Flying to Milford Sound

We fly to Milford Sound from Queenstown.

Milford Sound Flights fly from Franktown, just outside Queenstown where a number of companies operate tourist flights. We’re on an Islander two engine prop plane. They tell us that the weather is closing in fast. The cruise up the sound which was part of our original plan has been cancelled as planes cannot wait around long enough to pick people up for the return journey.

20121218-145441.jpg
Kevin the pilot looks, at first glance, about fifteen. I’m tempted to ask him if his dad knows he’s borrowed the plane. But he certainly knows how to handle it. It’s a windy day and the the turbulence adds to the excitement. So does the fact that I’m looking over the pilot’s shoulder at the rather old-fashioned looking instrument panel. There’s also the slightly battered door with the’exit’ sign. This, you feel, is real flying! You’re right in amongst the peaks. It’s just awesome!

20121218-145831.jpg
The landscape between Queenstown and Milford Sound is fantastically rugged. Snowy peaks and razor-sharp ridges surround us as far as the eye can see. There are forests on the slopes. Aquamarine glacial rivers, lakes, waterfalls. All the peaks have an intricate pattern of snow on them. Mount Tutoko dominates in this region. A towering craggy mass with huge sweeps of snow and ice shelves wreathed in thin swathes of cloud. Further off even higher peaks, more snow and beyond them a beautiful pale blue sky. We fly on buffeted by the wind. If you want scenic it doesn’t get any better than this!

20121218-150002.jpg
Eventually we approach the Sound. It has a grey, chilly look. We fly between the huge rock faces which plunge literally thousands of feet into the water. We see the detail of the rock layers. The waterfalls. The bush clinging to every available space, only stopping at the white streaked snow line. Kevin circles the plane and you can feel the strength of the wind. We approach the tiny landing strip at the end of the fiord. A bump and we’re down.

20121218-150246.jpg
We get half an hour at Milford Sound. All the facilities are closed but it doesn’t matter. We have time to take in the enormous, brooding rock faces that plunge into the Tasman Sea. We’ve seen the photos in the guides and the brochures. They give no idea of the scale of the place. It just dwarves you. The publicity shots are usually taken in sunshine. Today the clouds are grey and menacing. The atmosphere with the bad weather approaching is heavy and oppressive. It suits this place down to the ground. Milford Sound, we feel, is a place to visit rather than to live in.

20121218-150436.jpg
There is a photoshoot with our pilot and his gallant plane. We take off and climb up past the gargantuan crags and their forests and waterfalls. We turn to take a longer route to the north to avoid the big cloud masses which have by now built up around the high peaks. We fly over the vast areas of bush in the Westland hills. Millions upon millions of tiny green trees decorated with filaments of cloud.

20121218-150603.jpg
Then we turn inland. down the valley of Lake McKerrow which has just missed becoming a sound itself. Down the valley of the braided river the settlers called the Dart. The valley bottom is broad and richly green. You can see why the tiny settlements of Glenorchy and Kinloch are there. Time and again we see hints of aquamarine in the water from the glacial silt. it spills out into Lake Wakatipu. The lake is boomerang shaped and we fly round the bend in pursuit of a tiny tourist plane ahead of and below us. We drop towards Queenstown and get a full appreciation of its fabulous alpine setting.

20121218-150928.jpg

Finally we loop the mound at Kelvin Heights which I assume is the posh part of Queestown. We do this twice to loose height. Franktown is classed as an international airport. It must be one of he smallest in the world and I don’t think they do holding patterns. Then we are heading for the strip and we’re down.

20121218-150741.jpg
It’s been a wonderful experience. Another high point in a trip full of high points. I shake hands with the young pilot and thank him.

Wow! What a day!

20121218-151033.jpg



Read Alison’s Blog

Mount Cook Village

We Continue our drive beside Lake Pukaki.

We stop at Peter’s Lookout which has a truly spectacular view. An artist, Patricia Prendergast, has set out her stall from her car boot. She’s actually an Aussie but has worked as an illustrator for the New Zealand government drawing and painting the landscape and its flora and fauna. She’s also a keen walker and climber. Alison buys a mounted, hand coloured print and Patricia signs it.

20121212-183423.jpg
On again. The mountains are becoming large. We are at the end of the lake. It looks more remote, almost desolate. We pass the airstrip from where they fly tourists over the mountains.

20121212-184028.jpg
The great walls of rock and ice begin to close in and loom. They seem to be suggesting that we turn back. The summit of Aoraki towers in the background. Majestic, imposing.

20121212-183725.jpg
We reach Mount Cook village. It is nestled under a vast rock face in native bush. There are a number of well-constructed buildings. A visitors’ centre, a restaurant, accommodation. All modern, clean and well laid out. Dominating the entire area on our left is the colossal icy face of Mount Sefton with a sweeping cap of cloud and ice cornices decorating its sides like some enormous cake.

20121212-184319.jpg
On the right is Aoraki. Also decorated with cornices. Immense. Towering. Majestic.
The Southern Cross on the flag flies bravely in front of it. A bit tattered, it must be said, by the alpine winds. I wonder how often they have to replace it?

20121212-184717.jpg
We decide to dine frugally as the restaurant is a bit expensive. We make base camp beside the restaurant and bivvy for lunch. Here we made a mistake. There’s a superb cafe just round the corner, along with a hotel, shop you name it. Oops. Never mind, we’ll know next time.

20121212-185039.jpg
The visitors’ centre must be the best I’ve ever seen. It’s design is excellent. The entrance hall, and it is a hall, has big suspended curves framing a huge window which offers a fabulous view of the peak of Aoraki. It fair takes your breath away. There are displays about everything to do with the area. Cultural history, animals and plants and a large shop area with pricy but high quality souvenirs.

20121212-185351.jpg
Downstairs the focus is on climbing in the region. It’s quite fascinating even for the non-climber. You can see the contrast of the old and new in clothing and equipment. The tweed jacket and alpine hat has evolved a long way into today’s high-tech gear. We particularly liked the manikin of Freda Du Faur, an early pioneer of ladies’ mountaineering. There she is dressed for the ascent like an Edwardian cyclist with her straw hat and lacy blouse with a bluebird brooch. Bloomers, overskirt, stout boots and an alpenstock complete the picture. There are reconstructions of mountain huts complete with hand-powered generators. There’s a video presentation of a true-life mountain rescue which I was enthralled by. Edge-of-your-seat stuff. These guys have bottle. There’s much else besides.

20121212-185620.jpg
While we’ve been doing this the cloud has been building. Aoraki’s peak is now shrouded. It makes it look very forbidding.

20121212-204403.jpg
We take a walk up to Kea Point overlooking the Muller Glacier. The walk is not long but you feel you are getting in touch with the place. The glacier is covered in moraine and melt pools so it doesn’t look at all icy which is a bit disappointing. But you do get a close up view of Mount Sefton. Aoraki has now virtually disappeared behind a wall of ominous looking cloud. The hanging ice shelves on Mount Sefton show deep blue shadow. Dust blows off the moraine. Up close, alpine scenery is not pretty.

20121212-205138.jpg
We drive back down the lake. The scene has totally changed since this morning. The sky, though bright, is dominated by cloud. Our beautiful mountain has disappeared.

20121212-205422.jpg
How fortunate we were to choose exactly the right time to come out this morning. Those perfect views of Aoraki will always be with us.

20121212-205651.jpg



Read Alison’s Blog

Christchurch Views

We spent quite a bit of time just walking around in Christchurch. The rest of the time we just slobbed around. It was cool.

It’s called the Garden City and it certainly lives up to its name. Not just in the gardens of the suburbs like Merivale where. We stayed but in the parks and public gardens. Along with the wide streets this makes it a great place to walk through.

There is, of course, the earthquake or quakes. The effect of these has been and continues to be massive. The centre is still pretty well closed to traffic. There are many, many vacant ‘sections’ or plots where big buildings have been demolished. Others still wait to be knocked down. So many were badly damaged that they are still working on demolition two years after the first quake.

There is also the effect on the underground infrastructure. There are miles of roadworks where water and gas and electrical supplies are being repaired. It is really quite a distressing sight.

But the kiwis are getting there. One nice touch is the Container Mall right in the city centre. With many of the main stores gone they’ve brought in freight containers and fitted them out, very smartly, as shops, cafes and restaurants. There is a very lively scene there during the day. We spent and hour or so strolling around, buying a few gifts and joining the people hanging out in the cafes. There’s a very positive vibe there.

Good on yer, Christchurch.

Church under reconstruction, city centre.

20121208-084209.jpg

Damaged Queen Victoria Jubilee clock. The base is heavily shored up.

20121208-084349.jpg

The Container Mall.

20121208-084511.jpg

Hanging and texting in the container Mall.

20121208-084942.jpg

Cool dude chilling in the Mall. Note the Christmas trees.

20121208-084801.jpg

Into the Botanic Gardens.

20121208-092227.jpg

Ice creams, from a container kiosk.

20121208-092343.jpg

Weather for the shade……

20121208-092532.jpg

…..and the Aussie hat.

20121208-092633.jpg

Merivale, house in hiding.

20121208-092748.jpg

Mona Vale, a city centre house and its gardens open to the public. This place is just delightful.

20121208-092943.jpg

Rose garden a la Alice in Wonderland, Monarch Vale. Pass me my flamingo and my hedgehog…

20121208-093133.jpg

Water lilies, Mona Vale.

20121208-093505.jpg

Delphiniums….

20121208-093654.jpg

…roses….

20121208-093800.jpg

…and more roses……

20121208-093855.jpg

….all in Mona Vale.

20121208-094025.jpg

Riccarton House is an old house by New Zealand reckoning. It is usually open to the public but closed for repairs at the moment, presumably of damage due to the quake. It is approached by a magnificent park of huge trees, some of the largest in the island.

20121209-092023.jpg

The other main feature is the Riccarton Bush. This is a conserved area of native bush right inside the city. It is surrounded by an anti-predator fence. It’s an extraordinary place. When you walk into it the atmosphere changes abruptly. We noticed this in the bush up near Jenny’s place.

20121209-092303.jpg

Outside the fence the main birdsong is blackbirds, thrushes etc. Inside the first thing we heard was a tui, which is not a bird we’ve heard much in Christchurch. There are more magnificent trees in here, like the huge and extremely graceful white pine. As usual in this country there are well presented, informative boards telling you all about them.

20121209-092716.jpg

It was a farsighted action on the part of Riccarton’s nineteenth century owners to set this piece of bush aside from agricultural development. It is an unusual and valuable part of the heritage of the Garden City and enhances it. it is also a perfect place for quiet contemplation.

Cairns and Beyond

We flew up to Cairns from Brisbane today. A nice, short flight, only two hours, can you imagine! Out of the window we saw some inshore parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns is seriously hot. We picked up a hire car at Hertz. There was a longish queue. Many people are now arriving at the airport for the eclipse.
Picked up some veg at a market with a rather down-at-heel backpacker-cum-hippie feel to it though the produce was good. Many of the exotic fruits grown in this tropical area were on display and you could buy freshly pierced coconuts to drink the milk. Round the corner was an up-to-the-minute, air conditioned shopping mall where I suspect many of the hippie type stall holders do their own shopping.
We drive out on the main road and up a huge climb into the hills behind Cairns. on the radio two Aussie voices comment on the test match at the Gabba. We are in the Atherton tableland and located our next lodging, a cabin at Lake Eacham. We are right in the rainforest, it’s exciting. The guy running the place is very much into ecology and tells us all about the birds and beasts we can expect to see including duck billed platypuses in streams nearby! Meanwhile parrots and emerald doves flew around outside his office.
The cabin is done out in the style of a beach hut but there is nothing twee about it, apart perhaps for the lighthouse style lamp, but even that is robust. My favourite feature is the real ship’s porthole on one of the cupboards and the model of the diver’s helmet. The cabin is spacious, clean and very well appointed.
We are greeted at our cabin by a guinea fowl type bird and a pondful of frogs making a weird clacking noise. As the night does its trick of falling so fast you don’t realise it’s fallen there is a piercing, almost deafening outburst from the cicadas which dies back quickly to a continuous background. The trees around are definitely alien, jungly, big and dense. We have to keep the net protectors shut because of insects and the antechinus, a rat like creature which is inclined to run into cabins given half a chance!
Reassuring fact from one of the guides left in the cabin. Of the twenty seven species of snakes in Northern Tropical Queensland (NTQ) only half are venomous and only eight species have a potentially fatal bite, including the most venomous species on earth. We’ll sleep the sounder knowing that! There are also sixty one species of frogs.
We’ve come up to the office where the Wi-Fi hub is to post this. We used a wind-up torch to light our way through the almost palpable warm darkness. Only a small circle of sky is visible through the tall forest trees but that is dark and filled with alien stars.

20121111-120129.jpg

Impressions of Brisbane, Thursday

Further Impressions of Brisbane, Thursday 8th November
Again into Brisbane by bus from Rosalie. Rosalie could be the name of a suburb only in Australia. Then to the Roma Street Parklands. This is another tropical garden, more formal than the botanic gardens on a large natural amphitheatre. The varied glass verticals of the CBD are seen in the background, the huge, luxuriant trees in the foreground. A pleasing contrast which provides a great sense of space. We made our way to Southbank again over the Kurpila bridge an imaginative structure with the elegant curve of the bridge supported on cables from obliquely placed pylons.
We met Christine, a local lady who I have been in contact with via the WetCanvas website. She very kindly presented me with one of her watercolours of her cockatiel as a welcome to Australia gift. We took a look inside the Brisbane art gallery which has some fine paintings by van Dyke, Sir George Clausen and Raeburn among others. Also a couple of lively bronzes by Degas. On the way out saw a number of brilliantly coloured lorikeets feeding in the bushes beside the art centre.
I really like he sweeping curves of the bridges and roads on the waterfront of the city. There is a tall building with coloured glass such as is used in a number of Queenslander houses we’ve seen, a cultural reference?
A piper was playing on the bridge as we crossed back into the city. I bought at first it was some robotic noise being made by one of the very modern buses standing nearby.
Looked out on the balcony when we returned. the scorpions tail, inverted of course, was setting in the west, ie on my right
Later. out for dinner at the Indian in Rosalie.

20121109-215224.jpg

Impressions of Brisbane, Wednesday

Wednesday, brief impressions of Brisbane.
We took the bus into the centre of Brisbane, the BCD. We take a coffee in Jimmy’s on the Mall where a black and white ibis is scavenging. ‘What is that bird called’ we ask a waiter, ‘A bloody nuisance’ he replies. Then to the botanical gardens. There are many large exotic trees including banyans. Large topical butterflies flutter around us as we walk. We come across the cafe which is, unfortunately closed but beside it sits a large iguana. At first we take it for a model, then it moves.
There is the sound of a party of children. A group of Aussie school kids in their broad-brimmed outdoor hats are being led around the gardens. We spot them as walk briskly past a genuine mangrove swamp at the edge of the river. Echoes of their pioneer forefathers.
We cross a bridge over the river Brisbane to Southbank. This is a relatively recent development, largely cultural but includes an urban beach, cafes and restaurants. We hop on a City Cat. This is a catamaran ferry and commuter service. It takes us up past he CBD which is impressive with its clean, tall modern lines in different shades of glass. There are several little ferry stations looking like colonial outposts against the tall palm trees. There are smart and no doubt expensive riverside residences and there is a very English church on a hill full of such residences which might have been transplanted from the south of France.
We go up and down the river then disembark on the city side and the ferryman takes no fee on the grounds that we’ve only effectively gone one stop!
Night falls rapidly in the warmth of the city streets as we make our way back to the bus stop. We eat at an expensive Italian restaurant where two smart and probably well off Aussie girls are fluttering at a darkly good looking waiter.

20121109-214229.jpg