Exploring the West Coast

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
Trip End Aug 01, 2008

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hi again folks.
I think we would all agree that pancakes for breakfast are one of life's sweet joys, but I must say that pancake rock formations are sweet but in a different way. After leaving Abel Tasman we drove south along the west coast, stopping here and there to admire the gorgeous, rugged coastline. The "pancakes" are found at a place called Punakaiki. Over years of collision between rock and water, limestone and mudstone have layered upon one another to form rocks that look like stacked pancakes. We thought they were pretty impressive...you will likely agree with us.

We continued our drive moving southeast across a well-known scenic drive known as Arthur's Pass. Fortunately being summertime, the roads throughout New Zealand are open and clear of snow so we have access to many of the amazing sites we were hoping to see. Arthur's Pass winds through huge mountains and takes you through the very small settlement/town known as Arthur's Pass. We stopped at a tiny chapel for a peek inside to find a secret view of a waterfall tucked back into the mountain. The waterfall could not be seen from the outside of the chapel, only through the huge window inside so it was a neat find (we knew about it thanks to the recommendation from our Lonely Planet guidebook). On the evening of January 11 we were camping at a small holiday park that had a TV room and we just happened to be watching when we learned of the death of an incredibly popular NZ man that day, Sir Edmund Hilary. He was a mountaineer from New Zealand who was the first person, along with sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal, to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953. We had no idea he was such a NZ icon until his death and all that has followed since then. His face has been on the $5 bill for numerous years, and this is actually quite unusual for a man to have his picture on a bill while still living. A newspaper headline in the days to follow his death had this quote: "To the world he was a hero, to the Nepalese he was a God, but to us he was a man who embodied the spirit of New Zealand". He did a lot of work in Nepal following his Everest success, building schools, a hospital, etc. It seems that both the Nepalese and the Kiwis really idolized him, making him a very important and popular figure, however from what we have learned, he was a very humble guy that did not seek after the attention or honor.
The very ironic thing about the timing of his death is that our travel plan for the following day, the day after he died, was to arrive in Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. This is actually where Edmund Hilary was known to have prepared himself for his Everest Climb, climbing the mountains and exploring the area. This month, actually, there was a small museum/Alpine center built called the Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Center at the fancy hotel that sits at the base of the mountain range. We stopped in and caught a really great movie about his life and learned about other NZ climbers. Another ironic thing about the timing of his death and the resulting knowledge we've gained about his life is that James and I are reading a book called Three Cups of Tea that is about an American mountaineer that has somewhat followed in Hilary's footsteps by building a lot of schools and other projects for the people of Pakistan. His book talks a bit about Edmund Hilary as well. It is a really good book, one we highly recommend! (Written by Greg Mortensen and another fellow)

We spent a couple days in the Mt. Cook area doing some day hikes. It was beautiful despite the poor weather. It was cloudy, windy, and slightly rainy the whole time we were there so we never got a good view of Mt. Cook...we just had to trust it was really there! We have so much respect for mountaineers that set out to hike some of these extremely high peaks, risking their lives in avalanches, on glaciers, and in weather conditions that can change without much notice. I guess we are a bit in awe of them, knowing we don't have the courage for that kind of adventure!
Since the weather was so nasty in Mt. Cook, we decided to spend the night indoors at the youth hostel there rather then camp. It was a really nice hostel with a great kitchen and a sauna! The best part was that we shared a dorm room with a group of NZ ladies in their 70's who had just spent a few days hiking! Youth hostels have been redefined! The ladies were great, and the actual hike that they did was really difficult, all up hill. Good on ya, mates! (The lingo is rubbing off on me!)

Along the way to Mt. Cook we saw 2 really beautiful lakes, Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki.
The water was an incredible blue turquoise color that merits a bit of geological explanation. The water color is due to "rock flour" (sediment) in the water that was created by rock-on-rock action of a glacier that ground out fine particles that were suspended in the glacial melt water. It gives the water a milky quality and refracts the sunlight so it is gorgeous! Lake Tekapo also had a darling little cathedral built along the shoreline in 1935 that is said to be one of the most beautiful chapels in NZ.

I'll finish up this blog with a quote from Sir Edmund Hilary:
" Things that are familiar tend to be taken for granted. It wasn't until I traveled widely overseas that I came to fully appreciate the mountains of New Zealand for both their beauty and for the challenge they presented to the enthusiastic climber".
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