Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lake Matheson and the beautiful road to Wanaka

Before we left Glacier Country, the four of us headed just down the road to Lake Matheson: a body of water notorious for it's picture perfect reflection of Mt. Cook and the glaciers on a calm day.

We did not visit Lake Metheson on a perfect, still day but it was definitely beautiful regardless. We had an awesome time on the suspension bridge and made friends with an older British couple doing a house exchange in Austrailia, a pair of priests from the local community, as well as a German woman and her father (seen in the video below!)

I fell asleep as soon as we left Lake Matheson - I was utterly exhausted from the early morning wake up, the hike up the glacier, and extreme climate changes. I woke up a couple hours later as we approached our campsite for the night. This was one of the most stunning areas I had seen up until this point on the trip: incredible rolling fields of gold, forest along the roads, and snow capped mountains. Our campsite was buggy, but there was a rock beach and a river of glacial runoff. It was amazing. We cooked at a stone firepit before it was dark (possibly a first for us!) and were joined by 3 German men who weren't too certain of our quick conversations and jokes. We had tea for dessert and went to sleep around midnight.

We managed to get away with not paying yet again: our 6th consecutive win! We decided we should probably bathe and attempted to do so in the river. I scolded the boys for using soap in the river and had to literally limp back to shore as the water was so unbelievably frigid my feet cramped up and I couldn't walk.

We hit the road around noon and spent the day racing tour buses to the dozens of photo spots along the gorgeous road to Wanaka. We stopped at so many waterfalls, the "gates of Haas" (which is essentially a giant waterfall gushing into a river and absolutely perfect), and the infamous Blue Pools. The Blue Pools are the most brilliant blue I've ever seen. You walk this lovely 20 minute path through the forest to reach two suspension bridges that extend over the Blue Pools and surrounding river.

Dan had his heart set on jumping off of the suspension bridge into the Blue Pools: something we'd been told to do by the Germans we'd met the night before. And he did. He leapt from a bridge a good 20 to 24 feet in the air down into the crystal blue waters that were reportedly just as cold, if not colder than the glacial run off we'd bathed in that morning. Mike had a fun time pooping in the woods while I watched Tim and Dan survive the cold waters -- it's a good story, you should ask him about it sometime.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Glacier Country

After we left Hokitika I was feeling like something spontaneous needed to happen and suggested that when we saw a river worthy of jumping into, we should do so. 10 minutes later we were all in our swimsuits leaping into a river with a very strong current: strong enough that when we leapt into the water, it rushed us downstream about fifty feet or so until we swam out of the current to the sandbar. It was really difficult for me to actually stand on the sandbar the current was so fast and often had to opt for making it all the way to the rocks at the edge. We cheered and waved at the cars passing on the bridge above us and when the boys decided to jump in naked into the freezing water, I decided I should probably walk away.

We drove down to Glacier Country to stay at a free campsite called Gillespies Beach about 20 km outside of Fox Township. "Glacier Country" refers to the World Heritage Area where New Zealand's two most profitable glaciers sit: Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Mike and I had decided that we wanted to take a guided hike onto one of the glaciers and had a lot of difficulty deciding which to do. Franz Josef was much more commercialized and popular and for an extra $20, you got entrance into the Hot Springs. Fox offered smaller tour groups, bigger glacier, and was much older. The major difference seemed to be that Franz Josef offered more ice time but was more expensive.

In the end, Mike and I opted for Fox Glacier based on some locals recommendations, and now having done the glacier, I would probably suggest people opt for Franz Josef. It was definitely a very cool and surreal experience - but the stories I heard from those travelers who did Franz Josef kind of trumped my stories. C'est la vie!

After a buggy, late dinner night at our packed to the absolute gills campsite - we woke early and Tim and Dan dropped Mike and I off at the tour. We decided to wear shorts and layer our shirts as we would be hiking up through a rainforest (hot hot hot) to get to the access point of the glacier (cold cold cold). It was nice for Mike and I to have some time to spend together (although the tour was seriously not as fun without Tim and Dan there to be crazy) and we really enjoyed our tour guide Sam, a native New Zealander in his early 20s. I think the thing that was the strangest was that we were on a TOUR: we were with tourists and for the first time it really felt like we were... tourists! We couldn't go off on our own and had to hike at the same pace as everyone else - so it was definitely a change. We were also required to wear the provided hiking boots. They did not fit. That's all I'll say as I'd prefer not to relive the feeling.

The rainforest was really cool to hike through and I peeled off my layers as fast as possible. We passed waterfalls and crossed water fresh enough you could drink it straight out of the stream. The absolute coolest thing that happened was during a short break during the hike: we had a perfect view of the front of the glacier below us when the front of it collapsed! Pieces of the front of the glacier melt and fall off everyday into the river of water that flows below, but this was a HUGE chunk and the echo of the collapse sounded like thunder down the valley. Sam immediately jumped on his radio to warn other guides and rangers and promised us he'd never seen such a huge chunk fall off. It was so awesome!

When we hiked up the ice stairs to the glacier (which have to be hacked away at with ice picks all day long by three Fox guides) it became frigidly cold. We'd put on our shoe ice grips and grabbed an ice staff to walk with and we clambered around on top of a freaking glacier! The glacier was much dirtier than you'd expect: each snowflakes is built around a speck of dust and when you have billions of snowflakes creating a glacier, you have billions of specks of dust as well. I loved how blue the ice was and we got to poke around a little ice cave in the glacier. It was an overwhelming experience: looking behind us towards the middle of the glacier, it was sparkling ice blue in the sunlight and absolutely beautiful.

And now I can say things like "I climbed a glacier" in normal conversation.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hokitika and the Drugs

We seem to have this luck following us around on this trip and one of the luckiest and coolest parts of the trip was our ability to camp entirely for free down the West Coast of the South Island. We didn't pay to sleep anywhere from Nelson to Wanaka: seven whole days of free camping and no showers. This doesn't mean that we always stayed at free campsites: sometimes we freedom camped, sometimes we stayed at DOC Basic Campsites which don't have fees, and sometimes we just got lucky and the Ranger never came to collect fees at the DOC Standard Campsites (which are just marginally better than Basic ones and thus usually have a fee).

Such was the case with our magical Nacho Campsite between Greymouth and Hokitika. This campsite had our own private campsite with a stove over our campfire, drinkable water from a nozzle, and flushing toilets. And apparently free drugs.

Mike was off christening the flushing toilets while Tim, Dan, and I sat around the campfire eating breakfast and drinking tea when a car pulled up to our site. At first we all thought it must be the ranger coming to collect our fee: I know we all thought this because we all had the same long pause when the woman who climbed out of the car asked us if we had stayed at this site last night. After a very long awkward moment we all replied that yes we had (though I had no intention of telling her that there was a fourth person with us as I expected her next to collect our fee) -- to which she replied "Have you seen my pot?"

Now to my credit, I am straightedge but I have apparently spent enough time around drug culture to be a bit more savvy to these sorts of questions than Tim or Dan. This is to their credit and by their own admittance (you did good, Mrs. Malone!). So this story is actually funnier because Tim didn't know what the woman had asked for and actually thought she was looking for her wallet and was sort of stunned when it was revealed that she was looking for her lost drugs which she had driven 68 kilometers back to this camping spot for. As this woman is scouring the campsite - I know that she thinks we smoked her weed and I'm praying that she finds it and the big Maori looking man in her car doesn't get out of her car. But she DID find it and off she went leaving us a little but more entertained than we planned.

We drove down the road to this Tunnel Trail not far from our site and I really enjoyed exploring the forest and listening to the loudest Cicadas I've ever heard. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the sunlight just filtered through the forest as Dan and I found some tunnel caves to crawl through off the path and also spotted a Fantail Bird which was really cool to watch.

We reached Hokitika in the early afternoon to use internet, book tickets to hike the Fox Glacier the next day, and eat lunch. We were more re-energized when we left -- in fact, this is exactly what we did when we left town:

Punakaiki and Greymouth

We woke from our beach campsite in the morning to have tea and breakfast over a fire on the beach on an overcast day. After a sluggish start, we headed back up the road to see The Pancake Rocks: a tourist attraction located on the coast of the Paparoa Naitonal Park where limestone rocks have been shaped by the ocean to look like pancakes stacked on top of one another. The most alluring part is the blowholes that occur at high tide and while we'd hoped to catch the blowholes in action, we weren't so lucky. The Pancake Rocks were still cool and I stalked a guy wearing a Boston Red Sox cap only to discover he was actually from Oklahoma. We met a couple Americans traveling on tour buses in the area and it was one of our first real experiences being in a locaition populated entirely by the tour buses passing through and people like us.

We grabbed some drinks and ice cream at the little cafe across the street and discovered that just down the road was the Paparoa Caverns. The sun came out and we scurried along in high sprits to climb around this amazing cave. We sang songs ("I Would Walk 500 Miles") and Mike took photos as we walked and crawled through sand stone and little waterfalls. We even saw a few glow worms hiding out in the back of the cavern. It was awesome.

We jumped back on the road and headed down to Greymouth: possibly the largest town on the West Coast. The boys discovered that a brewery tour was just going to start at Monteith's Brewery, so I dropped them off and went to search for internet. I was late to pick them up due to some charging electronics and boys were no where in sight when I hopped out of the car in front of the Brewery. Suddenly, I heard someone running very loudly and very fast in flip flops and realized Tim was screaming my name at the top of his lungs and sprinting full speed down a hill towards me. As he ran into me, he lifted me into the air screaming "We thought we'd lost you!"

They drank a LOT of beer on that brewery tour.

With groceries and more beer supplies in our vehicle, I drove my rowdy and joyous men to our next campsite where we had one of the best meals of our trip: nachos over a campfire. We made so much food that for the first time we legit could not finish everything. The campsite itself was awesome -- it had a stove built over the fire pit and was set off away from the other campsites -- and ... wait for it... FLUSHING TOILETS. Being set off from other sites was definitely good, as we watched Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King while we ate copious amounts of nachos around our campfire and finished the film while all laying on top of each other in our tiny tent. Epic epic night.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Buller Gorge and Westport

From Top To Bottom:
(1) Westport: Thank you for the library bathroom and free wifi,
(2) Buller Gorge and The Iron Bridge,
(3) I like taking photos of Mike taking photos,
(4) Breakfast at Buller Gorge,
(5) Our gnats campsite.

Abel Tasman National Park

From Top to Bottom: (1) The prairie grass looking out to the ocean,
(2) 5pm is great for photos but not necessarily for swimming,
(3) The trees were incredible,
(4) "On The Coast Of Somewhere Beautiful NZ 2011",
(5) The coast of somewhere beautiful,
(6) Naptime with sand flies,
(7) Anapia beach,
(8) To the beach!,
(9) The path through the forest,
(10) These awesome fern palm trees,
(11) Mike admiring the trees

The Road to Abel Tasman

From Top to Bottom: (1) Tim has this habit of sweeping me off my feet - literally,
(2) Up the Mountain to Abel Tasman!,
(3) The beach was literally shimmering gold,
(4) Golden Bay,
(5) The beach we stopped to have lunch on,
(6) From the top of one of the mountains down into the valley,
(7) Mmm Mike don't jump!,
(8) Mike testing the water,
(9) Tim enjoying the sunshine,
(10) We had to stop on our way to Abel Tasmen cause it was so beautiful.

The Palace Backpackers

From Top to Bottom: (1) Dan asleep in our room,
(2) The boys leaving the Palace our last morning,
(3) The porch on the side of our room,
(4) Our balcony,
(5) The walkway up to our balcony from the driveway.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Camping on the Beach

On our drive down the coast through Paparoa National Park we discovered that the DOC campsite (Department of Conservation) we were headed for actually was much further away and we wouldn't make it there that night. So we thought we would look for camping signs or perhaps a free place to stay on the side of the road.

We drove past a huge pasteur that led out to the beach and the boys spotted three campervans sitting at the end of a long road, literally parked right on the beach. So we headed down the road to see if people were just surfing or if they were going to be camping on the beach for the night and if we could find a spot for our tent and car.

"Free camping" or "Guerilla Camping" is something that we're pretty big fans of but it happens to be a hot topic issue here in New Zealand on the South Island. Almost everyone on the South Island seems to be a pair or trio of tourists in a campervan with no toilet driving the islands as we are. But they camp on beaches or on pasteurs and they just shit on the land and peace out. To put it plainly. So obviously New Zealanders are getting upset. We've done an excellent job finding and using public toilets and making sure never to litter and to leave our camping spots as we've found them but I can certainly say not everyone follows those rules of conduct.

We discovered three Germans, two Parisians, and a family of Kiwis (from Auckland) all camping out on the beach for the night in their campervans. The kiwis had a huge firepit going with benches made from beach wood (as well as a palm branch bed) and they invited us to cook and chat with them while the sun set over the ocean. It was amazing. Tim drove off in search of water and actually ended up driving across several fields to find this house and ask them for water and it turned out to be the people whose land we were free camping on! They gave Tim water and sent him on his way - but asked him to drive on the driveway.

He returned to the beach just in time for the most gorgeous sunset of the trip and for a dinner of rice, beans, zucchini, onions, garlic, potato, carrots, and broccoli with teriyaki sauce and a big salad for dessert. Yeah we camp in style. We stayed up late eating and talking with everyone and when the family went to sleep, the boys broke out the cigars and we chatted with the Germans about working in New Zealand while enjoying the warmth of our huge fire.

Westport and The West Coast

We arrived around midnight at a campsite located at an old Railway station stop on the side of the highway. It was packed with campervans and tents but we plopped down on a patch of grass under a full moon. When we woke in the morning we discovered literally hundreds of gnats swarming around us and Adi: it was disgusting and we've never moved out of a campsite so quickly!! We drove away with the windows down to flush out the gnats and stopped about an hour later for breakfast beside the Iron Bridge overlooking the Buller Gorge. I was picking wild blackberries above a waterfall when I somehow slipped and turned my ankle: I was litterally standing one second and then on my hands and knees the next. Although initially I was terrified I'd sprained it, it seemed alright so we jumped back in the car and pushed onwards to Westport, a larger South Island town on the coast.

It should be noted that the South Island towns are SIGNIFICANTLY smaller than North Island ones. There are only 800,000 people living on the whole of the South Island and only 4 million people populating New Zealand all together. So a "large" town on the South Island consists of a few cross streets along a main road with one gas station, library, and grocery chain.

We plunked down in the Westport library to use their free internet and skype with our respective mothers. We ended up needing a good five hours to sit and catch up on our lives and in that time my ankle swelled up and I hobbled down to Subway to steal a bag of ice. Mike and I managed to get yelled at twice in that library (My mom: "Who the hell was that dick?!" Love you mommy) before pushing out of town with new groceries.

As we drove, our exhausted spirits were suddenly lifted as we turned a corner to be greeted with The West Coast and these beautiful waves crashing against the shore. We were driving along the coast in Paparoa National Park and we were in paradise. It was very similar to driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in California but we were in New Zealand and that makes absolutely everything better.