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Published: November 17th 2011
On the Road to Something Great
"But oh the road is long.
That you are walking on
With the moonlight to guide you,
Feel the joy of being alive.
The day that you stop running,
Is the day that you arrive.
"Morcheeba - Enjoy the ride"
Just another Island?
On that Friday morning I drove down to the harbor and got myself and my new car on the ferry. Yeah, the EEL was left behind. After a few days I got fed up with it. Not the car as such. The CD player in the EEL. It could only play the first 5-6 songs on every CD and often it didn't do that very well. Apart from the odd hitchhikers and a Norwegian guy who went along for a day and a half, I had pretty much been sitting in that car alone for hours every day and then it does make a big difference if you can listen to your music of choice or the local radio from Masterton or god knows where. So the EEL was changed to the EDS in Wellington and I did feel a bit like a spoiled child. Same car but conveniently shit-colored. And some more CDs were purchased and a whole new world of single-person karaoke opened up. I have in fact been singing most of my way through NZ 😊
I posted a status on FB after the ferry left Wellington and shortly after my wonderful cousin
Enter South Island
The ferry makes its way through the sounds towards Picton. Dolpins were jumping around and the weather was great and the winds kept most of the passengers below deck :)
Ulla replied that the trip from Wellington to Picton and ensuing sea-sickness was the worst she had ever experienced. That did scare me a bit as it was very windy, but I guess I was lucky (but then again, I have never been sea-sick). It was pretty smooth and dolphins were enjoying themselves around the ship as we entered the sounds leading into Picton.
A well-made plan
I had one thing in mind when I got to the South Island. Get to Nelson and try out paragliding. Now, paragliding is extremely prone to bad weather or rather wind, especially if you are a beginner, so the first day there was off. So I went hiking in Abel Tasman National Park instead.
The Kiwis don't call it hiking or trekking or anything reasonable. They call it "Tramping". And you will get questions like: "Did you have a good tramp today?". I simply cannot suppress the internal giggle over this even after having started to use the word myself.
But tramping is fantastic. I simply drove out to the park and arranged a water taxi to take me up the coast and then I could walk back. This
Abel Tasman NP. I have about 30 variants of that shot. And this one isn't even perfect :(
is THE most popular National Park in NZ so during the summer my impulsive approach to doing things would lead to endless disappointments, but this time of year it is no problem at all to get a seat on a boat. I had a fantastic day "tramping" along the coast and simply enjoying being alive. Even the odd group of Spanish or Chinese trampers couldn't ruin it although these people's general resentment of quietness is a big mystery to me. Catching up with the Spaniards I could hear them from far away engaged in discussions taken straight out of an Almodovar movie. Loud and full of passion as if that particular place and time was the moment to settle all issues between the participants at the same time. Like an ambulance passing you for 15 minutes with Dobbler effect and all.
Anyway I was soon back in the soundscape of birds and flowing water and when I was later joined by a very pleasant Australian girl for a couple of hours who had also overtaken the Spanish/Chinese loudspeakers we made sure to almost whisper as we tramped along.
I can Fly
The following days the winds were
Tramping is good
Walking along the coast in Abel Tasman offered one heart-stopping view after the other.
ideal for a wannabe bird. I met Vincent, my very French instructor and we went to the beginner hill. He quickly showed me how to get the wing up. The paraglider has an complicated system of wires that are organized into four risers and a brake for each hand. You hold the A-riser and brakes and run/push forward as hard as you can until the wing rises up above your head. Then you let go of the A-riser and gently pull on the brakes so that the wing doesn't overshoot and land in front of you and you twist your arms backwards while running forward. Simple.
My first attempt was, well, unsuccesful, but second time around as I was running like a maniac down the hill, I could all of a sudden feel the lift in the harness and without really doing much I was airborne. A bit worrying as we had not really touched on the topic of how to land again, but that problem resolved itself rather ungracefully.
And then we repeated that over and over again while polishing my technique along the way. Climbing all the way up the hill, setting up or rather laying
My pants covered in cowshit. The only evidence from all of those wonderful flights, but quite a few ungraceful landings.
out the wing and then a few moments of blissful flight. Vincents main comment was that my movements had to gentler and smoother and that is exactly the same as Leslie, my dive instructor, told me last year at Pulau Weh. Imagine that. Me, needing to be gentler and smoother 😊
Later in the day I was able to make gentle turns and land on my feet most of the time. One of my best flights got slightly longer than planned and I was not only all the way at the bottom of the hill but also running out of field. I was flying straight towards an electrical fence and not far beyond that some rather large bushes. I made a quick decision not to try to land in front of the fence and eased the brakes a bit. My feet cleared the fence and I jammed the brakes and landed rather hard just in front of the bushes. Well, in fact the landing was pretty soft. An electrical fence in NZ is either keeping animals in or out or both and the training hill was specifically picked for its lack of cow shit. Hence logic dictates that landing
Hence the name of these rocks on the shore north of Greymouth. I managed to get a shot of a section that wasn't covered in tern-shit :)
on the other side of said fence would entail a significant risk of a shitty landing. My right side was pretty much covered in it and the wing was stained as well until a gust of wind picked it up and carried it into the (thorny) bushes and it took us a while to get everything reset again and most of the shit wiped from my face and hand. I was pretty much laughing the whole time though.
Over the following days I learned some of the theory and we went to gradually higher hills. On the last day I made four flights from a 150 meter hill and that gave several minutes in the air each time and spectacular views. It really is a very peaceful way of flying. I only got a PG1 certificate which basically means that I cannot fly anywhere without an instructor and since a PG2 course would take several weeks depending on the weather I will have to pick this up later on. A damn shame since there are some spectacular places to paraglide here in NZ, but that's the way it is.
It is also quite a bit harder work than
It must be Mt Tasman and Mt Cook in the back. The start of a glorious day!
I had thought. As a beginner you are really just in a controlled fall, so the flights are short and the tramps back up the hill are long. My fitness level improved significantly on those days in Nelson 😊
Heading for the sun
I have used a couple of weather websites to guide me to the key attractions at the right time and I have had incredible success so far. I drove south from Nelson with the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers as my next real destination a couple of days away and it didn't look very promising. The drive down the Western Coast went through one shower after the other and as I found accomodation in Greymouth and checked the forecasts again, it looked like I would have to get up very early to get to the glaciers in decent weather.
As I and the Sun rose the following morning there was however not a cloud in sight. It was in fact so clear that as I was heading out of the town I could already see the first snow-capped peaks looming in the distance. The forecasts still claimed that clouds would come by noon and
Named after an Austrian "Emperor" the Franz Joseph Glacier is much grander than its namesake.
rain would follow soon, so EDS and I raced southward. It did gradually become more and more difficult to keep the momentum. The landscape simply forced us to stop and try to take it all in. A couple of French girls in a campervan were in the same dilemma, so we met repeatedly along the way and as we got closer to the glaziers we simply laughed together at the ridiculous beauty that was greeting us that morning and how little progress we were making. At times I only made it a kilometer or so before I had to stop and within minutes they re-joined me.
The glaziers were very impressive. Especially Franz Joseph looked incredible from where the track ended at its bottom. The icefall continued for kilometers upwards. There were guided tours available, but I was in the annoying fix to have my crampons safely back in Denmark and not being willing to walk in a line with 50 middle-aged Germans. So I stayed below.
One of the guides pointed out two young Chinese guys to me and said: "Do you think that is safe?" with a foolish grin. The two idiots had been running around
View of Views
That is what they call it. And they have a point. As Søren Bo pointed out on FB I really should have been there at the crack of dawn, but alas, I was 200km away and the following day was rubbish. The reflection is ok though and I'm sure that there a million perfect shots of this exact view.
in the shales which was in itself stupid, but they were heading for the blue-ice and one of them was only wearing sneakers. Without laces. Since the guide apparently didn't care if those two were going to kill themselves, I yelled out and got them to stop. I am really becoming an angry old man, but I would have felt terrible if I had kept quiet and they had in fact hurt themselves.
After noon there was indeed clouds on the peaks, but it was only the mid-day clouds that will gather from vapour from the glaciers and peaks and the rest of the sky still looked fantastic. So I got an idea. There were tons of helicopter rides on offer and I have always detested those kinds of trips. In the Alps and elsewhere they are a bloody nuisance with their noise and fat Norwegians who pour out onto the peaks themselves which others have struggled to get to. But on that day I was tempted. Not only had I noticed that they flew quite high above the tourist spots which meant that you barely noticed them from below. Flying had also already become sort of a theme
That was perhaps the most mind-boggling thing. The ocean is just down there. Mt. Cook is 40kms from the coast. Astonishing!
for this trip, so my first helicopterride would fit right in. And it was an astonishing day.
If only those few clouds would dissappear. In mountains they normally do on an otherwise clear day if you are only a bit patient, so I went to Lake Matheson which offered astonishing views of the glaciers and Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. I even had a signal on my Ipad and could update my facebook status as I was closely observing the weather on the peaks. I sat there for at least an hour and when I was satisfied that it was indeed clearing up, I more or less ran back to EDS and drove back into Fox Glacier Town to book a flight.
What a ride!
Most of the thousands of tourists seemed to have dissappeared and it was only going to be me and an elderly English couple that were going to have our first helicopter flight. The last few clouds had vaporized into thin air and conditions were perfect!
It is difficult to describe. It was so amazingly beautiful and the speed of the helicopter and the proximity to the mountains quite simply made it
Yeah, there I am!
Full throttle on the polarizer, but what a fantastic place.
overwhelming. Every second was a new heartstopping vista, a taste of absolute perfection in blue, grey and white. We flew up to the peaks of Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook (3700 m) and landed on the néve on the top of the Fox Glacier. Mt. Cook is only about 40 kms from the ocean and being up there in that icy cathedral with views going all the way to the Tasman Sea was unlike anything I had ever seen.
We behaved like children up there. Hugging and laughing and snapping pictures of each other. And then we got back in and flew down over the Fox which was infinitely more dramatic from above. 30 minutes and I had taken 163 pictures which must be a personal record. Worth every cent!
As I sat that evening and wrote the last update of the blog I had a hard time remembering when I have last had a day that evoked the same sort of feelings in me. I guess it must have been the first day on the cruise with the Embaku last year. Such perfection. I am just so glad that I am doing this. Good choices, Jens. Good
The Fox was actually a bit of a disappointment from below. But from the top .... amazing.
Burn like a Good Bonfire
P.S. Still about a week behind. I have continued to be unreasonably lucky with the weather or rather my timing, I have found yet another way to take to the skies and I have big plans for tomorrow. More about this when I get the next rainy day.
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