Thursday, January 18, 2007

8th - 17th January (Ice climbing to sea kayaking)

We packed up our tents in the rain and drove on to Fox Glacier where the weather was also mostly overcast with showers. We went in to the town information centre and I booked a day of ice climbing for $210. Later we went for a nice walk around nearby Matheson lake, as we got to the best lookout point the sun was low in the sky behind us, the clouds cleared a little and we got some excellent photos of the mountain, clouds and orangey sky reflected in the lake. Being quite cautious with my budget, I don't mind spending $210 dollars if I have a good time but just like the moments after I spent out on the bungy jump I wondered wether ice climbing would be any good and wether the weather would ruin the views of the glacier. However, when I got up at 06.45, the sky was clear and remained that way all morning, the clouds arrived in the afternoon but no rain and the day turned out to be fantastic fun. We walked around the side of the terminal face of the glacier and up on to the surface of the ice, fully kitted up with crampons (boots with massive spikes in them) we walked until we found some suitable ice walls (big crevaces in the glacier) and there our group of four learnt to walk and climb on ice.
To be walking on a glacier is amazing, these things are like prehistoric remnants of the last ice age, they played a massive part in shaping this country and when you walk on one you can hear them creak as they gradually move down the valley at about a metre a day, you hear the trickle of tiny streams all around you as the sun melts the ice and high up above I could see the pinnacle where fresh snow was being compacted to continue the cycle with new ice.
At one point, I climbed a small face, was lowered over the lip into a crevace of smooth blue ice, then with the aid of my ice picks climbed up the taller wall in front of me - it wasn't as hard as rock climbing as you can use the picks and spikes on your shoes to make suitable ledges as you go but it was a good ten hours of walking and climbing so I was quite exhausted by the end (especially as I had volunteered to carry one of the ropes which was twice the weight on the way back due to it being wet). We all brought sandwiches for lunch, sat on our waterproof jackets on the ice wearing just a couple of t-shirts with the sun beating down, very nice. Once the instructor was happy that we knew what we were doing, we were
bilaying eachother (using the rope as safety for when we fall), he took all four of our cameras and snapped away so I have some great pictures from that day. After Fox glacier we drove to Franz Josef glacier, the busier and more expensive of the two. We walked to the terminal face and took some photos but I don't think they compared to those I got at Fox, I also preferred the smaller and prettier village at Fox.

The next stop was Hokitika where there really isn't much to do. We found our way to eco-world with the promise of seeing live Kiwi birds (well you have to see a Kiwi when in NZ), after walking around the aquariums and looking at all the exotic fish and eels the size of my leg (no joke) we got to the dimly lit Kiwi enclosure where only one Kiwi wanted to show itself, he had one leg and hopped about for a bit looking cute and helpless. I bought a tiny Kiwi in the hope that it would make it the rest of the way around the world with me so that it can join the undoubtedly huge pile of baby Casey's soft toys. The campsite we stayed at was pretty busy but all I could hear when I went to bed at night was the sound of the crashing waves about 200 metres away. In the morning we drove to turquoise blue 'Hokitika gorge' which was very nice but swarming with sandflies.
On a boiling hot day, we drove on to Westport, stopping at Punakaiki for views of the pancake rocks, where the limestone has formrd in distinct layers and then been shaped by the acidity of the rain and the crashing of the waves, making formations that look surprisingly like piles of pancakes. If we had been here later in the day we could have seen the blow hole in action but we moved on to Westport where we stopped at a high viewpoint to watch the seals as the played on and around the rocks. The pups were about a month old and we stayed for ages to watch them, it was a hive of activity and we could have stayed there all day, unfortunately they were a bit too far away to get good photos or video. In the evening I walked on my own into the quiet town in the hope of finding internet, but instead I found a pub where I ate lamb shank (as much as I've enjoyed eating veggie food I needed to eat an animal!) washed down by a couple of beers.
On the way home I saw the best sunset yet but we weren't on the coast so my photos have industrial buildings and telegraph poles in the foreground. Today, my friends Stu (that's Stu who I lived with in Portsmouth) and Clare Hawthorn had a baby girl called Emily (12th Jan).

So, onwards again, in a very hot car to Nelson, bright sunshine all the way but rain as we approached Nelson (sod's law) so we drank tea and played yahtzee before putting up the tents during a dry moment. We drove to town and treated ourselves to Dominoes pizza. Found an internet cafe with a handful of Skype machines that were all in use until 20 minutes before they closed when I managed to call Mum. I also managed to transfer some much needed funds into my current account. In the last 2 months I have spent an average of 42 pound per day taking my 6 month total to 5,300 pound (although this doesn't include the 1,700 pound flights or the prepaid 2 week tour of India which cost almost a grand I think). Still, South America should be fairly cheap.

At the information centre in Nelson, we spent half a day sorting through the multitude of options of things to do in Abel Tasman national park. Eventually we settled on a $65 day of kayaking, followed the next day by a $40 sea taxi and trek. I emailed a copy of my driving licence to the car rental people so I could drive the car. Back at the site I managed to get ducklings to eat oats out of my hand while the mother duck made concerned noises waiting to go for me if I made any sudden movements. I made a nice salad for dinner (although a steak would have made it better). I drove back to the internet place and couldn't get on Skype at all. I tried to call Dad using my credit card from a payphone and it charged me $4 as soon as the BT callminder cut in - bargain!

I've been travelling with Tom and Sasha for three weeks now and it's been pretty good. With Sasha being veggie and doing most of the cooking I have eaten well, they are Buddhist and neither of them drink much so I haven't drunk much either and am feeling quite healthy as a result. When the weather is rubbish or there is not much to keep us entertained we can always play cards, and it has been a convenient and cheap way to see probably more of the south island than I could have done any other way. Tom wants me to stay at least until the 24th of January as that's his birthday and we both want to skydive over lake Taupo, but I am starting to get the itch for hitch hiking again soon as I'm not really meeting any new people and it's all a bit too easy, plus I am missing meat and ale! (I have discovered Mac's Sassy red though - a lovely local tipple!)

So anyway, a 06.15 start, and luckily again, when I need it most the weather is good. A drive to Mauharu (the Abel Tasman starting point) where we filled out forms, applied sun screen, had a safety lesson and kayaked off in a double and a single kayak. Just like when I swim, my shoulders felt like they had cramp after no time at all and it seemed like really hard work. From 09.00 to 14.00 we paddled about 24km around an island, to watering cove and back along the coast to Mauharu stopping at several nice coves and beaches for snack/lunch/shoulder recovery stops. I managed to capsize whilst trying to get in from the beach with camera still in my pocket, luckily it somehow stayed dry and I transferred it to the dry bag, I then capsized again and looked like a complete wally. My shoulders and probably my technique improved as the day went on and the route back had a little current behind us. We booked in to the campsite at Mauharu and played cards.

The 10.30 water taxi (speed boat) took us to Bark Bay, we walked south for about three hours to Anchorage, the few clouds dissappeared and we had over an hour to swim in the icy sea and sunbathe on the beautiful beach before the 16.00 return boat trip which seemed so much bumpier than the outward trip despite the stillness of the water. The walk, described by the lonely planet as the best section of this coastal stretch was mostly under the cover of forest and not that remarkable. Sasha saw a dolphin on the way back but the rest of us missed it. In the evening we watched 'Ugly Betty' (never again) and 'Ian Wright's unfit kids'.

We drove back to Nelson the next morning, where we ate at a Thai restaurant with a good, cheap lunchtime menu. I then drove the incredibly windy road to Picton. The weather went from sun to dark cloud and rain. We drank tea and pitched tents. I started to read 'The 5 people you meet in heaven' by Mitch Albom although I am also reading Shantaram. The games room had pool, table footy and air hockey, we played all three followed by shit head and 15's and an episode of Black Adder.

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