Chilly to Chilled

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May 28th 2012
Published: May 28th 2012
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This instalment of our blog is dedicated to the memory of Edna Rosina Beaken who died this month and who's funeral is taking place in Sheffield today. She was nearly 90 and she was Carla's Gran. She was an intrepid traveller.

Alex: On Tuesday morning I arrived at the offices of the Glacier Guides company wearing about 5 layers so that I wouldn’t be cold. Our guide was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and suggested that I might want to leave a couple of layers behind as it wasn’t going to be all that cold on there. I had been expecting to walk up onto the glacier, as that was the advertised trip on their website, so was happily surprised when I was told to walk around to the heliport to wait for the helicopter ride up on to the glacier. Apparently a large hole had appeared towards the front of the glacier caused by the collapse of an ice cave and it was dangerous to attempt to walk over it, so until the front part of the glacier melted, all trips onto it had to start with a helicopter ride. That could take several years, the guide told me. He was upset about it as he didn’t trust helicopters and he was getting fat as it meant he walked about 80km less per week than before, but was still eating the same number of pies. As the helicopter flew into the valley the glacier came into view. It was a very impressive sight, such a mass of white with huge cracks running across, twisting all the way down from the mountain peak. We could see the earlier groups trekking across the glacier below us. When the helicopter landed we all had to get out and try to put our crampons on without falling over on the ice. It was surprisingly easy to walk on the glacier once we were done, and although the guide had slightly underdone it on the winter wear (he was complaining that it was ‘bloody freezing’ in his shorts and t-shirt) I felt completely comfortable with my boots, waterproof overtrousers, 3 layers and waterproof coat and gloves. We set off walking across the glacier towards an area called ‘The Maze’. This was an area with lots of cracks, crevices and caves that were just about big enough to squeeze through. Some of them were really very tight squeezes up against vast blocks of ice, and although you knew it wouldn’t happen it felt like you would be so easily squashed if it moved. The colour of the ice in the crevices was an amazing blue. We walked for about 2 hours in sunshine and then thick black clouds gathered over us, and thoughts of blizzards trapping us on the ice began to cross our minds. As we walked along the guide would occasionally hack a new set of stairs in the ice so that we could walk up and down the crevice sides or whack a large lump off so that it wouldn’t melt and fall off on some poor unsuspecting tourist later. He let me borrow his pick-axe to strike a manly pose for a photograph. It takes 70 years for the ice to flow from the top of the valley to the bottom. A plane crashed at the top in the 1950s and it took a week to get to the survivors but they left the plane where it was. It disappeared into the snow and ice and hasn’t been seen since, but they were expecting it any day soon at the bottom.When we were walking through the crevices I kept looking into the ice to see if I could see any sign of it. After about 3 hours we returned to the helipad on the ice (essentially a circle marked by stones on a flat bit of ice) and were flown back to the base. It was an unforgettable experience.

Carla: Following a nice relaxing time for George, Ruby and I (less so for Alex) we left Franz Josef on a bit of a drizzly day but the West / East divide on the South Island was clear to see as soon as we headed inland and crossed over the Southern Alps via Arthur’s Pass. The rainforest faded away to shrub and stones and the sky became blue and clear. Most rain is dumped on the Western side (in fact some places in South West New Zealand get 6 metres of rain a year). So when you get over the ridge of the Alps the clear skies return. We were rewarded with a brisk and sparkly day to explore a little around the tiny village of Arthur’s Pass. We walked up to a waterfall called The Devil’s Punchbowl and met up with some cheeky Kea which are the world’s only Alpine parrots. They are far too tame though and steal food (and hats (!) from the boot of our car) from humans. They are obviously very clever as we sat and watched them in the village as they waited for trucks to pull up and then descended on any unloaded and unattended boxes, ripping at the seals to get at whatever might be inside. George very nearly had a chocolate bar stolen from his hand as well.

The scenery around the pass and on the road from there to the flatter East Coast around Christchurch was beautiful and very isolated and remote. One immense valley seemed to contain some sheep and a road and very little else. We would have loved to have stayed longer but on Thursday we had a plane to catch from Christchurch to Auckland and so only managed a few photo op stops on State Highway 73 but no walks, boo hoo. At Christchurch Airport we met our friend Lawrence’s sister Gillian for a cup of tea (after some shilly-shallying about which café we were supposed to wait in). It was really great of her to come and say hi as she worked near airport; she is British but has lived in New Zealand for a number of years and has two nearly grown-up girls who are New Zealand born-and-bred. She works for the minister responsible for the reconstruction of Canterbury / Christchurch after the earthquakes and it was really interesting to hear about all the work that is going on to ensure investment and re-building does occur. There are areas of the city that have been Red Zoned (we heard this also from a telecomms engineer who was staying in our hostel at Arthur’s Pass) which means that places can’t be rebuilt as the ground has been designated as too sandy or swampy to hold proper foundations which would make buildings earthquake-proof. This zoning means that some people are still homeless 2 years after the first earthquake. After a lovely chat with Gillian we headed off and flew to Auckland where we stayed in a motel in Manakau in a room with two floors and a kitchenette – it would have been the height of luxury had the sofabed in the downstairs room not been the “world’s most uncomfortable bed”. You can’t have everything I suppose.

George: On Friday we leave the Rayland Motel and head for a taxi. The taxi is a minibus, just like they were with Buffalo Tours. There are 5 rows of seats. The minibus is a Toyota like our old car. We arrive at the airport in the international terminal because we are going to Fiji today, a country made up of over 300 islands. When we are waiting in the gate I learn how to put Ruby on my shoulders. I carry her all around the gate. There is no time difference between Fiji and New Zealand. We land at Fiji 3 hours after we left Auckland. In the evening there is a fire dance. Ruby: It was like the Girl Who Played with Fire. (The dance takes place in the restaurant of the Anchorage Beach Resort, where we’re staying until Monday. Ed!). The next day we had a buffet breakfast, yummy scrummy in my tummy. We found a friend, he was called Fisher. Then I found an island. We made a tribe called the Hi Hi Tribe. I am Chief Holden. George is Hi Hi and Fisher is Bye Bye. Then it was lunch, I had pizza. In the evening we went crab hunting. We found 30 crabs, I found the first crab.

George: Me, Ruby and Fisher find a secret hide-out and a clearing in the mango-groves on the beach near the resort. We search for adventure and we build a whole wooden den using the wood we find from the clearing.

Carla: As you can gather from George and Ruby, Fiji has been fun for them so far as we’re just parked at a resort for a few days and they are having a great time swimming, exploring and picking up assorted debris from the beach. We haven’t seen that much of Fiji so far, only the airport, the drive to the hotel and the nearby town of Lautoka. We’re only 15 minutes from the airport at Nadi here so we’ve really only seen a tiny proportion of the place – we’re on the main island of Viti Levu. The road we drove along the coast from Nadi to reach our hotel was apparently completely under water a month ago as they’d had a cyclone hit and in five hours the rain managed to cause extensive flooding. Apart from lots of road repairs going on, you wouldn’t know it had happened though now. It’s going into the Fijian winter at the moment which is pleasant with average high temperatures of 29 degrees and drier than summer. It’s a proper South Pacific kind of place, teeming with life, including livid purple jellyfish (although no snakes, as the Indian workers brought by the British to cut the sugar cane imported mongeese and all the snakes were wiped out) with plenty of palm trees and also some volcanic mountains in the interior. Hopefully we’ll get to see a bit of that soon. For now we’re enjoying some R&R and the cheesy music in the bar of an evening – Welcome to the Hotel Cal-i-fooooorn-ya!

Additional photos below
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28th May 2012

Thanks for the dedication
Looks a lot like touching the void Al, very intrepid ! The chill out looks rather inviting too and good to see Ruby and George are now chieftain's All our love M amnd L
4th June 2012

What an amazing colour blue. What wonderful texture and shape. Your blog really set the scene before seeing the pics. Makes me feel very sluggish sitting on the sofa, I now feel I should get up and do something interesting.

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