowing away from Franz Josef glacierThe walk from here to the terminal face of the glacier is listed as 1.5hr return. Franz Josef glacierIt is a well marked but stony path that cuts down to the river bed and follows the river upstream, eventually cutting across several scree slopes left behind from the retreating glacier until eventually it ends at a fence and a sign. Waterfall near the glacier trackHaving been up on Fox glacier the day before, I was rather underwhelmed by the dirty and seemingly small glacier that tumbled down the wall of the valley in front of me. Glacier valleyIt wasn’t very clear where the helicopters landed for the hiking tours as this late in the day they had all finished. Reflection in Peter's PoolThe sun poked through the clouds in fits and starts, finally illuminating the glacier as I readied to leave around 6pm. The wind speed had suddenly raised dramatically and dust was whipping along down the river valley. Even on the return leg, there was still loads of people on their way out there. I passed some waterfalls, and then took a couple of detours from the returning path to get a differing viewpoint along the valley and back towards the glacier. But my favourite view was actually from a completely separate walk that led off to the far side of the valley. I only went as far as Peter’s Pool, just 15mins along the track, where despite the drizzle that had by now started, there was a mirror reflection of the glacier on its surface. The sand flies were an unfortunate distraction and it was impossible to get much time to enjoy the view without other tourists wanting to take photos so after only 5 minutes or so, I headed back to the car park and back towards the village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That night we experienced the culmination of a few days of frustratingly poor service in an eatery in Franz Josef village. Eating out for breakfast and dinner, we had utilised 4 different eateries during our stay there, and with 1 exception, we endured rudeness, laziness, confusion and general ineptitude amongst the staff, as well as extortionate surcharges by the establishments. It became rather irksome and an annoyance that hung over what was otherwise a rather enjoyable trip. Franz Josef village would not exist were it not for the tourist draw of the nearby glacier, and it felt very obvious that the eateries in town were more about fleecing tourists out of a good buck rather than good service and tasty food. It was exceedingly disappointing.

Hokitika riverWe left early the next morning eager to avoid eating in Franz Josef again. Hokitika PanoramaHeading north back to Hokitika, we stopped here for brunch before heading up the river to Hokitika Gorge. Last time we were here, the river was a milky grey colour, and with the sun shining up above, I had my fingers crossed to see it in its full glory. Hokitika GorgeThankfully this time, we joined the path from the rather packed car park, and quickly discovered that the river was resilient blue. It is a short and easy walk round a few bends to the swing bridge that crosses the river, and round from here the track goes to a viewpoint. Hokitika GorgeThe track had been upgraded since last time too, and now there was a gated entrance to go down to the rocks by the river’s edge. It was a busy place to be but surprisingly peaceful, and there were plenty of spots to choose from for a differing view of the river as it wound its way through the gorge.

 

Arthur's Pass National ParkEventually though, it was time to head back home to Christchurch, and so we got back on the road and retraced our steps through the stunning highway through Arthur’s Pass National Park, a road that never fails to impress. Arthur's Pass National ParkIt is one of my favourite areas to go hiking in and has so much to offer for hiking enthusiasts. Nestled into the passenger seat with camera in hand, I merrily spent the drive home making the most of the opportunity to photograph the mountainous landscape. I have high hopes for the coming months of summer to conquer a few of the peaks here. Fingers crossed the weather obliges.

Southern Christmas

On January 6th 2012, I touched down in New Zealand for the first time. At the time I was tired from the flight and the jump in time zone (I only lived through 2hrs of that day), but I think deep down, I knew that I would want to stay here. Four years on, I’m still in love with the country, and I’m working hard at seeing as much of the country as possible, but still some areas remain unreached.

It was a long time coming, but on Christmas day, myself and my partner headed north from Christchurch, and inland towards our destination. Just north of the city, a lorry heading the other way, threw up a large rock which hit my windscreen leaving a large chip and crack. A couple of hours later, deep in the winding roads of the heartland, a speeding twat overtook me then proceeded to nearly crash in front of me. It was not the start to the holiday I had planned. The top of Maruia FallsBut it was a gorgeous sunny day, and just south of Murchison we stopped for lunch at Maruia Falls. Maruia FallsWe’d driven this road a few times before but never noticed this place, but I’d read about it somewhere and made a point to look for it. It was worth the stop to sit at the base of the falls and watch the river flow over it and head on down the river beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

We pulled into the sleepy village of St Arnaud, nestled within Nelson Lakes National Park in the late afternoon. The clouds had drawn in, but we headed first to the shore of Lake Rotoiti before checking into our hostel. St Arnaud school playgroundIt was, after all Christmas day, and I had made sure to bring provisions to cook a delicious Christmas dinner. Satiated, we took a wander through the sleepy village before having an early night.

 

 

 

The next morning, I convinced my partner that hiking Mt Robert would be a good idea. Lake Rotoiti from the Mt Robert carparkIt was a gorgeous day, and an excellent way to get a different view on the expanse of Lake Rotoiti, one of two large lakes in the National Park. From the car park at the start of the hike, a short track leads to a lookout where a different view of the lake is given as well as rolling hills for miles on end in the opposite direction.

I’m not normally one for sitting still on holiday. I usually like to make sure I’m seeing and doing as much as possible in a new place, but it was so easy to just wind down and chill here. Growing up in Scotland, swimming is generally restricted to heated pools, with only the foolhardy taking a dip in the sea (which I had been known to do in my childhood). What Kiwi summers are all aboutIn New Zealand, summer is all about outdoors and this generally means that most Kiwis are water confident. They swim in the sea, in rivers and in lakes. They dive bomb and belly flop and jump from rocks without a care in the world. So following the hike, my partner went into the lake for a swim. It hadn’t even entered my head to bring bathers with me as this just wasn’t the done thing back in Scotland, but watching all the families playing in and around the water, I soon regretted it. Lake Rotoiti with Arnaud Range on left and Mt Robert on rightBut sitting on a bench in the shade, slapping away sandflies, it was an incredible feeling to just breath and be present. Clear water of Lake RotoitiThere was no wishing to be anywhere, no wishing for something to happen, no thinking about the past or the future, just simply staring out at the beautiful landscape and enjoying it. View from the beer gardenEventually though, hunger took over, and we went to the main eatery in town, the Alpine Lodge for pizza. Their outdoor beer garden overlooks a river and the nearby mountains, and it was a gorgeous spot to enjoy a cold drink.

 

 

Lake RotoitiThe next day we had a bit of time to kill. Duck by the lakeThere are a lot of options for walks in the area, from short local explorations, to mountains to climb, to multi-day tramps. Duck by Lake RotoitiWhilst my partner relaxed at the main bay, I headed off on a nature walk round the peninsula. Lake Rotoiti from the peninsulaThere wasn’t a lot of fauna to see, but plenty of flora, and although the lake was hidden from view for the majority of it, there were some breaks in the trees which afforded a differing view of the lake and Mt Robert. Whiskey FallsReaching almost the whole distance round to West Bay, I cut back inland and back to the pier. We had arranged for a private boat tour up the lake to see Whiskey Falls. It was another gloriously sunny day, and it was perfect conditions for a cruise around the lake. Near the far end of the lake, he berthed and took us on a short walk through the forest to the 40m tall pencil waterfall that was visible in a small clearing in the trees. The waterfall can also be reached on a long walk along the west shore of the lake, but it was nice to get out on the water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mt Robert behind Lake RotoitiI was still keen to have fun on the water when we returned to St Arnaud, so I hired a kayak for an hour and happily paddled about from one bank to the other, listening to the birds, and watching the ducks float around. My partner had another swim, and although quiet compared to New Zealand tourism standards, it was a busy little place, buzzing with happy people, families and excited children. With fewer foreign tourists, and mainly Kiwi visitors, it was nice to embrace and feel part of the Kiwi summer culture. Unfortunately, this also included sandflies. Around many waterways in the country, these persistent creatures vie for your blood, and using insect repellent is a must. After a delicious BBQ buffet at the Alpine Lodge, I had envisioned sitting by the lakeside as the sun set, watching the colours change as dusk took over, but instead, I was hounded by swarms of the pesky flies that danced around my face. After a short time, I was forced to abandon my desire, and head indoors.

Pier at Lake RotoroaHeading back to Christchurch, we took a detour to another large lake in the National Park, Lake Rotoroa. Swan & cygnetsBeing on a no-through road, it sees less traffic than Lake Rotoiti, and as such is less developed and feels more secluded. Lake RotoroaI loved Lake Rotoiti, but I adored Lake Rotoroa. Boats moored at Lake RotoroaIt was quiet and simple yet staggeringly beautiful, and again there are many walks in the area. Buller river exiting Lake RotoroaWe would have gone for another cruise on this lake had there been someone around to organise it, but the boat lay moored up with no-one in attendance. Instead, we followed the river away from the lake for a short distance before heading back. I could have happily stayed here for days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maruia river west of the Lewis PassWe stopped for lunch on the west side of the Lewis Pass, and sat at a picnic bench surrounded by mountains. Lunch stop near Lewis PassOn the other side, we were also able to stop at a large rock formation by the side of the road that I have driven past repeatedly but never been able to explore. Giant rocks by the roadI felt like a kid reaching the top of the giant rock and surveying the land around me. View from the big rockBeing another gloriously sunny day, it was a fantastic end to our Christmas mini-break.Brown pastures of Canterbury

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