Monday, November 7, 2011

New Zealand Day Eight: Arthur's Pass

Well, our plans for a morning hike to Franz Josef Glacier were thwarted when we awoke to the pitter-patter of rain on our roof. When we looked outside, it appeared that it had been raining steadily for awhile, and it certainly showed no signs of stopping. Rather than poking around the little town all day or hoping for the rain to let up, we decided to just go ahead and get on the road, hoping we might be able to drive out of the raincloud.
Farewell, cozy Chateau Franz!

It rained pretty steadily all morning, but we dodged some raindrops to get a couple of pictures. We drove past lots of lush green pastures, and we actually saw cows instead of sheep for once!
Cows toughing out the rain

The pastures were also occupied by some very strange birds. I recognized them from the bird guides we'd been leafing through. They were pukeko, also known by the hilariously awesome name of PURPLE SWAMPHENS! They were pretty large, about the same size as a chicken, and they had this strange, rough patch of red skin on their faces. Like chickens, they fly and land rather awkwardly, so they generally try to stick to walking.
Most elegantly named bird in all of New Zealand: the purple swamphen

We stopped in a small town called Ross for lunch. Ross was a place just bursting with character. The Cardrona Hotel had me thinking of Clint Eastwood, but Ross was a little more showy and maybe even cheesy, making me think more of a Wild West show at Disney World.
Gold Town General Store. I think the rain just makes it look more Old West!
Billiards Hall
Roddy Nugget Cafe

Apparently Ross was more authentic than it looked. Info posted in the Roddy Nugget Cafe told us that the place was named for the fact that Ross was the site of the excavation of New Zealand's largest gold nugget (weighing at over six pounds) in 1907! The chunk of gold was named the Honourable Roddy, and the cafe was named after it. A pretty neat claim to fame. The cafe itself was pretty great, and we had a fantastic brunch there.
Most serious stack of blueberry pancakes I've ever had
Guess what Bryan had!
If you guessed something with bacon, you win the prize!

Half of the Roddy Nugget was a bar and cafe, and the other half was a hodgepodge of stuff: there were computers where you could pay to use the Internet, antiques for sale, and storage for the restaurant. There was a whole shelf of old bottles, and my Dad loves that sort of stuff, so we bought him one (Happy b-day, Dad!). I'm guessing they hadn't sold anything off of that shelf in about twenty years, because the waitress we handed our money to looked at us like we were bonkers.
Random antique bottle collection in the Roddy Nugget

We drove on through the rain for a couple more hours until we reached Arthur's Pass Village. We'd discussed staying there overnight, so we stopped on the side of the road to make a decision. We consulted out our trusty NZ guide, which informed us that Arthur's Pass boasted affordable, stand-alone cabins with fireplaces that we could rent out for the night. That sold us on staying there. Just as I was closing the book, I heard a sound and looked up, wide-eyed. "UMMMMMMMMMM," I said, surprised. "What?!" asked Bryan. I pointed out his window, where a huge parrot was perched on his side-view mirror!!
Look closely. Holy smokes! Giant parrot on our car!

We were afraid of the parrot's talons damaging the car, so we pulled slowly away, and it flew off. Arthur's Pass Village is about five buildings along the side of the road, so you can drive right on by it in about 10 seconds. That made it easy to find Mountain House YHA Backpackers & Cottages, the place where we were hoping to rent a cottage with a fireplace. Unfortunately, there was no one in the main office, so we headed across the street to have some coffee at the Wobbly Kea.
A real kea on the sign for the Wobbly Kea

Hanging out at the cafe turned out to be a great choice- the cafe was very homey, and we curled up on a comfy couch with a view out the front window. The woman working there was friendly and more than willing to tell us a little bit about the local kea, which appeared to be hanging out all over. In fact, when we sat in front of the window, one of them became keenly interested in our coffee. It reminded me so much of a monkey!
Hey! Are you guys eating something?! I love eating!
Pay no attention to all those DON'T FEED THE KEA signs...
Pretty please can I have some?! :::bats eyes:::

Eventually the kea figured out that it wouldn't be getting any food from us, and it flew across the street to the Arthur's Pass store. I asked the waitress about the feeding situation. She said that, despite the abundance of signs asking people not to feed the kea, it still happens quite frequently. She expressed frustration at the situation, and I heard more than a little of myself in her as she described marching across the street earlier in the day to scold a photographer who was feeding the birds. The reasons not to feed the kea are numerous, but here are just a few:

Don't feed the kea because:
1) Feeding the kea makes them more drawn to human civilization, and therefore more likely to investigate (and damage) cars and buildings.
2) It makes them more likely to approach humans for food in the future. This puts people in danger of scratches from sharp beaks and claws.
3) Drawing kea closer to human civilization makes them more likely to become victims of roadkill.
4) In the wild, kea live off of a lot of plant material, and human food can have serious detrimental effects on their health.
5) Kea have a conservation status of "vulnerable" and feeding them isn't helping to make that status any better.

Be a responsible tourist and don't feed the kea!

OK, I'll get off my conservation soapbox. But the kea are pretty amazing animals- I've never looked at a bird and seen such intelligence in its eyes. I hope efforts to conserve them in their wild habitat are successful. They're also stunningly beautiful animals. They're a gorgeous shade of green, but the real surprise comes when they spread their wings.
Their wings are RED underneath!!!
Pretty fantastic, huh?

Eventually we saw the office guy return, so we went back across the street to inquire about renting a cottage for the night. We got all squared away pretty quickly which was nice, since it was still pretty early in the afternoon. We drove around the corner to our cabin, which was out of the way on a back street.

The cabin was amazing. As soon as we pulled up, we were excited.
Our cabin in the sunshine of the next morning

As promised, there was a fire roaring in the fireplace. There were also two fluffy couches, a fully-stocked bookshelf, and windows with great views of the wilderness all around us. I was all ready to just move in and never leave.
It took me about five seconds to get comfortable
The bedroom had big windows with views of the mountains
My view whenever I looked up from my book!

We lounged around for a few hours, listening to the soothing sounds of rain on the roof and a fire crackling in the fireplace. We sipped red wine while Bryan read Planet of the Apes and I dug into A Game of Thrones, one of the best books I've read in awhile. It was the ideal way to spend a rainy afternoon, and I couldn't believe that we happened to luck upon such a great cabin on the one day that it rained all day long. At around 7 PM, we headed back into town with the plan of picking up some basics at the little store to cook dinner in our kitchen. As it turned out, Bryan and I have spent too much time in the big city and it hadn't occurred to us that the only store in town would already be closed at 7. We ended up back at the Wobbly Kea for dinner, munching pasta and drinking red wine.
Still showin' off my new bling
Relaxed after a laid-back day
We wrapped it up early to get back to our cozy spots by the fire. Besides, as we learned, there's not really anywhere to go in Arthur's Pass after 8 PM!


  1. Thanks for spreading the message not to feed the kea. As an Arthur's Pass local, I know how difficult it is to see them being slowly killed by the "kindness" of people feeding them. Brownie points to you!! Glad you enjoyed our little piece of paradise (and rain...)

  2. Thanks for the Brownie points :) I felt sympathy for the kea because we see the same thing going on with the monkeys here in Singapore. People want to connect to the monkeys by feeding them, but they don't realize that they're hurting the monkeys, not helping them at all. Luckily, in Singapore it's illegal to feed the monkeys, so people can be punished when they don't obey the numerous posted signs. It would be great if it was illegal to feed the kea in NZ!