Thursday, December 31, 2009

NZ Sth Island - Pt 8 Lake Matheson, Heli Flight and on to Hokitika

Day 16 (Monday 30 November)

In amongst the driving over the last few days there's been quite a bit of discussion about the layout and vagaries of Lake Matheson and that I chose to stay at Fox Glacier so as to be nearby the lake in the early morning when conditions are most likely to be still. Last thing last night before heading into the motel we took a quick spin down the road to the Lake Matheson turn off just to get our bearings. So today, I am awoken at 5:40 am by Mum. Didn't I want to go to Lake Matheson for sunrise? We peer outside. The weather looks a bit damp, cloudy. Not windy though. I'm half inclined to go back to bed, but I suppose I'm awake now so we may as well give it a shot. By the time we get away I feel like we're fighting against time. It'd be good to see it with a colourful sunrise. Daughter is up for it. No way Sis is venturing out thismorning and this surprises me considering how much she loved the Mirror Lakes.

The three of us jump in the car and head off to the lake. Another family of Paradise Shelducks are waddling along the roadside here. Always exciting to see ducklings! Mum starts her nebulising in the car but isn't finished by the time we get to the car park. I'm still dreaming of a colourful reflection, so we leave mum the car keys saying to just take her time and just do what she can do, while we hurry on to the lake and try to catch the early light and explore the vantage points. The car park has numerous vehicles and we assume that these must be people who have come to see the lake. The landscape around the car park is pretty ramshackle. There appears to be a newish building nearby that seems to be something touristy to do with the lake, but of course it's shut at the moment and I'm just not that curious about it. Maybe when it's open it provides more civilised access to the track. From where we were it was not really pedestrian friendly.

It's a pretty walk into the first viewing platform. Dense and luxuriant rainforest. There is not so much as a breath of wind thismorning and the lake is reflecting beautifully. From this vantage point however, and in these conditions, we can't see much of the snowy mountain tops with only the lower ranges unobscured by cloud. The sky shows nothing in the way of colour and in the pre-dawn light the view here simply whets my appetite for further exploration.

The first viewing area is deserted. Where are all the people I wonder. I take a few quick photos and decide to explore further along the path. It is a very pretty walk. Only the walk at Purukaunui Falls could top it among the various walks we've done. The terrain involves a reasonable amount of incline. Aside from the various viewing platforms the path does not provide views across the lake. Which is excellent of course, otherwise everyone anywhere around the lake would have human figures sullying their enjoyment of the scenery and their photographs.
After a time the path heads down some stairs and onto a boardwalk bridge that crosses to the other side of the lake. I'm tempted to really take my time and enjoy the reeds and natural lake environment. It is very pretty indeed. A very special place. From the boardwalk bridge however it is still not the view I am seeking so I press on. Eventually a sign points me in the direction of a path leading to a flight of stairs and a plaform without railings bordering the inky stillness of the water. Ah. This is IT. The brighter daylight now is also more conducive to successful photos.

I fail to come across a single soul out here in the early morning. I've got no idea who those cars belong to. There doesn't seem to be anything likely nearby. Doesn't matter I guess.
I relax on the landing taking in the serenity. I play photographing some reflections of myself in the water. Sort of thing Daughter 2 would do. I wonder how she's doing.

After some time, a group of young women stop past. Just enjoying the scenery and the early morning exercise. No sign of cameras or anything. Eventually daughter catches me up. I don't recall how we got separated, but she calls out and we meet up and begin walking back. She's not a morning person and is suffering a bit today. She didn't appreciate how far around the lake the walk would take her. I toy with heading back the way we came, just in case Mum's been silly and gone further than the first viewing area. Surely she'll see that uphill slope and think better of it.. but daughter wants to continue on the round trip. Probably quicker she thinks.

As we walk we continue to enjoy the areas where the perfect mirror effect is visible.

The walk winds and weaves through the lovely forest with plentiful ferns and mosses and other small flora, then you emerge into an area on the edge of open farmland. A bench seat a little off the track is provided where you can relax and take your ease watching the clouds form and disperse and float across the face of the ranges and over the rich green fields. The russett of the wet seed heads provides a beautiful contrast to the greens of pasture.

If only there were more time. Having arrived at about 6 am we check our watches. It's now around 7:30 and we have an 8:30 check in for our heli flight thismorning. We feel a guilty for the length of time we've been away and wonder what mum is up to. Praying that she was sensible and just went to the first viewing area we walk swiftly back to the entry point from the carpark. We meet up with mum right as the two paths come together. She expresses great relief to see us and tells us the tale of her adventure. I can hardly believe my ears when she tells us that she got to the first lookout and decided to move on and find us. We'd had a number of conversations about the lake and the walk around it, and that I wasn't sure if she would be able to actually get in to the lake at all and that the circuit would be out of the question. She'd forgotten all that and continued on the walk. She even got as far as the board walk bridge. This means that she had to head up some pretty decent inclines and at a pretty decent sort of pace too to be back here now. By the time she got to the boardwalk bridge she started to think perhaps going so far along wasn't so good an idea. So she decided to head back, wondering if she would actually make it out alive. I know that feeling. It was like that the time 8 yr old daughter and I walked to the bottom of Ellenborough Falls outside Port Macquarie. Madly trying to keep up with other fitter people so as not to lose the track, which had been perfectly apparent on the way down but was far from obvious on the way back up. Having spent the return walk with visions of helicopter rescue floating in my mind the whole time I've never been so happy to rejoin a trail head. Anyway, Mum pulled out all the stops and here she is. I suspect her adventure might be the most memorable thing about Lake Matheson for Mum. We head back slowly together and our moderate pace gives daughter opportunity to spot a little colony of trigger orchids similar to those we saw on Ulva Island, growing on a rotting log bordering the path.

We climb back in the car, head back to the motel, pack up, check out and high tail it to the heli flight check in, noting the continued presence of the Kereru in the tree in the carpark.
We are checked in for our heli flight at 8:15 am. They are only offering the tour of both glaciers this morning as there is too much cloud up high. Oh well, at least it will save some dollars.
No time for brekkie the guy tells us, but daughter and I buy a warm savoury scone and a muffin from the Hobnail Cafe and we all settle down at a table to await departure. Unsuspecting the delight that awaits us we take a bite of scone. Oh my god those scones are so delicious!! We are obliged to share tastes around the group. We head back for more scones. Absolutely superb. By far the most scrumptious scone on earth I am quite sure. They are perfection itself. $4 (?) . Worth every penny. She is so impressed by the scones daughter lobbies for a sample of the tan slice. I think I know what this will be like and am not too fussed but daughter is keen. It is, as I expected, the sort of slice you make with boiled sweetened condensed milk, albeit a very good example of it's kind. The muffin was good too... but no competition for the scone! Not even close.

It's only a short time before we are boarding the bus across to the heli-pad. In no time at all we are off the bus, getting our briefing about the safe approach to the chopper and heading across to climb aboard. It is a roomy and comfortable proper 5 seater chopper. Mum has some difficulty getting aboard and it's lucky she's with family. She laughs as we give her bottom a hefty shove from below to help her aboard. I have claimed the front seat for the first time ever, and oh boy was that a shrewd move. I didn't realise for all these years how strategic it would was to prove to have always have let mum have the front seat!! We did a deal in Kaikoura that I would sit in the front here at Fox. YES!!
What can I say to communicate the magnificence of a flight over the glaciers?? There simply are no adequate words. There is not a lot of chit chat with the pilot. He's busy constantly in touch with the base or other pilots in the main. Every move he makes he's reporting it over the radio. This is demanding flying, that is certainly apparent. He's just concentrating on the job at hand and we certainly don't mind that in these conditions. We fly first up, along the river through to Fox Glacier. The scenery is just awesome. Such an inadequate word. Awesome.

Before it starts to rain it is decided to get the snow landing out of the way. We land. I could never have imagined how fantastic this part of the trip would be. No idea. Many of the party were a bit ho hum about actually landing. Before leaving Australia Mum was saying she was happy to just stay in the chopper. Once we're there though there's no way you could have held any of us back. It was fantastic. We're lower down for the landing than they do when the weather is clearer. Perhaps up top is even better, I don't know, but we were more than satisfied to be here. The glowing blues of the snow and ice. The sense of deep quiet. It was absolutely thrilling and as everyone will tell you, not really very cold at all.
Before we move too far, our pilot got us together with the chopper for a photo. Then we are free to wander around a little. Another chopper has landed over to our right. Both pilots are keeping an eye on the alighted passengers as they wander about and give a firm wave of the hand when they think we're venturing too far or too close to the edge.
Sis has wasted no time and is squatting down making another little snow man. I swear from the look on her face she is just about fit to explode from happiness and excitement.

Mum's made it over to Sis but is pretty much bogged. Can't really walk at all in the snow she reports, but she's obviously enjoying herself immensely. Daughter and I are more adventurous skipping about here and there, but we're keeping a close eye on our pilot to make sure we don't stretch it too far. We do want to stay alive.

It seems all too soon before we are being gestured back for reboarding. This operation is very organised. We are shown the photo pilot took of us and told it's $20(?) for a little folder with the photo and certificate evidencing our heroism. If we could let him know if we want one he will just print them off now before we leave while we're getting ourselves back in and belted up. Saves delays back at the helipad. Smooth. Of course we're all going to want one. Especially while the excitement is still full upon us. Do we look happy or what?

Pretty soon pilot is climbing back in his seat and preparing for take off. The other chopper across to our right is a step ahead of us and we see them head for the edge of the landing area and swoop down down over the glacier itself. Awesome. Are we going to do what they just did?.. why YES!! YOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOO!!!! OH MY GOD! This is freaking unreal!! The glacier is absolutely gorgeous. You would never pick it from the ground. Fox Glacier is churned up and has pretty brown feathering along blue patterned blocks of ice. Superb. Perhaps encouraged by our obvious relish of the take off, our pilot treats us to another roller coaster rise and fall over the spectacular river of ice. AMAZING!! This is the best chopper flight I've done. No competition. Absolutely positively a must do!! We are still only at best half way through the flight and I have already absolutely decided I am coming back with hubby to do another flight like this. Imagine trying one from up near Glentanner and Aoraki. Surely you must get Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki, the mountains and the Glaciers. Costs more from up there. Considerably more, but how freakin' awesome would it be!
We settle down for the flight across the ridges to Franz Joseph. Each glacier is distinctly different. Another sensation of falling when we come over the ridge and the ground drops suddenly away. It's all an illusion of course, but it is totally thrilling. We complete our circuit travelling back along the coastal plain. Admiring the broad glacial braided rivers, farmland, sea and clouds.

The video has been working overtime on the camera. Oh boy this flight was worth every single penny. It was simply bloody fantastic. For younger fitter persons the heli-hike must be wonderful. Just DO IT!!

We are absolutely floating on a high when we land and clamber out of the chopper. A careful check that I have all my gear as I had to change camera batteries mid-flight and I really don't want to lose anything. Then we are forking out the money for the photos, gushing our thanks and heading back to the bus for the ride back to the office and our car. Absolutely wonderful. What a day so far and it's only 10 am.
Back at the gift shop my companions are doing what feels like an extended stint of post card and souvenir buying, then we're on our way north.

First stop is at Franz Joseph where mum wants to head in and get a photograph of the excellent statue of two life sized moa. Then it's on the road again. Before we can go too far though, we need to head back to Okarito and try to find Sis's camera.

Sis is pretty distressed about the loss of the camera, but feels a little better when we remind her that we have back up photos for lots of the things she wanted to show the girls. We stop at the carpark where we pretty much figured the camera had to have fallen from the car. No joy. Then back to ask Ian at Okarito Kiwi Tours, having only been able to leave a message this morning. They haven't seen it, but we enjoy catching up and hearing about what the outcome was after we packed it in last night. We leave contact info just in case someone has found it. We wave our goodbyes and move on. I'll cut to the chase. Ian gave us a call when we were up in Hokitika, quite late. One of the parks personnel found the camera early in the morning before we'd had a chance to get back to the car park. Ian kindly arranged postage of the camera back to Sis at home in Australia. It was undamaged and all photos intact. Thank you SO much Ian. We all really appreciate your help with that, as well as the great time we had last night!

Before we head off we decide to take a little while to have another look at Okarito Lagoon. Beautiful. Looking across the plains to the mountains dancing with passing cloud it's a pretty spot. Tours of the lagoon and the white heron nesting area are available and while this is not on our agenda I think it would be a quite different sort of experience to the other larger scale boat trips we've done. Certainly sleepy little Okarito has a really relaxed atmosphere and especially if staying in the village a tour of the lagoon would fit nicely with the kiwi tour.

The weather now is getting settled for some serious rain. We take turns driving and napping with all three drivers having a stint. Half an hour or so out from Hokitika we come across a farmer moving a herd of young cattle along the road to fresh pasture. They clearly have no plan to vacate the road, but we're not fussed. We love this sort of thing and are quite happy to just creep along behind the herd. I start videoing and the fatigue is evident as I take the most appalling video ever. It's so hilariously bad we just have to keep it. The vast majority of the thing has the screen completely consumed by the car's rego sticker!! I start again. Got to pay attention this time. I carefully aim the camera and am pleased as punch at what I'm seeing in the screen. This is going to be one cool little video. The cattle jogging along nicely. Great stuff. I go to stop the filming and realise I had never hit the record button! Doh!! Only time now for a quick still shot as the cattle turn off the road and into their destination paddock. Just as well I'm not driving! Letting Sis sleep in thismorning is paying off and she's behind the wheel!

We arrive in Hokitika on a grey and miserable day. The weather is of no matter though as it's only shopping we have on the schedule for this afternoon.
First we need some lunch. We've heard the fish and chips here is good. I was a bit of a wreck leaving Australia and I have left a few silly gaps in the planning. I haven't recorded the name of the particular fish and chip outlet that was being recommended on TA. We pass two. One that is a bit like a co-op down nearer the water. Looks OK but there's noone around. Not even clear if it is open. The alternative is the apparently award winning Porky's on the main street in the tourist/historic area. Porky's is clearly doing a roaring trade, so majority figure surely that must be it. Despite the crowds I think Porky's looks iffy and as a matter of principle the co-op places tend to be better but I'm too tired to agonise over the decision or swim against the current so Porky's it is.

We wander in and order. They have jam wraps. Someone gets one of those. Daughter and I go for the blue cod and kumara chips. we decide to head out to the beachfront and eat overlooking the beach, though it's a bit miserable in the rain we manage to get a reasonably flattering shot of the landscape along the beach and across the estuary and the long road bridge to the mountains.

I had gone next door to a souvenir shop while the others waited and collected the food, so my first sight of it was when I opened the bag. Hmm. The batter is heavy and greasy. That's disappointing. The kumara chips taste Ok but are pretty limp, which I would imagine would be reasonably unavoidable. I eat those first. I clearly have a pretty good idea what the fish will be like. Eventually, finishing off a phone call from home I decide launch time for the fish can't be delayed further. I try the fish. Ugh. Yuck. Every bit as greasy as it looked. Overcooked to buggery. A blue cod died for this. What a shameful waste of a blue cod. I simply cannot eat the whole thing. The grease is making me feel ill. There's some birds around. Lovely black billed gulls. Daughter hops out of the car and heads across to feed them. They seem un-naturally nervous. Who has been abusing these lovely little chaps? Daughter theorises about young teenage louts a theory which was probably encouraged by the ambience of the reserve we are at. However after a while another theory reveals itself. Black backed gulls. Once they come on the scene the black billed gulls are nowhere to be seen. If I were a black billed gull and these big monsters were part of my environment, I'd be looking over my shoulder too. I think the local youths can be given the benefit of the doubt in this case.
We find the Annabelle Motel and check in. It is everything it should be. Mum is totally wrecked after her adventure this morning and the excitement of the heli flight. She heads in for a rest while the rest of us run errands or do a bit of souvenir browsing. I visit the Hokitika Glass Studio and several pounamou galleries. Some have some quite nice and expensive sculptures and of course everywhere is the mass marketed koru, twist etc in pounamu, bone and shell. I duck through the rain and make my way across to the Sock Museum and wander through looking at the vintage sock knitting machines and depression era ads encouraging women to earn a bit of extra cash at home, all they need to do is buy this sock machine. All quite quirky and entertaining for a few minutes. The book store is a must too and I browse through the kiwi authors section. Hoping to pick up some Frank Sargeson but no luck. Instead I get one called Kiwi Hunter about a bloke who's been involved in a range of environmental related activities over a number of decades. I don't think I'll find that one at home. I note the obvious popularity of The Denniston Rose. I'll have to pop that one on my reading list, but I can get it at home. No need to add to my luggage weight.

At one store that shall remain nameless I am conducting the sales transaction and the woman behind the counter says. "Where in Australia are you from?"
"Where in Sydney"
"Oh, way out west."
"I came from Sydney. Long time ago. 1960s".
"Oh, what part of Sydney were you from?"
"What brought you to NZ?"
"I was running from the coppers. NZ was the only place I could go without a passport. I hadn't done anything really bad, but I thought it was bad."
Then she proceeded to short change me by $5!!! Which I successfully challenged of course. Ah well. Gave us a laugh anyway.

After a few meeting ups and separations, Sis meets up with us again, picking us up with the car in the pouring rain after having gone to the shops to buy another pair of generic reading glasses. She's been going through both prescription glasses and these cheap backups like noone's business. Dropping them and stepping on them seems a favoured technique. She reports that she popped back to the motel and Mum is out like a light so we'll leave her be for now. We have been recommended to Stumpers restaurant in the local pub for dinner by our accommodation so we decide to go over and sus it out. It's raining very heavily. We have a very pleasant break in Stumpers and discover that they mix their own LLBs (Lemon Lime and Bitters). We've not been having a lot of success on that score in the trip so far. So many places copping out and just using the bottled version which is vastly inferior.
Everything about Stumpers is nice so we make a reservation for dinner.
We head home, shower and change, collect Mum and head back to Stumpers. They served us a delicious bread platter with nice fresh pesto, absolutely delicious salmon dip and another dish with a nice fruity olive oil and balsamic. A deliciously dressed small salad was a nice touch on the side. We're beginning to suspect that there must be a law in NZ that anyone caught providing a bad bread course in a restaurant shall have their license removed or something. We haven't had a dud one yet. All have been truly excellent. For mains mum and I had fillet steak with blueberry and cranberry hollandaise sauce, baked minted potato and vegetables, also with hollandaise. Our steaks got mixed up, but we figured it out and swapped and both were tasty. Daughter had .. you guessed it - the blue cod. This time rolled in coconut and chili with pineapple mango salsa. Daughter felt that the flavours overwhelmed the actual fish a bit and that this would be a good fish course for someone who didn't actually like fish much. We think the blue cod should be prepared so as not to overwhelm the flavour of the actual fish. I have a hole in my notes as to what sis ordered so that's a mystery.
Now I don't really want to leave you dear reader with the impression that I should be in a high chair and be equipped with a bib, but as I bring some dropped rice to daughters attention I look down and I find I have comprehensively slopped hollaindaise sauce down my possum merino jumper. Oh no!! This couldn't have been discovered in a funnier contenxt, but bloody hell this thing cost a fortune! We madly reach for the serviettes and do a clean up job. It is unbelievable how completely the fabric surrendered that fatty sauce just with the serviettes. Unbelievable. I cannot remember who it was we were discussing this with, it was a kiwi at any rate, and they said that yeah, the possum merino is extraordinary that way. Extremely dirt resistant. Extraordinary.
For dessert we shared and ordered Chocolate tart with strawberries, Kahlua Crunch and a Berry Parfait. All were good. 15% surcharge for it being a "statutory day". 30 November being the local provincial anniversary day. Overall our meal at Stumpers was the best meal we've had in ages and we really enjoyed Stumpers all round. The service was friendly and chatty, and there was a happy busy atmosphere without being too loud. Most meals we saw heading to other tables were huge and looked great. Ours were not quite so large which was good news to us.
Home to bed quite late, and Sis points out the possum products shop on the way home. We have a few shopping stops to make in the morning before we head off to Christchurch. The possum shop is definitely one!

Anyone for bed?

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