These notes were written by Eric and amended by Jean. Eric took most of the photos and Jean took others. All photos were selected, cropped, and inserted into this file by Jean. Factual information was taken from various sources including tourist brochures; we do not guarantee its accuracy.
Click on a photo to see a full size version. Not recommended for readers on dialup connections — some of these files are between 1 and 2 MB. Photo album from this part of the trip (more photos than shown on this page) start here.
Friday 6 February: Tasman Glacier Explorer Tour
We had continental breakfast in the Alpine Restaurant. Rather than return to our room, we used the Japanese-style hand-washing shelf in the Hermitage restroom to clean up after breakfast. We had seen one of these (unusual to us) restrooms previously near a Japanese restaurant in Sydney.
While waiting for the bus, we took some photos of the Hermitage Hotel and the statue of Sir Edmund Hillary. A while later some Kea, an olive green New Zealand Alpine parrot, came along. Not apparent in the photo, when they fly they have rust to orange patches on the underside of the wings, and on the back where their wing feathers usually hide it. You are warned against feeding these protected but destructive parrots, which also like snacking on leather hiking boots. Unfortunately stoats were set loose in New Zealand, and have reduced much of the original bird life.
We set off in one of the Glacier Explorer vehicles around 10 a.m. The majority of the 45 people were a Japanese group. The Hermitage Hotel seems to be exceedingly popular with the Japanese and Koreans. Many of their staff appeared to be Asian.
The Tasman Valley area was only about a 15 minute bus ride from the hotel, much of it over a narrow gravel road. Mount Tasman, named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman for whom Tasmania is also named, is around 3490 metres. The Tasman Glacier is 29 kilometres long, the longest glacier in temperate regions. It is however receding around a third of a metre per day.
The walk around and up the terminal moraine that trapped the Tasman Glacier lake waters seemed to change distance with each announcement. Estimates varied between 25 and 15 minutes. Jean did not find it easy walking at all on the moraine, and was last to arrive at the actual glacial lake. (Most annoyed at being overtaken by 90-year-old Japanese tourists.)
The tourists were spread among four rubber boats, two 15 seat and two 9 seat. We were put at the front of a boat, protected by the windscreen, and this proved mostly a good position from which to take photos. Our boat handler and guide was Alan, an Australian. He had on short cargo pants and a T shirt. Most of the rest of us were bundled up in long sleeved shirts, warm pants, and jackets. Jean had two jackets. Then a life preserver went on over the top.
We were soon zooming out to various small icebergs at the near end of the lake. The ice chipped from them was wonderfully clear, and the ice retained cohesion far longer than we expected when taken on board. Given how the ice sheets and icebergs are covered with rock and ground up rock, the clear appearance of the broken off ice was a surprise. These suspended rock particles are what gives the lakes further down their milky blue appearance.
The freezing and movement of the glacier was such that the icebergs were actually granular, made of numerous small granules of ice bound together. In fresh water, about 10% of the ice showed above the surface. The lake water is only a fraction of a degree above freezing, except for the top ten centimetres or so. There sunlight increases the temperature to perhaps a degree and a half. So the icebergs melt more rapidly just below the surface. They then rise a little, so you have a wide flat platform indented around their edge at water level. You can see strata as they rise.
We were lucky enough to see a small iceberg turn over while we were nearby. Nearer to the glacier, a large iceberg had calved off the glacier surface only that morning. There the blue of the new ice was very apparent. Over the next day, sunlight will erase the colour, leaving it white.
The Glacier Explorer tour was wonderful, although we both got a little sunburnt. We were not sure a hat would stay on while in the boat. As the lake is surrounded by mountains, the opportunities for photography are great. However eventually it was time to return to the dock.
This time Jean was determined not to be last back at the bus, and set a fair pace (for her) to keep some of the younger tourists in sight. She was most certainly not the last to return. (Beat the 90-year-old this time, but not by much.)
We remained at the Hermitage Hotel and had lunch at the Sir Edmund Hillary centre cafe. The hotel had given us four $10 off cards, so we used two of them to cut our combined lunch cost to $13. Jean’s warm salmon quiche pleased her, while Eric had a toasted ham, cheese, onion and tomato panino. Jean had a green salad on the side, but we were soon to discover both meals came with a salad anyhow. Orange juice and Coke were both on the expensive side, so having some food discounts pleased us.
We walked back down the track to the chalet, where Jean promptly went to sleep. Eric went out and did our laundry at the nearby laundry hut. We had only four days of washing, but we are uncertain about exactly when it will next be convenient to do laundry.
Jean arose at 5:25 p.m. and started looking forward to dinner. We again have a 6 p.m. booking at the Panorama Restaurant that so impressed us last night. Alas, today is the Waitangi Day holiday, when prices at many tourist places rise by 10%-15%. This was the case here. However we had on hand two $10 discount vouchers to reduce the price rather well.
Jean had the Mount Cook Manuka hot smoked salmon fillet on potato, egg and chives stamp accompanied by a Dijon mustard sauce, garnished with cucumber and watercress salad. In view of the size of breakfast and lunch, Eric restricted himself to an appetiser: smoked and tea-marinated venison loin with dried fig-prune salad finished with juniper berry froth. It was once again a superb set of flavours, and shows how well the Panorama Restaurant does food. We inspected their cookbooks (on sale), but decided that even the simplified recipes they provided were beyond our capacity and likely effort. A pity some of our friends who love to cook do not live closer.
Saturday 7 February: Mt Cook to Alexandra
Again we were up without the need for an alarm. We partly packed the car. We took our cameras with us to the Alpine Restaurant for a Continental breakfast prior to departing.
Back alongside Lake Pukaki for about 55 kilometres, until we pass through the tourist town of Twizel, built large for the hydroelectric scheme many years ago. Twizel had a number of large trucks and bulldozers as a central feature of a park on the outskirts. We refuelled at Twizel.
Another 38 kilometres brought us through Omarama. Then through the barren hills surrounding 971 metre Lindis Pass and along a twisted turning road for 100 kilometres or so to the next town. There was much evidence of hydroelectric power schemes, with massive electricity transmission lines. Then the Lindis Valley into the Central Otago region.
We reached Tarras, near the top of Lake Dunstan. The eating place we stopped at seemed to only have large meals. After our buffet breakfast, Eric did not need a large meal, so we left. Jean had somehow managed to pack a sandwich with leftovers from breakfast, and was happily munching that from time to time.
We drove along the side of Lake Dunstan. Past the old gold town of Bendigo, where we saw our first wineries. Across Lake Dunstan we could see the town of Mount Pisa.
The Cromwell area is home to many wineries, such as Wooing Tree, which we saw as we approached the town around 1:45 p.m. The town is near the junction of the Kawarau and Clutha Rivers, and was once known as The Junction during the 1862 goldrush. When the Clyde River Dam was built, the old commercial centre of Cromwell was flooded by Lake Dunstan. The town centre was rebuilt to the northwest.
Cromwell started very well, with some giant fruit (a pear, an apple, an apricot and a peach) indicating the entrance to a park. Naturally as giant anything enthusiasts, we stopped for photos. We were later to discover the back of this park contained a skate board park.
We soon came upon a supermarket, where we collected a few more supplies. On leaving the supermarket, we noticed a charity selling a sausage and onions on a slice of bread as a fund raiser. That was Eric’s small snack for lunch!
There was more. On the outskirts of Cromwell we saw an orchard place and Juicy Cafe advertising fresh fruit ice cream, made of mixed berries and regular ice cream. That almost sounded healthy, so we shared a small tub of this delicious mixture before leaving town.
We drove around the small township of Clyde, where Clyde dam and hydroelectric plant harness the waters of Lake Dunstan. There was a lookout on a turnoff from Route 8. Then we followed Sunderland Street to another lookout and into Clyde. Across the bridge over the Clutha River below the Clyde Dam, we were able to follow Fruitgrowers Road and get close to Clyde Dam and the hydroelectric plant.
Eric was able to take photos of the Clyde dam and the electricity generation plant from both sides of the river. The town has been there for some time, as shown by the war memeorial to the fallen from WWI and WWII. Originally a herb preserving plant, the thyme processing factory is now a herb museum. Thyme now grows throughout the arid desert area, out-competing most native vegetation.
The entire area is covered by hydroelectric plants: Aviemore, producing 220,000 kW; Waitaki, 107,000 kW; Benmore, 540,000 kW; Ohau, 264,000 kW. New Zealand is a wonderful place for hydroelectric power. Although, as always with hydroelectric, were the population larger, it would be totally inadequate.
Centennial Court Moter Inn in Alexandra was our destination, a few blocks before the town centre. The room seemed most comfortable, with two large leather-look recliner chairs. Alas, there was no desk for our computers.
Jean sent Eric to check the surrounds. The motel staff were kind enough to give him an extensive list of places to eat in town, their own restaurant being closed that evening. They recommended Oscar’s, nearby. They also gave him a nice map.
Oscar’s menu seemed suitable, and Eric continued walking, finding a newsagent, the boat ramp for our river cruise the next day, a pub with a large number of motor cycles in front, and a liquor shop.
Eric was surprised at the number of motor bikes around, so he asked some bikers our age. Turns out there was a rally of 1200 motorcyclists in town, with another 1200 expected later. There certainly were some impressive motorbikes around. Jean thought this was cool, as she has wanted to take up riding some sort of motorcycle.
When we went to dinner, we discovered that Oscar’s had two large lamb shanks per serve, not one, on a bed of potato and pumpkin mash, with a side of vegetables. We amazed ourselves by pretty much getting through it all. We shared a New Zealand beer. The price for the two of us was most reasonable.
Sunday 8 February: Clutha River Cruise
The bathroom in our Centennial Court room had a peculiarity: the heater was mounted directly above the sink, pointing straight down. The only shelf for your toiletries was directly above the sink. The shelf and its contents rapidly reached a temperature too high to touch. This was not good positioning. Although perhaps New Zealanders are used to the cold and never feel it enough to need a heater.
We were awake before 7 a.m. Breakfast in the Centennial Court dining room at 8 a.m. After the copious quantities of food last night, we restricted ourselves to the Continental breakfast. Then we walked to the boat ramp where we were to meet our cruise.
As it happened, we were the only passengers on this 10 a.m. Clutha River cruise. We had great service from our guide and boat skipper Steve.
Clutha is the highest volume river in New Zealand, and around seventh in the world. Near the bridge at Alexandra, the Clutha is joined by the Manuherikia River, while downstream is Lake Roxburgh.
We cruised around 14 kilometres downstream, through the narrows of Roxburgh Gorge towards Lake Roxburgh. Along the way, the hillsides get more and more desolate in this arid region, soon resembling a lunar landscape. While there is now some scrappy vegetation, when the miners arrived around 1860, all the vegetation had been burnt by Maori in pursuit of moa.
Mining shelters from the 1860’s gold rush were rock, nothing but rock. Tiny stone huts, often partially or totally under larger rocks. These shelters disappear into the rock of the hillside, difficult to see at any time.
Historic mining site at Doctors Point was our stop for a walk. This was a large site. You can see the remains of the general store. Numerous miner shelters. The walk is somewhat steep and the rocks are loose. Jean had to work at getting through this site, but our guide was willing to take it easy. This was a really interesting walk, added to greatly by the knowledge Steve had of the site, and his obvious enthusiasm.
Water for the metal basin sluices, and the rock sluices, came from around 17 km away. The miners lacked machinery to raise water from the Clutha River so close below them, so they built clay lined canals that carried water in (for a fee). The water dropped a mere one foot per mile, despite crossing gorges in suspended canvas tubes. A number of dams helped control and regulate the water flow.
We had a small bite to eat on the shore of the river. Other visitors had arrived in a boat. Some of them had knowledge from their family of some of the history of the site. Our guide was interested in adding to his already excellent background information. We chatted for a while before making a somewhat faster return trip than our voyage out. We returned to the boat ramp around 12:30 p.m.
There is a clock on the hillside of Knobbies Range to the east, overlooking the town of Alexandra. It is eleven metres in diameter, with a 5.6 metre minute hand, and a 4 metre hour hand, each weighing 270 kilogram. It is powered via a reduction gearbox from a 3/4 horsepower synchronous electric motor. The lighting of the hands is via 150 torch bulbs. The clock is supported by six vertical steel columns, around 7.3 metres long. The clock was built by local Jaycees, over 42 working bees, and 1264 man hours, and completed in December 1968. Unfortunately we were unable to get an acceptable photo of the clock.
Alexandra has very little rainfall, with locals saying 200 mm a year and guidebooks suggesting 330 mm a year. The area around the town looked arid. However the sky looked weird. An angry grey brown, that may have foreshadowed rain. We eventually decided it might be partly smoke from the Australian bush fires.
We walked back to our motel in the noon heat. A number of cafes were open, and running specials for the bikers still in town. Eric checked the New World supermarket for Jean, and got her some Brie as a midday snack.
Eric could not resist later visiting the Dick Smith store near the motel. It still stocked an impressive number of dial-up modems, probably because this is a spread out rural area. They also had a nice range of handy gadgets new to him. We do not have a local Dick Smith store (only an agency), and he can usually only spend a limited time wandering at leisure when we visit a major town.
Jean decided we would get ingredients for dinner and lunch at the New World. Half chicken for dinner. Ham, cheese and bread rolls to make a lunch for on the road tomorrow when we will be short of time. A few muffins for snacks. Some cans of Coke for Eric’s bad habit. Since he had discovered a regrettable number of socks with holes in them, he got a half dozen pairs of socks for the rest of the trip.
The dining plan seemed to work fine. Plenty of food, and we were still working on the second of the bottles of wine Eric had bought in Christchurch.
Jean sent Eric off to organise a Wifi connection for her computer. She spent the evening checking her email and looking up news reports of the Australian fires. Eric worked on bringing these notes up to date.
Page last updated 5 July 2009.