Snow, Arthur’s Pass

Yes, here I am on my last day in Arthur’s Pass for this trip (if I am not snowed in) watching from the relative warmth as the rain turns to snow over the late morning. I have contacted my hosts in Karamea to alert them to the possibility that I may not be able to leave tomorrow, but at this stage, the weather forecast is not indicating there will be enough snow to close the road. Things can change very quickly however!

But let me take you back to Okarito, to the afternoon of the big walk up the Pack Track and down to the beach, and the evening that followed.

It’s no secret that the scenery in this country is breathtaking, with every turn affording a new and amazing view. And the lakes that abound provide even more wondrous sights, especially when the mountains are seen reflected on their glassy surfaces. The bottom of the Pack Track at Okarito, after you cross the swing bridge and go over to the beach provides one such vision.

the base of the Pack Track, Okarito

Over on the left is Franz Josef Glacier, and if the sky was clear I think you would be able to spot Aoraki Mt Cook on the right.

Being winter, the sun was quite low in the sky so the play of light on the crashing waves was spectacular. I looked wistfully at the surf, not necessarily wanting to plunge in but checking carefully for any sign of rips or sudden drops that might have endangered anyone silly enough to do so. The beach was covered with interestingly weathered pieces of timber that had been pushed down in glacier and snow melt rivers, tumbling against the rocks en route to the coast. And smooth-surfaced stones, similarly weathered but over millennia rather than centuries. My pockets were increasingly bulging again and after a while both hands were laden with small to medium sized pieces of wood. Every time I wanted to take a photo I had to put them on the sand.

I look up to see the train just pulling out of Arthur’s Pass Station on its way back to Christchurch (4.20pm) …

My host had said he was going to light the fire in the outdoor metal dish-shaped fireplace he had made so I offered to cook again. We got back before sunset and I was just about to have a quiet time and sort out what I was going to prepare for dinner when I noticed that the setting sun was casting a beautiful light on the snow-capped mountains, so I speed-walked down the road and out to an open part of the village where I could better capture the splendour. The camera was exhausted from a hard day’s work but I kept fudging it by turning it on again when it said the battery was empty. I would have managed a few more if it hadn’t finally given up for good, or at least until I plugged it in again.

sunset on the Alps, from Okarito

I cooked one of my new favourite staples, organic red bean spaghetti, made from nothing but red beans, with some vegetables steamed and covered in some white miso dissolved in a bit of water, and a green salad, incorporating some just harvested New Zealand spinach from outside in one of the veggie beds.

After, I stayed to wash up and my host went home (to the front of the building), and when I went down a bit later he lit the fire. I had brought my little speaker which I attached to the laptop so we could have music and put on some Bob Marley Live, and finally (first time this trip), I was dancing! At first the smoke of the fire went upwards, and he pointed out how well it worked, but the dish was loaded up with enough wood to burn for 24 hours at least and after a while it started to fill the undercover outdoor area with billowing smoke. It was unbearable for most of the time, so I removed myself to the path at the edge of the building to get some fresh air and did most of my dancing there.

Halfway through another Bob album it was time for me to go. It was good to be alone again back in my pad.

On each of the mornings I had been there I had woken up early enough to see the sunrise and take some photos from the window next to my bed. It was a bit precarious; if I didn’t want the reflection of the glass, I had to push the camera out under the small opening and photograph the scene with my hands twisted. I could only hope that I wouldn’t drop the camera on the concrete path below!

On the last morning I did the same, and then set to loading the car up with all my bits and pieces, culling a very small number of souvenirs from my timber and stone collection before leaving – how was I ever going to get all that home!?

The journey back was calm and devoid of too much traffic, despite it being Sunday. Perhaps, as it was the last day of the school holidays, most people were already home. I stopped at Hokitika to stock up again on essentials but as I was not able to go to The Hub for lunch, I was forced to consume a whole lunch packet of soy crisp things for lunch as I drove, followed by a mandarin or two.

I checked into Room 3 at the Alpine Motel, as confirmed last week, and settled in.

The next day it was raining, just the way I like it. In the evening I watched a DVD documentary called Earth Whisperers – Papatuanuku. It was very reaffirming and just what I needed. On Tuesday I finally got round to getting back to blogging (Aotearoa – an intro), and I also did some preparation for the workshop, which taking place that night in the house of the motel proprietors.

I arrived there after a 30 second walk along the gravel path between my place and theirs a bit after 5.30 and was immediately provided with a glass of shiraz. People started to dribble in not long after, and at about 6.15 we got going, beginning with a slide show (via my laptop) of some of my work, especially landscapes, paintings and photographs relating to Aotearoa, and some unrelated works I had done with watercolour pencil, which was what we were using that night.

It seemed to go well, with people making the most of the medium and stretching themselves a bit where they had never stretched before – one participant only ever drew houses, and started out that night with one, but went onto a landscape and discovered a whole new world of imagery. Another woman said she had never painted or drawn her WHOLE life! It’s hard to believe, but even at school, she said, they only did craft. I tried to offer suggestions where I could, ensuring that people knew that there were no rules as such. And before long (well more than three hours to be precise) it was after 9pm, and we wound up. I left my hosts with their presents and came home and watched a documentary about Franz Josef.

Yesterday I drove a few km along the road in the direction of Greymouth to do the Bealey Chasm walk, one that I had never done. Within minutes I was overcome with the emotion of being surrounded by such powerful nature again, and walked for as far as I could past the end of the main walk, filled up my water bottle in a side stream and came back. That night I watched a film about the the ascent of Mt Everest by Edmund Hillary, made from archival footage and with reconstructed scenes shot in Mt Cook National Park and the Everest itself. I am not that I agree with the idea of having to conquer mountains like Everest for personal satisfaction. But that’s a whole other topic…

And now I am getting ready to go to dinner two minutes’ walk away, at the house of a local and her partner, whom I met when she was on duty at the YHA in my first week here. She came to the workshop too, and produced not a bad watercolour landscape, despite her insistence that she couldn’t draw.

It’s now some hours later and I am back after a delicious two course vegan meal and some wine, as well as a lot of great discussion about Aotearoa, travel, politics (with a focus on Green of course), my adventures and theirs. I think we will be staying in touch. And if all goes according to plan, this won’t be my last trip to Arthur’s Pass.

 

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