Sunday & Monday
We set out in the van on Sunday for a walk on the Banks Peninsula over a sheep and cattle farm - quite hilly and picturesque with view of Akaroa Bay in the background. This walk was a good introduction to the New Zealand countryside and to our unused hiking muscles. Lunch at a winery revived us after which we drove to the town of Akaroa where a major activity is swimming with the rare Hector's Dolphins. These are small dolphins (about a meter long) distinguished by a round dorsal fin that is described as "like Mickey Mouse's ear." Anne chose to stay on the boat as a spotter, but Tom bravely got into a wetsuit with a snorkel and jumped into the 50 degree water when the dolphins were sighted. The half dozen dolphins apparently liked our group and swam around and through the swimmers for about 50 minutes. After a quick hot shower for the swimmers, we had a long drive (3 hours) to Arthur's Pass in the Southern Alps region of the South Island. This was a beautiful, mountainous area, and the Wilderness Lodge that was our home for two nights was wonderful - including electric mattress heaters.
The food was delicious and very filling, as well as beautifully presented. The following day (Monday) dawned cool and cloudy - such that the mountain peaks were not visible. The planned walk (hike) was cancelled and we had a choice of several of the well-marked trails in the Lodge vicinity, or a trip into "town" for another hike.
Tom and a couple of other people in our group got in the van and headed to the Arthur's Pass village area. The intent was to climb a steep path to view a spectacular waterfall. However, the trail was closed due to erosion, but another equally beautiful, but less challenging trail opened up vistas and intimate paths reminiscent of the forest trails followed by Sam and Froto in Lord of the Rings. Mossy, lichen covered and soft were the words that describe the trails that lead to a stream with a waterfall and rapids.
Anne set off on her own for the Broad Stream Gorge, and her hiking muscles quickly warmed up as she crossed though gates and into a sheep pasture. The area is also a working sheep farm with several thousand sheep raised for their fine merino wool. Anne was treated to an unplanned demonstration of a sheep dog in action. At the far off sound of the musterer's (shepherd) special whistle, a black and white dog raced over the the herd of sheep and as the whistle prompts continued, the dog herded the sheep across the pasture and over to where the sheephard was waiting. Amazing! Anne then continued down to Broad Stream which tumbles out of the mountains to join a large river in the valley nearby. She walked upstream and was rewarded with beautiful views and a great sense of adventure - not to mention several photographs as inspiration for future watercolor paintings. Anne walked into the Lodge just as the others were sitting down to a box lunch on the lounge area.
Later in the afternoon, we went to a sheep demonstration where the sheepdogs were put through their paces with the sheep, we got to feed some lambs, and the went into the shearing shed where we learned about the different grades of merino wool and sheared a sheep. Anne got right up and the platform and sheared part of the sheep with handheld blades much like scissors. The day with another great meal and a good night's sleep.