Friday, March 16, 2012

Avalanche Peak and Westland

February 7th to 11th
Scott, Darrell and I drove into the town of Arthur Pass early to try and dry our laundry. (Scott and I had done some hand washing that refused to dry overnight…) When we couldn’t find anyone awake in town with $2 coins, and the dryer didn’t seem to work anyway, we just hung our laundry on the line behind one of the backpacker places and went off for a hike!

The kiwis outdid themselves with this trail. It went straight up (almost literally) 1,100 meters (that is 3,575 feet for you Amerikuns) and ended with a spectacular view of the peaks and glaciers of Arthur’s Pass. Lovely. It was incredibly warm and there was barely a breeze!

Darrell, Scott and I on top of Avalanche Peak
A friendly kea, an alpine parrot, greeted us when we arrived. He was waiting to be fed, and often is, despite the many signs telling people not to feed these birds. They can be a true menace, and will chew on backpacks and bike seats now that they are used to people. 

Kea on Avalanche Peak in Arthur's Pass National Park
We took a different trail down which wasn’t quite as steep, but we were all pretty exhausted at the end. By the time we staggered back down our laundry was toasty and then we found a sweet place to camp along the river with no one else in sight.

View from our campsite the next morning
There is a crazy race that traverses the width of New Zealand that was going to enter the Pass soon after we left. Participants begin on the west coast and run, bike, kayak, and run and bike some more, until eventually reaching Christchurch on the east coast.  The winners can cross in less than 11 hours. Phew!

Instead of running and biking, we drove our van to Hokitika (again!) and worked at the library (again!). We picked up Thomas the German hitchhiker as we left town and drove to Okarito, a place my sister enjoyed when she was here on her epic bike ride. Okarito is the setting for the “The Bone People” by Keri Hulme. In fact, Keri still lives in Okarito and may have been throwing a stick on the beach to her dog, but I don’t know that for sure. Just a guess. There seemed to be a lot of people throwing sticks for their dogs at the beach that day…

We left Okarito early the next morning and beat the rush to Franz Josef glacier, one of the tourist hotspots in New Zealand.  Our walk close to the glacier terminus was pleasantly uncrowded.
Darrell and Scott looking at glacial features
Seeing subtropical ferns and glacial ice in the same view is one of the wonderful aspects of New Zealand's glaciers.
Subtropical foliage in front of Franz Josef glacier
Fox Glacier was just a bit further down the road, and we stopped at the DOC office to get our passes to stay at Welcome Flat on the Copeland Track.  We didn’t tour Fox Glacier as we wanted to get started on our 17 km hike into the hot springs. The sand flies in the parking lot were TERRIBLE so it was miserable trying to pack up our backpacks while constantly swatting at flies.  Scott is zen-like about bugs, but I pretty much go ballistic and swing at anything that moves. Darrell helped us get out of there as fast as possible! And then got some concentrated work done while we were hiking.

Scott and I were eager for our first backpack!
The track was mostly in the woods, but we got some views of the river.  Soon after we started it began to rain so you can see some mist in the picture.

View of the river from a stream crossing
We were ready to get into the warm springs when we got to the hut and campground at Welcome Flats!
There are three pools, all pretty shallow, and water can be diverted from the source to serve different pools.

Next morning's view of Welcome Flat Hot Springs
The weather cleared enough the next day we could see the mountains behind the hut.

The hut at Welcome Flat
Scott was the only camper, and was able to set up his tent under a ledge so he was completely dry and didn't have to listen to anyone snore. The hut had room for 44 trampers but there were less than half that. The mattresses were just on the floor in two long rows, so if it had been crowded, the only space you got was the length and width of the cot-size mattress!

The return hike took us on the same track, and we recrossed all the fun swing bridges we had gotten on the way in.

Scott crossing one of the swing bridges
All in all, the hike was fantastic. It was just the right level of difficulty and had beautiful views. We enjoyed visiting with other hikers at the hut and in the hot springs. When we reached the end, it was already after 3 pm so we didn’t drive too far to camp. And who showed up to swim “nudey rudey” at Lake Paringa but Mikaela and Donald from Cairns whom we had met on the track! So we visited with them over some crackers, cheese, and NZ cider. Yum.

Unfortunately, the Lake Paringa DOC site filled up and Scott’s tent got hemmed in by noisy campers.  We won’t mention any nationalities here, ahem, but it isn’t Americans that get the bad name in NZ…

The next morning we took a short walk to Monroe Beach where we were hoping to see the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin. We didn’t see the penguin but it was a lovely walk anyway. We had to boogey a bit in order to get Scott to Wanaka in time to catch a bus to Queenstown, so we skipped all the waterfalls as we went over Haast Pass, but we did go to the Blue Pools for lunch when we got over the pass.

Darrell and Scott eating lunch along the river at Blue Pools
The last view of the day shows what New Zealand sand flies did to Scott's feet. We wouldn't want you to think we didn't have to suffer a little for our amazing experiences in this country!

The cold water soothes, but doesn't eliminate the intense itching!

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