We left Blackball having had a wonderful three days rest. Blackball is home to one of the worst coal mine disasters in recent history. and is often described as the birth place of the labor movement. Here coal laborers fought for a guaranteed 15 minutes to eat their lunch during the work day. About the same time educators have today to eat lunch! 🙂
We drove S to Hokitika; jade capitol of New Zealand. W/ was planning on acquiring a new piece of jewelry here. Elysium has physical limits on the nicknacks we purchase. To compensate W/s conned me into accepting jewelry. It is small and stores in the smallest places. As with anything purchased in exotic places we still have stories for each item. Luckily this time we were moving through the Jade capital
and not stopping. But I knew, somehow a new piece of Jade (or two) will make it’s way on the boat. 🙂
The trip form Hokitika to glacier country had grandiose views, narrow roads, mountain climbs and drops, all with hairpin turns. Luckily W/ consumes enough caffeine in the am to remain alert for most of the drive. As it wears off I am called to the driver’s seat for the rush to the finish line.
Glacier country was inspiring and disappointing. W/ had scheduled a helicopter glacier stomp (hike in
US terms). We were to fly up to the glacier in a chopper and with a guide wander around the area for a couple of hours. We arrived at the desk: No flights this morning! We rescheduled. We drove the few minutes to the Franz Joseph car park and walked to as close as we could get to the base of the glacier. We walked past beautiful glacial water falls, over freezing cold creeks, and small glacial moraines. The hills of rock would often be a
challenge stomping up and down. My activity app for the day ended up indicating we had walked up and down 50 floors and strode 20k steps.
Returning to the heli/hike office we tried to check in for our rescheduled afternoon flight. Cancelled! Damn! We put ourselves on the list for the following am and then drove to Fox. The Fox glacier stomp brought one closer to the glacial base. We walked the entire way engulfed in a cloud of
white. Yeah, it was misting all around us. At this point we didn’t have high expectations but being stubborn we stomped on. We arrived at the observation platform 400 m from the glacier’s base. Hidden by clouds very little of the glacier is visible. Another hiker said 10 minutes ago she could see nothing of the glacier. Now a few parts were showing. By all indicies the clouds were clearing. We waited. We chatted others up and we waited.
An hour or so later the majority of the cloud had moved off and we had a
great view of the massive ice sheet. So massive that in places it is over 100 meters thick. So heavy that chunks of mountain are ripped away and
carried for km. Thousands of years ago the glaciers reached all the way to the Tasman sea 40 kms away. In recent decades the glaciers had been static. Near the end of the 20th century they began to recede further; a result of global warming .
That evening we stayed in Fox and planned for one last chance at a glacial hike scheduled the following am. Sadly it was not to be. No helio flights for the last two days. Disappointed we drove on. But first a
stop at the Lake Matheson. If you are lucky the snow covered Southern Alps will show as a backdrop. We met Frank on the lake stomp (a Kiwi) who has been here dozens of times over the years still looking for that perfect picture. We enjoyed the hike and the views. We did not get the “perfect” picture. Milford and Doubtful Sounds were next on our list and several hours away.
Fiordland is a World Heritage Site. Both Milford and Doubtful are listed as must-sees by world travelers. While most days I feel I’ve seen enough water and mountains W/ had a real hankering to visit here. We arrived in Te Anau after two days of driving. We passed other tourist places like Queenstown and Wanaka but stayed only to rest. In Te Anau we would
be the farthest S. we’ve ever been…in our lives. Closer to the S pole than the equator. The temperatures seemed to reflect that position. Most evenings I had on all the warm clothes I had brought. Well too, all the warm clothes I owned.
We signed up for a day trip to Milford and an overnight to Doubtful. Both fiords have an abundance of National Geographic views and waterfalls. Overhanging cliffs created by ice freezing in cracks and breaking huge chunks of rock away. Water depths were in the 10’s of meters right up to the shore line. Anchoring is only possible in a couple of the bays. In one such bay they have created an observation barge dubbed the “Discovery Center”. There is a mini museum atmosphere with a viewing deck 20 meters below the surface. As well as for tourists
this platform is used by scientists to study the underwater environs of the sounds. To populate the trays with life they filled them with sand from the sounds bottom and left the trays on the bottom for a couple of years. There the local life forms found a ready environment to inhabit. After established they raised / moved the trays to the Discovery Center. I loved being able to see the underwater world without donning a wet suit and jumping into 15º C water. A wee bit too cold for my bones.
Two days later we were on a trip to Doubtful Sound. People described the sounds (actually fiords) as being dramatically different from each other. To my untrained eye they are quite similar. Again the high cliffs, overhanging ledges, cold water, various bays and numerous waterfalls (all dependent on the amount of rain). This was an overnight cruise; a smallish boat with 11 guests and two crew. We would motor out to the fiord entrance, fish for Blue Cod, Kayak, dive for Lobster (not us), and marvel at the scenery. In our group were three traveling physicians from England who felt the need to bring a case of wine. With everyone well lubricated via alcohol, conversations and stories flowed. Real or imaginary the stories were fun. Much of the food we ate had come from our day’s fishing and diving adventure. Fresh sashimi, baked cod, and steamed lobster ruled the evening. On a mooring for the evening, bug free we slept till the crack of dawn. We awoke when the captain started up the engines to begin our journey back.
Oddly, while I found this leg of the trip interesting I’ve most missed the tour of the Manipouri power station. The power station is underground. The lake is 400 m above sea level and supplies a large percentage of power to NZ. But the station is closed for repairs / maintenance and would be for few months. Once we reached the dock we returned across a mountain divide and then had another boat ride across Lake Manipouri. There we located our car and hit the road ….again. Heading this time up the coast to Dunedin (not the Fl city).