Leaving Timaru very early in sheeting rain we headed for Oamaru past delightful country side which seemed to sparkle even in the dismal weather.
Past the little towns of Pareora, St Andrews, Makikihi Waimate and Glenavy we drove never without the magnificent scenery.
We arrived in Oamaru just as the shops were opening which enabled us to by a couple of weather proof ponchos to keep out the rain (a move that would prove valuable) and fill up with petrol.
We eventually arrived at the Moeraki Boulders and stopped to experience these unique, perfectly round boulders on the beach made up of rocks wrapped together in Silica and other mineral to form these huge round shapes.
As well as the boulders, the best examples of this phenomenon found anywhere in the world, the beach was strewn with billions of shells of every kind including Pipis the size of the palm of my hand.
Just a couple of kilometres up the road was the seaside settlement of Moeraki. Barry and Christine had fallen in love with this place on their NZ trip and Barry has often remarked that he could live here quite happily.
We could see why.
The settlement is on a hill on a peninsular that juts out into the sea and overlooks the Tasman Ocean as well as the rolling hills of the coastline where the green velvety pastures come right to the water’s edge.
Even on such a grey day as this the water was crystal clear and we could see the rocks far below the surface of the turquoise water.
It was a magnificent scene and we could imagine that the place would have been breathtaking in sunlight. We drove up a little side road to the lighthouse and found a scene which yet again was awe inspiring in its beauty. Steep cliffs topped with lush pasture dropped into the sea and we walked along them taking in the history.
On these hills a Maori village once stood and a Pa or guard post was built on a small peninsular to protect the village from marauding tribes in the times of tribal troubles.
It seems that each time we think the scenery can’t get any better a new visual treat is exposed to us.
A little further up the highway bought us to Shag Point and yet another amazing scene as we walked out onto the rocky cliffs of a headland.
Here was a colony of New Zealand Fur Seals lazing on the rocks just metres away from us. There were hundreds of them; some of them would weigh in at least the same as me. We could have watched them for hours as they unconcernedly looked us over then went back to their peaceful idling.
This strip of En Zed from Moeraki to Shag Point would be worth a trip on its own.
Reluctantly we moved on to Palmerston where we stopped for coffee before turning inland away from the sea and towards the Remarkables, a range of rugged hills that we would cross before arriving at the Southern Alps.
We drove through the towns of Ranfurly and Omakau before arriving at the pretty town of Alexandra where we could see light snow on the tops of the highest peaks of the ranges.
This was Kerrie’s first glimpse of snow.
We felt the change to a crisper (not really cold) temperature as the landscape became more alpine in appearance.
Next was the bustling prosperous looking town of Cromwell on the shores of Lake Dawson with the road running along a shoreline of incredibly clear water bordered by extreme cliff faces We had initially planned to turn here and visit Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu but we realised we would need to make the difficult decision to forgo this trip this time round as were just not going to make Marlborough and Kaikoura and back to Christchurch in time.
Reluctantly we headed on to Wanaka and now we were travelling beside the spectacular Southern Alps were even now in mid November the peaks were snow covered.
The scenery was dramatic and spectacular with the crystal water of Lake Wanaka bordered by a shoreline of near vertical cliffs that displayed the results of the awesome forces that the millions of tons of snow have caused.
Lake Hawea was the same scene of stunningly beautiful water so still that the snow capped peaks and thousands of waterfalls were perfectly reflected on the surface.
It was never very cold as we continued our stop start journey as each bend opened to a new “must stop” scene. How can you adequately frame words to describe such a scene?
The snow on the peaks led a little further down the mountains to rugged cliffs where the weight of the snow had allowed no vegetation to grow, then a little further down to the tree line through which thousands of waterfalls cascaded to the lakes and rivers below in spectacular silver eruptions of countless tons of water as the snow melted.
We felt very blessed to have experienced such a thing and Kerrie kept on making the same request, “Tell me again why you left”.
We came upon Makaroa where we had looked forward to walking into the Blue Pools, a spectacular sight from all accounts but again we needed to make the decision to forego this for another day as we were losing time.
Crossing the Haast Pass through a wonderland of snowy mountains and lush rain forest and stopping frequently to marvel at the fierce rivers and cascading waterfalls bought us eventually to the town of Haast where we were going to stay the night but as there was still light left we pressed on toward Fox Glacier.
We were now on the sea again this time on the West Coast and we were just north of Jackson Bay where we would anchor occasionally when I was fishing these waters now 40 years ago. Apart from the ports of Greymouth and Westport, (notoriously difficult to enter in anything but calm weather), there are no anchorages along the whole West Coast and this scantly protected cove offered only a little protection from the enormous seas that batter this coastline. Apart from Tasmania 1700km east, there is no land mass to break up the fearsome swells caused by the winds of the Roaring 40s and the Antarctic.
We were able to stand on the side of a sheer cliff and watch the awesome force of the turbulent ocean smashing and pounding the rugged coast.
We passed through the towns of Paringa, Bruce Bay, and Jacobs River before arriving at Fox Glacier where we drove 4 km off the highway to the foot of the Glacier.
We walked about 20 minutes past blocks of ice that had worked loose from the glacier and were floating along the river beside us.
Eventually we came upon the astounding sight of the solid wall of ice that is the glacier filling the entire valley and running high into the mountain.
Large chunks of ice continued breaking off and being washed down the fast running river and we were in awe standing alone in this valley of verticle rock cliffs that showed evidence of the upheaval caused by the extreme conditions that are common here.
It was a strangley frightening but beautiful place especially as we were alone and the light was failing. All round are warnings about the falling rock from the sheer cliffs and the weather changes in seconds.
We then drove into the town as darkness fell and booked into a motel, managed by a young bloke from Brisbane, and crashing in contented sleep.