NZ3 - Apres le Deluge
Rain however necessary, can be miserable. We travelled the length of the West Coast of South Island of New Zealand, which has some spectacular spots and yet we viewed most of it through a steamy windscreen with our view obscured by wipers and creeping condensation.
As if that was not bad enough, some yellow flashing warning light appeared on the dashboard, advising that the crash prevention system was faulty!
On the windy coastal roads in the rain, this got Jim all of a twitch. After much research in the helpful manual, he finally decided that the journey should continue and that the system was not designed for wet weather and vast amounts of condensation and that it should be ignored.
On the plus side, our rental car had a sound system that worked tirelessly and we exhausted our selection of Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Beethoven and many of our old favourites. Jim was just thankful that Landy had fewer electrical warning lights to alarm us.
Having whizzed through Franz Joseph village in the gloom and wet, we had been looking forward to stopping under the gaze of the Fox Glacier for the night. The journey up through the pass in the dark and wet was a bit stressful but we arrived in one piece.
Our motel in Fox recommended we took an early morning stroll around Lake Matheson, after breakfast at its lovely cafe. It had amazing views of the Glacier which we glimpsed under low lying cloud on arrival.
However, rather than brightening up, by the time we had drained our cappuccinos, the view of the glacier had disappeared for the day and any view of Mounts Tasman and Cook were now also obscured by an enveloping mist. To make matters worse the rain had started again.
Nonetheless, we decided to walk around the footpath circling Lake Matheson, which was renowned for its stunning reflective qualities. This was due to the brown soil or silt that it contained. However, this quality relied on the sun. In fact the sky was a blanket of cloud under which hung an all pervading mist. Our rain gear was now dripping and everything was being viewed through persistent rainfall.
Helpfully, the footpath was dotted with viewing platforms with signs telling us what we should be able to see in front of us! Actually we could see nothing. Not even the massive eels that were apparently lurking in the murky waters.
By the time we got back to the car we discovered that virtually nothing we had been wearing was actually waterproof, and the layers we were wearing were almost as wet as the gear we had peeled off. Our wet gear and clothes did nothing to minimise the condensation in the car. We moved on down the coast.
At Haast, (also meant to be beautiful), we turned inland towards Wanaka in the Mount Aspiring National Park. We were grateful that we had managed to undertake the Haast Pass in the daylight and even better, the weather forecast for the next day was sunny. Things were looking up and on arrival at our Wanaka bed and breakfast we cracked open a bottle of Villa Maria red in front of a roaring log fire.
In Wanaka, a lakeside holiday town, we had decided that we should walk up to the Rob Roy Glacier. However, the 30km dirt road up to the car park had about 8 fords to cross. The reviews all said don’t attempt it after serious rainfall unless you have 4WD. Without Landy, the trip to the glacier would have to wait for the following day when we could take a suitable shuttle bus up to the start of the walk.
So we decided to leg it up a small hill (Iron Mountain) overlooking Wanaka and its lakes. We were rewarded with amazing views of the snow capped alp-like mountains and deep blue lakes.
The hill was steep and well used by local people, old and young, and was also popular with visitors.
We were surprised at how many same sex couples we passed on the walk and wondered what attracted them to Iron Mountain?
The Wanaka resort was also popular in the ski season and there were many shops hopefully selling snowboards and flashy snow gear. We noticed that fresh snow had already fallen on the higher peaks.
It was hard to imagine what it must have been like 200 years ago when tourism was barely heard of. Now it was replete with upscale outdoor clothing shops and eateries. Not at all bad!
Our final sunset in Wanaka was amazing. The lake glowed and the circling mountains revealed their shadows.
The following morning we got up early to meet our driver to take us up to the start of the Rob Roy Glacier.
It was a toss up whether Jim was going to eat all his poached eggs or whether he was going to complete a new proxy request form so that he can vote in the unanticipated UK European elections. It was a narrow call but the proxy form was completed first!
The drive to the start took over an hour and we were glad we had not risked taking up the hire car as our driver stopped every now and then to collect wheel hub caps which had been knocked off by the stones and as he ground through multiple fast flowing fords.
As we started the climb up from the little carpark, the rain had already started. We trudged past ducks and cows, crossed a wide suspension bridge over the fast flowing river and the slog started in earnest. By the time we reached the foot of the glacier, just below the snow line, a couple of hours later, light rain had become thunder and lightening!
As we scampered back down to the car park where our driver was waiting, Jim and I managed to lose track of each other. We obviously had our rain gear pulled down over our eyes. This resulted in both of us panicking and we both had images in our minds eye, of the other one of us having tumbled into the fast flowing river adjacent to the track. We both shimmied back and forth looking for the other in the last spot we had been together. I eventually concluded that Jim must have passed me unseen.
I then rushed quickly back down towards the car park and called out as I went. My shouts were drowned out by the torrential river.
After a while, I spied a large reassuring solitary footprint in front of me pointing in the right direction.
Some ten minutes further on I encountered Jim climbing back up the hill towards me with two men who had not seen me further down. Athough we had only been lost for half an hour or so, the relief for both of us was palpable and a wet hug was in order!
Our next day was meant to be Te Anau for another long walk. However, as we drove the 200kms up a long valley, over a couple of hairpin passes, the skies looked even more ominous and as night fell so did torrential rain. Perhaps a rethink is in order?
That night we spent in the Mossburn railway tavern of yesteryear. It was originally built in 1885, as part of the small local railway infrastructure. The line was discontinued for passengers in 1937, and discontinued entirely in 1982. The hotel and bar, modernised in 1923 after a fire, continues. We lodged in a small room with facilities down a corridor and had all our gear draped over racks or tumbling in the dryer. As we ate, we looked closely at our options. Wondering if perhaps the East Coast might be dryer?