New Zealand Pictures (9 pictures)
In 2005 I went on a 3 week trip to New Zealand (a week on the North Island and 2 weeks on the South Island). I had planned on writing a trip report, but never got around to it. I also planned on writing hiking notes (as usual, it was a hiking intense trip), but am only now (2009) finally getting around to it (though I did write the Rangitoto Island hike in 2005 or 2006, which is why it is more detailed than the others). Since it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip (I probably won't return to New Zealand), I'm going to include some non-hike and pseudo-hike notes along with the hiking notes (and they all are presented in the order in which I did them) - sort of making this a combined trip report and hiking report. It is a beautiful country with lots of hiking trails - unfortunately a good number of the trails are graveled and that gets to be annoying after a while (the gravel is a form of maintenance for some trails in the hiking (or tramping, as they call it) intense country). The seasons in New Zealand are reversed from the US, thus my trip in September was actually late winter/early spring and weather issues did disrupt a few of my planned hikes. I'll also note my quest to see penguins in the wild. And I still drool when remembering the delicious hazelnut Snickers candybars (which they don't sell in the US). As usual with a Patricia Trip, I tried to do as much as possible, as seen in that only twice during the 3 weeks did I spend consecutive nights in one place.
North IslandFriday, August 9, 2005 Flew from Dallas to LA and spent a day and a half visiting relatives. Sunday, August 11, 2005 Flew from LA to Auckland. Qantas is as nice of an airline as you have heard. I still have the little packet of sockets, eye mask, small toothbrush and toothpaste, and LifeSavers roll which they gave me. Slept 7 hours on the plane. And the plane crossed the international dateline, so we arrived early morning (5 am) on Tuesday, August 13, 2005 So I cleared customs with no problem [if you go to New Zealand, look up their custom rules - they are real picky with where your hiking shoes have been] and picked up my rental car. They drive on the wrong side of the road in New Zealand and the rental car had a big sign on the windshield of "Think Left". The driving on the wrong side of the road didn't bother me much (only a couple of goofs), but the round-abouts gave me trouble. I'm still not sure how I made it from Auckland to Piha. In Auckland, I stopped at a grocery store to pick up some supplies and when I returned to the car of course I went to the wrong door. A man saw me and laughed and I said, "They moved the driver's side on me." He said he had the same problem when he visited Canada. I actually made it to Auckland and the ferry with surprisingly few problems and easily picked up the 9:15 ferry to Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto Island Directions: In Auckland, make your way to the ferry building and buy a ticket for Rangitoto Island. Island ferry - see http://www.fullers.co.nz for costs and times Water and toilets near the pier on the island Trails: There are a number of trails on this small island. The Summit Track starts a little inland from the pier (and everyone heads up it to start). It starts as a wide gravel road and then narrows to a 2 person width trail - right where it narrows is a (one person width) trail to the left that goes through the trees and (I believe - I turned around after a bit) makes its way back to the coast. Part of the Summit Track trail does go through an old lava flow area. The trail gets a little steeper after that point - it gains 850 feet from the ocean to the summit. There is a branch to the right that you can take for about 15 minutes to some lava tubes - the first 2 aren't interesting, but a short ways ahead is another tube that is wider that you can easily walk through (may want to use a flash light, though). Back at the Summit Track, a short bit ahead is the crater view - this is the best view of the crater (it's an old crater full of trees). There is a boardwalk to the left, with steps, that heads to the summit. From the top is some nice views of the ocean and other islands. It took me about an hour to get to the top. Along the rim trail (which loops the crater) there are no views of the crater, but a few ocean views. Back at the crater view, I took a left to go to the Islington Bay Wharf. It was boardwalk all the way to the summit road and then dirt road all the way to Islington Bay. Nothing exciting along the way. I took the blah Coastal Track back - few (not many) ocean views and through a lava field - to the ferry pier. I wandered around the pier area for a bit waiting for the ferry (short trail through trees and a trail along the coast in front of baches (summer homes). Trail Length: Area: Old volcano island When I did the hike: Tuesday, September 13, 2005 Recommendation: Na. It really wasn't that pretty and the lava formations weren't that interesting (though I've been to several lava areas). Due to the ferry, it is a full day outing. So after that blah start to my hiking trip, I took the long drive to the (west) coastal hamlet of Piha, where I had reservations for the night. I arrived around 7 pm and immediately crashed for the night. Wednesday, September 14, 2005 It was an overcast morning, but the rain held out for several hours and I was able to enjoy a number of short hikes in the very pretty Piha area - well worth a visit. I did have one of my "oops" driving moments in the morning as I was on the wrong side of the road for a few seconds before correcting my mistake (and another driver thinking, "Stupid tourist"). Amazingly, the next "oops" moment (besides round-about problems) didn't come until 2 weeks later. Lion Rock - Piha Beach Directions: Go to (or, better, stay at) Piha and take the road down to the beach. Free. Trails: The first thing that must be done upon visiting Piha beach is to hike the short trail up Lion Rock, a large solitary rock mound in the middle of the beach. It is a steep up with a rope to help and wooden steps further on. The trail doesn't go to the top, but ends shortly after the wooden Pou statue. Trail Length: short, 15 minutes Area: Big rock on a pretty beach When I did the hike: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 Recommendation: How can you visit Piha Beach and not conquer the rock? White Beach - Piha Beach Directions: Go to (or, better, stay at) Piha and take the road down to the beach. Either walk the beach from Lion Rock or take the road along the beach to the right to the road's end. Free. Trails: The packed dirt trail (Laird Thompson Track) heads up to the ridge. At the ridge is a 4-way junction. First go to the left up to a point with a nice view down on Piha Beach (left) and down on White Beach (right). Coming back from the viewpoint, the first left heads a steep down to the small White Beach (if you want a little bit of a milder trail, go back to the 4-way junction and take a left there). At the bottom, you have to head over the rocks to the beach. The other trail (which is how I returned) comes out on the north back end of the beach (sandy near the beach and then back to packed dirt). Trail Length: 30 minutes each way. Area: Beach Picture When I did the hike: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 Recommendation: Very pretty. If you are lucky, you'll have it all to your self. Tasman Lookout - Piha Beach Directions: Go to (or, better, stay at) Piha. A little before the store (before the beach), take a left on to Beach Valley Road. Bare left at the fork (along the beach) to the end of the road. Free. Trails: The packed dirt and wooden steps trail heads up to a T-junction. Head right a short bit to an overlook of Piha beach. The trail continues to the left from the junction with an up and then a bit of a down and over to the overlook of a small beach between you and the small Taitono Island, just off the shore. There is officially no beach access (but that doesn't mean you can't make your way carefully down to the beach). Trail Length: less than 30 minutes one-way Area: Coastal views. When I did the hike: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 Recommendation: If you are in the area, definitely. Kitekite Track - Piha Directions: Go to (or, better, stay at) Piha. A little before the store (before the beach), take a right on to Glenesk Road to the end. Free. Trails: The graveled 2-person width trail heads along a creek to a 3-tiered waterfall. Heading counter-clockwise, after passing the 2nd bridge (to the left, don't go over), the trail climbs to an overlook of the falls (bench and table at overlook). Then it heads down to the bottom of the falls and there is a rock-hop across and the trail heads up on the other side. At the junction, take a left to complete the loop (or a right to go to the top of the falls where there are swim holes). The back end of the loop is a more narrow trail and there are lots of wooden steps. I got rained on for most of this hike. Trail Length: 1.8 km loop (about an hour) Area: Trees along a stream to small waterfall. When I did the hike: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 Recommendation: Kind of pretty, but pales compared to the beach stuff. Mercer Bay Loop - near Piha Directions: Go to (or, better, stay at) Piha. On Piha Road (before heading down to Piha (but near)), take a left on to Te Ahuahu Road for a few miles and then take a right on Log Race Road to the end. Free. Trails: The 1-person width trail is high above the coast, with good coastal views - both to the north and south. At the junction, the grassy trail widens to 3-person width and heads up, up, up to the top. Trail Length: 1.4 km loop (40 minutes) Area: Coastal views from above When I did the hike: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 Recommendation: Pretty coastal views. So after a full morning of hiking, I headed out around 1 pm and had a long drive to the Coromandel Peninsula (mostly on 2-lane roads (one lane each direction), as was the case with most of my driving during the trip). I arrived in Thames, where I had reservations, in the early evening and was able to get online (store computer) to let my folks know I was still alive. Thursday, September 15, 2005 It was again overcast in the morning and I headed over to the end of the Coromandel Peninsula, where I had planned on doing a longer hike, but it was reportedly an often muddy area so I didn't know how long I would be going on the trail. Coromandel Coastal Walkway Directions: From Colville, head north on the main road and take a right at the junction just past the bay. At the T-junction, take take a left on to Port Charles Road. Take the road all the way to the end at Stony Bay. Park in the parking area prior to the bridge. Free. Trails: The trail heads a short bit on a dirt road and then turns in to a 2-person width dirt (or mud) trail at a mild grade up. It goes inland a little bit and then back to coastal views as it heads above the north side of the bay. 30 minutes in is an unofficial trail out to a viewpoint of the bay. Back at the bend in the trail, a short bit further is a view down on the next bay. I turned around at that point as it was too muddy for my taste. Trail Length: 6.6 km one-way Area: Hilly and trees, coastal views When I did the hike: Thursday, September 15, 2005 Recommendation: Not if it's been raining recently as it will be very muddy. I had passed a small beach on the drive to the trail and stopped on the way back and spent a little bit of time barefoot walking the beach - I had it to myself and enjoyed it. Since my time at the trail was much shorter than I had planned, I was able to make a sidetrip to another hike on the peninsula - and was really glad I did as it was very pretty. The only problem was that I couldn't stay too long as I needed to hit the road again. Cathedral Cove Directions: To the town of Hahei (near Cooks Beach) and about 1 km north of the small town is the signed carpark for Cathedral Cove. Free. Trails: The sign says it takes 45 minutes to reach the beach, but since I was rushed, I managed to make it there in a mere 15 minutes. The trail heads along an open hillside and then a sharp down, with wooden steps, to the beach. But what a pretty beach. And then you go through the inland arch and there is more pretty beach. There are a number of whitish sandstone seastacks (rock formations) just off the shore. And the weather had cleared some for me and I had a beautiful blue sky with white fluffy clouds. Skip the sidetrip to Gemstone Bay, unless you plan on snorkeling - it wasn't that pretty compared to Cathedral. Trail Length: A little over an hour of hiking, but you'll want to spend time at the beaches. Area: Pretty coastal area and beaches, seastacks Picture When I did the hike: Thursday, September 15, 2005 Recommendation: Absolutely, really pretty. Next was the long, uneventful 6 hour drive to Gisbourne, where I had reservations for the night. Friday, September 16, 2005 The weather was again questionable and I headed out to Lake Waikaremoana for a planned longer hike. I didn't have much luck with the longer hikes on the North Island. Lake Waikaremoana Track Directions: From Wairoa, head north on SH38. Just past the itty-bitty town of Onepoto, turn left and there is a parking area just ahead (the shore of the lake is to the right). The trail starts to the left and back of the parking area. Free. Trails: The trail stays in the trees for a couple of hours with few views of the lake. There are orange triangle markers along the trail, but it's easy to follow. After a short bit on the trail, it joins with a grassy road for a little bit and then goes through a grass field. Then the trail heads up, up, up as a 1-person width dirt (or mud) and rooty trail. The trees did help in blocking the strong wind I had that day, but they also block the view of the lake. It took me about an hour to reach a rock overlook of the lake - I turned around there. On the way back, I took a sidetrip to Lake Kiriopukae - a blah one-person dirt trail to a blah area. The lake was near empty and it didn't look like it would be pretty even if it was full. Trail Length + Elevation: Total length: 42 km (26 miles) 1st leg: 8.8 km (5.4 miles), 532 m (1745 ft) Area: Small mountains, trees, huge lake When I did the hike: Friday, September 16, 2005 Recommendation: Maybe with better weather it would be prettier, but I didn't think much of my outing to the area. With more time on my hands than I expected, I headed over to the beaches in the Napier area. The first stop was a blah gravel beach and I didn't last long. Next I went to Cape Kidnappers and was also underwhelmed. Then I went to Ocean Beach, which was a long sand beach and I did spend some time there beach walking. I then drove over to the town of Taupo, where I had reservations for the next 2 nights. Saturday, September 17, 2005 I headed over to Mt. Tongairio where I was looking forward to hiking, but the weather again did not cooperate. I sat at the trailhead parking lot for 45 minutes, reading, while hoping it would clear up or at least stop drizzling. Instead it started sleeting and I gave up and went to Plan B. So it was a tourist day. I went over to Waitomo and took a boat tour of a glowworm cave - visiting a glowworm cave (or 2) is a must for visitors to New Zealand. The glowworms are the larval stage of a gnat and they emit a blue glow to attract food - it is really neat to see. I then headed over to the volcanic area of Wai-O-Tapu and walked through the neat thermal area (sure, it's not Yellowstone, but it has a variety of thermal elements in a small area and is worth a visit). I followed that up with a visit to the (free) Craters of the Moon area near Taupo. So despite my original plan being nuked, it did end up being an interesting and fun day. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland Directions: Hwy 5 to the signed Wai-O-Tapu turn (between Rotorua and Taupo, closer to Rotorua). There are some free mud pots areas (bubbling mud) just to the north. $23 NZ. Trails: I spent about 1:30 wandering around the thermal area - there are 3 trail sections in the park and you are required to stay on the trails. The area contains a number of craters, vents, geysers, mud pots, electric blue thermal springs, and the beautiful Primrose Terrace. You will see a variety of colors from yellow and orange to pink and white to deep blue to the ugliest shade of green. The smell of sulfur is constant. Trail Length: Total 6.5 km (3 loops on top of each other) Area: Variety of thermal activity When I did the hike: Saturday, September 17, 2005 Recommendation: It is a tourist spot, but worth a visit, especially if you haven't been to Yellowstone. Craters of the Moon Directions: Near Taupo, take Hwy 1 for 5 km to Karapiti Road and turn left (north/west) to the signed parking area for Craters of the Moon. Free. Trails: After visiting the touristy (and fee) Wai-O-Tapu, I was pleasantly surprised by this free thermal area near Taupo. It's not as colorful as Wai-O-Tapu as the thermal activity is mainly steam vents and a few mud pots. The dirt, gravel, and boardwalk trail is wide as it wanders through the thermal bowl. The only up to the trail is if you take the Ridge Lookout loop (worth doing as it gives a nice view of the area from above). Trail Length: 2.75 km Area: Open area, thermal activity When I did the hike: Saturday, September 17, 2005 Recommendation: If you are near Taupo, worth a visit. Sunday, September 18, 2005 In a repeat of the morning before, I headed over to Mt. Tongairio hoping the weather would clear just a little bit. I again sat in the car for a bit reading. The weather didn't clear, but I decided I was going to try to rough it and headed out in the poor weather. I headed up the open and cloudy mountainside (nothing scenic due to the weather) and made it about an hour before it started sleeting - had reached Soda Springs junction - and I turned around. [Not adding a trail note as I experienced so little of the true nature of the hike.] So, back to the car. I headed south (was taking the ferry the next day) and skirted some of the southwest coast, stopping at Paxton Beach (raining) and Otaki Beach (raining) - they impressed me so much that I don't recall those stops any more. Also stopped at Paraparaumu Beach (also don't remember) and found a place to stay (no reservations) near there. Monday, September 19, 2005 Unlike the previous days, it was a beautiful morning and I headed down to the town of Wellington, where I was to pick up the ferry to the South Island at 3 pm. I headed over to the Red Rocks area, on the southwest side of town, and did a nice hike there. Red Rocks Directions: In Wellington, follow the signs for the airport as that will take you to the southwest side of town. Continue west past the airport to the ocean. Take a right at the T-junction and head along the road as it follows the ocean (to the left, past the houses is a pretty coastal area for short walks and I found a number of paua shells). The road ends at the Quarry Car Park. Free. Trails: The trail heads as an old gravel road alongside the coast (a gravel, black sand beach) with some pretty ocean views - there is the ocean, a wide level area and then looming brown with patches of green (treeless) mountains. There are some black lava rocks and formations along the coast and a couple of bachs (beach houses). The red rocks are not until near the end of the trail. And the red rocks are a very pretty contrast to the blue ocean. I was taking a close look at a paua shell stuck in a rock crack when a loud bark made me jump back 3 feet - I had unwittingly gotten too close to a seal resting on the rocks. The area is popular with male New Zealand fur seals from May to November (and there were a number there during my visit). The trail continues on a bit further (past a couple more bachs) to Sinclair Head, where you can see more ocean and a little bit to the north. Trail Length: 4 km/2.5 miles Area: Ocean, ocean, ocean, some red rocks, some seals When I did the hike: Monday, September 19, 2005 Recommendation: Very pretty area at the end. After that pretty hike, I drove around the coast area to the south and got really excited when I saw a "Penguins Crossing" sign - I had to stop the car and take a picture of the sign. Unfortunately I didn't see any penguins, dang it. There was a real pretty area ahead (east of the small town of Island Bay) where I pulled over and walked around a short bit (no long trail) - really pretty with patches of bright purple daisies, lava rock, and blue ocean. I also found a good number of paua shells and couldn't resist taking them home with me (gave most to my nieces and nephew, but still have a few). I drove around some more and then headed over to the ferry area. It was interesting that with the rental car, you actually turn in the car at the ferry station, walk on the ferry, and then pick up another car on the South Island. The 2 hour ferry ride was fairly uneventful and I spent a good chunk of the time talking with some Americans who were going to spend a few days motorbiking the South Island. I arrived on the South Island and got my rental car and had another multi-hour drive ahead of me (didn't get on the road until after 6 pm). It was a pretty drive to start with the Marlborough Sounds to my left. The sun set on me and I had beautiful pink clouds for a short bit (one of my all-time favor sunset pictures (even though no sun in the picture) came when I pulled the car over to snap a picture of the pink clouds and them reflecting on the water). The rest of the drive was in the dark, but fortunately wasn't difficult and I made it to Motucka at about 8:30 pm, where I had reservations for 2 nights - my last reservations of the trip.
South IslandTuesday, September 20, 2005 It was a beautiful morning and ended up being such a wonderful day - my favorite from the trip. On the schedule for the day was a long outing along part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, starting at the northwest end. Abel Tasman Coast Track Directions: There are easy road ways to reach the north and south ends of the trail, and more difficult ways to reach a couple of spots in the middle of the trail (unpaved road, boat, and airplane). For the northwest end, take Hwy 60 to the town of Takaka and turn right for the signed way to Wainui Bay, 21 km ahead. Travel the road all the way to the end. Where the paved road ends (still drivable), take a left. There is a parking area at the end. Free. Trails: From the northwest end of this beautiful area, I combined about 8 miles of the coast track with about 3.5 miles of an inland trail to make a loop hike. From the parking area, the trail heads up on a dirt-road width trail with grass and packed sand. It's a mild, but constant up to the ridge. At the ridge is the junction for the inland trail to the left - continue straight, following the signs for Whariwharangi Bay - about 30 minutes to the hut and beach. The trail goes by the Whariwharangi Hut, a small building, and the beach is just ahead. Enjoy the pretty beach before continuing along to the right. The trail parallels the beach and then is an up for about 20 minutes to a ridge. Take the side trail to the left for Separation Point. The trail narrows and has small ups and downs to the point, ending with a steep, rocky down to the point where there is a pretty view and maybe some seals. On the way back from the point, take the left branch for a shorter way down to Mutton Cove - the views of the coast along the way are grand. At the bottom, the way continues along the beach, then along a short trail, across a short rocky cove, another short trail, and then reaches the longer Mutton Cove beach. It was just wonderful and I was the first person to visit the beach that day. There is a picnic table and port-a-potty slightly inland in the middle of the beach. The trail continues at the far end of the beach - look for the orange triangle on a post. It is an up, then a down, and level through 2 inlets. The trail goes by one beach, a short walk, and then another longer beach - Anapai Beach. With an up and then longer down, the trail reaches Gibbs junction - take a right for the inland route for the loop hike (or better yet, just go back the way you came as the inland trail is not pretty). After going through the meadow, the trail starts heading a harder up for about 30 minutes along a wider trail. Head towards the "sign" at the tallest point (actually a receiver) - skip the extra up to it. Continue on the inland trail to the Coast Track junction at the ridge (where you passed on the way going) - take a left back to the parking area. There are very few coastal views from the inland trail and it's actually a fairly blah hike. Trail Length: Full trail: 51 km/31.6 miles one-way What I did: 18.5 km/11.4 miles loop Area: Ocean, pretty beaches, hills Picture When I did the hike: Tuesday, September 20, 2005 Recommendation: Absolutely - highlight from a trip full of wonderful spots. After the beautiful outing along the Abel Tasman trail (was there from 8 am to 4 pm), I headed over to the Pupu Springs, near Takaka. I walked around the small lake, which the springs created (the springs are actually in the lake) and it was fairly uneventful. Wednesday, September 21, 2005 I drove to Kaiteriteri Beach first thing in the morning and was underwhelmed. I continued my drive and headed south to St. Arnaud, where I planned on doing a hike at Lake Rotoiti. After a beautiful day the day before, the weather was back to overcast and dreary. I walked for about 20 minutes alongside the east edge of the lake before turning around. Lake Rotoiti - Lake Head Track Directions: In St. Arnaud, to the Kerr Bay camping ground area. Free. Trails: The wide gravel and dirt trail heads south alongside the lake, with plenty of views of the lake and access to some small beaches. The trail is mostly level, with some short ups and downs. Trail Length: 9 km/5.6 miles to far end of lake (where other trails branch off - can loop lake in a really long hike) Area: Big lake. When I did the hike: Wednesday, September 21, 2005 Recommendation: Supposedly the distance views are grand, but I didn't have them with the cloud cover and the trail itself was fairly blah (but I didn't go very far). I then drove over to the nearby Lake Rotoroa. I decided not to hike the trail as the weather had taken away the views and settled for having seen the lake and also enjoyed watching for a bit a family (2 adults and a number of chicks) of black swans. So more driving brought me to the west coast and I headed north along the coast to the town of Karamea, where one end of the Heaphy Track was located. Heaphy Track Directions: Hwy 67 to Karamea. Continue 15 km past Karamea to the end of the road. Free. Trails: The trail starts by going across a swing bridge over the Kohaihai River. The 2-person width, packed dirt trail takes about 45 minutes to reach the first beach, Scotts Beach. The trail heads up to Scotts Hill Lookout (short sidetrip), where you get a nice coastal view to the north (nothing to the south). The trail heads a gradual down and eventually comes out on the beach, just after some rocks. The beach is longer than it looks from above. The trail continues along the beach. Being later in the day, I didn't go past Scotts Beach. Trail Length: Full trail: 82 km/51 miles one-way South to Heaphy River: 16.5 km/10.2 miles Area: Hills, trees, beaches, ocean When I did the hike: Wednesday, September 21, 2005 Recommendation: My impression of this hike was diminished from having done the wonderful Abel Tasman hike the day before. It is a pretty area, but wasn't as stunning as Abel Tasman. I headed back to Westport and got a place to stay for the night and then headed over to Tauranga Bay to watch some seals lying around and the sunset. Thursday, September 22, 2005 I headed south along the coast towards Greymouth. I came across another Penguins Crossing sign, but, alas, still no penguins. I stopped at Paparoa National Park for a short walk to a blowhole and the Pancake Rocks. Pancake Rocks - Paparoa National Park Directions: Hwy 6 to Punakaiki and the information center. Free. Trails: My brief notes mention the Truman Track right before the Pancake Rocks - I don't have any references for the location of the Truman Track, but I think it was near the Pancake Rocks. The Truman Track is a short, 10-minute down to a small gravel beach with some sandstone formations (I think it is separate from (but near) the Pancake Rocks area, but am not sure). The trail for the Pancake Rocks is a paved, wheelchair accessible short loop with good views of the neat sandstone rocks. The rocks are thin, tall formations "stacked" next to each other - the name comes from vertical sandstone and the numerous ridges on them. There is also a large blowhole along the loop. Trail Length: Short walk Area: Interesting sandstone rocks, ocean, blowholes When I did the hike: Thursday, September 22, 2005 Recommendation: Worth a short visit. My day continued with a drive inland to Arthur's Pass. I had hoped on doing a mountain hike, but there was clearly still plenty of snow (as well as cloud cover) in the area where the trail was. So I settled for a shorter hike to the base of the Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall. After 2 turn arounds trying to find the trailhead, I finally found it and parked my car. Even though I knew it might happen, I was startled when a Kea parrot hopped on my windshield, begging for food. The green birds are notorious beggars and are also known for eating the rubber off the windscreens of cars. He hopped around on my car for a bit while I watched him, then went to try begging at another car. Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall Directions: Rt 73 to Arthur's Pass. On the west end of town (past the buildings), take an unsigned north turn, travel a little bit parallel to Rt 73, then go north a short bit and hopefully you'll find the parking area - it's not easy to find. The waterfall is visible from the road. Free. Trails: The trail is graveled and crosses 2 bridges as it heads up (it is a climb). There are lots of wooden steps along the trail as it heads to the base of the 430 foot/131 m tall falls. Trail Length: About 20 minutes to base of falls Area: Mountains, 430 foot tall waterfall. When I did the hike: Thursday, September 22, 2005 Recommendation: Unless you've got a thing for waterfalls or are in the area, skip it. I then headed back to the west coast and got a place to stay in Hokitika. Hokitika is known for its jade works and I spent some time wandering the jade shops - I was going to splurge and buy a jade penguin, but was surprised that there were only a few jade penguins and the craftsmanship of those were not worth their high price. I drove over to Lake Kaniere and called it blah (don't even remember it). I went back to Hokitika and sat on the ugly pier for a while until sunset. The pier was ugly, but I had a stunning rainbow to the east that captured my attention for a long while. The sunset wasn't that exciting. After dark, I headed over to the Glowworm Dell, on the north end of town, and took the short walk to the glowworm grotto - not as impressive as the tourist boat ride on the North Island, but still neat to see the little blue worms hanging from the ceiling (plus it's free). Friday, September 23, 2005 It was a day full of shorter stops as I continued to head south along the west coast. Two glaciers of the Southern Alps are near the coast and I hit both of them as well as a lake nearby. Franz Josef Glacier Directions: Hwy 6 to the town of Franz Josef Glacier. On the south end of town just over the bridge (Waiho River), take a left (west) on the Glacier Access Road (sign for Franz Josef Glacier) and take the road to the end to the parking area. Free. Trails: The wide gravel trail heads a mild up the glacial valley. After 5 to 10 minutes, the trail reaches the junction for Sentinel Rock - the short sidetrip is an up to a nice view of the top of the valley and the glacier. The well traveled (lots of tourists) trail continues fairly mild as it makes its way to the tail (terminal face) of the glacier. Travel on the glacier itself is limited to guided hikes only (glaciers are dangerous). It takes about 40 minutes (including sidetrip) to reach the glacier. Trail Length: About 40 minutes, mild Area: Gravel valley, large glacier Picture When I did the hike: Friday, September 23, 2005 Recommendation: If you are in the area, one or both of the glaciers must be visited - if you only have time for one, do the Franz Josef Glacier. Fox Glacier Directions: Hwy 6 to the town of Fox Glacier. On the south end of town (just before Fox River), take a left (west) on to Glacier Road (sign for Fox Glacier) and take the road to the end to the parking area. Note: just past Fox Glacier, you can take a left on to Glacier View Road to the end and then it is a 75 minute walk to the Chalet Lookout of the glacier from above. Free. Trails: The gravel, packed sand, and rocky trail heads up the valley to the tail (terminal face) of the glacier. It is not level with a number of small ups and downs and ups and downs along the way. Travel on the glacier itself is limited to guided hikes only (glaciers are dangerous). It takes about 40 minutes to reach the glacier. Trail Length: About 40 minutes Area: Gravel rocky valley, large glacier When I did the hike: Friday, September 23, 2005 Recommendation: If you are in the area, one or both of the glaciers must be visited - if you only have time for one, do the Franz Josef Glacier. Lake Matheson Directions: Hwy 6 to the town of Fox Glacier. In the middle of town (just past the airport), bare right for Cook Flat Road and travel 4 km to Lake Matheson. Free. Trails: The wide gravel trail loops the lake, often in the woods, with some small ups and downs (the trail doesn't stick to the shore of the lake). There is some boardwalk along the far side of the lake. At the far side of the lake is also a good full views of the lake and the Southern Alps far beyond (but there was a low cloud cover and I couldn't see the mountains). Supposedly the view of Mt. Cook from this area, especially in the morning, is wonderful. Trail Length: About an hour loop. Area: Good-sized lake, great mountain views with clear skies. When I did the hike: Friday, September 23, 2005 Recommendation: With clear skies, it is supposedly wonderful. With overcast skies on the mountains, skip it. I enjoyed the visits to the glaciers - even saw a Kea parrot near the parking area of the Fox Glacier (not on the car this time, up on the moraine eating a banana peal). I was disappointed with Lake Matheson as I was looking forward to a pretty view of Mt. Cook - alas another victim of visiting New Zealand at the wrong time of the year. I then continued heading south and had time so I decided to do the Monro Beach Walk (not one of the "do" things on my list, but "maybe" - surprising how often those "maybe"s end up being much better than expected, sometimes even better than the "do"s). It was especially nice as there were only a couple of people there, after the crowds at the glaciers. Of course, the wording "penguins sometimes seen" is what caught my eye about the hike. Monro Beach Walk Directions: Hwy 6 south to Lake Moeraki (north of Haast). Just past the lake (to the south), look for the Monro Beach Walk sign and park in the small lot (easy to miss if you aren't looking carefully for it). Free. Trails: The 2-person width gravel trail, with some boardwalk, heads down to a gravel sand beach after about 35 minutes. It is a pretty little beach with some sandstone formations and pretty coastal views. It is a breeding ground for Fiordland crested penguins (July to December), but no penguins were seen when I was. Trail Length: 35 minutes to beach Area: Beach, ocean When I did the hike: Friday, September 23, 2005 Recommendation: A hidden gem. Worth a visit, especially since it doesn't have a lot of people. Sigh, still no penguins seen on the trip. I stopped at a hotel in Haast to get a room for the night. I still had about an hour left of sunlight, so I took the road down to Jackson Bay. I watched the sunset at the small coastal town - actually not the sunset as the small mountain near the town blocked the sun, but watched the snow capped mountains of the distant inland Southern Alps (where the clouds had finally lifted) turn a pretty pink. Saturday, September 24, 2005 I headed back down to Jackson Bay, where I wanted to do the short Wharekai Te Kau Walk to another possible penguin spot. I actually had a big "oops" on the hike where I strangely simply misstepped off the trail and did a seemingly slow-motion fall - I managed to twist myself on the way down and landed on my back. Fortunately I didn't hurt myself and simply felt foolish (and was glad there were no witnesses). Wharekai Te Kau Walk Directions: Hwy 6 to Haast. Just past the river (and before the small town), turn right/south and take the road all the way to Jackson Bay at the end. Free. Trails: It's a 15 minute walk on a well defined gravel trail to a small rocky cove. Kind of pretty, but nothing exciting (no penguins, of course, when I was there). Trail Length: 15 minutes to cove Area: Rocky cove, ocean When I did the hike: Saturday, September 24, 2005 Recommendation: Only if you're in the area and have extra time - don't make an extra trip for it. Next up was the drive inland over Haast Pass. It was a very pretty drive. I took the short walks near the road to views of Thunder Creek Falls and Fantail Falls. I also did a little bit longer walk to the pretty Blue Lakes. As I said, it was a very pretty drive through the mountains. I made a touristy stop in Wanaka at Puzzling World and spent some time in the human maze (though enjoyable, not as much fun as I thought it would be) and looking at the puzzles in the corresponding store (and buying a couple). I drove toward Mt. Aspiring, along Lake Hawea, thinking I might hike to the Rob Roy Glacier, but about 30 minutes before the trailhead the road became 4-wheel drive only (including fording a stream); so I settled for a distance view of the mountain. I took a little bit of a scenic drive along the north edge of Lake Wakatipu, going through Queenstown, before turning around. I continued my drive and headed over to Te Anau, where I got a room for 2 nights. Sunday, September 25, 2005 In the morning, I headed over to the Kepler Track for a longer hike. Kepler Track Directions: Hwy 94 to Te Anau. On the south end of town (south of 94-95 junction), take Hwy 95 a short bit past the Fiordland National Park Visitor Center and take the next right (staying next to the lake). Take the road alongside the lake to just past where it curves inland and take a quick right to the parking area next to the control gates. Free. Trails: The Kepler Track is a long loop trail from the Lake Te Anau into the Kepler Mountains in Fiordland National Park. The trail starts across the control gates and then is in the mossy woods next to the very large Lake Te Anau (mostly level) for a little over an hour to Brod Bay. The trail is 2-person width and mostly gravel, with some boardwalk. From Brod Bay, the trail turns inland and starts heading up, up, and up in the trees. At the base of the limestone cliffs, the trail levels some as it goes beneath them (the cliffs are to the right, so no distance views). It can be muddy in that section and there is some boardwalk. At the end of the bluffs, the trail turns to wooden stairs as it heads up to the top of the bluffs. At the top, the trail continues to head up. The trail finally reaches the tree line and some great distance views appear. Go up the mound some to get views of the other side as well. I turned around not too far past this spot (after 3 hours of hiking - only took 2 hours on the return). Trail Length: Full trail: 67 km/41.5 miles (loop) What I did: 13 km/8 miles Area: Big lake, mountains When I did the hike: Sunday, September 25, 2005 Recommendation: A nice longer outing. After the Kepler hike, I decided to take the drive to Milford Sound (121 km/75 miles) and do a hike along the way. I would be repeating the trip to Milford Sound the next day as I had made reservations for a van ride to the sound and a boat tour (decided to play tourist). The day was overcast, but the cloud cover wasn't low so I was able to see snowy peaks along my hikes and drive. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is beautiful as it heads up a valley with greenery and big mountains all around and some lakes. Near the curve in the road, I stopped and did the tail section of the Routeburn Track trail. The Divide - Routeburn Track Directions: Head north from Te Anau on Hwy 94 for a good ways to just before the curve in the road - if you reach the curve, you missed it. Look for a parking area/sign for The Divide or Routeburn Track (don't recall which, but I think there was a sign) on the right side of the road. Free. Trails: The gravel and rock 1.5 person width trail heads up. And up. It's a steady up, not a hard up. After the trail curves around the bend, the trail gets a little steeper (and is full in the trees) and not too much further is a junction (Key Summit) - continue straight (took me 40 minutes to reach the junction). From the junction, the trail is milder and it's only about 10 minutes further to Lake Howden. The lake is kind of pretty with green trees surrounding it and large mountains above, but not stunning. I had planned on spending some time at the lake (just sitting and reading), but the mosquitoes were really bad and soon chased me away. Since I couldn't sit and read, I decided to go back to the junction and take the spur trail up to Key Summit [didn't know anything about that branch and hadn't planned on doing it - shows again that some of the best things are unplanned]. The trail heads a steep up with switchbacks for about 25 minutes. At the top is a nice nature loop, worth taking. And the views are stunning 360 degrees. The area is just above the treeline (some bushes) and there are snowcapped peaks all around. There are also a number of small ponds in area. Trail Length: Full trail: 32.1 km/19.9 miles What I did: about 2 1/2 hours round trip Area: Green valley, trees, mountain lake, big mountains Picture When I did the hike: Sunday, September 25, 2005 Recommendation: Absolutely. For your trip to Milford Sound (which is a must do), plan some extra time so that you can go to summit loop. I continued the drive to Milford Sound, with the road going through a tunnel and then switchbacking down to the small community. Milford Sound is extremely pretty (even better the next day when the weather was perfect) and surprised me - I was expecting small hills along the water instead of the tall mountains that are there. I found a spot to sit and simply enjoyed the area for a while in the late afternoon before returning to Te Anau to complete the long day. [My short note (after The Divide notes) says: "Drove to Milford Sound - wow".] Monday, September 26, 2005 As I said, I decided to play tourist and made reservations with a company that would take you to Milford Sound, with some stops along the way, and they set up the boat tour and then drove us back - making it one of the more relaxing days of my trip. A group of us were picked up at the hotel and other places in town and we headed off in a van in the morning for the pretty drive to Milford Sound. The weather was absolutely perfect with blue skies and a pleasant temperature. It was a pleasant drive and we made a couple of stops along the way, including at Te Anau Downs (where the boat portion starts from the famous Milford Track), Mirror Lake, and a spot just before the tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel, we stopped at The Chasm and did a short walk to an overlook of a point where the river drops 72 feet through rocks - my nerves/acrophobia didn't like the viewpoint and I quickly moved along. We continued down to the small town and boat launch area. We had some extra time and spent most of it talking with each other - unfortunately the short trail from the boat launch to a small waterfall was closed. It was a good-sized ferry-type boat with two levels and a good-sized outside area. I was amongst the brave and the hardy who sat outside (along with a honeymooning couple from America from my van group - took some pictures for them). Although the weather was beautiful, out on the water it got cool and windy outside. But I never even considered going inside as every thing was just so pretty. Milford Sound was my 2nd favorite spot of my New Zealand trip (behind Abel Tasman). We were extremely lucky with the weather as Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world [see, not all of my trip was full of poor weather]. But we did luck out in that no wildlife was spotted along the tour (seals are often seen). I think it was about a 3 hour boat tour that went from the town to the end of the sound (just touching the Tasman Sea) and back - the sound is 10 miles long. It was just beautiful all the way through with the large green mountains and deep blue water. I took a full roll of film (36 exposures) during the boat ride [I could only image how many pictures I would have taken if I had a digital camera]. After the boat tour, those who wanted could pay a big fee and take a helicopter tour with a stop on a glacier to the other side of the tunnel - 3 took advantage of that option and the rest of us waited on the other side of the tunnel for the helicopter to drop them off. It was a full day outing that was very enjoyable. Milford Sound Picture Side note: Like many, I was absolutely riveted to the TV for the week prior to my trip, watching in disbelief and horror the disaster of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. But once I started my trip, I had no knowledge of any events that occurred [never watched TV or picked up a newspaper]. While we were stopped at The Chasm, one of the other tourists (I think from Britian) ask if I had heard about the evacuation of Houston due to another hurricane approaching (knowing I was from Texas). My response: "Houston??? Are you sure? Do you know how many people live in Houston?" I was sure he was wrong as Houston has well over a million people. It wasn't until I returned home that I found out that Houston was indeed evacuated due to the approach of Hurricane Rita. Tuesday, September 27, 2005 After a beautiful sunny day, it was back to overcast skies. I headed to the south end of the island where I planned on hiking part of the Hump Ridge Track. Hump Ridge Track Directions: Hwy 99 to Tuatapere. Turn left/west on to Papatotara Coast Road. Take the road for 30 km to the end, park in the Bluecliffs Beach car park. Free. Trails: The first 30 minutes of the 1-person width trail goes through the forest (no ocean views). The trail then descends steeply (with steps) to the shore. The way continues along the beach. After going over the short swing bridge, the trail goes past some houses along a dirt road before returning to an open beach. I turned around after 1:30 hours as I didn't think it was that pretty. Trail Length: Full trail: 53 km/33 miles What I did: about 3 hours round trip Area: Forest, beaches When I did the hike: Tuesday, September 27, 2005 Recommendation: Skip it. I continued driving along the southern end of the island, making a number of beach and scenic stops along the way. I enjoyed the short visits to Gemstone Beach, Monkey Island, and Solander Islands. Someone at Solander Islands mentioned the near by Ruby Sand beach where there were indeed small patches of red sand (grabbed a handful). I drove to the port town of Bluff and did the Foveaux Walk. Foveaux Walk Directions: Hwy 1 to Bluff. Free. Trails: The trail starts in the trees and then has some ocean views (from above). Trail Length: 6.6 km Area: Coastal walkway, stays above coast (no beach) When I did the hike: Tuesday, September 27, 2005 Recommendation: Have to admit that I barely remember this hike, so can't really recommend it. [It says something that I remember more about the public restroom/port-a-potty, with its automatic door, in Bluff than the trail.] I planned on staying the night in Invercargill (no reservations), but unfortunately everything was booked as there was a sporting tournament. I ended up driving back west along the coast to Tuatapere where I got a place to stay (I was heading east the next day, but the route was sparsely populated and opted to go back to an area where I knew there were hotels). Wednesday, September 28, 2005 So I headed back to Invercargill in the morning and continued rounding the southeast end of the island, including going through the area called The Catlins, where I made a number of short stops. I went out to Waipapa point, a pretty ocean area where there was a small lighthouse and a number of seals resting on the rocks below. I watched an ornery big seal get in a small fight with a smaller seal. I continued the drive with a stop at the uneventful Slope Point (the southern most point of the South Island) and then at Curio Bay, where there were rocky bluffs with flat green grassland tops and took a small walk in that area. I took a barefoot stroll along the sandy beach at Waikawa before heading back inland a little bit. A longer walk through the trees brought me to the Purakaunui Falls, a small wide cascade waterfall. After more driving, I headed back to the ocean and took a walk along the headlands at Nugget Point to small lighthouse, a pretty area with a number of sea stacks in the ocean below. I then went down to the beach and spent some time there. Having finished with the southern end of the island, I headed to the larger town of Dunedin and then out on to the Otago Peninsula, going out the tip. I stopped at the tip where the Royal Albatross Centre is and looked around (it was around 6 pm and the centre itself was closed). I didn't see any albatrosses flying around, but there were some seals/sea lions on the rocks down below. It was a pretty area with a lighthouse visible on the bluffs to the left. I decided I needed to get a place for the night and (on a whim - originally was going to go back to Dunedin) and found a really nice place on the peninsula (small community of Otakou) - a family run place and I had a little cottage. It was a perfect location as I was going to spend a good chunk of the next day on the peninsula and there was reportedly a penguin viewing spot nearby [there were a number of penguin possibles in the previous few days along the south coast and also in Milford Sound, but of course there were still no penguins to be seen]. The little blue penguins (the smallest of the penguins) wouldn't be coming a shore until dusk, so I spent a little time in my cabin (I think I even sat on the porch for a little bit) before heading over to the nearby Pilots Beach - fortunately I did change from shorts to jeans. It was a short walk from the parking area down to the small beach and there were about 25 of us to start. The sun started going down and it started getting cold. As it got colder, the number of people waiting started to dwindle. The foolish and hardy kept waiting and waiting and shivering for the little buggers to come a shore. The sun went down and still no penguins. We were joking amongst each other that the report of penguins was just a cruel joke played on the tourists. It started getting dark and was very cold and we were down to about 10 people. Finally someone said, "I think I see something!" Well, I couldn't see anything, but others reported spotting (what they assumed were) the penguins coming ashore and then heading in to the brush, where they had nests. I finally saw a couple of gray blurs, but they were not distinct [my night vision is not great and flashlights were not allowed (disturbs the penguins)]. So my first live sighting of penguins in the wild was very anti-climatic. I returned to my cabin and dethawed. Thursday, September 29, 2005 The weather was beautiful and I headed back out to the Albatross point for another look around. I also took a picture of Pilot Beach, for future reference to where I froze my tail off and finally "saw" penguins. I then drove over the hills to the other side of the peninsula and then headed out to the east end where I did an hour hike to a beach. The Pyramids and Victory Beach Directions: Hwy 1 to Dunedin. Take Rt 9 east along the Otago Peninsula. Hug the coastline and go along Portobello Road to the town of Portobello. Continue straight, through Portobello Bay, and turn right on to Weir Road (just before Portobello Road curves left). Take Weir Road over the hills to a T-junction with Dick Road and take a left on to Dick Road. Take the road all the way to the end to the small parking area. [It's best to have a map of the peninsula.] Free. Trails: The level trail is a dirt road that goes through brush and sheep land (sheep were behind a fence when I was there, but can be on the road). A little over half way to the beach, the trail goes between 2 small hills (the trail is level) - The Pyramids. [Even with the Pyramids, the walk to the beach is not pretty.] The trail goes through a short section of sand dunes before reaching the long yellow sand Victory Beach. At the south end of the beach is the outlet for the large Papanui Inlet. At the north end of the beach is a pretty bluff area. Trail Length: About a mile to beach Area: Hills, long beach, bluffs at far end When I did the hike: Thursday, September 29, 2005 Recommendation: If you are going to spend a full day (or days) on the Otago Peninsula, then sure; else, skip it as there are better places on the peninsula that are easier and shorter to reach. As I was walking (barefoot) along Victory Beach heading towards the north end of the beach, I noticed three pinpoints in the distance that looked like they were moving towards the surf. I pulled out my binoculars for a closer look (they'd reach the surf long before I would get there) and, sure enough, they were PENGUINS! And I could see them! So I stood and watched the three yellow-eyed penguins (I called them The Three Amigos) waddle to the surf and then go into the water. I continued walking to the end of the beach and then had fun looking at the penguin footprints in the sand. I explored the end of the beach a little bit (but not in the brush, where penguins have their nests), hoping for more penguins, but no such luck, before heading back. Back at my car, I drove around the Papanui Inlet and drove to the end of Cape Sanders Road and looked around - there is a lighthouse nearby and ocean views below. I then went over to Allans Beach and walked around the beach. There were a couple of sea lions resting on the sand. I then drove around Hoppers Inlet, where I saw some black swans on the water. I have it marked on my map, but don't recall (and don't have any pictures from there) if I did the short loop walk along the headlands of Sandymount - may have skipped it to get quicker to Sandfly Beach, where there were reports of more penguins. I drove to the end of Seal Point Road to the parking area and then headed down the short, sandy trail to the beach. Sandfly Bay Directions: On Otago Peninsula, take Highcliff Road to Seal Point Road. Head south on Seal Point Road to the parking area at the end. The trail down starts to the left. Free. Trails: The sandy trail heads a sharper down (takes a little more time going back up) and there is a nice full views of the Sandfly Beach from above early on. There are a couple of seastacks a little ways into the water, adding to the scenery. There were also some pretty bright purple daisies along the way when I was there. The further down the trail goes, the more sandy it gets - more of a sand dune than a hill. The trail comes out a little inland near the outlet of a stream. With the stream, you have to go through wet sand to walk the full beach (great barefoot walking beach). There were a number of sea lions resting near the shore when I was there - and you have to be careful passing them. At the far end of the beach is a penguin blind, where you can watch yellow-eyed penguins return to their nests in the evening without disturbing them. I was there in the afternoon and did not see any penguins. Trail Length: About 15 minutes down (little longer up) to beach and however long you want to spend walking beach. Area: Large sand dune, long sandy beach, couple of seastacks a little ways off the shore, sea lions, penguin blinds Picture When I did the hike: Thursday, September 29, 2005 Recommendation: Very scenic area and pretty beach. After spending a lot of time at Sandfly Beach, I returned to my car and said goodbye to the scenic Otago Peninsula and continued heading north. I stopped at the Moeraki Boulder Reserve and paid the $2 fee to walk down the stairs to the rocky beach where there are a number of neat large sphere rocks along the beach and just in the surf [if you want to access the beach without paying, you can park at Moeraki and walk the beach for 40 minutes]. I watched a couple of kids climbing on the rocks and couldn't help but climb on one myself. Moeraki Rocks Picture I then headed out to the nearby Katiki Point to a lighthouse and another penguin blind. From the parking area near the lighthouse (a family does live there), it's a short trail to the left down to the blind. It was late afternoon and as I had nothing else planned for the day I decided to stay for a bit and see if the (yellow-eyed) penguins would actually arrive this time. There were stools and binoculars supplied in the blind and I had my own binoculars out. The were a handful of people in the blind with me and some came and went as I waited. After about an hour, a shout of "There's one!" was heard and with some pointing and directions I eventually spotted the penguin! And more were spotted, including one that was in the brush right next to the blind. It was about an hour before sunset and you could clearly see the penguins (once you spotted them). I spent about 30 minutes watching the penguins waddle ashore and saw about 15 of them. And almost all of them did the same thing as soon as they were on the small beach - stopped and cleaned themselves for several minutes. It was also fun trying to spot them in the water before they reached the shore. I was in heaven. Obviously, if you want to see penguins in the wild, this is the place I'd recommend - it's free, but there is a donation box (and I gave). Penguins Picture I headed inland some and got a room in Kurow (don't recall it at all) as I planned on spending some time in the Mt. Cook area the next day. Friday, September 30, 2005 I headed over to Lake Pukaki in the morning and was happy to see Mt. Cook across the lake - recall that I tried to see it about a week before at Lake Matheson, but the mountains were clouded under. At 12,316 feet, Mt. Cook is the tallest in Australasia. I did have a pretty view of the snow capped mountain and mountain range. I decided to drive over to the nearby Lake Tekapo for a look before heading out for my short hike. Lake Tekapo wasn't very pretty and I went back to Lake Pukaki. During the mere 30 minutes that had passed, the clouds had settled on the mountains and I could no longer see Mt. Cook (at least I did get to see it and take 2 pictures). I drove around the south edge of Lake Pukaki to the west end of the lake at Mt. Cook Village. Kea Point - Mt. Cook National Park Directions: Hwy 80 along Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook Village. Upon entering the village, take a right on to Hooker Valley Rd (passable dirt road) to the parking area at the end. Free. Trails: It is a 20 minutes walk on a gravel trail to a viewpoint of Mueller Glacier. I've tried and tried, but don't remember this hike at all - I know I did it as I have the small note about the trail and 3 pictures of the glacier and small glacial lake - wait... I faint recollection just occurred (grasping for details - getting more)... From the parking area, head up and left for a little bit. At the T-junction, take a right through the rocky area (and remember to take a left on the way back - the way left/straight at the T-junction goes to Mt Cook Village. A little bit ahead the trail branches again and take a right (think it is signed) - to the left is Mueller Hut. The trail heads up from there, with some rocky areas, into the alpine area. At the top, the glacier is in a valley above to the left (a bit of a distance from the viewpoint). There is a small glacial lake near the viewpoint (probably larger in the summer). Trail Length: 30 minutes to viewpoint Area: Big mountains, glaciers When I did the hike: Friday, September 30, 2005 Recommendation: Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers were more impressive and you get a lot closer to them, but if you want to see a glacier you can do so on this short hike. [A better hike (not in winter and with a clearer day) would probably be the Hooker Valley Track (start at the same place, but head right) to Hooker Lake and Hooker Glacier with Mt. Cook looming above.] So that was my last visit to New Zealand's Southern Alps. I drove back to the east coast to Omaru to hike the Omaru-Graves Track. Omaru-Graves Track Directions: In Omarau, Waterfront Road to the end (Blue Penguin Colony viewing area and shop). The trail starts to the right after the shop. Free. Trails: This hike also took bit of time to recall [I think the penguins dominated my mind the last few days of the trip]. My notes simply said, "Oamaru-Graves Track (blah)" and I didn't take any pictures - but I do recall it a little bit and agree with the note (blah). The gravel road-width trail heads along the rocky shore and then rounds the bend to the right. It is not very scenic. Trail Length: Area: When I did the hike: Friday, September 30, 2005 Recommendation: Skip it. After finishing with the disappointing Omaru-Graves Track, I got a place to stay for the night in Oamaru and decided to head back to Moeraki and Katiki Point to watch the penguins again. I got there well before the penguins arrived and encouraged other visitors to wait for the penguins as I knew they would be coming. And sure enough, they did - even more than came the evening before. I again enjoyed watching them come out of the surf, waddle ashore, and then stop and preen. As I was leaving (on the short trail to the parking area), I noticed a solo penguin waddling up the hill - he had come ashore at the wrong spot and would have to cross the trail to get to the nesting area. I wavered between trying to keep my distance (and not disturb him too much) and wanting to get a good look at him - I did get some nice pictures of him. So the hiking wasn't that great this day, but I started with a view of Mt. Cook and finished with more penguins, so I was very happy. Saturday, October 1, 2005 For my last full day on the South Island, I headed up to Christchurch and out to Banks Peninsula, where I planned on spending the day. I have to say that after the beauty of Otago Peninsula, Banks Peninsula was quite a let down. Akaroa Head Directions: Hwy 75 to Akaroa. Continue on road as it turns left (straight is one-way) - road is now Rue Jolie and stay on that road until it T-junctions/bares right, 5 blocks later. Take a left at the T-junction on to Lighthouse Road and take the road to the end [not sure if there was an actual parking area or just pull off the side of the road]. Free. Trails: The old road angles down as it heads out to the point. Along the way to the left are the foundations of the old lighthouse facilities. At the end is the foundation for the old lighthouse (no longer there) and an information sign about the lighthouse. Not that exciting, but there is a nice view of a sea arch in the bluffs down to the left. Trail Length: About 30 minutes Area: Headlands, some coastal views (from above), lighthouse foundation (no building). When I did the hike: Saturday, October 1, 2005 Recommendation: Only if you visit Akaroa - don't make an extra trip just for this. After returning to Akaroa, I decided to get a place for the night, even though it was early afternoon, knowing I didn't want a hassle of trying to find a place on a Saturday night. I ended up with a semi-luxurious place (it seemed to be geared towards the French, with a French flag outside and the hotelier looking down his nose at me) - the most I spent on a room the entire trip. But it did have a relaxing in-room whirlpool and heated towel rack that I took use of in the evening. After dropping my luggage off in my room, I headed out to the north end of the peninsula to look at the views and stop at a couple of inlets/bays. I started with Pigeon Bay and then headed over to Little Akaloa Bay - mostly just staying in the car and looking at the scenery. The area was grassy hills (almost no trees) around good-sized (not small, not large) bays - there were not rugged bluffs seen from the bay areas. Okains Bay was a little prettier with some rocks in the water. The last bay I visited was LeBons Bay - it had the nicest beach and I barefoot surf walked a little bit before heading back to Akaroa. Sunday, October 2, 2005 I drove to Christchurch and drove around the coast area to the north a little bit, but didn't see much exciting. I ended up getting to the airport over two hours before my flight was to depart. As I was checking in, I noticed that the flight before mine from Christchurch to Auckland was delayed and asked if there was going to be a problem with my flight in being able to make my connecting flight from Auckland to the US. They assured me that it wouldn't be a problem and I checked in. The small waiting area was full of those waiting for the delayed flight and I sat in the next (non-gate) area with a number of other waiting passengers. An hour and a half later, I started getting concerned as they were just boarding the delayed flight. I expressed my concerns and got sent back down to the checkin counter where I was informed that they had tried to page me (hadn't heard anything, but was sitting near a noisy video game) and had actually pulled my luggage as they couldn't get ahold of me and I wasn't going to make my connection. I wasn't happy. With missing my connection, the next flight for the US wasn't until the next day. I was given the choice of staying the night in Christchurch or flying to Auckland and staying there (at Qantas' expense). I opted to go to Auckland, removing a needed step in my travel in case there were other problems the next day. I arrived in Auckland with no problems, got my hotel voucher from Qantas (though they did not give me food vouchers), and took the shuttle to my hotel. I used the hotel internet to send email to my parents to let them know my problems and not to pick me up at the airport and that I'd call them when I was in LA and asking them to let my work know that I wouldn't be in on Monday and to let me know that they got the message - I hadn't tried international calling and was trying to avoid it. Fortunately they let me know that they had received my message and I never did have to use international calling [I had emailed them a few times during the trip to let them know I was still alive]. Monday, October 3, 2005 I got up in the morning and headed to the airport around 9 am. They had not told me what my new itnerary was and I went in line and found out that it was basically the same times and that I couldn't check in my luggage until 3 pm - great, I had a large suitcase and was stuck in the checkin area for hours and hours, having to lug it around when I got food or went to the restroom. I finally got to check in and went through customs - you actually go through two customs upon leaving New Zealand - one for New Zealand and then one for the US. It was another long flight, but I was again impressed with Qantas (despite my problems in Chrstchurch and not as polite as he should have been person I dealt with there (but I'm sure he had a long day with all the delays they had)) as I got another flight pack (socks, eye mask, small toothbrush and toothpaste, and LifeSavers roll), the food was good, and the movies were free - despite it being an overnight flight, I ended up watching 3 movies that I had wanted to see (2 bad: Batman, Mr. and Mrs. Smith; and 1 good (don't remember)). Monday, October 3, 2005 Well, since Monday was a wasted day, I got to repeat it by crossing the international dateline. I made it to LA and called my parents, talking to my mom for a bit on the payphone, and letting them know what time to pick me up at DFW. The flight from LA to Dallas was uneventful and I was finally home. Driving on the wrong side of the road for 3 weeks did mess me up for over a month - I can't tell you how many times after I returned to the US that I questioned myself as to whether or not I was on the correct side of the road. It is amazing how many things I still remember clearly over 4 years later (my notes for most things were pretty skimpy) and yet there were some places I hardly recalled or do not even recall. But [finally] writing this was a nice trip down memory lane. patricia
Patricia Bender firstname.lastname@example.org Not affiliated with or representing anyone besides myself