On the road from Arrowtown to Haast, we saw the landscape transform from rugged, dry mountains one might see in West Texas to a lush rainforest. Gillespie's Beach is one of the few free DOC campsites, and therefore very crowded. When we mounted a small hill to pitch our tent, we were struck with stunning views of the Southern Alps, pastel pink and purple with the light of the setting sun.
A funny thing happened while we were setting up camp, something I never expected in this remote place: we ran into someone we knew. Tony was at Sparky's Backpackers with us in Invercargill, and he set up camp next to us and we all cooked dinner together and played cards in our tent before bed.
We were both going the same way, so we decided to meet up and camp together again outside of Hokitika the following night. That day, it started to rain heavily, so we didn't do much aside from drive. We stopped at Fox Glacier, but we skipped the walk to see the glacier because it was so wet. What we did see was beautiful enough, with waterfalls, fog and bright green algae floating on the water.
I met my first kea at Fox Glacier. I've been wanting to see one of these parrots for years, since I caught a glimpse of them at the picture library in the nature lab. Keas are very clever and inquisitive, and they have a lot of personality. They also have a well-deserved reputation for being naughty, hanging around parking lots begging for snacks from tourists and using their sharp beaks to rip up the rubber lining on car windows when they're feeling destructive.
While we were in the parking lot, Sam had to alert a DOC official that a kea was getting into a dirty diaper some jerk had left behind. The DOC guy planned to take it with him when he left, but didn't want it sitting in his car, so he covered it with a large rock. A few minutes later, the kea was digging up the ground around the rock trying to get to it while its companion watched from a nearby stone. Its determination was pretty funny, but also sad and gross. It makes me so mad that people leave trash in public, like the world is their dumpster.
|Keas usually look a bit sleeker, but this one was wet and scruffy!|
When we arrived at Goldsborough, our next campsite, the rain showed no signs of relenting. The campsite had a single picnic shelter, but a group had taken up residence inside, pitching their tent in the shelter and leaving no room for other people to cook. At first we were annoyed, but Sam talked to them and they welcomed us in, took down the tent to make space, and offered to build a fire with a cache of dry wood they found in the shelter. By the end of the night we found ourselves enjoying the company of six Germans, two Americans, Australian Tony and a French-speaking girl from an island off the coast of Madagascar. We managed to stay dry around a roaring fire and slept in the car because we couldn't face another sodden night in our pathetic tent.
Wekas strutted around the campsite en masse looking for crumbs and shiny things to steal. These are another native bird I hadn't seen before, and they're just as fearless as the keas. While packing up in the morning, a girl left her car door open and a weka jumped right into the driver's seat.
Sam enjoyed panning the next morning at Goldsborough, and even found a few tiny specks. Then we veered off our hitherto coastal path, straight across the middle of the island through Arthur's Pass to Christchurch. More about that next time!