Sunday, November 15, 2009

Arthur's Pass

Today was a big hiking day at Arthur's Pass National Park. Although the park is clearly a way for people to get from the East side of the island to the West, complete with the Alpine Railway and telephone lines down the valley, it is also a gorgeous park once you get off the main road. It doesn't seem like too many other tourists are here like we kept seeing around the glaciers and the Fiordlands. Mostly it looks like locals and climbers predominantly use this park, and most others are just passing through.

The hikes we had chosen from our guidebooks started with the Devil's Punchbowl Falls hike which was a steep uphill climb, mostly on wooden steps, to the dramatic falls coming straight off the cliff. We feel as though we have seen just about every variation of waterfall here on our trip, almost one hike a day is to a falls, but even still, they are amazing to see and we never get tired of them.

Next we drove up valley to the Dobson Nature Walk. We got a kick out of the signage stating that Arthur's Pass was named after a white explorer (Arthur Dobson), yet a Maori guide led him through the pass and told him where to go! In general, many of the Maori people here seem a bit angry. At first we took some offense to getting scowling looks and even flipped off by one Maori woman while driving. But the more time we spend here, the more we've come to understand why they would be annoyed at white people. Imagine you have your own Garden of Eden, where everything is in balance and nature and people are in harmony. Then Abel Tasman comes along, and before you know it, all of your seals and whales are about extinct, there are rabbits, then stoats and then possums running around everywhere, ruining the ecosystem while killing off Kiwi birds, and on top of it, all of your sacred places have been "discovered" and named after white guys. So, in a way, I've come to feel a little badly for these people here, who were once so at home.

But back to the Dobson Nature Walk, we had a nice little tour around the valley and saw the Giant Mountain Buttercups (the biggest buttercup in the world) and even found a couple of boulders to play around on while we were there. The alpine wildflowers in this area are supposedly the best in the park.

After a little lunch, we set out on the Bealey Spur hike which was supposed to have outstanding views. They really were impressive, with the towering snowy peaks of Arthur's Pass and deep river valleys all around us. The hike went through a dense Beech forest with a carpet of lush green moss until it popped out on a ridge along a deep river canyon. Eventually we crossed trough a bog (or Tarn as they say) on boardwalks and continued up through a Tussock field to the Bealy Hut, a few hours after we started. We were happy to relax at the top for a snack and take in the views before heading back down to the camper.

We were tired after the hike, and joked about the comment in the guide book that this hike was appropriate for families and children! I'm not sure how many American kids have hiked 6 miles up steep tracks along sheer drop-offs recently, but I couldn't imagine this statement in the US. It has been interesting to see the variety of people on these hikes here. It seems as though everyone is really into hiking and backpacking and it's just been a part of their lives since they were little. Today Erich asked me if there was a Dunkin' Donuts at the top once we had passed three very round ladies, but really, it was great to see so many different people out and hiking.

Tonight we are sleeping on a gorgeous glassy mountain lake and are so close that if you look out the back windows you feel as if you're in a boat actually out on the water. Some locals are here in their campers as well, but everyone is quiet and seemingly happy to be away for their long weekend as Monday is a local holiday here.

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