Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wandering Down the Wild West Coast

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

The west coast of the South Island of New Zealand is breathtaking. There's really no other way to describe it, other than that I am somewhat spoiled (yet thrilled) to its beauty, as it reminds me so much of the west coast of British Columbia. I think I will try to get WWOOFing or work in this region; I don't care about the low population densities, being out in nature like this is what floats my boat, so to speak (or as my nerdy friends and I used to say, "what completes my square").

Doesn't this look like it could be in BC somewhere?

A slightly catty aside before I summarize today's activities: I am getting really tired of some of the people on this Stray Bus. I don't think of myself as being particularly difficult to get along with (I hear your derisive sniggers), and I can find something to like in almost anyone. But two people (one in particular) that I shared a room with the past two nights are very negative, condescending, and self-centred, and make me wonder why they bother to go on trips like this if they're just going to complain about everything and put down everyone behind their backs the whole time. I'm glad I'm going to be getting off the bus in Wanaka for a few days; I hope the next bus has people that are more positive and adventurous.

We left Franz Josef this morning at 9am and headed down the road to Lake Matheson, a glacial lake famous for its ancient rainforest and reflections of Mt. Cook (Māori name Aoraki, "Cloud Piercer"). The highest mountain in New Zealand at 3 755m, Mt. Cook is part of the Southern Alps (Māori Ki Tiritini o te Moana, "Ascend to the Heights of Your Inspirations"). Although it was cloudy, and the lake wasn't as still as glass, we were lucky in that the clouds parted and allowed us to see Mt. Cook's peak, and the wildlife of ducks and beautiful birdsong around Lake Matheson made up for its unreflectiveness.

Mt Cook peeking through the clouds

Lake Matheson. Too bad it wasn't still!

Amandine and I wave hello.

Continuing on down Highway 6, we stopped at Knight's Point, which was named after one of the dogs of the construction workers who helped build this statehighway. The terrain is so forbidding (think trying to build a highway along a coastline that looks like Banff National Park), the road was started in the 1930s as a Depression relief project, but the road over Haast Pass wasn't opened until 1960, and the Haast to Paringa stretch wasn't completed until 1965. The last ten kilometres took more than ten years to build, and parts of it weren't finally paved until 1995. Travelling over it, you can see why… the formidable mountains, unstable soil, and flood-prone creeks are everywhere.

View from Knight's Point

We stopped for lunch at Ship's Creek, so named because the hull from a shipwreck off the coast of Melbourne drifted across the Tasman Sea and ended up in the mouth of the river(!). There we were enthralled by the crashing of huge waves onto the beach, which was comprised mainly of flat stones (stone skippers, pick up your supplies here). Several of the girls went out to try their luck looking for greenstone along the beach; I was content to scramble up the lookout tower (it looked like a tree fort, with two ladders to scale) and gaze out across the sand dunes and beach. It's surreal to think that the next land one would hit if sailing out away from this beach is Antarctica.

The wave pullback here is fierce.

Ants on a log!

The view of Ship's Creek Beach from the tower.

The tower ladders

After crossing over the Haast River Bridge, the longest one-lane bridge in New Zealand at 737m (today we went over 27 one-lane bridges! New Zealand has a thing against building two-lane bridges; in fact, sometimes the highway is so narrow I think they cheated and just built one lane a little wider than usual and drew a dotted line down the middle of it), we stopped at Thunder Creek Falls to take pictures, and then again at Blue Pools, so named because of their striking blue colour due to light refraction in the clear, snow-fed, icy cold water (much like the Franz Josef glacier from yesterday). Here was also the worst concentration of sandflies I have seen yet; I found the best strategy to avoid being bitten was to just keep moving (and not be a fool and bury one's feet in the sand like some others).

Now we are at Makarora, at the Makarora Wilderness Resort in little A-frame Chalets (I say little, but the one I'm in sleeps nine, without bunk beds… but the reason nine fit is because they are extremely narrow beds!). This afternoon after we got in and everyone had slumped down in exhaustion I went for a hike partway up Mt. Shrimpton with Mike and Levinin, two others who didn't feel like letting all the spectacular scenery go to waste. Dinner was bangers and mash and cooked veggies prepared by the Resort's café/restaruant/pub (at $10, it's more of a convenience and enticement thing to keep us from all swamping the tiny self-catering kitchen mainly reserved for those in caravans), and now I hear rumours of Karaoke starting up in the bar, so I think I will go down and see what that's all about. :-) Night!

Side of Mt. Shrimpton

Creek on Mt. Shrimpton, looking downstream


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