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Published: January 10th 2012
You figure it out.
Thanks to the generosity of Bruce and Trish we were able to avoid the stormy weather and leave Nelson under somewhat more bearable conditions. The caveat to our extra night's accommodations was that we had agreed to wake at the crack of dawn to drive two other frisbee players to the airport. Thus, at 6 am we were on our way out of Nelson to tackle the west coast, the southern Fiordlands and make our way back to Christchurch.
Road to Hokitika
The early morning departure provided a peaceful drive west to our first stop, the Buller Gorge. There, we found remnants of a former mining village and learned about the devastating 1929 earthquake whose epicentre we stood at. The main attraction, however, was the swingbridge spanning the Buller Gorge. We then drove a couple of hours to Punakaiki, home to the pancake rocks. We had heard of its impressiveness, but without detailed accounts we were unsure of what to expect. Beautifully sculpted rock pathways delivered us through a lovely estuary to the coastal cliffs. We were not disappointed in what we saw as the stacked limestone rocks towered up from the ocean. The formations arise when limestone rock
is compacted under the ocean floor, elevated above the water surface, and then shaped by the crashing waves. The mystery lies in the distinctive stacking pattern of the limestone columns, similar to a delicious stack of pancakes, to which science has no explanation. Moving south down the west coast we weaved our way around the mountains to Hokitika.
We arrived in Hoki before sunset, but to the predictable and consistent inclement weather. We wandered around the small town center before meeting up with Liza's classmate and friend Jared. As he has called Hokitika home for most of his life, we sought to gain some local insight for what to see, as well as see him for what we thought would be the last time. After mentioning where we would be camping, Jared tipped us off to the presence of a glow worm colony residing in the walls of the entrance to our camping area. Sunset being later than 9:30 pm made it impossible for Liza to experience any sightseeing that required darkness, but Matt was able to tough it out and hike back towards the highway after 10 pm. Extremely cool to see but much harder to photograph, Matt
No Fat Chicks
There were some tight spaces along the tour.
spent the better part of 45 min taking in the fluorescent green specks littering the 2.5 foot-high dirt walls that lined the road, fiddling with the camera and 30-second exposures. Giddy with the experience he returned to the tent and attempted to convey his findings to a groggy Liza. She was much more impressed the following morning. On our next day in Hokitika, we made the 20 min drive out of town to see the Hokitika Gorge, and the river that flowed through it. Being a glacial river, the water carried mineral rock crushed by the massive glaciers which gave the water a bright milky blue colour. We crossed a swingbridge spanning the gorge and enjoyed some quiet time by the banks of the river. One of the highlights of our travels has been seeing the many colours that water can take in oceans, lakes and rivers. Our trip to the gorge added to that list.
One of the excursions we were most excited for and thus willing to open our wallets and splurge on was the chance to walk on a glacier. We arrived in the town of Franz Josef on a sunny afternoon the
Only one of the many beautiful views in the Fiordlands.
day before our booking to make sure all was in order. We were pleasantly surprised that in booking our tour online we received free admission to the local thermal pools. Thus, for the 3rd time on our NZ travels we spent a couple of relaxing hours in geothermal heated pools.
We were not really sure what a glacier tour entailed, but we woke up excited for ours the following morning. We were both amazed (as are most people we are told) at how much the massive glacier distorts perception. What looked like a 5 minute walk took 45 minutes. The mountain walls abutting the glacier looked a stone's throw away, when in reality they were more than a kilometre from us. We hiked with our group of 11 over the rocky terminal morraine (the garbage that the glacier pushes along) and then strapped on our crampons. Surprisingly it didn't take long to get used to having 1.5 inch metal spikes on our shoes (perhaps thanks to all the time spent in cleats), or to get accostomed to be able to stand solidly on icy inclines that one would not normally trust. Our guide Ben led us through two icefalls
(each a series of ice ridges and troughs caused when the leading edge of a glacial section breaks off and falls forward) separated by a field of morraine, cutting steps in the ice along the way. We spent 5 hours going up and over mountains of ice, through narrow crevasses and around holes hundreds of feet deep. In the 4 hrs we hiked up the glacier we barley even covered a speck of the massive sheet of ice. It was very humbling knowing that at any moment we were stnading on top of 50-100 metres of ice and that the glacier had the power to pick up rocks the size of our bus or carve valleys out of mountains. We returned to town tired, feeling great about our experience, and with a new appreciation for the power of ice.
We departed Franz Josef immediately after leaving the glacier and drove south as far as we could manage under the condition of fatigue and dwindling sunlight. We managed 5 hours which brought us back to Queenstown, and as a reward for making it that far, we allowed ourselves a half day in town before moving along.
Who Put This Here?
Glaciers are terrible at cleaning up their messes.
We awoke to sunshine and mountian fresh air. We both agree that there is little better than stepping out of your tent into the crisp morning and seeing beautiful snowcapped mountains reflecting off a calm lake. We made our way from the campsite into town, ran a few errands, spent far too mcuh money hoarding the first few books in the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings collections (we had been searching long and hard and like so many other problems, Queenstown seem to have the answer), and then sat down and got a long-awaited Fergburger fix. Both thrilled that we hand managed to fit another impromptu visit to one of our favourite towns in NZ, we left with smiles on our faces as we made the two hour drive to Te Anau.
Our first adventure in the Fiordlands region was a guided bus tour to Milford Sound, follwed by a 2 hour boat cruise into the sound. We drove the 2 hours north of Te Anau passing one breathtaking mountain after another. We saw pristine lakes, raging waterfalls, rock formations left by receding glaciers, and springs filled with some of the purest water that exists. And
This is a Fjord
Note the steep mountain walls carved by the glacier.
all of this was before we even got on the boat. We learned early on that although Milfrod Sound the waterway was in fact a fjord. Sounds are carved by rivers whereas fjords are formed by glaciers. This calssification became very obvious once we ventured into the 'sound' with its steep mountain walls, hanging valleys, and tens to hundreds of waterfalls (depending ont he amount of sun and rain seen recently). Just as we had found in Franz Josef, the sheer size of the mountains surrounding us skewed our perception and made massive waterfalls seem tiny and far away objects seem close. We meandered to the mouth of the Tasman Sea before returning to the pier and making the return bus trip to Te Anau. We had consistently hear dthe Milford Sound is the highlight of any trip to NZ and after witnessing one jaw-dropping scene after another it is hard to disagree.
Although Milford Sound was stunning, the purpose of our trip to Te Anau was to hike and complete the 63 km Kepler Track. We set out on a Sunday afternoon with packs on our backs and walking sticks in hand and said goodbye to society for
The waterfall didn't look so big until that massive boat parked next to it.
a couple of days. In an attempt to minimize costs, we had planned on hiking the track in an unconventional manner. This plan left us with a very short first day and gruelling second day before ending with two average hiking days. Trying not to think about the task that would come with the following sunrise we enjoyed our simple two hour hike through beautiful beech forest that delivered us to our beach-side campsite. We set up camp, went for a swim, made dinner, and then frustrated with the sandflies we retreated to our tent. We had no idea that our notion of what constituted pesky sandflies was about to get shattered.
The next morning we packed up and headed out around 7am as we had a 10 hr day ahead of us. The 'usual' route for trampers was to hike up the mountain one day and down the next. We planned to do both that day, which resulted in many shocked responces from other trampers as we mention our plan for the day in passing. The switchback trail led us through a mixture of dense and sparse flora up the moutnain. It was a 3 hr uphill climb
Above the Treetops
Finally we reached the treeline and were graced with this.
with no breaks in elevation (except those that Liza demanded). The climb was moderately steep, but the agony of the never ending incline was well worth it once we emerged above the treeline. With spectacular views of the fjords below we seemed to forget about sore backs and burning quads. From there the tail followed the ridges of several mountains falling into sadles and high up to the peaks. Unfortunately the wind, rain, and low-hanging clouds impeded our views below so we trudges along hoping that the strong gusts wouldnt blow us down the steep mountain faces. There was a solid two hours of downhill switchback to our campsite which did a number on the knees. We managed to muster up enough energy to hike the 20 minutes away from the campsite to visit the Iris Burn Falls and take in some scenery to make up for what we missed high up on the mountains. The campsite was great but the sandflies were insatiable, confining us to our tent once again.
Our third day on trail had a six hour day in store, which we managed to do in four. The trail led down from the base of the
Liza taking a break to pose in front of the mountains we conquered the day before.
mountain and through the plains. We walked through lush forests that seemed to shine with an emerald green glow. Having the walk significantly easier than the previous day we were happy to arrive at the hut close to 2 pm. The sun was shining and the lake was inviting. We swam and read outside for the afternoon and called it a night rather early as fatigue was starting to grow on us.
The final day of walking was said to be the easiest. The map said six hours, our hut guide said 4.5 hours, we did it in 2 hours and 45 minutes. We enjoyed the walk and trail immensely but were sure happy to see Jose where we left him only four days before. We took a few moments to relax and repack the car, said our goodbyes to Te Anau and the Fiordlands, and began our final trip back to Christchurch.
After stopping the night in Gore we headed to Dunedin for one reason alone - Cadbury World. To Liza's utter delight and Matt's tolerance of her obsession we did the Oh-So-Touristy Cadbury factory tour. Lots of 'free' chocolate and delicious taste tests along the way
ensured that we had ample snacks for the road. Leaving Dunedin we headed north to Moereki, although this time not for the boulders. We had dinner on the coast at what is widely regarded as the best seafood restaurant in NZ. Although the prices at Fleur's were steep the food, presentation, and atmosphere were an experience in an of itself. Well worth the visit in our minds. After dinner we set up our final camp nearby and planned our route for the next day.
The following day, we arrived back in Christchurch to take care of some mundane/end-of-the-year errands and to say our last goodbye to the shaky city. Although homeless we had the kindness of Cassie, Toni, and Mike to keep us for the two nights prior to our flight to Bangkok. The weekend included a few beer here and there, good friends, and an immense appreciation for those that made our last days there so enjoyable. We dropped off Jose with Jared (in transition to Dayna, his new owner) and left for the airport. Although sad to leave, NZ has been and will forever be a second home. The environment, the culture, and the people are only
Upon entering Cadbury world one is faced with Crunchie Mountain.
a few reasons to love the country, and will stick with us forever.
As the plane took to the air we said goodbye to $10 beers, a cold summer, and never knowing when the ground will shake next (turns out it was 3 days later).
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