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March 30th 2014
Published: March 30th 2014
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We were up bright and early the next morning to unfortunately a rather dull and moody sky. Through breaks in the cloud we could glance some snow capped peaks, and hoped the weather would hold out for our big ticket items. James and I got all the kit and caboodle on for a day's introduction to the art of Ice Climbing on the Fox Glacier. we had big ideas of going straight onto conquering Mt Blanc and then Everest but when we got down to it- bloody hard work! It was awesome to get an idea what real Mountaineers get up to and after doing a fair bit of abseiling and rock climbing in the past I felt pretty confident, but it was nice to get that rush of nerves again when you feel a little out of your depth. It was hard to trust the inch of crampon you manage to get into the solid wall of vertical ice and it was hard work pulling yourself up on two ice axes which would more often than not fail along with your footholds and leave you hanging by one arm (and the belay rope of course, but i was dubious of James' belaying skills! The day became very wet and very cold and culminated in us being lowered into a hole of blue ice alongside a waterfall from the glacial melt. It was exhilarating to say the least to pull yourself out of it and didn't take much to imagine your life depended on it.

Unfortunately Becks' helicopter trip had been cancelled, so as a treat we headed to the glacial hot pools in Franz. Awesome way to warm up and get a free shower after several days camping. It did send us all into an itching frenzy after all our sandfly bites erupted with the heat but it was nice to feel clean again, a simple pleasure of the scrimping traveller.

Chevez, who had completed our merry little trio the last couple of weeks was nearing the end of his time with us. We had all been friends in Bath and things couldn't have worked any better as a travelling triad. He treated us to a thank you meal in Franz which was a very tasty pub affair. It was a thank you to me for organising it, and to Becks for putting up with our incessant banter and ridiculous chat.

After a thoroughly satisfying van sort out, Becks and I set off down the West Coast planning to head to Wanaka. It was a day where nothing seemed to go to plan but it all worked out even better in the end. It was nice driving the coast in the opposite direction I hitchhiked 5 years before. We stopped at some beautiful spots along the coast until reaching the Haast Pass, then we detoured off to Jackson's bay, a quaint little fishing village that was another failed ploy of assisted immigration at the turn of last century.

We shared a seafood chowder right on the harbour front and basked in some glorious sunshine and an incredible view of the Mountain range silhouetted across the bay. I hatched an idea that soon became a compulsion that I wanted to travel as far south along the west coast as physically possible. Becks was easily persuaded so we headed down a gravel track near Jackson's bay along a beautiful river with southern fiordland opening up ahead if us. Unfortunately it did not take long for the road to become very windy and steep. The winding Lisa can handle (be it cautiously with a temperamental horn) but from experience she is not one for steep gravel tracks. I ended up slamming on the brakes as we reached a rise which
revealed a very long, very steep road. The way out she would manage fine, the way back would be near impossible. So I turned Lisa around. Almost. It was a very narrow road with a 30 metre plummet into the river on one side. She was facing this, halfway through a 15 point turn when her wheels spun and spat gravel around but she would not budge backwards, in fact she lurched forward slightly, but significantly. Looking out the windscreen to the churning water below, we both felt things could get nasty. But with no phone reception and no people around for miles, we did not really have an option but to give it one last go. Becks got out (save women and children first) and acted as a guide as I crept forward and slammed it into reverse one last time. We both breathed a sigh of relieve as the olde faithful swung round and trundled her way back to the top of the hill.

I was gutted we had failed in our mission to get to the end of the road. I felt we were close so leaving Lisa safely at the top, Becks and I continued down on foot. We did not get very far until a clearing in the trees revealed a herd of cows. Cows were what We thought at least until a big meaty bull squared up and blocked our path. Without thinking twice we both hightailed around and scarpered back up the hill to the safe confines of Lisa.

Our run of luck continued as we reached Haast again and found out the road pass had closed for the night, 5 minutes previously, due to ongoing repairs since a recent fatal avalanche. Becks and I bought some out-of-date pear cider and replanned. Eager to spend one more night watching the sun disappear over the Wild West Coast we parked up at Haast Beach and walked a K or 2 along the beach to an isolated spot amongst the tussocks to pitch our tent. A delicate sunset was neutralised by the huge spray from the crashing waves of the incoming tide. Rapidly incoming. After enjoying a tasty staple of macaroni washed down with the cider we went about drawing numerous lines in the sand for where the tide would come to for us to be reassured, be cautious, and the last line representing where we would have to unpeg the tent and rapidly retreat. This tide watching went on for some time with the progressively more intimidating waves until the distraction came with a campfire and writing our names in the sky with a lighted stick and a long exposure camera setting.

Thankfully in the morning we were still dry and we headed onwards to Wanaka. I had enjoyed Wanaka more recently than a lot of the other revisited destinations, after an amazing few days skiing at Treble Cone with a group of us in a rented batch last winter. The snowy peaks were now scarce, but the dramatic alpine landscape still lingered on in the reflections of the lakes. We visited some beautiful waterfalls and scenic lookouts on our way through the Haast Pass and were happy to see the clouds had cleared and the views were as breathtaking as I had promised Becky.

We parked up in a 'classic Kiwi' camping ground which was rough and ready but appealing in its simplicity and back to basics approach and secured ourself a beautiful lakeside view overlooking the Outlet. The Outlet, on Clutha River, a word famous trout fishing spot. The question of what to do in Wanaka had been answered with Becks new obsession with fishing, and we rented a couple of rods off a curious and slightly doubtful local and headed to the bank. A tranquil evening with a beautiful sunset was matched by an equally peaceful morning. I am sure the fish had an equally relaxing time after failing to even nibble at our spinners, but after such a busy few days we still enjoyed the fishing and the time by the lake.

James had caused a bit of a premature West coast venture with his desire to see the Glaciers, but it just meant we had a slightly unconventional route down towards Stewart Island for my 7th Great Walk. We headed off towards Dunedin, but had a few points of interest on the way. Cromwell was a town which hand been flooded by the building of a dam on the Clutha. The locals were responsible for a horrendous fruit salad showpiece at the towns entrance, had also reconstructed the old town centre on the reservoir's edge. Considering how poor New Zealand does towns and the brief smudge they make on the timeline of European history I was pleasantly surprised by its quaintness. This thought was reiterated by a lot of the Southland farming villages we passed through and although a far cry from the chocolate box beauty from the Dales, Cotswolds and parts of the Borders, they had a certain charm thanks to the brief gold-rush boom of their era. The surrounding rocky farmland and hills were also of real beauty.

Knowing we were going to rough it for a few nights and as a commiserating 'good try' award we headed to the little village of Moeraki for a fish supper at Fleur's Place. It had become well renowned for serving up fish fresh off the boat from the little harbour the restaurant sat on. With sea views in three directions and beautiful stained glass windows and a vaulted roof it was definitely a 'dining experience'. The blue cod was delicious and served out by the famous Fleur herself on her Birthday. A rather eccentric woman who was so inspiring I would have bought her autobiography if it was in paperback. To counteract the lavishness of not having a Jet-boil meal we snuck the van in behind the restaurant and had another night falling asleep to crashing waves.

An early rise rewarded us with an eery, mystical vista of the moon setting amongst the sea fog. We headed to the Moeraki boulders and watched the sun rise above them. I found them incredibly appealing in their perfectly round, smooth shape, half submerged in sand. They seem almost alien or an elaborate man-made hoax against the incoming tide. A definite understated highlight of the South Island, particularly when discovered with no-one else around.

We headed a little further down the Eastern coast and reached Dunedin. A first for me, Becks and I both took an instant liking to the feel and setting of the city. Unfortunately the exploring had to wait as there were errands to run. My backpack strap fixed, our Westpac accounts sorted, my sunglasses fixed, Travelcard loaded and some new hiking boots bought, we were in business again and headed off to Speight's Factory for a tour of the famous beer. The rumours rung true of a free hour to sample the half dozen different beers as a grand finale of the tour and both being overly enthusiastic at getting our moneys worth we headed back to a Council car park (sky city centre accommodation for the night) to cook up some dinner. We opted for noodles with an accompanying descriptive song of "cooking up some noooooodle, in the car park yeah!" Insert reggae beat and unnecessary dancing. In full clad hiking gear (I wanted to wear in my new shoes) we checked out an excellent Scot's Pub called Al's Bar and headed onto some Irish Bars and spontaneously danced the night away as we had coincidentally managed to tie our arrival with St Patrick's Day.

The public toilets on our doorstep and the flat ground made this one of the best city centre car parks we had ever spent a night at and far outweighed the multistorey monstrosity that was previously considered. We set off early and headed up to Baldwin Street, the Guinness World Certified steepest street in the world. Walked up it. Pretty steep. I didn't dare drive Lisa up it, a decision I regretted until we watched a motorcyclist bravely throttle up it, stop at the top, then lose traction and heading back down the hill backwards...picking up speed... until luckily hitting the kerb and hitting the tarmac in one piece. It was sheer terror and panic Becks and i saw on his face as it went sheet white and he thought he was plummeting down the steepest street backwards. I helped pick him up, as did the sports car driver who had pulled out causing the untimely halt, and we managed to get him back up to the top for a winning photo to tell his mates back in Manchester. Whilst doing some extreme jetboiling atop signal hill, we were a bit put out by the repeated requests for silence by the BBC film crew who were apparently struggling with their soundbite through the noise of us jetboiling tea and munching through our rice krispies. We then headed off down the Otago Peninsula to see the only mainland nesting site in the world of the Royal Albatross. The peninsula was beautiful on such a sunny day, and we hatched plans of learning to sail and come by Dunedin again to use there quaint little brightly coloured boat sheds, dotted along the coastal road on jetties.

Once we got to the Albatross center we were a bit put out that they had put a fence round the nesting site and charged 50 bucks a gander, what's more, they went one step further and charged you 5 dollars to use their loos. Becks was rightly indignant about this but had to give in as her sparrow bladder quickly reached its capacity, god help us on long haul South American buses! We sat for a picnic next to some coastal viewing platforms and thought it was a shame that the Albatross had happened to nest on private land allowing the Royal Albatross Charitable Trust a chance to sting everyone a bomb when so much that is good about NZ is the very principle of access for everyone can enjoy. I never mind the Department of Conservation charging us 30 bucks for a hut (which I inevitably end up sleeping outside to avoid the snorers) as DOC has given us so much. Aside from almost every bubbling hole and spitting vent around Roturua being cordoned off and charged per view (despite them being natural wonders and therefore costing nothing) generally NZ has a huge amount of natural attractions, often gloriously understated, always impressive and best of all mainly free for all to enjoy. So the private albatross and penguin colonies on the peninsula were an exception. This is where my rant ended as a huge Albatross flew past just beneath our platform. Its wingspan was HUGE. Well over 3 metres it effortlessly glided past us, before disappearing past the Capes lighthouse towards the canopy. Who needs to splash out at the Center when we had just seen a fully grown albatross in flight for free as nature intended. A couple more later flew directly overhead and looked like gliding aircraft in their ease through the air. Absolutely magical.

Becks and I continued our merry way down towards The Bluff for the boat ride to our next Great Walk. On the way we passed through The Catlins an area of beautiful coastline packed with natural attractions. We found a blob on the map described as being a DOC beachside campsite and were absolutely blown away by the beauty of it! We got in just before the sky erupted in oranges, pinks and reds behind us and reflecting off the shimmering water of a stream meandering absent-mindedly across a vast golden-yellow beach. Although we tended to prefer a solitary "us-and-nature" approach, it added a bit of atmosphere with the other ramshackle vans and tents and owners going through their evening cooking routine. We were distracted in cooking up our feast by the sight of a huge bull Sea-lion laboriously dragging itself up the beach before it returned to the sea just as we were leaving the next day. It would seem the secret was out in the animal kingdom as well about how glorious a spot it was. Sitting back contentedly after a great feed we watched the full moon rise out of the waters in front of us. A brilliant glowing red like nothing either of us had ever seen before. I got my tripod out and tried persistently to capture the beauty of the ensuing night sky on camera, until I inevitably ran out of battery.

The rest of the Catlins was a packed day and a half full of seal spotting, lighthouse leering and hiding in DOC hides for the rare glimpses of yellow eyed penguins waddling ashore, or more like standing motionlessly facing the land as they moulted away their summer feathers. It was special to see the rarest penguin in NZ but the pictures unfortunately don't do them much justice. 180 million year old petrified Jurassic forest embedded in the shoreline rocks and Jack's Blowhole landlocked in a sheep field crammed into our day along with a token waterfall or two as well. This all meant by the time we reached The Bluff (after running dangerously low on fuel) it was late and we were tired. Kindly a landlady took pity on us and gave us a very cheap deal for a room in a converted old post office which was delightfully kitsch and dilapidated if a little reminiscent of beds from a retirement home.

We fell asleep excited about seeing New Zealand's third largest island and our next Great Walk.

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