Thursday, February 22, 2018

The day's forecast depends on which window you look out of

The skies are clear! Hallelujah!

Here at The Nook at Arthur's Pass, what you can expect from the day very much depends 

on which window you first look from. From the bed, a small window high in the wall offers an enticing view of snow capped peaks dazzling in the early morning light.  On the other hand, the view from the bathroom, while just as lovely, brings clouds slipping down the mountainside towards the stream that bubbles along behind the railway line. Until last night, that rail line was closed due to the cyclone, so overnight a number of freight trains crept through town, trying to make up lost time. Today the Alpine Express, the tourist train from Christchurch, recommences.  Not sure that I would want to bathe outside - although you are screened from the direct view of the road and rail below, I still think that I would be a nervous nellie!

Spent about 45 minutes searching for accommodation for tonight - finally settled on an Airbnb listing in Whataroa about 3 hours away. We set out right on 9 am.

Down to the National Parks Visitor Centre just down the road where we get the low down on the walks through the Arthur's Pass National Park.  One of the walk sections is closed after a metre of snow fell at the beginning of the week, coupled with rain and wind from the cyclone has caused a slip along the path.

Michael sets off to do the Devil's Punchbowl walk to the falls.  Gentle slope but a lot of stairs. Supposedly a 30 minute return walk.  He make it back just inside the hour.  He can't believe the number of Koreans and Chinese walking the path.  Of course, it is Chinese New Year, so they are here on holiday!

The next stage of the walk is the actual Arthur's Pass Walk and from the carpark where he leaves me, it is about 1.5 hours walk one way  to Jack's Hut a little higher up the mountain.  Thank goodness I didn't wait the 1.5 hours to drive up there.  Within 45 minutes of leaving the bottom, he is at the Hut car park!

The walk passes through a range of forest types with remnant antarctic beech forests that are heavily laden with mosses, to the start of the fir forests to dry scherophyll forests and even to the pampas grasses.  Once Michael arrives back to me he is filled with stories of the vistas and the snow capped peaks that are close even to touch.  The air is filled with a thousand new smells - many of them as old as the trees - literally. There is that wonderful earthy, truffley smell that is just so enticing!

From Jack's Hut we continue up and over the Pass, pausing to take a look at the Obelisk to Arthur Dobson - one of the two brothers who pioneered this country.  And then it is on to the Otira Viaduct which was completed in 1999 following the crash of a bus and the death of a child while travelling the switchbacks down the mountain.  Leading in to the bridge and to the south of it, the road is a very decent 16% slope - so it is down to second gear behind a cattle truck.

Once we are 'over the top', the vegetation changes quite dramatically - and quite quickly.  The more regular and heavier rainfall to the west of the mountains means that the forests are denser with more firs and eucalpyts and lots and lots of ferns including large, lush tree ferns and may that we have never seen.  It amazes me that whole walls of ferns grow up the cliff faces above vehicle height, and yet at car or truck height, where they would be brushed against all the time, there are the smallest of petite little varieties that hug the cliff face away from the danger of being scraped off!

We head for Hokitaki, pausing at an interesting homage to bridges in NZ and part of the first Arahura Bridge.  Of course Michael is thrilled that he can again see those snow capped peaks!

We finally arrive in Hokitaki quite famished about 3:10 pm.  We head straight for a bank as NZ eftpos points do not like our Australia debit card!  Then just a few shops away we spy the Stone Oven Bakery and Cafe.  Man o man were we in for a treat.  Their sign says that they specialise in Butter Chicken Pies.  And they were right. Those pies were some of the best that we have ever tasted and the coffee was strong and hot. 

We needed fuel and almost had a coronary when we saw how much the price of fuel is here - it might explain the number of cyclists that we are seeing - making fun of them as they climb crazy slopes!  And yes, the photo is not a mistake, it DOES say $2.07 per litre. And of course the hire car company insists on us using U95 which is $2.23 litre.

There is nothing worse than not having a water supply in the car, so we stock up with water, fruit and crackers at the local supermarket - again, can't believe the cost of living.

Hokitaki is right on the ocean so a quick trip to the beach and we see lots of driftwood piled high with local artists making the most of the ready resource.  Quirky and fun.  A stop at the local Greenstone store and a stone painter is also in order before we again turn the car south to head for Whataroa where we are staying in an Airbnb with Joan.  

She cautions us that there are not too many places for a meal here, and suggests that we eat before we get here.  But with those scrummy pies not long eaten, we take a chance on finding something open.  

Luckily the Whataroa Pub is still open and cooking.  We feast on freshly battered Gurnard with chips and salad.  SO good.  Finally at Joans with Roger the Poodle and Sumi the cat.  Just like being at home!

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