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New Zealand - South Island

September 20th, 2009

Having said my goodbyes to Em I boarded a flight to Christchurch in order to get to my final destination Queenstown. As per usual I had taken the cheaper route although whether it’s worth it I don’t know. I stayed the night in Christchurch airport (which was not nice) and then had my connection to Queenstown delayed by an hour in the morning. Apparently, a computer fault in Auckland was to blame for my Christchurch to Queenstown flight being delayed, who’d have thought!

Queenstown is the activity centre of New Zealand. It provides great access to Fjordland, Mountains, Skiing (in the winter), the Lakes District as well as crazier things like Bungy jumping, jet boating and generally throwing yourself off stuff. The arrival, by plane, in to Queenstown is definitely one to remember. There’s no easy glide in to the airport, oh no. Instead the pilot basically has to swoop in to the runway, flying down in a valley. It’s a pretty amazing view as you come in on a fairly big commercial jet. I met back up with Steve and Rav at the airport and we promptly hopped in to our amazing set of wheels: a Mazda Familia 1.5 Automatic. This is quite possibly the worst car I’ve ever been in. I may even do a seperate post on it’s finer points.

We spent the first day in Queenstown catching up on their time spent in New Zealand as well as a bit of planning for the time ahead. We also drank cocktails out of teapots in world bar but that, quite frankly, is a bit too surreal to remember clearly. The second day, however, we spent on the slopes. Cunningly (or accidentally depending on how you look at) we’d timed our visit perfectly with “The Winter Games 2009″, the precursor to the Winter Olympics. While Ravi and I had skied before, Steve had snowboarded only a few times, so we decided that we would all board for the day. Ravi and I booked ourselves in to a lesson in the morning and collected our hire stuff. Unfortunately, as I suspected, the lesson was with around 7 others and really far too slow paced. As a result I left the lesson a little early to go throw myself down the slopes in the hunt of boarding nirvana: I did not get it. As my sister had pointed out it’s just not as much fun as skiing, and hurts a whole lot more. We did, though, get to see some of the games while we were boarding. One particularly impressive site was Shaun White throwing himself down the half pipe pulling off consecutive 1080s of some variety.

The next couple of days, what with the terrible weather, were spent visiting Arrow Town and not a lot else really. Arrow Town is a town created during the recent gold rush. It’s described, by everywhere, as being “Quaint”. This is certainly true, but a more apt description would be dull. There’s a chinese settlement there as well which barely heightens the experience. Anyway, on the third day we were actually going to go down to the Milford Track/Sound but due to the recent snowfall the road had been closed. We’d pretty much given up with the thought of the slopes but this new snowfall coupled with promising weather conditions tempted me and Steve back to the slopes. Ravi, by then, had left us on his one man mission to South America.

Our second day on the slopes was much better. With the new snowfall (30cms) Pout it baby!and the promise of better weather we took to the slopes. This time I went with skis as I actually wanted to see something of the mountain and take in the scenery. Fortunately the weather man got it wrong; the weather wasn’t improving, it was perfect. Beautiful clear skies with great fresh powder mean’t that the skiing was great. Unfortunately, that also mean’t that, being a Saturday, the entirety of the south island was also on the slopes. Queue long queues!

The following day, what with the Milford road still shut, we decided to head to the Routeburn Track, alledgedly number 9 on the worlds greatest walks list. Ordinarily it’s a four day walk but given the high avalance risk we were advised to only do the one day up to the Falls Hut just below the snow line. The problem with backpacking, or my backpacking at least, is that you try to pretty much cater for every eventuality. Unfortunately for me, that meant hiking in a moderately waterproof jacket with a pair of cords on. Thankfully my hiking shoes were a cut above, mind you porous trainers would have been a cut above. No sooner had we started the walk the skies opened. We made it to the first shelter in relatively good condition and met a couple of guys there. One, who was obviously set up for the hike and had been in that shelter a night already. The other, was worse than us, with no food and only a hoodie on! Routeburn PlainWe had a quick snack and then took off up to the falls hut. Half way up we met a couple coming down (the only other people this high up) and asked if it was possible to get above the trees. They, dressed in full waterproofs with walking poles and 70kilo backpacks, took a look at us, Steve in shorts, and said we could but probably not a great idea. Anyway, we kept on going, and managed to reach the falls hut in 40 minutes, a full 20 minutes before the quicker suggested time. At this height it was snowing, and snowing good. We had a quick look about before deciding that going higher was virtual suicide and made our way back down. The way back was far worse. By now, my “waterproof” jacket was completed soaked through and my cords had started secreting some substance. I was getting cold and pretty bloody miserable. We managed to get back to the car in record time at which point I attempted to get dry and changed. It took me a full 15 minutes to undo the first button on my cords (my hands were terribly cold) and not much less to undo the rest. I can now fully appreciate waterproofs, it was horrific being that wet in that cold. From there we drove straight round to Lake Wanaka for a stop off and a much needed shower.

The following morning we took off early in order to get up to Franz Josef in time for the afternoon glacier half day trek. Driving on the west coast of the South Island is an absolute treat. The views are stunning and the roads a joy to drive down. If only we’d had a quicker car. On that note, later on in the trip we were outpaced by a Toyota Prius; oh the embarassment! Anyway, the Franz Josef glacierFranz Josef Glacier is fairly unique in two departments. Firstly, it finishes very near to sea level (less than 300 metres above in fact) and coupled with the warmth and rain is surrounded by rain forest. I spent the afternoon doing a trek up to and on to the glacier, which moves at around 3 metres a day, through a guide company. It was a pretty amazing experience, especially as I’d never used crampons before. We were also fortunate in that recent developments had meant that the half day route was “very interesting” with lots of nooks and crannies!

We spent the next day basically driving. Unfortunately there are some bloody big mountains down the west side of New Zealand and nobody’s had the foresight to put a tunnel through them. That means that to get 70 miles you’ve actually got to drive about 500 miles up and down. Anyway, what with the stunning scenery it’s not actually that bad a thing. It was just made all the more worse by the fact that we only had a radio in the car and every time you search for a station (which it fails to do) it makes a beeping sound. This was tedious at best. In the end we made it to Lake Tekapo, via SpringfieldSpringfield, in good time.

Lake Tekapo is famous for its slightly surreal creamy blue colour, the result of finely ground minerals in the glacial waters. We spent the morning havingĀ  a look at the lake, and chapel, and sheep dog statue (!) before making the quick trek up Mount John overlooking the lake. Walking through snow we made it to the summit where it was a little windy (to say the least.) Thankfully they’d, to accompany the observatory, put a cafe on top so we had a hot chocolate before heading back down. Once down we decided to treat ourselves to the hot springs just near the lake and spent a good few hours hopping between three pools of 37, 39 and 41 degrees. That afternoon we drove to Mt Cook village where we basicall relaxed in the YHA Hostel, which included a Sauna, while the weather outside bashed the hostel!

Thankfully, that morning we woke to glorious sunshine which gave us the (almost) perfect opportunity to head off for a walk. Unfortunately the nights snow meant that most of the walks were closed due to avalanche risk. Anyway we took off for the walk, in what was sometimes over a foot of fresh snow, and made it further than anyone else before feeling we could gain no more and heading back. It was a wonderful view of the tallest peak in New Zealand and really rather lucky. That afternoon we drove to Christchurch for a bit of city time.

Mount CookChristchurch is the “garden city” with a very english feel. It’s the biggest city on the South Island but at just over 350,000 people isn’t exactly huge: it definitely feels that way. We did the usual tourist stuff, including visiting the crazy modern art museum (some of the stuff these people get away with) and failing to find a Bonsai enclosure in the botanical gardens. We also saw a shell house and went to a mexican cafe for dinner and drinks. The night was topped off by a visit to a cuban bar with a live band. A guy, on guitar, and a girl playing a few tunes done with a south american vibe. They were great, the $4 whiskey and cokes were not bad and we had a pretty good night, apart from a couple of guys chatting us up.

The following day we headed off to Picton, on the north coast, to get the ferry over to the North Island. Picton, is generally seen only as a transit town for access to the ferries. However, it’s got some real beauty itself. The bay is lovely, with some gorgeous rolling hills and islands within the natural harbour. We had a little bit of a drive on our second day and were lucky enough to see a couple of seals, very close to shore, playing and rolling about.It's a Seal!

Author: Mark Jerzykowski Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
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