Picton, April 2nd 2018
Dear friends & family,
We hope you are all doing great.
After visiting the South East and the South South, we discovered the South West.
Starting with Manapouri, a small town at the border of the Fiordland. In French "pourri" means "crap" so we kind of expected something crap. But actually, only the weather was really bad. The town itself is tiny and has the nicest campground ever with Walt Disney style houses and old cars.
The weather was much nicer the next day and we did a part of the Great Walk Kepler Track. We hiked for 12km in a tropical setting, surrounded by many kinds of mushrooms and lovely birds.
Then we went deeper in the Fiordland where it was very cold. The windscreen of our car even froze inside and outside!
We woke up early to enjoy as much as possible the area and started with Gertrude Saddle hike covered by a white coat. We didn't particularly like the beginning of the hike - a lot of rolling rocks and gravel - but then the it changed and we loved walking on huge rocks. The climb is really worth it, the view from Gertrude Saddle is breathtaking. Milford Sound is visible below us and surrounded by majestic mountains. And we were lucky, the sun was warming us up nicely!
After spending an hour or so at the Saddle, we started going down and bumped into Jenny, a former colleague of the kiwifruit orchard in the Coromandel. We decided to meet the next day at Milford Sound for a coffee after our respective cruises.
We ended the day at Key Summit with a splendid view over Marian Lake and the surrounding mountains.
We started the next day with a 2-hour cruise in the Milford Sound. So happy to be back on the water! Even if the boat is far from being a sailing boat. But the crew was super nice and we were only 20 on the boat; the experience was quite cosy in the end. And we had the great surprise to see some dolphins who swam with the boat for a few minutes.
As planned, we met Jenny for a coffee. We talked about our last months and how small NZ can be sometimes. The 3 of us saw some former colleagues randomly. We love those fortuitous encounters!
We headed then to Queenstown and hiked the Ben Lomond track to have a nice view over the lake and the surroundings.
Then we went to Bannockburn where we were welcomed by cannon shots. Not to worry though, those "cannons" are just here to scare birds that eat the grapes, "not to scare humans like in the USA" explained a local... Nice atmosphere!
We only stayed there a day and did a small hike in an ancient golden mine. The weather was not very good so we decided to keep going North.
We arrived at Wanaka and met some friends from high school. Marion & Elie, on holiday in NZ for 3 weeks and Pauline & Baptiste with whom we spent Christmas and New Year's Eve. We decided to spend a few days around Wanaka and to discover the area together. It was really great to see them, spend some time together and hike in such a nice place!
Our first hike together was Roy's Peak. A 15km track, very well marked and 1000m of elevation gain. The day before, it snowed at the summit; our last steps were accompanied by a nice soft rustle. A few minutes after arriving at the top, the clouds started to surround us. We just had the time to admire the mountains and the lake. Perfect timing!
The second hike we did was a part of the Motatapu River track. We decided to hike 2 days and spend a night in a hut. We arrived at the beginning of the afternoon and enjoyed the sunny afternoon. We woke up early the next day to go a bit farther et climb to the nearest summit: Jack Hall's Saddle. From there, we could see the Southern Alps on one side and the lake on the other side. Simply beautiful.
We spent a last evening with Marion & Elie; they will be leaving early the next day to go a bit faster to the West Coast and North of the South Island as they have to cross to the North Island soon. A storm was coming on the West Coast though so we decided to stay one more day in Wanaka and spend some time with Pauline & Baptiste.
We then left P&B and headed to the West Coast. We stopped quickly at the "Blue Pools" that were currently very green due to the heavy rain. It was still raining a lot and some trees just fell in front of us on the track. Impressive! (note for our parents: we were very careful and are safe and sound!)
Once on the coast, the weather was better. Unfortunately, when there is sun, there are mosquitoes! You guessed it, this was one of the most horrible nights we spent so far. It was the first time actually that we were looking forward to seeing the sun rise. It was worth getting up early. The day was sunny and we were very close to the glaciers.
The road to access the Fox Glacier was closed but we could still see the glacier from the main road and from a lake nearby, the Lake Matheson famous for the reflection of the surrounding peaks, notably the Mount Tasman and Mount Cook.
We realized there how big and splendid the Mount Cook and Mount Tasman are. Breathtaking.
A few kilometers from there, is located another glacier: Franz Josef Glacier. We caught a quick glimpse of it at the end of the day and would see it better the next day. As it was already a bit late, we did a short hike in Tartare Tunnels. It is actually one tunnel where the water came through used first for washing the gold then for electricity. We didn't find any gold. 'Just' glowworms.
As there was still 10cm of water, we went inside barefoot. Great idea for blood circulation but if the water is too cold, I am sure the blood stops coming into the feet. It was painful! But nice thanks to the glowworms!
We stayed in a nice campground in Franz Josef, very close to the beginning of our next hike, Alex Knob. And suprise! Who's there as well? Pauline & Baptiste!
The next day we hiked together Alex Knob. Very nice hike in the bush with a few viewpoints on the glacier. The weather was very good until we arrived at the summit. Very cloudy, we couldn't see the glacier anymore. Some hikers told us that 10 minutes before we arrived, there was no cloud. Why would you tell that to anyone?! So annoying...! But well, we know it can change very quickly. So we stayed at the top, had lunch there and could see the glacier! Not the very top but at least a good part of it.
We stayed one more night in Franz Josef and spent the evening with Pauline & Baptiste. It is probably the last time we see them in NZ as they are crossing to the North Island soon.
The next morning, we went for a jog at the bottom of the glacier. It was so peaceful and quiet! After 8.30am, the helicopters start flying and only stop at the end of the day.
We then headed to the North, stopping at Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks, Nelson and finally Picton. We met Sarina there, our colleague from Akaroa, to celebrate her birthday. It's been a while since we last celebrated a 19th birthday!! I don't know if it makes us younger ... or not.
We spent the afternoon kayaking in the Sound and ended this beautiful day in a restaurant by the sea.
Sorry, we have to hit the road again to go to Havelock where we are starting a volunteering job in a goat cheese factory! Yummy!
Lots of love and kisses,
Léonie & Baptiste