Friday, September 11, 2020

SOUTH- Springtime in the South Island


Ohakune and the sun is shining although there are dark black clouds over the mountain. Hoping for a glimpse of the snow capped mountain tomorrow morning. No such luck the  priorities now are breakfast and then back to the chocolate eclair shop to pick up provisions for morning T. Its great to be back.

Then  via the Manwatu scenic route. This is a beautiful scenic drive off, the main route but well worth it. Deviated from this to include a visit to Kimbolton a historic settlement. Great little camp site at Eketahuna. Woke to a cold morning with early frost but a blue sky day as if summer had been switched on. The locals told us it had been raining for the previous week.

The next morning headed to the Pukaha  for our first ever visit to the  Wildlife centre at Mount Bruce. Enjoyable walk up through the bush. Impressive trapping regime and just had to see the white kiwi.

Snow on the Tararua's. Night spent in Martinborough woke to a beautiful sunrise. An interesting bustling little town surrounded by vineyards.   Stocked  up with fresh bread and milk before heading over the hills to Wellington. Spent the afternoon at Te Papa. Also checked out the  Van Gogh live exhibition but it was fully booked so that will have to wait for a return visit.


Monday  14th - Now in the South Island. Its turned out to be a beautiful day to cross Cook Strait even though strong winds were forecast. Shot through Picton, will explore on the return journey. Now settled into Spring Creek campsite just before Blenheim. Parked next to a little stream with a pet eels and lots of them.

Left Spring Creek and headed to Blenheim and then on towards kaikoura stopping  at the Ohau NZ fur seal colony along the newly repaired coastal road still being worked on following the Kaikoura earthquake.  Spent an hour or two watching the antics of the seals including the young ones carefully keeping out of the reach of the large male bull seals. 

Then realised that there was a spotted shag colony with nests at the Northern end of the seal site. 

Tuesday 15th arrived in Kaikoura with a glimpse of the mountains. I'm keen to locate some banded dotterels on the beach and soon I find a pair acting as if they have a nest site in the strand line of fine driftwood  along the beach. 

Today  Wed 16th is a stunning blue sky day . Its not cold and we have a stunning view of the Kaikoura mountain range. I didn't realise that some of these peaks are over 2000 metres high. Today we intend to explore the Kaikoura peninsular starting with a drive around the coast and a walk to the high viewpoint. There are more seals here around the coast but mainly younger animals as most of the males would be at the Ohau breeding site North.

 At high tide around 3.30pm I head back to check out the banded dotterels and soon realise that the one parent bird I find is watching out for a chick by standing on little drift wood piles to get  good viewpoint. I see only one chick. Kaikoura is an important site for banded dotterel but nesting success is not great due to predation and disturbance on the stony beaches.

 Evening sighting of thousands of Hutton Shearwaters just off the coast diving and swimming for fish. They nest in burrows on the lower slopes of the Kaikoura mountains. These have been devastated by recent earthworks and pigs.

Thursday 17th To Christchurch for a couple of days. The cathedral is indeed a sad sight. Much of the town centre has now been rebuilt following the earthquake. We spend a few hours at the Antarctica centre and have a ride on the snow vehicles over an off road course.

The following day we head to Lake Tekapo. The lakeside  views are fantastic but the expansion of the nearby campsites seem totally over the top and not sustainable even without overseas tourist they are over busy with domestic tourism. 

The following day Sat 19th we catch up with friend Dennis who left Auckland to settle in this beautiful area.

Then we are onto Mount Cook village and a walk up the Hooker valley which was just excellent. Just a little late for the Alpine flowers though.

 Spent the night in the Glentanner camp park which is a beautiful location with mountain views all around and unlike the campsite at Lake Tekapo was more sympathetic to this environment. 

The campsite trees are full of redpoll's, a pretty little European bird.

Then today to Oamaru stopping on route to look at the Maori rock art on the way. I thought this would be a guided walk but the drawings are protected by cages and you are free to enjoy they with interpretive signage.

Too early in the day  for the penguins at Oamaru but on the historic old Sumpter wharf  nearby there are thousands of roosting shags including Spotted shags and the very rare Otago shag.  There have been proposed plans to restore the old wharf but this would destroy this important roost site.

The Moaraki boulders are such a tourist magnet and that's a mystery to me so that's why I had to see them. Maybe they simply appeal to the imagination. The beach setting was great.

 This broke the drive to Dunedin where a long awaited visit to the Best Cafe was on my list of Must do's. Last time I was here was 2009. It hasn't changed and the blue cod and pile of bread and butter and the bottomless tea and coffee and plastic table cloths  make this a national treasure.

The little camp site at Portobello on the Otago peninsular was just great and well worth a couple of nights stay. Well positioned for the Albatross Centre which was so interesting with a very knowledgeable guide.

I spent an hour or two along the cliff side photographing spotted shags at their nests and the occasional Royal Albatross soaring high on the updraft winds here.

The Catlins next and mixed weather here but that's expected. Loved the walk to the Nugget lighthouse and amazingly way below the cliffs there were Royal Spoonbill preening themselves on the the rocky sheltered areas. Fur seals too. 

The little campsite at Pounawea complete with camped fairground equipment was right on the edge of the Catlin River. Through my scope I spied 10 godwit feeding on the estuary edge when we arrived along with South Island Pied Oystercatchers. By morning the tide was in and the birds had gone. There is a beautiful bush walk accessed from the campsite full of bird song which makes a change. The dawn chorus was a chorus of bellbirds & tui-wonderful!. 

Curio Bay was wild and beautiful complete with fossil forest and a cold coastal breeze. Waipapa Point light house was another stunning location.

Invergargill is a great city with Queens park which is probably one of the most beautiful parks I have visited. It also has an eclectic collection of animals here including wild pigs from the Auckland Islands and various rare rabbit breeds too. We woke to a snow covered campsite in the centre of town. It was just 5degrees. Grey clouds above delivered flurries of snow.

Headed to Te Anau through a snow blizzard just beyond Lumsden. Pleased that this cleared and we made it with out incident to Te Anau which looked spectacular in the snow. 

Stayed for two nights waiting for the Milford Sound road to open. Snow ploughs had cleared it by Wednesday and we had a beautiful drive in with clear skies snow covered scenery and sunshine, The Mirror lakes were worth a stop.

Enjoyed a boat ride around the 'sound' and out into the Tasman sea penguins and fur seals along the rocky edge.

Tomtits near the waters edge singing their rythmic tunes.

 Staying  at the Milford lodge rainforest complete with some very smart Kea

The  trees, mountain beech were full of tomtits, bellbirds, grey warbler and robins.

And weka too.

It was time to leave and head back to Te Anau , a very different drive out with much of the snow thawed as the temperatures had increased. It was enjoyable to spend further time walking along the edge of Te Anau lake and I again visited the DOC sanctuary with moorpork, kakariki, and takahe.

Queenstown I think has been totally spoilt by overdevelopment. Arrowtown too seemed to be overly commercial rather than historic now. We took the opportunity here to cast our  Special votes which was actually easier than we thought it would be.  I preferred Arrowtown  when I last visited some 15 years ago. 

Wanaka was better although this town too has increased in size dramatically. However the Mount Aspiring road along lakeside  to Mt Aspiring is still as beautiful as I remember it and we just  had to stay at the  beautiful lakeside campsite. Quite a temperature change now at 26 degrees which beats the -5 degrees we had experienced at lake Te Anau.

On the road again and the Haast pass was simply stunning all the way to Haast on the West coast. Then onto Fox glacier where this morning we are waiting for the rain to stop to be able to explore and voila dead on 1pm the taps have been turned off. Before that I enjoyed the glowworm walk in the saturated bush setting nearby. We stay another night to enable time to walk up the side of the river valley to get a glimpse of the receding glacier in the distance. 

Franz Josef not too far away was on my list to visit the excellent wildlife centre there. This is run in a partnership with DOC and has the rare Rowi kiwi and tuatara  which we were able to see. A night at the Rainforest campsite was worth it just to watch kea in this bush setting and also to enjoy the fabulous restaurant here.

Okarito was not far from Franz Josef and this little West coast settlement is a delight. Its the home of the Rowi kiwi and nearby Whataroa is the only place in New Zealand that the white heron nest. The Okarito lagoon is the largest unmodified wetland in the NZ. I'm lucky enough to get quite near a white heron fishing as the lagoon is their feeding area. 

The next day we join the white heron tour to see the nesting site of these birds. Its an excellent tour by a family run business and I can thoroughly recommend this experience.

Banded dotterels are near the campground. The locals tell me that they nest on the beach nearby.

Ross is our next destination complete with cherry tree lined streets.  We arrive just in time to to view some old cottages and the church at the heritage area. The caretaker re-opened the church so we could look inside. Its a beautiful old catholic church. We stay the night parked up near the beach. During the night the wind gets up and we wake to a wet misty morning.

The drive to Greymouth is a wet one but the Tree tops walk was amazing even though I am not that keen on height. The bush looks great in the rainfall from over 20 metres up. Next stop Shantytown which caught my imagination. It was very entertaining and the ride on the steam train reminded me of steam travel so many years ago. We drove on in the rain to Hokitika which was such an interesting small town quite vibrant on a Saturday morning. Some interesting old buildings and a bakery to die for selling 'Jenny Craig' donuts- certainly the best donuts I have ever tasted..

The night was spent in Greymouth that looked rather forlorn in the rain with many closed up shops. This town is doing it hard and needs help. 

The next day we head for the Punakaiki pancake rocks and a cafe selling wonderful pancakes. Both were excellent and beyond expectations.

 Then a hang on to the edge of your seat drive to Westport in 6o knot winds and rain. The coastal sections were particularly challenging with huge gust of wind. The Foulwind Cape was worth a walk.

The Buller Gorge was stunning the river foreboding with such a volume of water. Murchison was an ideal place to stay on a beautiful traditional campsite overlooking the river. Probably one of the best sites we have stayed at.

From Murchison to Nelson to catch up with people before moving on to another traditional Kiwi campsite at Cable Bay. Loved the walk up the hill to overlook the causeway and Pippin Island.

Queen Charlotte Sound is just stunning and would be great to get out on the water on the Mail boat or by kayak.

All too soon we are back on the Blubridge ferry heading back to Wellington from Picton.