Archive for the ‘South Island’ Category

A birthday tree

As noted in my previous post, this time last year I was touring the South Island with the Husband. The autumn colours were fabulous, and I snapped away happily. I’ve hardly seen any autumn colours this year, thanks to living in evergreen Wellington, with the exception of the oak tree outside my kitchen/dining windows.

One year ago today, the Husband and I headed to a popular vineyard café near Arrowtown for a late breakfast/brunch to celebrate his birthday. Winter had arrived that week, and it was freezing, so we walked past the outdoor tables and headed for the warm indoors, where good coffee and food and a fire awaited us. But on the way in and out, I delighted in this tree, catching the morning light.

Another in the Tree Love series – find all the other bloggers doing it here this week.

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On the east coast of the South Island, as a child I could stand out in the machinery yard, look towards the Southern Alps, and on a clear day, see the snow-covered peak of Aoraki Mt Cook, all the way on the west coast of the island. There was a little hole in the foothills that allowed this view – our farm was at exactly the right angle to be able to see it. So I always felt an affinity to Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Since the 1990s, the mountain is formally known as Aoraki/Mt Cook, as part of a settlement reached between the local Maori iwi (tribe) Ngai Tahu, and the government. I like that addition. I like the fact that NZ has recognised the original names, and has used the name of the local tribe’s dialect, with the hard “K,” when it was previously often mistakenly called “Aorangi.” I was less enthusiastic about change when the top of the mountain collapsed, losing about 30 metres, and changing its distinctive shape. For me, the mountain of my youth was lost.

Mt Cook was more than five hours round trip from the farm, so whilst trips to other lakes were common once a year or so, only once did we actually take the extra two-three hours round trip to see the mountain. Up until last year, I had only been twice, both on day trips, both times very lucky to see the mountain clearly. So this time last year, when we decided to explore parts of the South Island we thought we knew well but didn’t, Aoraki Mt Cook was high on my list.

The national park is a popular base for climbers, of course. Established in 1953, the park has 19 peaks over 3,000 metres high, including Aoraki/Mount Cook, and glaciers cover 40% of the park. Sir Edmund Hillary climbed many of the park’s peaks, including Aoraki/Mt Cook, before successfully tackling the Himalayas and Everest. There is now a statue of him in the Mt Cook Village, along with an eponymous alpine centre that pays tribute to him and showcases the region.

We however, are not quite so adventurous as Sir Ed or the climbers who attempt to emulate his achievements. Fortunately, there are several very popular shorter walks for visitors to Mt Cook Village. We had chosen two of them, knowing that the weather and our schedule would mean we would have to miss a third. Still, that at least gives us an excuse to return.

The Tasman Glacier and Blue Lakes Track is only about 45 minutes return, and so we set off to do this shortly after checking in to our hotel. We drove the 7 kms to the start of the track, then began the climb up 300 steps. I found that stopping to admire or capture the magnificent views back down the valley provided a good opportunity to catch my breath too.

Tasman Valley

The Tasman Glacier lake was, in early May before winter weather had set in, still largely empty of icebergs calved off from the glacier. The glacier itself – like the other glaciers in New Zealand – is receding fast, and I wished we had been here 30 years ago. But the view was still amazing, the weather was calm, and the lake reflected the surrounding mountains.

Tasman Glacier Lake

That evening, we enjoyed the Hermitage Hotel. Usually populated by international tour groups, in 2021 our borders were closed, and the hotel was now filled with Kiwi visitors, making the most of seeing their country when New Zealand was still blissfully covid free. There was a relaxed, happy atmosphere of New Zealanders “doing something new” that I suspect is not there when the bus tours take over the hotel. The Hermitage itself is perfectly positioned to get magnificent views of the mountains, and Aoraki Mt Cook in particular. This is what we saw from our room.

View of Aoraki/Mount Cook from our room

I made myself comfortable in the armchair, and drank in the view, until it was time for cocktails around the open fire, and a nice dinner.

The next day we set off on the Hooker Valley Track. It’s supposed to be an easy 10 km walk, so I was looking forward to it. The car park at the start of the track was almost full, which meant two things: a) this was indeed a popular walk, and b) as usual, we were starting late.

Yet the walk didn’t feel busy. Sure, there were a few groups walking around us, but rarely was anyone closer than about 100 metres, and often there no other people in sight. We could enjoy the grandeur of the mountains, and the beauty of the surrounding landscapes and rivers, in blissful peace and solitude. Even the three swing bridges, which are not my favourite things, weren’t too scary to cross! This is definitely a good walk for the timid and adventurous alike. There is even a loo with a view, about half-way there.

Hooker Valley Track and Lake Mueller

The trail was clear and well-maintained, and at one stage a boardwalk crosses a delicate, tussock-filled plateau.

We walked alongside a river for much of the walk, and as we changed direction, Aoraki Mt Cook would pop in and out of view. Along with the panoramas, we found small tarns, rushing glacial streams, scree-covered slopes, and small pockets of hardy plants, often within the same shot.

The vistas were grand, and needed to be captured as vistas. So I barely got my camera out, relying instead on the wide angle of my phone. Phone photography excels in such environments, don’t you think?

Sadly, we knew the weather was due to pack up that afternoon. That extra hour in bed seemed like an unnecessary indulgence by the time we got to the Hooker Lake, as the wind whipped down from the snowy peaks, and rain began to fall. We therefore only stayed there for a short time, snapped a couple of pics, before turning round to head back.

A loo with a view and a rainbow

Retracing our steps south was just as beautiful as the way north, with different perspectives. We were about a kilometre or so from the car park when my heel started complaining. My walking shoes hadn’t been used for a while, and decided to rub my right foot. I’d forgotten to bring any plasters. I limped the last few hundred metres. But it was worth it.

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I can’t believe I haven’t done a Tree post since July. I know it’s long overdue, but I’m going to come back to an old favourite of mine, the Ti Kouka or cabbage tree. In fact, just this morning on my lockdown walk, I whipped out my phone and snapped a cabbage tree. I might keep that one for another day, because I wanted to show you these trees, nestled away in remote Milford Sound. Mitre Peak, the mountain in this shot, is an iconic sight in New Zealand, featuring in tourism brochures, and adorning many biscuit tins and chocolate boxes in my youth! Tourists to New Zealand will recognise it too, even if their visit to Milford didn’t really show the mountain due to the high rainfall the area gets (about 6.5 metres or 252 inches per year)! I didn’t get to see it on my previous visit to the fjord* either.

It was just starting to rain (of course) when we were there, but Mitre Peak was visible right to the top. I was thrilled to see the cabbage tree on the banks of the Sound, knowing I could capture this uniquely NZ view.

Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, and ti kouka or cabbage tree in the foreground.

*Even though it is called a Sound (a river valley filled with sea water), it is actually a fjord (a glacial valley filled with sea water).

Another in the Thursday Tree Love series – find all the other bloggers doing it here.

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