Saturday 2nd March, 2018
Our travels are taking us gradually northwards to just beyond Greymouth (where we shall hand in our faithful Toyota hire-car and take the scenic train to Christchurch on the east coast). We are still in the midst of the very grand Southern Alps and we are in for a treat today. It is another fine and sunny day though the temperature has dropped a bit to 22°C. I said Wanaka sits at the southern shore of the lake that bears its name and we shall return to it as we travel north, but first we travel along the western side of Lake Hawea, another grand and beautiful glacier lake, 35km long and 410m deep. There is a shortage of lexicon adequate to describe these things, “Stellar vistas” is our guide book’s go. We stop from time to time, gawp in wonder and try to create picture post card images, but I am sure they are a poor recording of the real thing. The still air and its curious temperature profiles allows wispy cloud to hang around below the summits of the hills. These wisps add a sort of Elizabethan Ruff to draw the eye. Not for nothing did the Maoris style their adopted land “The land of the long white cloud”. Here goes with a few attempts.
The shores of these lakes are littered with the bleached remains of fallen trees washed down by the rivers that feed them. It is calm today, but I guess it can be quote a brisk current when it rains.
We cross an isthmus (good word) and re-join the northern part of Lake Wanaka and follow it along the forested road that skirts it. The forest here is worthy of a book in its own right. It rains a lot and the predominant vegetation is native Podocarps – large trees with heavy furrowed and ribbed bark and a primitive conifer canopy. There is an understorey of luxuriant tree ferns and a forest floor layer of numerous species of ferns, club mosses and lichens. The tree trunks are completely covered with these, making a dense green vertical eco-system. Everything drips – even on a fine day. There are no flowering plants – save an occasional primitive Magnolia. One could imagine dinosaurs roaming around this lot. Some trees appear to cling to almost vertical rock walls as they (the walls) are gradually colonised by mosses, little trees take root in the shallow soil, their roots intertwine and they thrive. At some point they become too heavy to be retained and in a rainstorm they are unseated and fall, taking their lower cousins with them in a “tree avalanche”. Workmen seem to spend much time clearing these from the road and the bare scars of rock remaining get colonised by mosses and so on and so on.
We are high in the mountains now and it is raining hard, the first time the windscreen wipers have had to work for their living. We traverse the Haast Pass (named for the German geologist and explorer of that name), follow the Haast river down to the coast to the township of Haast. Herr Haast also named one of the glaciers that flow off the Mount Cook range after his emperor, Franz Joseph. You get the idea that this chap left a large footprint here. Our bed for the night is at Franz Joseph Glacier (in a hotel, you understand, not on an ice sheet). We plan to visit the glacier on the morrow. F-J G is a thriving township which boasts helicopter rides, aircraft rides, mule treks, and any and all other ways of clocking a glacier. It also sold the most expensive petrol in NZ. A sumptuous meal and bed, for David is tired from driving on wiggly roads.