The weeks were disappearing as we made our way down the west coast, it was almost October and that feeling you get in the last few months of the year of things drawing to a close was starting to settle in. Usually at this stage of the year I have this sense of unbelief, of shock at how quickly the year has gone. But this year things haven’t seemed to rush by quite so much.
The weather had turned bad again as we left Hokitika and since there really wasn’t much we could do in the rain we moved a little quicker than we previously had been, making it all the way to Franz Josef in one drive. There was no way we were passing through Franz without seeing the glacier so we hunkered down at a motor camp for a couple of nights hoping that the forecast was right and a fine day was on its way. On our second afternoon the sun started to come out and the clouds started to lift revealing the mountains. As if it was a sign of good things to come there were some pretty epic rainbows that afternoon, their colours so vibrant they almost didn’t look real.
The next morning thankfully we woke to the clearest skies we had seen in days. As you drive past the little township of Franz Josef and round the corner the view up the valley towards the glacier just opens up and it is stunning. You drive up the valley a little way before reaching the car park and then it’s just under an hours walk to the glacier view point. I actually think the valley itself is almost as impressive as the glacier, rocky, wide and peppered with perfect little waterfalls. To be honest there is not a lot of difference in the view that you get from the first viewing area that is just a twenty minute walk and the last viewing area that takes the better part of an hour, slightly closer, but still the same view.
There is so much more we could have done in around here but by the time we did this walk Oliver had very clearly had enough for the day. Like all little kids sometimes he’s just not in the mood for a whole day of walking, so we headed back to the bus for the afternoon and settled for a bike ride into the little town once he’d had a rest. Unfortunately the next day the weather had turned on us again so we headed on to Fox Glacier in the hopes that it would be slightly better there, alas it was not so again we spent the night at a campground crossing our fingers for a clearer day the next morning. It was slightly better the next day so we decided that we would head up to see Fox glacier a decision we do slightly question now in hindsight. The weather didn’t stay clear, so the walk really wasn’t much fun in the rain and for the first time in a long time Oliver almost gave up half way there. It was around this point in our trip that we decided we just needed to move on a bit quicker until we found some sunshine, this part of the west coast would just have to be revisited in finer weather. The weather was getting to us all by this point, normally a bit of rain doesn’t bother us but I think in this case it was because we just couldn’t do a lot of the things that we were wanting to do. The frustration of having interesting things right there on your back door step and not being able to do them was a bit like torture. We didn’t want to push through doing things in bad weather with an unhappy child, those weren’t the memories we wanted to make. I’m 100% happy we made that choice now, the west coast is just to beautiful to not do properly.
We left Murchison amidst a torrential downpour and decided that a morning pitstop at a nearby restaurant for a strong coffee and a time warming our selves in front of there fire was completely justified. This was our fifth day in a row with little to no sun and the futures forecast looked just as bleak so our plans to freedom camp a few nights at our next destination had to change a little. When we arrived at the completely adorable little lakeside camp at Lake Rotoiti we could almost feel the weather had done us a favour. There is not much at Lake Rotoiti and the little town of St Arnaud that sits beside the lake. A general store/petrol station, a few places to eat and a wonderful information centre to help you explore the array of tracks that are on offer here. There are three camps around the lake but at this time of year only the small one at Kerr bay that also offers some powered sites is open. We found a spot tucked in the trees where we could plug in to power and ride out whatever weather was thrown at us over the next couple of days. That first afternoon was very wet, we managed one short excursion to the lake front but even wrapped up in jackets it wasn’t much fun. But then again we experienced that sudden ceasing of the rain and the sense of release it brings as you explore this place the rain was hiding from you.
That night was one of the wettest we have spent in the bus and with the fresh snow on the mountains around us it was the coldest so far. Collecting firewood to keep our little fire burning has become a part of our weekly routine, luckily it is something that Oliver enjoys helping with and so far we have found no shortage of pinecones to collect.
Our second day at the lake we had enough of a break in the weather to do the short honeydew walk close to the camp. Lake Rotoiti is a significant area for the countries conservation efforts, it is one of six mainland predator free islands, where essentially they use the things they have learnt on these off shore sanctuarys and put them in to practise on the mainland. They have a lot of beech forest here and it is part of the reason this spot was picked. There is a bug that lives on the beech trees and creates honeydew, before introduced pests the honeydew played an important part in our countries eco system as it is a great source of food for the birds. Wasps have largely hijacked the honeydew for themselves so here as well as trapping the four legged pests they try to eliminate the wasps as well. It is clearly working as the bird life here is abundant and even in the cold, damp weather we had you could smell a strange sweetness in the air from the honeydew.
The next day we walked from Kerr bay to West bay. It was a pleasant lake side track and the sun even attempted to shine through at some points. We decided as we walked that we were not quite ready to leave and we would stay two more nights. We were all in love with this spot, the view of the snow covered mountains towering over the misty lake was a sight that would never get old. As well as having a multitude of walking tracks to keep us busy. So with the next days forecast looking like our clearest yet we planned a walk to Whiskey falls. It was three hours return but by now that is well within Oliver’s capabilities. We woke to a fairly cold morning so took our time to get ready and head on our way. The track was relatively flat and after the initial part leading down from the road followed the lake quite closely, this side of the lake was quite different to where we were camped. There were several exposed rocky portions to cross and you could feel the air getting cooler and cooler as you gradually turned the corner towards those snowy peaks at the far end of the lake. Oliver was the first up the hill to the falls and his cries of joy would have made the long walk worth it even if the falls weren’t as beautiful as they are.
Just like that our time here had been filled. We had enjoyed it all, even the rainy times spent stomping in puddles. One of the things I did worry about a bit when coming to live in a bus is how we would find the rainy times in a confined space. But this week has been a joy! Hopefully it is a sign of what the rest of winter will bring us…
After our big few days on the Abel Tasman track we were keen for a bit of a rest and relaxation. As our travels after this were heading inland we decided on two nights at Kaiteriteri beach at the camping ground there which is just a short stroll across the road from one of the areas trademark golden beaches. It is literally just around the corner from Marahau where we stayed after completing our tramp so it was a very relaxed drive there and an early check in. And our first day disapeared easily catching up on washing, strolling on the beach and playing on the flying fox at the playground next door. The perfect contrast to the busyness of our previous day.
The next morning we woke to the sound of rain on the roof and the feeling that the winter weather is on it’s way. Deciding that a bit of a day out in the car would be a good way to kill our rainy day we headed back up the Takaka hill planning to visit Harwoods Hole. But when we arrived the rain got much heavier so the 45 minute walk to the viewing area was just not going to happen. Instead we headed to the nearby Ngarua caves.
As we drove down the driveway to the caves it was very foggy and the area really couldn’t have looked less inspiring. But it was something to get us out of the car before driving back and it wouldn’t be raining in the caves so we brought tickets for the next tour. Well as sometimes happens when you go into something with low expectations this cave tour was actually a very cool experience. Oliver knew it would be from the minute they gave us special hard hats to wear, perhaps Mum took a little more convincing.
With only two other people joining us on our guided tour we had plenty of time to make our way through the cave and we spent around 45 minutes walking through, being told the history of the caves and a little about how they are formed. The cave had lots of cave coral as well as stalagtites and stalagmites and one large open area in the middle of the cave which they call the cathedral. Apparently all caves have a cathedral and this is normally the most beautiful part of the cave, this one definetly was. The formations in the cave are made of marble so even the stalagtites that have broken are beautiful because you can see the marble inside. We even got to see some moa bones that had been discovered in the cave and hold a thigh bone of a moa. And at the end we climbed out via a little ladder just to add that little bit more adventure to the whole experience.
It was the perfect way to spend a rainy morning and only made better by the fact that once we arrived back at the bus the sun had miraculously come out. So Oliver and Wayne jumped on their bikes and I put on my walking shoes and we headed for a lookout at one end of the beach. When you live in such a small space there is a real magic feeling when the rain clears and the sun comes out. The outdoors has become so much more a part of our living space now that our house has become so much smaller, so the impact of a rainy day is amplified. Hence seeing that glorious sun breaking through after such a wet morning makes your steps feel lighter and your whole day feel better.
We truly have had an extended summer during our time exploring these golden beaches but it has finally drawn to a close. Perhaps now was the perfect time to move away from the beaches for a while and see what the inland parts of the south island have to offer as well. If it is half as amazing as what we have seen so far I am sure we will love it.