Queenstown, Arrowtown and the Routeburn


Ah, Queenstown.   It’s one of NZ’s best-known destinations, and it’s certainly Queenstownthe country’s premier commercialized resort town.  It’s also beautiful, nestled at the base of mountains and looking across gorgeous Lake Wakatipu to the craggy Remarkables range (see image from the internet to the left).  You might enjoy a pilot’s video of the area as he lands a small plane at Queenstown airport.  The link below will open the video in a new window – it’s about 4 minutes long.  http://www.chonday.com/Videos/pilotnewzdalnd1.

Quite a location, but we thought the city itself was a flawed jewel, at least for old fogies like us: it was crowded, touristy, and filled with stores heavily marketing every adrenaline-fueled activity known to man.  It’s a place for young people with a lot of  money to spend on flying, falling, floating, speeding events – and the price for each was hundreds of dollars.  Ginger wasn’t really keen on any of it.   So we took a pass on the adrenalin rush, and went instead for the surrounding beauty:  the Routeburn track and a visit to historic Arrowtown.  In this case “we” is three of us; my sister Linda, from Albuquerque, joined us in Queenstown and will travel with us for awhile.

First, some pictures of the area coming into Queenstown.  It’s austerely beautiful.

Next a few pictures from the Queenstown shore.  The last two pictures show the same scene under different light – always amazing how different the colors are on different days.  The light is somehow special in New Zealand – a painter’s light, often with a golden glow.

While we’re discussing Queenstown and light, let me show you some views from our apartment as the sun starts to set.  It was pretty nice.


Miners' cottages, Avenue of Trees, ArrowtownArrowtown, only 10 miles from Queenstown, was born when gold was discovered in the Arrow River in 1862 – lots of gold.  One of the early prospectors was able to keep his lode secret while recovering 200 lbs. of the stuff.  The area became known as the richest for its size in the world, and at its height it was a town of 7000.  Today the population is 2400, surviving on the tourist trade and doing quite well.  It’s a nice-looking New Zealand town, with one of its highlights being the Avenue of Trees shown above.  Those trees were planted in 1867 along the line of tiny miners’ cottages that have been preserved.  More views of the town are shown below.

One of Arrowtown’s claims to fame is its Chinese history.  After a few years gold became harder to mine, miners left for newly discovered gold fields on the West Coast, and Arrowtown was left with businesses but few customers.  The solution was to import Chinese to the gold fields – as stated in the local newspaper, “An increase in population, even were it in the shape of chimpanzees, would be preferable to no population at all.”  By 1870 there were 5000 Chinese in Arrowtown, living in a segregated community, forced to work abandoned mining claims or the tailings of European miners, or working for half what a European earned.  Despite the racism, the Chinese were known for their “sober, upright and straightforward” conduct.  Arrowtown has the best preserved Chinese community in New Zealand.  Ah Lum's Store The best preserved building is Ah Lum’s store, built in 1883.  Ah Lum was literate in English and became a pillar of the Chinese community; his store sold both European and Chinese goods, operated as an opium den, and was a bank for the Chinese.  The loft also provided accommodation for travelers.  The compact floor plan, and an interior area, are shown below.

The (restored) Chinese miners’ huts are incredibly small, intended as temporary structures, with tin, sod, stone and timber the principal materials.  The huts became permanent as the miners aged and were unable to return home.  Pictures below.


Linda and Ginger at the trailheadIf you remember, we “did” the Routeburn Track in a previous post  (April 20, “Leaving Milford Sound – the Routeburn Track to Key Summit” [clicking on the title will take you there in a new window]).  “Did” meaning we climbed part-way up one end of the trail.  Now we will go part-way up the other end of the trail – unfortunately leaving unseen the really, really pretty part in the middle.  Alas, such is the sad fate of those unwilling to carry heavy backpacks for days.  Still, the trip promises to be pretty.  The Routeburn is one of NZ’s Great Walks, and one of its finest.

Actually, just getting to the trailhead is pretty spectacular!  It’s at the other end of the long Lake Wakatipu, and the lake’s color changes along its length, and undergoes amazing

changes from day to day (that NZ light!).  The head of the lake is even more beautiful, as shown below.  In fact, it’s beautiful enough to have caught the attention of movie

producers, and the area appears in films like The Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men Origins, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

The Routeburn trail at this end goes steadily uphill following the beautiful Route Burn river, which is very clear with a somewhat turquoise cast.

 I love being serenaded by a musical river, so this is a treat!  The trail itself is a regular highway, but a little rocky.  However. it’s sides are very green, covered by an enormous variety of ground covers and moss.  Very large mossy rocks are common, along with some rougher rocks that, typical of NZ, have veins of different materials, making them interesting.

The water coming gallumphing down over rocks is beautiful.

We’ve been walking for a couple hours now, and the ladies need a restroom break.  We’re not the only ones on the trail, so this is a bit tricky, but we find some house-sized boulders close to the trail that will provide the needed cover.  Okay!  Biology attended to!  Off we go, Luxury, just 25 steps too fara whole 25 steps around the boulders, and lo and behold what should we see before our eyes?  Yep, the luxury of a very nice outdoor toilet, the distance from the trailhead almost perfectly calibrated for the needs of a female walker.  Almost.  Maybe 25 steps too far, actually.  How funny was that?

After a bit more we come to a pretty part of the river and the ladies decide they have had enough hiking.  I decide to hike up to the first hut, which should have a nice view.  The trail continues to be pretty, with a forest of ferns under the trees, and a nice beech forest.

The trail opens out to a beautiful meadow, and then I’m there.  I didn’t take a picture of it,

but the hut itself was pretty spiffy.  I’m used to rustic lean-to structures.  This was a four star fancy building, doors and wood bunks and all!  The surrounding meadow is gorgeous, with clear stream, impressive mountains and a waterfall.

As I head back, the Route Burn River is illuminated by beautiful, slanting late afternoon light.  An added bonus, I see several diminutive Rifleman birds.

That’s it!  Pretty but not spectacular.  Alas, the truly gorgeous views are in the middle section that we did not hike, but I am content.

Next stop, the glaciers!

Dunedin – Chinese Scholar Garden, and Polynesia


Chinese Garden bridgeThe Chinese Garden is a recent – and fabulous – addition to Dunedin.  It is one of only 3 Ming Dynasty scholars’ gardens outside China.  A scholar’s garden is the creation of a “spiritual utopia”, a contemplative space, an escape from daily concerns where one can re-connect with nature, the ancient way of life, one’s true self.  The gardens try to capture the look of traditional Chinese paintings and the imagery created in poetry.  To create this authentic garden, its wooden houses and structures were made in Shanghai using 4th century BC techniques – no nails, just mortise and tenon joints.  The granite plinths and facings were hand chipped, the columns free-standing and not pinned.  Terracotta roof tilesThe buildings needed 380,000 terracotta roof tiles, handmade in Suzhou, China.  After being assembled in Shanghai, the buildings were taken apart and shipped to Dunedin, along with 970 tons of rock and 130 tons of granite.  Forty Chinese artisans from Shanghai did the installation in Dunedin.

The Chinese word for “landscape” literally Chinese garden mountainmeans “mountains and waters”, and the mountain built here is from prized Lake Tai rock (from near Suzhou), a rock that represents wisdom and immortality; during the Song dynasty this sculpted rock was the most expensive object in the empire.

We felt this Scholar’s Garden was indeed a wonderful, soothing, contemplative, fabulous place.  By intent, there are visual surprises around every turn and corner (of which there are many!).  Beckoning niches, contrasting colors and textures, or repeating patterns are traps for your eye and give you pause.  Every window has a different intricate and marvelous grating.  Let us take you on a tour.  I’m just going to put a bunch of pictures below, as we walked around.


This is a small but interesting museum that covers a number of subjects, but we were mostly Polynesia/Melanesiacaught by the Polynesia/Melanesia wing – we really didn’t know much about the island regions of our world, and since we’re living in one of them, NZ, with Maori inhabitants, we thought we’d take a closer look.  For orientation, here’s a map.  As you can see, Polynesia is ‘way out there, specks floating in a big ocean!

Before starting the Polynesia section, we took a quick look at some very nice Maori carvings that the museum had.  They were made for a meeting house near Napier (North Island), and were carved in the 1870’s.  We’re impressed!

For us, there are two very fascinating aspects of Polynesia.  One is that the islands were settled one-by-one by seafarers using basically a canoe with a sail; these islands are anything but close, so the utter audacity of sailing off into the unknown is amazing.  A sail and a prayer – if not a death wish – for a family or couple!  I can see it now – “Hey sweetie, how about we sail off into that sunset and get away from here?  We’ll find an island just for us.  I mean, how big can the Pacific ocean be?  You bring the water, I’ll paddle.”  Yeah, not sure that pick-up line would work with Ginger.

The other fascinating aspect is the subsequent developmental changes (or their lack!) that occurred from a common culture.  The islands were far enough apart that there was no chance for communication early on and,  like Darwin’s finches, the cultures evolved in isolation.  Alas, the museum does not directly address this topic, but it’s visible in the displays.

Boats of the PacificLet’s start with migration.  Polynesian culture goes back 3 or 4 thousand years in some areas, originating from Southeast Asia and Taiwan.  The far-flung areas we now call Polynesia were occupied by the late 1200’s AD.  The picture to the left shows typical boats from different regions, and mostly they are riffs on the same theme, with a couple of exceptions that I’ll show first.  China is the biggest exception – really not a Polynesian Typical Chinese shipplayer, but interesting nonetheless.  A very different boat!  China had a permanent navy in the 1100’s during the Song Dynasty, with 52,000 marines!  They were the leading maritime power in the early 1400’s, until subsequent emperors lost interest, eliminated their navy, and turned inward.  Their boats had a different purpose (not island hopping/fishing) and thus had nothing in common with Polynesian boats.  The other exception in this display is a Peruvian boatKon-Tiki-like boat/raft from Peru, but there is little evidence that South America contributed much to Polynesia (except possibly to Easter Island).  You may notice from the overall display at the start of this paragraph and in the pictures below that the New Zealand boat is different from most of its cohorts, having no sail and no outrigger.  Its evolution is likely due to the shore-hugging short-distance travel around these large two islands, though sails and outriggers would have been used for the initial ocean crossings.  You can also see that the war canoes of the Solomon Islands were very similar to that of the Maori, including the dramatically upraised prow.  The other boats all have  outriggers or a double hull, many have sails, and all are structurally similar.

Differences in tattooingWe thought the NZ Maori tattooing was extensive!  This painful process was primarily done on Maori males, the females usually just doing their chins.  For the Maori, tattooing was a mark of puberty as well as conveying information on a person’s lineage, tribe, occupation, rank, and exploits.  Well, as you can see in this display, tattooing is obviously a Polynesian thing!  And the Maori were conservative!  Look at the Easter Island women, or the Samoa or Marquesas extensive tattoos (Ouch)!  In these other cultures tattooing was also a mark of puberty, courage, rank and status.

Decorative art such as combs and pendants, shown below, also show similarities across the island cultures, perhaps due to the similarity of available raw materials.  The particular designs used in ornamentation, who wore them and how they were worn, however, varied from island to island.  For instance, the pendants in the case below were decorated clam shells; it’s the same resource, but different cultures wore them on the chest, on the neck, or on the head.

Apparently house construction varied regionally across the islands, but there wasn’t much on display.  I have two for you below, one a picture (New Caledonia), one a display (Samoa).  Samoans were the “Architects of the Pacific”.  Their houses  were built without nails, screws or pegs.  The open sides of the house allowed free circulation of air, but blinds of woven palm leaves could be lowered.  Floors were of stone.

Breadfruit splitters, Marquesas vs Tahiti

Tools had a lot of similarity.  When a particular need would be the same – say, splitting breadfruit – the solution on different islands was usually quite similar, as shown with these breadfruit splitters to the left from Marquesas and Tahiti.


Often differences in tools among the islands were directly related to the availability of raw materials, such as the adzes below in coral, stone and jade.




Not everything is easily compared between islands.  We’ll just show some bowls and interesting tools.

Music and celebrations are universal, as are drums and pipes.

And where there is dance, there are masks.

Finally, of course there is war.  Islands are not an escape; the Maori were a warrior culture, as we have seen in earlier posts.  When it came to war, the Polynesian islands diverged considerably, depending on the political culture.  Some islands became fully developed kingdoms with little warfare, others divided into constantly warring tribes, such as NZ’s Maori.  The primary force driving the culture one way or the other, in addition to population pressure, was geography.  On level islands, where communication was essentially unimpeded, warfare was not chosen.  On mountainous islands, with distinct boundaries like mountain ridges, warring groups were the norm.  How interesting is that!  Below are instruments of warfare, starting with the clubs.

In addition to clubs, there were spears and shields.

Warrior from Tuvalu, an atollAs a last picture, this is a Kiribati warrior from Tuvalu, an atoll.  Atolls, just a few feet above the sea, support very little life other than a few trees and coconut palms (water was obtained from holes dug in the coral).  With so few resources, humans struggled.  However, here is a well-dressed warrior, on an atoll where we have been told warfare is not likely to occur!  We don’t understand the need for armor, but the armor is in itself interesting; the cloth is coconut fiber decorated with shells.  The helmet and stomach guard are of fish skin.  Sharks teeth are used in the weapons. Quite a use of what you’ve got!

Well, I hope you enjoyed that long discourse on Polynesia and its insight into cultural evolution.  My take-away is that if the resources are pretty much the same, the evolution is pretty much the same.  If everyone lives on a flat area with few natural defenses, people make peace (conversely, it there are defensible borders, it becomes us-vs-them).  I also thought it was interesting to get an insight into stone-age cultures existing into the late 1800’s!

Next post – Christchurch!

Dunedin – Architecture and Art

Dunedin is the largest city in the southern half of the South Island, with a population of 120,000 (20% of which are students).  Called the “Edinburgh of the South”, it was founded by Scottish settlers around 1850, who named it after home – DunEDIN(BURGH).  Ten years later gold was discovered nearby, and this port city quickly became NZ’s most important, spurring a building boom that resulted in a legacy of harmonious Gothic Revival architecture fashioned from volcanic bluestone and creamy limestone.  This is a city post – Dunedin’s university, churches, architecture, and art museum.


Dunedin is home to NZ’s first university (1869).  We happen to be here during the University’s Orientation Week, a big mistake!  Classes are not yet in session, and students, newly liberated from parental control, have a lot of time for beer drinking and rowdy behavior. We have unwittingly booked a motel in a student area, our walls are thin, and loud top-of-your-voice street-side “conversations” go on until 3 or 4 in the morning.  Groan!

The University looks very much like an English university to us, although it’s on a considerably smaller scale.  In the pictures below, the darker stone is bluestone.

The details are fun – the carvings, the attractive windows, even downspouts are special.


Every day we walk past this church that is not in our tour books – the Knox Church, it’s called, just a small Presbyterian church – but it is quite beautiful, reflecting the architecture of that time.

The most impressive church in Dunedin is St. Paul’s Cathedral, an Anglican church constructed in the early 1900’s entirely of Oamaru limestone (see post of Jan 20, Oamaru and Penguins).  It’s located on The Octagon, the central plaza of the city, laid out in 1846 and home to a number of well-preserved buildings.

Positively European, eh?  I’m a sucker for stained glass, and this church has a lot of it, all from the early 1900’s.

The final church is the First Church of Otago, touted as the most impressive of NZ’s earlier 19th century churches.  Praise is given to its wooden gabled ceiling and rose window, but we get there late and I am shooed out before I can even take a lo0k – just that quick picture from the door before I’m spotted.  I try to sweet-talk my way in, but it is not to be.  Still, the church is very impressive to look at, even from the outside.


First, let’s look at a grand building there in the Octagon near St. Paul’s Cathedral: the Municipal Chambers, built in the Italian Renaissance style in 1880, also from Oamaru limestone.  The lamp bases aren’t bad either!

Also on the Octagon is the Regent Theatre, home to the Royal NZ Ballet and other shows.  Built in 1874, its interior is a combination of 19th century fashion and 1920’s art deco – a stunning combination, I think; classical and classy!

Another turn-of-the-20th-century building is the Dunedin Railway Station, again built of bluestone and Oamaru limestone.  I think it’s fabulous.  Ginger is not so sure.

C’mon, isn’t this the most resplendent train station you’ve ever seen?  The interior is also quite amazing, with a foyer of tile and a porcelain mosaic floor.

Other historical municipal buildings are the court house and jail – which are physically connected for the sake of efficiency.  Not all of the historical buildings are in great shape (for example, the warehouse buildings below, right).

Some of the residential homes downtown are reminiscent of New Orleans buildings of the same period – maybe it’s all that wrought iron (but definitely not the turret).

Below are samples of downtown business buildings.

Finally, I wanted to share our experience visiting a cafe downtown.  We saw people shooting up, with big syringes, right there at tables out front, in broad daylight!  So, of course, we had to try it too.  Or at least Ginger had to, that junky in need of a (sugar) high.  You order, select from a variety of fillings, take a seat, and soon appears a warm, sugar-coated doughnut (shell) and a large syringe filled with jelly, lemon, chocolate…, whatever your “fix”.  Just to keep it low calorie, it comes with a side of whipped cream, too.  Messy, yummy, the ultimate do-it-yourself rush.  It is an interesting take on the jelly doughnut.


It’s the oldest gallery  in NZ, converted from 6 Victorian buildings into a very modern, gleaming museum, right on The Octagon.  The foyer has a work entitled “Cones” by NZ sculptor Cones by Neil DawsonNeil Dawson (his work also appears in our posts from Christchurch and Wellington, but unacknowledged).  Also note the cool spiral staircase barely visible on the left, from Victorian times. The museum has a traveling interactive exhibit of works by Seung Yul Oh that was fun; certainly Ginger got into it!  The pictures below show some of the art from this exhibition.

The Wonder Wall The core museum starts with an interesting introduction, “Wonderwall”, an entire wall of some great art!  This is the “salon style” of art display from the 1600’s.  The large room is otherwise empty, except for a full-size replica of the amazing “The Wrestlers” from 3rd century BC Greece.  The austere room and The Wrestlers, copy of 3rd Century Greek statuefabulous art is striking, and intriguing.  One of the ideas behind this type of presentation is to invite comparisons.  I note that many of these paintings show people looking out at me, looking in at them.  Ooooookay.  A little different.  In looking at art, I’m used to mentally putting myself in the picture.  Here I seem to be the picture, the gallery looking at me!  Turnabout!  Here are some pictures I like, up close.

The picture below is a fascinating “out there” piece of art created by Anne Ferran, an Australian artist, during a two-month artist-in-residence program at the museum.  From

Anne Ferran, Australian, 2001

Anne Ferran, Australian, 2001

across the room, it looked like a ghostly 3-D construction or a hologram.  Up close, it’s a ghostly picture of an infant’s christening gown.  It’s called a “photogram”; I suspect it’s done with x-rays using x-ray film.

OK,  on to some other art that impressed me.  Another “out there” fascinating collection by an American, Robert Rauschenberg, worked with unusual juxtapositions/allusions in color lithography, examples below.

I was blown away by the works of Frances Hodgkins.  Working in watercolor at the end of Impressionism/ beginning of Modernism, she captured the optical effects of light on water, along with movement and stillness, that I find incredibly beautiful.  Examples below.

Finally, let me show you some amazing linocuts (a woodblock-like process, but using linoleum) from the 1930’s.  Each color required one block , necessitating simple, abstract designs.  Yet this very simple, static process produced such a sense of speed and movement!  Printing was done by hand – a piece of paper was placed on the inked tile and rubbed – thus producing very affordable art for this industrial age.  The prints are grouped by artist.

That’s probably enough for one post!  The next and last post on Dunedin will showcase the fabulous Chinese Scholar’s Garden and the fascinating Polynesian exhibit at the Otago Museum.

Wanaka and the Rob Roy Valley


Wanaka is a resort town just an hour north of its better-known neighbor Queenstown, but happily it is not at all like that over-caffeinated tourist mecca.  Wanaka is quieter, with less crowds, less partying, and with far fewer stores hawking testosterone-fueled activities.  I admit Queenstown is prettier (which I’ll show you in a post soon), but Wanaka is pretty enough, Landis Passand a nice place to chill out for a week.  Getting there from Mt Cook takes us through Landis Pass, which is austerely beautiful.  Wanaka itself snuggles up against the lake of the same name, with the high and jagged peaks of Mt. Aspiring National Park visible in the far distance.  The pictures below show you the lake from Wanaka’s long beach (under different weather conditions, I might add!).

Downtown WanakaDowntown Wanaka is mostly a couple of streets with more cafes than anything else, displaying its touristy but low-key personality.  There really isn’t much to do in Wanaka other than chill, but it is a nice spot both for chilling and as a base to explore outlying attractions such as the nearby Rippon Vineyard, Central Otago’s oldest vineyard.   For perspective, it was established in 1982, nearly a decade before most of New Zealand’s Rippon Vines (nice location!)wineries (it’s amazing how young NZ is, in every respect).   If you begin to suspect that we have chosen this region for it’s wines, you’re partly right.  The Central Otago wine region is very far south, at a latitude where grapes would not be expected to do well.  However, the surrounding high mountains apparently retain heat and the valley reaches some of the highest, albeit very variable temperatures, in NZ .  This area produces some of the country’s best Pinot Noir (and Pinot Gris).  A number of small but very good wineries are located near the hamlet of Bannockburn, and an

example of this area is shown above.  One particular winery, Mt. Difficulty, was amazing  – magnificent wines, very pricey, but we bought a few bottles anyway.  Didn’t someone tell us that life’s too short to drink cheap wine?  We also had an incredible and memorable lunch in their restaurant overlooking the vines – fabulous duck with their fabulous wines is about as good as it gets.  Some of the wineries in his region are very boutique – for example, Gate 20 Two, making great wines and selling them from their home – their “cellar door”, New Zealand-speak for tasting room, is from a desk in the foyer of their house!

Looks fabulous!We decide to do a nearby hike, to Diamond Lake.  On the way we see Kiwis enjoying life up in the air, on paragliders.  They glide and soar wherever they want, and it is clear they could stay up there forever; must be good updrafts.  I’m envious, really, but there is something comforting about having feet in contact with earth, and hiking is good too.

The hike to the lake is flat, and the lake (picture above) is nice, but the overlook beckons.  Unfortunately it is up, and up, using the ubiquitous D.O.C. stairs, and Ginger hates it;

which she voices more Diamond Lake from abovethan once, but gamely carries on.  The overview of Diamond Lake and the nearby mountains is very nice indeed, and worth the climb.  However, the trail Lake Wanakakeeps going, beckoning us on.  Alas, it also keeps going up, and after awhile Ginger has had enough – but not before we get a nice overview back towards Wanaka.

On the hike we’ve also observed some interesting plants and birds along the trail, as shown below.

Rob Roy Valley

Mt. Aspiring National Park is one of NZ’s largest and is Wanaka’s outdoor playground.  Today we’re off to hike the Rob Roy Valley, listed as “an easy route into a dramatic alpine landscape that includes snowfields, glaciers, sheer rock cliffs and waterfalls”.  Sounds great!  Of course, “easy” is one of those relative terms, isn’t it?

The hour ride to the trailhead is through grazing land surrounded by old dry mountains, with occasional impressive waterfalls.  The view straight ahead isn’t bad either, right

picture.  What we didn’t know then is that the glacier straight ahead is the one we’re going to hike to, and its kinda “up” more than “easy”.  Our road gives way to gravel for 2o miles, and it’s slow going because of the gravel, because we need to navigate past sheep, Not in a hurryand because we need to ford gulleys and streams – like 7 of them.  It’s not trivial!  We’re navigating water and good-sized rocks, and hey!  This is my car!  Not some rental!  Ginger offers suggestions on which rocks or holes to avoid, of course, in a stressed voice, which is very helpful.  Later we read the D.O.C. pamphlet, which says “The last 6 miles … is subject to washouts and flooded creeks which can make it impassable.”  I love the Kiwi understatement; I would think twice about doing this trip on a cloudy day, when getting into the park on this dead-end road was possible, but getting out after a rainfall was not.

At last we’re at the trailhead, and it’s pretty.  The valley floor and mountains are impressive, the rock-strewn Matukituki River is adding a merry song, and a waterfall drops out of a mountain to complete the picture.

Initially the hike is through an almost-flat wildflower-filled meadow bordered by the Matukituki river crashing into boulders.

We cross the river over a swing bridge and begin hiking along a beautiful trail that parallels the gorgeous Rob Roy Stream.  The trail is 5 miles up, and not terribly steep, but it is 5 miles up!  However, hiking beside merrily singing water in a very green, very varied beech forest is a delight, as the pictures show!

We finally come out of the forest and are greeted by a spectacular view of the Rob Roy Glacier on Mt. Alta.  Oh, maybe you notice the waterfall too?  It’s magnificent!

We disappear into forest again, and reappear with a better view of the waterfall.  The water is falling such a distance, it turns into mist at the end.  We’re captivated!

Nearing the trail endThen a bit more climbing up and down on a rocky trail like the one to the left, and we come to the view shown in the two images below ….  A wall of waterfalls pouring from the melting glaciers.  You need to mentally paste the two images together.

The mountains and waterfalls are truly amazing.  Alas, the trail ends here; we would have to bushwhack to get closer.  I’d love to do that, but it would mean fording the Rob Roy Stream, slowing the earth’s rotation to get more light hours, etc.,etc., so I must be content.  Below are close-up photos of the waterfalls.  It’s hard to know how tall they are, but I’m guessing some of them must be hundreds of feet high.

We’re starting to lose light, so it’s time to go.  As we start to hike out, I’m not quite ready to stop looking, so here are a few more views of my favorite two waterfalls.

The trail on the way back now has slanted light, and it’s as pretty as ever.  Maybe prettier.

The slanting light of early evening transforms the Matukituki Valley into a play of color and shadow.

The trip out is through the cow pasture, with one cow guarding the gate.  Happily, no bull is in sight.   We moo a greeting and are allowed to leave.

However, it isn’t over yet!  There are more pretty sights on the way out –

and hurdles to overcome.

We thought it was a gorgeous hike.  Hope you liked it too.

Next post, Milford Sound!

Aoraki/Mt. Cook: Tasman Glacier and Hooker Valley

This morning we’re doing that rare thing, for us – taking a commercial tour.  We want to get up close and personal with a glacier, so we’ve booked a bus-hike-boat trip on Tasman Lake where we hope to see some icebergs that have calved from the Tasman Glacier, and hopefully get a close look at the glacier itself.
The weather in this national park is notoriously fickle.  Often a pall of low-lying clouds and rain hangs over the valley, but today it’s supposed to be clear.  From our bedroom balcony the day is starting out cloudy, but as seen below the views are still gorgeous (What a

wonderful wake-up view!).  Fingers crossed for clear skies, we hop on the bus and head toward the glacier.

Tasman glacier moraine plainA short bus ride later we arrive at the trail head (Blue Lakes Trail) and take an easy 20 minute hike across the valley floor.  The sky is clearing, but the land is desolate as far as the eye can see.  As Ginger noted in the previous post, the plain is the moraine from the retreating glacier, the debris is about a mile deep(!), and the fill is very loose.  So in spite of high rainfall, the water just drains through, effectively creating desert conditions on the surface.  It might as well be a moonscape, just gray rock, gravel and dust.

Tasman LakeWe top a moraine wall and there it is – Tasman Lake, an ominous gray color that we weren’t expecting.  The guide tells us the color is from rock flour, ground up rock particles that haven’t settled out yet.  We’ve seen rivers of gray glacial run-off, but never a whole lake of it!  It definitely adds to the forbidding nature of the landscape.  An interesting side note – the river that flows out of Lake Tasman empties into Lake Pukaki (see previous post); on the way, the water sheds the larger rock particles, leaving smaller ones that scatter light to give Lake Pukaki its other-wordly blue color.  Pretty amazing to give the very long and large Pukaki Lake that color, seemingly throughout.

Tasman lake, virtually opaque and with a temperature just above freezing, is devoid of any life and looks it with its cadaverous grayness, but the surrounding mountains and playful clouds are beautiful.  The last two images below show the back side of Mt Cook and its hanging glaciers.

Boat to the glacier frontWe’re heading off to the glacier front in a boat just like this one, and we’ve managed to snag the front seat!  There are icebergs on the lake today, but the wind has blown them all back to the glacier end of the lake.  As part of the safety talk, we are instructed to put our hands in the water for about 30 seconds; it very quickly becomes painful, and we can’t wait to pull our hands out.  Take-away lesson:  do not fall in!

WaterfallAs we motor out, we pass a small waterfall coming out of the clouds.  Pretty, but the main attraction is dead ahead.  Impressive!  The glacier fills the valley floor from side to side; it is crowned with a layer of rock debris, but we can’t begin to estimate its height – the mountains around it are too large to give a sense of scale.  We can’t get too close because 1) a calving chunk could send waves that might dump us into that frigid water (the glacier moves forward at a speedy 9 inches a day), and 2) a piece of the underwater shelf that extends up to 200 feet from the glacier could break off, pop to the surface, and flip the boat.  Definitely undesirable but highly unlikely – but them’s the rules.  Still, we get reasonably near, as shown below.

It’s time to look at some icebergs up close.  First we haul out some little ones.

Our guide fishes one out and passes it around.  We spot a bigger one, and she lets Ron fish this one out, with Ginger hanging on to his belt to keep him in the boat.  The ice floating in the lake is about 300 years old – it has taken that long to move down the glacier escalator – and the ice exists as large, inch-sized crystals, which you can begin to see in the last image above.  The crystals were originally formed under high pressure and low temperature, but once free of the glacier and at lower pressure and higher temperature, the crystals grow and air pockets form, causing the ice to appear whiter.  Some examples of iceberg crystals are shown below.

We were tugging on the iceberg in the picture below when it started to roll, causing the guide to beat a hasty retreat, but the iceberg righted itself (darn!).  It did give us a look at some of the underside, which was perhaps closer to original crystal size.

The air bubbles in the ice were also interesting.

Finally, below are pictures of icebergs with their blue hue.

WaterfallWell, we didn’t see glacier-front calving or shelf flipping, but communing with the icebergs was interesting.  As we hike out to our waiting bus, we notice a nice waterfall on a side mountain that we had missed.  Dime a dozen, eh?

It’s early afternoon, so we decide to do at least part of a hike that we haven’t done (we’ve done most!).  The hike goes down the Hooker Valley to Hooker Lake and, at it’s end, the Hooker Glacier.  More of the same, really, so we won’t go too far.  First, however, another look at the majestic Mt. Cook!  And on the right, the Huddleston Glacier of Mt. Sefton.  Awesome!

Mueller Lake and the first swing bridgeThe Hooker Valley trail goes up before it goes down; in the first picture we’re looking down on Mueller Lake and the first of several swing bridges that we’ll have to cross.  Pictures from the hike follow.

Mountain chessAs we’re hiking out, Ginger comments that the bush on Mt. Wakefield looks a lot like a chess knight.  Yes, it does!

Tomorrow we leave this gorgeous place, but I take a few last shots of the mountains at night, and later, of Lake Pukaki as we depart.  This has definitely been one of the high points of our New Zealand sojourn.

Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

The South Island is where NZ’s superlatives lie: it boasts the tallest mountains, largest river, deepest lakes, and wildest and most remote areas (some still unexplored, at least by modern man).  It also has regions that are the country’s driest, wettest, hottest, coldest, and windiest.  We’re going to the tall mountain region, the Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park.  Aoraki is Maori for “cloud piercer”, and Aoraki is increasingly used instead of Mt. Cook, which is NZ’s tallest mountain at over 12,000 ft.

The drive into this central part of the South Island is definitely scenic.  The plants in the

right picture are tussock.  They’re protected, and quite beautiful, covering huge plains and growing up the sides of mountains.  There are a variety of types, including this red tussock.  Apparently they grow slowly; some plants are centuries old (!).  The plants blow in the wind like waves in the sea.  Mesmerizing.

On the way we pass Lake Tekapo, and are stunned by the amazing blue color of the lake.

It’s an other-worldly blue!  We stop to stare, and we are not alone.  People in RV’s have pulled up, taken out lawn chairs, and are just sitting and wordlessly staring.  A marvelous, incredible color; we are amazed and perplexed by how it could be.

Traveling further, we come to Lake Pukaki and the turn-off to Mt. Cook, and are blown away.  Lake Tekapo was just the warm-up!  The color of Lake Pukaki is other-worldly on steroids!  Surely it is Photoshopped!  Can’t be real!  I rub my eyes, it’s still there.

And to add to the spectacle, the mountains loom gloriously.  It’s a long lake, and the views

View on the way to Mt. Cookare just incredible as we travel toward Mt. Cook for nearly an hour.  For example, this picture to the left.

We’re thinking it can’t get any more spectacular, and then we go around a corner to see a craggy mountainside with a glacier glomming to it and waterfalls/rivers tumbling down.  Wow.  We begin to see why Edmund Hillary trained for Everest here.

We have splurged and are staying in the major (and historic) lodge, the Hermitage – as it turns out, a very good move.  The pictures below show the view from our bedroom balcony.  Awesome!  For perspective, there is a car on the road in the right picture.  Those rocks are big!

I decide to hike to an overview, Kea Point, to take pictures of Mt Cook as the sun sets.  Ginger points out that means hiking back in the dark and she won’t go, but she’s a pessimist.  The view from our room as the sun starts thinking about setting is amazing.

The hike to Kea Point is just a few miles and is uneventful.  The overview is interesting.  As you’ll see in the pictures below, Mt Cook is straight ahead, but in front is an enormous trench (and small lake) created by the retreating Mueller glacier, which is out of sight around a bend.  The wall on the other side is the “lateral moraine”, debris left by the retreating glacier.  It is an impressive wall of debris.  Mt. Sefton is to the side, and the waterfalls from the glaciers are fascinating.  It is impossible to know the scale, but the waterfalls must be hundreds of feet in height.  Finally the sun sets on Mt. Cook, and the view is nice, but not as impressive as I had hoped.  Alas, on the walk back I miss a turn and walk a couple of extra miles, costing me daylight, and I end up twisting the same stupid ankle in the dusk.  Could Ginger have been right?

Aoraki, Cloud SplitterThe next  morning we are greeted by Mt. Cook.  It is posing for us – Aoraki, the Cloud Splitter.  It’s magnificent.  For Maori, the mountains are sacred; I’m not far behind.  Mountains are so old, and so awesome.  In their womb they were simple sediment, compressed under enormous pressure when the world was under water.  They were born by cataclysmic forces of heat and pressure and volcanoes and tectonic plates, brutally thrust upward with unimaginable force to these incredible heights, and aged by wind and water over many millions of years so that we could one day stare at these monuments – these crystallized forces – that silently dwarf humankind’s silly bravado.  I stare at the mountain’s timeless grandeur, and I see America’s backwards politics and petty strutting and our daily big concerns for what they really are – little insignificant blips in the story of this planet.  When there’s a rock like that in front of you, you can only stand there, mouth agape, and make space in your head for something akin to religion; like the Maori.  Below are a few more pictures of this marvelous valley.

That ankle seems to serially sprain, so I decide to have it looked at in the nearby (hour away) town of Twizel – which allows me to drive along Pukaki Lake again.  The sky is different, and the lake color is different, but it is still other-wordly.

Alert!  This is Ginger now.  While husband is off seeking succor for his self-inflicted wounds , I decide to take a short hike through Governors Bush, just a 10 minute walk from the hotel.  It’s cloudy and threatening rain, but my jacket is waterproof, so I head out, expecting an easy walk around a garden-like area.  Instead I discover I’m heading rapidly uphill on some of the DOC’s infamous stairs.  Oh, well, so much for a leisurely morning mosey.  I decide to snap some pics with my iPhone, so Ron can see what he missed.

The walk up this hillside “bush” is a stark contrast to the arid plain below.  Here everything is lush and green, an abundance of ferns and mosses, lichens on rocks, and epiphytes hanging from the tall trees.  I discover later that there is, indeed, plenty of

 rainfall in this area, hence the lushness of Governor’s Bush.  The plain, however, is arid because it lies on a very deep, very porous moraine, and has only a shallow layer of topsoil.  Water simply pours right through, leaving desert conditions in a rainy land!

After a bit of climbing, the path begins to level out (left picture below).  It’s lovely, but dense enough that I don’t think I’ll find any mountain views.  I’m not far from wrong, although I do catch an occasional glimpse of the peaks across that arid plain, and the clouds playing Ring Around the Mountain with Mt. Aoraki.

The DOC has labeled some of the plants and trees.  It’s kind of fun to be able to see their names -Turpentine Scrub, Bog Pine, Bush Snowberry – though I know I won’t remember them for long.

The path meanders through the upland forest for a while, but what goes up must inevitably come down; I round a bend and begin descending through the forest;

the understory becomes more & more densely crowded with ferns, many I’ve never seen before .  Unfortunately, only one kind, seen earlier on the trail, has a name tag (left picture).  Others remain unidentified. 


Later in our travels I see the relatively rare Prince of Wales fern, which looks a great deal like the last fern pictured.

Small waterfall

On the way down the trail I’ve caught glimpses of a waterfall across the river; when I emerge from the woods, I decide to get a better look and bushwack up the river bank to find it.  After some rock scrambling I locate a spot with a clear shot.  The falls is relatively small, but still quite pretty. 




There’s an added bonus – on my way back from the falls, I discover a picturesque stream, incredibly clear, dotted with bunches of yellow monkey flowers.

I head back up the hill to the hotel, pleasantly tired and ready to put my feet up for a bit while I await the return of my wounded warrior.

Well, the local doc thinks the ankle may have a tendon broken, but it feels pretty good moving back and forth (less so side-to-side, but it’s taped to resist that; the doc says to see an orthopod when we get to Wanaka).  She also says I’m OK to go, so I’m off on a hike.  Ginger says she has had enough for one day, so I am on my own.  I decide to do the hike to Mueller Hut – I saw the trail-head on the way to Kea Point.  The hike is listed as “challenging”; just 6 miles RT, but it’s vertical; a 3,000 ft ascent, taking 6-8 hours.  I don’t have that much time by now; it’s 2pm.  However, 1800 ft up is the Sealy Tarns, and I can do that.  That part of the trail is dubbed “stairway to heaven” and includes 2200 steps.  Oh boy.

The trail starts off pretty nicely, as shown in the picture below, top left.  The canopy of trees is mixed, and there are a number of different shrubs and plants with small white flowers.

And then come the steps.  And more steps.  Oh my!  And more steps.  I am impressed by the industry of the DOC (Dept of Conservation) that builds these trails.  The trail is very,

very steep indeed, and steps are an efficient way to go up.  And up we go, oh so efficiently!  Perhaps you can see from the angle of the hill how steep the incline is!  Sometimes I can put my foot on one step and touch 6 steps up with my hand.  That’s not stairs, that’s a ladder!

Since you can see just pieces of the view in these images, here’s a better sample.  It’s pretty up here.

Poured concrete path, 'way up highI continue to go up, and I’m approaching the cloud ceiling, and whoa!  Way up here, nose-bleed height, and the DOC has decided to pour a concrete path on the trail!  Yikes!  Who carried the bags of cement, water and wheelbarrow?  The DOC is impressive indeed – or perverse, I suppose, if you work for them.  Come to think of it, I’ve had bosses like that ….

And then suddenly I round a switchback, and I’m there.  The Sealy Tarn is disappointingly

small – a pond really – but the view around is not bad, shown below.  It’s similar to what you’ve already seen, just from a little higher up.  Can you see the blue ice in the glacier dead ahead of the Sealy Tarn, shown in the last image below?  It’s visible even in this dull overcast light.

Pretty cool.  The trail continues up, a little rougher and sans steps, but this is it for me.  There are pretty flowers around, all white.

Time to go down.  Oh yeah.  This is not going to be fun.  Below are pictures of the trail going down – steps going to steps going to steps, as far as the eye can see.

As you have seen, I am flirting with bad weather on this hike; it has been threatening rain, and on the way down the rain lets loose over the valley, left image below.

I’ve got to make it to that parking lot before it beats me there, so I hurry on.  I make it with just a few raindrops encouraging my pace.  The last image shows the clouds settling in as daylight ends.  What a fun and unique hike!  And the ankle did fine.