Christchurch, New Zealand, December 26
New Zealand (Part 5)
Later in the morning we drove to Milford Sound, passing through the 1207 meter Homer Tunnel en route. The tunnel was built between 1935 and 1952, has a steep descent from east to west, and no internal lighting. Milford Sound is a 22 kilometer long fiord, the most popular (and accessible) of Fiordland National Park. Upon reaching Milford, we discovered that the road ends at a car park and beyond that a wharf where various day cruise options depart from. We were expecting a quaint village of some sort. We opted to skip the cruise after seeing the many busloads of multiple-camera-toting tourists on packaged holidays that were cramming into the boats. Instead, we attempted a short hike in the area, but when we reached the trailhead we found that the trail was closed due to dangerous rock falls. So, we headed back toward the Homer Tunnel, stopping to take in the views at the Chasm and Mount Tutoko along the way. About 15 kilometers east of the tunnel we took a side road into the Hollyford Valley and spent the afternoon hiking up a track to Lake Marian. As we arrived at the lake after a fairly difficult hike, it started to rain. We waited for a while under a large rock in the forest, but eventually had to begin the descent before the trail became too muddy. On the way back down Sue and I both slipped and fell on the rocks in different spots. Injuries were minor, but Sue did have a sore back for several days afterward.
Late in the afternoon we backtracked to Te Anau and then headed toward Queenstown, the "adventure capital of the world" (well, at least of New Zealand). At dusk we camped in a rest area along the shore of Lake Wakatipu, about 20 kilometers south of Queenstown.
Queenstown is the major resort town of the South Island and we had heard from other travellers that everything would be expensive there. Our plan then was to spend one day doing on of the myriad outdoor activities (rafting, bungy jumping, jetboating, sky diving, etc.) and then head out. We arrived in town by mid-morning and after perusing all of the options at the visitor center, we decided that tandem hang gliding was the best choice.
A couple of hours later six thrill-seeking tourists, including Sue and I, were standing on windswept Coronet Peak overlooking Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu in the valley below with The Remarkables rising to the south. Since there were six of us and only three guides, we would have to go in two groups. Sue and I did not want to go at the same time so that we could take pictures of each other. Sue volunteered me to go first and a few minutes later I was outfitted in a blue padded jumpsuit, helmet, and safety harness. My guide, Dave, explained the two simple rules of tandem hang gliding: "Hold on to me and keep running." I asked for clarification to which he replied, "Hold on to me and keep running." He then made me repeat the mantra several times. Dave secured our harnesses to the glider frame abd we maneuvered ourselves to the top of the launch area. This was basically a grassy slope that descended several meters to the top of a much steeper rocky slope and then into the forest sprawling down the mountainside into the valley below. We waited a few minutes for the winds to change direction, then Dave shouted "Go!" and we started running down the slope as I clutched the handles attached to his jumpsuit. A few seconds later the gusting wind caught the glider and lifted us off the ground. Following my instructions from Dave (and assuming there was some technical reason for it), I continued running though my feet were dangling awkwardly in the air. Dave noticed my fanatical dedication and yelled out "Stop running!" (I later found out from Sue that this was quite amusing for those watching from the launch area. She also managed to capture this nimble feat on video and there is a clip in the video gallery.)
The twenty minute ride (which was longer than usual, according to guide Dave, due to the strong winds that day) was amazing. The mountain scenery was spectacular and the feeling of flying was both exhilirating and completely unsettling. Dave let me "steer" for a while and then took us through a series of sharp turns and steep dives. I did actually begin to feel a bit queasy and after we slid to a stop on our stomachs in a field (that is normal), I was was glad to be back on the ground again. I found a table to sit at and chatted with the other two guys in my group who had also just landed, but mainly I was just trying to get past the dizziness and mild nausea I was feeling. A couple of minutes later the van from the launch area arrived to collect the three guides and wouldn't you know it - Sue had made the trip down to videotape my after-flight reaction. Camera rolling, she burst toward me asking "So, how was it?!" I tried my best to sound excited and reassuring, but all I could muster was a half-hearted "Great." As she was getting back into the van to return to the launch area for her glide, I was pretty sure that I had not convinced her that I was feeling fabulous and she had nothing to worry about...
An hour later I watched Sue and Dave (he was her guide as well) land in the field. As I appoached (camera rolling), I could tell immediately from her immobile form and greenish pallor that this would be our last hang gliding experience.
We decided to stay in Queenstown that night to recover and splurged by paying for a spot at the crowded Creeksyde Campervan Park. In the evening we walked around the lakefront area and sampled some local wine at an outdoor cafe.
We spent most of the next day soaking up the sun on Queenstown's small but scenic lake beach. Late in the afternoon we started on the long drive to Fox Glacier, where we had booked a glacier hiking tour for the next day. As the sun was setting we drove north through some very scenic country between Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. We then entered Mount Aspiring National Park and crossed the Southern Alps once again, this time via the Haast Pass. Notable during this segment was the amount of possum roadkill, to which we added our fair share. (Not to sound too cold or morbid, but possums are considered a pestilence in New Zealand anyway...) Finally, after a long drive through the mountains in the dark, we reached the west coast and camped in the parking lot of a scenic area called Ship's Point.
We rose early the next morning and drove the remaining one hundred kilometers north along the coast and then inland to Fox Glacier. We used Alpine Guides (www.foxguides.co.nz) for our half day glacier hike. They provided boots, crampons, and our towering and informative guide, Rodger. The hike lead us up a valley alongside the glacier to a point where we could walk on top of it using steps carved into the ice by the guides with pickaxes. (Once we saw this Sue and I privately changed our guide's name to Yukon Cornelius.) We explored the glacier for a while, looking at various crevices and ice formations. Walking around on a huge chunk of ice quickly becomes a chilly endeavour, so after an hour or so we headed back down the valley as a heavy rain began to fall.
An hour or so later we were back at the campervan, ready to head out of town. I was feeling a bit tired and had some body aches, so Sue took over the driving duties while I tried to sleep in the back. I had to give up on this effort after a short while, but Sue continued on and took us east over the Southern Alps via Arthur's Pass in Arthur's Pass National Park and then down through Craigieburn Forest Park. We camped that night in a secluded spot off the highway near Lake Carolyn.
In the morning I was not feeling much better. Signs of a flu were starting to set in. Sue continued driving and by early afternoon we had arrived at Christchurch, our final stop in New Zealand. We found our way to the Dreamtime Hostel where we had made a booking and I went to bed straightaway while Sue returned the campervan to the rental company. As the day wore on, I felt worse and worse, achieving a temperature of 103 F. Sue forced me to drink plenty of fluids and eat chicken soup and toast.
I sweated and shivered through the night, but by morning my fever had broken and my appetite slowly returned over the course of the day. That was a very good thing because, as I have mentioned in the previous entry from Christmas Day, the hostel manager, Marcus, was planning a traditional Maori hangi feast for the hostel guests. Being a devoted fan of things edible, I would have been very disappointed if my digestive system had not been able to partake in this new culinary experience. We were downtown most of the day running errands since everything would be closed for Christmas and also for Boxing Day on the 26th. (Boxing Day we learned was traditionally the day when the Christmas gifts were actually opened, or removed from their boxes, hence the name. Not a bad idea, actually. But most people here just open them all on Christmas Day like we do.) In the evening we attended the Christchurch New Life Center's Christmas Eve service which was an incredible musical performance by the church's youth.
Sue and I celebrated our first Christmas as husband and wife. As I mentioned, Marcus the hostel manager planned a hangi feast for the guests and we all pitched in to help. Personally, I washed and cut a vegetable called a kumera which is like a sweet potato and I helped Marcus build the hangi pit and then dig it out later on. I've described that and included pictures in our entry from December 25, so I won't repeat it all here. Marcus asked me to say the blessing and then we had a great time sharing the meal with new friends from around the world. And I was well enough to stuff myself silly.
Our last day in New Zealand... We packed up and split the cost of a shuttle to the airport with our new friend Anna from Frankfurt. Upon arriving at check-in we discovered that (of course), our flight to Sydney had been rescheduled and had left an hour ago! The Air New Zealand people very nicely booked us onto the next flight four hours later and even gave us some vouchers to buy food at the airport food court. How's that for service?!
Lookout near Homer Tunnel
Kea bird (outside Homer Tunnel)
Lake Marian in the rain
Lake Marian in the rain (wide angle)
Muddy, rocky Lake Marian track
Long White Cloud (On the way to Queenstown)
Max always was the black sheep of the family...
Just before takeoff!
Us and Crazy Dave, the hang gliding guide
Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps
Digging steps on the glacier
Attaching crampons to my boots
Don't fall in here
Sue and Yukon Cornelius
Sue and Rodger
Lunch on the glacier
Fox Glacier terminus (Note the bulldozing effect)
Glacial ablation zone (where it melts)
"Do not breakdance under falling ice"
Sue coming in for a landing
Dorf on hang gliding
Domestic Dave cutting the kumera for the hangi