Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Breach Farm Cottages to Brown Candover (Wayfarer's Walk 8)

The way south

Having now nearly recovered from the jetlag produced by the long journey back from New Zealand, I thought I had better get out walking again to maintain the momentum developed while we were there.

I picked up the route of the Wayfarer's Walk at Breach Farm Cottages and walked up the road to pass Breach Farm - or rather, Breach House as it now is, with fine gates and a peacock in the drive beyond.

The passes through a bit of woodland and soon turns left onto a long track more or less due south between large fields. Initially the track is quite enclosed (see photo above) but it soon opens out to a wide vista of freshly sown brown fields. After a while there is a disused chalk pit on the right.

A bit later, the open fields are interrupted by a pleasing lines of trees. The sort of thing David Hockney has been painting in recent times.

At Lone Barn House, the route turns left and is shown on the map as Church Lane, but in reality is a pleasant narrow track ....

 .... which climbs for a while, levels out and then descends to pass beside St Peter's church at Brown Candover.

This Gothic revival church, in the Perpendicular style, was by TH Wyatt and dates from 1845 (Pevsner).

From here, the route follows the road through the village for about half a mile. It is a straggling place, but with some nice houses. I snapped Robeys Farmhouse through a seasonal gap in the beech hedge. It seems a  handsome Georgian building and I was surprised not to see a mention in Pevsner.

I decided to call at halt at the point where the village ends, noting a reasonable place to park for next time.

Conditions: blue sky and sunshine, about 18 degrees C.

Map: Explorer 144 (Basingstoke, Alton and Whitchurch) and 132 (Winchester)

Forward distance: 3.5 miles; distance now traveled 30 miles.

Rating: three stars. Great to be out on such a lovely day, but the walking was of only moderate interest: mainly through farmland with no real views. Brown Candover provided some relief.


It's always wonderful when the butterfly season begins, and today there were some Brimstones, a couple of Small Tortoiseshells and a Holly Blue.

Flowers of the day

I have been reading about photography in an effort to improve my skills and one interesting message I have picked up is that is boring to photograph flowers from above.

So although Lesser Celandine has been flower of the day in late March in previous years, I think this is easily the best photo so far. I don't seem to have previously had a Violet.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Lake Te Anau

 Lake Te Anau

It seems like another day, another lake. We have just arrived after a four hour journey from Lake Wanaka. We have a big day tomorrow: our cruise along Doubtful Sound, so we didn't want to do anything too demanding and a nice little walk along the lake shore, directly from our motel seemed ideal. The lake is the second largest in New Zealand (after Lake Taupo) so we would only see one small corner of it.

We started by walking along a pavement with the lake on one side and the road on the other. Diagonally opposite was Mount Titiroa (1715m). It is not in fact snow capped - the appearance of snow is due to its white granite peak catching the sunlight. To the right of  Mount Titiroa are the Kepler mountains, where there is a famous three-day tramping (walking) trail.

Further along the shoreline the path passes the Dept of Conservation office and reached the DOC Wildlife centre, which accommodates a mixture of native birds. The highlight is the flightless Takahe, which has been saved from extinction by careful conservation efforts.

The path now goes through native bush and emerges in a more open area with palms and ferns.

Eventually you reach the end marker for today's efforts: the control gates where the River Waiau leaves Lake Te Anau. This is an impressive engineering feat and is part of an even more extraordinary story. The river runs into Lake Matapori and water from Lake Matapouri in turn feeds the remarkable underground hydro-electric power station built on the far side of that lake. The control gates are part of the overall management of the flow of water.

The river is not very wide by New Zealand standards and shows a very confused flow as it emerges from the gates.

I couldn't resist the rather droll sight of a pair of abandoned boots to one side of the gates. What was their story?

After this we retraced our steps for a much needed aperitif before researching Te Anau's restaurants.

Conditions: hot, sunny.

Distance: about 5 miles there and back.

Rating: four stars.


In one of the several little bays I spotted this White Faced heron. He seemed comfortable in my company and continued wading near the shoreline in search for fish as I crept closer.  This is not an especially rare bird, but I admired its slim, delicate form.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain

Diamond Lake

When we arrived in Wanaka yesterday we limited ourselves to a stroll around part of Lake Wanaka (although it was still six miles). Today we thought we would do something more ambitious drawn from the Department of Conservation leaflet of walks in the area.

We drove out of town and followed the lake shore along the Mount Aspiring road, reaching the car park for the walk after 12 km.  You start by following a nondescript track which winds upwards to reach Diamond Lake, a circular glacial lake. It was quite cloudy at first and this picture of the path, and the one of the lake above, was taken on the way down.

From here a series of steps, 300 or more ....

... lead up to a viewing platform above the lake. There are great views towards mountains on three sides. The challenge was to get mountains, sky and lake into the same shot.

Onwards and upwards to emerge onto a sort of upland prairie, with views over Lake Wanaka

Now there was a choice between the western and eastern routes to the top. We opted for the western route which involved a steep, sustained climb to reach a new higher plateau and finally the peak. Looking back, there was a fine view towards Mount Aspiring in the background, with rock formations known, rather imaginatively it seems to me, as rochers moutonnees (sheep rocks) - "A roche moutonnée is a rock hill shaped by the passage of ice to give a smooth up-ice side and a rough, plucked and cliff-girt surface on the down-ice side. The upstream surface is often marked with striations." (Courtesy of a site about landforms in Scotland).

In the other direction, there are fantastic views over Lake Wanaka, with one of its islands, Mou Tapu, to the left and the mouth of the Matukituki River in the foreground. The way in which the mouth of the river is being silted up by sediment is very clear.

Half-right there is another great view over the lake.

A bit later, while we were just sitting on the summit, enjoying the views, the cloud lifted and the summit of Mount Aspiring / Tititea appeared. At 3,033 metres it is New Zealand's highest outside the 20 or so in the Aoraki / Mount Cook national park. We supposed it must be aspiring to be Mount Cook.

We descended via the eastern route and enjoy vertiginous views downwards from the narrow track. It was not so steep as the western one and was probably best enjoyed on the way down.

The summit was at 775m. I was disappointed to find that Lake Wanaka is already at 300m above sea level, so the actual climb was only 475m. But this was still the hardest climb we have yet done: compare 203m for Swyre Head in Dorset, 224m for Box Hill and 294m for Leith Hill, both in Surrey. These are hardly areas known for steep climbs of course.

Distance: about 7 km, which took us 4 hours, including recuperative pauses and time at the summit. Almost 12000 steps.

Rating: Five stars. The first, but hopefully not the last.


Fantails and Bellbirds. Some Common Blues.


We have learned that most walks in NZ have a story. This one is unusual in that it was deliberately created in the early 1990s for the purpose of walking by a local businessman by the name of Stuart Landsborough.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Lake Wanaka

 Lake Wanaka

Just arrived in Wanaka after a four hour drive from Fox Glacier via Haast. The weather had changed for the worse and after visiting Franz Josef glacier and yesterday's amazing walks to Lake Matheson and Gillespies Beach, we felt we had done all we really wanted to, so we decided to move on a day early.

We felt a strong need to do something right away, to profit from the extra time in Wanaka, so we got a leaflet of local walks from the local Dept of Conservation office and embarked along what seemed to be a short stroll along the shore of Lake Wanaka. It is a massive lake, 42 km long and 192 square km  in area - the fourth largest in New Zealand. It is said to be 311 m deep. Unlike many other NZ lakes, Lake Wanaka is notable for having a number of islands and inlets, so it has a complex and interesting appearance.

Wanaka town is at the bottom of the lake and the walk simply involves following the shoreline to a landmark known as Beacon Point.

We were staying at a lakeside motel so it was very agreeable to simply exit the motel and turn to the right along the lake shore, looking at the view at the head of this post. A bit behind us on the landward side were houses, some of them quite expensive-looking. We passed a small marina and soon reached the first point of note, Eely Point, a park-like area with grass and large trees.

The shoreline turns sharply here and around the corner is the start of Bremner Bay. The mountainous area opposite, under low cloud, is known as The Peninsular, a large outcrop which juts out into the lake, connected to the surrounding land by a narrow causeway.

Bremner Bay houses a spacious suburb, so there were always scattered houses to the landward side as we strolled round. But after the far end of the bay, the lake shore ceases to be developed and once we had turned a corner to approach the small headland of Beacon Point (the area of vegetation in the photo below), it felt quite isolated with a rocky shoreline and mountains opposite.

This arm of the lake is known as Dublin Bay.

It been a walk of 3.5 miles (measured by the pedometer: 2000 steps per mile) - much more than we had expected from the DOC leaflet, which for such a simple walk was not at all clear. We decided to return by following roads and this cutting off some of the many corners we had turned on the way.

This was a bit boring, but it was interesting to observe the range of houses, from luxury mansions to places little better than shacks - ripe, obviously, for development. Overall, this seemed a pretty prosperous area with desirable houses, many apparently holiday homes. Coming back was only 2.75 miles, which made it worthwhile.

Conditions: cloudy but warm.

Distance: 6 miles.

Rating: three and a half stars.


We saw a number of New Zealand scaup on the lake: a small, mainly black duck with a notable golden eye. In many places on the walk there were wild lupins, which were very pretty, but the highlight was an area of shoreline with these beautiful orange California Poppies. So, non-native, but still lovely.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Gillespies Beach

Gillespies Beach

We are staying in Fox Glacier and we have already today done a lovely walk around Lake Matheson. It is typical mountain weather: a bright start, but now dull and cloudy. But we noticed that to the west i.e. towards the coast, it was bright and clear, so we decided to follow the gravel road to Gillespie's Beach and walk there. The lady at the motel had enthused about it, and remarkably someone we had met when we were in the North Island had also sung its praises.

Before we started the walk, we had a quick look at the beach. It is a wide grey expanse of round stones, covered with drift wood. We were expecting the drift wood, which is standard on west coast beaches in the South Island, but we were struck by how substantial the driftwood was: tree trunks rather than branches. It seems that it is washed out to sea when the rivers are in flood and then brought back in to land by the tide.

Initially you walk along a pleasant grassy track behind the beach. It was quite English in character - except of course for the palm trees on the hills in the distance. We saw several Common or Boulder Copper butterflies along here - the first we have seen.

After a while the track arrives at a rusty gold dredger dating from the 1930s. We chatted to some fellow walkers who explained that this form of gold mining was carried on here until the 1940s and continued to this day on both an industrial and hobby scale elsewhere in the South Island. We knew of the gold rush in the 1850s, but it came as a surprise to realise how long gold mining had persisted.

In fact, according to the DOC Glacier Country website, at the height of the gold rush Gillespies Beach was home to 700 miners, mostly living rough, although there were hotels and shops to serve their needs.

Now the path followed the back of the beach and the density of driftwood reached a new level of intensity. It seemed like some animal graveyard or the site of an ancient battle.

At the end of this section of beach we reached a lagoon - inevitably Gillespies lagoon. A remarkably pretty spot. The lagoon was effectively a river which didn't quite connect to the sea.

We went a little further along the coast and enjoyed fine views towards the north. I took another of my new trademark photos with a low camera angle and foreground rocks.

Out to sea, a large rock had a collection of Shags, regular black and pied, perched on it. One of the pied ones patrolled the waterline with a proprietorial air.

We returned to the lagoon and found the path leading to a miners' tunnel and reportedly onwards to a seal colony (although the lady at our motel had said that there were in fact currently no seals).

Shortly past this point ...

... the path was completely flooded. We could see a bridge over the lagoon, but we did not feel in the mood to wade through the mud to reach it, so we decided to retrace our steps. We later met some other people who had found their way along the beach to the seal colony - where in fact there were seals (they had photos to prove it).

Conditions: hot and sunny

Distance: three miles.

Rating: four and a half stars. A wonderful beach and an interesting walk. We learned later from the Glacier Country website that James Edwin Gillespie was the first to find “colour” (i.e. gold) in 1865 and gained naming rights to the stretch of coastline. We never discovered why he did not rate an apostrophe.

Lake Matheson

Mounts Tasman and Cook from Lake Matheson car park 
We arrived in Fox Glacier last night and stayed at the Sunset Motel. It promised views of Aoraki / Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain at 3754m, and Mount Tasman, 3497m. Unfortunately, it was wet and cloudy and there was just a suggestion of Mount Cook visible in the murk.

In typical New Zealand style however the morning dawned bright and clear and I took this picture of Mount Cook from the garden at the back of the room.

So now it was a case of hurrying down to nearby Lake Matheson to see if we could get one of the famous mirror image photos of the mountains in the water of the lake. We were a little slow off the mark and cloud had already began to form by the time we parked the car, as the photo at the head of this post shows. The sun had risen above the mountain rim and so any photography was into it.

We followed a winding path through heavy bush to arrive about 30 minutes later at a viewing platform at one side of the lake. It was by now even more cloudy and the surface was ruffled by wind and the movement of the ducks. This was the best I could do.

Most people had come to the platform, taken a few photos and gone back, but we decided to at least complete the circuit of the lake and were delighted after another 20 minutes or so to reach another viewing point, with a much higher perspective. It was identified as the View of Views, and was well-named. Although conditions were still not ideal, a pretty decent picture resulted. Mount Cook is on the right.

As we completed our circuit there was a nice view, in the direction opposite to the mountains, of the rush-lined lake margins. The DOC has the policy of allowing natural processes to have their head and is doing nothing to stop the encroachment plants at the lake margins. We were not quite sure whether that was really right: it could be argued that the lake's character should be preserved.

And a bit later it was possible to see through the vegetation to the first viewing platform, with a new consignment of picture takers hard at work.

As we completed the walk we heard a lovely fluid birdsong that we had heard before on our walks, but this time we caught a good view of the bird. It was the well-named Bellbird.

Conditions: Cloudy, cool.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: Four stars.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Franz Josef Glacier

First view of the glacier

We were en route for Fox Glacier from Hokitika, but we had planned to stop off to see Franz Josef Glacier, about 20 km north, on the way. Starting at the car park you can already see the top of the glacier calling you.

You walk along a tarmac track, then quite suddenly the track emerges in a vast canyon. This was a real catch-your-breath moment, dramatic and unexpected. You cross a wooden bridge and then a winding track opens up, leading across towards the glacier.

We walked across this wonderful open space. Our sense of wonder was slightly dented by three American teenagers who were noisily running and jumping ... and talking in loud voices. I have no idea what he was talking about or even what he meant, but I did hear one boy say "No shit? ... Baad aass ... Sweet!" What language is that?

There was even a small waterfall coming down from the high sides - and almost inevitably, there was someone with his shirt off having a quick shower.

At the far side, you can't get right up to the mouth of the glacier without taking a organised tour, which we had decided we could do without, but the view of the is still pretty clear.

The surprising thing, not at all clear from the ground, is that the glacier is 12 km long. It is fed by a 20-square-kilometre snowfield. The unusual thing about it is that its mouth is so low down - only about 300m above sea level. It is also unusual in that it is currently advancing, unlike most glaciers in the world which are in full retreat under the influence of global warming. The reason for this is heavy snowfalls at higher levels. Historically, however it was much bigger: in the 1850s in reached right the way down the valley. Future projects are for a retreat from its current position.

Turning round to retrace our steps, the small river which flows from the glacial melt become more apparent, and looked quite dramatic in the gathering cloud.

Part of the way back along the tarmac track, we followed a detour to a viewpoint (lookout in NZ speak) which offered a wonderful view from a different angle.

We were so enjoying our exploration that when we returned to the car park we headed off in a different direction along another marked track. This took us past a small glacial lake, called Peter's Pool - named after a seven year old boy, Peter Westland, who camped here in 1909. As an explanation, this seems to leave many unanswered questions.

After a steady descent we came to a narrow swing bridge across the river. A notice insisted that no more than 4 people should be on the bridge at any one time. We felt the wisdom of this when two walkers appeared at the other end and it began to move madly.

The river was now a much more substantial waterway.

I couldn't resist the shape and colour of these rocks, viewed from above, at the side of the river.

The track over the river looked inviting, but it was time to resume our journey to Fox, so we returned to the car.

Conditions: warm, but mostly cloudy.

About 5 miles.

Rating: five stars.