Travels Down Under

Mainly New Zealand

As jubilados (Spanish for retirees) we’re happy campers in New Zealand


What is it about waterfalls? Rushing over cliffs. Free-falling. Misting the air. A ceaseless torrent of everlasting hurry that ends, quietly, in placid tranquillity in a pool, a river, a fjord. Every waterfall as uniquely different as the person taking in its power and beauty.

Many of us plan hikes, honeymoons—even entire vacations around waterfalls. McLean Falls isn’t in that category. If Niagara is a Crown Jewel, McLean is an emerald chip.

“Nice if you’ve come down the East Coast, but less impressive if you’ve just come from Fjordland,” according to our guidebook author Scott Cook and after seeing Fjordland’s waterfalls cascade 300 metres down the mountainside, we agree. But still, it’s intensely green, saturated with colour, a touch of brilliance.

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Before she put the bus in gear to head up Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound, our driver Cat (and she was a cool one), said

Use the toilets now because there are none on the bus and I know every pothole.

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Yellow-eyed penguins, the rarest penguins (and most attractive I’d say) in the world, endemic to New Zealand. If you prefer, call them by their Māori names, hōiho or takaraka. Whatever, with their distinctive band of yellow plumage and yellow eyes, they are the treasure of Nugget Point.

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Last days of November, rain
string and almost solid,
incessantly gathering darkness around it
At one in the afternoon

November, the “dead end of Autumn,” the rainiest month in Vancouver. Dreary, monotonous and sullen rains. However, they can’t compare with the pelting, fierce, torrential rains that lashed out upon Magellan and me in Punakaiki, an area in southwestern New Zealand that suffers twice as much rainfall.

Punakaiki (poona-kai-key) is on the Great Coast Road, a narrow strip that runs parallel to the Southern Alps on the sparsely populated west side of the South Island. Prevailing westerlies fan across the Tasman Sea and on encountering the mountains, condense their moisture into “industrial strength” rain, about 2800 mm/year. Incessantly it fell the day we were there, April 26, fall in New Zealand. So why did we hang around? Marg and Don said we had to, for the same reason more than 400,000 visitors do every year—to see the geologically unique Pancake Rocks at high tide.

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In his book NZ Frenzy, Scott Cook starts off his discussion of Paturau (Pah-too-rau) Beach with these words: “Oh my god, no way, oh wow, I’ll be damned.”

He says it took him seven summers of travelling to New Zealand’s South Island before he made it to Paturau. We’re almost as tardy—it’s taken us four years to showcase this “sweet as” beach, slang in New Zealand for “as good as it gets.”

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Indisputably the best walk on the South Island,” says Scott Cook about Hooker Valley Track in his guidebook NZ Frenzy.

There’s even higher praise—many references cite New Zealand’s Hooker Valley as the best day track in the entire country.

After hiking it in late April, NZ’s autumn, Magellan and I gave it five stars.

But a question kept popping into my wayward mind while hiking: where did the name Hooker come from? I forgot about it until researching for this post. Now I’m even more stoked about this track.

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