South Island, Pt. 11: Kawarau Gorge

If you happen to be driving from Christchurch to Queenstown (as one does), as you approach it you will notice something:

A beautiful, dark green river winding through a deep rocky gorge.

This is the Kawarau Gorge, and it’s famous among two very diverse groups of people: fans of the Lord of the Rings movies and adrenaline junkies. You see, the Kawarau Gorge was used as the filming location for when the Fellowship were rowing the elf-boats down the Anduin river to Amon Hen. Remember when they reach the Argonath, known to non-Tolkien fans as “those big statues with their hands out”? That was the Anduin. Sadly, the statues themselves were added in post-production.

This is the Roaring Meg dam (local legend has it that Roaring Meg was a particularly feisty barmaid at a popular tavern and the stream which feeds the dam was named in her honor. I have no comment one way or the other).

In any case, this dam is used for hydroelectric power generation and flood control.

But we’re not going there. We’re going to Peregrine Wines (no relation to Mr. Took). Why? Because Peregrine Wines is where this trail starts:

Yep, we’re going to walk down the Gibbston River Trail to the Kawarau Suspension Bridge.

(Can I also mention again how beautiful New Zealand is? Even the two establishing shots above are still completely fantastic, not because I’m a fantastic photographer but because wherever one points one’s camera in New Zealand is a fantastic shot.)

This trail is very well-maintained, and its many crossings are all bridged.

More importantly, as it follows the gorge the trail provides access to some amazing views.

I have about a thousand photos which all basically look like this. I’ll spare you the repetition, but believe me: when you’re there, it doesn’t get old.

About halfway down you encounter this bridge. Crossing it takes you to a museum / tourist destination that talks about the gold mining history of the area and also provides some activities. We won’t be doing this (I will explore some of the more historical parts of the region in my next post, though!), but there is one thing of note I want to point out.

This is the view from the bridge. Quite lovely, and I encourage you to take a moment and admire it.

Done? I’m sure as you were admiring you noticed that cable running along the top of the photo. What could that be?

Why, that cable is to support this little trolley, of course. This platform, suspended on a single steel cable, was used to shuttle goods and, urp, people across the river before there was a bridge. No thanks.

Keep walking along the gorge through the farmlands, and in the distance you’ll see our goal: the suspension bridge!

This bridge services foot traffic across the gorge, but it’s more famously used for something else: bungee jumping (or, as it’s spelled here, bungy jumping). New Zealand claims to have invented bungee jumping, which I think says something about the country and the people who live in it. We won’t be exploring that any further, but I invite you to do so on your own time.

Anyway, speaking of nope, I will definitely pass on this. (That little raft down at the bottom is used to retrieve the corpse jumper after they’ve finished bouncing).

There’s also a much sturdier bridge used for motor traffic over the gorge.

So that’s a brief look at the Kawarau Gorge! The hike is about 10km there and back, and there’s a lovely picnic area along the way where I stopped and had lunch. Definitely worth doing!

As mentioned above, next time we’ll be checking out some of the history of the Queenstown area!

South Island, Pt. 10: Queenstown Views

Well, my South Island trip is definitely coming to a middle. Having left Christchurch behind and with Mt. Sunday now also in my wake, it was time to enter the Fiordlands. Often regarded as the most beautiful part of the beautiful South Island, the Fiordlands are home to placid inlets and lakes, large mountains, and tons of waterfalls. And Queenstown is the gateway to all this.

Queenstown is a quiet little town with a lot to offer. It is on the Eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu, and the esplanade (right off the small downtown area) is just gorgeous. There’s a large grassy area where a cute little market is set up every Saturday (see above), and on all sides there are towering, picturesque mountains.

That’s a mountain sticking up over the clouds catching the morning sun, with my little Nissan Sunny in the foreground. That’s Queenstown.

As always, I took a stop by the gardens. The Queenstown Gardens are, among other things, the site of the country’s first disc golf course! They’re also more of a park than a garden, though there are a few flowerbeds around.

The ducks are very social and have no qualms waddling right up to humans in the hope of getting a bready morsel.

And garden or park, I’ll say this: It’s beautiful here.

Hey, I found the flowers!

There’s also this really cool sculpture. I’m not sure why she’s sitting on this stack of pillows, but I really like this sculpture and I feel, in all humility, like I managed to get pretty much the best shot of it I have found (OK, maybe not all humility).

(I did an uncharacteristic amount of research online and found out that the title of the work is “Fleur” and it is by Liz Hall and was donated to the gardens in 2001.)

Walking on down to the lake, we get great views of the beautiful green-blue water and the mountains in the background. Such a pretty place!

And such a cool ship, too! Man, I really love Queenstown.

Queenstown isn’t just about startlingly beautiful views, though. There’s a great foodie culture here, as well as a number of independent stores such as this one, Black Cat Bookshop. This store recently came under new ownership, and I had a chance to meet and chat with the new owner, where we had a nice discussion about many things.

I hope one of her tasks as the new owner will be to sort the books properly, as they’re pretty much haphazard right now. It’s near-impossible to find anything the way they are currently. Funny story, actually: after I had finished browsing and was chatting with the owner, another customer came in. She asked about books on a particular subject. The owner wasn’t sure if she had anything, but I said “hey, I saw something on that while I was browsing” and pointed her to it. She ended up buying the book! Maybe if the whole software engineering thing doesn’t work out, I can move to Queenstown and work for a bookstore :)

I should have gotten a picture of the massive line in front of Fergburger, but this tatty-looking menu will have to do. Fergburger are a local burger joint who have somehow convinced Queenstown that they have the best burgers in the world. I consider myself something of a burger aficionado — something my waistline will also attest — and I can tell you that Fergburger are not even the best burger in Queenstown. But for some reason locals will wait in line for nearly 40 minutes just to get one (or perhaps the line is mostly tourists wanting to say they’d eaten a Fergburger; that’s certainly why I waited for that long!).

Take my advice: Go to Flame Bar and Grill on Beach St. or Devil Burger on (ironically) Church St. instead. Both have burgers at least as good as Fergburger without the wait.

Before we leave Queenstown and take off on some adventures in the Fiordland, I have to post some of the amazing views around Wakatipu.

First, here’s Queenstown. Yep, it is just that small, and yep, it is that steep. I imagine the locals all have very strong quads, haha.

All mountains all the time.

I love this shot. That road (which I subsequently drove on) is such a cool road. So pretty!

Queenstown’s views are so gorgeous they almost don’t seem real. I love it!

Next time we’re going to drive a bit North and visit another lake. See you then!

South Island, Pt. 9: Mount Sunday on a Sunday

Previously, on Nathan’s Life: I spent the night in Christchurch, rented a car, and started driving Southwest across the island. En route, I made a detour: Mt. Sunday. See that mountain? No, not that one. No, not that one either. The little one. The one that barely qualifies as a hill. Yeah, that’s Mt. Sunday.

Mt. Sunday was catapulted to international fame and stardom when Peter Jackson used it as the site for Edoras, the capital of Rohan and the town surrounding Meduseld where Theoden, Lord of the Mark holds court. You can see an image from the movie here for comparison purposes. Note that unlike Hobbiton, much of Edoras was never a real set and that which was there has now been torn down.

As a side note, while I’m a huge Tolkien fan and also a moderate fan of the Lord of the Rings movies, I’m definitely not obsessed with visiting all the filming locations. But Mt. Sunday also provides some excellent views, so I figured it would be worth a stop.

Getting to Mt. Sunday requires a looong trip down a windy gravel road, making me glad I was in a rental car. This shot is the carpark (such as it is) leading to the Mt. Sunday track.

The trail is…well, not brilliant. It intersects a stream in several places, requiring explorers to wade across. The water is not deep, except when it is, so be careful.

There are occasional tour vehicles that come through; the one in this photo (obscured by the cloud of dust it’s kicking up) had Edoras stamped on the side and appears to be a tour specifically for people wanting to see LotR filming locations. The tourists didn’t actually climb Mt. Sunday, I noted; they merely drove to the bottom of it, took photos, and then drove off. I wasted no time in judging them and basking in the smug glow of superiority.

Later on, of course, I encountered a hiker who had hiked over the mountain range I just drove over. But that’s obviously completely different, and not at all relevant to my hypocrisy :)

This part of the country is surrounded by mountains and feels quite remote. The rivers are also quite swollen due to heavy rains over the past few days. This little river here is even looking fairly deep.

Fortunately, there are a couple of bridged crossings. You can see the hill / mountain / whatever in the background here.

And there’s Mount Sunday, with real mountains in the background. This is a good shot for comparing with movie stills, though obviously when filming LotR they carefully avoided getting the gravel path in the shot.

The short climb gives some great views. I think the distribution of the rocks here is interesting, though I don’t know enough about rock things to know if it’s actually interesting or if I’m just dull enough to be interested by perfectly normal rocks lying about in a perfectly normal way.

The final push to the summit! It does get a little steep here, but it’s only like 20 meters or so. Not a hard push.

It’s totally worth it. A great view, and you get an achievement!

Sadly, this achievement has been defaced by orcs and goblins. The view is spectacular, but not spectacular is the number of sandflies, mosquitoes, and other annoying insects swarming around the summit. My word! I wanted to hang around much longer than I actually did, but the hot sun (the price I pay for such a beautiful day!) and the insects led me to beat a hasty retreat.

Not without taking a few shots, though. If you Zoom and Enhance, you can just baaaarely make out my car in the carpark. I was being eaten alive at the time so I didn’t switch lenses to get a good zoom, and it’s just the Sunny anyway so meh.

If I were a king, I would build my hall up here too just to get this view every day. I would also institute a policy of rigorous insecticide application, or perhaps some bats. Did you know that the only native New Zealand land mammals are bats? Let’s get some long-tailed bats on Mount Sunday and take care of the whole insect thing while helping preserve a species!

(I didn’t know the bat thing until a friend told me it appeared on Jeopardy! as a clue one night.)

Speaking of land mammals: hey, it’s some sheep! I know I make fun of Mt. Sunday for being the Pluto of mountains, but when you’re up on top of it and looking down at the tiny animals it does feel high, even when you look around and see so many taller mountains there too.

What a view. Let’s Zoom and Enhance those mountains a bit!


So that’s Mt. Sunday. There is a runic message beneath the achievement here…the real achievement is decoding it :).

In the next post, I actually reach my destination and explore a really neat little town in the Fiordlands. See you then!

South Island, Pt. 8: Christchurch

As you may recall from last time, I took the train across the South Island from Greymouth on the West coast to Christchurch on the East coast.

Christchurch is known for being the largest city on the South Island, roughly the same population as Wellington. It’s also the setting-off point for many Antarctic expeditions, not just from New Zealand but also from a number of other Northern-Hemisphere countries. Less cheerfully, it’s the site of several earthquakes, including one in 2011 that killed 185 people. There was a slightly smaller earthquake a couple of days before I got there, apparently, though I hadn’t felt anything in Nelson.

I didn’t have a car for most of my time in Christchurch, so I didn’t see much of the city. I did spend some time in the Botanic Gardens, though!

The gardens follow my usual Law of Garden Layouts, which is that the paths are as meandering and confusing as possible.

As is common, the gardens are part actual garden and part park. The fountain here is nice, though!

The curators, possibly to keep things fresh, choose theme colors for each season. Guess what the theme colors for 2016’s summer are?

Photographing flowers is not overly challenging since the subjects are pretty and not particularly mobile. I enjoy it.

The gardens also feature a statue of the guy who masterminded the tunnel I went through in the previous post. If people ever build a statue of me for whatever reason (probably Excellence in Blogging), I would like to be seated.

There’s also this contraption. If you pull the lever you can see on the left, water starts pumping through it which makes it move and do things. It’s very cool in a kind of Rube Goldbergian way. I should have gotten video, but I was too bemused by it to think of videoing.

The main gardens have roses on the inside and dahlias on the outside. I think the roses are prettier but the dahlias are cooler!

Here’s some of the dahlias, which I will intersperse with roses for your comparison.




Rose (OK, so this particular rose is actually pretty cool too).

Hydrangeas (showing the cool rainbow effect that rows of hydrangeas sometimes take. I wonder of the gardeners purposely vary the soil pH to make it happen or if it’s just how this particular soil happens to be dispersed).

Orange is one of my many favorite colors, haha.

Further along in the gardens is this odd-looking structure. What have we here?

This is the World Peace Bell. The plaque reads:

“The World Peace Bell is made from coins and medals donated by 103 countries of the world which have been mixed with copper and is a symbol of peace which gives an impression that the world is one.
“The aim of the association is to install the World Peace Bells in capitals of various countries and ring the Bells in the entire world, so as to promote the mutual understanding which transcends national boundaries and make contribution to the cause of world peace.
“The World Peace Bell which stands in the courtyard of the United Nations headquarters in New York is rung annually by UN Secretary General in prayer for peace on the occasion of the opening of the UN General Assembly.”

So that’s a thing.

The ducks do not care about the World Peace Bell.

Leaving the gardens and walking around the city a bit, I note that a lot of things are still under construction. I’m not sure if it’s because of the earthquake or just because most of New Zealand is perpetually under construction.

There’s also a lot of street art, including the very intricate painting on the side of this gym!

So that’s my brief stay in Christchurch. After the gardens, I went back to the hostel where I read a bit and hung out with the sassy cat who apparently lives there.

The next day, I walked to the rental car place, got yet another rental car (which was, sadly, another Nissan Sunny), and drove Southwest back across the South Island. I got up to another adventure along the way, which will have to wait ’til next time. See you then!

South Island, Pt. 7: TranzAlpine

Well, seven posts in and it’s finally time to leave Nelson! I packed my bags, checked out of my hostel, and bade farewell to that lovely little town. Next on my itinerary was the drive to Greymouth, where I would also say farewell to the Sunny and hop on the TranzAlpine Express to Christchurch!

The TranzAlpine express crosses (as the name suggests) the Southern Alps. I thought it would be a great opportunity to see some cool scenery (and take some photos) while letting someone else do the driving. The total trip time is a bit over 5 hours.

I have talked here before on the dilemma between obsessive planning and going with the flow. I like to think that the parts I do plan I at least plan well. The counter-example, though, is the fact that I apparently managed to buy a train ticket for the wrong day! When I arrived at the station, I walked up to the counter, showed the agent my phone, and she said “uh, you’re not in the system because your reservation is for tomorrow”.

This was, of course, sub-optimal, as I was on the part of my trip that had the tightest scheduling. I communicated this to the ticketing agent, and after a phone call she looked at me apologetically and said “it will be a $20 rebooking fee, is that OK?”. At that point, I was ready to do anything, up to and including buying a completely new ticket, so a $20 rebooking fee was perfectly fine with me. I thanked her profusely and then went into town to go get some lunch.

The Greymouth station is not super exciting; it backs up to a grocery store. As it became more crowded a busker with a violin started playing, which was kind of cool and gave something to listen to as I waited for the train.

The ticketing agent had worked hard to get me a seat by myself, which was probably wasted effort since I spent about 90% of the trip in the viewing car. As you can see, though, the windows in the car are not quite designed for someone tall. But hey, I didn’t buy a ticket (for the wrong day) to sit and read, and the windows in the passenger cars tended to create reflections in the photos (I have since bought a polarizing filter which claims to help with this; I’ll have to try it out at some point).

Greymouth here is living up to its name. The weather on the West coast is often quite grey and rainy (the West coast towns often have kind of depressing names as well; somewhat North of Greymouth is Cape Foulwind. I’m not even making that up.).

As we moved East, the weather cleared up pretty quickly though! Man, what a view!

As we approached the Otira Tunnel, they kicked us all out of the viewing car and closed the shutters. The Otira Tunnel is 8.5 km and took something like eleven years to dig. This photo was taken from inside the passenger car, as you can tell from the annoying reflections marring the scenic beauty.

They did leave the shutters open for other tunnels, though, so I stuck my phone out the window in direct violation of all safety instructions and got a shot (including a fellow passenger judging me).

There’s quite a lot of train here. Two viewing cars, two food cars, 8 passenger cars, and a few others whose purpose I have forgotten.

Once through the tunnel, I could resume my location in the viewing car and enjoy the beautiful scenery. And enjoy it I did.

So pretty.

One of the stops along the way had set up a random tableau including this weird monk and an old-timey Fiat soft-top pulling a tiny gorilla in a clearly-insufficient cage. Well alrighty then, thanks for the amusement, random rural train stop.

As we approached Christchurch, we saw more and more houses. You’d think that if you built a house kilometers from anywhere you’d also build it further from the rail tracks, but what do I know?

On the East coast, the air is drier and the sky is bluer. Just a quick train ride, and I feel like I’m in a different climate!

Still plenty of pretty views though.

So that’s my TranzAlpine experience. Hope you enjoyed the views as much as I did. Is it worth it? I think so. If (when) I come back to the South Island, I think the next time I’d like to do the drive myself. But I’m glad that for my first trip I had a chance to sit back and take in the sights!

Come join me next time as I take a look around Christchurch!

South Island, Pt. 6: Rabbit Island

The previous day, covered by the last post, I walked over 20km along Abel Tasman’s famous Coast Walk. For this, my last full day in Nelson, I wanted something a little more relaxing.

Rabbit Island is a small island connected by a bridge and just a 20-minute drive from Nelson. The island is known — inasmuch as it is known, which I think isn’t much — for two things: beaches and forestry.

My plan was to go to the beach (right above the yellow squiggle), then walk basically along the outer perimeter of the red-marked track. The sign helpfully does not include a scale of any sort, but “approximate” distances are given in the sidebar. I think these distances are extremely approximate, as they suggest I did over 9km on my walk and I’m fairly certain it was less than that.

(Also note that the word “dial” is misspelled, suggesting something less than stellar production values for the sign in general and lending credence to my theory that the distances are highly approximate.)

But before the walk, I went to the beach. This turned out to be a poor idea, because the weather started out…well, as you can see here, but by the time I was done with the beach and ready to go for a walk the clouds had largely gone and the sun was out. C’est la vie in New Zealand.

The beach is fairly long. There’s picnic tables in the grassy parking area and a nice changing hut. I walked out into the water, but it wasn’t great for swimming — if the sun had been out and the air a few degrees warmer, I think it would have made a big difference!

Taking the trail down to the forested area, the trees are in a very regular pattern. This is because Rabbit Island is home to some forestry operations — it’s laid out in a grid, and each block has trees at different maturity levels.

It’s a bit strange walking through rows of perfectly-laid-out trees.

The track sometimes peeks out into the open air. I guess this little hill isn’t suitable for planting?

I don’t know if this sign is true or not, but I do believe they have hit on one of the few signs that might actually discourage trespassers. “Private property”, so what? “No trespassing”, boring! “Danger”, meh. “Biosolids”, eww, no way.

The next time the trail brought me to an exposed area, it was with this lovely view. Wow!

Moving along the trail, the skies have almost miraculously cleared up. Looks like low tide here!

To emerge from the trees and see blue skies after all that gray earlier is truly remarkable.

And sure enough, by the time I got back to the beach, the previously empty sands had sprouted towels, umbrellas, and picnic baskets!

Rabbit Island was intended to be a relaxing walk and sit down at the beach after my long hike the day before. Although the weather started out dreary, by the end it had certainly achieved that goal.

Next post, we’ll be saying farewell to Nelson and to my car. See you then!

Trail Log: Abel Tasman Coast Track, Marahau to Anchorage

OK, so this is a new thing I’m trying. As I walked the Coast Track, I took photos of each trail sign. This allows me to use the timestamps on the photos to figure out what time I made along each part of the track. This may be useful for hikers looking to plan their routes!

Unfortunately for this trail log, I only got the idea partway through. So I took a photo of the first sign, the last sign, and then every sign on the way back. This one will be a little more sparse than any future ones.

I also didn’t keep a log of how each section went. I’d like to do that in the future, and feel free to let me know in the comments what would be helpful to know.

(Taking pictures of each trail sign also came in handy when I encountered a group of people looking to know if they had already passed Apple Tree Bay. I was able to look through my photos and determine that, nope, it was still ahead of them. I’m glad I could have been of help!)

First sign, 11:15am. 11.8km to Anchorage, estimated 3h50m. They’re assuming slightly over 3kph.

Penultimate trail sign. 1:25pm. Time since last sign: 2h10m. Distance from last sign: 9.9km. My speed: 4.6 kph.

1.9km to Anchorage, estimated 35m. They’re assuming 3.2kph.

Final trail sign. 1:53pm. Time since last sign: 28m. Distance from last sign: 1.2km. My speed: 2.5kph. (This includes eating lunch. Sorry, I got a little sloppy in my timekeeping there).

11.8km to Marahau, estimated 3h45m. They’re assuming the same time on the return trip, slightly over 3kph.

2:51pm. Time since last sign: 58 minutes. Distance from last sign: 4km. My speed: 4.1kph. (This includes hiding under a rock outcropping for several minutes waiting for a downpour to pass)

7.8km to Marahau, estimated 2h30m. They’re assuming 3.1kph.

3:21pm. Time since last sign: 30 minutes. Distance from last sign 2.3km. My speed: 4.6km (I could do that one in my head :)).

5.5km to Marahau, estimated 1h45m. They’re assuming 3.1kph.

(Legs too tired to crouch and get the sign straight-on, haha).

3:55pm. Time since last sign: 34 minutes. Distance from last sign: 2.6km. My speed: 4.6kph.

2.9km to Marahau, estimated 55m. They’re assuming, you guessed it, 3.1kph.

Ayy, final sign. 4:28pm. Time since last sign: 33 minutes. Distance from last sign: 2.9km (I think this is false, I believe there’s a few fractional km left to Marahau from this sign, but it’s not listed). My speed: 5.2kph (implausible).

Total distance: 22.2km. Total time: 5 hours 13 minutes (including lunch and a significant photo break at Anchorage). Total average speed: 4.25 kph.

As you can see, this is quite an easy trail. There’s a few ups and downs elevation-wise, but no major climbs. A fat American was able to consistently travel over 4kph and do it in well under the estimated time (the sign estimates say it should take 7 hours and 40 minutes, meaning that including breaks I did it two and a half hours faster than the signs estimate).

Route planning advice

I believe based on these data that one could do the entire walk in 2-3 days rather than the 3-5 days estimated. If I were doing the hike, I think I would start at the other end, because that would get the steepest bit out of the way on the first day when I’m the freshest. I could make it the 22.6km to Awaroa without undue hardship, but if I were really pushing it and the tides worked out (there’s a tidal crossing between Awaroa and Waiharakeke Bay) I might be able to power through to Bark Bay, making the first leg 36.1km. If I did that, it would leave time to check out Cascade Falls and Cleopatra’s Pool as I make my way down the 24km to Marahau for a total journey time of 2 days.

Rather than doing either of those options, though, I think the better strategy for a 2-day hike would be to give the huts a miss entirely and make camp at Onetahutl Bay. The extra pack weight of the camping gear would make the trek more difficult, but I think it would make the first leg more pleasant. A 3-day hike would be downright leisurely, and would give plenty of time for checking out some side attractions. The only way the hike would take more than three days is if you spent significant time doing side hikes and messing about in the water.

Whatever you choose, make very sure to plan your crossing of the Awaroa Estuary between Awaroa and Totaranui very carefully, as you have less than a 4-hour window to make it.

I hope this post is useful to someone. Feel free to leave comments about how I could make these more useful in the future. When I’m planning a trip, hearing from someone who’s actually done the things I’m thinking of doing can be invaluable, so I hope I can provide such a service to people intent on checking out the South Island!

We’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled photo blog next post.

South Island, Pt. 5: Coast Track

The Abel Tasman Coast Track. 60 kilometers along the North coast of the South Island, and one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks.

The Great Walks are so popular you have to reserve campsite space months beforehand. I of course did not do this, so I only walked the first leg of the Coast Track (from the start to Anchorage Hut). If doing the walk there and back seems daunting, you can take a water taxi back to the start, but I decided to man up and walk the full 24km round trip.

I want to try something new with this walk, so I’m going to make a second post where I break the hike down part by part as a service to hikers who might find this site via Google. This post will be focused entirely on scenery, views, and things that I found interesting; not on trail conditions.

As befits a Great Walk, the start has a large carpark and also a cafe! This is the carpark when I arrived.

Incidentally, this is the carpark when I left.

Even from the start we get a great view of the park.

And as befits a coastal track, there’s a lot of great sea views! The tide is out here, but the glistening sand flats are quite pretty. If you Zoom and Enhance you’ll see some beach walkers.

(Side note: the official name appears to be the Coast Track, though you’ll find some stuff referring to it as the Coastal Track. I will try to use Coast Track as the proper noun throughout.)

I was blessed with a clear day for most of the hike, but the recent rain meant that the trail was a little soggy. It also meant tiny waterfalls, so that’s a worthwhile tradeoff.

And of course the rivers are quite swollen as well.

Can’t fault the skies today though…or the views!

I do like it how the trail alternates between greenery and sea views.

I also like it how when I look out I frequently see beachgoers and, in this case, kayakers! Such a popular and cool area. And I can see why!

I almost wish I had booked the night in Anchorage Hut just because the views are so magnificent! This little rise is right before the path to the hut itself.

I sat down and ate lunch to this view. Not only was this the point where I turn around and go back, it’s also just plain gorgeous.

And this shot…it doesn’t even look real. It’s like a painting.

Wherever I pointed my camera, there was just stark natural beauty to take in. Let’s Zoom and Enhance this coastline just to see what we can see.

The blues of the water are just out of this world.

As I was returning, the clouds started rolling in. Yes, this is the same day as those gorgeous blue skies from before! I even got caught in a bit of a rainstorm at one point, causing me to put the Nikon in my pack.

That was unfortunate, because a bit down the trail I encountered a Weka. It was scarpering so I didn’t have time to get the good camera out. Ah, well.

And there’s the cafe and carpark in the distance! I felt quite good about doing Day 1 of the Coast Track twice in one day. I’ll cover it more in my trail post, coming up next!

Thanks for joining me on this jaunt out along the Coast Track!

South Island, Pt. 4: Wainui Falls

Abel Tasman National Park. Home to the Coastal Walk (one of New Zealand’s Great Walks) as well as gorgeous views, lush forests, and raging rivers. Named after the Dutch explorer who first brought word of the island back to Europe, Abel Tasman National Park sees thousands of tourists every year. (Incidentally, it was Dutch cartographers who named the country, despite the fact that Maori warriors repelled Tasman’s attempts to claim the land for the Dutch. This is why a country colonized by the English is named after a province in The Netherlands.)

On a rainy Wednesday, I decided to go check it out. This would not be my only foray into the park, but it would be my first.

I don’t much care for rain. But rain does make waterfalls much more intense, so if you’re looking for an outdoor activity to do while it’s raining, going to see a waterfall should at least be on the list!

Wainui Falls is on the Northwest border of Abel Tasman National Park, which is a bit of a bummer since Nelson is far to the Southeast. The drive took well over two hours, which in the rain is also a bummer. That was an intentional decision on my part, though, as I got to drive through a lot of the park and see a lot of sights.

The Wainui Falls Track itself borders someone’s land for the first little bit, but the trail is well-marked.

The trail runs roughly Southwest toward the falls, so this view is looking out at the park.

I was wearing my waterproof hiking hat, a water resistant jacket, and hiking boots. It is my opinion that trying to stay completely dry when hiking in the rain is a fools’ game, since ponchos and rain jackets tend not to breathe well (or at all) and instead of rainwater you’ll just be drenched in sweat by the end of your hike anyway. Opinions differ, though.

The track borders, and occasionally crosses, the Wainui River. The river crossings are all bridged (this is not the Wainui River, it’s just a small stream).

Sometimes the trail would be impassible if not for the bridges and boardwalks installed to help hikers along.

While walking, I noticed this log balanced on top of this rock. I’m not sure why it struck me as it did, but I thought it was funny how it wound up that way. I wonder how long it will stay like that?

Occasionally the track will jog away from the river slightly, leading through lush greenery that feels like a rainforest!

I like how this tree fern towers over the rest of the foliage. I feel some kinship with this fern :)

The rain causes some smaller waterlols due to runoff down the slopes.

Unlike the last hike, I wasn’t confused about whether I was at the falls. Wainui Falls are the largest falls in the region, so this little trickle is just a sideshow.

Being under tree cover does not, in this case, protect much from the rain. The trees are all saturated, so the tree rain is just as heavy as the sky rain!

As I walked along the bank, I was convinced the falls would be in rare form due to all the rain. Even the river is a raging torrent!

Right before the falls is one last bridge to cross. At this point, you can hear the waterfalls even over the already loud river noise.

And there they are!

A kind fellow hiker took a picture of me in front of the falls, which serves as a scale. Not the biggest falls, but certainly very intense thanks to the rain!

I snapped a few more pictures, then headed back. After nearly five hours of driving, the short hike to the falls, and a complete soaking by the rain, I was ready to change into dry clothes and lie about the hostel for the rest of the day enjoying being indoors. And that’s precisely what I did!

Next time, I return to Abel Tasman Park for what turned into one of my favorite hikes on the whole South Island trip! See you then!

South Island, Pt. 3: Whisky Falls

If you’re an outdoorsy type and in a new area looking for something to go and see, checking out some local waterfalls is often a reliable strategy. I decided to go down to Nelson Lakes National Park and check out Whisky Falls.

Whisky Falls was not my first choice; I had thought to experience the crystal waters of the world’s clearest lake, Blue Lake. That’s not, unlike usual, hyperbole; Blue Lake is no-foolin’ the clearest lake in the world.

It’s also a two-day hike from Nelson. Seeing the world’s clearest lake would be amazing, but it would mean that I could do nothing else in my time at Nelson. So I bailed on Blue Lake and settled for Whisky Falls, which is in the same general area (Nelson Lakes National Park) but is a more reasonable day hike.

The drive to the trail head passes along a gravel road. I had no complaints, though, because I was in a rental car and because the gravel road goes by this beautiful lake.

The sign assumes a very reasonable 3.6 km per hour. On level ground with a good-quality track, that pace is easily attainable. As you can see, this track starts off quite promising. However, further ahead there are some confounding factors making that estimate utter bologna.

The first factor is the sheer number of fords required by this track.

The primary reason why the Nelson lakes are so clear is that they’re fed not by a few large, muddy rivers but by heaps of small, rocky streams. This mountain runoff is very pure and clear, and rather than acquiring sediment and silt the water is effectively filtered on its way down to the lake.

As you can see, this leads to water that’s so clear that you can’t really even tell how deep it is because you can so perfectly see the bottom. This also means that the trail is going to cross a number of streams.

Many of those stream crossings are simple; this one requires hopping on some rocks if you don’t want to get your feet wet.

Some, not so much.

The small feeder streams also create a number of mini-waterfalls, which becomes important later on.

The second factor making the time estimate frustratingly bad is that the trail is very scenic. At some places it goes down to the side of Lake Rotoiti, affording fantastic views.

Take a break from hiking to photograph this beauty? Don’t mind if I do!

Even the bits under cover are so pretty. Just look at this shot. An inept photographer with a mediocre camera can produce something lovely without really even trying here.

Hmm, a pier. Let’s take 50 photographs of it!


Look at how ridiculous this trail gets. That is properly steep. Good thing the trail runs laterally along it and not up and down!

The final problematic bit is that after you’ve delayed for quite a while taking photos and fording streams, you’ll have walked for an hour and a half and you will come to this.

I did my homework and read that Whisky Falls was about 40 meters long, but I hadn’t seen a picture of the falls. And sometimes New Zealand likes to call things “falls” which are more like what I would call rapids. So perhaps this stream is the falls? I really didn’t know, and of course I was well outside of cell reception.

Having plenty of time left in the day, I pressed on (the trail itself goes much further than Whisky Falls).

But then, after a bit more walking:

Oh, hey there, trail sign! Hour and a half my hind end; this was a full two hours — and I’m no trail runner, but I usually meet and often exceed the estimated pace for these trails. Ah, well.

Approaching the real Whisky Falls, I note that it is a proper 40m plunge.

Yep. There she is!

Whisky Falls is so named not for the alcohol content of its waters but for the fact that the remains of a still were found above it. I’d love to know the story behind that!

The Nelson Lakes National Park brochure says this:

“The presence of biting sandflies can detract from your
experience at the lakes, especially during the summer months.
To minimise this problem, cover up and apply a good quality
insect repellent to any exposed skin.”

This is, sadly, very true. If you stop hiking near the water for even just a few minutes, small flies will swarm you and start gnawing on your flesh. It is seriously annoying and honestly keeps the trail from being as enjoyable as it otherwise would have been (I did not have any insect repellent, which is a definite thing to change for any subsequent South Island trips).

(I also note that the brochure says the trail is a 5 hour round trip, which is much more accurate than the sign at the trailhead. It took me 4h45, including lunch break.)

So that’s Whisky Falls. It’s pretty much the same same on the way back.

If you’re in the area and looking for an easy day hike, I do suggest heading down to Lake Rotoiti and doing this quite simple walk. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Nelson, so if you leave after a late breakfast and pack your lunch, you will be back home well before dinnertime!

Next post I see another waterfall, wear a hat, and get extremely wet! See you then!