Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New Zealand Lovely Walk 1 - Lake Matheson Lakeside Walk

Here is the first of a series on lovely walks in New Zealand - The Matheson Lakeside Walk.

Lake Matheson is the most photographed lake in New Zealand, I was told. And it’s easy to see why. On a clear day, its surface reflects Mount Cook like a mirror. The guidebooks will tell you that the best time to go there is early in the morning or late in the evening, when the water is most calm.

However, don’t count on the clouds cooperating all the time. When we were there, the peaks were constantly shrouded in gray clouds. It was nevertheless quite breathtaking.

We did the 1.5 hour return Lakeside Walk. This lovely walk is under the canopy of luxuriant South Island rainforests. Here and there, we peeked through openings in the vegetation and caught glimpses of the peaks of the Southern Alps.

There are a few lookouts along this route. The Reflection Island Lookout is the most spectacular – unfortunately for us the mountains were shrouded in the clouds.

Tree ferns and their overhanging fronds abound. You need to take a slow walk and look at the moss-covered slopes and ground, and experience the freshness of the moist air.

The sounds of bubbling brooks were never far away. We even encountered a mini-waterfall. Now and then, we just stood still and took in the crisp calls of the birds. Here, the solitude is inviting and the silence magical, especially at dusk.

My suggestion for anyone going to Lake Matheson – don’t just get to the first lookout for the photos, walk the entire perimeter circuit. And end your walk with a drink at the Matheson Café. Sip your coffee and continue to enjoy the views to the Mount Cook.

Lake Matheson’s History:
18000 years ago, the glaciers retreated and the ice melt left an area quite flat. Rainforest grew and surrounded the area. The European settlers saw that the surrounding grassland was suitable for farming and converted most of the surrounding area into grazing farmlands.

6 km drive from Fox Glacier Village. Turn right and drive for a minute to the car park.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New Zealand Scenic Drive 3 - Highway 94 Te Anau to Milford Sound

Before we hit this world famous route, we have heard and read so many rave reviews about it. I was glad that we did go on this one.

We decided to make Te Anau our base for the return day-drive to Milford Sound. We did not want to drive all the way from Queenstown – because you'll have less time for photo stops and the Milford Sound cruise.

Do take note that the road could be closed if an avalanche is impending. So check with the Information Center at Te Anau before proceeding.

We stopped at a few lovely places along the way – the Mirror Lake, the Hollyford Valley Lookout, the Chasm, and the Homner Tunnel.

Our first stop was the Mirror Lake. Here, you may take a 5-minute boardwalk stroll and stare at the calmness of the water. If you let your imagination stray a bit and just stare into the water for a while, you'll start to wonder....Where does the real image end and the reflection begin?

The Hollyford Valley Lookout is also worth a stop. There’s just something special about mountain slopes cloaked in evergreen vegetation.

Our next stop, the Chasm, is not visually spectacular. However, if you are there on a sun-drenched day, you might get to see quaint little rainbows above the swashbuckling water – like we did.

Also, you might want to stand on the walkway just above the water and listen to the crashing noise created by the gushing water. I stood there and felt a stirring awe. Notice also how the boulders and rock-faces have been carved and molded by the rushing waters.

The Homner Tunnel makes it possible to drive all the way to the Sound. But you have to wait for the lights to change because cars can pass only one way.

Meanwhile, get out of your car and soak in the sheer rock-faces here. On a rainy day, you could see surreal streaks of waterfalls flowing down these dark rock-faces. If the mist and clouds scud lowly across the area, you would be treated to a mystical panorama not unlike a scene from the Lord of the Ring.

The Road ends at the famous Milford Sound. Here, we booked a half-day cruise with the Red Boat company. I’ll write about the cruise in another post.