A nice continental breakfast had been delivered while we were at dinner on Monday, to set us up for Tuesday morning. It was a bit low on protein but it did include bread, delicious butter, yoghurt, and some cereal options. It was enough to get and keep us going during our morning on Ōkārito Lagoon, along with the obligatory caffeination of course (though it took a minute to figure out how to get the Nespresso maker to work, despite the printed instructions).
We made the short drive to the lagoon to meet up with Bri, our guide from Okarito Kayaks. She was eager to make the most of the tides and get us out on the water. She told us that it really makes a difference to the amount of effort involved if one gets out on the water sooner rather than later due to the direction of the tides. We did our best to get ourselves organized and walked down to the water’s edge to get started.
We were set up with a tandem kayak, which was the first time I’d operated a kayak with a rudder, which proved to be rather challenging. Getting one’s legs positioned correctly and getting the feel for how much to move ones legs was not the easiest thing in the world, and I was also barefoot, which is supposed to help but it was still hard. I tried to follow Angie’s navigation directions as well as I could, but I admit I did run us aground a couple of times. Later on, a slight adjustment to my right foot made it a tad better, but I admit steering a kayak is not my greatest talent, and may never be.
The actual action of paddling the kayak and syncing up with Angie’s movements was less hard work, though still a bit tiring. I was quite surprised not to be sore the next day, or the day after that.
But the points of the excursion were mainly to experience this amazing place, and to see birds. The lagoon is the largest remaining wetland in New Zealand, thanks in part to development and the inability of many to appreciate the key role wetlands play in our ecosystem. Wetlands process nutrients and purify water, among other things, and people don’t realize how much we need them.
During our two-hour tour, we were able to see White-faced heron, kōtuku (white heron), hawks, oystercatchers, shags (cormorants for the audience in the US), robins, fan tails, and even off in the distance, black swans. I want to mention the robins because they bear no resemblance to what we think of as robins in the US or U.K. Unlike those varieties, they have no red on their bodies, and in fact are primarily black with a white breast! They are also closer in size to a finch than the robins found in the US. The herons are also notable because Ōkārito is the only nesting ground for white herons in New Zealand. We really enjoyed watching one stalking but failing to spear a fish, moving much in the same way as one sees a cat stalking its prey.
Seeing some of the mountains from this perspective was also great, including Aoraki (Mount Cook), New Zealand’s tallest. Everything was so beautiful and peaceful. Given what’s going on in the world right now, this was a welcome respite, even as we’re coming from a place of great privilege.
After concluding our outing, we were offered complimentary tea or coffee. We opted for tea and enjoyed a few cups from a lovely tea pot as we watched people come and go at the kayak shop.
Instead of going immediately back to the retreat, even though we were tired from the upper body workout, we opted to drive right away to the Franz Josef Glacier. It was another curvy, narrow drive but we made it in one piece. We parked in the lot, which was pretty busy, including with camper vans of numerous shapes, sizes, and vintages (though nothing much bigger than maybe a US 23-footer). We paused for a snack of cheese and crackers, and then took the short, relatively easy stroll to the vista point. We can’t get that close to the glacier itself (which has receded considerably over the past 100 or so years), but we were able to get a decent view of it after tramping (Kiwi speak for hiking or backpacking) for less than 15 minutes.
Before going back to the retreat at last, we stopped at the grocery store in the town of Frans Josef Glacier to supplement our supplies, including some protein to go with the very carby continental breakfast that would be provided to us. We also picked up a package of soup and more water.
The soup was mushroom and gave us a very satisfying lunch, after which we FaceTimed with Angie’s parents, who have been worrying about us. (Note, FaceTime doesn’t work super well on hotel WiFi.) Between that, showers, and blogging, the afternoon flew by and it was time to go to dinner. Wanting to avoid St. Patrick’s day shenanigans and crowds, we opted for the SnakeBite Brewery and got there at a time when we were doubting our choice since it was very quiet. However, it filled up quickly and we felt vindicated by that and the food. We ordered the dumpling of the day (chicken), which was delicious, crispy duck gua bao (also super), and some tasty larb. Naturally we topped everything off with some tiramisu cake!
It’s amazing to think this was only day three of our trip, but so far I have to say Angie and the travel agent at First Light Travel have given me a birthday to remember.