Friday, February 4, 2011

Okarito to Makarora

Pix to come...

Today (Friday) began with the sighting of a spoonbill in the lagoon around the corner from our accommodation. It displayed its spoony bill for quite some time, most notably in front of its white breast where it showed to advantage. From this misty, foggy beginning we headed back down Route 6 towards the Franz Josef Glacier.

Although we’ve met almost no one on our walks so far - not a soul on the three hour walk in Punakaiki - the glacier is obviously a tourist destination. There were packs of people wearing blue jackets and black fanny packs who had signed up for a walk on the actual glacier itself. We, on the other hand, just walked up to it, but that was pretty spectacular.

A short walk through the bush opened up into a mostly dry river bed, tumbled with rocks and scree, with the gray, white, green glacier at the head of the valley. Our walk went by long, skinny waterfalls, so abundant that you could almost - but not quite - ignore them. At the end of the walk were danger signs warning us not to take another step, lest the flooding river or icy glaciers get us.

The view was terrific, and through binoculars even better. The sun had come out, and parts of the glacier glittered in the light. Glaciers - at least from this point - are really kind of dirty and pockmarked but nevertheless impressive in cale, especially as your eye travels up to the top of the mountain. It appeared to be only half a mile or so to the top, but Tim informed us that it was actually three miles.

Our next stop is known as the whistling toilet.

In Franz Josef town, the public toilets are entirely automated, and while you sit there they begin playing an instrumental version of Burt Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now (Is Love, Sweet Love)” for no apparent reason. This was quite entertaining, but after a postcard and wine-buying interlude we were on our way again.

We drove on to Matheson Lake, where you may, if you’re lucky, see the reflection of Mt. Cook in the still waters. Alice confided that this was her sixth visit to the Lake, and she had yet to see the mountain.
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It was no different for us, but it was still an enjoyable stroll through the last rain forest habitat we were going to see on this trip. We paused by the lookouts to spy kingfishers, but what we saw instead were grey ducks, a pair of them sailing along by the shore. Another for the list!

We also noticed this braided flax, a phenomenon we've seen elsewhere. It must be a New Zealand thing.

From here we drove into the Haast Valley and over the Haast Pass to the east side of the mountains. Suddenly we were in country with steep mountains rising up from the river on either side of the road. Waterfalls, scree, gray water rushing over gray stones, winding roads. We stopped for a mountain view and for a waterfall along the way - both gorgeous.

Tonight’s accommodation is a big old house with two bathrooms (!) and many bedrooms at the foot of steep mountains.

I took a walk alone in the bush, a mild little nature walk, and saw my first tui! Also heard several tuis calling to each other. It was pleasant to walk alone in the late afternoon light and then make my way back to The Homestead, with a flock of sheep outside the window, apple trees bearing fruit, and dark red dahlias in glorious bloom (most not endemic, but very attractive). Here's the view from our bedroom window at dusk.
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