Rowing on the lake...

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Saturday, October 8, 2005

After a scenic flight back from Stewart Island, I spent a rather uneventful day in the absolutely freezing Invercargill. I stayed in a beautiful, immaculate backpackers though, and I got talking to a girl called Lisa in the afternoon. We ended up going to the cinema to watch The 40 Year Old Virgin, which I stress was Lisa's choice, not mine! It was funnier than I thought it would be, although I got sat near a couple of OTT laughers/clappers! It passed a couple of hours though...

I woke up at 7am and got up to date with my telephone calling after 2 weeks in the wilderness, before the Bottom Bus picked me up at 9.15am. It was a completely full bus, but I have changed my opinion regarding the Kiwi Experience set up. Whilst it's still not my cup of tea, the people on board were very friendly, and I talked at length with Chris from Leeds about sport and early '90s shoegazing bands!

My issues with the bus can be illustrated by events at McCracken's Rest, a stop we made en route to Manapouri. A number of the lads bared their 'cracks,' as tradition dictates, to much hilarity from the rest of the crew. It was quite amusing to be fair, but only because I knew I'd have my independance back within an hour or so...

I arrived at Freestone Backpackers early in the afternoon, and was immediately greeted by Jimmy, the really friendly owner. This backpackers is quite unique in that it is made up of 5 cabins "along a serene, view-blessed hill," some 3km east of town. My cabin was lovely and cosy with just 4 bunk beds, and a wood fired stove. I was very impressed, and the view over Lake Manapouri was stunning.

As the weather was fine, I had a gentle walk into town to get a closer look of the lake. It was beautiful, with a backdrop of mountains that had a covering of snow on their peaks. I walked along Fraser's Beach for a short while, until the clouds started gathering in an ominous fashion.

I went to the Visitor's Centre to price up the various cruises available in Fiordland. A 'must do' is the Milford Sound cruise, but Jimmy had tempted me with a Doubtful Sound cruise too, as it was on special offer - reduced from $205 to $130. Therefore I decided to do both, as I may not return to this area again, and I definitely don't want to have any regrets on return to England.

I allowed Jimmy to book the Doubtful Sound cruise for me, as it meant that he got 10% of the money. Unfortunately it was fully booked for the Friday, but I got the all clear for Saturday which was a relief, and I was really looking forward to seeing the 'Lord of the Rings' scenery up close.

Another girl, Charlotte from Holland, booked the same trip just after me so it would be even better as I wouldn't be on my own. So as it turned out, we both had Friday free due to that day's cruise being fully booked, so we arranged to do some walking together. I said I'd knock on her cabin door at 9.30am the next morning...

Meanwhile, I had company in my cabin...Lisa! Seeing her again was a nice surprise, and she made us both a dinner of noodles with a variety of vegetables. In return, I washed the dishes and lent her a few dollars at the supermarket for some beers. After that, we just relaxed in front of the log fire that we had successfully lit, and chatted into the evening. It had been a long day though, so it wasn't late when we both hit the sack.

As planned, I met Charlotte the next morning and she drove us both to Pearl Harbour - the track we planned to do was only accessible by boat. We decided to be brave and row ourselves over to the other side of the lake, a decision that soon backfired when we realised that my coordination with the oars was less than perfect. Luckily Charlotte has more experience with boats than myself, so she took command while I gave directions and took photographs. It was a great partnership!

The Circle Track was a 3-4 hour return walk, with a lookout at the halfway stage that provided spectacular views of the lake and mountains. In order to get to the lookout though, we had to climb up quite a steep gradient for about an hour and a half. We had plenty of short breaks as Charlotte wasn't used to the exercise having only been in New Zealand for 5 days. I actually found it quite easy, probably because I only had my day pack this time and I've done a lot of walking recently.

We were relieved to actually reach the lookout, and the view was amazing, well worth the climb uphill. It was a little cloudy, but our view of the lake was unobstructed, and we relaxed there for about 20 minutes.

The walk back down to ground level was much easier on the lungs, and we were able to talk and get to know eachother a bit better. Charlotte has done a lot of travelling and had stories to tell about her time in South Africa, Canada and the Carribean. We got on well, and the last part of the track seemed to pass really quickly, although we had a nice break at a wood strewn beach.

The boat journey to the other side of the lake was as smooth as you like, as Charlotte had really got into the swing of things with the rowing. I made myself useful by dragging the boat safely onto shore, before we headed back to the backpackers to have annother cosy evening in front of the fire.

I collected lots of firewood from around Jimmy's land, and started the fire going when it turned a little cold. Charlotte and me both had cabins to ourselves, so I went and kept her company for a couple of hours, giving her tips on where to stay for the rest of her trip.

As I made my way to bed at 11pm, it started raining heavily, which was not a good sign as I was hoping for a clear day for the cruise. Still, I couldn't control the elements, and I went to bed hoping that the rain would soon pass by...
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