Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New Zealand day 10: Banks Peninsula

Banks peninsula is one of the most prominent volcanic feature of South Island. In the form of circular share protruding from South Island near Christchurch, it has two harbors and many bays. On the first day of our Chirstchurch visit, we had got a view of one of the harbor, Lyttelton from port hills. Now it was time to deep dive into the peninsula.

Pacific ocean seen at the mouth of the bay
It was a circuitous route from Christchurch to Akaroa, the second harbor town in the area. Though badly hit by cyclone a week ago, no traces of damage was seen. As we entered into the peninsula we were welcomed by numerous hills. They resembled the shola forests of our western ghats.

Hills of Bank Peninsula
After stopping at couple of places for taking photographs, we reached Akaroa. It was a small but a beautiful harbor town. Few smalls boats were anchored at the harbor. It was a nice walk in the town. At a nearby tourist information center, we got some directions towards the places to visit. There were lot of options and we had to choose based on the time available with us!!

We did a brief visit to the lighthouse before heading out of the town.

Akaroa lighthouse
The drive was now on the summit road, a long and circuitous road overlooking the Akaroa harbor and the bay. We had done quote some drive in New Zealand but this road provided a completely new experience. New Zealand has lot to offer at each place!!

Akaroa town
Of all the places in our list, Okains Bay looked interesting. A detour from Summit road took us down to the Okains village through a narrow road. The village looked so deserted and beautiful!! Since the sea was not seen, we drove further and reached a sort of dead end.

Views from Summit road
There was a camping ground and I checked with the lady looking after it for parking and access to sea. She happily helped us with those information. One thing about New Zealand, people always ready to help. We never had a single bad experience in New Zealand. Great people!!

Okains bay
Beach was simply beautiful. Nothing similar to the ones we had seen before. Again, we were the only ones in the area!! We had our lunch and spent a long time in the beach. There were couple of vehicles parked in the camping ground but we found no people. May be they were out for hiking.

Okains bay beach
We were back on the summit road. The road never seem to end as we criss crossed the hills on the narrow road. Stops had become numerous. It was so beautiful that Chaya asked why it was not planned in my original itinerary!! I had no answer. Basically, I had fit the plan into the time slot I had with me!! Nevertheless, we felt great to be at that place.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

New Zealand day 9: Arthur's pass

There was going to be a change in our plan due to weather. A cyclone was about to hit North Island which would bring lot of rain in some areas of south. And a low pressure on Tasman sea was also bringing in some rains. While there was no way to avoid rains, it was possible to have minimal impact from it. Abel Tasman was dropped from our plan and few places in Canterbury were added!! Thanks to, I could cancel couple of days before the journey without penalty.

A mountain in Arthur's pass
Our first visit of the day was to Frans Joseph Glacier. Situated just 25 km from Fox glacier, it looks very similar. Can be considered as a “twin” glacier. We did a quick visit to the view point which gave a nice view of the glacier.

Franz Joseph glacier
We made a brief stop at Hokitika for refueling and to buy some food items. It is one of the biggest town in Westland. 

Franz Joseph glacier
We were now climbing Arthur’s pass. The pass from west coast side was very steep and went though dense forests. The steepest section ended at Otira viaduct, considered as a civil engineering feet. As you can see in the picture, it is built over a section of unstable area prone to avalanche and landslides.

Otira viaduct
We had our late lunch at the view point overlooking the viaduct. It also provided a view of the pass.

Arthur's pass road

After the top of the pass, we reached the small township of Arthur’s pass. There were many impressive trails. We choose Devil Punchfowl waterfalls. It looked great from the road.

Devil punchfowl waterfalls
The path to the falls was long while included a steep climb which almost went to the top of the falls only to bring us down to the base!! But the hike was worth the effort. The waterfall looked stunning at the base!!

Base of the falls
We spent some time at the visitor center to understand the history of the pass. Tanu spent some time drawing!!

Closer view of the falls
While the western section of the pass was very steep, the eastern part was wide open and gradual. It provided some of the stunning views of the mountains.

Arthur's pass on eastern side
There was a snowfall at the higher section of the mountains recently. Not part of my original plan, I was glad that I included Arthur’s pass in the itinerary. It was so beautiful. The eastern section of the pass must not be missed at all. I lost count of the number of stops made to enjoy the scenery.

Arthur's pass
The final stop was Castle hill. The sunlight was fading as I went down to see the place. This place was amazing. Wished we had more time to wander around the area. 

Castle hill
It was fully dark when we reached Christchurch. I chalked out the plans for the next few days.

Road in Arthur's pass

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New Zealand day 8: Fox glacier

It would be another eventful day. The destination was Fox glacier, one of the two main glaciers in Westland. We had booked helicopter ride to the top of Fox Glacier. We started early morning from Haast and it was a pleasant driving for 2 hours on the scenic road devoid of any vehicles.

View from Mt. Cook
Since there was some time before the helicopter ride, we went to our hotel (Rainforest Motel) that was nearby. The rooms as expected were not ready but the lady in the reception promised to get it done by 11AM when we come back from helicopter ride. That was very nice of her considering the check-in time of 2PM.

Glacier Helicopters in Fox township
There are few ways to enjoy the Fox glacier. Cheapest option is to hike to see the mouth of the glacier. That does not cost any money. Another option is to hike to the mouth itself with the help of the guide. The expensive option is to ride on an helicopter that lands on top of the glacier. There is no way one can trek on the glacier. It requires mountaineering skills and the glacier is extremely volatile and not safe. Being normal human beings, we chose the helicopter ride. Not everyday we get an opportunity to stand on top of a glacier.

Fox township
For us, it was our first helicopter ride and we were excited. As part of pre boarding we were briefed by the staff on dos and don’ts of the ride. Apart from camera, no other bags or equipments were allowed. Not even selfie stick (we did not had any!). Exactly on time, we were taken to the helipad where we waited for couple of mins before our helicopter landed.

"Our" chopper
It was too noisy inside the chopper. In order to hear the instructions from the pilot, we had to put our headsets. That reduced the noise a lot.

Fox glacier
I was astonished at the speed which the helicopter gained the altitude. You do not experience that in an airplane but helicopter provides the raw feel of it. Very soon we had crossed the temperate rain forests, grasslands and were flying over the fox glacier. We were astonished to see mountain goats walking on the glacier!!

A circle of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman was made. It was a treat to watch these huge mountains. We had not seen those views even from Mt. Cook village due to cloudy weather.

Hooker lake, Pukaki lake and Mt. Cook village!!
The helicopter then landed on a flat land above the glacier. It was the safe spot where there was no movement of the ice. It can be called as an ice field rather than a glacier. But it provided amazing views of the surroundings.

Ice fields of Fox glacier
It was photo time. It was great that weather was on our side that day. Not a common sight in Westland!! 

Family photograph!!
Tanu was super excited and jumped with joy in the ice field.

All nice things should end and we had to climb back to helicopter and within few minutes we were back at the base.

The vast snow fields of Fox glacier
Our room was ready when we came back to the hotel. Dumping our bags, we set out for Matheson lake. It was the place to see the reflection of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. But our luck with weather ran out that time as the mountains were covered by clouds and the lake was rough due to wind. To really understand how it would have looked in clear weather, just click the link here.

Lake Mathesan
The weather remained in that state for the entire day. We were lucky for the helicopter ride to the glacier.

View of Fox glacier
After lunch, Chaya and I decided to hike to see the mouth of the glacier while my mother and Tanu decided to relax in room. We drove for about 6 km to reach the parking lot. On the way, we saw a board mentioning that the glacier was reaching till that point some 200 years back. It is not very far away in time for these glaciers to completely disappear. 

Hike to Fox glacier
It was a simple walk next to the stream for most of the time. The last stretch was very steep but manageable. 

The "last" stretch
The trail ended at the view point where we see the glacier.

Glacier as seen from the view point
Hitch hiking is very common in New Zealand. We had seen many people waving at us throughout our journey for drop but as we could stop as we were running full. At Fox Glacier we met a German and a Canadian trekkers who were looking for a vehicle. They had been hiking for last 2 days. We dropped them to the township.

Stream flowing from glacier. Not very far from Tasman sea!!
Evening was spent walking in the small beautiful town of Fox Glacier. It was a great and memorable day.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

New Zealand day 7: Travel to west coast

We were moving to the next phase of our trip in New Zealand. Westland, the most sparsely populated district would be our next destination for next 2-3 days. The southern alps next to the Tasman sea with temperate rainforest is strikingly similar to our western ghats. But with snow clad mountains and glacier, it can be considered as a mix of western ghats and Himalayas!!

Snow clad mountains of westland
The first part of the journey was to retrace the path to Queenstown. The Wakapitu lake was again our companion for a good part of the drive. It required several stops as the lake was looking spectacular in the early morning. Tanu felt that it was time to get some portraits for her.

Tanu at Wakatipu lake
 The route we were taking was Te Anau —> Queenstown —> Arrowtown —> Wanaka —> Haast Paps —> Haast.

Wakatipu lake
At Arrowtown, we took a shortcut via Crown range road. At 3,677 feet , it is the highest main road in New Zealand. The road was steep as series of switchbacks quickly took us to the top. 

Switchbacks at Crown range road
Wanaka looked like a picturesque town. For us it was time to refuel the car as the petrol stations were far and few between.

At Crown range road lookout
We were again passing next to the lake!! This time it was lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. Lot of places to stop and enjoy. They journey was very slow but we has no issues!!

Lake Hawea
It was time to stop at one of the lookouts for lunch. The place was mesmerizing. Each time, when we thought that we had seen enough of lakes, there would be another beautiful one!!

Pristine lakes of New Zealand
We were now at Makaroa, the last settlement before Haast. Between them was the Haast pass, one of the three passes that crossed over to Westland. It was completely a forest drive. 

Forests of Haast pass
There were few places to stop on Haast pass. One of them blue pools. It was an easy 10-15 minutes walk that ended at the crystal clear water. We got the first “taste” of sandflies of Westland!! We had to be on alert to ensure that we had no bites.

Blue pools
We did a quick stop at Fantail falls. It was just two minutes walk. 

Fantail falls
Haast seemed to be smaller than the normal village in India!! Our place of stay “Bay road motel” was 15 km further from Haast. It was completely away from all the civilization. It was the most isolated place we stayed in New Zealand.

Our hotel at haast
We made a visit to Haast beach in the evening. We had to cross a small private farm before reaching the beach. A sheep was peacefully grazing in the field.

Sheep at Haast
Like many places in New Zealand, we were the only ones at the place!! Time to enjoy the solitude.
Haast beach