Monday, March 19, 2012

A Beautiful Day in the LOTR Territory

Okay, really, it is the Dart Valley. They just filmed LOTR here (among other movies such as Wolverine, Vertical Limit and The Hobbit to name a few).

The Dart River Jet Safari bus picked me up about 11:30 this morning at the Frankton Bus Stop (a short walk from the Motor Camp where I am staying).

Earlier this morning I did some riding around Frankton in search of bubble wrap and tape for Betsy for the flight. There is a large, by New Zealand standards, shopping center called Remarkables Shopping Center (in the shadows of the Remarkables Mountains). It is just past the airport. You would think there would be someplace selling shipping/packaging supplies. Not so. Turns out I found the necessary supplies at the Pharmacy/Postal Center just at the top of the hill from the Motor Camp. I had to buy three 3 meter rolls to get enough to safely wrap Betsy.

That errand successfully taken care of, I was ready to do a little Jet Boating. As I said, the bus picked me up in Frankton then headed into Queenstown for a few more stops then on out to Glenorchy where the Dart River Jet Safari begins.

It was about a 45 minute bus ride with commentary along the way by Christian, our driver. He told us the Maori legend of how Lake Wakatipu was formed. It was something involving a giant who kidnapped a chief's daughter and a warrior who rescued her and returned to kill the giant. He set the giant's beard on fire which burned so hot as to create the basin of the lake. The fire also melted all the snow which filled the basin and became Lake Wakatipu (apparently, the shape of the lake is a sleeping giant). Of course the real story involves glaciers and all that. I like the legend. One other legend explains why the lake rises and falls a meter every day. It is the still beating heart of the giant. Really, it is oscillation caused by the prevailing winds pushing the water to create a swell.

We stopped briefly for a photo op on the way to Glenorchy. The lake is really beautiful with that glacial aquamarine color. The surrounding mountains don't hurt the beauty factor either!

When we arrived at the Jet Boat base, we were split into two groups. Half of us did the jet boat ride first. The other half did the 4WD and Forest Walk first. I was assigned to the Jet Boat. Curiously, a couple I had met at Haast Top 10 were also on this tour! Elaine and her husband (from the UK) were also on the jet boat first.

We donned spray jackets (something I certainly could have used in the rain a few days!) and lifejackets. Then we reboarded the bus for a short ride to the lakeside and the jet boat. A gal took our photos individually, then we climbed aboard the boat. I got an outside seat (best for photo ops if you ask me!).

We started with a short ride to where the gal took another photo of us in the boat. Then we headed across the lake (a rather bumpy ride) to the mouth of the Dart River. Then Royce, our driver, gunned the motor and we were jetting up the river! It was a blast!

The Dart River is a "braided" river. That means it splits into several channels. The channels are always changing depending on the rainfall/snowmelt. Royce has to choose which channel is the best. Periodically, Royce would stop the boat to give us info on the area. In order to do this, he would do a 360 degree spin. He would give us a signal that he was going to do it so we could brace ourselves. The spins were really fun! I'm not sure the lady sitting next to me was as entertained as I was.

We jet boated up the river for 42 km. That took about 1 hour and 45 minutes. We went as far up the river as the boat could go. Beyond that, the river is too rocky. We turned around and headed back downriver for awhile to where the other half of the group was waiting to change places with us. I'm really glad I was in the jet boat first because going up the river was better than coming down. Coming down river the brim of my hat kept flapping into my face. Going up river the wind kept the brim flapped up. The other group went up to where we had gone, but then they had a longer downriver ride.

When we got off the boat, we handed our lifejackets to the other half, but kept our spray jackets on. Next up was the forest walk. At first I thought it would be no big deal, but it was really informative and interesting. We were in Aspiring National Park, a World Heritage Site. Iain, our guide (and 4WD driver) told us about the make-up of the forest. It is almost entirely Birch trees. There are three varieties--the Red Birch, Mountain Birch, and Silver Birch. But, really, they are not Birch trees at all! When they were first discovered, they were named Birch. Upon later examination it was determined they weren't really Birch trees, so they added "False" to their name. Also, the Mountain Birch only grows in the valley and the Silver Birch only grows in the mountains! The Red Birch isn't even related to the Mountain and Silver! Those early explorers got it all wrong!

We also saw how the "pests" (bushy-tailed possum, rabbits, stoats, deer and goats) are destroying the forest. New Zealand only has one indigenous mammal and that is a bat. All the others were introduced to New Zealand for one reason or another (possum for the fur trade). The stoats and possums have virtually eliminated the ground dwelling birds of New Zealand. The Kiwi have been extinct in the Dart Valley for many years. There is a study going on in the forest to examine the effect of these pests on the forest. There are fenced off areas to keep the pests out. They measure the growth of the trees inside the enclosures every year. The difference is tremendous. It really shows the devastation caused by the possums, rabbits, deer, goats, and stoats. New Zealand does not have a hunting season. Hunters are allowed to hunt these pests year round and there is no limit. In fact, they encourage people to come and hunt often (and bring all their friends). Of course they also try poison and other methods.

After the forest walk, we hopped onto the 4WD bus for the drive back to Glenorchy (about 37 km). Along the way we stopped for a grand view photo op of the mountains and the river. Although there is farming in the area, that is not the source of income. The real source is filmmaking. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge LOTR fan so I couldn't say, "Oh, there's where such and such was filmed!" However, Iain pointed out several locations and rattled off the scenes that were filmed there (something about Gandolf's ride into the mountains, the walking trees, the snow scene where Frodo drops the Ring...). The film crews apparently love this area as there are no people, just some sheep and cows.

Anyway, we made it back to Glenorchy. We all had an opportunity to purchase the photo package (why not?). I had a few minutes to check out the Possum Fur Store. The fur is very soft and supposedly the warmest. There was nothing I really wanted, but it was interesting.

Back on the bus to Queenstown (Frankton for me), I noticed our driver Christian looked just like my brother Scott. I told him so. However, I did tell him he didn't sound like him (the accent wasn't quite right!). He said, "In your world, I am Scott". I'm pretty sure he was younger though.

We went through busy Queenstown and dropped off all the people staying there (Elaine and her husband were staying at the Top 10--the expensive one). I was dropped at the bus station in Frankton. I asked the driver if Frankton was its own town or just a suburb of Queenstown. It's just a suburb. He said Frankton has become the place to shop for the locals. Queenstown is for the tourists.

Back at the Motor Camp, I took a shower then walked up to Subway for dinner. Tomorrow I will have a nice lunch in Queenstown and eat my last camp dinner at the motor camp so I can prepare for my departure early Wednesday morning.

Tomorrow is supposed to be another beautiful day! Perfect for my last non-travel day in New Zealand!

1 comment:

Colleen said...

I just reread what I wrote and have a correction. The trees are not Birch trees, they are Beech trees. Sorry about that.