Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Another Day, Another Cruise

While in Te Anau we decided to book another cruise  to visit the Te Anau Glowworm Caves.  Way back in the mists of time (about 35 years ago) we did this same cruise after the completion of our four day Milford Track walk, we were much younger and fitter then, of course.  I must admit I couldn't really remember too much about it after all this time, just vague memories of a boat ride there, and a boat ride through the caves.  The trip was leaving at 4.30pm so we had a lazy day relaxing in camp, then drove down town to find a car park.  There were plenty of people milling about – the boat arrived at the wharf, disgorged the passengers from an earlier trip, and our group climbed aboard.

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The trip took us for a 30 minute cruise to the western shores of Lake Te Anau. After the necessary safely briefing we had a commentary pointing out places of interest as we cruised along. 

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View along the way

On arrival we walked up to Cavern House.  There was a full contingent of 72 people, and we were split into groups of twelve, and away we went into the cave for a guided tour.

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No photos are allowed in the caves, and when in the boat, we must be silent, we were told, otherwise the glowworms take fright and their lights go out!  Luckily there were handrails to help us walk through the cave, and in some parts we had to bend our head and shoulders to get under the low ceiling!  That was a bit tricky.  What I had forgotten was just how loud the rushing water was in the cave, it was so noisy the guide had to shout to get her messages across.  The rushing water exited the caves, and our boat ride thankfully took us across still waters deep inside the caves.  With just a torch to guide us as we clambered into the small boat and then we moved slowly along in silence and complete darkness.  And there they were, tiny dots of light on the roof of the cave, certainly a sight to behold.  The boats have no motors and our guide told us later that she moves the boat along, standing in the front and  pulling on a chain, all in complete darkness. 

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From the brochure

After our cave experience we walked back through the wet cave, water drip, drip, dripping down on us, to return to Cavern House where we helped ourselves to a hot cuppa and listened to a presentation on the life of a glowworm.  The pair of us found the cave trip a little uncomfortable with many steps and having to bend to scuttle along under the low ceilings.  Robin also had a problem with bending his knee to get into the boat, but we were certainly pleased we had repeated the trip after all these years.

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On our return to shore  we decided to take ourselves out for dinner to the Te Anau Club after our wonderful trip and as it was our last night in Te Anau.  A  beer for him and a bottle of bubbly for her while we waited for our orders to arrive.  The meals were huge, neither of us could finish them.  It had been a great afternoon.

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Meal out at the Te Anau Club

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Big Day Out

Our  recent longer drives and one night stop-overs were because we were making our way to Te Anau to tick an item off our bucket list.  Arriving on Sunday, we are staying four nights at NZMCA Te Anau Alpine Park.

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Staying at Te Anau

On Monday we booked a Southern Discoveries coach trip from Te Anau to Milford which included a cruise through Milford Sound plus a visit to the Underwater Observatory. 

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There were several photo stops on the way up, the first being the Eglington Valley. 

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Eglington Valley

The next photo stop was at the very pretty Mirror Lakes.  The lakes were just off the roadside, and it was a nice easy 5 minute  boardwalk there and back.  People everywhere, we certainly weren’t the only bus in the car park.

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Mirror Lakes

Monkey Creek was the next photo stop, and the passengers were encouraged to fill up their water bottles with the cool, clear water from the creek.  It was so named by William Homer (of Homer tunnel fame) way back in the late 1880s when his dog Monkey splashed about in the creek.  The coach driver kindly took out photo for us.

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Monkey Creek

There were roadworks on the way, and we passed workmen and a large machine slicing into the road as they were laying fibre cable for internet.  At the moment this is a black spot for internet coverage.

I was looking forward to going through Homer Tunnel.  It is 1.2 km (0.75 miles) long, and was  opened in 1953. State Highway 94 passes through the tunnel, linking Milford Sound to Te Anau and Queenstown, by piercing the Darran Mountains at the Homer Saddle.  William Homer and George Barber discovered the Homer Saddle in 1889, and Homer suggested that a tunnel through the saddle would provide access to the Milford area.  Government workers began the tunnel in 1935  The tunnel and the associated Milford Road were built by relief workers during the Depression.  The men had to live in tents in a mountainous area where there might be no direct sunlight for half of the year.   Progress was slow, with difficult conditions, and work was also interrupted by World War II, and an avalanche in 1945 which destroyed the eastern tunnel portal. These problems delayed the tunnel's completion and it was finally opened in 1953.

So there we were, waiting at the red traffic  signal to start our trip through the single lane  tunnel.  And out the other side where we drove under an avalanche shelter, certainly a danger on parts of this road.

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The Homer Tunnel

Milford wasn’t quite what I expected, I must say, not much there except a hotel, car parks, and a large Visitors Centre.  Several excursion boats were moored up, and we followed the crowd to board our one.  After a welcome and safely briefing we were on our way.

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Lady Bowen

Most people had rushed upstairs to sit on the outside deck, but we secured a table downstairs under cover.  First things first, we redeemed the ticket for our picnic lunch.  Wonder what was in them?  We were pleasantly surprised – sandwiches, two pieces of fruit, cheese and crackers, small bag of chippies and a Whittakers chocolate Sante Bar.  There was plenty of help yourself tea and coffee available too.  We ate the sandwiches, cheese and crackers and a mandarin each, and took the rest back to the van for later.

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Picnic lunch box

Nothing says Milford Sound more than the iconic Mitre Peak, named by Captain John Lort Stokes of HMS Acheron in 1851, who found it’s shape reminiscent of the mitre headwear of Christian bishops. The Māori name for the peak is Rahotu, and the mountain is 1683m high.  The Captain pointed out places of interest and wildlife  as we cruised along, as we gazed at awe at the shear granite cliffs, then taking us right out to the entrance of Tasman Sea.  

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Mitre Peak and a view from the stern

A medium sized cruise ship passed by as we traveled along, and the Captain commented that much bigger ones make their way into the Sounds too. Waterfalls abound, and the Captain nosed into Stirling Falls, giving those on the bow quite a splashing.  Never mind, getting drenched is meant to make you look 10 years younger, we were told.

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Stirling Falls

On the way back we stopped at Underwater Observatory, one of the highlights of the trip.  The Underwater Observatory was built in 1995. The construction project involved building the viewing chamber in 3 sections in Invercargill and assembling them in Bluff. This unique floating underwater observatory is the only one of it’s kind in New Zealand.   After an interesting talk about the facility and wildlife we descended the spiral staircase to 10m beneath the water – 50 steps down. 

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There were lots of viewing windows, and we all moved around, checking out the marine life.  And to see the black coral, which is actually white.  The fish swimming nearby are not fed, they are just going about their business, and no doubt looking in the windows at all these strange creatures looking out.

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Black coral and fish life 10m down

Cruising back to the dock, we all disembarked and made our way to our bus.  This was a non stop ride back to Te Anau and I’m sure several were nodding off as we drove along.  And why not, it had certainly been a big day out, from 10.30am to 6.30pm with lots of lovely sights along the way.  It was a great trip indeed, we would certainly recommend it.

Saturday, 28 January 2023

Lindis Pass, Kawerau Pass to Lumsden

After several easy days traveling, it was a much longer day (150km) from Twizel to Lowburn,  and driving up and over Lindis Pass.  On the first part of the journey we passed the results of farmers cutting hay, first we saw rectangular bales piled high, and then paddock after paddock of round hay bales.  All getting ready for winter feed.

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Time to make hay

Driving over the Lindis Pass we noticed that the hills had changed from the very bare hills that we saw around Twizel, and now were lightly covered in scrub.  The  Lindis Pass links the Mackenzie Basin with Central Otago, crossing  a saddle between the valleys of the Lindis and Ahuriri Rivers at an altitude of 971m..

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There was no room for us to pull into the lookout, but a little further on we stopped at this sign.  We had now arrived at Central Otago, or as the locals call it, “Central”.  It was all downhill from here, and this side of the pass seemed much steeper than the ascent.

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We are now in Central Otago

The road took us alongside Lake Dunstan, and we soon arrived al Lowburn NZMCA Park, another new to us camp right on the lake side.  Set in  a large graveled area, rubbish facilities but no water or dump station.

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Lowburn NZMCA Park

The town of Cromwell was not too far away, and look, there is the famous fruit sign, the huge  1.7 tonne apple, pear, nectarine and apricot landmark.   Designed by  Otto Muller  the landmark cost $64,000 to build and a further $24,000 in voluntary labour, and was completed in November 1989.    Cromwell  has a well-earned reputation as the fruit bowl of New Zealand. The ideal climate makes  Cromwell’s cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums  sought-after by high-end export markets, supermarkets, and visitors who call in to buy from the local growers. 

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Cromwell Fruit Sign

As we did, buying a box of delicious peaches, and a bag of new seasons apples, then queuing up with other eager customers to buy  a “real fruit” ice-cream.    Absolutely delicious – there is nothing better than an ice-cream on a hot sunny day!

In the 1970s Cromwell became the site of a hydro-electric power scheme which created the huge Clyde Dam to harness the Clutha River.  Lake Dunstan, which formed behind the dam, submerged much of the area in 1992, but a number of historic buildings were saved and relocated.

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Lake Dunstan, and a view of the camp from the lake edge

Then it was another big day, 161km from Lowburn to Lumsden along SH6.  This took us through the steep and winding Kawerau Gorge.  In 1880 engineer Harry Higginson was called on to built a bridge over the Kawarau Gorge, a difficult task in a sheer rocky gorge that was known as a tunnel for strong winds. To  meet this challenge, he came up with an innovative bridge design with a suspension bridge that was 42 m high with a 120m long span. The work won a world’s top engineering award, a Telford Premium, in 1882.  In 1963 a new bridge opened and the 1880 bridge was retained for its historic value.  Over 100 years after the bridge was originally constructed,  the bridge became the site of the world's first commercial bungy jump. A.J. Hackett set up operation on the bridge in 1988, with people testing their limits by leaping from the equivalent of a 10-storey building held safe by just a giant elastic band around their ankles. Since 1988, the bridge has primarily been used for bungy jumping and biking.

Gold mining also took part in this inhospitable place, and the remains or maybe replicas of Chinese goldminers huts can still be seen.    The Goldfields Mining Centre is an historic reserve which has been set aside by New Zealand's Department of Conservation to preserve an authentic mining site where gold has been mined for over 100 years and can still be found in the rocks & gravels. 

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Goldminers huts in Kawerau Gorge

Driving through Frankton, we were astounded to see just how much this place has grown since we were last here, and the road followed lower Lake Wakatipu – the name means “place where the demon lies”.  According to Maori legend the curiously shaped lake was created when a giant demon captured the daughter of a Maori chief and took her to his home in the mountains.  After struggling against a strong north-easterly wind, the demon lay down with his head near Glenorchy, his knees at Queenstown, and his feet at Kingston.  The girl’s lover crept up to sleeping demon and set it on fire, and its body burnt deep into the earth.  All that remained was the beating heart within a gigantic trench which gradually filled with water to form an enormous lake in the shape of the demon.  We pulled off the road at a photo stop to capture some snaps of this beautiful lake.

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Lake Wakatipu

Our stop for the night was at the Lumsden Reserve NZMCA Park, not actually overflowing with campers as there were only a big bus and a motorhome parked up.  We all enjoyed happy Hour together later in the afternoon.

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Overnighting at Lumsden

After settling in, and having a late lunch, we drove up town to check out Lumsden – and discovered that the pie shop we remembered from our last visit has now closed down.  The  railway station is now preserved as a tourist information centre. The Lumsden Heritage Trust has displayed the chassis of New Zealand Railways steam train.  Lumsden welcomes freedom campers and the  railway station offers free parking for caravans and motor homes, sinks available for dish washing, toilets, fresh water and a dump station. 

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Trains on display at Lumsden Station

Lumsden used to be a major railway junction with lines departing to all four points of the compass. The Kingston Branch from Invercargill ran north–south through the town, while to the west was the Mossburn Branch and to the east was the Waimea Plains Railway that connected with the Main South Line in Gore.  Sadly, those days are long gone now.

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The weather has been fabulous lately, real ”blue dome days” as we have been traveling about – lets hope it stays that way.  Next stop, Te Anau.

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Twizel and the Clay Cliffs

Another lazy start to the day, once again we only had a short trip to our next stop, 61km to Twizel.  We stopped at another “photo stop” overlooking Lake Pukaki on the way.  This one had a huge car park, plenty of room for those towing caravans, and there were cars, campers and another caravan ahead of us.  Just look at that glorious view, with Mt Cook (Aorangi the cloud piercer) looking back at us across the lake.

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Lake Pukaki

Arriving at the Twizel Combined Services Club, we went to book in for the next two nights, $10.00 per night.  Park anywhere, we were told, around the back on a grassed area.  All alone so far, but who knows who might roll in later in the day.

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Twizel Combined Services Club

Twizel is the largest town in the Mackenzie District, and the  town was founded in 1968 to house construction workers on the Upper Waitaki Hydroelectric Scheme. After a quick look around the Twizel shopping area, we decided that yes, it has grown since we were last here.  Robin wanted to find Lake Ruataniwha, not too far away.  Lake Ruataniwha is an artificial lake in the Mackenzie Basin in the South Island of New Zealand. It was formed in 1977–1981 as part of the Waitaki hydroelectric project.  Each year rowing regattas take place on the lake. 

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Lake Ruataniwha

We stopped at High Country Salmon cafe for a drink, what a busy place, heaving with visitors.  Many of them were purchasing fish food to feed the salmon in the pools, this was a real favourite with children.  There seemed to be plenty of overseas tourists in the café, many family groups eating sushi and rice bowls, all helping the local economy.  After my coffee I helped out too, and bought some salmon from the fish shop to take back to the caravan.

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High Country Salmon

The next morning we packed a picnic lunch and set off to see clay cliffs near Omarama.    We had heard about them but only recently discovered that you could drive up close.   The cliffs are on private land, protected under QE2 Covenant, and there is a charge of $5 per car to go in the honesty box as you proceed through the gate.  It was a long dusty drive up an unsealed road to reach the car park.

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The information board explains that these eroded cliffs are formed by the active Osler fault line which continually exposes the clay and gravel cliffs.  Wind and rain has eroded into the canyon walls, producing gravel debris which has been washed out during flash floods.  The debris has accumulated in alluvial fans that slope down to the Ahuriri River.

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Clay cliffs of Omarama

It was a stinking hot day, and crowds of people were slapping on sunscreen, hats, and setting off up the track.  After a nosy around, we returned to the car with the windows wound down, and ate our picnic lunch.  But not before we asked one of the friendly visitors to take our photo for us.  I’m sure I heard him mention “how cute” –  we are a bit old for cute, I would have thought!

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Dwarfed by the grandeur

We were reasonably close to the settlement of Omarama so decided to drive though and check it out.  Omarama has wonderful conditions for gliding and is a spectacular soaring site.  World and national gliding records are broken here on a regular basis.  The conditions provide a unique opportunity for long distance and high altitude flight.  This place seems to be thriving, the Wrinkly Rams café was full of customers, they offer a Merino sheep shearing show as well, and we noticed plenty of other cafes and pubs doing very well too.    No wonder the sign for Omarama features a Merino ram.

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Omarama, a busy little place indeed

Our last bit of sightseeing for the day was to visit Lake Ohau.  The isolated Lake Ohau Alpine Village was in the news for all the wrong reasons in October 2020 it was overcome by fire.  Fanned by strong winds the fire destroyed 48 structures and burnt through more than 5500 hectares of farm, and DOC land, and damaging infrastructure such as power lines, fencing and reticulated water systems.  At the peak of the fire 11 helicopters and more than 100 people were deployed responding to the incident.  The fire was later found to be caused by a powerline maintenance fault.  We drove around the village to find that some homes had been replaced, some were still being built, and there were still empty sections awaiting rebuilding.

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It was rather windy down by the shores of Lake Ohau, and the wind was whipping up waves in the water.  This lake is not glacier fed like some of the others we have seen recently, so is a much darker colour.  Plenty of mountains crowding around the brooding looking lake.

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Lake Ohau

Returning to Twizel Combined Services Club, we settled down with a cuppa.  From being lonely petunias the night before, we have now been joined by two large buses, two more caravans and a motor home.  Our time here has come to an end, and we will be moving on in the morning.