Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Saturday 16th February 2008 - Marlborough Country

For anyone worrying about anything we said yesterday:

1. We are optimists. The pessimist report was just a joke.
2. We reported on walking through glades of purple mushrooms and honey trees.... We can now confirm we were not on the sort of trip that we thought we might be - the purple mushrooms are, in fact the King's Pouch variety. Our map informs us that 'Honeydew is the waste product of the beech scale insect, which lives under the bark of beech trees. The insects sucks sap from the tree to obtain protein, and excretes sugar-rich waste through its anal filament. The long thread with a honeydew droplet on the end hangs from a black sooty fungus attached to the tree bark. It's a rich energy source for native species of insects, lizards and nectar-feeding birds such as bellbirds, but outside the Wasp Control Areas the sweet smelling (like honey) resource is now dominated by wasps which have been introduced by man.' We were in a Wasp Control Area but still saw lots of wasps.

Today we enjoyed some fine wine and an excellent lunch at Wairau River winery in Renwick.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent planning our 'adventures' in the North Island and generally relaxing. The hostel was one of the best yet.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Thursday & Friday 14th & 15th February 2008 - SNOW on the Angelus Hut loop

Day 1

The Optimistic Report

A fine morning saw us quickly out of the local DOC office, armed with hut passes and a map for a two day adventure in Nelson Lakes National Park.

We strolled off from the Mt Robert car park (880m) at 9am and headed up a lovely zigzag path in and out of gorgeous birch forest, with Tomtits and Bellbirds singing merrily as we rose gently up the first 400m to Bushedge Shelter - a bit like a stalkers' lunch hut. Still enjoyed fine panoramic views as the mist came and went.

We soon passed Relax Shelter (1425m), also well named, where we relaxed with some chocolate for a while. Beyond this spot we gained the broad crest of 'Bob' ridge and followed the well-marked path as it continued over the crinkles of this long ridge. A heavily laden couple with 9 days food overhauled us here, but we passed with when an extra layer was needed and next saw them at the end of the walk. Meanwhile we skipped along, enjoying occasional glimpses of views, as the ridge became narrower and rockier. It was similar to the Glyders but sharper and three times as long. We spend quite some time around the 1800m mark before descending joyfully to the magnificently placed Angelus Hut besuide Lake Angelus. It was 2pm, time for a late lunch and a debate as to whether to continue. The rain got heavier (we actually got better views then) and the company appeared good, especially the wood-burning stove which was most comforting, so we stayed, along with Shannon and Scott, the heavily laden pair from Alaska (Scott has a magnificent red beard, perhaps he is training to be John Muir II), a family with their delighful 1-year old, Ellie, some Australians amongst whom Bruce was very knowledgable and informative, some Californians living over here and a couple of guys from Wellington.

The convivial afternoon was followed by a gourmet supper of seafood soup, pasta in cheese sauce with tuna and butterscotch whip. The chatty evening ended around 9pm when it got dark, rain still lashing the roof.


The Pessimistic Report

Woke to the din of Jim's ipod and endured the cyclists chatter over a toast breakfast. Went up to Mt Robert car park and set off laden with everything for a night out. Trudged up a steep path to a sparse shelter, sweating profusely, where it started to rain as we entered the cloud. Very few views after this. Robert Ridge got sharper and breezier and several rock fields slowed us. We didn't reach the summit as it was off the marked route that we thought we'd better stick to in the very low visibility. Met a few miserable people who were having trouble with the rock fields. Ate chocolate to keep us going. Even so, folk carrying nine days food passed us.

Eventually we (Martin) limped down to a mountain hut, just visible through the rain and cloud. The first mug of tea was welcome, but the taps didn't work because of the drought, so we had to go outside (and get soaked) to get water. The toilet was 100m away across a bog. Inside the hut was a man with a long beard and a jolly smile, a 'know it all' Bruce, and a family with a screaming one-year old. The afternoon passed, then we fed on a selection of dried foods and a tin of tuna. After that it got dark so we went to bed, trying to avoid the leaky window that had dripped onto a sleeping bag. Sleep was initially difficult due to sharing a room with a teething child.

Nallo Lady's Report on Day 2

Woke to snow lying just above the hut and a view of the lakes. Soon, fast flurries of snow were falling outside, making the view of the vegetable sheep diminish. Inside, it was cosy and warm, so despite breakfast around 7.30am, we didn't leave until 9am (after discussions with the warden who does a tour of huts on a 10-day circuit, repeated every 14 days!).

Initially, a steep descent, amidst snow flurries, which soon turned to light rain. The descent was superb though, with a mixture of terrain, from beech forest, to grassy meadows, with the sound of rushing water for the most part, and, as usual, profusions of mosses, lichens and ferns. Had to cross several swollen streams, but luckily didn't get too wet.

Today was also significant for spotting purple mushrooms (and many, ordinary types), and black, honey-scented trees with wasps over their trunks (very weird - we need to ask about these in the DOC office tomorrow) - Paul Filby had the same observations here too!

Lunch was in Coldwater Hut, with a view down Lake Rotoiti, on our own, except for a few sandflies.

If anything, the rain got heavier during the afternoon, coming in heavy bursts, with not much respite between each. When the clouds did break occasionally, snow lay on the ridge just above the lake.

Reached the car after a 300m ascent around 5ish, dripping, and gave a couple of even wetter girls a lift back to the village.

Pam and Paul - Nelson Lakes would benefit from exploration over a week or so.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Wednesday 13th February 2008 - Franz Joseph to St Arnaud (Nelson Lakes)

It being the 13th, things were bound not to go completely smoothly! We had a false start out of Franz Joseph, forgetting to fill up and losing our early start, then to be halted by road resealing and a further 10-minute wait! Later in the day, the silver bullet suffers a chipped windscreen (there's our $200 excess gone) and we take a wrong turning, although the dead end introduced us to the beauty of Lake Rotorua!

Anyway, for a day of driving, it was remarkably scenic. Coffee and banana cake was the only normal part of the Bushman Centre (which claims the largest sandfly in the world), which sells possum pie (yes, it really contains possum, a pest here) and all notices display a peculiar sense of humour!

This section was also memorable for its combined road and railway bridges. Two of these were encountered and as the same single track is used, it was a good thing there were no trains!

Today's picnic was enjoyed in the sun (it came out, especially for the occasion) overlooking Pancake rocks - layers of sandstone and mudstone that the sea has eroded, which form blowholes through which the sea emerges at speed. Despite the calm sea and half full tide, it was still pretty good.

A weka (bird the size of a chicken that kills rats but can't fly) teetered around the edge of the path here, diving for cover when heavy footsteps came past. We've also seen pukeko at the side of the road today.

The coastal scenery was excellent until around mid-afternoon, then our path turned inland, following the Buller river, with some single track road and more narrow bridges.

St Arnaud was a welcome destination around 5.30pm after 500km.

It is the gateway to Nelson Lakes, where John Manning's article from December 2006 TGO magazine has inspired us to visit. So, we'll spend tomorrow night in a hut, somewhere out there, weather permitting, as some 'weather' is due in.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Tuesday 12th February 2008 - Alex Knob Track

After a dark and silent night the heavy curtains in our large double room at Glow Worm Cottages were flung back to reveal a gloriously deep blue sky. Franz Joseph sparkled in the morning sunshine as we made our way to the start of today's walk. Sue had wanted to walk on Franz Joseph glacier but yesterday's bad weather prevented any glacier walks so today's quota - two companies have a monopoly, 30 clients each - was full by the time we arrived. The walk to Alex Knob is mainly through rain forest.

It starts on a DOC motorway to Lake Wombat - a pretty little place where we have our first encounter with Theresa, who is working at the local YHA, and Mr Copeland (Will) who is here for the cricket. Wrong island!? Then we leave the manicured path for the 1000m ascent up to Alex Knob. Melodious bellbirds drown the sound of helicopters as we pass over a carpet of red Rata tree petals. We pass a couple of chaps maintaining the path - basically cutting the invading grass from around the blocks of stone that form the basis of the path. This is acceptable, if not entirely necessary, maintenance.

Eventually, after two good lookout points - Rata and Christmas lookouts, we clear the tree canopy and rise a further couple of hundred metres to the summit of the Knob. Sadly we were enveloped in mist. As Theresa arrived, bringing up the rear, the mist magically cleared and we enjoyed fine lunchtime views of the upper reaches of the glacier during a cloud inversion which lasted about 30 minutes before the expansive view was again obliterated by the rising mist.
The gentle descent (we eschewed the second summit - Louisa Peak) took about 3 hours. After dropping Theresa and Will off at the YHA we drove up to the snout of the Franz Joseph Glacier and snapped away at the end of the wide path full of wide tourists.

Tonight we enjoyed a luxurious meal at the Landing Bar, where many TV screens (thankfully silent) depicted England's fine cricketers enduring a sunny day on the North Island. All the watchers seemed to be English - others showed little interest...

Monday, 11 February 2008

Monday 11th February 2008 - The long road to Franz Joseph Glacier

A partially cloudy morning again scuppered any attempt to sky dive, so we left Wanaka with grey skies ahead. Although the driving time was a little over 4 hours to go north to Haast Pass, then to go up the west coast to Franz Joseph, we managed to make it last the whole day!

During the morning, we stopped for coffees and carrot cake and then to view Fantail and Thunder Creek falls, with a decent amount of water following yesterday and last night's rain.

Lunch was a delight. There was just one other couple on Haast beach, surrounded by a flock of seagulls, but it wasn't difficult to find a space to eat salami rolls accompanied by the crashing of Tasman sea waves. Despite the greyness, it was still quite bright and warm. The sandflies were just about kept at bay by the breeze.

Wanaka was nice as there was a complete lack of the beasties, but they're back now we're further west.

The other delight of the day was a short walk to Monro Beach, through the rain forest. Tree ferns up to 20 feet high were everywhere and there was the usual verdant green of lichens, ferns and leaves. Insects hummed and the path followed a small brown stream down to the beach.

Sadly, there were no fiordland crested penguins to be seen, but it was a fine beach, rocky at either end, with the high tide waves crashing in over the pebbles. We sat for a while, until the sandflies found us (again!) then returned to continue the journey.

Although its not raining just now, the cloud is still well down, but the forecast for tomorrow is for fine weather.

And so to Alex Knob...

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sunday 10th February 2008 - Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain

High clouds delay Sue's sky dive attempt, so we head off in a dilemma as to whether to climb Roy's Peak (1578m) or Rocky Mountain (777m). The heading gives the answer. At the car park we spot a Ramblers Worldwide coach, so on our way up to Diamond Lake we meet English folk in various states of decrepidness. The lake is more of a teardrop shape, appropriate today as the rain starts to fall and Roy's Peak disappears in cloud. Good decision. It's a pleasant path (if these 'wheelchair accessible' Department of Conservation (DOC) paths can be so described) that leads up past wild mignonette or similar, where Bellbirds warble melodiously, up above the lake to a fine viewpoint, and on up a more tenuous (the DOC must have got tired) path to the rocky summit. This sported fine views of Lake Wanaka and beyond, despite the light rain.

The rain eased on descent, so we lunched on the viewing platform high above Diamond Lake, after chatting to a couple from Crieff. Some locals stroll past, commenting, "that's just like the platform that fell in last year" (its a 150m drop!). We shuffle uneasily.

Then on back down to the car and off for a coffee at the nearby motor museum for Sue, whilst I whizz round the random collection of old vehicles. Here is one of their star exhibits:

Quiz: Can you identify any of these?

Then, on to Puzzle World - a much more glossy attraction, with a difficult maze and a 'World of Illusions'.


Mirrors and other effects are similar to those encountered at various places in the UK, so we enjoy a coffee and adjourn for a stroll up Mount Iron, which stands a lofty 250m above Wanaka.
Fine views abound, but all too soon its time to descend, past what appear to be thyme trees, to the sanctuary of the supermarket as the rain starts again. So, our bacon and avocado salad (delicious with a bottle of Merlot, which followed a thirst-quenching honey-spiced ale) was sadly consumed indoors.

Messages:
Night Bird: my blog entries are mostly dictated to Nallo Lady, who adds her own nuances. She added the bit about Wanaka at the end of my last posting... And as for Alex's Knob? Well! That'll really get you going!
Notchy: we hope you are memorising world and UK news to relate to us in due course. The 'Fiordland Focus' doesn't stretch much beyond its 'New Upgrade for Lion's Peak Toilets' headline!
WD: ditto re outdoors blogosphere - our internet time is limited to short bursts of updating the blog, so we are out of touch. Did notice your petition though - best of luck with that. We can't even download the TGOC newsletter, which is a bit frustrating!
Mothers: hello, we are having a great time...
Former colleagues: hello, we know you are out there, but probably too frantic with work to even read the blog, let alone leave a comment!