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Spoiled Babies; Kura Tawhiti; Glacial Topography; B.S.; Arthur’s Pass; Awatuna; Empty Beaches

After our amazing meal at The Oaks, we checked email and found notes and photos from Maureen and Marc. Here they are holding Little Princess Gretchen and King Rudy; they are obviously being spoiled by their temporary parents!

After a continental brekkie, we packed up our bags and headed west into the mountains. We were still north of the true Southern Alps where Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his attempt on Mount Everest (he was the first to reach the summit, along with his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay), but the scenery was still impressive. Our first rest stop was at Castle Hill (Kura Tawhiti, or “treasure from afar”,  in Maori), where huge limestone boulders rise out of the ground in a scene reminiscent of a medieval castle. Maori would shelter in these rocks while crossing the mountains from coast to coast.


Here in New Zealand, the terrain has been sculpted over millennia by glaciers; this broad river valley was once filled with ice over a thousand feet deep. The rivers are still fed by glaciers and snowfields, with glacial flour (rock scraped to dust-size particles) coloring the water a milky blue.  
The roads were not heavily traveled. Oh, and careful observers may note that we are driving on the wrong side of the road. New Zealand, like Australia, England and Japan, persist in their archaic view of driving on the left… visitors have to ensure they think and look twice (or even thrice) before pulling out into traffic. While driving, we turned on the FM radio and heard this advert: “Hello, mates, calling all dairy farmers! We are here to help you with all of your effluent needs…” We looked at each other and laughed hysterically… “What, a lot of B.S.!”
We stopped at Arthur’s Pass for a hike to the Devil’s Punchbowl. Here, dense semi-tropical rain forests rise up thousands of feet from sea level into the mountains. You can see about 20 feet into the trees and bushes, but passage off-trail would be a nightmare; a mechanized machete or Abrams tank would be needed to make any progress. This was one of the areas used in the filming of the Hobbit movies, and even a casual observer can recognize the similarities between this forest and that of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s novels.   
Farther up the trail, we came to this beautiful waterfall. My Lovely Bride loves waterfalls, and with the many roaring cascades here, I’m sure it will be difficult getting her back on the plane.  

Avalanche warnings are common here; every trail seems to have areas where snow and rock falls have taken lives. We’re past the season for avalanches, but rockfalls have recently closed parts of several trails in these mountains.    
One section of our hike was so steep that sets of stairs (over 400 in all on this trail alone) had to be installed to prevent falls and injuries. 
This narrow section of State Route 73 heading west from Arthur’s Pass boasts an 18% grade, far steeper than any state road in the US we’ve ever driven. The structure on the right diverts a creek above the road, and the one on the left diverts rockslides over the cars and into the gorge below. (It must be “interesting” if you’re under that structure when the rocks start moving!) 
We arrived at our next B&B, Awatuna Homestead, on Sunday afternoon. It is situated in a coastal rain forest south of Kumara Junction on the west coast. 
We were greeted by Trixie, a delightful Kiwi lady who has lived in the area for decades with her husband Murray. We had a two bedroom apartment on the second floor, and no, I was not kicked out of the main bedroom onto a sofabed… here we see Miss Suzanne enjoying our sundeck while talking to her mom Ruthie on WePhone, an app that lets you place calls home for pennies per minute.   

This was the view from our window.  The foliage was truly dense here; there was a guy chopping wood about 20 feet in, and he was totally invisible.  

This stream close by our B&B led to the Tasman Sea. A sign notified us of a penguin breeding colony nearby, but we didn’t see any. A storm the night before had brought 75 mile per hour wind gusts to Arthur’s Pass, and 12-foot high surf was breaking on the beach. We decided not to go for a dip…  
You can see that even in high season, the beach here was less than crowded. (There was not a single person in sight in either direction.) Over a million visitors come to New Zealand each year, but in a country the size of the U.K., there’s lots of room for them to spread out. We have only seen crowds in the city, and that’s all right by us, mate!

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