A Travellerspoint blog

Day 71: Sunday 12th May 2013

A beautiful Sunday Walk...on a glacier!

sunny 13 °C

We were up early to have breakfast and get to the trekking centre for our days walk on the glacier: we were really excited!
The shop was well organised with tours going out at regular intervals. It was soon our turn but not before I had chance to peruse the gift shop and spot the cabbage palm seeds I had been looking for since I had seen them in a gift shop in Ta Pui (and stupidly not bought them).
We were called into kit room, given boots and socks, crampons, hats, mitts and rain jackets there were even bags available for those who didn't have their own. Once ready we put the crampons, jacket, hat and gloves in our bags and climbed aboard the bus. It was only a short journey out of town to the glacier area but we actually crossed over tectonic plates in the process: the fault line runs across the valley, this in turn means the mountain ranges surrounding the glacier are growing at the rate of a humans figure nail...which apparently is very fast! The outcome of the plate movement and mountain growth, along with the slow fluctuations in the size of the glacier which supports these mountains is that the mountains are very prone to rock fall.
We made our way from the carpark up into the surrounding rain forest scrub: the valley has over 11 meters of rainfall each year, with 50cm of rainfall bei g recorded in one day alone. Thankfully today was not one of those days: the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in sight!
You can't climb up the front of the glacier because that is its most dangerous area: prone to collapse at any moment, blocks the size of double decker buses fall off the front on a daily basis. Instead we approached the glacier from the more stable left hand side. Climbing down to the glaciers height we put on our crampons and extra layers and made our way up onto the ice; via the stairs which had been re-dug that morning by the digging crew which start their day at 7:30am cutting steps into the glacier for the days tours: sections are too steep not to and the half day trips take a set route presumably to save time. The steps either corrode away after a couple of days or move as the glacier moves: the corrosion is normal: the top layers get warmer and the glacier gets thinner as it travels down the valley, the movement is the fastest in the world: the glacier moves up to 2 meters a day. It takes snow only 60 years to go from the top to the bottom of the glacier which is pretty quick in glacier terms (apparently)
We climbed the stairs, surrounded by walls of sheer ice, at first glances the glacier was dirtier than we expected it to be: covered in dust and rock fall debris even in the centre (the rocks fall on the glacier higher up and then travel down on top of it) the dust apparently gets washed off when it rains. although its been cold, the weather has been dry of late so the glacier is a little dirtier than normal when you look at it as a whole. A closer inspection, however, reveals a glistening bright white colour and in gaps and crevasses a colour gradient from the bright white to a beautiful blue and then darker shades to black. It was amazing, I kept having to remind myself that we were actually walking on a glacier; we have done so many amazing things on this trip that you start to think its quite normal! I find myself regularly reiterating to myself how unique an experience is, just to make sure I don't take it for granted.
We trekked about the ice looking at water fall like features, watching a couple of small (thankfully) rock falls, admiring the view: standing in awe at our surroundings. We stopped for lunch: pitched upon a rock, unfortunately when the crampons had been in martins bag they had pushed down on the lid of his tin of tuna causing it to leak in the bag, at the same time one of the pears had also been crushed causing a nasty smelly mess in the bottom of the bag: nice! We sat on a rock, eating tuna and cheese crackers and admiring the view. After this brief stop we were back on the move, the glacier is so cold, especially the accompanying wind that whips through the valley with it, that you quickly get cold despite the sunshine. We admired some more features, including clambering through an ice tunnel before it was time to exit the glacier using the stairs we had come up at the beginning. As soon as we were off the ice we removed our crampons and immediately felt the change in temperature: it was amazing how much cold must have been coming from the glacier.
Walking along the path back to the carpark we chatted to the guide; an outdoor educations student from Invercargill, she clearly loved her job and the outdoor life.
Back in town I bought myself some cabbage palm seeds for the garden: they are really hardy and grow pretty much anywhere here so I hope to plant one at the end of the driveway. The cabbage palm is instead of an Australian style postbox that I would love to bring back if it wasn't for the fact it would cost a fortune to post!
Back in the van we made the short trip to Franz Josef the more comical cousin of fox glacier, we pitched up for the night in the campsite, made tea, which tonight included a purple cauliflower mash which was interesting, we did the laundry and then went to the local pub we had spotted on the way in. I thoroughly enjoyed a cider whilst Martin had a beer and we shared an amazing sticky date pudding whilst we wrote blog updates: a lovely end to another wonderful day.

Posted by Jolley-Jarvis 16:37 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 70: Saturday 11th May 2013

Cloudy skies and mountain views

storm 13 °C

I got up and did some more exercise in the cold (whilst Sarah slept) most of the campsite were staring, clearly crazy in their eyes, and a few times I questioned that sanity myself. After warming up and enjoying breakfast with my fiancé, we set sail (drove) for the fox glacier.

It was fairly remote where we were heading so we stocked up on groceries and fuel. On the map it looked like a short distance, but actually with the twist and turns, it took hours. Not that that such a bad thing when the scenery is simply sublime. It's a difficult because when people have described the south island they have spoke about its beauty. But its difficult to quantify, there is beauty in many places. Actually what's different, is that we seem to progress from one jaw dropping scene to another. Each picture postcard moment humbling the last, until we are so bombarded with beauty we don't even stop to take pictures. It a very strange reality indeed. We stopped for lunch in Wanaka overlooking the lake of the same name. With mountains in the back ground it was another picture perfect spot and a rather lovely place to have a camp lunch.

After that we headed north on the main highway, stopping again at lake Hawea to take pictures. Along the route there are bridges, but single lane bridges, with on side giving way to the other. There were very few vehicles around and so it wasn't an issue, but some of these bridges are very tight for our little camper and long, 100m wide in places. We struggled to fathom how larger campervans make it across, but they do.

After many hours twisting and turning we arrived at the campsite, got booked in and had an early dinner. Ready for our glacier walk tomorrow.

Posted by Jolley-Jarvis 16:35 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 69: Friday 10th May 2013

Mountain Bike Madness

sunny 12 °C

After a rainy night we woke to blue skies, looking across the mountain ranges on the other side of the lake they had clearly had a considerable dusting of snow overnight. The clear skies were accompanied by a chilly wind but we were eager to get out again and enjoy what Queenstown had to offer. Today it was mountain biking time: we had been tempted by the opportunities on offer to heli-bike down some mountains but were sobered up by price tag. Eager to have a go at some downhill mountain biking we went for the budget option and decided to hire bikes and follow some local recommendations and use the local purpose built tracks just outside of town.
Within an hour we were ready to go, bikes, helmets and gloves hired we were on the road to seven mile track: which was apparently 7 miles out of town, thankfully they had got their milage a little mixed up, or their point of reference wrong because the track was luckily only 4 miles out of queenstown over some quite demanding hills, (well for legs not used to cycling anyway). I was a little rusty, well saying that I had only done proper mountain biking once so I was really just very novice! The track to the course was a multi purpose track from the carpark, used by walkers as well as cyclists, thankfully there weren't any walkers today; adding them into the equation along with the ups and downs, rocks and roots I think may have tipped me over the edge, quite literally.
Thankfully, eventually I 'got a grip'; my words not martins who was being ever so helpful and encouraging as I attempted to navigate along the path. All the time I was wondering if the tracks were going to be as bad, if so I might as well turn around now rather than part push part attempt to ride my bike along them too! Thankfully we were in for a surprise: the tracks, as promised were amazing! There were large windy downhills, slalom style sections and a lot fewer roots and rocks thank goodness! We had a fabulous couple of hours making our way down and then back up the purpose built routes, getting increasingly covered in mud.
We stopped for a brief rest and snack on the banks of the lake, as always the view was so spectacular it didn't look real! We got back on the bikes and continued on our way, my confidence had really grown too, we were both thoroughly enjoying ourselves. As the ups got harder we decided we had better get back. We took the last route, which joined up with the return track, on one of the bends I managed to get it a 'bit wrong' and came off and banged my knee, most of all my new found confidence had taken a healthy knock bringing it back into line with my level of skill!
We (I) navigated a much larger section of the return route (retracing our steps on the multi use access track we had come in on) on the bike this time which pleased me greatly, before long we were back on the road and returning to town.
By the time we got into queenstown by bum was so sore that a bump in the road almost reduced me to tears! I knew I would definitely feel it the next day. As soon as we had returned the bikes we headed straight for the pie shop we were both starving, having only eaten a pear and apple (yes I actually voluntarily ate 2 different pieces of fruit!) all day we were eager to tuck into out duck and orange (Martin) and steak and cheese (why change something you like, me), we ate as we walked, beginning to feel the cold as the evening drew in.
We had showers and reviewed our war wounds: we both had peddle cuts and I had made my knee swell a bit. We had had great fun causing them even if they did hurt a little now! We had a cheese selection board, from the cheese factory in Omaru and some fresh bread from the bakers for tea whilst watching game of thrones and then love actually: what a mix. It was however a perfect end to a wonderful day

Posted by Jolley-Jarvis 16:32 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 68: Thursday 9th May 2013

Whitewater, mountain trails and luge races

sunny 13 °C

Another early morning in the crisp cold, we had to walk into town and meet our crew for the rafting. How very exciting, touring down river on grade V level rapids. Admittedly we were both a bit nervous, mainly about the cold, it's freezing, and the thought of falling in, or being otherwise submerged in the cold wasn't appealing.

That said we arrived and got kitted up in 5mm wet suits, separate top and bottoms, as well as socks and boots, helmet, life vest etc. first to get over was the dangerous drive to the water, along an old mining track with pretty big drops either side. Thankfully our guide a very charismatic and enthusiastic American made it highly entertaining.

Once we arrive, 30mins of white knuckled riding later (and that was just the road) we got our paddles and had a briefing before wading the boat into the water. There were not enough people for two groups, 13 in total, with 7 being from Singapore on one boat we were on the other. Because we shared it with 3 pretty big Americans and a large swede Sarah and myself got his and her positions at the front of the boat. A little more nerve racking as the most dangerous, but also the most exciting seats in the house. Apparently it was all about weight distribution.

We headed off downstream with our toes already numb from wading the boat out in the river. The first part was fairly even, with Sarah copping a face full from some rapids, and a few refreshers. To be honest they really overplay the dangerous side of it during the briefings, I think it raises the adrenaline. There were three epically exciting parts, followed by a much gentle paddling.

The first exciting bit came when the river narrowed and we turned a tight bend. All of sudden the mood changed and were were being bounced around in white water, getting splattered and paddling hard. At one point the guide told us to paddle just as we hit a bounce and I nearly bounced out, thankfully I gritted on and managed to pull myself back up, only to see Sarah giggling at my comedy misfortune.

Then after a calm there was a very tight tidy turn and a rock narrowed the river creating a slope and a washing machine style swirl. unfortunately the Singaporeans had got stuck and so we were in a traffic jam. But they made it through and we continued down, remarkably without the same problems, we made it straight through. After our guide explained that during the summer months they could have up to 200 people at once, the most he had ever seen was 27 rafts heading down river, crazy numbers. Despite the cold, it made us really appreciate the time of year we had arrived.

Finally came the daddy of all obstacles, we had to navigate through a tight 50m tunnel in the mountain and out the other so before a steep slow into what felt like a brick wall at the bottom. We had been forewarned and so got our heads down and braced. Still both Sarah and I got hit on the head by a paddle owned by the guy behind us the right on the back of the head and Sarah got the brunt of it on the front of the helmet. She was fine and lauded it off, but it was a good advert for quality crash wear.

Afterwards we warmed up in the on site sauna, which was very much appreciated and headed back into town. We bought some bread from the bakery and had some soup back at the van. Both of us felt like we could have had a snooze, but it was such a lovely day we grabbed our packs and started the trek up the nearby hill. It's worth pointing out most people take the gondola up the mountain and walk down. We walked up a eventually down. It was a pretty intense climb, but well worth it. The views at the top, and even half way up, were spectacular. You could see Queenstown below, the lake and then the ever looming snow capped peaks of the mountains. At the top we had seen this thing called luge, which was a sledge with wheels and a steering mechanism, down a pre-made tarmac track. It look good fun and was cheap so we did just one. We took their slogan 'once is never enough' with a pinch of salt. There are two track available novice and advance. You have to do the novice one first. It was amazing, we zoomed at pretty high speeds down the mountain side, taking tight turns and bridges etc, Sarah and I racing each other. At the bottom, we realised the slogan was true, once wasn't enough, and so we opted for the second track. Which was even more thrilling, bouncy and totally childish fun.

Once off we notice the rain clouds starting to accumulate, so we dashed down the mountain as quickly as possible, looking at the mountain bike tracks for the next day, although the climb was intense. During the summer you can take bikes up the gondola, but that had close for the winter, unfortunately.

Once back we had dinner and and early night, having yet again, another memorable and wonderful day.

Posted by Jolley-Jarvis 16:30 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Day 67: Wednesday 8th May 2013

Moving on..to the adventure sport central!

sunny 14 °C

We got up and readied the van for our departure. We said good bye to the very quaint little town we had thoroughly enjoyed visiting and prepared ourselves for the 'very touristy' Queenstown that everyone had warned us about. We travelled, as usual, through some magnificent scenery, including a little town which had the claim to fame of being the capital of venison: nothing more than a few small houses their claim was evident in the surrounding fields.

Again the sky was clear and blue, showing off the endless magnificent mountain ranges. We arrived in Queenstown and quickly found a campsite: freedom camping is very restricted in this area, your only supposed to do it with a self contained (with toilet) campervan, but most significantly it was far too cold to camp without the use of the heater. The campsite was by commercial and would have been a nightmare in summer but thankfully the short quiet season between summer and winter meant the campsite was reasonably quiet.

The same saving grace was apparent in the town centre: the alpine style centre was clearly geared up for tourism, both summer and winter, on every corner was a shop selling bigger, faster or longer bungy, jet boat or off road adventures or ski and snow boarding equipment, yet thankfully, due to the absence of the hordes of tourists they cater for, it was a really lovely place to wander around.

A burger place caught our eye, mostly because of the number of people sat outside, the burgers were pricy so we opted for the companies bakery next door: the meat pie selection was extensive, the flavours ranging from steak to duck with orange; we tucked into a venison and mushroom (martins choice) and a steak and cheese (mine) they were delicious, the pies here are eaten on the go as a lunch option and are packed full of meat, they are reasonably priced too at around £2.50 each, we walked around the shops before heading back to the campsite to book our next days activities: white water rafting! We could hardly wait.

Posted by Jolley-Jarvis 16:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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