[Words: Janice, Pics: Mark]
We took advantage of the family car waiting for us in Christchurch and were headed on to explore the rest of the South Island. We had beautiful bluebird days almost everyday we were away until we returned back to Christchurch. We cut straight from the east coast to the west coast of South Island, driving across Arthur’s Pass. The roads were windy and steep, cutting through some awesome snow-capped mountains, so obviously Mark was enjoying the drive, and ended our day in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park which is home to the famous Franz Josef (12 km long) and Fox (13 km long) glaciers.
Both glaciers have advanced and retreated over time (have been recorded to move us much as 70 cm a day), but are both currently retreating. Just before the sunset, we walked to the terminal face of the Franz Josef glacier and took some really cool photos of the glacier in this reflective pond called Peter’s Pool. The next day, we signed up to join a full-day glacier walk on the Fox glacier, so we strapped on our crampons and layered on our waterproof gear and started trekking our way up the glacier. It was such an experience being up on the bright blue glacier, and the really cool thing about it, is that it is constantly moving and changing, so that if you visit it, it’s never the same. We got to slip through some moulins (hollowed-out tunnels), drink fresh glacier water (I didn’t have a cup, so I just got on my belly and slurped it up), jumped over small crevasses, ate lunch on the glacier, and we also saw some people ice climbing – one of my favourite experiences yet!
From the glaciers, we moved on to Wanaka (which is the smaller, more mellow version of Queenstown) and the drive in takes us through some more gorgeous scenery. Since it is winter, Wanaka is its ski/snowboard mode and Mark is super excited and spends almost all day in and out of all the ski stores. We spend a few hours getting both of us fitted with rental ski equipment and head out to Treble Cone ski area early the next morning. That evening, we went to a local sports bar and watched the NZ All Blacks vs. Australian Wallabies Tri-Nations rugby match. We showed up in All Blacks clothes and got a couple free drinks, so Mark was excited about that – the atmosphere was great, and it was $5 CAD pitchers of beer all night. The All Blanks spanked the Wallabies 30 to 14.
It was sleeting/snowing in the morning, and so on our drive up to the base of Treble Cone, we were told that we had to put on snow chains (which we purchased in Christchurch before we left). First, Mark and I have never put on snow chains before and second, the car we were driving had low clearance above the tires, making it really difficult to fit the chains on. After 40 minutes of struggling and some guidance, we finally got the snow chains on (other cars pulled over and had theirs on in 5 minutes, which was super frustrating to see) and we slowly climbed up the switch-back gravel roads to the base of Treble Cone. The first run was alright, some spots were icy, some spots had fresh ungroomed powder, so it was a little tricky for me (and ya, I fell a few times), but the wind was up too, so that made it even harder. The second run, we followed this ridge run, and it was a combination of bad timing and the location we were at on the mountain, as we found ourselves in 100 kph winds and white-outs – I couldn’t see a thing, and the wind was pushing me off the mountain every time I turned – I was getting scared. I wasn’t the only one, there were other people on their butts just sliding down the hill. After some encouraging words from Mark, I made my way down (some sliding on my butt, but mostly skiing) and I sat in the lodge and warmed up and waited for the wind to calm down. Mark went out for a couple more runs, but he wasn’t have such a great time either because his bindings kept on popping off. After a long lunch break when the winds died down, I went back out with Mark again and we took a few more runs. Treble Cone only has 2 chairlifts, and one of them was closed for most of the day for avalanche work and patrol bombings, so the line-ups were really long. Only be2pmor so, the other chairlift opened so we hopped over to that run and took some fun runs in freshly groomed powder. In the afternoon, the view from the top of Treble Cone out over Lake Wanaka was gorgeous, I would say one of the best views in all of NZ – so although the morning was awful for me, the scenery made up for it in the afternoon. I thought putting on the snow chains would be the only hard part, but we had more problems getting them off once we were at the base of the mountain. After another 30 minutes of struggling and with further assistance from some friendly Kiwis, we finally got them off, and threw them back into the trunk hoping that we’d never have to use them again.
Next day we were off to Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of the world. We arrived in the morning and before I could think about it too much or chicken out, we booked our big tandem Nevis Bungy Swing for the afternoon. This is reportedly the highest swing in the world, with a 70m free fall and then a 300m swing. It was about a 45 minute drive to the Nevis Canyon from Queenstown and although I thought there would be more to it, all we did was sign a waiver and get weighed in a few times, and before we knew it, we were walking out on this long scary bridge over the canyon and getting strapped in. I decided to be strapped in backwards, and Mark went forwards. I’m not sure whether my rationale was sound or not, but it seemed to be less scary for me if I couldn’t see how far down the canyon was. The guy was joking around and telling us he was missing clips and forgetting buckles, but seriously, no one else did a double check!!! I of course asked whether someone else was going to audit the situation and make sure we were all strapped in right, but before I could object, he pushed the green button and down we went. I remember screaming (I think I heard Mark yelp too), my eyes shutting briefly and the free falling (which apparently is only for 3 seconds). Then by the time it all registered we were swinging over this giant canyon and I wanted to do it again – it was sooooFUN!!!! Of course, we had to buy the photos and videos of our bungy swing too, so it was an expensive afternoon, but after doing it, I know that I can also bungy and skydive for sure and look forward to it.
(For those on my Facebook – VIDEO - http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150333689195050)
On day 2 in Queenstown, we signed up for the Shotover Jet ride. Mark had done it before, many years ago, but said that he was happy to do it again. It was basically twenty-five minutes of racing through the dramatic and narrow canyons of theShotoverRiverCanyonin this big red jet boat, whipping past rocky outcrops and skimming around boulders. My favourite was when we did the 360 degree spins and got sprayed with the face with the freezing river water. Really good fun, but too short.
On day 3, we went up to Coronet Peak for another day of skiing. The good thing was that it was sunny and it hadn’t snowed at all in the past few days, so we didn’t need to worry about the snow chains, but bad because there wasn’t too much fresh snow on the mountain. Although Mark tells me that Coronet Peak has some of the best snow making machines around, so there was a really nice layer of fresh snow on the mountain. It was another bluebird day and the view was beautiful from the top (although not as nice as Wanaka in my opinion) and with that small fresh layer of snow, I was actually really enjoying the day. Because I was in a good mood, Mark started giving me the pole planting and other ski lessons since as he loves to do because my form was not very good, and by afternoon I was feeling much more confident. Someone was even filming me down one run – and I hope it’s because I was looking good, and not because I was an example of how not to ski, but I guess I will never know. On our last day, we took a day trip from Queenstown to Arrowtown, an old tiny gold-mining town which has really quaint shops and restaurants – not too much to do, but really relaxing and beautiful. Otherwise, Queenstown is a very touristy town, so there were lots of really cool shops, bars, and restaurants – so Mark and I entertained ourselves walking through the town. There is this really famous burger place in Queenstown called Fergburger, and although we heard that people had waited up to 40 minutes for their burger, we only waited about 20 minutes, but I can’t say that it was worth the wait – it was good, but not that good.
Our last big adventure in the South Island was heading into the Fiordland National Parkin the far south west and visiting both Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. When Captain Cook first arrived in this region in the 1770′s, he incorrectly mapped and described these areas as sounds (flooded river valley) but they were actually fjords (valley carved by glaciers). Unfortunately, everyone kept on calling them sounds, so they names stuck. To rectify this, the named the whole area the Fiordland, but didn’t even spell it properly (should be Fjordland). This area generally gets 300 days of rain a year, but the locals were joking that the area was in a drought as it hadn’t rained in the past 3 days. It’s always nice to have sun and blue skies, but most people told us that this area is best when it’s rainy and gloomy as the waterfalls are at their most impressive and the fjords are all misty and mysterious. We started off with a boat tour in Doubtful Sound, which is the second largest of the 14 fjords in the area, and enjoyed the scenery of rugged peaks and twisting inlets. The water was remarkably calm that day (per our captain), so we were able to go right out into the mouth of the Tasman Sea and watch some lazy sun-bathing NZ fur seals. We also spotted a few shy small Blue Penguins floating by the shore. On the way back, we had a visit to the underground Manapouri Hydro Power Station, which NZ touts as one of their biggest engineering achievements – very interesting. To actually get to Doubtful Sound is an adventure in itself, as we had to get on a one-hour boat ride across Lake Manapori first, and then another one-hour drive across Wilmot Pass and the Fiordland rain forest and do that again on the way back – so it was a long day.
Since we already did a boat cruise in Doubtful Sound, we opted for the kayak trip in Milford Sound, which is home to the world-famousMitrePeak. Milford Sound is the most visited of all the fjords because the mountains stand the tallest and straightest out of the sea, the rainforest clings to the sheer rock walls, and the waterfalls are the highest. Although Mark and I argued here and there about the paddling and steering, it was a really relaxing and beautiful day as we got to kayak right up under a waterfall and have the water spray gently on our face, eat lunch on one of the bays, search for the elusive Fiordland Yellow-Crested Penguin (we heard them, but did not see them), kayak beside more NZ fur seals sun-bathing on the rocks, and see the residue of severe tree avalanches on the sheer cliffs. Mark was in awe of the snow-capped mountains jutting out of the water, especially Mitre Peak, which is the world’s highest sea cliff.
And with that, our adventures in NZ had almost come to an end. I wanted to go skydiving on our way back up to Christchurch, but the weather was just about to take a turn for the worse, and we had to drive up through the mountains back to Christchurch quickly before the snow hit, otherwise we could have been stranded down in the south for days and miss our flight back to Toronto. We broke up the long drive (along route we got some gorgeous shots of Lake Pukaki and Mt.Cook – NZ highest mountain at 12,316 feet and training ground for Sir Edmond Hillary, first person to climb Mt. Everest and a Kiwi) and stayed over night in the beautiful town of Lake Tekapo, with its stunning aquamarine colour.
By the time we arrived back inChristchurch, we got big snow dumps two nights in a row and all the roads were closed, so Mark and I just hunkered down and watched movies to pass the time. Apparently, this was the worst snow storm NZ had seen in 50 years, even Auckland saw snow, which apparently has not happened for about 70 years or so. I was getting nervous because the Christchurch airport was closed in the mornings and experienced cancellations and delays for the rest of the days, and with all our connecting flights that was not good news. Fortunately, by the morning of our departure, the snow had ceased and it was just rain, so everything was looking good. We were supposed to fly from Christchurch to Melbourne, Melbourne to Bangkok, Bangkok to Stockholm, Stockholm to Dusseldorf, and finally Dusseldorf to Toronto (combination of cheap Jetstar flights and Air Canada points were to thank for this horrible route and 48 hours of flying) to get home. So although we were all worried about getting out ofChristchurch, it was actually a 6 hour delay inMelbournethat screwed everything up. Because of that delay, we missed our connecting flight fromBangkok to Stockholm, so everything had to be rescheduled and the earliest we could fly out of Bangkok to Toronto would now be three-days later on August 21 instead of August 19. Oh well, far worse places to be stuck than Bangkok and I guess it was good to break up all the flights. The three days went by fast with shopping, eating and movies and then we were on our way through Frankfurt and Paris this time and finally made it back toToronto!
We were also supposed to visit some of my family in Hong Kong at the end of our trip, but we just ran out of time. The 168 days of travelling were done and gone and it all went by too fast. Hope you all enjoyed reading these blogs and seeing the pictures (if not, it’s a good journal for us)! I’m so happy Mark and I got the opportunity to do a trip like this, it was full of adventures and meeting really great people along the way. Time to plan our next trip…