What a great Ramblers tour I led with Tim, lots to share. It’s 3 years since my last trip, so I’m also reflecting on what’s changed.
A good story needs jeopardy….and every great tour does too. Our adventure was full of the unknown right from the start:
Would we get to New Zealand at all? With Auckland international airport flooded and closed, baggage bobbing around and passengers wading knee deep in water – we weren’t sure until the last minute. We didn’t miss the weather entirely, our very first walk up the ancient Māori Pa, Mount Eden, involved a howling gale and driving rain. Enough! We retreated to the Auckland Museum. One planned walk was no longer accessible due to land slips, but the replacement down the Waimangu valley involved bubbling mud pools and lakes, steaming vents, colourful rocks and weird volcanic shapes.
Was the Tongariro crossing too perilous? Would we turn back? As we passed people who had, stumbling down though the driving rain in the opposite direction, conditions were less than ideal. But we were stronger than most and the sun shone all the way through our descent. We wont forget the crisis meeting in the tent, or the frantic clothes change in the portaloos!. Oh the glorious triumph when we hear how many didn’t even START! Those in our group choosing not to walk the crossing had a wonderful but wet hike to the waterfalls and silica rapids, impressive volcanic geography.
Would we get accross the Cook Straight, or would the Interislander ferry break down AGAIN? We had the most perfect sunshine crossing, admiring Queen Charlotte Sound and walking along Picton harbour front in the evening glow, followed by a sunny walk up ‘The Snout’ and lovely swimming the next morning.
Would Cyclone Gabrielle come tearing down to the South Island? Thank gooodness she ran out of puff. Wonderful weather delivered at St Arnaud. We were joined by our friends, Judy and Erwin, who told us all about the flora and fauna and explained how traplines worked,
Would James make it to the top of Roy’s Peak …and back again? Of course, why did we ever doubt him? Meanwhile, the rest of us completed a wonderful hike around the Diamond Lakes, swimming and picnic at the beach, and those with enough energy continued along the lake shore for another few stretching kilometres . The taste of New Zealand party at the lovely Edgwater Resort was another challenge – guessing the names of the famous New Zealand folk and fauna.
Would Andrew ever drive the coach again after the debacle of Christchurch Godley head? Well, that would have been awkward. Too many cyclists and too much cliff, so a little extra walking was needed. We all loved Christchurch: street art, lovely public spaces and great to see the Cathedral is being rebuilt. We were moved by the installation of white chairs: 185 different chairs, one for every person killed in the earthquake of 2011.
Would we see the top of Ben Lomond? Swirling mists parted before us after our 1,000m climb. We walked either to the saddle, or right to the top up the knarly rocky path. Either way, the views accross Queenstown were stunning, and we walked off the incredible buffet dinner from the Skyline restaurant the previous night.
Would Amy’s parachute open? Would the rafting trio survive the rapids? Naturally – I remember their grins of success. Would the jet boats sink (in 4” of water)? No, but wow, those clever machines skim over the water and loose rocks like nothing else.
Would we see the top of Mitre Peak? So near but not quite, By that time we didn’t care as we were so awed by the verticalness of everything. Waterfalls and seals. Vegetation growing on the sheerest of cliff sides, only to slide off leaving spectacular slabs of rock.
And here’s a clip to get that real Milford feelingIMG_2316
Would everyone who went into those dark glow worm caves come out again? I think so. Who knew about glow worms…cannibalistic critters, making ladders of glowing mini blobs to attract the insects.
Would Jason feel obliged – in his (previous) professional capacity of custodian of law and order – to report Andrew for GSH (Grevious Signpost Harm)? Tempted. Andrew, our driver of many Kiwi insights, looked after us so well, but the little white signpost at the Cromwell rest stop was no match for the giant 48 seater bus. He limited himself to just one dad joke per day! We loved the historic precinct showing what remained of the town after the damming of the river as part of the hydro electric projects. Hydro is a massive 57% of power in New Zealand.
Finally, would we ever see the elusive Moa? Epic fail. Other than the fine specimen in the Auckland museum. But, read on to my next blog, and see the elusive and iconic wildlife Tim and I DID spot when we ventured further South in our New Zealand trip.
So what changes did I notice?
The Māori influence is getting stronger, with much more dual language signage, place names and words inserted into the English language. Generally, locals support this transition, be they of European descent or not, and are careful to use the Māori names whenever they can. many are only too happy to shrug off the old colonial influence, proud of the uniqueness of their country. The only complaints I heard were about the amount of money spent on supporting this change, when there is much to be done to maintain the infrastructure of the country, especially as it is increasingly battered by natural disasters. Curiously, the Māori language only uses 11 consonants.
Less sheep more cows. The trend to dairy farming, a far more lucrative export, is very apparent. Cows and massive new irrigation systems everywhere. Ironically also a little at odds with the country‘s laudable aims to stay environmentally conscious: New Zealand now pays far more carbon offsetting as a result – Andrew (our driver) made us laugh telling us this was known as the fart tax, though technically of course, it‘s the burp tax.
The massive crusade towards ‘predator free 2050’ continues apace, even though everyone realises now that this is an ‘aspirational target’. Traps abound in the national parks, and there are many success stories on the endemic species making a comeback. I saw swathes of forest being poisoned and felled to make way for the native beech – bizarrely for us, in New Zealand this is an evergreen tree.
All together there are less visitors around than 3 years ago, less traffic, less queues, more space. This made the whole visitor experience infinitely better for us. Just like in the UK, there were a few empty shops and businesses, inflation, staff shortages and egg shortages!
And a final new fact: some of the glacial lakes in the Southern Alps were carved out so deeply, that they are several hundred meters below sea level.
That’s it, thanks everyone for a super trip – the group really made it for us. If you’d like to read more, have a look at ‘What we did next’ in New Zealand!‘What we did next’ in New Zealand. And The great Whanganui river trip. And, importantly Will I get my feet wet?