Mats and Jenna

Joined July 2017
  • Day193

    Scheelite Historic Mine & ReesDart Track

    January 8, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    Beside gold, settlers also mined for Scheelite (Calcium Tungstate for the chemists). Swedes actually first called the rock Tungsten, which the element was later named after. It's a white rock that is very hard. It's often found together with gold, so mining for both resources went hand-in-hand.

    Mining work was very volatile. During war, hard scheelite was in high demand because it could be used in armour plates and big gun barrels. But after the war, prices dropped too low to continue mining it profitably.

    We went for a hike to one of these old Scheelite mines. We first saw the processing area. Water was channeled down a pipe to turn a turbine. The mechanical power moved the machinery directly (no electricity). Different crushers, shaking tables, a rotating drum and washing bins separated the scheelite from ore. The engineer in me got excited again.

    An old bulldozer had been left behind. Back to work! Ore was dug from tunnels and moved by mining carts over rails. Ore was dumped in big piles. One rail went right over the edge of a cliff and stopped abruptly. It looked like a mistake. But we later learned that this is how they disposed of waste rock. "Bye!"

    We drove through the town of Glenorchy. Someone was building a Tiny House in a vacant lot. Cool! Unfortunately we didn't meet them. But it was interesting to see the frame almost fully built. We stopped by the Mrs. Wooly General Store. It's an old fashioned looking store selling eco-friendly products. And right behind it a new eco-village was being built, with really forward thinking resource and waste management ideas. Sweet area!

    Mats did a hike later that afternoon, along the Rees-Dart track. It's named after the two rivers that flow down to Lake Wakatipu from the mountains. Mats hiked along the Dart River. It had great views of the mountains surrounding the mountain, particularly Mt Earnslaw. And looking up the valley you could see the glaciers feeding the rivers.
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  • Day192

    Historic Mining town & Glenorchy Drive

    January 7, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    We drove along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy. This is a prime example of, "The journey is the destination." The entire winding drive along the lakeshore was beautiful. It helped that the weather was great. The sunlight made the lake glow an amazing blue-green.

    Several stops along the way gave us a history lesson in the mining past of the area and more great scenery. The first stop was the Mt Crichton Look Track. Here early settlers mined for gold. Channels carved into the rocks, and even carved through the rocks, enabled waste rock from the mining to be disposed in the river. Crawling through the dry channel let to a beautiful hidden waterfall. On top of the hill, a historic hut of a miner showed what life was like back then.

    Bob's Cove was another trail off the main road. A walk to the top of the headland gave stunning views back down the peninsula and the beautiful waters below.

    We continued as far as we could for the day and parked our van along the lake. Before going to bed, a refreshing dip in the cold waters was great after hiking for much of the day. And the following morning we did the same. Great start to the day!
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  • Day191

    Queenstown & The Remarkables

    January 6, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We made our way from Wanaka to Queenstown. On the way, there was a nice, quiet freedom campsite on Lake Hayes. It was a nice base to explore the surroundings, without staying in busy Queenstown.

    We walked a loop around Kelvin peninsula. It's a great place to watch the Jet Boats and Hydro Attack Shark Boats skim by through the Queenstown Harbour. And it's mostly flat along the water, so it was a peaceful walk.

    Next we drove up the Remarkables, several peaks that dominate the skyline from Queenstown. It was a steep climb in the van. In the winter this is a ski resort. But while we were there, there was no snow to be found. Instead, Mats climbed to the top of the hill to get views of the valley below.

    From here, Queenstown sprawled along the river, between the mountains and Lake Wakatipu. In the foreground, Kelvin Heights and the peninsula stand out like a lone hill. Lake Wakatipu itself stretched out in the distance to Glenorchy (where we would go the following day). The views were mesmerizing.

    That evening we returned to Lake Hayes. At dusk, a surprise came out of the bushes. A small hedgehog was wiggeling its way through the grass, hoping to score a tasty snack. When we spotted him, he quickly ran to hide under the van.
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  • Day188

    Wanaka Town & Wildfire

    January 3, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We recharged in Wanaka, a cute town nestled in the mountains. It was busy, but somehow it still felt relaxed. Maybe it was because it wasn't dominated by tourist shops trying to sell you stuff. We got some groceries, and connected back with the world at the library. We sat in the park to enjoy a simple lunch.

    That's when we noticed smoke. A wildfire had started in the hills above the town! It's as if wildfires have followed us around the world. First the grassfires in Portugal and Spain, then the forest fires in the Rockies and California. Later it stumped our plans to visit Fraser Island in Australia and now in New Zealand. Crazy! Helicopters started dumping water from Lake Wanaka on the flames. When we returned the following day, everything was under control again.

    We decided to head into the mountains towards Rob Roy. It was a 30km drive over pretty rough gravel road (washboard). We're surprised we didn't rattle off any van parts. The van did squeal a bit because of all the dust. But luckily it wasn't permanent. We parked along the glacial river that came from the Rob Roy glacier and camped there that night.
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  • Day187

    Haast Past - Part 2

    January 2, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 25 °C

    Haast Pass has many short pull offs to see different waterfalls. One seemed to magically come out of the forest and plunge into a deep pool, the popular Thundercreek Falls. At another stop, people had built countless Inukshuks (stone stacks). Of course, we built one too, overlooking the Fantail waterfall in the back.

    The scenery all along the drive was awesome. But when we arrived at Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea around sunset, the views were breathtaking. We found a freedom camping area at a gravel flat by Lake Hawea. We could pull right up to the water's edge and enjoy the views over the lake. And in the morning, a refreshing swim was first on the agenda!
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  • Day187

    Fox Glacier & Haast Past Part 1

    January 2, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 30 °C

    We made our way back to Fox Glacier town. On the way, a short walk along mirror lake provided nice views of the mountains in the distance. Unfortunately, it was a bit too cloudy to identify the peaks. Fox glacier definitely stood out though.

    When we got closer, and did the hike to the foot of the glacier, its story was similar to Franz Josef. It was disappointing how far it has retreated. Much of the glacier is covered in rocks and glacial silt. It probably makes it melt faster, with the dark surface absorbing more light.

    The clouds cleared up, and the drive along the coast to Haast was beautiful. From here the Haast Pass connects the coast with the lake towns, Wanaka and Queenstown. A stop along the road led through a forest with mistletoe. At the end, a cold glacial river gave us a refreshing swim.
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  • Day186

    Gillespies Beach Campsite

    January 1, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Freedom camping is not allowed in Franz Josef Glacier National Park, which basically covers all of Southwestern NZ. And the narrow strip of land between mountains and ocean almost doesn't have any campsites. Just Franz Josef town and Fox Glacier town have "resorts" where we could have an unpowered campsite (aka parking spot), for $30. We decided to take our chances at the only rural campsite, a 30km gravel driveway to the ocean. It was probably one of our best decisions. We were warned about an incoming storm and swell of up to 3m. If it hadn't been for a lack of a more convenient campsite, we probably would have missed it.

    Just on the other side of the dunes, a beach of smooth pebbles stretched endlessly in both directions. We watched huge waves crashing onto the beach, sitting just outside the reach of the white wash. The sun was setting where land met ocean, and behind us the mountains were lit up a soft hue.

    After watching for a while, Mats went down to the water's edge. The waves were intimidating. The occasional big wave sent a flood of water and pebbles against your ankles. But the rush of getting close, skipping some flat rocks, and outrunning the waves was great. The best part was getting down low, and as the waves exploded, "doing the wave" alongside it. The spray of the breaking waves seemed to hover in slow motion in front of the setting sun. Ahh..

    That night, Mats dreamed of waves. We could hear the pebbles rolling as the sea retreated, followed by one huge wave after another cracking open on the rocks. With each wave, his hands shot up in the air, "doing the wave". Haha what a rush!
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  • Day186

    Franz Josef Glacier

    January 1, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We spent the first day of the new year at a much anticipated place: the Franz Josef Glacier. We quickly hurried through the overly touristic Franz Josef town and made our way up the road to the glacier. This road follows the glacial river. The valley is filled with beautifully blooming (red) Southern Rata trees.

    Along the road, signs marked the extent of the glacier in the past, and we still had a few kilometers to drive! A sign at the start of the hike showed how quickly it has receded, especially in the last 150 years. Back then, the glacier filled the valley. Now vegetation was filling the newly available land. Different stages of forest growth, from moss to shrubs to trees, show how long it has been since the glacial retreat. Young, light green forest is 50 years old, whereas the red rata only dominates between 120-200 years after the retreat. After 200 years it is taken over by more mature, dark forest. Very interesting, and making the "timeline" visible.

    But more dramatic was the hike itself. The glacial river was filled with small icebergs, chunks of ice that continuously break off the glacier. The trail to the base of the glacier was quite long, especially considering that the parking lot used to be covered in a thick sheet of ice. And the Department of Conservation continuously has to extend the trail to keep up with the receding glacier. When we got to the end, we were disappointed by how small it was. In this case, we weren't being snobby tourists with too high expectations of an attraction. It's a testament to how little ice is left.

    Most shocking was the sign at the start of the hike, installed in 2010, which asked, "Will this be Franz Josef Glacier in 2100?" The picture looked eerily similar to the view we had at that moment. It's only been 7 years.. Unfortunately the only question left asking here is when Franz Josef Glacier will disappear completely.

    On a side note, we had a surprise guest when we returned back to the parking lot, a Kea! A rare alpine parrot. In the winter time, when their food, flowers and insects, becomes scarce they can be quite mischievous and destructive. They eat people's windshield wipers and dig through people's bags. Regardless, they are a beautiful bird with green feathers and orange under their wings. Luckily, the Department of Conservation tracks their movement, warns travelers to keep an eye out and protects their habitat.
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  • Day185

    Hokitika Gorge, Lake Kaniere & New Years

    December 31, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    New Year's Eve and it's the first bad day of weather in a while. We drove away from the coast to explore the river flowing through the Hokitika Gorge. On nice days, the water is turqoise coloured from all the glacial silt. But that day it was so gray that the water was a milky white. It rained hard and we got soaked, despite our rain jackets. Every hundred meters or so, another waterfall was adding to the flow of the river. It was very dramatic.

    We didn't hang around long but instead decided to head toward our campsite for the night. On the way, on a small backroad in the middle of nowhere, a pair of hikers along the road looked like drowned rats. We stopped to see if they needed a lift. They had hiked for four days through the bush along a poorly marked trail. No one we picked up had been so happy about getting a ride! With no cell reception, it would've meant another 15km walk for them through heavy rain.

    In the afternoon, we got a bit of a dry break. We went to check out a large waterfall. The base was only 100m from the carpark. But NZ Frenzy (our off the beaten path guide book) recommended scrambling up the steep hillside, over rocks and roots, to get a view from the top. From there, a second stage of the waterfall was even more impressive. In the picture, you can see the second stage in the distance.

    We hid in the van in the evening and had to cook our dinner inside. We prepared a special treat, spaghetti and shrimp. We normally went to bed with the setting sun, but we made an effort to stay up for the start of 2018. We changed into dry clothes and played some Fjord under our Christmas lighting. Fitting, since we were on our way to Fjordland.

    New Year's eve isn't celebrated much by locals, especially outside the big cities. Kiwis come to the West coast to relax. They much prefer a quiet evening with a glass of whiskey over a large social event. And private fireworks are technically not legal. So we hadn't expected much. But to our surprise, at midnight, despite the rain, two groups of partiers lit fireworks at the campsite anyway. And our van was perfectly aligned to watch the show through our windshield and backwindow. Awesome! Happy New Years!!!

    The campground was by Lake Kaniere, a popular lake for water activities. The weather cleared up the following morning and we went for a new year's dip. Refreshing, but of course, nowhere near as cold as Jan 1st Polar dips in the Northern hemisphere ;)
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  • Day184

    Pancake rocks & Motukiekie Beach

    December 30, 2017 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    The hard winds and salty waters really batter the West coast. The relentless "Roaring Forties" are strong winds blowing from the West. And the Tasman Sea is known for its rough waters. When you walk along the coast you really notice how the weather carves the land like butter.

    For the most part we got lucky and enjoyed great weather. But this day, we were disappointed that the weather was "too nice"! We were going to Punakaiki, or "Pancake Rocks". Beautifully layered rocks have been eroded to expose well defined horizontal lines, like a stack of pancakes.

    Caves and tunnels have bored into the soft rock. And at high tide, waves roll through the narrow channels and their echos rumble up the rock walls. Ideally, the occasional large wave will have so much momentum that the water is forced up through a blowhole! During our visit the weather was "too nice" because even though it was high tide, the sea was too calm to create the explosive water spouts. We could only imagine. We did admire the large bunches of kelp that clung to the rocks, swaying back and forth with each wave. The walk was educational, teaching about different native trees and shrubs. In particular, the NZ flax plant is a key part of the ecosystem and has provided the Maori with an invaluable resource for weaving baskets and clothes, and for creating rope.

    We continued our drive and got out for a long walk along Motukiekie Beach. It's hidden under a large cliff from the main road above. It's a gem. The beach is very flat and wide, causing long, rolling waves. The rock plateaus are a haven for sealife. They're completely covered in mussles. Water flows back and forth, with the waves and the tides, through small channels. Huge starfish huddle together on the water's edge. And squishy anemones wave their little tentacles in shallow pools.

    All sorts of rock statues have survived the elements and we explored more tunnels and arches all along the walk. In particular, a large archway with a big "window" above it was most memorable. These smoothed out boulders, covered in moss should be recognized as "most comfortable rocks in the world". And a rope hanging out of a rock tunnel let us explore a hidden waterfall coming down the cliff. Incredible, what a day!
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