October 30, 2003
Day 5 Fox Glacier Tour 0900-1300, Fox Glacier – Wanaka Drive @ 1330 // Awake @ 0645L // ACTIVITIES: Glacier Hiking, Driving
I wake up excitedly, before my wimpy alarm ever goes off, trying to organize my scattered thoughts. It doesn’t take long to get moving. The sun is beginning to peek through the mountains and gaze on the town – it looks as if the morning will be perfect for the half-day Glacier Hike I’ve arranged through the front desk.
I have a heart-starting cigarette and sip my rapidly cooling instant coffee in the brisk morning mountain air. There’s definitely something different about this town – the smell and feel of it – but I can’t quite grasp its elusiveness. I head down to the Alpine Guides headquarters, eager to check in and get something in my stomach besides instant coffee and nicotine. Inside the faux ski-lodge there is frenzied activity as different groups scramble over each other to check in for the full day, half-day and heli-hiking tours offered by the company. Another large gathering earnestly tries to buy every imaginable souvenir in the store. For my part, I pick out some tasteful postcards and a silver-on-black baseball cap sporting the town’s name with a silver fern leaf before hopping into line.
I sit at one of the ‘rustic’ wooden benches outside to wolf down my breakfast and sneak in some postcard writing. Right in the middle of my eggs, sausage and bacon – my half-day cluster shows up under the same overhang. The guides are busy splitting the group into two – with one consisting mostly of young and middle aged adults, and the other being comprised of kids, families and elders. Inside the boot shack, I’m granted permission to keep my own relatively new but well broken in Montrails on. They’ve served me well so far, and would probably host the crampons and today’s hike without complaint.Continue reading "Day 5: Ice Hiking & Rubbernecking"
October 11, 2003
Day 4: Hokitika-Fox Glacier // Awake at 0930L // ACTIVITY: Jade Carving
I’m in for a treat this morning. It’s 9:30 - not late - but certainly later than I intended. The jet lag has caught up with me I guess, shutting me down for 8 solid hours in a noisy house, and leaving me behind the power curve on an important day.
By the original schedule, this was the day that I was going to crank out a drive down to Haast Pass, a distance of 281 km. [174 miles]. I’m under advisement from 2 people so far to hole up at the Glaciers instead. Either way, I have quite a drive ahead of me – and as it stands right now, plenty of time. Only….Continue reading "Day 4: Keep Rubbing!"
October 07, 2003
Day 3: Hokitika // Awake at 0930L // ACTIVITIES: Cave Rafting, Jade Carving
I awaken with a rough throbbing headache that tries to beat the backs of my eyes onto pillow. The sun is creeping in a little, and reminders of yesterday’s squall have disappeared. I swing my legs out of bed, searching for my bottle of Motrin, and after popping a few helpful orange pills I stand up and stretch – trying to greet the day with an enthusiasm I’m not sure I have yet. I fish a Ramen noodle packet out of my backpack and ramble back to the kitchen to cook it up. The excess boiling water soon finds a home in a cup of instant coffee.
For my hangover, the immediate remedy is to drink tons of tap water - I find it’s the best water I’ve ever had. It's pure and heavenly, as only glacially fed spring water can be. Once I can think straight, I begin pouring over several notebooks worth of pictures and drawings of jade carvings, trying to generate an idea for my own unique design. There are simple shapes, spirals, fishhooks, traditional Maori designs, and complicated loops. The more intricate the design is, the more it costs. I start my own drawing with no real focus and nothing truly inspirational comes out of my dehydrated mind for about an hour. Then I start drawing dragons – lots of them. Of course, I’m a horrible artist, but I try.Continue reading "Day 3: Glowworms, Hydroslides and Dragons"
September 28, 2003
On the edge of town, I gave the last scraps of my lunch ("Italian Pizza Made by an Ausssie in New Zealand": $9 NZ for a small 3 topping) to waiting magpies. No wonder these birds are so huge here. On now to the winding roads, slithering along the mountainsides, brushing against hills and valleys, one-lane-ing across rain-swollen streams, and boring through the heart of the South Island. I flew along at a pretty good pace for the earliest part of the drive, excepting the occasional slow down for sheep and dogs herding along the road. Somewhere in that first half hour of driving, 311's "I'll Be Here Awhile" played - and it struck an instant chord with me, seeming to echo my own feelings about this trip, which was largely a spiritual venture for me. I sang along merrily at a 3 percent downgrade, switching back left and right, slowing for most of the scenery, and often stopping to hop out and take pictures. Rainbows followed me as I broke from the Kaikoura range and rushed toward the Spenser Mountains, which are in the northern center of the South Island. The flat expanse lasted all of 20 minutes before I was snaking through the passes again, heading up to Lewis Pass, one of four South Island high altitude crossings.Continue reading "Day 2: Gas for the Pass and Passing Gas"
I woke up around 0530 partly because my travel alarm was making barely perceptible bleeps and whoots, and partly because my brain was tingling in anticipation. Richie followed, rousing when he heard me getting up, and asking what the meeting time was supposed to be. I reminded him that it was 0700, at the center, and went for some (instant) coffee to go with my heart-starting cigarette. On the deck, I admired how gorgeous a morning it was. The sun splashed into the mountain scenery as it crept above the flat blue line of the Pacific Ocean. Here, of course, morning light comes from the east, and was a new perspective for me, in addition to being a fantastic view. It was only 0630, so I felt a little bad about waking up the hostess just to turn sheets in and get my key deposit back, but we do what must be done, and I'm sure it wasn't her first time receiving early morning whale-watchers.Continue reading "Day 2: Thar She Blows!"
September 26, 2003
"So it begins," was probably the first coherent thought that trickled through my head. It brought a huge grin to my face seeing the rolling green splash into the thundering blue Pacific Ocean as I ate hot mushroom quiche, yogurt and sausage. The Qantas 737-400 descended into the relatively small but bustling airport.
It should be noted that customs and MEF (Kiwis’ stringent agriculture inspectors) are very strict when it comes to people, food, plants, animals, and tiny specks of dirt on your well-worn hiking shoes entering their country. Kiwis pride themselves on having a zero bio-contamination policy, which goes a long way in explaining the airport’s free-roaming dog handlers. As you process through MEF, everything is questioned. Stiff penalties await the jokester, and bureaucratic tape awaits the liar. These guys, doubly more serious than New Zealand customs, thoroughly inspected my well-packed boots and quite insisted that I declare my dried Ramen noodle packets.
September 25, 2003
Having done nothing of the sort before, I teetered shamelessly on the edge of my trip, ready to dive headlong into various misadventures. My entire preparation for visiting New Zealand's South Island was hasty Internet research coupled with an extended library checkout of an excellent guide book. With two days to go, I began running over my preparations.
List of hostels in various locations – check
Backpack, sleeping bag, essentials – begged, borrowed, stolen
Round trip plane tickets - $$ check $$
Ramen noodles – yum – check
Friendly advice – excess!
Itinerary – a blast
I confirmed my three and a half weeks of leave with my Air Force supervisor the next day, and spent the afternoon finalizing the driving arrangements, since my friend could no longer deliver me to the airport (maybe it had something to do with the 0300 departure?). That evening, I sat with three piles of clothes trying to cram it into two bags. My indispensable roommate Tammy quickly converted it to one bag ingeniously stuffed with about 1/3 of the clothes I'd brought.
At 3 AM the next morning, I quietly rolled away from my house in Solomons, Maryland and headed north. I dropped my car off at work and caught a taxi to Reagan National to catch my 0630 flight. Everything was going smooth until the ticket agent informed me that my ticket was for the previous morning’s 0630 flight...
No worries. Two days and one hundred extra bucks later, my Qantas 737 banked into Christchurch, cutting through the early morning sky like scissors through gift wrap. My present was the South Island of New Zealand.