|Sun 28th Nov 2004.
Days 53 to 55: Dunedin to Twizel.
Leaving Dunedin, to the north this time, the view of the city is beautiful, with the rolling hills surrounding it, the Otago Peninsula and the harbour between them was shining nicely in bright sunlight. The road north followed the coast most of the time. I stopped at Moeraki, which is notable for completely round boulders, about 5 - 6 feet across, on the beach. The reason for their formation is not completely known, but they think it might be like a pearl, when an irritant like a stone or a stick fell into the mud, layers started to form around it until they reached their present size. By this time they were miles below the sea floor under great pressure, and the surrounding mud turned into stone. This now forms the cliffs here, and as they erode, more of these boulders are revealed. When on the beach, the action of the waves and the wind gradually erodes them, and they break up into evenly shaped pieces, and finally break apart completely, revealing a hollow centre. A mystery.
Shortly after this, I turned away from the coast and headed inland. Very soon I saw the mountains again, and although the road uses the valley bottoms, the surrounding countryside became more and more rugged. I saw a young lady hitching a lift, and stopped to see if I could help. (I have been very surprised by the tiny number of people I have seen hitching. I suppose less than 5 up to this point, and all of them men.) I thought she had a huge backpack, but when she came to the door and I told her where I was going, Twizel and Mount Cook, she said "Greta, that is just where we are going." That explained the amount of luggage: there were 2 of them. The problem would be how to fit them in to my small car, because the boot was already full. We wedged the 2 backpacks into the back seat, put some of the rucksacks on top, with the last one between the legs of the smaller one, who squeezed into the back. We managed to get ourselves sorted, so after introductions, we were off. Kate was from Melbourne, and had been working for 2 months in a Backpackers hostel in Wellington, North Island, where she had met Lynn, from Sweden who also worked there. They were now hitching up the east coast, to get to Christchurch by Friday when Lynn was returning to Sweden.
We were well into the mountains by now, but the valleys were very broad and flat bottomed, so the imposing grandeur of last week was missing. Maybe they were also not so high. Approaching Twizel (I pronounced it "Twizzle", the locals say it with a long "I" like 'eye', and Lynn pronounced it "Twitzel" which I think was the best,) the land becomes completely flat, and it was here that the huge cavalry charges were filmed for Lord of the Ring's. Just about everybody in town was used as an extra, and I had great fun asking everyone I talked to "Were you an Orc or a Rohan?" Even though it was 4 years ago that filming took place here, they all still talk about it with pride and excitement.
The weather was still quite good, so when we had checked on accommodation for the girls, I said that I was going to drive up to Mount Cook there and then, in case the next day proved to be disappointing weather-wise. The flat plain leads towards the mountains, which by now are very serious mountains indeed. You know they mean business because the snow looks permanent, and there are clouds of snow being blown off the top. Turning off the main road we soon came to Lake Pukaki, which is the most unlikely colour you can imagine. It looks just like a spearmint Tic-Tac. I know, because I've just eaten one. I hope the picture does it justice. From there, we followed the shore as the valley led us up to Mount Cook. Taking a few pictures on the way, we got to Mount Cook village, which is at the foot of the mountains. The tops were covered in cloud, and more was coming down over the glaciers, but at least we had had a glimpse of them, if all else failed. It was 5pm by now, too late to do any walking, so after a quick trip to the visitor centre, we drove the 55km back to Twizel. The girls were staying at a backpackers hostel, and I was staying at a motel, but we all checked in at the same reception, because it was on the same site. They shared a very small room and had communal washing facilities, while I had a huge room, 2 double beds and a single, with private facilities. They paid 8 pounds each, while I paid 30 pounds for mine. I think I got better value for money.
The next day I said I was going to set off reasonably early to go back to Mount Cook, and if the weather was still holding, to go for a walk. They were up for that, so at 8am we set off back again. This time it was brilliantly clear, with not much cloud, so we were hopeful. We got some terrific photos of the mountains as we got closer, and realized that we were going to have the chance of a good walk. Mount Cook, being close to the western side of South Island, and sticking up into the prevailing moist westerly winds, is frequently covered in cloud, hence our efforts to get a good view. While I changed into my walking boots, the girls went into the visitor centre to get some info on walks. They came back to me and said did I want flat or climb. Being a macho sort of bloke, I said climb. Little did I know.... The walk sets off along the valley pointing straight at the glaciers of Mount Sefton (3157ms, 10,500ft) which is beside Mt Cook. We crossed grassy areas on boardwalks, to protect the plants, forded dry wide streams where the snow melt come roaring down, and gradually climbed a little bit. I thought "this is nice and easy". Then we got to a sign which said Mueller Hut to the left, and the gravel path led off through the bush towards a hill. The hill looked about 60 degrees, and I said, I thought jokingly, "I bet the path goes straight up there." It did. We climbed 600 ms, (2,000ft), using steps cut out of the rock, or scrambling over boulders, or steps made with wooden risers, that if they had been any steeper, would have been ladders. The 2 girls were not yet 20, so they both had an unfair advantage over me. Lynn from Sweden was petite, and had a gait over the rough ground that reminded me of a big cat. Absolutely effortless. Half way up she revealed to me that she was already a qualified ski and snowboard instructor, that she jogged every day, and that she was a champion orienteer. Charming! Luckily for me, Kate was nearer my fitness, but the thing that saved me was that she had asthma. Despite that, I only just kept up with them. I'm glad I did, because we were rewarded with the most stupendous views of the mountains and glaciers, and back down the Hooker Valley to Lake Pukaki. I hope the pictures give some impression of the grandeur of the place.
Going down was easier, but still hard work for the old knees. When we got back to the car, the girls thanked me for choosing that route, because they would probably have done one of the flat ones; in fact if it hadn't been for me, they probably wouldn't have gone to Mt Cook at all. I took them back to the main road, and dropped them off at a spot they thought would be good for hitching, and bid them farewell. They were going to try to get to Timaru on the coast before night. We might meet up again in Akaroa, where we are all heading, but nothing was arranged. I got back to the motel and put my feet up, thankful that I didn't have to rely on luck and hard work to get to my destination that night.