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The Southern Alps and Mt. Cook

I spent a few days in the very pleasant town of Geraldine getting caught up with my website.  Then the skies cleared, so I headed back down to the Southern Alps to see Mt. Cook National Park.  Not surprisingly, Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand at about 11,000' (and named after early explorer, Captain James Cook) is located here.  I'm really glad I waited until the sun came out to visit the park.  The campground like most other New Zealand campgrounds, just a grassy field without many facilities and no picnic tables, but very cheap was really packed, but I camped there anyway because the alpine surroundings were just so darn beautiful.


I hiked up to Hooker Glacier the next morning, which took four hours, during which I passed approximately two-thirds of the entire population of Japan.  The glacier was pretty dirty and not that interesting, but the hike through the alpine meadows was amazing and I was surrounded on all sides not only by cirques, aretes, moraines, and all kinds of other interesting glacial landforms, but also by hordes of Japanese camera-toting tourists.  If you like glaciers like I do, Mt. Cook National Park is a terrific place to visit even if you're not Japanese.



Above left:  The skies finally cleared after I'd spent two rainy days in Geraldine, so I retraced my steps and headed back down to the "Southern Alps."  This time I could actually see them.

Above center:  I've seen tour buses everywhere on this trip.  There are LOTS of tourists in New Zealand now including me.

Above right:  The dam spillway at Lake Tekapo.



Above left:  Driving up to Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand.  Lake Pukaki is in the distance.  That blue color is from the glacial "flour," or ground rock that's in the water.  This part of the central South Island is really dry, although the area a few miles west of here gets several feet of rain each year.  Talk about a rainshadow.

Above right:  After I'd spent a month in rainy New Zealand, the weather was finally nice enough to set up my tent and camp.  This is in Mt. Cook National Park.



Above left:  The view from my campsite at Mt. Cook National Park.

Above center:  This is on the way up to Hooker Glacier.  That's one of the many swing bridges that I've hiked across during the past few weeks.  They're lots of fun.

Above right:  The Mueller River was covered by a giant sheet of ice only a few hundred years ago.



Above left:  Asters on the trail.

Above center:  The dirty Hooker Glacier (right) and Mt. Cook.  Note the icebergs floating in the lake.

Above right:  Mt. Cook, at just over 11,000 feet, is about as high as Oregon's Mt. Hood.  It's also at about the same latitude, around 45 degrees.  And it's also named after a British navy guy from the 1700s.

From Glaciers to Jungles and Sandflies

I said goodbye to Mt. Cook National Park after a few days and drove south to Wanaka (rhymes with "Monica"), which is a lakeside resort town that's something like Queenstown but, thankfully, is a bit more relaxed.  The place was pretty packed, though, and after scrambling around for a half-hour, I found literally the last available motel room in town, a skill that I've become quite adept at these last few weeks.  I really liked Wanaka but I think I'd like it even more in the spring or fall when it isn't so crowded.


Above:  The beautiful New Zealand countryside between Wanaka and Haast.

The next morning I visited the famed Wanaka Air Museum and gaped in awe at numerous P-51's, Spitfires, and other fascinating aircraft from World War II.  After a few hours there, I headed on to New Zealand's west coast, where I stumbled across the pleasant, sleepy town of Haast, near the coast.  The drive between inland Wanaka and coastal Haast is quite amazing because, within a distance of only 50 miles, you travel from a dry grassland area, through a steamy and tropical jungle, and then out to the beach something in the U.S. like driving from Kansas through Hawaii and then to California (if you could actually do that) and in only one hour. 


Surprisingly, the skies here on the west coast the wettest part of New Zealand were actually clear.  This area averages over 250 inches of rain a year, about as wet as Ketchikan, Alaska (the wettest city in America), so I was lucky to not only see the sun but bask in its warmth.  I hadn't been planning to stay in Haast that evening, but I liked the area so much that I got a room there for the night at a backpackers (i.e., hostel).


The west coast of New Zealand, as I discovered when I got to Haast, is absolutely wonderful.  But as I also discovered, the sandflies here think so, too.  A New Zealand sandfly is about half the size of an American housefly but it bites, which feels something like a hypodermic needle.  These nasty flies, as I quickly discovered, are very aggressive and can inflict a lot of pain.  I was planning to take a leisurely stroll along the beach that afternoon and watch the sunset, but the swarms of biting sandflies drove me so batty that I beat a quick retreat to the backpackers where I took refuge in my room.  As I learned later, sandflies are all over the west coast of New Zealand.  I'm not sure why there aren't any sandflies in the U.S., but I'm glad they've decided to stay here in New Zealand, because they drove me absolutely nuts. 


I wised up the next morning and, anticipating a long drive up the coast, put on jeans instead of the shorts I'd been wearing the past few days and wore a long shirt over my t-shirt.  I also put on LOTS of insect repellent.  I may be crazy but I'm not stupid.  Or maybe it's the other way around?  Or maybe it's both.



Above left:  In Wanaka, I got the very last motel room in town, once again.  Wanaka is a nice town but is really crowded in the summer time.

Above center:  Waterskiing on Lake Wanaka.

Above right:  The Warbirds Air Museum in Wanaka is a great place to spend a few hours.



Above left:  After leaving Wanaka in the morning, I headed west on Highway 6 to the coast.  This is lunch time at Lake Wanaka.  It's really dry here but shortly after leaving Lake Wanaka, I entered a humid jungle.  From desert to jungle in 10 miles typical in New Zealand.

Above center:  Another day, another hike, and another swing bridge.  This is on the way to the "Blue Pools" on the Makarora River.

Above right:  Ferns are everywhere in New Zealand.  And I mean everywhere.  Along with the kiwi, ferns are the national symbol.



Above left:  I finally reached the Blue Pools, where I was greeted by lots of biting sandflies (much worse than mosquitoes).  So my stay here was brief.

Above center:  Thunder Falls and the Haast River.

Above right:  I won't ask.



Above left:  I pulled into the small, sleepy town of Haast that afternoon, on the west coast, and stayed at a "backpackers" (hostel).  There are hundreds of backpackers around New Zealand.  Backpackers have bunk beds in dorm rooms for around US$8 a night and most also have private rooms, which run around US$20 a night.

Above center:  My room at the Wilderness Backpackers.  Not quite as nice as a motel room, perhaps, but a lot cheaper.

Above right:  After shooting 3,873 pictures during the last five weeks, this is how I've looked to every New Zealander.



Above left:  The next morning, after putting on long pants to keep the sandflies at bay, I drove up the rainy and remote west coast of New Zealand.  They measure rainfall here in meters.

Above center:  A tight fit.

Above right:  The beach at Ship Creek.



Above left:  An hour later I reached the Fox Glacier, which is surrounded on three sides by a dense jungle.  Moving at about three feet a day, it's one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world.  There see it move?

Above center:  The crowded trail up to the Fox Glacier.  I ran into my Israeli hitchhiking friend, Idit, here and got caught up with her.

Above right:  Here's the glacier's terminus.  That tunnel is about 15 feet high.



Above left:  The Franz Josef Glacier, a few miles north of the Fox Glacier.

Above center:  I stayed that night at the pleasant Kiwi Motel in Hokitika.  It's a typical motel in New Zealand:  about 10 rooms, family-owned, with free laundry facilities, a full kitchen in each room and a free pint of milk.  All for only US$28 a night.

Above right:  The world's largest sheep resides in downtown Hokitika.  Ewe better believe it.



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