My New Zealand Trails 'World Heritage Walking Tour' – Part 2
The ‘underworld’, kayaking the ‘heart of darkness’ and the ‘river of ice’, Susan Patterson continues her journey with husband Tom and shares with us their experiences of day 3,4 and 5 on their 13-Day New Zealand adventure.
My New Zealand Trails 'World Heritage Walking Tour' - Part 2
An amazing adventure on this day. We headed to Charleston for our Underworld Rafting, Caving and Glow Worm tour. Our guide Kylie gave us all (three young couples and us) wet suits (socks, shoes, overalls, jacket and gloves) and helmets to change into. Then we first were taken by van into the rainforest jungle to their miniature open air train which took us even further into the jungle (and saved us nearly an hour of walking). When the train ended we each got a big inner tube which we carried along a jungle path and up some steps cut into the trail to the mouth of the cave. Next we switched on headlamps and walked for about 90 minutes through the cave, still carrying or rolling our tubes as we clambered over rocks and through shallow water, looking at cave formations while Kylie told us about the formation of the many limestone caves in NZ. In many places we had to bend low to get through tight spots (Similar to the caving and rafting the Ashmans are very familiar with in Belize but without the anthropology of those caves. The Maori believed that caves were the entrance to the Underworld so never went inside them, but left the dead bodies of their leaders at the entrances.)
Eventually, we came to deep enough water to get on our tubes, linking feet under the armpits of the person ahead of us. We turned out all our head lamps and floated silently while looking up at millions of glowworms dotting the cave ceiling like galaxies of stars above us. Glowworms are actually the larval stage of insects. Each larva drools out 5-20 strands of sticky spit which hang down about a foot. The phosphorescence of the larvae attracts mosquitoes and sand flies which think the light is the way out of the cave, and they get trapped by the sticky threads and eaten by the larvae. This goes on for about 8 months, and then the larvae are big enough to go into a pupa stage. When they emerge as flying insects they have about 48 hours to find a mate and reproduce and deposit the larvae and then they die. We floated for about 30 minutes before emerging from the cave and into the river.
Tom and Andrew even went off late afternoon for a short hike up a river in the rainforest while I took my get-well nap before dinner. They are really enjoying each other and Tom can even handle Andrew teasing him about some of his obsessions. Tom carries on daily about the cost of everything; never mind that it’s all paid for ahead of time, and we are ordering considerably less food than Andrew expected and budgeted for. Andrew has caught on how to make Tom think he’s getting more than he’s meant to which adds greatly to Tom’s enjoyment.
Our highlight on this day was kayaking with Okarito Nature Tours in Okarito Lagoon, a tidal wetland with a narrow opening to the Tasman Sea. We used two double kayaks, Tom and our beautiful young lady guide Mel in one, and Andrew and I in the other. Okarito Lagoon covers more than 3240 hectares of shallow open water and is well known for its outstanding avifauna. Over 70 species of birds live there, but the “stars of the show” are kotuku (white heron) and royal spoonbill. As the tide was going out, we got stuck on saltmarshes when we tried going up small jungle branches of the lagoon, but saw plenty and felt that “heart of darkness” jungle experience going a ways up several miles.
This day we went through two little towns significant to New Zealand literature. Two NZ authors have won the Booker Prize - Keri Hulme for The Bone People (She is an elderly recluse in the tiny settlement of Okarito and walks daily on the same beach we walked on after kayaking.) and Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries which my book group is reading in the next few months. (She’s a young writer who is from Hokitika just south of Pancake Rocks.) Andrew highly recommends both books.
Later that afternoon, Tom and I hiked part way around Lake Matheson in a light rain before enjoying one of our most gourmet dinners in a café owned by a high school mate of Andrew’s who is the chef. This little lake is famous for the reflection of Mt Cook in its waters, but in the rain there was no reflection for us.
Early next morning walking outside to breakfast at High Peaks Hotel, however, the sun was just rising over magnificent Mt Tasman and Mt Cook with wispy cloud cover and other high peaks covered by snowfields and glaciers. On our first trip to NZ 25 years ago, Tom and I left our kids and my mother sleeping in at our B & B, and hiked in to Franz Joseph glacier and a little bit on the ice at the bottom which was all we could do without crampons. We were very impressed by the blue ice, calving edge, and rushing melt water. More recently, Franz Joseph has become too unstable for walking on, so everyone now goes to the Fox Glacier close by.
Andrew handed us over to the Fox Glacier Guiding Company for a larger group, four hour glacier experience. Once again, we were given equipment - real mountain boots and socks to wear and crampons to put on once we were on the ice. We started out with about 30 people and two young guides, a girl from Poland and a boy from England. Once at the trailhead to the Fox Glacier we split into two groups, and we were with Dave from England. We walked up to the glacier for an hour, Dave showing us along the way where the glacier extended to at different points from 1750 to now. In spite of a brief extension of it during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, it has receded at least 2 miles since 1750. Global warming is very real here. Dave did a super job of explaining glacial geology, teaching all to walk “cowboy style” with crampons, warning us about unstable rocks over our heads, and cutting steps for us with a pick ax as we climbed up the lower part of the glacier. The plan was to go high enough to view the upper glacier, but Dave went ahead and decided our pathway was too unstable. I did notice other people continuing on up, but we had a good experience of walking on the ice, seeing some crevasses and the little torrents of melt water rushing down. And we had the hour’s walk back out as well.
The rest of the afternoon was on the road, one of our longest travel days, to Wanaka, at the bottom of Lake Wanaka. I think Wanaka is where my nephew Peter Davis spent last NZ winter living and working at one of the two ski areas nearby. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise, and while touristy, it does not display the crush and business of Queenstown. We stayed and ate at the very lovely Edgewater Resort on Lake Wanaka where we had a condo to ourselves and did a big wash in the combination washer/dryer.
End of ‘Part 2’
With 8 days to go and heading deeper into the South Island wilderness for more hiking and guided adventure - check out part 3 of Susan’s journal.
To see the best photographs from Tom and Susan's trip take a look at our 'World Heritage Walking Tour'.