Wednesday 24 February 2016

Middle Earth; Part 2; The West Coast of the South Island

Wednesday February 24th 2016

Meanwhile, back in Middle Earth where we are still "tramping along”, as they say here.

When I say that this country is stupid beautiful, I mean it ! It is just so darn beautiful that it gets ridiculous.Driving around the south Island these last few weeks, there has not been a single day were we have not seen some jaw-dropping-ly beautiful scenery. It is just stunning.  I recently read (in the Lonely Planet guide book to NZ)  that they pretty much guaranteed that the word “WOW” would come out of your mouth at least once a day, this has very much been the case for us, just “WOW!” There is no better word to describe our experience driving and walking around New Zealand! 

So we have been "Sans-Mark" for almost two weeks now, and we've had our ups and downs (see more on the downs below), but we have been on the move and seen some pretty neat places which we would like to share with him and you as well.

Sheep Shearing ! It thought it would be a crime to have spent six month in New Zealand and not have been to at least one sheep shearing show, so off we went, to the “Wrinkly Ram” sitting amongst a group of Japanese tourist we learned all about the shearing techniques (old and new), the different types of sheep (and wool) , and we got to watch a live demonstration of the shearing with a very cooperative ewe. Then we went outside to watch the very impressive focus and skill of a sheep dog, rounding the sheep. It was quite extraordinary to see. 

A sheep shearing demonstration, Wrinkly Ram

One sheep's yield in wool !

A Merino sheep which gives us the the beautiful warm/cool wool which we wore on our "Routeburn trek".

The kids and I happy to wear our new merino wool shirts

For LoR fans: In the movie, Boromir dies, not far from here

Random horses in Paradise

Elephant Rock formations, near Queenstown

We drove up to Glenochy and Paradise, other natural sets of the Lord of the Rings movies and witnessed some truly spectacular scenery.

Elephant Rock- Near QT- where some scenes from Lion/Witch and Wardrobe movie were shot.

A closer view of the glacier ice

Birds eye view of Glacier ice

Lake Matheson,  aka Mirror Lake

Driving the West Coast: 

Fox and  Franz Joseph Glaciers; The things that makes these two glaciers unique is that they are some of the only glaciers in the world which lay surrounded by rain forest.We had a good time, walking to within 700 metres of the glacier’s terminal faces, of course we would have LOVED to have gone walking on the glaciers, but these days the only way to do this would be to fork out $800 per person to take a helicopter up there, thats’ not in the budget!!  We still got some pretty great views from below. Other fun walks we did near Fox Glacier were the aptly named "Mirror Lake" walk and that evening we had a magical thrilling night walk on the minihaha trail, taking us through a forest in complete darkness we were surrounded by glow worms and their tiny bioluminescent lights, like fairies in an enchanted forest. We are sorry that we do not have photos as you can't capture the glow pm film, at least, we couldn’t.


A closer look at Fox Glacier

Franz Joseph Glacier
Fox Glacier as seen from the tropical forest

We stopped in to see the Blue Pools in Hokitika Gorge as well as many other beautifully clear water rivers on many stops along our drive.

Hokitika Gorge

People swimming in the crystal clear waters of Hokitika

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge


A perfect campground, complete with trampoline !

Cape Foul Wind

Meg and Cape Foul Wind

Cape Foul Wind, Westport

Cape Foul Wind

Pancake rock formations, Punakaiki

Stunningly beautiful Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki

Sealion colony, Westport

Pancake Rocks

More views of Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rock formations, Punakaiki

Another beautiful place to camp, Karamea, Kohaihai, the start of the Heaphy Track (a NZ great walk)

Moira Arch from the inside !

Oparara Arch seen from below

The "Cola" river…..

Moira Arch,  Kohaihai and Oparara Basin

Matthew. Being Still

Thriving in adversity. Sure it was not all fun and games, we’ve had our share of trials and tribulation these last few weeks. A day or two after Mark left we all came down with  miserable colds and Matthew started acting up (having screaming meltdown) on a daily basis, which really tested MC and Meg at times, perhaps he was missing his dad, perhaps he had enough of this life on the road, but as loud and scary as these seem, they never last, and we get through every episode, one at a time, trying to help and support Matthew through each. He shows no signs of suffering afterwards, he goes back to being his happy active self so we aren’t sure what the trigger is, yet.

Oh and then there was the three days of pouring rain, that evening we had set up a tarp between the tent and the van and sometime in the middle of the night the tarp colapsed on one side, channelling all of the water INTO the tent, in the morning there was at least 10 inches of water pooled at the bottom, so much that we had to BAIL out the tent, bucketfuls ! Needless to say that the sleeping bags, pillows, blankets and all of our clothes were just soaked. 

Except that we were dreaming of getting back on board our beloved Amelie….

And since we were already coughing and sneezing, we through in the towel  and drove to a nearby holiday park in Greymouth and rented a simple cabin for two nights. We walked into the office looking like drowned rats and were thrilled to find out that we could use the parks hot tub for free ! So while we had all of our things tumbling in the dryers ( 6 dryers were needed to get it everything dry again!) we had a warm soak, this and the take out pizza we ordered did much to restore our dampened spirits!  

We were so grateful to be indoors  as we watched the horizontal rain (with gusts of 60 knot winds at times) washing all of the dust off the car, this lasted a full 48 hours !  By the time the sun came out again, we were dry, happy and restored, and definetely ready to hit the road again.

Next came the sandflies; Oh how I wish we could say that these were in danger of extinction ! These were particularly bad on the west coast, some nights they bit right through our clothe and socks, and bug spray did not keep them away!  

Captain Cook said it best in his journal when we first encounters these little bastards back in 1773;   


“The most mischievious animal here in the small black sandfly which are exceeding numerous...where ever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the smallpox”


Then our tent decided to act up, we had a few breaks to fix (tears and poles which decided to start doing yoga). And then, one of MC’s beloved flip flops (she has been wearing them everyday since we left Canada) broke !  That was the last straw !  We decided that we needed to have some good Karma, so we picked up a hitchhiker and gave him a much needed ride (his feet were injured from running the Heaphy track - an 82 km trek) in nothing but sandals !  Karma must works because things have been looking up since then, fingers crossed !

Our tent poles started to do yoga poses.

A walk in the trees on the West Coast

The view of the trees below from the tree walk

"Ulcers, like small pox" Just like Captain Cook said

Maggy the Magpie, at the Holiday Park in QT, helping us pack the tent up -Just a hilarious bird !

A Pukeko, the NZ version of a wild chicken, runs across the road in front of our car. 

A Weka bird !  Photo taken just before the thief stole an entire roll of paper towels (twice!).

Nelson ! Of all of the cities and Towns we've been in New Zealand Nelson has to be our fav, it has everything, yet it is still small and easy to get around in, we really enjoyed our two days visiting, and this is where Meghan turned 14 ! We celebrated with a friendly game of mini put, a swim at the beach and a nice dinner at the Boatshed on the water. The next day we visited WOW (Wondrous World of WearableArt. What great place to get your creative juices flowing. We also got to see the birth place of the One Ring, right there in Nelson. The original work was done by jeweller Jens Hanson. We are currently in the North West Corner of the South Island, near Golden Bay in Abel Tasman National Park. It is quite beautiful here too, surprised ? As always, we are sending you all lots of love from down here, 3Ms

Meg and Matthew enjoy their day at Tahuna beach near Nelson
The Boatshed restaurant on the water in Nelson

Meg celebrates her 14th birthday at the Boatshed restaurant 

Wearable Art from the WOW exhibit, in Nelson

Wearable Art from the WOW exhibit, in Nelson

The One Ring from Lord of the Rings. Original work done by jeweller Jens Hanson.

We thought that this tree looked like it is wearing army camouflage !
Meg in the bed shop in Nelson

Meghan on Amelie. Paradise and the Glaciers. After the three of us left Queenstown, we headed to a place called Paradise.  I'm not even sure if I could even call it a town since it was merely a gravel road that lead to many acres of farmland.  We did get a chance to see the setting of a few "Lord of the Rings" scenes.  The first one was the place where Saruman's troop of orcs were working on building an army for Sauron (aka: The Eye), that place being called Isengard.  Before you ask, no, Saruman's tower was not there so either it was a movable set or the whole thing was made on a computer.  It does make me laugh a little that they chose that, out of all places in New Zealand, to have the forming of the gruesome, orc-like monsters filmed in a spot called Paradise!

The second setting was the place where Arwen the elf, who is carrying dying Frodo whom she is trying to get to Rivendell, is on her horse running away from the Black Riders (aka: Nazgul).  In this scene, the Nazgul are running on sand after Arwen who summons a huge wave which takes down all the Nazgul. While in Paradise, we stopped by a horse pasture which had a few horses by the fence and according to our "Lord of the Rings" locations guidebook these horses may have been in that scene where Arwen and Frodo flee the Nazgul!

After Paradise, we started heading north still and after a few days, we reached the two famous glaciers.  The first one was called Fox Glacier and the second, Franz Josef Glacier.  What I find the most peculiar about these glaciers is the fact that a second before you see them, you are walking through a dense, moss covered, almost tropical forest!  Only in New Zealand do you get these opposite landscapes both within one square-kilometre of each other!

While in the town of Franz Josef Glacier, we got to visit its wildlife centre.  In there, we got to see the Rowi kiwi bird, New Zealand's rarest kiwi bird!  I even got to take a tour downstairs to see the nurturing centre.  Down there, I got to see the little baby kiwis, the youngest who had only hatched 5 days before.  Did you know that kiwi birds already have their feathers and can walk just after day one?  Did you also know that they compare a mother kiwi laying her very large egg to a human mother giving birth to a six year old child?!?  So yes, kiwis are abnormally large when they are born but that is just because they are fully grown by age one.  Also, kiwis live to be very old: approximately up to 60 years old (for a Rowi kiwi).  Although there are only a few hundred of the Rowi kiwi birds left, thanks to programs like this, the numbers are increasing significantly!  If you ever stop in Franz Josef Glacier town, I highly recommend the wildlife centre, it has many interesting things to learn about, including the Rowi kiwi bird.

Also, if an $800 helicopter ride to walk on top of the glacier (offered at both Fox and Franz Josef) is in your budget, I highly recommend it because by the pictures, it looks absolutely breath taking!  You wouldn't believe how small the people look compared to the glacier and yet, from where we saw the glacier, it didn't look all that huge.

The Wild West Coast. After the glaciers, we were on the west coast of the South Island.  At first, I've got to admit, my impression of it was not very good.  If you are tired of hearing me say "beautiful", "awesome", or "amazing", then be sure to read this part because this will not make you wish to be here!

1- The black flies: I have never wanted to massacre anything until I met the black flies of the west coast!  Captain Cook (the first European man to set foot in New Zealand and colonize) said that the bites are not possible to refrain from scratching and eventually end up in ulcers which look like smallpox!  If you took a look at our feet, I think you would agree!  The worst part is that we couldn't find any bug spray that would keep them away, only spray for mosquitoes (which, ironically, there were none of).

2- The rain: As well as attracting the black flies, the rain did give us a few other challenges as well.  One night, we had set up a tarp between the van and the tent which then, in the night, collapsed because of the wind.  Because of this, all the water was channeled down to the doorway of the tent, ending up inside!  The worst part was that the doorway is usually the driest spot because it is covered by a shelter but, of course, that shelter had collapsed too so the driest spot turned quickly into the wettest spot. I tried to move all the bags in one little corner near me.  It was really dark so I don't know what it looked like but I imagine it looked like a little island floating in the middle of the tent! In the morning, it was actually worse than I had thought it had been the whole night.  I really don't think there was one item in the tent that was not at least a bit wet, including the really thick sleeping bags, which, FYI, weighed about 5 pounds when they were soaked!  Also, I'm sure I counted my mom bail out at least 30 bowls of water out of the tent!  We looked at the weather forecast and realized it was the same weather for at least the next 48 hours and it was all across New Zealand as well.  Because of this, we decided to take cover for a few days.  We drove to a nearby town called Greymouth where we stayed at a holiday park (a kind of campground that is in the town/city) in a kind of motel-like room/cabin.  We basically just stayed inside for those two days as we gazed out the window at the rain being swept sideways by the 60 knot winds appreciating the feeling of not even getting a bit wet!

After we had finished drying our six loads of wet everything, had had some nice, hot showers, and two great nights of sleep, we brushed ourselves off and carried on with our journey.  This time, we carried on with a brighter impression of the west coast and realized that it could be wild in bad but also good ways!

For example, we visited the spectacular pancake rocks.  These rocks are super flat rocks stacked one on top of each other making them look like stacks of pancakes!

We also got to camp near the start of one of the Great Walks (the 82 km Heaphy Track) which was right on the Tasman Sea yet had such dense, wild forests everywhere!  If you cover up (or find some magical black fly repellent spray), the west coast is not to be skipped!

Nelson Lakes and Nelson. On the way up to the city of Nelson, we did a quick stop at a little campground on the Nelson Lakes.  Another one of those unexpected surprises!  We ended up having a lot of fun spending an hour kayaking on this serene lake with the mountain backdrop!

The next day, we drove to Nelson to celebrate someone's birthday.  That someone happened to be me and I was delighted to spend my first ever birthday in summer in the charming city of Nelson! I honestly think that if I were to live anywhere in New Zealand, I would live in Nelson.  It is still a small city so it is not so upbeat that it gets overwhelming, yet it still is hip and happening!  It is also very artsy and full of creativity.  We visited the wondrous Bead Gallery where they have every kind of bead of every colour of every material!  Some describe it as like being in Aladdin's cave! We also visited the mind-blowing WOW museum (World of Wearable Arts) which is basically what is sounds like: a display of art that is wearable (some just barely wearable!).  Although I don't formally take art class in school, I think I just got the best art lesson I would ever want in those few hours at the museum!  Here are a few of my favourite "wearable masterpieces”.

Our camp ground at Nelson Lakes

Meg thought they were jumping in together, but Matt had other plans