South Island meanderings…November 2016 … Christchurch – Arthurs Pass – Hokitika – Franz Josef – Hokitika – Lake Kaniere

At the end of our last post we were camped at Coes Ford near Lincoln and we stayed there for a couple more nights before driving to another free camp called Timber Yard Domain on the southern shores of Lake Ellesmere. We’ve stayed there before and it’s a great free camp over a large grassy area with plenty of shelter and heaps of room to spread out.

Intended to stay a few nights but on checking my emails I got a pleasant surprise to see that I’d won two free tickets to the RV Show on in Christchurch over the coming weekend. So next morning we headed out again to make use of our tickets and Neville wanted to visit PB Electronics to check out their discounted bargains. The Show was not much different from the Boat & RV Show we’d been to some months prior, the same motorhomes to look through and nothing really new in the accessories stalls. It was what we expected, but with free entry we weren’t complaining.

It was then back to Weedons Club Park for the weekend to get ourselves organised to do a ‘flying’ visit to the North Island on Monday 7th. I had earlier organised return flights to Wellington and Neville had booked a rental car for 5 days from Apex Rentals. We will stay in Motels along the way.

Monday arrived and we drove the Motorhome to the storage area at the back of the Club Park where it only costs $15/week….far cheaper than anywhere else around for sure. The Club Custodian then drove us to the Airport for another reasonable cost. It was a bit sad driving away and leaving our ‘home’ sitting there all alone!

Flew out on a nice sunny day and arrived in Wellington at 6.00pm amid a howling southerly and driving rain…we’re home!! Picked up our rental car and drove to Paraparaumu and checked into the Lindale Motel for our first night.

Next morning we couldn’t resist driving past our old house for a nosey (the large front lawn needed mowing…ha ha…a chore we haven’t missed doing at all). We then drove straight to Palmerston North and shopped around for a reasonable Motel to base ourselves over the next 3 days.

Purpose of our visit was to catch up with an elderly friend who is 92 and in an Altzeimers Home in Palmy and also my Sister who lives in a Resthome in Feilding. We had a good visit with my friend who has not forgotten us despite it almost being a year since we last saw her. And we had a great day out with my Sister, taking her shopping, having a nice lunch and checking out her new Resthome that she moved into recently.

Went for a walk around the Esplanade one hot afternoon – the Manawatu River was quite flooded and flowing quite fast under the Fitzherbert Bridge. 

Fitzherbert Bridge & Manawatu River
Fitzherbert Bridge & Manawatu River

Friday 11th we drove back to Levin and went to check on our belongings stored in a Lockup there. We also had to buy a new padlock for the door as we’d given the owner’s permission to cut our padlock off so they could enter it to install a new alarm on the outside of the building. They’d then put a temporary padlock on it and we’d arranged to to pick up the key from under the office doormat to get inside. Feel a bit happier now that we are the only ones with keys to the Lockup again (baring a thief with heavy bolt cutters of course). We surveyed our gear…all looked OK…shut the door and left!

Booked into another Motel close to Wellington Airport for our last night and in walking distance to a Thai Restaurant where we were meeting up for meal out with a group of friends who we used to go Scuba Diving with. We all laugh that we have progressed into a ‘dining’ club rather than a ‘diving’ club nowadays. Was good to catch up.

Bright and early next morning we packed up our gear and loaded it into the car for the last time (thank goodness…living out of bags is not our thing these days) and headed back to the Airport to fly back to Christchurch. We caught a local bus to Hornby and then back to Weedons Park to take our ‘home’ out of storage…it was good to be back!

Spent a couple of more nights in the Park – getting a rude awakening just after midnight on the last night when the 7.8 earthquake struck. We lay in bed feeling like we were on a boat rather than in a vehicle, it was the most unnerving rock and roll shake we have ever felt and it seemed to never end. We knew that we’d escaped the worst of it but somewhere else, it was causing lots of damage. How true that was when we listened to the news in the morning. My Brother and all his family live in the coastal suburbs of Christchurch and they had evacuated to higher ground overnight, but none of their houses (or most of Christchurch for that matter) suffered any damage this time around. We met up with them for lunch later that day and caught up for the last time, before we move on and continue our travels.

Stayed at The Groynes in Christchurch that night. On previous stays, there wasn’t a gate at the entrance (due to the new motorway road works in the area) but today there were temporary ones erected and a new sign indicating they’d be locked at 9:00pm. We decided to stop and see what happened…sure enough a Security Car arrived shortly after 9:00pm and the Officer basically said he wasn’t moving us on but just advising that he was locking the gate until the morning. We were more than happy with that and we had a nice quiet night without any ‘drive-by’ cars to bother us. He obviously saw we were self-contained and was not concerned, however, we feel pretty sure the conversation would have gone differently if we hadn’t of been.

We drove out of Christchurch next morning along SH73 towards Arthurs Pass – our intended route anyway seeing as we were heading to the West Coast.

Waimakariri Gorge Bridge
Waimakariri Gorge Bridge

We stopped for a few nights at the free camp area beside the Waimakariri Gorge Bridge – the weather was a bit wet, wild and windy and there was a weather warning for snow (maybe) on the Pass so we waited for better weather before moving on.

The river was raging under the bridge – no wonder the water was dirty further downstream and upsetting the whitebaiters.

18 Nov – Headed off again on, stopping at Sheffield’s ‘famous’ pie shop to buy our lunch and then at Springfield to top up with fuel at Challenge then we were truly heading westward. Nice view along the road of the fresh snowfall overnight.

Fresh snow heading towards the west
Fresh snow heading towards the west

Arrived at the Castle Rocks area and spent a good hour exploring the tracks around the huge rocks and formations. They are similar to the Elephant Rocks that we visited on the other side of the Alps earlier in our travels.

Some young people here were ‘rock jumping’ – they carry in a folded over mattress of some sort, lay it out below a rock of their choice, climb up the rock and then leap from it onto the mattress below. It did not look like a very soft or safe landing to us! Others were using the mattress as a safety device laying it below a rock they were trying to scale in case they fell off. That didn’t appear to be working well either. OSH would have had a field day!

Castle Rocks
Castle Rocks

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Mountain View
Mountain View

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Spot the odd looking rock
Spot the odd looking rock
Hmm wonder if this is natural or been shaped this way
Hmm wonder if its natural or been shaped this way!
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Hope we don’t get an earthquake just now

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A little further up the road we came across Cave Stream where you can enter a cave on one side of the reserve and follow the stream uphill to exit on the other side of the reserve. However, it is not just a stroll and involves some caving techniques and a swim across a deep pool near the end. Something you need to prepare for and wear wetsuits or similar to enjoy the experience. We had a look at the cave exit and the water rushing down the hole was pretty scary in itself. Needless to say we just went for the stroll around the area topside!

Cave Stream entering tunnel
Cave Stream entering tunnel
Inside the tunnel
Inside the tunnel
Exit point for cavers - a chain along the side to assist
Exit point for cavers – a chain along the side to assist

22-cave-viewpointWe spent the night at a DOC camp at Lake Pearson. We arrived early to nab a good level spot, just as well, by nightfall the area was quite crowded. Lake is quite pretty but surface chop killed any reflections.

Lake Pearson DOC camp

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Morning view across Lake Matheson
Morning view across Lake Pearson

Continued on along SH73 to arrive at Arthurs Pass Village in the morning. Quite a scenic drive following the upper Waimakariri River till Klondyke Corner where we headed more uphill following the Bealey River valley in tandem with the TranzAlpine railway line.

Rail bridge over upper Waimakariri River
Rail bridge over Upper Waimakariri River
Road bridge over Waimakariri River at Klondyde Corner
Road bridge over Waimakariri River at Klondyde Corner

Called into the Arthurs Pass Visitor Centre to pick up information on the walks etc in the area then walked a short distance to view the Avalanche Falls behind the Village and checked out the ‘framed’ view from the local Chapel.

Avalanche Falls from historic bridge
Avalanche Falls from historic bridge
Falls from Lookout
Falls from Lookout
Mid-section of Avalanche Falls
Mid-section of Avalanche Falls
Historic Bridge & Chapel from Falls Lookout
Historic Bridge & Chapel from Falls Lookout
View from Chapel Window
View from Chapel Window

Then drove a short distance to park and walk up to the Punchbowl Falls. They can be seen from the road and it’s a short walk over a footbridge to the first viewing point. We must have been feeling energetic because we continued on up the hill to the top viewpoint.

We climbed up 150m via 360 steps (give or take few as I think I lost count at one point). Legs felt distinctly ‘jellylike’ after that. But it was worth it for the spectacular sight close up, though good photos were a bit hard to take due to the spray coming off the falls.

Punchbowl Falls
Punchbowl Falls
Falls from footbridge
Falls from footbridge
Falls fom Top viewing platform
Falls from Top viewing platform

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Looking back towards Village
Looking back towards Village

On the way back Neville noticed in the distance that there were people hanging around the back of our Motorhome…we found out later they must have been watching a Kea on the back that was having fun biting holes in the handlebar grips and the seats on our bicycles!! Needless to say we were a bit peeved. Thankfully, it seems the people must have shooed it away or the damage would have been much worse.

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Spent the night right in the Village at a DOC camping area alongside the railway line. The trains are very considerate and creep past very slowly in order to keep the noise down. The heavy freight trains coming from the West Coast had six engines propelling them up the hill and through the Otira Tunnel. Four of them were then disconnected at Arthurs Pass and trundled on their own back down the hill again. The TranzAlpine Train also came through – it wasn’t very full, but that may have been because it wasn’t running for a few days while the track was being checked out following the big earthquake and bookings had been suspended temporarily.

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Next morning we decided to move a bit quicker towards the coast as we were intending to do a tour visiting the White Heron Breeding Colony south of Hokitika before the end of November. So we ‘upped sticks’ and headed out and down Arthurs Pass – stopping at a couple of viewpoints along the way.

Firstly at the tall stone memorial to Arthur Dudley Dobson, a pioneer explorer, surveyor and civil engineer who discovered the Pass back in 1864. (His Father, Edward Dobson was later put in charge of building the road through the Pass, which was completed in 1866).

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Then arrived at the great viewing point of Death Corner where the 440 metre long, 4-span, Otira Viaduct, completed in 1999, carries SH73 over the valley past an area of unstable land prone to avalanches and slips.

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46-plaqueA little further on we stopped at another viewpoint down the valley that overlooks a section of road that has a protection tunnel over it – again to save it from avalanches and slips. A plaque says it was completed in 1990.

Otira Road
Otira Road
Snow & Rock slide protection over highway
Snow & Rock slide protection over highway

We have always found Kea hanging around this area looking for ‘handouts’ and the lone bird on this occasion was entertaining people and posing for photos. (We were watching it closely in case it decided to feast on our bicycles, like it’s cousin did back up the road).

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Continuing down the hill we both felt it actually wasn’t as steep as we remembered it from some years ago when we came this way.

Whizzing through the tunnel
Whizzing through the tunnel

Then it was a nice scenic drive along the Otira and Taramakau River Valleys. We had a lunch break near Kumara overlooking the Kapitea Reservoir at Hillman Dam.

Kapitea Reservoir
Kapitea Reservoir

Nearby we did a short walk to look at a historic site of an old swimming pool. It was an enormous pool area and quite fascinating. We just happened upon it by spotting a small sign on the side of the road.

Main pool area
Main pool area

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Found the NZMCA Club Park on the outskirts of Hokitika and stopped the night. It’s alongside another Historic Site where Hokitika’s first airfield was sited. Air Travel (NZ) Ltd, founded by Bert Mercer in 1934, was the first airline in NZ to fly scheduled air services and its first flight took place from here in December 1934 – flying from Hokitika to Haast. The grass airfield was prone to flooding and was closed in August 1948 when Hokitika’s current Airport was being constructed on higher ground.

Headed south next day, and drove through Ross and Hari Hari to reach Whataroa 104kms south of Hokitika. Tours to the (Kotuku) White Heron Breeding Colony depart from here and we were booked on the 0900 tour the next morning.

Drove a little further south to stay the night at a DOC Camp on the shore of Lake Mapourika leaving us with a 20min drive back in the morning. The camp was really nice with gravelled parking areas, good amenities and a ‘framed’ view of the lake through the trees. By nightfall we were completely surrounded by vans and cars full of ‘tourists’ so it was a popular spot.

Lake Mapouriki boat launch area
Lake Mapourika boat launch area
View from campsite
View from campsite
Lake Mapourika
Lake Mapourika

Up early next morning and I was delighted to see that the weather forecast for a fine sunny day was correct so it was going to be a perfect day to see the Herons. We drove back to Whataroa and reported to the Tour Office to check in. Headed off in their Van with three other people and our Guide – our jetboat transport being towed behind us. It was a 20min drive down a side road towards the coast to a jetty, where the jetboat was launched in the clear shallow Waitangitaona River.

Our Transport
Our Transport

We then travelled downstream for another 20mins on the jetboat – that was fun! Along the way a couple of Paradise Ducks lie in wait of the boat and then appear to enjoy a game of chase – flying alongside and racing to get in front. Eventually they tire and wheel off and go back and wait to do the same thing on our return journey.

Setting out along Waitangitaona shallow river
Setting out along the shallow Waitangitaona River

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Duck racing
Duck racing
Squaauuk - I'm the front runner now!
Squaawwk – I’m the front runner now!

Near the sea we turned into a backwater of the Waitangiroto River, entered the protected sanctuary area and headed slowly towards the nesting site. White Heron Sanctuary Tours is the only Operator that has a concession with DOC to bring people into the area to see the Herons so you have to book with them – even if you had your own boat you are not allowed to enter.

Entering estuary of the Waitangiroto River
Entering estuary of the Waitangiroto River

We arrived at another jetty where we disembarked and it was a 10min walk along a boardwalk, through an ancient Kahikitea forest, to arrive at the Viewing Hide.

Ancient Kahikitea canopy
Ancient Kahikitea canopy
Native orchid
Native orchid
Forest 'lettuce'
Forest ‘lettuce’

We spent the next 45mins watching the Herons across the river going about their business with their chicks in a close-knit nesting area which they share with Royal Spoonbills and Little Shags also with chicks. Why they have chosen this one small area in NZ to nest and raise their chicks year after year is amazing really, but it is adjacent to the large Okarito Lagoon where the heron parents take turns from the nest to go and search for fish to feed the hungry chicks.

Breeding Colony from the Viewing Hide
Breeding Colony from the Viewing Hide

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We watched with the aid of the provided binoculars and saw unhatched eggs being carefully turned over in the nest, chicks of various ages being fed, the change-over when one parent returned after fishing, the greeting displays between the adults and the preening and displaying of the beautiful lacy feathers that the herons only have during the breeding season.

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83 86

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Spoonbill – Lord of the Manor!
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Little Shag – feeding hungry chicks
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Spoonbills

They were a sight to see and well worth the expense of the Tour to come and see them. We were not disappointed and it’s another item crossed off my ‘bucket list’. All too soon it was time to retrace out steps back to the jet boat for our return.

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Our Guide stopped the boat when we got back to the other river and told us to look back – we were rewarded with a great view of Mt Cook in all it’s glory – magic!

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There wasn’t much talking on the way back, I think everyone was just thinking of the herons and how beautiful they were and how lucky we are that we can see them undisturbed in their natural habitat. Once the chicks have fledged the adults disperse throughout NZ as solitary birds and will only return here to breed Mid Sept through to March.

95-river-view 96-speeding-up-the-river

Back at Whataroa we decided we’d again head south to Franz Josef for the night where there is another NZMCA Park to stay in. We parked up and later walked back to the town area for a looksee – the place was packed with overseas tourists and every few minutes helicopters were taking-off or returning after taking people up to see the glacier. We decided we’d drive up tomorrow to the carpark and do the hour’s walk to the face of the glacier – have done that in the past, but then, it was only a short walk. It’s obviously retreated a long way back over the years.

During the evening the rain returned and persisted throughout the next day. We stayed put and ‘flagged’ the hour’s walk in the rain…we will be back down this way again so maybe the weather will be kinder then. Felt sorry for all the tourists arriving on bus tours and short visits though, they wouldn’t see anything…the helicopters were grounded all day too.

24 Nov – the rain was still coming down in bucketloads and as Franz Josef was as far south we were travelling at this time we packed up and headed north again. The weather started to clear as we left the high mountains and we were back on coastal plains again.

We turned left before Whataroa to go and visit Okarito on the coast and where the Okarito Lagoon exits to the sea. The Lagoon is New Zealand’s largest unpolluted wetland covering an area of 3240 hectares of shallow open water and over 70 species of birds have been recorded here. No wonder the White Herons and Spoonbills like it here.

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Locals run open boat nature tours, canoeing trips and kiwi tours from here and there are some good walking tracks to explore.

Old Boathouse
Old Boathouse
Okarito Beach
Okarito Beach

100-okarito

"Keep paddling"
“Keep paddling”
Canoe Tour heading out
Canoe Tour heading out

We continued on to Whataroa and found a spot down a side road beside the Whataroa River to hide away for the night among some large gravel piles. We were not the only ones exploring, as two Rental Motorhomes arrived later in the evening to keep us company.

25 Nov – Still heading north, stopped at Hari Hari township to check out a monument and display of a replica single-engine Avro Avian aircraft that was flown by 21-year-old Guy Menzies who on 07 January 1931 became the first aviator to fly solo from Australia to New Zealand. Taking 11hrs 45mins he intended to land at Blenheim but was blown off course and crash-landed upside-down in the La Fontaine swamp near Hari Hari when he mistook the swamp for a landing paddock. Despite the crash he beat Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm’s trans-tasman flight in the “Southern Cross” by 2½ hours. The locals assisted him and took him to Hokitika where his record was reported and became a hero.

Believe it or not!!
Believe it or not!!

Next came the gold town of  Ross. Stopped at the Info Centre to read about some the history of the area and had a lunch break hoping the infernal rain would stop for a while so we could do a walk around the historic goldfields area. Strategy worked out as the rain cleared and we were able to complete the hour’s walk around the Water Rack Track beside the Info Centre.

The largest gold nugget ever found in NZ was discovered in Ross – weighed a massive 3.1kg. The nugget was purchased by the government of the day and presented to King George V, who turned it into a golden teaset…what a waste!

Pit Lake
Pit Lake

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Water race scaffolding
Water race scaffolding

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Water race trench beside walkway
Water race trench beside walkway
Old miner's cottage
Old miner’s cottage

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Old heastones
Old headstones
Graveyard overlooking Ross township
Graveyard overlooking Ross township
Gold Dredge
Gold Dredge
Cottage kitchen
Cottage kitchen
Miners Cottage in Ross
Miners Cottage in Ross
The Prisoner
The Prisoner
The Gaol
The Gaol
Replica Mine Poppet Head
Replica Mine Poppet Head

Drove on to Lake Mahinapua 10km south of Hokitika and site of a well-maintained DOC camp. We ended up staying there for 4 nights, enjoying the view and completing some bushwalks in the vicinity.

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Walkway along lakeside
Walkway along lakeside
Swimmers Beach -somewhat overgrown
Swimmers Beach -somewhat overgrown

There was a replica steam paddleboat on the shore – the lake was the main access route to the Ross Goldfields before roads and rail were built through the area.

Paddlewheel model
Paddlewheel model
Steamer history
Steamer history

29 Nov – Travelled back to Hokitika via the back road around Lake Mahinapua and looked at the small settlements of Rimu and Woodstock. Another gold mining area – a nice Lookout over the Hokitika River Valley and signboards showed how the cliffs below were created by water cannons sluicing away the hills to extract the gold. Stopped the night at the Hokitika Club Park again.

Rimu Lookout - Hokitika River below
Rimu Lookout – Hokitika River below

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View over Woodstock
View over Woodstock
Dritwood sign on a rainy day
Dritwood sign on a rainy day

30 Nov – After filling with fuel and water in Hokitika we headed south-east to go and see the Hokitika Gorge.

On the way we came across an impressive Memorial at a little place called Kowhitirangi and stopped to read the plaque.

The Incident
The Incident

If refers to events in October 1941, when unstable farmer Stanley Graham snapped and unleashed a fury that claimed seven lives and earned him the infamy of becoming NZ’s first mass murderer. Four of his victims were Police Officers and three were local men. What followed was the biggest manhunt in NZ’s history with more than a 100 Police and several hundred Army and Home Guard personnel hunting for Graham in the local bush. He was mortally wounded and captured on the 13th day.

Koiterangi Incident Memorial
Koiterangi Incident Memorial

There is a hole in the middle of the monument stone – the view looking directly towards the site of the incident: Graham’s farmhouse (long since burnt down). A movie “Bad Blood” was made about the tragedy and starred Jack Thompson.

Interesting what you find out about NZ’s history when you least expected to.

Arrived at the Hokitika Gorge and thankfully found a carpark (it was like Piccadilly Circus with everyone jockeying for space). Nice walk along the path following the Gorge, walking the swingbridge and clambering over rocks at the end to get a good view. The water today was a milky light blue colour but at times it can be grey, turquoise or green. Either way it is a much photographed spot and quite impressive.

View of the Gorge from walkway
View of the Gorge from walkway

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Looking upstream from the rock lookout
Looking upstream from the rock lookout

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Gorge exits into the river valley
Gorge exits into the river valley

Left the Gorge and headed to a DOC camp situated at Hans Bay, Lake Kaniere.

Made a stop along the way to see the Dorothy Falls and do a short walk to see the Lake which had been hidden from view by thick forest along the way.

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View of Dorothy Falls from the road
View of Dorothy Falls from the road

The falls cascade down in two drops (that we could see) but there were probably more drops higher up that were concealed by the bush. The water was very tea stained by the tannins.

At the end of the lake walk we found the lake water level was higher than usual. No sitting on the conveniently placed seat to enjoy the view unless we got our ‘tooties’ wet.

Lake ripples
Lake ripples

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Arrived at Hans Bay and the camp was situated on an elevated site overlooking Lake Kaniere and over quite a large area. It was a lovely spot and despite being ‘challenged’ with the prospect of no Phone or Internet service here, we settled in with the intention of staying a couple of days.

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