Published: March 25th 2006March 25th 2006
Had intended to do a tour of the vineyards while in the South Island, but kept running out of time. We therefore decided to do our own tour in Nelson on St Patrick's Day by ordering a different New Zealand wine each time we went to the bar. Navigating the ladder of my top bunk proved interesting when returning to the hostel in the early hours! Fortunately the next day was pretty much a full day on the bus with no activities so we got to catch up on some sleep! On the way to Greymouth, we stopped at Cape Foulwind to see the Kekeno fur seals, passed through Buller Gorge and stopped at Punakaki for views of Pancake Rocks. Greymouth is just an overnight stop which is just as well as there's nothing there so it was an early night for us. It's the end of daylight saving and so the clocks go back an hour which means an extra hour in bed and we're now only twelve hours ahead of you guys in the UK, that is until your clocks go forward this weekend and then it goes down to eleven hours!
We leave Greymouth on Sunday and stop in Ross to see how they used to pan for gold. Arrive in Franz Josef at lunchtime and spend the afternoon walking to the terminal face of the glacier, via Peters Pool which has great reflective views of the glacier in the water. Witness an ice fall at the terminal face and also hear a loud rumble just as we're leaving which we assume to be an ice fall further up the glacier. Slightly worrying as we're due to do a heli-hike the next day!
Transfer to Fox Glacier on Monday which is in the next village. Our heli-hike is booked for midday, but it's raining all morning and there is very low level cloud so things don't look good. Sure enough the helicopters can't land in such heavy cloud and so the trip is cancelled. We book ourselves onto a half day hike instead where, instead of a helicopter dropping you off half way up the glacier for your hike, you access the glacier by foot much closer to the terminal face at the bottom. The centre lends you sturdy walking boots, crampons, etc. We were warned that the hike involved steep sheer drops which slightly freaked me out, but it turned out to be fine as although the path was quite narrow, you couldn't actually see the sheer drop as it was covered by bushes and there was a chain attached to the rock face to keep hold of. Once we get to the ice, we fix our crampons to our boots and head onto the ice. You realise the magnitude of the glacier as soon as you're on it and surrounded by ice which seems to stretch on forever. The guide leads us up steps which have been hacked into the ice, scuffing them up with his ice axe as he goes in order to make it less slippery. He points out the crevasses and holes to avoid, so you feel really safe. They discovered a newly formed ice tunnel a couple of weeks ago and ask if anyone wants to go down. I volunteer to go first and climb up the ice pulling myself up on a knotted rope. You then slide back down a near vertical ice tunnel, holding on to another rope as you go. Trousers are soaked through after this, but doesn't really matter as by now it's raining much harder and so was going to get wet anyway! By the time we get back to the hostel we are soaked to the skin, as are our day sacks and their contents! Definitely worth braving the weather though in order to see the glacier up close. We saved $200 by doing the hike rather than the heli-hike so we treat ourselves to dinner at The Plateau restaurant, although we've used that reasoning rather a lot since and have probably spent it twice over!
The forecast was bad for Tuesday too, however we set our alarm for 5.45am hoping to be able to cycle to Lake Matheson and get photos of the lake at sunrise. Too dark to be able to see what the weather's doing at that time, but when we wake again at 6.15am it looks fine so we get up. We have limited time as our bus leaves Fox at 8.15am so we peddle like mad to cover the 6km to the lake, fortunately all flat! There's lots of low lying cloud so it doesn't look like we'll get the photos we want, however by the time we reach the viewpoint it has lifted slightly and what's left makes for a more atmospheric shot. We speed walk back to the bikes and make it back to the village at 8.05am with ten minutes to pack our bags, but make it to the coach on time! Gorgeous blue sky, but we have to spend all day on the coach in order to get to Queenstown.
Spent Wednesday morning wandering round Queenstown and I pay a visit to the local doctor. No nothing sinister, but after having been eaten alive by sandflies in Abel Tasman and again in Fox, I decide it's not worth the risk of malaria from mozzies in Mexico and so give in and get some anti-malarial drugs. In the afternoon we go white-water rafting on the Kawarau River. We opt for this as they're grade 3 rapids rather than the grade 4/5 on the Shotover River and want to ease ourselves in gently! After a grey morning, the sun decides to come out and so we get to enjoy the fantastic scenery with a blue sky backdrop. It was actually a pretty gentle trip with lots of meandering down the river and only three or four sets of rapids so not much paddling required, but a good introduction to rafting nonetheless and great fun. Couldn't go rafting and not get wet, so opt to do the optional cliff jump part way down the river. Oh ok, so it was more of a rock jump from 4 metres, but it still involved the same nervous anticipation of having to step off the rock and plunge into the river below before swimming to grab a rope to get pulled back to the boat! In the evening we get the gondola cable car to see views out over Queenstown and The Remarkables mountain range at sunset.
Arrive in Dunedin on Thursday and spend the afternoon relaxing in the sun. Meet Sam in the evening, a guy who used to work at Occam but moved to New Zealand a year ago. He takes us on a sightseeing tour of the city and then we go out for dinner and a few drinks for a catch up. Walking back to the hostel without a map, Jenn and I manage to get lost and finally have to give in and flag down a taxi. We weren't that far away, but were in the opposite direction to where we thought we were, so just as well we didn't keep trying to find our own way back!
Short bus trip on Friday as we choose to stay overnight in Oamaru which is not an obligatory stop on Magic. Stop at Baldwin Street on the way, which is the steepest street in the world and Jenn and I are the only ones from the bus who decide to walk up it. Also visit Moeraki Boulders, but they weren't that impressive. Go on the Penguin Express tour which takes us to see the rare yellow eyed penguins on the cliffs and then onto the harbourside colony for the Little Blue Penguins. Twenty two of them emerge from the sea and then waddle up to the nesting ground which is just off the beach. They make a loud noise for such little creatures, but were really cute and well worth the visit!
Today we arrived in Lake Tekapo, which is very scenic, ready for a transfer to Mount Cook tomorrow for a closer look at the mountains......