One of my dreams while in NZ was to visit a natural hot spring. Something about the idea of finding hot water bubbling out of the ground in a secluded woodland pool surrounded by trees and shrouded by ferns has a romantic appeal. And thanks to the major fault running the length of NZ, hot springs aren’t all that uncommon.
The catch? They almost always involve quite a hike to reach. With two kids rapidly gaining weight we could see the window of opportunity closing on a trek to the hot springs….we’re carrying about as much gear + kid mass as we can manage. So with a public holiday on a Thursday last week, we took Friday off work and made a long weekend trip to Welcome Flats on the west coast, one of the more notable hot pool destinations with a nice DOC hut right at the pools.
The day before we started the Welcome Flats tramp we visited Fox Glacier. The road in to the glacier’s tail end had signs marking its location in 1850, 1930, etc, telling the same story as most of the other glaciers on earth. Despite the record-cold winter in the U.S.A this year, on average earth is getting warmer.
Look again! That DOC guy is just a sign, warning sight-seers like us not to jump the rope barrier and approach the glacier’s tail. I did find that DOC’s sign of the news clipping of two brothers who did just that and got squashed by a bit of falling glacier ice was actually quite motivational, even to my rules-be-damned Harro attitude. The solemnity of the story was a bit spoiled by the unbroken line of tourists climbing the glacier itself, in the company of a well-paid guide ($123 a pop!). Still, we’re responsible parents now, and we didn’t hop the barrier in broad daylight with the two kids in tow.
We stopped to cool our feet in an icy stream along the glacier path. The glacier river itself was ugly muddy brown, but our paddling stream was so clear that we drank from it. Naomi is completely oblivious to the splendor of the views.
Lake Matheson sits on the small plain between the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea, reflecting their grandeur at dusk when the wind falls. I realized how spoiled I am by Adirondack lakes reflecting our humble yet beautiful mountains….the pier was packed with people clutching cameras and waiting for the magic moment when the wind dies, and the mountains mirrored in water actually seemed quite comfortably homey to me.
Milo was unimpressed by the mountain views, but he sure had fun using our camera. Hurray for digital media!
You can’t see them very well, but there are pretty black and white Holsteins grazing this grassy paddock near Lake Matheson, completely oblivious of the views of Mt Cook and the southern alps behind, just like I’d imagine a Stonyfield Yogurt commercial except every cow in NZ has views like this. Well ok, these ones might just have an edge on the ones over in Canterbury in terms of views.
Friday morning we set off on our 18 kilometer hike to Welcome Flat hut in the Copland Valley. According to B.E. Baughan (no, I don’t know who that is either) “This is the Copland Valley; all the luxuriant loveliness of green, rocky creeks rushing with song and sunshine down through leafy glooms, the Noble Nakedness above, the pervasive forest-breath of Romance…..” 1913 prose. Why is it so green? Because it rains HEAPS (to use a favorite Kiwi superlative). Apparently 5 meters of precipitation is average at sea level, while the peaks boast 16 meters! That DOC sign MUST have been including snow on the peaks (perhaps?), but at sea level that 5 meters would all be liquid rain. We had an extraordinary weekend with hardly a cloud.
I couldn’t resist posting this mug shot of a gorgeous slime mold. I had a pet slime mold in college for a couple weeks, must have been a biology lab left-over. Her name was Amarilla. I fed her bits of people-food. If I remember right, she liked bread but didn’t like banana.
For most of the hike I carried the kiddos, and Jeremiah carried everything else. I’ve about reached my max in terms of weight, but maybe once we get the pack hip belt adjusted so the weight sits more on my hips I’d venture to do it again. Yes, that’s the real color of the river behind, not a trick of the camera!
This is how Naomi spent most of her weekend, peering out over the side of the carrier while licking the edge. Good thing she likes it in there.
This track was a bit unusual among NZ tramps in that all the major river and creek crossings were bridged. And what bridges! Wiggly! Not for those who are afraid of heights, that’s for sure.
Bush diapering! The sandflies were INSANE at the trail head parking lot, swarming so thickly that after a hurried diaper change I later found 5 flies in squished inside her diaper. To my great relief they weren’t nearly as bad in the woods on the trail.
It took us 7 hours, but eventually we did reach Welcome Flat hut. A truly welcome sight. Milo understandably gets tired of riding in the carrier and wants to walk, which would be fine if he actually kept his feet moving in a forward direction. But a three-year-old’s priorities are quite different from those of 32-year-olds, and Milo likes to stop and poke every puddle, pick up stones, flail his walking stick around. Jeremiah just wants to get there. Molly wants to stop and eat chocolate, then get there eventually. Naomi doesn’t care as long as she’s with Mommy.
Check out these gorgeous bunk rooms, just perfect for playing “ride on Mommy.” The hut was just refurbished 6 months ago and it is seriously built to a higher standard than our rented home in Christchurch. There are even screens on the windows. Milo’s favorite past-time was running from one end of the sleeping platform to the other. The night we got there we shared with two Kiwi couples who thankfully thought Milo was cute. He is….but he can also be tiresome at times. Constant. Incessant. And spunky–I love him!
Here’s the allure of Welcome Flats–big natural hot springs. I’m imagining the first person to find these pools was either fascinated or freaked out, or both.
The DOC info in the hut says that the water bubbling out of the ground is 250 years old…I’m assuming they mean it has been underground for 250 years, since most molecules of water remain as water for a lot longer than that. Contact with the hot rocks dissolves minerals into the water, resulting in these red and yellow deposits, kind of like Saratoga springs but hot. The red stream here was too hot to stand in, something like 57 degrees Celcius.
Nope, this water isn’t actually boiling, but the bubbles of some sort of gas are roiling up. It’s not stinky though.
The pools are actually quite shallow, and the silt on the bottom makes a squishy layer of muck, sort of reminiscent of the mucky bottom of Lake George in front of Sunnymeade. The mud is only the beginning of the problem with the ambiance though, the real trouble is the sand flies, a species of black fly. They make total body immersion a necessity, except one has to be careful to keep one’s nose out least you catch a particularly nasty amoebic meningitis, rare but deadly. The sandflies aren’t out after dark, but since it didn’t get dark until 9:30 or so, I didn’t stay up to enjoy the pools without their presence. Consequently, our soaks in the hot pools were brief.
We spent more time playing down by the river than up at the hot pools. The river itself was pretty icy, but there was one tepid side stream coming down from the hot springs that we enjoyed. Milo was hopeful of catching fish in it.
Milo has solidly entered the world of imagination. Here he’s made a fishing pole out of a stalk of grass and excitedly informed me that he was catching fish. “See Mom! Salmon!”
That beautiful river would make a formidable crossing even now, after nearly two weeks of fine weather. You look at the water-sculpted rocks and just imagine the torrent after a typical rain. The very first river crossing near the car park has no bridge, with the intent that if hikers can’t negotiate that first obstacle then the conditions up the valley will be even more forbidding and they should turn back. But we enjoyed ideal weather and water of that mysterious blue glacier-silt hue.
Jeremiah took his rifle and went for a hunt while I stayed at the river with the kiddos. Up the valley a bit he clambered up this series of waterfalls (the biggest one a hundred feet high) and sat down to look for a wandering chamois (a type of mountain goat). Instead up climbed 6 other trampers, and hope of surprising an animal disappeared.
Naomi charmed the rest of the hut residents. She’s at that wonderful stage where she’s happy wherever Mommy is–her needs are simple.
The day we walked out we got up early and started our hike at 8:00, but still didn’t reach our car until 2:30. A dinner stop at Hokitika at Pipi’s Pizza (highly recommend it if you’re passing through!) and a long ride back to Christchurch, which I actually found to be the toughest part of the whole trip. Naomi was NOT happy, just wanted to get out of her car seat, but it’s 2014, and riding on Mommy’s lap in the car is not an option, so we had to soldier on. Hurray for NPR podcasts to help pass the time. I’m glad we went, though I don’t feel the need to do it again. Mission accomplished!