Friday, July 5, 2013

The Travelling Trio NZ - Part 4 - Wanaka River Journeys and to Manapouri

Day 5 - Tuesday 25th June

Since having to cancel our helihike I’ve been mulling over potential opportunities to take some sort of heliflight so on arrival yesterday evening I had a look through the information provided in the motel and came across the Wanaka River Journeys tour which has an optional flight with snow landing up in Mt Aspiring National Park. The brochure says it’s a four hour tour departing at 10 am, so return at about 2 o’clock. That should give us JUST enough time to get down to Manapouri by dark.  I strike out boldly, or perhaps foolishly, and give them a call. They can fit us in tomorrow and provide detailed instructions for where to meet…. But the scheduled departure time for tomorrow is 10.50. Hmm.  Oh well, we might spend the last little bit of the drive to Manapouri crawling along at a very slow speed. Not ideal but it might just be worth it.

I’m restless this morning and fancy a walk. I’m out and about before I realise that what I really feel like doing is explore around to Eely point or even out towards Lake Hawea. I head back to the motel and ask if anyone is interested in joining me. Nah. They’re lying in.  Righto, I won’t be long. Haha. Yeah.
It’s only a short drive around the point and I park and walk a loop around the headland. A few people are out exercising their dogs. One guy driving as his dog runs along. A white-faced Heron takes its ease on a rock by the shore of the lake.
I become compelled to go exploring in the brief time we have in Wanaka and hop back in the car and make for Lake Hawea. I become compelled to go exploring in the brief time we have in Wanaka and hop back in the car and make for Lake Hawea. It’s a hair brained scheme, but at least I get far enough towards the west coast to wish I could keep going. Then I wrestle with the wanderer in me and turn the car for home. I arrive back at about 5 minutes to 10. Lucky I’m a very fast in the shower! The room servicing people are snapping at our heels as I take my final leave at about 10 mins past ten. Worth it and now I’m all psyched up for our day’s adventure.
Hubby has arranged with the managers for us to leave our car here until our return from the tour. So packed up we head over the Doughbin bakery to pick up something to eat. I was thinking of some sort of healthy roll or something, but Hubby and son are quite intent on the pie cabinet which is self serve, as is apparently the norm in NZ.  I succumb to the temptation of a couple of what the Kiwis call “savouries” and Aussies call “party pies”.  They bring to mind the delicious savouries we had at Russell up on the Bay of Islands. It’s an unfortunate association to have because these ones aren’t in the running.  I also decide to get some survival rations for after our tour. We won’t have a minute to lose getting away this afternoon. We will NOT be stopping for lunch. Just need to make that clear to my companions. Having done so, I enquire “Do you want to pick up something you can eat on the way to Manapouri?”  Hubby picks up a ham and cheese roll but Son replies “Nah. That’s OK.” Right. I’d better make sure I’ve got enough to share then, because he WILL want something. I’ve done enough driving around with young people who work out or are in training to know they get HUNGRY! Son is training up for going in Tough Mudder… again.. he’s planning to do it every year… people surprise you. Our other Son is the one known as action man… Son1 is more the indoor type, but he clearly got a lot out of the Tough Mudder challenge last time. I pick up a savoury scroll thingy and decide to also try of the enormous Chelsea buns. We won’t win a prize for healthy diet on this holiday but at least it’s only for a week or so!
As it turns out we’re the only patrons for Wanaka River Journeys today, but we waste a bit of time waiting for a family whose booking has got a bit mixed up. The calm, clear weather allows a start in the jet boat from Glendhu Bay which is not usually possible in the warmer months. There's nothing wrong with the scenery as our driver (Sue) escorts us round the Lake. 
We’ve dressed as warmly as we can and this is supplemented by a wind and waterproof coat and life jacket provided for us. Life jackets are really thick and warm. As we dress we discuss the weather. We’re lucky today. There’s some low cloud, but we should get some clear sky when it burns off a bit. We can hear occasional loud bangs from the Treble Cone ski field which is nearby. They’re dislodging lose snow before opening in a few days.
The snow fields are beside themselves with glee at the huge dump of snow. Well… perhaps not Mt Hutt, whose snow dislodging before opening resulting in some significant infrastructure damage. Apparently here in Wanaka at this time of year they can suffer from temperature inversions which trap the cloud low. It can be pretty cold and miserable when it happens and can last for days or even weeks during which you don’t see the sun. Our gloves are supplemented by some nice windproof ones. 
We’re all looking rather a lot like the Michelin Man as we climb aboard the jetboat for a run down on what’s ahead and the obligatory safety briefing, Then we’re off. It’s a pleasant run across Lake Wanaka and around to the Matukituki River.  
We do occasional 360s in the jet boat, because we can, and they’re fun. We stop every now and again for short periods of commentary about the area. At one spot our attention is directed to some interestingly formed rocky hills where hobbits enjoyed a cooked breakfast and brought down the enemy upon them leading to Frodo being stabbed in the shoulder. Rivendell is located nearby. There’s a fair bit of post production on the Lord of the Rings movies, and our guide, James, reports that it took him several viewings to recognize the terrain.  The rocky braided river is a gull rookery in the warmer months. There’s no plants growing in the gravel and apparently they do get lupins. It’s interesting to see the river without those beautiful, destructive weeds. The regular stops give us opportunity to take photographs, but I’m snapping things as we travel as well. The scenery is beautiful. As jetboat trips go, this one is reasonably tame, so we’re allowed to bring the camera at our own risk. We get extra warning for spins to give us time to put the camera away.  At this time of year the rivers are generally flowing at their lowest, because there’s no snow melt. The jet boats don’t need much depth to operate, but to spin they need about a metre.  The journey upstream is very pleasant and the handrail on the boat is toasty warm and radiates heat through our gloves. It makes such a difference and I don’t feel the least bit cold along the way. We’re glad we decided to take this tour.

Eventually we tie the boat up near a large flat where our heliflight departs. We climb carefully up the little path, I’m distracted by the frost which has created a tracery of sparkling crystals all over the grass. I’ve never seen anything like this before. We have a little while to just be here quietly enjoying the spectacular scenery. Our chopper coming from Cattle Flat Station and our pilot today is Charlie, a very experienced search and rescue pilot. It’s a sweet little chopper just big enough for the four of us and with wonderful visibility. It looks quite new. Very nice! This is Son's first time in a chopper. Hubby and I know the drill. We wave Son into the front seat climb in ourselves and get organized with our headsets and seatbelts and we’re away.
There’s nothing like the thrill off rising up and seeing the earth shrink below us. The shadow of the chopper mimes our journey over the grey rubble of the braided river. Blue and grey becomes brown and white as we admire a homestead embraced by the garden of the home paddock.
The valley branches off in an invitation for exploration we don't accept. As we reach the head of this branch of the valley we come up close against the forested mountainside. The wind is blowing snow plumes off the top of the range. I long to go higher and see the distant ranges but we stay low and protected.  In no time we’re buzzing along the edge of a glacier. It’s got a deep fluffy layer of snow over it, but we can see the deep blue of the thick, fissured ice. Son is loving it. “This is worth the price of admission!” He exclaims.  
The snow is traced with the tracks of Chamois.  There’s cattle up here in the heights which gives us a bit of a surprise. Charlie takes the opportunity to check on them for their owner and we do a couple of circuits checking them over carefully. The snow this week is causing some serious problems for livestock. Volunteers have been called for snow raking to help rescue stranded sheep.
We make our snow landing near the cattle. Watch out for the cow pats, but the walking is easier if you use the cattle tracks. Charlie hops on the radio once he has promises that we won’t go any closer to the edge than where he’s leaving us, then it’s time for a group photo, using our camera. We move to get the sun in a more photo friendly position and in the process I step on some fresh snow and sink down to above the knee and overbalance. We squeal and laugh. 
Soon it’s time to reboard for a more direct flight back to the flat. Son insists I go in the front this time. It's all over too soon. We thank Charlie and walk with James across the flat and up into the forest. 
Beds of spongey moss carpet the ground under the trees. A perfect bed for hobbits or elves, or us if we had the time. NZ really is middle earth. Little toadstools emerge from dank earth. Across a gully through a veil of trees, a waterfall clatters onto rocks.  We pause and listen.
 Reluctantly we turn to crunch back to the boat. Across the river flats the sun sparkles on crystalline jewels of ice.     
As we near the river, I am grateful for the cold as we pick our way along a path that in warmer times has obviously been muddy but is now frozen. We clamber down the riverbank and into our seats. Soon we are zipping back down the river with the sun behind us. On the way up river the low northern sun, and sunstrike on the water was an issue, so having the sun at our backs is a relief. Nothing to do but soak up the glorious scenery. The day is still very calm and still and the lake is still. Barely a ruffle disturbs the mirror surface. A ripple rent between the worlds of a novel.

With only the three of us on the tour we make a pretty speedy get away back at Glendhu Bay and Sue drops us at Bella Vista where after a brief review of our wonderful adventure we dive into the car and ask Tommie to take the most direct route he can to Manapouri, so long as its via Cardona! Not a moment to lose. I don’t really need the advice people have provided that they’d take Crown Range Road.  At Cardrona the temperature plummets and it is a magical fairyland of white. There’s some light fog and all the trees are frosted. Bright red berries provide a contrast and cute little cabins sit with snowy roofs. It’s absolutely gorgeous. 
I'm driving and chastise my front passenger for not being on the ready with the camera. Such a scene to miss! The snow is quite deep and we see no obvious places that look safe to stop and anyhow we’re in a hurry. We live in the moment for a change. 
As we travel down Crown Range Road the scenery is simply breathtaking. WOW! OMG. I’ve been along here before but in the snow this scenery comes into its own. A lookout is provided. YES! I’m glad I’m driving and pull in. We’re not missing this one! The busy traffic here has compacted the ground to ice. It’s very slippery to walk on. I employ the tripod for a group shot against the view. In the photo the view looks completely ordinary and doesn’t remotely convey the spectacle before us. How frustrating! People will just have to trust us on this one.  
The red on the trees ahead are dense clusters of berries. Once again I am struck by the beauty of the bare winter trees. I guess the planting of exotics give an opportunity for artistry.
We skirt around Queenstown again and take the beautiful drive down along Lake Wakatipu. It's difficult to capture from the passenger side when heading south and it's clear that I'm the one with experience photography from a moving car.  

The red on the trees ahead are dense clusters of berries

We stop to change drivers
We’re just through the snowiest areas as it’s getting dark, but we’ve still got about 45 minutes to go and we note the warnings along the way, taking our time, driving carefully. We switch drivers. We can’t afford to not be on top of the game and anyway I need to call Fiordland Expeditions, so Hubby takes over the wheel. We encounter no problems and easily find Acheron Cottages where the rooms and the welcome are warm. 
Acheron Cottages are wonderful value and really comfortable. Many of the reviewers on TA comment that they wish they were staying longer here. So do we.

For dinner we head on over to Te Anau and the Redcliff Café.  It's a bit of a hike after such a long drive.  It's pretty quiet tonight. Not many patrons. First up Hubby orders a Montieths Raddler, while Son goes for a glass of riesling.
We start with some grilled bread and dips.  All the dips were nice but the smokey semi dried tomato dip was sensational ($16). Hubby is adventurous with a starter of Roasted Fresh Titi  (Muttonbird) from the Titi Islands off Rakiura. It comes served with a pallet cleansing citrus & rocket salad & potato matchsticks ($20.50). Well, where else can you try that! He enjoyed it. I sampled and it tasted like fish oil, I guess not surprising given their diet.
Our mains are more standard fare. Fish of the day for me - Blue Cod on roast capsicum risotto with cargrilled zucchini. Son opted for NZ Prime Hereford ribeye steak with smokey duck fat roasted potatoes, buttered seasonal vegetables and flame grilled green capsicum chutney ($39). Hubby goes with a guaranteed success - slow roasted pork belly & pan seared scallops served with watercress and marscarpone crushed potatoes & a pineapple chilli salsa ($34).
We shouldn't. But we do. Hubby leads the way with a Menage A trois of house made cheesecake. Son concedes and has a trilogy of home made ice cream. I indulge in the warm deconstructed fruit crumble. All were $12.50. Son won the dessert round easily. Hubby takes a break from routine and orders a latte (which looks like it's served in a jar) rather than the usual capuccino. A very nice meal. Research pays off. 

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