From Lake Brunner, we headed to Jackson’s Alpine Retreat in Arthur’s Pass. We’d not heard of ‘Jacksons’ previously. Apparently it was a famous stopping point for many years near Arthur’s Pass – a hotel and restaurant. But it’s now privately owned, and not likely to open to the public again we were informed. We drove by it on Sunday 14th February, on our way to the Pass. It looks like it was a great place.
Camping Under The Stars
What a fabulous spot Jackson’s Retreat is. We’d booked in advance, as Ewok (Jamie’s dog) isn’t allowed in many campgrounds – and this one only if permission is given. Once Jamie had pitched her two-
man woman tent in front of us, we chilled nearby playing games. Animal Yatzee was one Jamie brought. I did some washing (always good to camp somewhere with a washing machine and dryer to use, albeit at a charge), and relished a long, luxurious, hot shower (such a treat!), while Barry and Jamie played.
We’d brought ingredients for pizzas and salad, as they have their own pizza oven. Quick, easy and delicious! A game of Sequence back in the van followed – Jamie cleaned us both up on her first game! What a cheek lol 😂
A Glowing Wall
Once dusk fell, Ewok stayed in the van while we walked a short distance of the nearby Ngariumu track in the dark. We were a aghast at the most astounding wall of glow worms. Literally. The whole wall was covered to resemble a starry, twinkling night sky. Indescribably stunning.
I love this poem about glow worms from their website:
“I wish I was a Glow-Worm, a glow worm is never glum, ’cause how could you be so glum when a light shines out ya bum!“
Returning to the camp site, we all fell silent gazing at the millions of stars above on a crystal clear night. The Southern Hemisphere is well known for it’s amazingly bright night skies:
“The southern sky claims the three brightest stars (Sirius, Canopus, and Alpha Centauri) and the best examples of almost every type of astronomical object. New Zealand also has a superb view of the Large & Small Magellanic Clouds – two extraordinary galaxies visible to the naked eye that are too far south for northern hemisphere viewers.
During our winter months, sheltered by our mountain ranges we are gifted with plenty of unpolluted skies. Star Gazing South Island at Jackson’s Retreat you will be treated with extensive constellations, shooting stars and glittering dark skies, you can stare directly into the centre of the Milky Way directly overhead during winter.”https://www.jacksonsretreat.co.nz/stargazing-at-the-jacksons-retreat/
We were sad we only got to stay one night in this ‘retreat’, it was quite special. Admittedly some of the outdoor furniture around the site could do with some attention. But the washrooms were pristine, the lounge and kitchen brilliant, and the pizza oven and views magnificent. There’s even tents under cover you can hire. Complete with electricity and your own sink! Highly recommended.
Up To Arthur’s Pass
Most camp sites expect you to be out by 10am the following morning, which is always rather early and challenging for us! But we managed to get ourselves up and out around then, and on the road up to Arthur’s Pass itself.
It was a fascinating and gorgeous journey. The Trans Alpine Train travels through here, and has a couple of stops along the route we took. We were fortunate to time its passing and stop near to a quaint hotel which looked as though it must’ve featured in The Lord of The Rings. However, I can find no reference to it. Maybe the owners simply like it? Who knows. Anyone?
We only just made it up the road and across the Viaduct. It was a VERY steep incline. Poor old NZAreandare struggled, spluttered, and even stalled at one stage which was a little nerve wracking. I’m so glad I don’t drive the van!
A brightly colored native New Zealand bird called a Kea is common in these parts. The world’s only Alpine parrot. It’s also clever – and playful. Supposedly with the intelligence of a three to six year old. It seems some people find them a nuisance, and for some years they were killed wantonly. Thankfully this was topped, and they’re now a protected species. Albeit with the proviso that they can be rather cheeky. The stories of how they work in teams, where a few will distract people while another pinches things or nibbles off windscreen wipers, reminded me of the organised gangs in Barcelona. We hoped to see one close up – but only got a glimpse of a couple flying above.
I did however, find a few feathers scattered around the Viaduct Lookout on the way there and back.
After Jamie left to return to Christchurch, Barry and I walked the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall track. Oh my goodness. It was steep! Lots to stairs up. Then down. Then up again. But boy it was worth every single step. I’ve seen many waterfalls in my time, but this one beat them all. Simply stunning. How on earth the pathway and platform were built is beyond my comprehension. But if you get a chance to do this walk, it’s breathtaking in more ways than one.
I took a video to capture the moment for posterity. I doubt I’d walk up again, it was blooming hard work! But the scene from the viewing platform was worth every step.
Check our Barry’s images below in his slide-show.
Looking For Kea
Across the road from the start of the track we spotted the start of ‘Avalanche Walk’, purportedly this one is amazing as the ‘Tongariro Crossing’ day walk. We understandably didn’t do that one too – I think it takes most of the day!
On our way back through the Pass, we stopped at Viaduct Lookout in the hope of seeing a Kea. We were told around dusk is a good time. Instead we met a couple in a campervan who had broken down, and a family. Barry did his best to help the young German couple, while I had the pleasure of the company of Gracie, aged five, and her two sisters and lovely mum. They were on their way to the hospital in Christchurch. Someone was coming to their rescue with a replacement car, but was going to be another hour.
We’ve bumped into (not literally!) the German couple a few times since then, and discovered that after following Barry’s advice of taking out the water container and checking the battery lead connections, they tightened them and the van started. Also that the stranded family got way safely. Phew. It would’ve been a bleak and lonely place to be stuck overnight!
Next Stop Kumara
We drove from there almost to Kumara and found another free place to park. That evening we were sat in the van having a late tea around 8.30pm when lights flashed and sirens blared from our three phones. It was an automated alert for everyone in New Zealand to inform them that there were new community cases in Auckland and from 2359 they would move to Level Three for Three days. The rest of the country, including us, would move to Level Two. It did last just three days. Not much difference. Just more awareness of the track and trace at each location.
Kumara – pronounced Kum-Ah-rah – was a fascinating place. I visited a friend of a friend and sadly couldn’t give her the requested hug. Just an elbow rub. More about Kumara and its history in the next post.
In the meantime we’re now in Stewart Island for a week. I’d almost finished writing this blog before we left Invercargill this morning so wanted to get it posted.
It’s just after 10pm here as I write, on Saturday 27th February, and we’ve just had another alert level siren and flashing lights notification. From 0600hrs tomorrow morning, we’re back to Level Two for seven days. Another community case has been discovered in Auckland – it’s more complex than that I realise but that’s not for this blog. We’ve no idea at this stage how, or if, that will affect our stay here and the three nights we’re booked to stay in DoC huts on the Rakiura Track. I’ll let you known due course …
Barry’s Slide Show
As usual, click on the first image to watch the view of these adventures through Barry’s lens: