Trip Start Sep 03, 2002
Trip End Sep 27, 2003

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Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Finally arrived in the land of the long white cloud after a loooonnng flight from HK. We flew into a (briefly) very sunny Wellington, spent a few days being looked after by Rebecca and Simon (big thanks guys) and catching up on our wine intake. After hopping over to S Island we cruised south down the east coast as far as Dunedin, then turned north and landed in Queenstown for Christmas and New Year.

Gimme Shelter

We have stayed on some of the best B & B's on the planet. Number one has to be Sue and Murray's farm stay in Paua Bay, just outside Akaroa ( The farm is located in a stunning location on the headland sticking out into the S Pacific. A half hour walk from the farm brought you down to a private beach with its own fur seal population - a half hour run up the hill brought Nick to his knees. All this and 4000 sheep - what more could a man ask for! Sue and Murray are fantastic hosts, making us feel really part of the family. At NZD 90 B&B excellent value.

Villa Sorgenfrei ( just outside Queenstown is a close contender, probably only losing the top spot 'cos they didn't have quite so many sheep. Klaus and Micha's cottage is in a great spot on the shore of Lake Hayes, stunning views all around. However the highlight has to be their food and wine - you couldn't move without being offered Christmas cake, mince pies, cookies, wine and schnapps. NZD 245 might sound a bit more pricey - but as we have rapidly discovered this is fantastic value for Queenstown.

Wet Wet Wet

Well its not called TLOTLWC for nothing. Apart from the first afternoon, we saw Wellington through torrential rain; the day we drove up to Milford Sound we had to take snow chains; English weather on Christmas Day; on Boxing Day our climbing guide was going skiing! There is a reason it's all so green around here.......

More interesting wet stuff has been going whale watching and swimming with dolphins. Just off Kaikoura the sea floor drops away very sharply so you get sperm whales feeding very close to shore. The operators have the place so taped they know when and where to expect a whale to surface from a dive (gawd bless GPS). Very touristy but great to see the alignment of vested interests of both whales and man. We saw 3 sperm whales on the surface, massive flukes going up just as they dived, and as an added bonus 3 dusky dolphins who put on an amazing show of aquatic acrobatics.

We tried dolphin swimming just off Akaroa - unlike diving in Thailand this involved some serious wetsuits, as the water is about 20 degrees colder. (Note to self - if you are sharing the water with penguins again, its a bad thing). We managed to stay in the water for about 40 mins before losing all sensation in feet and hands. The actual dolphin viewing was mixed (good for Nick, not so good for Mandy) - however thanks to the generosity of Mandy's former colleagues we get another pass at this activity when we go to Auckland.

Cheesy but deserving a mention was the jet boating and white water rafting in Queenstown. Despite being midsummer, it was snowing the morning we set off in the jet boat. Probably the coldest 20 minutes of our lives - serious ice cream head pain. Despite that the boats are amazing - 400bhp, 80kph boats which can do their stuff in 8cms of water. To be honest it doesn't look that impressive from the bank, but blasting through the canyons inches from the granite was great fun. After this the rafting was positively a warm activity - neat though a bit brief compared to the rafting in Africa.

A bit less cheesy was a morning's fly fishing instruction. Excellent morning out, each of us catching three trout (though there might have been a bit of an assist from the guide now and then). The cats in the B&B were most unimpressed with the 'catch and release' ethic.

There's Whiskey in the Jar'o

Partying at Rebecca and Simon's housewarming until gone 3am then having to get up at 7am to catch the first ferry to S Island. Good job Cook Strait was really rough so you couldn't tell if the nausea was hangover or seasickness..

Drinking in the Cook Saddle Bar in the town of Fox Glacier until 3am out of relief over getting out of Almer hut before the storm. Considering we had got up at 2am the day before to go climbing, a seriously deranged body clock..

Klaus's 1914-1918 vintage "Ratzpizz" schnapps - a German with a sense of humour!

I'm Mandy, Fly Me....

The helicopter ride down from the climbing hut - pick up from the hut, up into the bowl of the glacier, a big spiral to screw down to get below the cloud, then shooting along a couple of hundred metres above the glacier to get out before the cloud came back in.

Climb Every Mountain - (Nick's Version)

Trekking in Nepal had made us realize that we really needed some snow and ice training. So we arranged to have a week long mountaineering course in the Southern Alps. Tim O'Leary, owner of Queenstown Mountain Guiding (, accepted the challenge (poor fool..). We drove up to Fox Glacier and caught a helicopter to a hut perched above the Franz Josef glacier. A Great location and a bit surreal being able to look down on both the glacier and the Tasman Sea.

For three days we hardly saw a cloud - brilliant blue skies, surrounded by loads of snow, any exposed flesh burnt to a cinder, irrespective of how much factor 25 you plastered on. Seriously seriously hot in the sun, and any activity produced copious sweating. As I had to practice hauling Mandy out of crevasses - we are talking seriously moist! As we only had one set of clothes, we were just a little bit ripe by the end of the trip.

The training focused on learning how to cross glaciers - or more to the point how to rescue someone from a crevasse. So we learnt how to use ice axe and hammer, crampons, lots of knots and ropework, make pulleys, snow anchors, etc etc. Mandy went a bit quiet at times but seemed to be enjoying herself.

Highlight of my trip was climbing a peak called the Minarets (3050m). After getting up at 2am (Angus please note - I can do mornings for fun stuff) we raced up the peak in about five hours (apparently not bad for the 1300m ascent and about 6km across the glacier). My speed on the climbing sections was driven by the lactic build up in my calves. The views from the top were awesome: one side dropped almost vertically all the way down to the Tasman Glacier, the other side gave perfect views of Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. We took a scenic route down, which ended up being about two hours more scenic than anticipated - a big bergschrund gave Tim the opportunity to demonstrate some more cunning rope tricks and having to lose and regain about 300m height gave me the opportunity to really fry my thigh muscles.

On the final day, after a tense 12 hours waiting for the cloud to clear, we were picked up off the hill and whisked back to Fox Glacier. As the forecast was for a system of bad weather to blow in the next day and we only had a couple of day?fs food, Christmas lunch would have ended up being a weta leg, if we were lucky (

The course finished with a a morning's belaying and ropework instruction at the local climbing wall (NZ weather having returned with a vengeance). Now I've just gotta go and get Mandy's Belay Slave T-shirt printed.

Mandy's Version - Diary of an accidental mountaineer......

15th December - Nick tells me that as I have done so well in Nepal he has booked for us to do some 'High Altitude Trekking' in Queenstown. Am not worried as the idiot clearly doesn't realise that even the highest peak in NZ is 2,000 meters lower than what we were doing in Nepal.

16th December - Go to the house of Tim who is going to be our guide for the week. Cannot help but notice his extraordinary physique (his top half is triangular - broad shoulders and a waist somewhat narrower than my own..). He fits us with mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axes and climbing harnesses - am a bit confused as we didn't need any of this in Nepal. Nick says not to worry. No sign of our porters yet - guess we will meet them tomorrow.

17th December - Go to Tim's house with all our gear. Tim seems to have forgotten to book any porters and explains that we should only be taking gear that we are prepared to carry ourselves. Hastily ditch hair dryer, Tods, 3 books, makeup and nightdress. Nick ditches his only spare pair of pants. 5 hour drive around to the town of Fox Glacier. Low cloud prevents us from flying so we check into the local NZAC Hut. Tim takes us into the car park so we can practise 'roping up for glacier travel' - don't really understand why we are doing this as, apart from a couple of deep puddles, the car park seems pretty safe to me. Nick says not to worry.

18th December - Get 7.30am helicopter flight to Almer Hut. Tim has given us a full safety briefing in the pub last night - i.e. multiple gruesome stories about heads getting chopped off. Make big effort to follow pilot's instructions EXACTLY. Landing spot is a flat patch of snow - it seems that the NZ snowline is a bit lower than the Himalayas. After digging out the entrance to the hut, Tim explains that if we want to go out to the toilet hut then we must wear full mountain boots and crampons as a slip on the way would result in major injury or more likely death. Am beginning to think that Nick might not have been totally honest with me about this week. Tim says not to worry. After lunch we rope up and go walking on the glacier. I am in the middle of the rope so I get to walk behind Tim. The views up here are fantastic......(Tim is wearing quite snug fitting trousers and a tight T shirt). Learn how to build a 'crevasse rescue' system and practise hauling rucksacks out of holes. Am not sure why we need to know this until I fall into 2 crevasses on the way back to the hut. Am snivelling gently by the time we get back. Stop snivelling when Tim (and of course Nick) strip down to their thermals and start strutting round the hut.

19th December - Up at 4 a.m. Tim says not to worry about the crevasses - the snow will be frozen solid. Nick suggests that even gentle sobbing is not good form. Move on to the glacier and in less than a minute have gone waist deep into a crevasse. Nick and Tim decline to build a crevasse rescue system. Flail around for 5 minutes before managing to flop out onto the snow like a beached whale. Walk up to Drummonds Peak (2,500 m). Tim says not to worry - we will go back a different, crevasse free, way. He doesn't mention the steep climb up a slush cliff. V V Happy to get back to the hut. Tim says we will get up even earlier tomorrow so we have more time to play before the snow gets slushy - decide I might have a day in the hut. In the afternoon we practise crevasse rescue using "Live Weights" - this means me ! Tim cooks sausages and onion gravy for dinner and congratulates me on "Not Spitting the Dummy" that morning (Apparently this is quite a big compliment between experienced mountaineers!). Am glad that the hut is securely anchored to the rocks that night as the onions hit Nick's digestive system. I tell Tim not to worry.

20th December - Nick and Tim get up at 2 a.m. - I roll over and go back to sleep. Up at 8.30 for a flannel bath in the washing up bowl - luxury. Clean hut and wash underwear - would have washed Nick's pants but he is wearing them. Spend a couple of hours outside watching the massive snow and rockfalls (one every 10 or 15 minutes) on the other side of the glacier. Nick and Tim return at 1.30 p.m.looking slightly tired. Tim has a little lie down and Nick ignites a pool of liquid fuel for the MSR stove inches from his sleeping head so we see how quickly Tim can get out of his sleeping bag. At 4 p.m. we go out to practise "self arresting". This involves hurling yourself down a steep slope in a variety of positions and then stopping yourself with an ice axe. Am sure this will come in handy in the unlikely event that I ever find myself on a steep slope with an ice axe in my hand.... Tim is starting to take on a strange resemblance to Pierce Brosnan - only more rugged and better looking. Not sure if I have a touch of sunstroke or if the strange gases emanating from Nick's thermals are starting to affect my vision. Weather forecast suggests a big storm is on the way in the next few days.

21st December - Tim's partner Sara has left him under no illusions regarding his fate if he doesn't make it home for Xmas so we are bailing early to be on the safe side. Am quite disappointed as was just starting to get the hang of it. Low clouds so no helicopters flying. Practise more crevasse rescue - seems a good idea given my uncanny ability to locate the buggers. By 3.00 pm Tim is looking stressed. Nick and I tell Tim not to worry and we start planning Xmas lunch in Almer Hut. 15 minutes before the helicopters stop flying for the night the cloud breaks and we are picked up. Back to the hut in Fox Glacier, quick shower, and then off to the Cook Saddle Pub. This mountaineering lark isn't so bad after all.

22nd December - AAARRRGGGHHH Hangover from hell. Tim drives us back to Queenstown. Try hard not to throw up in the back of his truck. Tim says not to worry - Sara loves cleaning that sort of thing up. At Tim's house we meet the lovely Sara (shame - I was hoping she would be a cross eyed walrus) and she learns the good news - Tim is home for Xmas - and the bad news - we need a bed for the night. We hear that Tim has just got a part in an ad for the Bank of New Zealand - makes a changes from all the 007 movies I suppose.

23rd December - Sadly it is raining so our planned rock climbing expedition is cancelled. Instead we go to the climbing wall at the local sports center. Indoor climbing seems to involve Tim and Nick doing lots of stuff on the ground while I am hanging 20 feet off the ground. Eventually they let me down and we back to Tim's. After lunch I find them huddled over the computer looking at pictures of Ama Dablam and discussing dates in 2004 - Nick says not to worrry.........

Anyone still reading.........HAPPY NEW YEAR AND BEST WISHES FOR 2003
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