Tuesday 6 June 2023

South Island — November 2022 – Part 5


 I’m finally getting around to writing up our 2022 South Island Holiday. Again, we went during the couple of weeks straddling November and December. Last year, we had a trip to the same part of the South Island at around same time of year. This time, John particularly wanted to spend a few days at Lake Ohau Lodge – to do some cycling, to just ‘hang out’ and take lots of photos, and to enjoy the Lodge’s delicious meals. And we also wanted to spend several days in Arrowtown, another one of our favourite places. 

This is quite a long story, so I have written it up in five parts:

Part 1: Wellington to Christchurch
Part 2: Christchurch to Arrowtown
Part 3: Arrowtown to Lake Ohau
Part 4: Two days at Lake Ohau
Part 5: Ohau to Oxford and home


Part 5 – Ohau to Oxford, and home

Sunday 4 December – Ohau to Oxford

We were up early, had breakfast, and finished packing. John had already loaded the bikes in the car the night before, and we left at about 9:20. We stopped briefly at the shore of Lake Pukaki to take some photos of the full glory of Mt Cook and its adjacent peaks.

Aoraki/Mt Cook (3724m) and its adjacent peaks

We stopped at Tekapo, as John wanted to put some charge into the car. While it was charging, we went in search of some coffee. I was pleased to see that the flash new YHA hostel, that found itself forced to close for lack of visitors this time last year, seemed to be up and running again.

The Dark Sky ‘museum’ was closed, as was its café (being Sunday!), so we walked to the main drag where the cafés are, and it was mayhem with so many tourists. John waited outside, while I queued up to order take-away coffees and a packet of cookies, which we took back to the terrace of the closed café at the museum, and enjoyed them in the part sun/shade, away from the crowds. 

Coffee with a sublime view

We stopped at Geraldine, to charge the car (again!) and lunch at Café Verde. The drive from Geraldine to Oxford, via the Inland Scenic route (SH 72) was very pleasant, mainly fairly straight roads, so easy driving. 

We had booked to stay overnight at “Ribblesdale”, a ‘significant’ garden with a B&B on site, near Oxford. We had a call from Denise, our host, to say she had to go out, but that the key was in the door, and that we could just make ourselves comfortable when we got there, and look around the garden if we wanted to.
As we got to Oxford, we had to invoke Siri (the kind lady on the phone!) to find “Ribblesdale”. We had to go round the block a couple of times before we found the entrance. 

It was absolutely delightful. ‘The Barn’ is huge for a B&B, it looks like it is used for community events or classes or some such (it appears that Denise runs garden tours). 

A map of Ribblesdale Gardens

The Barn

It has a large open space, with a dining table, and on the side a couch and single bed. There is beautiful bedroom with a king-size bed, and a kitchen and bathroom. There is also a commercial kitchen, which we thought initially was the kitchen for our use, but it was locked, until we found a kitchen alcove further around. 

The main part of the barn. Bedroom off to the left, kitchen and bathroom to the right

It was very warm, so we settled our stuff inside, and went to take look around the garden, which is magical. 

Silverbirches line the driveway
The main lawn

'Rust in peace' – is that a coffin on the dray?

"The Stumpery"

I don't know what plant this is, but it is gorgeous

After a while Denise’s husband Robin turned up and we chatted for a bit. He said they’d been working on the garden for the last 25 years. The place used to belong to Denise’s parents, but most of it was still a paddock when they took over. 

When Denise got back she showed us more, and also into her nursery, where she grows plants to sell. I selected two deep pink rhodohypoxis, and some hostas – one gold and a one grey – to take home.

Denise's nursery

John in the "Secret Garden" (DP)


Monday 5 December – Oxford and home

Before leaving, I went to find Denise, to pay for the plants, and we had another chat. I discovered the ‘Hosta Haven’, which I hadn’t noticed the previous day – an area with lots of varieties of hosta, all in drifts of the same variety – gorgeous. 

'Hosta Haven'
So many varieties of hosta – I love them!

We stopped at The Store, at Kekerengu for a late lunch, and a little wander down to the grassy area and beach below the café (I nearly keeled off the stairs!), and then on our way to Picton. 

The beach at Kekerengu

In Picton, ferry check-in time was 6:15, but it was only 4 pm. So after checking in at the office and being told to line up at 6:15, we went into the town. It is a desert after 4pm, cafés all closed, but we managed to get an icecream, and we walked through the street eating it.

Then we drove to the waterfront, there was a message on the info screen of the car, that the tire pressure was low. We couldn’t see anything wrong, and just assumed it was one of those things. A friend who has the same kind of car had something like that happen and it turned out to be a false alarm. John said he would check it out when we were queuing up to board.

We sat in the car, while I read, and John was highly amused by the antics of a whole lot of seagulls, which were plaguing a car where people were obviously eating fish and chips – they can smell it! The driver tried waving at them, and working the windscreen wipers, and opening and shutting the door, all to no effect. When they left, so did the seagulls. At least they did not bother us.

A car being plagued by a flock of seagulls

We went to line up at the Bluebridge terminal. There were not very many cars. We were among the last half dozen to be called to board. As we were driving up, we noticed that the car was ‘limping’ and yes, hey-ho, we did have a flat tire! Oh, rats! John pulled off to the side, and told the crew that we had a flat. 

There is no spare tire with this car. You just have to re-inflate the damaged tire by means of foam from a canister. But our canister was buried under all our stuff in the boot! The crew were very helpful. A guy in a van driving on, waved a canister out the window (apparently he was also part of the crew), and between John and some of the guys, they managed to get the thing working and re-inflating the tire enough to be able to drive on board. 

Dealing with a flat tire! (DP)

Obviously we were the last ones to board, and I think we held up the sailing for a bit, but nobody complained or was rude to us about it. Phew! 

The journey was smooth and I took some nice photos of the setting sun. 

Sunset over the Sounds

During the journey, John got me to ring the AA, to ask them to arrange for someone to meet us off the ferry, to check that the tire was safe to drive home. After a bit they rang back and said that their road assistance service finishes at 11 pm, but they would arrange for a tow-truck to meet us. The car would be put on a flat-bed and there would be room for two passengers. OK …

When we arrived, we went down to the car, the tire was still inflated, and John got out the bike pump, and pumped it up some more. It was a big effort for him, and I was a bit worried for him, as he was quite out of breath after that. The crew told us the tow-truck was waiting for us, and pointed us in the right direction.

The towie took a look at the tire, and thought it would probably be safe for us to drive home in the car, but he would follow us in the truck, just in case things went wrong. Fortunately they didn’t, and we arrived home safely, thanked the driver, and he was on his way.

We had been impressed with the helpful attitude of both the ferry crew and the tow-truck operator. And we were grateful.

So here’s the end of the holiday, but not the end of the story

The next day, John got up feeling feverish, so he took a Covid RAT (Rapid Antigen Test), and it was positive! Oh, bugger! I then tested myself, but was negative, and remained so until John was in the clear. 

We think he may have got it from one (or several, who knows) of our dinner companions at Ohau Lodge. What an end to a holiday. But I guess it was lucky he didn’t come down with it while we were away, or we would have had to stay put for a week’s isolation. 

The evidence – Positive!


South Island – November 2022 – Part 4

I’m finally getting around to writing up our 2022 South Island Holiday. Again, we went during the couple of weeks straddling November and December. Last year, we had a trip to the same part of the South Island at around same time of year. This time, John particularly wanted to spend a few days at Lake Ohau Lodge – to do some cycling, to just ‘hang out’ and take lots of photos, and to enjoy the Lodge’s delicious meals. And we also wanted to spend several days in Arrowtown, another one of our favourite places. 

This is quite a long story, so I have written it up in five parts:

Part 1: Wellington to Christchurch
Part 2: Christchurch to Arrowtown
Part 3: Arrowtown to Lake Ohau
Part 4: Two days at Lake Ohau
Part 5: Ohau to Oxford and home 


Part 4 – Two days at Lake Ohau


Friday 2 December – First day at Lake Ohau

It was a pretty early start, as breakfast was from 7:30 to 8:30 – unusual for us, as we tend to be night owls. But when we got to the dining room, we were the first people there.

It was a lovely day, and when we got back to our room, John started to get the bikes ready. I found an email on my phone that needed a lengthy response (Scottish Country Dancing club stuff!!!), so I went upstairs with my laptop as the only strong internet connection is in the lounge.

Ready to go. Note John’s reflection in the glass door …

We wanted to bike a short stretch of the beginning of Section 4 of the A2O trail. On the website, the whole section is described as Level 3, but it says that “starting from the Lake Ohau Lodge driveway, the Trail traverses the lower slopes of the Ohau Range, with stunning views back across the basin to the Ben Ohau Range – 6km of easy cycling will take you to Freehold Creek, 600m above sea level”.

We intended to do just those first 6km, as we know that the track gets very steep after that. But we didn’t even manage that. The beginning of the track is very rough, with big rolling gravel. John didn’t like it at all, it threw his balance out, and he reckoned it was not good for the bikes either, with the smaller wheels. So after about 1.5 km, we turned around and came back. 

We could not cope with the very rough gravelly track … (DP)

… but the views were certainly stunning (DP)

So then we rode 10 km on the road to the beginning of the lakeside section of the trail – that we have biked a few times now – and biked about 6 or 7 km to “our” tree. On the way we stopped for photos of course.

Ben Ohau on the right, and in the distance, the Ohau Range and the road to the Ohau ski field

Ben Ohau’s gullies and shingle slides make it very recognisable

“Our tree” is a big old willow on a beach of large round stones and lots of driftwood, where we enjoyed a break last year and marvelled at the silence and the beauty of the landscape. We said at the time that we should have brought a picnic. Well, this time we did bring a picnic – a packed lunch courtesy of Ohau Lodge. 

But when we arrived at this wonderful tree, we found that the site had been mutilated. It was now the marker of a fence that went all the way up the hill, and there was a cattle stop to get to the other side of the fence. Some of the large branches had been cut off the beautiful willow, and some small trees had been chopped down. The debris had been left there, of course. What a crying shame!

The mess left behind after the mutilation of the tree. You can see the fence behind John and all the way up the hill (top right of the photo)

We walked our bikes a little distance towards the beach, and we had our picnic lunch, though it was still only just after 11:00. But we did have a very early breakfast! We sat on an enormous log that had been sawn off the tree in the process of building the fence. 

The mutilated tree

The other, undamaged, side of the tree

After this we biked back, stopping at several little beaches to sit in the sun and enjoy the silence, until two groups of cyclists came past, and replaced us at this nice beach. They were all riding the A2O, and would be staying at the Lodge, so we would see them again at dinner time.

Camera at the ready (DP)

The perfectly circular inlet is the result of a geological phenomenon (but we’ve forgotten the details …!)

The large amount of driftwood on the shore is evidence of the fierce storms that can happen on this lake – Ohau means ‘windy place’ (DP)

What a sublime landscape

John was having a bit of a struggle, he was tired and his balance was giving problems. The 10 km on the road back to the lodge seemed like a long way. It was still only about 1:30 when we got back to the lodge. We had done 37 km all up, not bad really. 

While John took himself off for a snooze, I went into the lounge with my laptop, to reply to some emails (SCD club work!). After this I sat on the deck with a good book, enjoying the sun, until John emerged, and we had some flat whites from the bar. 

The view from the deck

Tonight we were the first to arrive for dinner (last night we were the last).We were allocated a table in the corner by the window, with six other people – a couple from Auckland travelling in their camper van and doing out and back bike rides; a couple from Australia, who had been travelling round NZ for the last five weeks, doing some hiking, biking and canoeing; and two guys from Christchurch who were doing the A2O the hard way, covering two sections a day. 

The view from our dinner table

Dinner was delicious again and the conversation was quite animated and varied, and it was 9pm before we went back to our room.

Saturday 3 December – Second day at Lake Ohau

In the evening of this last day in Ohau Lodge, I wrote in my diary: “There are days when I feel like a hundred years old. Today, right now, at the end of the day, it’s more like 125 years. I came off my bike today, and I am feeling the worse for it. A banged-up knee, and big bruises on both legs will probably show tomorrow”. 

But back to the beginning of what was actually a lovely day … 

At about 9-ish we biked up the road towards the top of the lake. It was quite fresh in the shade, but soon we were out in the open and it was lovely. The sky was clear and Mt Cook was visible all the way as we rode towards the head of the lake.

A few drifts of cloud were still hanging around …

… but Mt Cook was clear

We had to cross a ford, where a stream was crossing the road, or perhaps rather, the road was crossing the stream … We debated whether we could do it without getting wet by stalling or falling over. We did go through OK, with just a few splashes onto our feet. 

The top of the lake and in the distance, the Hopkins River, which flows into the lake further over to the right

We got to the head of the lake, and this was Lake Ohau Station, a farm of over 8,000 hectares of really beautiful flattish land surrounded by impressive mountains, which runs 5000 merino sheep and angus cattle. 

Beautiful flat farmland … (DP)

… and what a backdrop! (DP)

Nothing to say – just silence and sunshine and Mt Cook way in the distance (DP)

We carried on for some distance in this flat area. When we got to a long dip towards a bridge, beyond which the road continued into a long wide valley, we decided it was time to turn around.

This is where we turned around

When we came to Ohau with the Pure Trails tour in January 2015, the tour leader took us up this valley in the van, so we knew there were some steep descents, meaning steep climbs on the way back, which we were not keen to tackle. 

The lines on the hills show that this was once a glacier

A selfie – for the record …

The way back was lovely, until I came to grief at a cattle stop. There was a lot of accumulated, large, round gravel just before the stop. I skidded in the gravel, and keeled over towards the right. I thought I had smashed my knee, so I sat there for a bit. I called out to John, but he had gone around a corner, and didn’t hear, and unusually, he did not ride back to see if I was in trouble. He thought I was taking photos, as often happens. 

My knee had landed in something wet, and couldn’t figure out where the water had come from, until I saw that the crash had smashed my water bottle. I didn’t know how to get up, as I can’t easily lean on my hands (arthritis), and I needed to get up on my knee, but I couldn’t do that on the gravel (too painful). So I took off my jacket, folded it over a few times and kneeled on that, which worked. 

I picked up the bits of broken drink bottle, and limped, and pedalled over to where John was waiting for me. The first-aid kit always lives in my bike bag, so I was able to put a plaster on my knee – the wound was clean thanks to my leaked water bottle. My knee felt OK for biking, but I thought I should keep it moving, as I didn’t want it to seize up.

The way back
The remains of an original farm building

I managed the long uphill OK, despite my bunged-up knee – thank goodness for e-bikes!

When we got back to the ford, we worried that I might go for another skid in the gravel leading up to it. But John tramped the gravel into a somewhat more solid approach, and we got across OK. We got back to the lodge by about 11:40, having biked 22 km. It was a lovely ride, despite the crash.

We had some coffee in our room, and spent some time watching some swallows (welcome swallows) which were flitting back and forth outside our room. We discovered two nests under the balcony above our room. I think they were feeding young, as they kept coming in and sitting on the edge with little titbits. 

A welcome swallow with a titbit for the babies in its beak

The swallows’ nest

Later we went upstairs to sit in the lounge with our laptops, a book for me, and drawing materials for John. By the reception desk there were a couple of dozen suitcases and backpacks, delivered by the shuttle service, awaiting the people cycling the A2O. After a while, cyclists were starting to come in. I heard the lady in the bar offering toasted sandwiches to some people who had just arrived, so we ordered some too, and some flat whites. Perfect.

A quiet afternoon was spent reading in the comfortable lounge

Again, dinner was a highlight. The food was excellent, and our table companions were very interesting to talk to. There was a couple from Canterbury University – he a researcher into, among others, the native mistletoe; she a publisher for Canterbury University Press. 

I was particularly interested in what he told us about the native mistletoe. He had led several research/conservation projects about this endangered plant. It flowers for only a very short period every year, and this was the exact week that this happened, so we were very lucky to see it. The plant propagates by birds tweaking the buds to get at the nectar; the buds burst open and the pollen dusts the birds' beaks, which then gets spread about. They also eat and spread the seeds. But because the birds are endangered by such pests as possums and stoats, it means the mistletoe is endangered too. 

The native NZ red mistletoe (DP)

Another couple was from Auckland, travelling with a man from Christchurch, who was a scientist, so he and John had quite a long conversation. The Auckland woman was a rep for Random House publishing company. Editing and publishing are some of my interests, so I would have liked to chat with the University Press publisher and the Random House rep, but it was just too noisy, with a couple of tour groups also there. 

When we headed back to our room, Mt Cook was nearly clear. It was hard walking down the steep path to our room with my left sciatica, and my damaged right knee. As I said at the start – I feel like 125 years old.

I said to John “I have had a lovely holiday, but now I am looking forward to getting home".


South Island — November 2022 – Part 3


I’m finally getting around to writing up our 2022 South Island Holiday. Again, we went during the couple of weeks straddling November and December. Last year, we had a trip to the same part of the South Island at around same time of year. This time, John particularly wanted to spend a few days at Lake Ohau Lodge – to do some cycling, to just ‘hang out’ and take lots of photos, and to enjoy the Lodge’s delicious meals. And we also wanted to spend several days in Arrowtown, another one of our favourite places. 

This is quite a long story, so I have written it up in five parts:

Part 1: Wellington to Christchurch
Part 2: Christchurch to Arrowtown
Part 3: Arrowtown to Lake Ohau
Part 4: Two days at Lake Ohau
Part 5: Ohau to Oxford, and home

Part 3 – Arrowtown to Lake Ohau, via Cardrona

Thursday 1 December – Arrowtown  to Lake Ohau

On our last day in Arrowtown, it rained. But the day we left to go to Ohau, it turned out to be a beautiful day. We drove to Wanaka via the Crown Range, and Cardrona. We stopped several times to take in the view and take photos.

Arrowtown and the Arrow Valley, and the backdrop of the Remarkables (DP)

Frankton and Queenstown in the distance, from halfway up the Crown Range road …

… and looking the other way

Closer to the top, the land is more rugged (DP)

The tourists are back!

Last year, when we drove through here, we didn’t stop at Cardrona, and I was a bit underwhelmed. However, this time we did stop, and were pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know that the Cardrona Hotel was still a functioning venue. In fact, it featured a cosy pub, a café and lovely seating outside in a pretty garden. And there is actually accommodation.

The Cardrona Hotel

A lovely garden setting

A delightful cottage garden

We ordered coffee and cheese scones and sat outside, but we were plagued by very brazen sparrows and blackbirds. I went for a wander in the garden, and when I got back, John said that when he took his eyes off the scones on the table, one sparrow had lifted my scone right off its plate, before being shooed off. It was quite a big scone, I don’t know how such a little bird could do that.

Cheeky birds!

A gorgeous peony (DP)

A gap in the hedge led to another part of the garden, where a year’s supply of firewood was neatly stacked, and drying in the sun. I imagine it will get very cold in the winter at this altitude, and they will need all of that.

A year’s supply of firewood

Inside the pub

A glass window in the floor revealed a display of a mine shaft

We didn’t stop at Wanaka, but pushed on towards the Lindis Pass. Except we missed a turning, and ended up at Hawea Flat. We have done that once before, I think. So we u-turned and continued (Siri helped …).

The Lindis Pass was magnificent as always, but much greener than in previous years. And lots of areas of lupins, only they were not very brightly visible, as they were not yet fully in flower. The lower you got in altitude, on the way down, the further up the stalk they were flowering. 

Once down from the Lindis, I was on the lookout for the spot where I knew there was a gate that would allow us to take a closer look at the Ahuriri River, which, at this time of year, has masses of lupins flowering in or near the riverbed. I saw it, but we zoomed past it, so I asked to go back, as I really wanted to take some photos there. 

Such a glorious sight! (DP)

The stream is quite narrow here, on its way to the Ahuriri River. (DP)

The stream joins the Ahuriri River – or perhaps it is just part of a braided river (DP)

More lupins galore! (DP)

I had been wanting to stop there for the past couple of years, so now I have managed to ‘scratch that itch’. From here (near Omarama), it wasn’t far to the Lake Ohau turn-off. But I was actually a surprisingly long road from SH8 to the Lodge. We drove up into the Ohau Alpine Village, where those dreadful fires burnt a lot of the houses a couple of years ago. Rebuilding is going on apace, I think and it’s looking very good. 

Ben Ohau dominates the lake

Looking towards the top of the lake (DP)

Lake Middleton, with some of the Ohau Alpine Village, and the road to the ski field beyond (DP)

We got to Lake Ohau Lodge at about 3:30. We signed in, told we were in room 72 right down the end, we could park right outside it. The room was a little disappointing – looking a bit tired, and there were no comfy chairs, just two ‘desk’ chairs, a tiny fridge, no TV, and no Internet. But TV and Internet were available in the lounge and dining room upstairs. In a way, it was quite good to be cut off from the “outside world” …

We could park right outside our room

After a while we went for a walk, down to the lake (quite a steep track), then along the road for about a kilometre. I had spotted – from outside our room – that there was a red glow in some of the distant trees, and I wanted to know if that was the native red mistletoe. It was. We found quite a lot of it growing in the old trees, some trees had been completely taken over. It is so beautiful, it just glows against the dark background of the trees.. 

The NZ native red mistletoe (Peraxilla tetrapetala)

Some trees were completely taken over by the mistletoe

The old beech trees that the mistletoe likes to grow on

Lupins and mistletoe – and John (DP)

As we walked along the road, there were fabulous views of the lake and the mountains. This place is so spectacularly beautiful, especially on such a fine day.

A beautiful gnarly old tree (DP)

I think Lake Ohau is one of the most beautiful places in NZ

A dragon lurked near the track …

We clambered back up the steep track, and John had a lie-down, as he was quite tired, and his balance was really bad. I sat and read. I woke John at 6:45, because dinner was at 7. I should have woken him earlier, as they were waiting for us. 

The special feature of Lake Ohau Lodge is their Dinner, Bed and Breakfast package, and the excellence of their food. Also, instead of people siting at small tables as in a restaurant, here, you are allocated a place at one of several long tables for ten or twelve, so you get to meet new people and have interesting conversations. 

The dining room was full – most of the patrons being cyclists riding the A2O (Alps to Ocean) trail, either on their own, or through a cycle touring company, of which there are quite a few now. These people just stayed overnight, so for the three nights we were there, we had different table companions every time.
The three-course set menu was superb, as expected: soup with freshly baked bread, a choice of two mains with vegetables, and a dessert. To finish, you could help yourself to coffee or tea, or you could order barista-style coffee. 

While we were eating, the clouds over Mt Cook cleared and the mountains looked wonderful. Later, back in our room, John took lots of pictures (on tele-lens) of the mountains, as Mt Cook gradually turned pink.

Just before dinner, Mt Cook was still covered in cloud (DP)

When the clouds cleared – Aoraki/Mt Cook looks flat-topped from this angle

9 pm – Mt Cook catches the last of the setting sun