Photo shows the Cook massif and the Hooker Valley, South Canterbury high country. Mt Cook is on the right of the photo. All other photos can be seen here in the gallery
We are back in Christchurch after a tiki tour* around the bottom half of the South Island. Our attempt to complete another multi day walk was thwarted by the weather. Basically, as soon as we had left Christchurch a few weeks ago, the forecast was for a huge storm that would barrel its way across the Southern Ocean below Stewart Island and expected to dump large amounts of rain on the west coast and the high country - more or less where we wanted to choose a walk.
The forecast proved correct as we ascended onto the Mackenzie Plateau and passed the three large green Alpine lakes of Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau. The sky looked tortured and black to the west. Because of the rain shadow effect of the Southern Alps, we have learned before to keep East when the wind is from the West (and more rarely vice versa). We explored the Otago coast and the tussock country of Central Otago as the rains poured elsewhere, swelling the rivers, and causing floods that broke the two main western and eastern highways - NZ's one lane 'motorways.'
The Otago coast has plenty of marine wildlife to goggle at. Sealions on the sandy beaches, fur seals on the rocks and Hector's dolphins in the surf. Little blue and rarer yellow eyed penguins were nesting, as well as shags of three species, gulls, terns, waders, ducks and black swans.
Central Otago is getting invaded by the dreaded pivot irrigators and dairy herds, a matter of some strong controversy here in NZ, but there are still plenty of raw, red gorges, tussock covered hills and rocky countryside to admire.
We timed an arrival at Wanaka, the first of Otago's High Country lakes, just as the lake levels had peaked and the weather cleared to clear blue skies. We skirted around both Lakes Wanaka and Wakatipu (Queenstown) and then made a quick dash down through Southland to Fiordland and Milford Sound. It's the only one of the 14 sounds (correctly called fiords) that tourists can access and can get quite crowded, especially now Chinese tourists have arrived in their thousands.
Although we should have been used to being in the South Island, it's always a surprise to discover just how varied the landscape is. Just when you would think Mother Nature would have become exhausted creating such a surfeit of beauty and put her feet up wih a cup of tea, you turn a corner and the scenery just seems to get better and better. It's certainly like that along the Milford Road. A single kea (NZ's alpine parrot) arrived and attempted to destroy just what could be removed from vehicle rubber. Because of the recent heavy rain, there were waterfalls falling off the sheer walls of the valleys and the sound itself everywhere.
We were lucky to have lovely weather while passing back via Mt Cook and we walked up the Hooker valley to where the Hooker Glacier descends off the Mt Cook massif. There are around 3,000 glaciers in the Southern Alps, the most spectacular around Mt Cook and Mt Aspiring further south, but they are all in retreat, like glaciers elsewhere in the world. It's hard to imagine even the huge Tasman glacier surviving another 20 years.
The other event that has dominated the news here and overseas of course is the explosion on Whakaari / White Island, a small volcanic island about 20 nm off the Eastern Bay of Plenty coast. In a moment of incredibly bad timing, a group of tourists were blasted as they explored the crater rim, killing 16 of them and injuring many more.
We spent a few weeks with Saraoni in 2006 attempting to get to Whakaari. It's not an easy island to stop at, as the only half decent anchorage is on the south side. To anchor there, you need northerly winds, or no wind at all. That puts the boat at a risk as the volcano then sends ash and smoke in your direction.
No doubt when the recriminations and accusations die down, it won't stop people trying to tempt fate with nature's fury. The episode reminded us of of the volcanos we have visited before - Ili Api near Lembata in Indonesia, Vulcan in the Med. near Stromboli, Rincon de la Vieja in Costa Rica, Isabela's active craters in the Galapagos and more recently Yasur on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu (although we only anchored at Lenakel
and saved the volcano for 2020!). Any one of them could have blown up in our faces and we would have no-one to blame but ourselves.
* a 'tiki tour'
for non NZ ers means a leisurely jaunt by car or bus seeing the sights without too much exertion!
A kea on the Milford Road - the world's only alpine parrot, endangered of course!