Thursday 28 January 2016

Magical Mountains - Kea Point

This will be the last post for a few days. The rain has finally stopped (9 days give or take a couple of afternoons) and we're off to the wops and no reception again. 


I was so enthralled with the mountains and the beautiful scenery right outside the van I couldn’t sleep the first night we were parked up at the White Horse Hill DOC camp at Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. This was the magical view from my bedroom window, I left the blind up so I could see Mt Sefton sparkling and shimmering in the moonlight at the end of the valley. In the end, with sleep eluding me, I thought I might as well make the most of it. I dressed and got my camera gear together and stepped outside to take some night shots in the peace and stillness of a calm and clear night. This one was taken at 2am!

The temperature was very mild considering the time and where we were, beside the Southern Alps, the night sky a beauty with a million twinkling stars above. Looking down the valley towards the Tasman River plain and Lake Pukaki.

I crept about the carpark trying to keep the gravel crunch of my footsteps to a minimum, there were a few sleeper vans parked in the day carpark with us. I’m sure if any of the others sleeping soundly in the cars had looked out and seen me, they’d wonder what the crazy lady was doing moving about their vehicles and shining a light over the 5th-wheeler. I did some light painting of the van with my head torch, watched the moon rise above the mountains behind me and took more photos of Mt Sefton in the beautiful moonlight.

I returned to bed but still couldn’t sleep and as I watched dawn approaching I was up again and back out with my camera to catch sunrise. I hadn’t seen Mt Cook yet but I knew it was visible from Kea Point and I was hoping to get there to catch the pink hue of sunrise on our tallest mountain.

I thought I’d walk to Kea Point, the 20 minute walking track exited the carpark right beside our van. But I took too long getting ready and taking photos of Mt Sefton again.  Before I knew it the sun was rising without me. Blast! Never mind, I managed to catch the pink hue on Mt Sefton instead. These were taken at 5:30am.

I hurried on up the track anyway, startling a number of rabbits along the way. The track passes through landscape that was formed in 1913 when a stream cut through from the Mulleur Glacier to the original Hermitage Hotel site, damaging the building and forcing the new hotel to be built further down the valley and off to the side. A bonus was that the hotel now has fantastic views of Mt Cook.

A short time later I rounded a corner to see my first close up view of the majestic Aoraki/Mt Cook towering above the ridge ahead of me, the sun warming it’s eastern slopes.

Beautiful Aoraki/Mt Cook lies in the Southern Alps, the mountain range that runs the length of the South Island, and is New Zealand tallest mountain at 3724 metres.

The Kea Point walk climbs gradually up through sub-alpine grasslands and scrub to finish at a lookout platform on the edge of the Mueller Glacier moraine wall.

The platform is high above the Mueller Glacier Lake, the opposite moraine wall and Mt Cook behind, are across the wide expanse.

Across the lake to the right and at the base of Mt Wakefield(2012m) is the Hooker River outlet, the river flows from the Hooker Glacier Lake which is at the top end of the Hooker Valley and at the base of the Hooker Glacier, on the west side of Mt Cook. The Tasman Glacier is on the east side.

There are stunning 360 degree views from the viewing deck.

There’s Mt Sefton(3151m) and The Footstool (the right hand peak) and the Mueller Glacier which is around the corner and out of view. High up on the sides of Mt Sefton I can see the dirty blue of glacial ice. There’s nothing here to give these photos scale but believe me everything is on a grand scale- extremely high and and very deep. A person in the valley below would just be a speck on the landscape.

Behind me I can see the track up to the Sealy Tarns, a gut-busting near vertical track to the top of the Mueller Ridge which takes 3-4 hours return for a fit person, everyone else it would be all day…if you made it. The track runs up the deep gully to a lower ridge and then you can see it tracking along the top, apparently there are some amazing views from up there but you won’t be seeing them from me anytime soon. I spot a moving dot of blue and zoom in to see a person stepping it out, the only sign of life I see for the next couple of hours.

But it’s Mt Cook that steals the scene and I can’t stop clicking especially when the clouds suddenly streak out from behind it.

I have the whole place to myself which is surprising, considering the amount of people back in the camp and the fact that it’s now approaching 7am on what is going to be a beautiful day. I sit there in the peace & quiet contemplating this magical place and soaking up the atmosphere and the cool mountain air. I’m also thinking about the climber that has been reported missing on Mt Cook a couple of days beforehand, he’s up there somewhere. And sadly his body was found a day or so later. Another life taken by a mountain that draws the adventurous in.

I set my tripod up to take a selfie….well you can’t visit Mt Cook for the very first time and not record the event can you? And sit there for another half an hour or so. I still can’t believe I have the place to myself or understand why nobody has arrived, I thought they’d at least be a photographer or two to catch the sunrise.

Finally after a couple hours by myself I head back down to camp and as I round a corner I spot two people coming up the track towards me…can you see them? On the far right.

I turn around after they have passed me and zoom in to take a shot of them approaching the top of the track and the view of Mt Cook.

Further down, the view opens up and the morning sun is already warming the Hermitage Hotel up across the valley.

The only other people I see before I get back home is this lovely couple who have only made it a short distance up the track before they’ve had to take a break. They are thinking of not continuing on but I encourage them to take it slowly and rest often, because there’s no way they’d want to miss the fantastic views at the other end. They chuckle and kid each other and want me to take a photo of them on their camera, which I do. Then I say goodbye and carry on, looking back just before I disappear around a bend to see that they’re still sitting there on the rock waving and laughing at me!

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Roving Rotel


Road Hotel or Rolling Hotel? Also known as a capsule hotel but whatever it is, it looks bloody uncomfortable and a little on the claustrophobic side even to someone who doesn’t get claustrophobia. I keep having visions of all these people with their arms strapped to their sides being lifted up and slotted into their six foot by three foot cubbyhole at the end of each night.

This German travel company’s monstrosity is parked in the local holiday park here in Te Anau. The Rotel has a kitchen and toilet on board but lacks a shower, hence the reason it is parked up at the campground-  imagine if you came across this while out freedom camping!

It looks like it would usually be party central but I think it might have lost some of it’s appeal after a week of rain.

I doubt there’s much insulation in those walls and I bet many of the guests have been suffering in the cold, especially the last few days when it's hardly got above 8 degrees overnight. And all that condensation from so many people. Not to mention the noises and smells while they’re sleeping.

Coffin like sleeping quarters wouldn’t appeal to most people but obviously it’s a cheaper form of travel for German travellers than other more conventional methods. They are on a 24 day tour of New Zealand and have visited many places from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island to Fiordland in the South.

Oh and there are double capsule options available…now that’s sure to test the relationship!

Monday 25 January 2016

Breathtaking Aoraki/Mt Cook


The time had come to hit the road again, leave Lake Tekapo behind and continue heading south. With a small window of fine weather forecast before another late spring storm was due,  we made the decision to head to Aoraki/Mt Cook for a couple of days. We’d passed the end of the road a few times on our travels but the weather was overcast and/or raining each time and as it’s 55km to the end of the road there’s just no point in visiting the tallest mountain in New Zealand if it has it’s head in the clouds all the time you're there- Aoraki is Maori for 'cloud piercer' so there is a good chance it might be hidden.

We stopped at the Lake Pukaki lookout (our 4th visit), joining dozens of others- it must be the start of the tourist season, every second vehicle is a hire camper or a tourist bus…

and had our first clear view of the Mt Cook looking very impressive at the end of the lake.

Our next stop was for lunch at Peters Lookout, a few kilometres along the Mt Cook Road.

The area is not that large and is up on a knoll and it’s not until you pull in that you can see if there are any parking spots available. We don’t usually pull into places like this with the 5th-wheeler on the back, unless we have a clear view otherwise we can find ourselves in a bit of a pickle if there’s no turning or too many vehicles.

Luckily we managed to pull into a spot on the side of the carpark because as you can see, there were once again, plenty of tourists! As it was, while we were inside the van having lunch, a rental car pulled up beside our steps. I swear I could have stepped straight out and climbed into the driver’s seat without touching the ground.

What a place to have lunch though, the view is breathtaking, looking down a millpond Lake Pukaki- if you ignore the jumble of felled pine off-cuts in the foreground- and, although you can’t see it here, the water is the beautiful aqua blue of the alpine lakes in the area.

We head off again after lunch and I keep clicking, I can’t get enough of such a stunning sight, along every straight and around every bend Mt Cook stands proud ahead of us.

David stops at Glentanner to take a phone call which allows me to take a photo from outside. It’s just 12kms from here to the White Horse Hills DOC camp at the end of the road. There's a commercial camp site at Glentanner but really, I can see no point in stopping there as all the action is at the end of the road. It would mean a 24km round trip everytime you wanted to do a walk or tramp from the Mt Cook village. Although, I guess if you want power or are in the area for a few days it would suit to stay at Glentanner.

The road levels out as we travel alongside the wide river plain that drains the surrounding mountains.

The Burnett Mountains back the Tasman River as it flows towards Lake Pukaki. The braided river system is good Black Stilt territory but we won’t be checking for any here, it’s miles across to the river!

Ahead of us, peeping around a corner, we can see the tail end of the Tasman Glacier and the source of the Tasman River (and the rock flour that turns Lake Pukaki it’s beautiful blue).

Finally we see Mt Cook village and the Hermitage Hotel tucked into the side of the valley.

The White Horse Hills DOC camp is located directly ahead below that small hill and under the shadow of Mt Sefton- I don’t know that yet though, I’m thinking it’s Mt Cook when we arrive (even though I’ve just seen it out to the right). Why? I don’t know, I’m not usually directionally challenged but I’m thinking the sheer size and grandeur of the surrounding mountains have thrown me. Once you’re actually underneath them, some of the peaks disappear from sight. And Mt Cook is hidden from view when you're in the DOC Camp, the small 'hill' blocks your view.

We pass the day carparks and head into the campground to suddenly come to a scraping halt! Hmmm…we’re too long at 15 metres, to get through the ford- you can see it on the far right of this campground pano. How embarrassing, David backs off and luckily he wasn’t moving too fast so we haven’t grounded and got stuck, just a few marks on the concrete and all ok on the van. Now what to do? We won’t be stopping in the camp tonight.

We back into the closest carpark to check out our options, and when a vehicle leaves from the corner we manoeuvre into that space and decide that this will do just fine for a couple of nights. We later hear that it’s fine to camp there if you’re too long for the ford and the carpark isn’t too busy. As long as you pay your fees, DOC are fine with it- whether that’s an urban myth or not we don’t know but nobody bats an eye at us over the next two nights. Well nearly nobody, we do get a few stares and plenty of selfies taken as day trippers pass us by, and then there were the tour groups….but you’ll hear about them shortly.

How’s this for the view out the front door! Pretty impressive don’t you think? Not your usual backyard sight. We sure do find ourselves in some spectacular spots. It’s about now that I realise that this is Mt Sefton not Mt Cook.

It’s kinda surreal too, preparing dinner under the shadow of a mountain while people walk past just metres away. I can never get used to that; everyday life on the inside while an extraordinary sight, and people that have paid thousands of dollars and dreamed for years of visiting New Zealand walk past outside. Ham & mushroom omelette with a side of asparagus anyone? And yes the window needs a clean, but I gave my window cleaner the evening off.

The DOC campground is obviously very popular- the next available campground is at Glentanner or it’s back to Twizel or Tekapo over 70kms away. With a number of walks available to do in the Park a lot of people wouldn’t have the time to do them if they come just for the day so staying a night or two makes sense. And although there’s plenty of space in the camp and it’s early in the season the site is about two-thirds full both the nights we’re there. There’s a large amenity block and the kitchen is very crowded in the evenings. So many nationalities and so many languages, it’s hard to hear over the chatter.

Mt Sefton has me enthralled, I keep opening the door to check it out as the evening draws in. The snow glistens and sparkles as the sun sets and a high wind whips across the peak. This photo was taken at 9pm, twilight lasts until well after 10:30pm, another thing I can’t get used to down south.

Early the next morning I hear a whole lot of chatter outside the van. Imagine my surprise when I take a look and find a Japanese tour party getting the run down on their walk to Kea Point. And then they start doing their warm up exercises, one lady even using the side of the van as a support while she stretches her leg!

Another group are further up the path and doing the same thing!

And the next morning, the same thing happens again! You’ve got to smile don’t you? But good on the tour leaders for making sure their clients are warmed up. I love the get-up some of them are wearing- daypack- check, sunhat- check, solid walking shoes- check, garters- check...wait, most didn't get that memo, woolly beret & fashion scarf- only if your day job is on the catwalk.

We had other visitors to our van too- quack, quack, Mum said, as I opened the door to a bundle of fluff checking out the door mat.

Dad was quick to join his family and they were all super friendly given that Paradise Ducks are usually hard to get close to. The ducklings were running over my fingers and pecking at my feet. This family have learnt the ropes of the campground and are obviously camp regulars, checking in on all the arriving vans to see if anybody had spare treats.

The ducklings are so cute, I love the colour combination of the Paradise, they really blend in with their natural environment of rocky streams and lakes edges.

Once they had finished entertaining me and posing for numerous photos taken by passing tourists the ducklings settled down on the warm gravel between our vehicle and the car next door. Mum flew up to the roof to keep watch and Dad stood(sat) guard on the otherside.

Six of the ducklings huddled together for a time, one settled down on his own…

…before he started shivering and decided to join his siblings by piling in on top of them. Altogether now……awww!

You should have seen the faces of the couple who returned to the car, they couldn’t quite decide what to do; take photos or clap their hands to shoo them away.