Friday, October 07, 2005

mountains and mountains and sounds/fjords

I've been in New Zealand for almost two weeks, but it feels like so much longer, because I have been doing so much. It is such an incredibly beautiful country, although the bus system sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

After leaving Christchurch from Kaikoura, I headed down to Mt Cook, which is the highest mountain in NZ. I stayed in one of the nicest backpackers I have been in - the YHA in the park itself, and it had a funky, stuck in the middle of nowhere atmosphere, and therefore everyone was pretty sociable. I think the cameraderie of being stuck in a national park in the absolute pouring rain had something to do with it though. Still, the next day cleared halfway through my hike up the Hooker Valley, and I had some amazing view of Mt Cook and the surrounding peaks. Fabulous. Although my feet have eiher changed shape, or my boots have, because they have started to blister me, despite the fact they caused me no trouble in the Himalayas at all. Strange.

After my illustrious hike it was another bus ride to Queenstown, the adrenaline capital of the world, or the capital of stupid sports, whichever you prefer. I wandered into the Southern Laughter backpacker, and immediately met someone who wanted to go hiking, and six people who wanted to go drinking, so it was a fine start, although the hangover the next day was none too pleasant. After a day of lolling around feeling vaguely sorry for myself, I signed up for the rite of passage that is bungy jumping with AJ Hackett, and a jetboat down the shotover river, just to make sure that I managed to scare myself as stupid as possible in the shortest amount of time. Bunjying off the kawarau bridge turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be, although being the second person of the day is not advisable, because you have no idea how long the experience will be (about 10seconds, of which maybe 3 are the initial freefall), or how you are going to be rescued from the cord (ungracefully hauled into a boat). It was a whole lot of fun, and I didn't get dunked, which is what I asked for. The only bad thing was discovering that I have gained 6kg (6kg!!!!) since I was in Thailand. How horrendous.

With that sobering thought in mind, I headed down to Te Anau, the gateway to Milford Sound with Richard. The plan was to do some hikes, maybe on the Routeburn track, but the weather wasn't really happening for us, so we took a cruise on Milford Sound, which was incredible. We drove down in the pouring rain, watching thousands of waterfalls stream of the sheer granite rockfaces, before the landscape opened up into the sound, which is actually a fjord. It was completely shrouded in mist, and continued to be for the first half of the cruise, until we came out onto the Tasman Sea. We then looked back, and the sun was shining, the fog was lifting, and the full force of the sound, with Mitre Peak, a mile high, forcing its way out of the deep water. It was completely spectacular. It is said that really there are two Milford Sounds - Milford in the sun, and Milford in the rain. The joy of the changeable weather of Southland is that it was possible for us to see both within a 2hr period, and then to drive back along the same drive, seeing incredible alpine peaks which had previously been hidden just added to the magic of the day.

Some activity had to be undertaken in Te Anau, so Richard and I did a day hike on the Kepler Track, which is actually a 3 day hike. It was fun to be actually hiking again, since the weather was good - cold, but good. Having said that, there were a lot of trees on the hike. Hiking just made me want to do more, but weather and transport are big issues down here, and neither of them were working out well for us. Still, I already know that I am coming back here in a couple of years, so hiking will be given another chance.

If you can't hike, what is the best way of seeing the Sound? In a tiny plastic unstable boat right at sea level (although Richard and Johnny did have to ask the altitude!). Sea-kayaking on Milford Sound was an incredible, beautiful experience, with highlights being 4 bottlenose dolphins playing with us for 45mins, and spotting a penguin swimming along. The lowpoints would definitely be the snow, the hail, and the rain that were a constant the whole time we were out, although we were exceptionally cosy in our 8zillion layers as provided by the kayaking company (Fiordland Wilderness). We were out for about 3 or 4hours, which was a mite too long, and my wrists are now absolutely agony for some reason. And again, once we were off the water, in only an hour, the weather cleared to become absolutely beautiful.

So, I am all done with Southland, and have come up to Wanaka, the last town before Mt Aspiring National Park. I was very excited about doing a Rob Roy Valley trek, but the weather is looking a little messy, so maybe I'll go horseriding or something else instead. Spring seems to be a pretty changeable time of year down at this part of the world, so sun one day, snow the next. One thing I know for sure is that I am going for a couple of drinks tonight with two guys I met in my backpacker, the Purple Cow. We'll be heading to Shooters, the local nightspot. Fun times.


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