Thursday, 7 March 2013

Back to the mountains

Leaving the Catlins was hard, but with just a few days remaining of our holiday, we were keen to explore more of New Zealand. We drive up the coast, passing through Dunedin and stopping for a quick look at the Moeraki boulders further up the coast. These amazing round boulders look like beach balls part buried in the sand - giraffe-like patterns form on the surface of some, where the crystalline calcite deposits have broken through the shell of the boulder. Elsewhere on the beach, boulders have split open, looking like cracked eggshells. We were not the only ones stopping to view these geological phenomena - we see more tourists on the beach than we saw in two days in the Catlins!

Back in the car we drive north to Oamaru, then inland on Highway 83, stopping off to see some Maori cave paintings and at a place called Earthquakes (professional curiosity...) where a dramatic cliff is actually the result of a landslide, not an earthquake. We had lunch at Elephant Rocks - a fantastic playground of large limestone boulders set in pastureland, with a mountain backdrop. Out came the rock shoes which had been festering in my pack, and I spent a happy half hour on the pocket-covered boulders whilst MizHB patiently took photos and made friends with the local sheep.

Sadly we still had some miles to go, so we got back on the road and continued our drive inland, up through Twizel to Mt Cook village. The views of Mt Cook on the drive up to the village are spectacular, though when in the village, the big one is hidden and it's neighbouring Mt Sefton that provides the snow-covered backdrop. There is just time for a short walk through the forest, with a good viewpoint of Mt Cook, before we check in to our hostel, have dinner and squeeze in a quick session in the sauna before bed.

Next morning dawns bright and clear, and we headed for a half-day walk up Hooker Valley. The good track meanders gently up the valley, with great views of the surrounding mountains, to the Hooker glacier terminal lake. We then drove round to the Tasman Valley, where a short walk led to a viewpoint over the glacier and glacial lake - famous for its icebergs. It was difficult to get an idea of how big these were until the appearance of some Zodiac boats gave an impressive sense of scale.

It was a short drive from Mt Cook to Tekapo, where we were spending our penultimate night. We had been looking forward to the Tekapo hot pools throughout our visit and they didn't disappoint. Almost empty at the end of the day, we lay back and relaxed I'm the warm water, watching a beautiful sunset and the first stars appear in the sky. A relaxing end to a busy couple of days.

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