Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Welcome to Paradise


I wanted to clear the decks from our visit to Glenorchy, so while I have some extra time (we're still in Franz Josef dodging rain), I'll post this and another shorter blog post before I move on to the West Coast blogs.

You'll remember that we had a wet week in Glenorchy with just 2 fine days (hmm...that sounds familiar), the first day we did the road trip around the lake to Kinloch and down to the end of the road. The second fine day we drove up the Dart River Valley to the end of the road. This was another road with warning signs although going by the traffic, I don't think too many people take much notice of them.

Most of the rental cars & motorhomes we passed were heading to just one place, Paradise, which luckily is near the beginning of the road although after one quite large ford. Paradise has been made famous by Peter Jackson and the LOTR films and Top of the Lake (Jane Campian) amongst other films that have been shot in the area, so it's on the tourist must see list.

I'm not so sure it looked like paradise this morning though, the sun hadn't reached into the valley as yet and the air was cold and frosty. It also looked like the usual rolling farmland surrounded by snow capped mountains that we've seen many times on our travels. That was until I spotted this magnificent homestead set back off the road. 

This is Arcadia House, the house that was built (in 1906) from a broken heart. Englishman Joseph Fenn fled to NZ after his father stole his fiancee away from him. He settled and isolated himself in (ironically) Paradise, where he bought a plot of land and lived in a small hut. He then fell in love with Poppy, the daughter of the Aitkens family who lived up the road and ran Paradise House which had guest house accommodation for visiting tourists.

This is from an information board at the DOC Camp the end of the road.

When Poppy turned down Fenn's advances he reacted by building Arcadia, a stunning guest house. Built using local Red Beech timber, Arcadia has 12 bedrooms, a vast staircase, a library and smoking room, several lounges and dining rooms, tiled bathrooms and oriental styled wallpapers. It's thought that he built the house to show  Poppy what she missed out on. He never lived in it, preferring to stay in his own humble cottage and employed managers to run the guest house. Fenn became even more reclusive and was known as "The Hermit of Paradise". 

On our way back past later in the day, the sun has reached the homestead and so had several carloads of tourists who were lined up along the fence taking photos. We stopped a little further down the road. 

Arcadia is privately owned by the Veint family and is part of a high country farm. Oh, and Arcadia is the Greek word for.....Paradise. Here's another information panel from the DOC camp, it's fascinating reading about the history and hardships of the areas we visit.

We carried on up the valley, farmland soon turning into tussock and matagouri...

...surrounded by a dramatic backdrop of towering snow capped mountains with heavy Beech forests on the lower slopes. The odd shaped summit of Mt Knox (above) is part of the many mountain peaks that can be found here in the Mt Aspiring National Park.

There are ten fords to cross (I counted them) and not all of them are easy going, it rough across a huge gravel slide that has numerous cascading streams of  water.

Finally we reach the end of the road and a DOC campground in one of the most isolated areas we've been to- there's a guy in his off-road RV who looks to have stayed the night, a fisherman going by the rods on the roof. You can see his vehicle in the photo below.

The campground is beside the Dart River and there are a number of tramping tracks that leave form here, although the main Rees-Dart Track is closed because of major slips blocking the way. The towering Mt Earnslaw (below) overlooks the valley.

DOC (Department of Conservation) do a awesome job providing information and amenities and looking after our national parks, camps and tracks; they often receive criticism from various quarters but I'd like to say that we have been very impressed with all we've seen. And we've seen plenty. 

Here's another old-time character from the valley which was on one of the panels in the shelter. It's hard to imagine how much of a struggle our early pioneers and settlers had in these remote and isolated areas with such rugged landscapes and harsh environments.

We head back down the valley stopping to check out the wide braided Dart River from afar. This is where we'd seen a tour bus earlier, parked on the gravel. It's gone now, and we can see a spot of blue where it was parked. When I zoom in I can see that it's a tractor with a mobile jetty and ladder on the back. And then we catch sight of a tiny black dot zipping back and forward further down river. Jet boat tours!  

The sun has finally reached into the valley as we head back through the tiny settlement of Paradise, which now lives up to its name.

We stop one last time to take another photo of the 'Paradise' sign, this time with the sun shining on us.

We head around Mt Alfred and up the other side of the Dart River to our next stop, a DOC Campground beside the Routeburn River...

...which is where the walk to the Lake Sylvan Outlet leaves from. We're hoping to do the circuit via the tramway.

We have lunch at one of the picnic tables and then cross the river into the forest.

The track is well groomed as we weave our way through the established Red Beech forest and up the old moraine terraces left behind thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers. We cross over the outlet stream a number of times. We're not that keen on walks like this, we love lots of understory with thick mosses and ferns smothering the forest floor. There's also a lack of bird life in the dark interior. 

Some wag (DOC worker) has added this slab of stone to a small tree trunk, the nearby path has recently been graded and widened. Very soon it'll be hard to decide how the slab found its way onto the sapling. 

Finally we reach Lake Sylvan where there's a lovely viewing platform beside the outlet stream. Unfortunately the view is straight into the sun and we feel cheated that we can't get close to the lake edge. I'm not too sure that overseas visitors would enjoy this walk so much, it's pretty plain with none of the luxuriant greenery along the path- perhaps we are just getting too fussy.

We carry on around the lake edge to join up with the old tramline route back to the carpark. From across a bay we can see the viewing platform and the mountains behind.

And now the bush is alive with birds, top from left to right- a male Tomtit, a fast moving male Rifleman and those ever friendly and inquisitive Bush Robin.

This track is nothing like the other, much of it is flooded and very muddy underfoot, this is what we're looking for; a 'real' track. We log hop through the water, using roots and wood slabs as stepping stones, clambering up and over fallen logs covered in slippery mosses and lichens trying to keep our boots and bums dry. It takes a few detours to make our way through and a couple of times we have to retrace our steps to find a alternate route, always keeping those orange triangles in view.

This is also ideal territory for a range of weird and wacky fungi although I don't find any of the pink and purple variety this time.

We finally reach the old tramline which is still wide and clear through the regenerating bush. This 1920s tramline was used to transport logs from the forest down to the Dart River. We pass over many of the old support battens laid across the track...

...and find a couple of relics from the trams. This part of the circuit certainly makes up for the first section.

And one last photo of a very cheeky robin who frightened the life out of me. I was crouching down to take that photo of the platform across the bay, framing the photo with the overhead branches and trying to get the mountains behind in the shot when I hear a rustling right beside my left ear and caught sight of movement. I jumped back with a start. Thank God it was a robin and not a rat, he was on the branch right beside my head peering over my shoulder. I had to step back to get him in the frame. I scraped aside the leaf litter as a reward for his(or her) over friendliness. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Sorry Offstone! I deleted your comment by mistake while trying to get rid of some spam! Lucky I had a copy of it which I've tagged on in my answer.

      Offstone- 'Paradise does look more like paradise in sun, more so when the lupines are blooming along Glenorchy-Paradise Road...
      A big thank you for the interesting local history (history was my favorite school subject). We missed the infomation panel as we didn't get to the end of the road. We were hoping to walk part of the Dart River Track if we managed to get there. We had our first ford crossing there, quite an experience! At the 5th or 6th ford, we came to a rather wide and difficult looking one. I waded through to fathom the depth and test the bed (fun for a hot afternoon), decided better not to risk being trapped. So we turned back from there :)'

      Wise decision, there were a few deep fords that would have marginal for a bigger vehicle. You did good to get as far as you did. You made me smile when you said 'tested the bed' until I realised you meant the ford stream bed!


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