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Dunedin to Milford Sound - Day 78

18 °C

I couldn't have my shower too hot this morning because the warmth burnt my ice cold hands and feet. It's safe to say it was pretty cold last night.

Baldwin Street is the steepest residential street in the world and it was mine, Andrew's and Mary's first stop for the morning. It was really busy, which I'm sure the residents love - maybe they get a discount on their council tax or something? - and some of the ladies and gents on Mary's tour were there walking up the street. It was really very steep, although the pictures don't do it justice. We decided to drive up as we saw a couple of people do it and it looked fun coming down!
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We then headed to Larnach Castle, billed as New Zealand's only castle. This is a little bit of false advertising if you ask me, because it would barely warrant manor house status in the UK. We should have known from the ticket booth that it wasn't going to be an imposing building when the seller said "Oh you're from England, where they have real castles".
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The building was very pretty though, with a cafe in a barn that had log burning fires, and the views were beautiful.
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And the gardens had an Alice in Wonderland theme, which was very cute.
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Mary had to rejoin her tour for the afternoon, so we dropped her off at the coach stop and set off for our own long drive to Milford Sound. We stopped in a small town for lunch and got an ice cream too. At the beginning of our trip we tried a Meltdown ice cream - pretty much like a magnum, but this first one had two layers of chocolate covering it and caramel in the middle, delicious! - and since then we've been trying all in the range. Hokey Pokey (honeycomb) and Brownie were the last varieties and today we tried Raspberry and Bikkie (Oreo style). They were delicious but none have yet beat the simplicity of the caramel. We'll update you if we have a breakthrough.
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Once we got to Milford Sound Road the scenery became fantastic, but with the sun low in the sky, pictures were difficult to take. We're driving back this way tomorrow, so I hope to get some better shots then. We stopped off at Mirror Lakes, to get some pictures of the mountains reflected in the water but its not much of a mirror when ducks are swimming through it!
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Arriving at Lake Gunn campsite we realised we were back to basics again! There was a lake to one side and a forest to the other with a long drop toilet somewhere inside (see the picture of me in the woods - I'm on the right in blue and the green hut on the left is the toilet!). A guy was trying to make a fire in one of the brick BBQs, like Andrew had on the North Island, but the rain had made all the wood wet so it was proving difficult. Andrew joined in, which led to almost 4 hours of trying to make the fire light properly!
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The guy and his wife were from New Orleans and were on a 9 month trip. Apart from their trip length, they were very similar to us - they'd sold their house, left their jobs and came away, to then go back to a new area in America and settle down. It's always reassuring to hear were not the the only ones who left everything!

Oh, and the fire did get going, sort of, eventually...I think it was the talk of Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night!

Posted by staceywaugh 05:37 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains lakes castles roads campsite Comments (0)

Lake Wanaka - Day 75

And more driving...

18 °C

After the glaciers yesterday we drove to a campsite on Lake Paringa, near Haast, so we could get a head start for today.
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We had a lot of driving to do to get to the East coast of the South Island today. The rural nature of New Zealand was never more evident than when we had a cow road block on the main road! A bit like cows being herded down the M6.
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Along the way, we saw Mount Aspiring. We almost missed this fantastic view because it was side on to the road, but we stopped to fill our water tank directly across from it and was hit by this really imposing mountain.
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I've also been desperately trying to get a decent picture of one of the many birds of prey that fly around here, but they're too quick. I did manage to get a couple of ok shots today though, which I hope I will be able to edit when I get home.
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On the way towards Lake Wanaka, where we'd stop for lunch, the scenery was typical beautiful. We've seen a lot of lakes and mountains by this point!
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Lake Wanaka is a really pretty town and probably my favourite so far in New Zealand. I am sure it is even better during the ski season. We had lunch by the lake and fed the ducks, which is where we spotted this massive fish in the water!
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There was a Gypsy Fair on in the town, so we had a walk around it. I expected Gypsy Rose Lee telling fortunes and pretty painted wagons but it was just caravans, stalls selling rose quartz and had a little stage for people to perform on. One young boy sang an Of Monsters and Men song while playing the guitar, which was quite impressive and he tried really hard.
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We were about to continue our journey when Andrew spotted yet another viewpoint, this time of Mount Aspiring, which ended up taking us ages to get to and the view was nowhere near as good as early. The first picture is of the mountain, the second of me looking impressed!!
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The rest of the day was spent driving to the Glencoe Reserve campsite near Oamaru, passing more mountains and we managed to get another picture of a bird of prey eating road kill!
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Posted by staceywaugh 05:18 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls mountains lakes birds fish views gypsy_fair Comments (0)

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers - Day 74

Walking on Ice

Today we got to walk on a glacier! The day started with a beautiful view across the lake and a short drive to Franz Josef.
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After using the shower at the YHA because I wouldn't 'steal' a shower from the local holiday park (that was the woman at the isite's advice!), the sun was shining and we took a few walks to see the Franz Josef glacier from different angles. It was beautiful to see and the reflection of it in Peter's Pool during one of the walks was incredible.
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We then drove down to Fox Glacier to take our trip to walk on the ice. At the shop, the team talked us through what we'd be doing over the next few hours and gave us our equipment - walking boots, thick socks and crampons! We took the a bus to the beginning of the glacier, and one of the guides told us this is one of the few places in the world where you find a glacier right next to a temperate rainforest. She also showed us where the glacier had come down to years before and the rate of change is incredible.

It was an hour or so walk just to get to the ice in the glorious sunshine, which made it hard to believe we'd be walking on ice shortly. We got lots of information about the glacier, how it was formed, how its changed over the years and it's recent movements - including that it actually grew in size in recent years, but has now receded again.
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When we got to the ice, it was quite incredible - the sound of water running through it and the blue and white of the ice, despite the debris on it. This reminds me of a tripadvisor comment I'd seen, about these trips, where the visitor had said he was disappointed that the ice wasn't cleaner?! Obviously he wanted the 'Disney' glacier walk. It was time to out on our crampons, grab some walking poles and get on the ice!
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It was so exciting to be walking on the glacier and I think walking up the dug out steps was one of the best bits for me, because you could see the depth of the glacier, even at this shallow point. The change in temperature was remarkable, I went from wearing a tshirt and leggings on the walk, to adding a fleece as we got closer and then before we got on the ice, a windbreaker, hat and gloves. We walked across the ice, safely following the guide while she pointed out different parts of the ice, including the markings in the ice that showed where the snow had compacted. There were lots of cool crevices, some where you could hear the water running through again, and deep, blue pools of icy water that you could fit your whole walking pole in. The guide also told how they have found remnants of an old hut that used to be further up the glacier, beer cans from old adventurers and even tools this far down the glacier because of the movement over the years! This was the same for the rocks and debris on the glacier, it was rocks that had fallen years and years ago.
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There was a family who were the obligatory annoying group that you find on every tour - and as they say, if there isn't one on your trip, then it's you! The mum asked the guide questions and didn't bother to listen to the answer, and the dad and son kept walking off on the glacier despite the guide asking them to stop for their safety.

The trip was so much fun and interesting too. This time last year, I didn't think I'd be wearing crampons and carrying a walking pole, let alone enjoying it so much! And we only got to see the tip of the glacier really.

Once we were back at the shop, we took a short drive to see the Fox Glacier from another side and also get a glimpse of Mount Cook. It was so beautiful and the perfect way to end a great day.
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Posted by staceywaugh 05:20 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains lakes glacier Comments (0)

Arthur's Pass to Franz Josef Glacier - Day 73

This shall be known as the day after the coldest night of our lives.

18 °C

Well, last night was freezing. Literally. The window screen on the van was frozen when we woke up and it was only 1 degrees, so it must have dropped below zero during the night. All night we kept waking up because we'd turned and moved into a freezing (not just cold!) spot or uncovered a thermal-clad arm from the two duvets we were under. I felt so sorry for the people in tents. We made some porridge for warmth and everyone on the campsite gathered together to share hot water for drinks to try and get some warmth.
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We drove through Arthur's Pass this morning, which had some really beautiful scenery along the way. It was almost worth freezing for!
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At the dramatically named Deaths Corner, we stopped to see some Kea, which are apparently slightly destructive - they can chew all the rubber from around your windows - but they were really friendly, sitting on the fence in front of us, and cute.
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The next big stop would be Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, so this took us through a small town called Hokitika, where we needed hot food. This came in the form of an enormous sausage roll.
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After yet another unsuccessful attempt to get some photos uploaded - we did get our camper and first hostel booked for Australia though - we travelled towards the glaciers.
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We stopped for the day at a campsite by a peaceful lake. The sun was shining and it was lovely and warm when we arrived, but as soon as the sun went behind the trees it was really cold again. Another night in the thermals!
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Posted by staceywaugh 05:21 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains lakes birds food roads arthurs_pass Comments (0)

Waitomo Caves to Uretiti Beach Camp, Northland - Day 64

Black water rafting with glow worms

20 °C

Good morning!
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Today was our trip to see the glowworms in Waitomo Caves. Instead of walking or taking a boat in the caves, we decided to tube it instead. This is basically a rubber ring you sit in as you navigate the caves, which is called black water rafting. I have been a bit nervous about this for the last two days, just because the woman at the isite said there are eels and spiders down there!

At the Black Water Rafting Company office, we were taken to get our gear for the trip. Wet suits, socks, booties and helmet...I wished there was gloves too so my hands didn't have to touch anything down there! Our group had a mixture of ages, from teens to 50+, and from places like Seattle and Malaysia, as well as quite a few of us from England and Scotland and was led by two women guides who were young, enthusiastic and funny. It took us a while to get suited and booted, then we hopped in a van to take us to the caves.
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We got to a parkland area and picked up our tubes, making sure it fit us.
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Then we walked to the river and one of the guides said "Right, in the caves there are a couple of waterfalls that we need to get down. The safest way to do this is to jump away from the waterfall, facing backwards with your bum in the tube, ready to land in the water". I thought she was joking, but clearly she wasn't when she made me take the first practice jump in the river! I did it and apart from a face full of water as I landed, it was fine and quite fun! I was unsure how easy it would be the save, given it was dark and has a low head height...not something I usually worry about.
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Everyone had a go - apart from one girl who refused and subsequently had to climb down the waterfalls inside the caves - and then we were off to the caves!
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The hole to get in was tiny but I managed just fine, Andrew had to watch his head constantly...something he is always worrying about (particularly because he is quite clumsy!). Inside we turned on our head lights and sat for a while to get used to the dark.
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The women told us lots of information about the cave as we made our way through, walking, wading through water and tubing. It was so much fun jumping backwards into water in the dark!
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We stopped to sit in one of the tunnels in the cave, ate a chocolate and marshmallow fish they gave us (which made the next bit slightly better) and turned our head lights off. My least favourite part, as I wouldn't be able to see spiders trying to attack me! But we looked up and saw the luminous green, glowing worms on the ceiling! They looked beautiful and strange, like a sky of green stars. But they're not pretty at all. One of the guides told us that they're not worms, they're actually Arachnids with no legs that cling on to the ceiling and dangle their web to catch insects to eat. They live for quite a long time then wrap themselves in their web to eventually hatch into a blind moth without a mouth. Realising they're not going to live very long without a mouth, they forget their hungry and just mate for two days before it dies. I think the female glow worm has the children and then gets eaten by them?! (I could have made that last bit up!)
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We made an 'eel', by sitting in the tube while the person in front holds your legs and you hold theirs, and travelled through the cave looking up at the thousands of glow worms, which were somehow nonetheless beautiful because of the gross story we just heard. And then finally we spilt and tubed ourselves to the end of the cave, in the dark, using our arms to move through the water, which was really tiring!

We got out of the cave and had a group victory shot! I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and would definitely like to try other rafting now.
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Out of our stinky wet suits, we had a hot shower and ate tomato soup and a bagel, before setting off on a long journey to the Northland area of New Zealand. There were no other DOC campsites on the way and we didn't want to pay for a holiday park yet, as we would need to stay at a few in the bay of islands and later in the trip on the South Island. This meant us driving through Auckland at sunset and the view from the bridge was lovely.
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Arriving in the dark at Uretititi Beach Camp, we couldn't really tell what it was like, but the sky was so clear that the stars and moon were beautiful and bright.

Posted by staceywaugh 05:45 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises lakes caves caving tubing Comments (0)

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