New Zealand South Island – first half Nov.1999

Jet Boating on the Dart River

The first day that looked so gorgeous after 6 days of continuous rain and fog, we drove from the small old gold diggers’ town of Arrowtown, to Queenstown and then to Glenorchy, along the deep blue Lake Wakatipu. There, we joined a jet boat safari that first went over the wide lake end into the delta of the Dart River. I was amazed at the high speed which the young driver navigated the lower shallow part of the river. I often wondered where the main river was as there were dozens of side arms. Sometimes you heard the jets touching gravel but the driver reduced the speed for just a second, and we were on the way again at the same high speed. The further we got upstream, the more drastic and breathtaking the scenery became, the stronger the current got, slowing the boat somewhat. On some wider stretches, he would make a pirouette, often just barely avoiding soaking the passengers by a backspin into the huge water fountain.
At one point, we could alight and naturally, Uschi was the first to pick up one the trillion most beautiful stones. Two are now in our baggage, relatively small ones to be sure.

On the return trip, down river, the former fast speeds got even faster and sometimes the pilot would swerve the boat around huge boulders with lightning fast speeds. Most of us got wet, especially on the choppy lake to return to the starting point. It was a hilarious experience, but well worth it.

Flying back to the Southern Alps (which we had missed due to rain and fog)

As the fine weather held, we chartered a Cessna 172 single engine 4 seater, and flew first to Milford Sound (fjord) where we will visit tomorrow by boat. We first flew pretty much over the parts we were jet boating yesterday, then over some nearly 3000-meter high snow and ice peaks of tremendous beauty especially due to the new snow that has fallen during the past few days. Mt. Tutoke (2746 m) was the outstanding peak there, with Mitre peak (1692 m) on the other side of the sound becoming our return point. Mitre is one of the highest mountains on Earth that rises straight from the sea bottom. We turned north towards Mt. Aspiring (3030 m), which from far looks really like the Matterhorn, and is still at present capped with more snow than the Zermatter peak ever shows even in the midst of winter.

Please realise that these peaks seem rather low compared top European heights, however, as most rise virtually from sea level, they are nevertheless most awe inspiring and grandiose sights. We continued into a fabulous winter world even though we are in mid November or mid May in our regions. Mt. Cook, at 3754 meters the highest in this part of the world, was reached from a little bit to the West, with Mt. Tasman (3498 m) to the East. Fox and Franz Josef glaciers start form that area. We turned south, to fly back to Queenstown along the Lakes Pukaki, Hawea and Wanaka, flying over the township of Wanaka where we easily made out the Edgewater Resort and the Capriccio Cafe where we had a nice rib-eye steak lunch the other day.

From above, one can even better understand than what one realises when driving on the endless roads without encountering traffic for miles. This southwestern part of New Zealand is still very much in a wild state, with little development except in some tourist areas, and near the costal regions. Also in the mountains, paths can be made out easily but never the wealth of roads and tracks as in the Swiss Alps.

The flight was 3 hours and well worth its cost. The pilot, David Menzies knew the region extremely well, and is a fine pilot who constantly worried that the minor air pockets would make us sick. He has never flown around the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau, or the Massif of the Mont Blanc where such turbulences can be stronger. Until we returned back to Auckland, on 18th November, these were the only two sunny days in the southern part of this beautiful country. Actually, Queenstown was flooded seriously a few days after our stay, and in Te Anau (departure point to Milford Sound), there was even 10 cm of snow!

Nevis There is even a Nevis mountain range, where the Dart River jet boat people have a large bungee site!

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