Sunday, January 10, 2010

Post Christmas Holiday

After a week of working hard catching up on chores at home we headed down to the south island for some adventure and relaxation. We flew down to Christchurch and hired a car and drove up towards Arthur's Pass. On the way we stopped off and walked around Castle Hill. Some crazy limestone boulders which are a well known climbing area. Unfortunately we didn't have climbing gear with us ... another time.

Castle Hill

We got to Arthur's Pass and decided due to the bad weather forecast for the next day that we would make a dash up Avalanche Peak in the afternoon. This is supposed to be one of the best day walks in New Zealand. Half way up we bumped in to a colleague of mine from NIWA Christchurch.

There were a lot of wild flowers on the way up, although I can't imagine how these flimsy looking flowers survive in the winds?

Wild alpine flowers

Unfortunately we got to the top just as the clouds came in. We didn't even get enough time to pull out the camera to get a photo of Crow Glacier on the side of Mt Rolleston.

Looking west from the top of Avalanche Peak

Instead we were greated at the top of the peak by two rather friendly (or hungry) Kea. Kea are the New Zealand mountain parrot and appear to have little fear of humans and will start ripping in to your rucksack as soon as you have your back turned - looking for food!

Kea at the top of Avalanche Peak

The next day the winds were very strong up at the top of the mountains, so we stayed down low and headed up the Bealey Valley. This was beautiful, sheltered from the wind, with lots of flowers and a small glacier at the top of the valley.

Helen walking up Bealey Valley

In the afternoon we wandered up to the Devils Punchbowl Falls, a 131 m waterfall opposite Arthur's Pass.

Devils Punchbowl Falls (131 metres)

After two days at Arthur's Pass the weather came in and it rained a lot. So we headed over to the west coast on our way to Lewis Pass. So we got a true west coast experience with pouring rain. We did some shopping in Greymouth and then we did a detour up to Punakaki (pancake rocks) to the north. These limestone stacks appear to have lots of layers in them, but it is caused by dissolution. They were getting hammered by the pounding waves and the blowholes were active.

Punakaiki - West Coast

Pancake Rocks

We headed up to Lewis Pass. We were pretty sore from our rather energetic/rapid tramp up Avalanche Peak a few days earlier. So we felt like we needed some hot water therapy to relax our achey muscles. We spent a hour or so in the outdoor hot springs at Maruia.

Aaron relaxing in Maruia hot springs

The next morning we woke up to pouring rain again. So we drove down to Hanmer Springs to escape the rain on the other side of the mountain range where it was dry. We spent the day hanging out and drying out our camping gear.

The next day we thought it might be better up at Lewis Pass, so we drove back up. It was a bit cloudy, but the forecast was for it to clear. We set off on the St James Walkway. Unfortunately the rain started and it just got harder and harder throughout the morning. We had to do a lot of stream crossings, more than were shown on the map. We got very wet on our way to Cannibal Gorge Hut.

Crossing the Maruia River on the swing bridge at the beginning of the St James Walkway

Lots of stream/river crossings

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading our books and relaxing in the hut as various groups came and went, some on their way to the next hut, 1 hour up the valley at Ada Pass. We had an entertaining evening talking environmental issues, farming, geology and all kinds of other crazy stuff with a group of older trampers from the Christchurch area. It was nice to know that other people care and are interested about the stuff we work on.

The next day we woke up to clear skies and walked up to Ada Pass to get some great views of the mountains.

Faerie Queene (2235m)

Cannibal Gorge Hut and the Spenser Range

We then walked back out to Lewis Pass. We camped the night at Marble Hill campsite on the "Alpine Fault". Oh yes we are geeky geologists! Unfortunately the next day the weather came back in and we headed back down to Hanmer Springs and hired some mountain bikes to check our the local tracks. The tracks were quite good, but it interesting trying to ride a heavy hire bike without shoes and pedals. I felt like my feet flew off the pedals every bump I went over and had no control! It made for an entertaining ride.

Mountain biking the tracks at Hanmer Springs

As the weather continued to be bad up in the mountains we kept heading east where it is warm, sunny and dry for the last few days of our holiday. We stopped in at several wineries in the Waipara area. Then headed out to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsular. We had tried to go out there during winter of 2008, but snow closed the road.

The Banks Peninsular is 2 large volcanoes where the craters have become large sheltered harbours. It is a popular tourist spot, but we eventually found some accommodation and had a look around the town. The area is historically important as it was a french settlement. So most of the roads have french names and some of the houses are in a french style. The nice thing for the tourists is that there are still several french bolangeries and restaurants - so lot of yummy french food.

The villiage of Akaroa and Akaroa Harbour

After fish and chips on the beachfront we headed up the hill to the ridge above Akaroa. Unfortunately all of the area has been cleared for farmland. So compared to Arthur's Pass and Lewis Pass it seemed rather spoilt.

Purple Peak above Akaroa Harbour

We were supposed to go out kayaking with the dolpins before we headed back to the airport. However the weather was not ideal and there were a few waves and a southerly change expected, so Aaron decided that he would rather not go out without sea sick drugs. So we took the scenic route back around the peninsular and into Christchurch.

View of the harbour entrance

So although the weather didn't really cooperate with our original plan to do lots of tramps in the mountains, we lounged in hot springs, went mountain biking, wine tasting, visited volcanoes, mountains and saw a lot of great scenery and did a lot of relaxing and read several novels each. Now we have to face reality again!

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