I got up before everyone else, and it was a Sunday, so I thought that I would take advantage of the global phenomenon of people sleeping in on Sunday mornings, and go for a run down the coastline which was beautiful, winding, and past massive rock walls as the road wound itself towards Abel Tasman.
It was as predicted…me, myself, and the road. Not many other people out there. It was awesome.
I got back, and Deb went out for a run too, so exercise done for the day.
We got all of our gear together, and decided to head out on a hike at Wainui Falls, just a short drive from Pohara. It reportedly had some clear blue pools that we could swim in either at or close to the falls.
So, we made our way there, and with Lulu on her hiking strike, the only way that I got her to come along was that I would pull her up the hills. Good workout for me, and she got a free ride along the way.
We made it to the falls, and Lulu and I scrambled down some rocks to get a closer look at the base of the falls, while Wilson and Deb went back on the trail to check out some driftwood to see if they could build a fort. The driftwood were entangled pretty tightly, so there wasn’t any fort building going on today!
We walked back and found a safe spot to swim and jump off the rocks into the crystal clear, and freezing cold water.
Not to be outdone, and to keep up with tradition, Wilson and I built an inukshuk in the stream like other people did. Lulu and Deb had started to walk back to the car as the sandflies were starting to bite them.
So, the rocks were smooth, and flat, so it was a game of “how high can you build your inukshuk” when compared to the other ones out there. We beat them fair and square.
Then karma kicked in and I slipped and stumbled twice, jamming the toes of my one foot into a pile of rocks under the water, and then the second time, jamming the other sit of toes under the water. They really hurt. Like to the point that eventually they were swollen and I couldn’t wear shoes. Brutal.
Along the walk, we saw our first Kiwi birds, which were pretty cute, and strange to see them as they are generally known to be nocturnal animals. Oh well, night…or should I say day…owl.
So, back in the car and we headed down the coast towards Punakaki. The drive was a beautiful coastal drive that eventually brought us to some dramatic waves crashing in the pebble beach that, in typical New Zealand Fashion, wound like a snake around the hills, making it impossible to drive the posted 100kph. Unless you were a local.
Along the way, just for our stop for the night, the ocean was crashing into the shore at one particular point along a rocky point, that created a dramatic “wave crashing sea mist flowing”. Of course, I had to get out and take some photos, and get soaked by some waves and sea spray at the same time.
No biggie. “I am dry-able” as my mom would say.
We found our lodging for the night, which was a nice cottage resort and backpackers lodge. We had a whole cabin to ourselves, until a girl walked in thinking it was her cabin…we pointed her in the right direction back to her cabin…
Dinner, bed, and a chance to get out and see the stars was in order before we headed out the next day to head further south.
We got to the famous Pancake Rocks which, as the name would describe, are a number of rock formations that look like a breakfast at Wimpy’s diner. Pancakes stacked on top of each other with greenery and moss dripping down like syrup over the top.
Fun killer dad moment, just to give you some background about the Pancake Rocks. In this region, a single band of limestone (Oligocene limestone if you want to really know) that is about 50 metres thick, is responsible for many of the distinctive topographic features around this area.
All along the coast in this part of NZ. The Pancake Rocks have irregular chasms and ridges, and the layers are resistant bands of limestone that are separated by softer, thin, mud-rich layers (called “stylobedding”).
This is caused by compaction over time of the muddy layers between the limestone in which the floor of the ocean and dead marine animals were deposited, were then eroded over time by water, wind and salt spray near the coast.
It is estimated that these rocks were once on the floor of the ocean and layering started about 30 million years ago, but then an earthquake brought these layers above the water level. Just for us to enjoy!
As we headed further south, the sky started to turn darker and darker, and then there were brief periods of showers.
We opted not to stop at the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers to see them as we had walked on the ones out in BC.
We knew today was going to be a long drive, but the rainbow at the end was the helicopter ride and rafting trip that we were signed up for the next day. The drive wasn’t too exciting, and the kids were plugged into their devices, while Deb and I chatted and just looked around. Once we got to town, the directions and address to the hostel weren’t that accurate, so we ended up having to stop at three different places before we found the next one.
It was then off to the small hamlet of Haast. I don’t even know if you could call it that. Maybe a pitstop for travellers as they head through the area to get down to Milford and Te Anau.
But for us it was our pit stop to get ready for our heli-rafting trip. We booked this several months ago, and we were all looking forward to this part of the trip. Most of us had never been in a helicopter before, and the kids had never been white water rafting before. Ok, let me clarify that. The kids were looking forward to the helicopter ride, but not the white water rafting. Granted, they aren’t old enough to do the full on white water rafting, so we opted for a fancy version of a lazy river ride down the river in a big inflatable boat. But it would be cool nonetheless.
But, then the rain came. And came, And came some more.
Since it is pretty much at the end of the road, there aren’t a lot of options for people to stay in Haast if they wanted to. Either motel room, hostel room, or tent on the grass. Everywhere was booked up, and there was only camping available…and there were many people trying to get rooms that were supposed to be camping as there was a big storm coming in.
Then the phone call came as we pulled into the motel that we were staying at for the night. Kristen from the rafting company called us and said that the trip most likely would be cancelled since the heavy rains that were predicted overnight would cause the rivers to rise significantly, and the nice family river rafting trip would have been more of a class 3 or 4 river rapid trip. A little more than she felt that the kids would be safe with. But, we would just have to check in with her later to see what the weather forecast showed. Hopefully it would change.
It came out over family talks while the rain poured down, that the rafting was secondary to the helicopter ride, and that the kids really wanted to just go up in the air. Point taken.
Later in the evening, Kristen got back to me and said that they could, as an alternative, go down a different river, the Haast river, which was wider and probably would be more calm for the ride down the river. It came out that she had two kids and they loved going down this river, jumping in and swimming with the eels along the way. “Oh what fun it was to chase and catch the eels”, she said. No thanks. At that point, we decided to say thanks but no thanks for the trip, and they issued us a full refund.
This meant that we could drive up and over the Haast Pass towards Wanaka, but would arrive there a day early, so logistically it proved to be challenging as it was going to be hard to find accommodations in a busy tourist town that is similar to Huntsville, in the middle of summer.
Luckily, Deb found an AirBNB that would rent to us for one night, as we had accommodations booked for the rest of our stay in Wanaka.
As we looked at the water flowing down the Haast River as we drove through the pass, we realized that the Haast River would have been too much for the kids, and so we could only imagine what the other river would have been. It had tall cliff walls and was not as wide, but the same amount of water, so it would have been a very rough ride had we taken it.
To our surprise, however, there were a lot of amazing waterfalls along the way that were bursting with water as a result of the rain that came down, and continued to come down. A number of these falls projected themselves off of rocky outcrops right beside the road, which created car wash like situations on the road.
We agreed to wait and see what the morning brought. We headed out to the local watering hole, The Hard Antler, for dinner, and ordered what actually turned to to be a very good pub meal. Venison bangers and mash (which I am not allowed to eat ever again due to the obscene amount of flatulence they caused the next day, and given it was raining, the windows of the car remained relatively shut!).
Lulu has become a much more picky eater as we have travelled, and her repertoire of culinary adventures is limited to traditional picky foods that kids eat at home. However, those foods are not readily available in many areas of the world. Like Mac n Cheese with the crappy disgusting (my opinion only) powdered cheese. And hot dogs. All hot dogs are not created equal we have found.
The rain kept coming all night, and very heavy at times, so we were already planning contingency plan numero dos. Which pretty much meant that we would drive over the Haast Pass and get to Wanaka early, and start doing our adventures there.
We packed up our gear once breakfast was done since there wasn’t any need to hang out and sight see in Haast, but it was a shame that we drove all the way here, which was not the normal way you get to the southern part of the South Island, but we had to get there to go on our rafting trip.
The drive along the Haast Pass with the amazing downpour that we had the night before resulted in an amazing display of waterfalls all along the way.
And much to the delight of Lulu, there were some awesome hikes (albeit short) in through the forest where everything was super green and dripping with water.
Two of our favorite falls, Trickle No. 1 and Trickle No. 2, were anything but. The thunderous noise of these falls could be heard a long ways away. Even with the car noise and the windows closed. Then when we got close, the plume of water mist coming from these crevices
So, I grabbed my GoPro as this was going to be the only viable and safe option to take a picture or a video of these falls, and I stood in front of both of these, as did Deb, but we could only do it for a second or two without getting completely soaked. Well, Deb bailed out of the getting soaked element, while I let my poor excuse of a raincoat try to protect me.
We stopped at a number of other falls along the way, dragging the kids out of the car at a couple of them as neither of them were in the mood to get out and hike in the rain.
The falls were very impressive, and we were in fact happy with our decision not to go rafting and camping in the rain at this point.
As we emerged from the Haast Pass, the rain and clouds magically cleared up, and the landscape became dry and very hot. It really was cool if you took the literal 30,000’ view, that the moist air coming in off of the ocean was hitting the mountains, dumping all of the water it had over the lush green Haast Pass, leaving not much for the Wanaka area on the other side.
Plus it was super hot in Wanaka! In Haast, it was wet, damp, and cold with not a stitch of sunshine….to the point we had to pull out our fall jackets and put on long pants! Driving into Wanaka we were shedding everything we had! We found the AirBnB that we were lucky to find, and it was “Sandhill Nursery”-ish in that it was a garden centre, with a cute house in the middle of it all, and the apartment turned out to be the whole house.
There was a big screen TV with Netflix, so the kids wanted to watch a movie in the evening, so we obliged with a Christmas theme movie. We started to watch “Love Actually” with them, but when we got to the lovely couple that were in the porno together and the “Dad, why are they doing that” questions came, we turned it off (the actors still had their clothes on, don’t worry). The other great thing with the apartment was that it had a big toy box! That was great as it provided some new toys for the kids to play with. Not just the little bag of lego that they were playing with now.
We spent the next day at a great place called Puzzling World, which has a large 3D maze.
This time we switched up the teams as we did one of these mazes in South Africa, and the boys won hands down. It was a similar pattern in that you had to reach the towers in all four corners of the maze before you could exit. It was pretty challenging, but a lot of fun.
Inside the main building, there was a large optical illusion area, with a tilted house, room where you stand in one corner and you are a giant and the in the other you are a midget.
It was a lot of fun to go there again, and hasn’t changed a bit since we were there 16 years ago.
We were staying in a hostel right “downtown Wanaka”, which is akin to Huntsville, and they had a plethora of nice shops, and yes…a hospice shop that we had to check out, and make a few purchases.
We found a company called Wild Wire in town and found that they did a harness climb up the sides, and through the Taranaki Waterfall. This is a very high waterfall, and since the kids like climbing gyms, we thought that this would be great. We signed up to go as high as the kids ages would allow, which caused some stress for Wilson as the climbing gyms are only 10-15m high.
We drove out to where the climb was going to start, but the gate was locked and there was us and a camper van that didn’t look like it had much movement in it (people like to “freedom camp” here, which is akin to our “park in Walmart and camp there for the night…but you just pull off in a field somewhere…not Walmart).
The window rolled down on the van eventually and two women from Ireland asked if we were here for the climbing as well, and that made us feel more comfortable that we were in the right spot.
Eventually the climbing company came up in a van and opened the gate and we got in our harnesses and did a quick practice scramble over a couple of rocks at the base of the climb to show us how the harnesses worked and how to clip, clip, clip, and unclip from the guide wire that would be following us up the climb.
Wilson was adamant before we set off that he would have no part in trying to cross the face of a waterfall on, literally, a wire. Nothing other than the safety harness holding us to the guide wire. Clip, clip, clip, slide.
At the first crossing, our guide Max, made each of us clip in, and then lean back off the bridge so that there was no platform underneath us.
“The Maori All Blacks Rugby Team did this and didn’t fall, so if they can do it, you can do it too,” he said. Lulu was first and she leaned back no problem. Wilson leaned back slowly hanging onto his harness, but the exhilaration that he experienced when he let go was palpable. It was so great.
Wilson is our nervous kid. He thinks 10 steps ahead of where he is, and we are. He thinks ahead for all of us. He sees the catastrophes rather than the possibilities of growth and adventure. At times during the trip, this has caused some friction between the two of us as I acknowledge the risks, but focus on the rewards. Ying to his Yang. Deb is the rational one, where Lulu is the peacekeeper between all of us, and in general, she is game for anything.
During the climb, the pitches got steeper and steeper. The holds became more perilous and at times there weren’t any rungs to hang onto and you had to truly do some bouldering.
The water was pummelling in your face in one direction, but then you wiped your face and you looked the other direction below you and you saw a rainbow. It was amazing. I could have done this time and time again.
We reached the top and had lunch that the guides had carried up the whole way in their packs. They weren’t soaked either.
I took, as usual, way too many photos, so that meant that I was the last person climbing up, and the the last to arrive.
So, we had only 15 minutes to wolf down some food and then start climbing down the side of the mountain.
The first part of the climb down was pretty steep, so we had to stay clipped in, and then we went down a series of switchbacks to the bottom of the waterfall.
We eventually got to the bottom with a tremendous sense of accomplishment in what we had done, especially what the kids had done.
Back to the hostel in Wanaka for the night, where we chilled on the couch in the lounge that was at the hostel and watched and episode of Glee.
Off to bed so that we can be ready to head out to Te Anau and the Milford Sound area!