A hot Christmas and many new outdoor adventures…….
01.12.2015 - 01.02.2016 29 °C
After our first few months in New Zealand, we are feeling more comfortable. It’s more noticeable to hear an American accent than a kiwi accent these days. We also now look forward to returning home after weekend adventures to our small cottage located on a dirt road 10 km in the countryside outside of Twizel. We are impressed with the general kindness, humor and generosity of the locals. However, we still miss our friends and family. Charles would appreciate some American beer, particularly a northwestern IPA.
Overall, the food is an issue. Carbohydrate heavy with influence from English fare, common foods you get eating out including fish and chips, schnitzel, hamburgers, lamb, hogget (18-24 month old sheep), or mutten (grown sheep) prepared any way you can imagine; all served with apricot jelly or tomato sauce. All stores, from petrol stations to quaint bakeries that litter small towns nearby, do prepare fist-sized meat and vege pies. Tasty, but another carbohydrate source that makes you feel a little guilty after eating. We have started cooking/baking more at home. A small feat with our stovetop that mimics hot plates and the limited groceries at our rural location.
Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere was hot! It was a bit odd to have a 30 degree celcius (80 degree farenheit) holiday, but we did not find it hard to fit into the local activities. Most kiwi seasonal activities involve a camper trailer parked along a river or lake with a BBQ and a boat. Christmas decorations with fake snow appear misplaced and the 6 week break for local schools over the holiday mimics summer vacation.
On Christmas Day, Charles and I traveled to Arthur’s Pass, the highest pass over the Southern Alps on the South Island. We initially planned on doing a two night backpacking trip. However, after a 5 hour drive to the trail head and possibility of heavy rain, we opted for the car camping option with day hikes. This was a good choice, because the next 36 hours became a comedy of errors. We started by looking for a campsite. In route we acquired a flat tire. This was frustrating given it was our tire that was patched roughly one week prior. After testing out a few camping areas we chose the edge of a river valley with tall grass. Finally relaxed and ready to sit down to share a bottle of wine to celebrate the holiday, the sand flies appeared. Sand flies are a small gnat-like bug that swarms and bites. Initially the bites don’t bother you. However, roughly 12-24 hours after the bite, often in the middle of the night, the bites swell and itch like no other bite you have experienced before. Admist dealing with sand flies we also attracted a few Kea birds. These beautiful high elevation green parrots are known as the “clown of the Alps” for their large feet, giggle like chirp and affinity for eating/destroying inedible objects. They particularly like rubber windshield wipers. We spent the night re-applying bug spray and looking out for our packs and car. The next AM, we got up and headed off for a hike. During our attempt to leave fast and avoid more bug bites, we left our camp stove on top of the car. The stove proceeded to fall off in the middle of the narrow highway and break an adaptor. We retrieved the stove from the busy road and drove quickly to the top of the pass to share breakfast in a parking lot overlooking the road to the west coast and surrounding peaks of dark brown near black volcanic rock and sagebrush like vegetation. With some hesitation but still determined to enjoy our holiday, we proceed with a short day hike up a river valley by a large chasm and up to a small snow basin. Lucky the hike was enjoyable and was completed without another issue. We headed home following the hike and are not sure if we will return to Arthur’s Pass.
Since Christmas, the weather had been warm nearly every weekend and we have had many other successful weekend trips. A couple weekends ago, Charles and I completed one of the nine New Zealand Great Walks called the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island, a small island off the Southern shore of the South Island. The hike was a beautiful mix of tropical vegetation and white sand beaches. Given Stewart Island is so far south, the weather was mild but wet. We completed the 32 km hike over two nights and three days. We chose to tent camp. This allowed us to stay at a more remote camp site on Stewart Island called Maori beach. Please see our photos. Locals think we are crazy to tent camp. The great thing about New Zealand is that nearly all trails have huts (small cabins) situated at various distances along the trail. Thousands of huts across New Zealand have been developed over the last 100 years as sheep musterers (herders) moved sheep to higher and high elevations. Locals are used to utilizing these huts while hiking and rarely ever sleep on the ground. Overall the huts are nice option on longer trips because they allow you to pack lighter by leaving the tent at home.
Following Stewart Island, we hosted our first visitors to New Zealand, the lovely Josh and Kara Kuntz. The Kuntz’s arrived in Twizel in their camper van ready for fun. Charles and I were hoping to share some of our favorite parts of New Zealand. We spent the first few days around Twizel showing them our new tiny rural home. We then headed off to nearby Mount Cook National Park to do an overnight backpacking trip to a famous hut located in the park. However, due to forecasted 90km/hr winds, exposed trail and big packs, I got nervous about potential injuries and persuaded the group to do a day hike instead. We utilized our time and visited the Mueller and Tasman glaciers. From Mount Cook, we headed south to a small lake town called Wanaka for a few days. Weather was tumultuous with rain and wind, however we did not let it stop us. In Wanaka, we spent our time biking the local mountain bike trails and tasting wine. One evening, we added on the hike up to Rob Roy Glacier, an impressive hike with numerous waterfalls. Evenings were spent in town or at our bed and breakfast playing croquet on the owner’s well manicured course. It was lovely to see the Kuntz’s and reminded us that New Zealand is great, but it is even better to share it with friends. More visitors are welcome!