Friday, January 13, 2012

Picton to Mount Cook

Well, BC Ferries this was not. It was a relatively little boat that we were taking from the North to the South Island, from Wellington to Picton. And packed! It was good that we found seats quickly because soon they were all gone. We sailed out of Wellington Harbour and out into what I thought was the strait, but was just a long bay. When we finally got into the strait is was open water and a little rolly at first but soon we had pretty calm seas. I have heard that it can be a pretty nasty crossing, and I noticed barf bag stations all around the ship. I stayed mostly outside and took photos; Sarah took the precaution of Gravol and watching out the front, but it was fine. We were visited by dolphins at the end, who were obviously putting on a show for us!

The South Island looked much like the North to us at first. We took a “scenic” route to Nelson, and were soon winding back and forth on a very narrow road with great views of the channel. We stopped and had lunch overlooking the water and saw many more dolphins go by. We thought Nelson was a nice little town, spread along the water like towns on our Island. We headed to Megan’s house where we would have tea (dinner) and stay the night. She was a CIT in about 2006, and is now married and they live at the other end of her parent’s house. Super nice people, and it was great to catch up with Megan. We also got ourselves reorganized, as we will be camping for quite a while.

I really wanted to see the golden beaches and blue water of Abel Tasman Park just north of there. We thought the best way would be renting kayaks, but the wind was quite strong and every beach packed with people. Many Kiwi’s take off the first week of the New Year, and it was very evident that this was one of the places they like to stay. While traveling along another very twisty coastal road, I saw a sign for Split Apple Rock, and turned down the even twistier road. At the end was a path down to the beach – too difficult for Sarah, but I went and took many photos. It turns out that this was as good a way to see those fabulous beaches as any.

Sarah got to see a good beach a little later, where we watched a kite-boarder for a while, skirting a – tractor! It was pulling boats out of the water.

We decided to keep going up the north coast, and soon were driving up the steepest, winding highway I have ever seen. Takaka Hill (yes, that’s a real name) would be a great one for a car rally or bike race. Amazing. All the way up, with a great view at the top, and then all the way down. We found it difficult to find a campsite on this side of the hill. The DOC one was closed due to the road slipping, so all the other sites were packed. We finally found a tiny town with a small park by the beach, and we stayed there.

The next day we headed for the west coast. Interesting road – at one point it was one lane cut into a sheer cliff over the Bull River! It looked like one of the rivers they filmed in Lord of the Rings. And so we got to the coast. I think we were made for beaches and waves. We did a bit of business in Westport, then headed north to a campsite at the end of the road. Wow, it turned out to be our favorite so far – quiet and wild and miles of beach. A few sand flies too, but they left us alone on the beach. We decided to stay a couple nights, and loved the roar of the waves all night long. The next morning held clear blue skies, and I hiked the first hour of the Heaphy Track, through jungle-like rain forest to a gorgeous golden beach far from any road. In fact, there are no roads north of here until you get to the top of the island. We loved this place and spent long hours in our chairs on the beach, reading and watching the huge breakers that sometimes rolled right up to us, even though we were well back from the water.

We continued south along beautiful coastline and aquamarine water. Danny told us that we needed to stop at Pancake Rocks, and we actually ended up camping next to them in the nicest full-service campsite we have seen – full kitchen and laundry and free showers, not to speak of an amazing beach. Pancake Rocks are very cool, layers and layers of limestone stacked in huge weird piles and shapes.

We ended the day with a gorgeous sunset.

We made a late start the next morning, which was a little grey and threatening rain. Sarah has a cousin who lives somewhere in this area, and we tried and tried to get hold of her. We finally stayed so long around Greymouth (as exciting a town as it sounds) that we had to stay the night, again in a park by the beach. At least we had the sound of the waves night after night. We decided that we just needed to move on the next day, but regretted missing her cousin.

Our next stop was not far off, but wow, what a road! At the entrance to Arthur’s Pass it says that vehicles towing trailers are not recommended, and I can think of a few other vehicles that should not attempt the steep climb from the coast to the Pass. It was foggy all the way up, which added to the adventure, but as we came over the Pass the skies cleared and we saw New Zealand’s mountains for the first time! We decided to stay in the tiny village of Arthur’s Pass at a DOC campground, and I make ready to hit the trails.

The best one was to a poorly-named waterfall, Devil’s Punchbowl. Sorry, he can’t have it. The Maori have another name for it after a famous weaver, because the spray from this huge waterfall falls in feathery patterns. It is just gorgeous, and I stayed and took many photos. 

Then I decided to take the trail back up the Pass, which was cool enough because it opened up so I could see all the mountains around me, but I was pooped when I got to the top and was concerned that Sarah might worry about me being gone so long. Thankfully, I was able to hitch a ride back into the village.

We were camped right below a hutch that was built for a pair of Kea birds. They are a big native parrot, quite beautiful and fun to watch, but they also like to eat all the rubber off people’s cars. They left ours alone, but clearly didn’t like us camping there and make a bit of a fuss. They are a protected bird, as there are only about 5000 of them left. But they are as familiar with people as whiskey jacks. Only you are not supposed to feed them, or kill them for eating your car.

The next morning, we drove back up to the Pass and Sarah read while I hiked up to the Temple Basin Ski Area. I really don’t know how people get up there. I hiked up an undriveable road/trail for over an hour to get to the lodge, about 2000 feet about the van, and then discovered that the ski runs were two small rope tows. Anyway, the view was great and the exercise needed. But my feet were pretty tired when I got down. We continued east, visiting Cave Stream and Castle Hill, where scenes from Narnia and Lord of The Rings were filmed. Amazing limestone and granite formations that Danny used to love to clamber through. I chickened out on the cave walk – waist deep, freezing cold water with waterfalls for half a kilometer. Now I kinda wish I had done it. But it did give me more time to explore the Castle Hill area.

We hoped to find someone at the YWAM Base in Oxford, where both Ben and Danny were students. We knew they were on a break, but we stopped by and though no one was around we found a number to call. We arranged to go there the next day, and camped out in a humdrum DOC site in comparison to the ones where had just been. The next morning we stopped in at YWAM Oxford, and to our great surprise and delight, Julie-Ann was there! She was Danny’s outreach leader and the person we most hoped to see and least expected. She was very happy to meet us, and we talked and talked as she showed us around, and it was cool to get an insight on our boy’s experience from seeing the place, and especially Danny’s experience through meeting Julie. We are all the more glad that Ben and Danny got to come here, now that we met the quality of leaders they had. After spending the morning with Julie, we checked email, said farewell and thank you and went to a cafĂ©/cooking school that Julie recommended, and shared a very expensive but delicious plate of fish and chips.

There were two places we wanted to see next, Lake Tepako and Mount Cook, both inland again. But we first wanted to see Christchurch, out of curiosity more than anything else. What an eye-opener. There was a headline in the paper recently that read, “Suggestion to Abandon Christchurch Draws Fire.” What a sad city – hit by earthquake after earthquake until, as the saying goes there, “If it can break it’s already broken.” We saw churches that were just shells, old ornate buildings with all their ornateness lying on the ground, and many places that were just piles of rubble. We couldn’t even get downtown where the worst damage happened – a section of six or seven blocks square is completely cordoned off due to more earthquakes in the last week. We didn’t see, but heard, that the worst problem now is “liquifaction,” where the supersaturated soil has just turned to ooze from all the shaking, so that it just constantly oozes up into the homes and buildings. Richmond take warning. I don’t know how this city will ever recover. Pray for the people of Christchurch.

Lake Tepako is just beautiful – light blue/green and surround by tall, bare mountains. We stopped at a place I have always wanted to see, and it messed with the way I had imagined it. I pictured The Church of the Good Shepherd as this tall and lonely building overlooking the lake and mountains in quite stillness. 

Actually, it is very tiny, constantly surrounded by tourists and backed by a small town. It still made for some nice pictures, and when we visited it the next morning and went inside, we found it quite wonderful. They still hold services there, Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian at the same time, and the caretaker told us that the ministers are constantly met with a congregation of blank faces staring at the incredible view out the plate glass window. No need for stained glass here. We stayed that night in another “civilized” campground, kinda busy but the showers and kitchen are a plus for sure. Went for some nice walks.

The next day we headed for Mount Cook Village, at the base of the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3754 metres (12316 feet). We first saw it from the end of Lake Pukaki which was a little amazing because the mountain’s Maori name is Aoraki or “Head in the Clouds.” It was a gorgeous drive up the lake, and we noted one farm out on a point that we thought we would like to own for a school. As we neared the town and the campsite after it, we couldn’t believe how close we were getting to huge mountains and snowfields. We took a turnoff to go see the Tasman Glacier – unfortunately for Sarah another steep hike she couldn’t do, so she had to be satisfied with my photos. It was interesting but not a beauty – it is buried deep in rock and gravel, and only where it drops off into the lake can you see ice. And icebergs!

The campsite was incredible – directly below Mount Sefton and beautiful snowfields and glaciers. I could hardly wait to get registered and Sarah settled with a book and the view before I went exploring. I hiked up Hooker Valley (yeah, the names are funny but they think the same about our place names, like Bowser and Fanny Bay!) which took me right to the base of Mount Cook and another glacier and more icebergs – absolutely wonderful. I came back with sore feet and a full heart.

The campground had a great shelter and washrooms, and the next day broke bright and beautiful, which convinced us to stay there a second night. Mount Cook got over its shyness and shone brilliantly in the morning sun. I hiked up to a viewpoint and took photos and explored the mountain with my binoculars and watched and took more photos. In the afternoon, Sarah walked as far as she could to take in the view, and then I went all the way up the Valley again to see the mountain up close and not veiled in wispy clouds. Very tired feet at the end but so worth it.

I have had many thoughts while hiking, about contentment vs. coveting. One might think that strange for someone who is not working and is traveling a country as beautiful as New Zealand. But coveting is easier for those who have much than for those who have little. Here we are, traveling in our little van, and I see people with luxury motorhomes, hiking with their families or driving up the lake in their ski boat, and it takes me very little effort to want that. But here is the conclusion I have come to:

The good that is withheld from me cannot compare to the good already given me.

The problem with coveting is that by very definition there would be something wrong with obtaining for myself the thing I desire. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” This doesn’t mean that I should not make an effort to get anything I don’t have – if that were true I would never even go grocery shopping. But it would be wrong to want or try to get what I should not have – that nice boat I can’t afford – or what belongs to another – that guy’s wife or house or whatever.

Instead, there is nothing better than to appreciate the good I have been given, or given the ability to achieve. And more than simply appreciate, it is even better to give thanks for that good. There is satisfaction and contentment and joy there. There is trust – that what I have been given is not only good, but for my good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is at work – even through my failures and other people’s designs against me – to give me what is good and bring about good in my life.

And to take it further, there is even greater joy in taking the good that I have been given, and giving it away. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And in another place, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” We cannot out-give God – he just keeps pouring it on.

So these are my thoughts, but also my experience right now. God is giving to us to the overflowing point, which brings me hope that we will soon be ready to overflow into the lives of people again. I pray that this time we will not fall into the mistake of running on empty for so long.

We are staying in Dunedin now, with Brian and Helen for those who know them, along with Scott and Chelsea for those who know those two! Catch us again on the next page of the journey…

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