Jean and I spent last week on vacation at a rental house in Wanaka. Wanaka is a mountain town sited on the shores of an alpine lake and a gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. It was a great getaway and we enjoyed exploring the many tracks around the area and eating at some great restaurants. This is an off time of year there between summer and the winter skiing season. We had some rain and wind but also some gorgeous sun. One day we took a drive over Haast pass to the west coast. It was a sunny still day and it felt like summer again briefly as we explored the dunes near Ship Creek.
Saturday we drove out a couple hours west of town and did a great walk/run near Lake Ohau. The terrain didn’t always make for easy running but it was a gorgeous hike up to the bushline, around 12km round trip.
Last week Jean’s clinic was closed and we decided to plan a last minute vacation to experience one of the places we came all this way to see, Fiordland in the southwest of the South Island. First up was one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Kepler Track. The Great Walks are the most publicized and maintained of the New Zealand tramping tracks with staffed huts during the season which require bookings. Shelter, water, bathrooms, bunks and gas cookers are all provided. And in our case at Iris Burn hut on Kepler a very engaging and charismatic hut ranger, Robbie.
The first day was indeed a great walk in to the Iris Burn hut, rain only coming just before we finished our day.
The second day the weather was much worse, record rainfall and high winds. We started anyway but up on the alpine section of track the winds were really high. We encountered a group up on the ridge that had a woman with them that was experiencing severe hypothermia. Two of her friends were helping her down and they were moving OK, at first Jean and I continued on. But Jean decided maybe she could be of some help and it wasn’t that fun with the rain slamming you in the face from the side so we turned around back for the hut. Once everyone got to the hut Jean helped the ranger evaluate the woman’s condition and decided on a helicopter evacuation since it would otherwise be a couple days before she could hike out on her own. Meanwhile I went up with another woman in their party to retrieve some packs they had left to be able to help her down the mountain. So I got my hiking in for the day even though we ended up in the same hut as the night before. I also hiked to a nearby waterfall that was raging with all the recent rain.
The next day we had to hike out the way we came in so we missed the second half of the track and Luxmore hut. However we loved what we did see of the Kepler and I am thinking of running the Kepler Challenge if I can get an entry.
We then had a rest day in Te Anau which we were both glad for.
Next up was an overnight kayak in to Doubtful Sound. Here we got absolutely blessed with conditions. Skies cleared as we made the schlep over to the start of the kayak which involves a shuttle from Te Anau, a boat ride across Lake Manapouri and then a bus ride on a road over a pass to Doubtful Sound, a road that connects to nowhere else. We saw dolphins, waterfalls, birds.
We didn’t encounter much wind except for on the last day when we used it to sail part of the way back to our cove. We had a great guide, Josh. The only downside was the masses of sandflies at our camp. They are vicious little buggers.
Jean’s colleague Steve invited us out today to pan for gold in a river nearby. I won’t give details on the location because his son has a great new find on the river he just started working. I’ve never looked for gold before but the key is to find a good spot and work it. When the river floods certain spots are regular traps for little nuggets or gold dust. For me and Jean it was mostly an excuse to explore our new backyard and walk by a river for the day.
It was glorious, a gorgeous location all to ourselves, along a beautiful river. Sam and Steve’s dog Oscar had the best time. We all had fun hiking and swimming and panning, even though it was kind of a bust on the gold front, just a wee bit was found.
This was our first weekend to explore the area and we took advantage of it, poking around the district near Oamaru. We went to Elephant Rocks, taking the back road through some farming country. This is an area we hope to come back to for bouldering. Unfortunately we can’t bring Sam there but we found lots of areas nearby for him. We met the owner at Elephant Rocks who was very welcoming. There was only one other couple there. The rocks have really cool pocketing and are just plopped in the field. Parts of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were filmed here but I haven’t seen that yet. Nearby we got to hike with Sam by the river where he enjoyed terrorizing the local bunny population and playing in the river.
We made it out to Kurow and after a hike up a hill in town went to the winery cafe for an excellent tasting and meal. We really liked the Pasquale Waitaki Pinot Noir. And we got a recommendation on another hike we could take the dog on near Lake Aviemore. We headed home to recharge for the next day. This morning started more slowly but we took off south and checked out a beach really close by that was great for walking. Sam found a seal lounging by the river mouth. We drove on down the quiet coastal road and had lunch at Fleur’s Place, a pretty famous restaurant in Moeraki that specializes in cooking up fresh fare that the fishing boats in the harbor bring in each evening. We had a really delicious blue cod. Sated, we headed home, pretty excited about everything that is in our backyard.