Saturday, February 20, 2016

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand (June 2, 2008)

Driving South from Makaroa, we entered the Otago region. As we were driving deeper in the rugged mountains that where the theatre of a late gold rush in 1860, the road entered in wide U shaped glacial valleys filled with large lakes. Lake Wanaka appeared below us as a long strip of water, that clearly filled the void left by a retiring glacier, more similar to a fiord than a lake.

Lake Wanaka
I took several panoramic of the lake (see one below), from view points easily accessible on the side of the road, and them from a great camping ground on its shore. Again, I think being in Winter was a plus, as the snow on the mountains reflecting on the lake made the view even more spectacular.  At the end of the lake there is the town of, unsurprisingly, Wanaka. Wanaka is a popular touristic destination and we stopped there to get a sandwich for lunch at a cafe on the lake shorefront. The view from that same shorefront has provided an unlikely backdrop for one of the most spectacular scenes of that movie I often cite here. Do you remember the mad ride of Gandalf when he was going to Minas Tirith on his white horse? Well, the mountains rising at the horizon are the same mountains visible from the shore of the lake in downtown Wanaka, with the lake water digitally replaced with the tall green grass!

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand (June 2, 2008)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Walk to the Blue Pool

Wanaka Region, New Zealand (June 1, 2008)

After waking up in our cozy chalet at the Makarora Wilderness Resort, and devouring a filling breakfast (in case we had to skip lunch again), we hit the road back to Te Anau, directed to the Lake Wanaka region. Our first stop was nearby: we left the car a few miles after Makarora and went for a walk in the forest, towards the Blue Pool. I mentioned in other posts the richness of New Zealand's forests, the perfect set for filming the forests of Middle Earth. This one was no exception.

Mayli on the bridge
The path to the blue pools is a short walk among huge trees covered with such a tapestry of  mosses, that their bark is almost invisible. It is like crossing a tunnel, with the green light filtering between the leaves high in the canopy. It is not a silent forest: birds with voices I never heard before accompanied us along the whole way. Maybe some mysterious Sindarin songs from ages past, or a mockinjay taunting us from a dark future. The path first descends from the road, down into the hearth of the valley, but not so low as the river. As the photo on the left shows, the crossing is done on a suspension bridge of wood and steel ropes. Not quite as impressive as the rope bridges in the Andes or Himalaya, but still impressive enough that Mayli didn’t want to leave both steel handrails even for the time of the photo!

Makarora River
The milky-azure color deep color of the Makarora river is revealing its origin: its water is melted ice from one of the many glaciers in the area. Just after the bridge, the valley becomes wider and the forest more sparse, almost as if we were leaving the Bruinen to reach the gates of Rivendell. The beautiful pool shown in the photo on the right looks was almost unreal, with the water so transparent and so blue that was impossible to gauge its true depth. A few large trouts were swimming in this blue crystal, maybe a few centimeters from the surface, maybe several feet below. We lingered there a little, basking in the sunny day cooled by the winter breeze blowing from the south. We went then back to the bridge, across the river to the path through the forest, then back on the car, on our way  to Lake Wanaka and then south to Fiordland.

Blue Pool, New Zealand (June 1, 2008)

Friday, February 12, 2016

From Jackson Bay to Makarora

Jackson Bay, New Zealand (June 1, 2008)

The view at Jackson Bay, and on the road to get there, was certainly worth the drive (and the skipped lunch). The original reason we went there, however, was for the chance of getting to see the local colony of penguins. The timing was wrong, though, as penguins spend the day out at sea, fishing. We still saw other interesting birds, like the cormorant in the photo (maybe a Little Pied Cormorant?), quite upset that I bothered him with my camera, during its afternoon rest on the Jackson Bay pier.

The Milky Way

As it was getting late, once we got back to the main road at Haast, we went to the visitor office (an impressive concrete “cathedral” a little out of place in the very small village) to see if we could reserve a place for the night further along the road. Apparently they couldn’t do it, and they didn’t know where we could get food either, so we just decided to take our chances and keep driving. At sunset we finally reached Makarora, a tiny village surrounded by the Mount Aspiring National Park. We stopped at the Makarora Wilderness Resort. The resort was a nice surprise. Being out of season it was almost empty, and we got one of their cozy chalet for the night, for a cheaper price than expected. And then, best of all, we got our fish and chips, prepared by the custodian of the place, even though the restaurant was closed (due to the Queen's Birthday the next day). Fish was good, crankiness gone, a lively fire was burning in the fireplace... what more could we desire for the day? Well, as we were walking back to the chalet we looked up, to discover, for the first time since we were in New Zealand, a totally cloudless dark sky, with an impossibly bright Milky Way cutting through it (the Milky Way is much brighter seen from the Southern Hemisphere, from where the Bulge of our Galaxy is visible), and the Magellanic Clouds in all their glory. A perfect way of ending the day!

Mount Aspiring National Park, New Zealand (June 1, 2008)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Jackson Bay and the Craypot Cafe

Jackson Bay, New Zealand (June 1, 2008)

Remember the nice retired couple that asked me about my Nikon at Arthur’s pass? Well, before they left they told me that one place we have absolutely to visit on our way to Fiordland was Jackson Bay. It is easy to find, they said, just follow the road along the coast until it ends... and then keep going: you cannot be mistaken, once you reach the bay there is no other place to go. And to make sure I would remember the name, they wrote it on the first piece of paper they could find, which turned out to be a mint new check, barely remembering to void it at the last minute. As I have said many times in this diary: New Zealand people are just plain nice, and they don’t seem to have lost the trust in other human beings that is so rare in many other parts of the “civilized” world.

Jackson Bay
And to Jackson Bay we went. The road is very scenic. It starts before Route 6 turns inland towards Haast Pass, more or less at Haast Beach, and continues along the coast until it crosses the impressive Arawhata River Valley. Due to ours numerous stops along Route 6 (including Lake Matheson, Bruce Bay, Shop Creek...) it was getting very late for lunch, and we were starving as breakfast in Fox Glacier was only a remote memory. We where however comforted by the billboards we saw, from time to time along the solitary road, of the Craypot Cafe serving fish & Chips in Jackson Bay. When we arrived at the bay the view was really magnificent, with the white capped mountains reflected in the most placid bay, shielded by the currents of the Tasman sea by the Jackson Head on its westernmost side. A long wood pontoon is the main structure in the village, which doesn’t have many other constructions apart for some fishermen houses, and of course the Craypot Cafe. I found on the internet that the owner of the cafe is called Meg. In her own words, as narrated by Allan Dick of NZ Today Magazine: “My kids were in Queenstown, I moved to Wanaka and came through here one day and just loved the place and stayed. That was 12 years ago. - Meg’s owned the Craypot Cafe for just one summer season. - It’s been busy. It’s seven days a week and I’m looking forward to closing for winter and going somewhere for a holiday — probably the islands...”.

Uh oh...

Did you read with attention? “I’m looking forward to closing for winter and going somewhere for a holiday” she said. And read the date of the photo above: June, which is Winter! There it goes, our fish and chips: Meg was somewhere vacationing in the islands, whatever islands she meant, while we where in that beautiful, but deserted, village at the very end of the last road, with an empty stomach and nothing to eat! Oh Meggie, Meggie what have we done?

Jackson Bay, New Zealand (June 1, 2008)