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Trip Start May 27, 2009
18Trip End Nov 14, 2009
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I reached the small town of Franz Josef quite early on the Monday afternoon and booked into the Top 10 campsite. Top 10 is a chain of holiday park /campsites and they have a consistently good level of quality but this one was brilliant - plenty of space , excellent showers and friendly helpful staff - if anyone is in area they should give it a try. Another good thing was that contrary to my Footprint guidebook - it was not 6km out of town but only about 1km so a very easy cycle in and out for me.
I knew before getting to Franz Josef that I would definitely do a flight over the glacier and I decided once there to go for the helicopter flight rather than the plane - two reasons, one I had never been in a helicopter and two they did a snow landing which looked brilliant. The campsite staff recommended a particular company and arranged the booking for me but another bonus was that somewhere in my forest of brochures I had a 10% off voucher - well every little helps! I went for the twin glacier option which was a 30 minute flight over the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. Fingers crossed for good weather but I had booked into for 2 nights just in case.
Unfortunately the rain battered down all night and in the morning the cloud cover was almost at ground level so even if the flight was on I wisnae paying any money to go and see nothing!!!! It was off but rescheduled for later in the afternoon. The rain was pretty relentless but it gave me a chance to catch up on my household chores, which were in need of attention - whatever have I been doing? The weather did get slightly better but not good enough so flight cancelled but the forecast for the next day was much better. What to do next - well I tried to cycle along the access road to the Franz Josef glacier which was 4km to the car park and then a 1.5 hr walk to the glacier - that sounded like good exercise so off I set. The road was not tar sealed, it was all uphill, the bike is crap and with all the overnight rain the surface was like porridge- I think I managed about 3k before jacking it in and freewheeling all the way back. Did the laundry instead, much happier at that.
Next day the weather could not have been better, the sun was shining, there was not a cloud and I got upgraded to the flight which took in Mount Cook, NZs highest mountain. The flight was amazing and I am not sure that any of my photos can do justice to the scenery. I am glad to have been here in winter as there is still a serious covering of fresh snow and no sign of climbers -I think that would have spoiled the effect. The scale was incredible and on the way up the pilot pointed out a climbers' hut which I honestly thought looked like a miniature. I did take some photos but most of the time I just took in the views with my own eyes rather than through a lens. And then it was back to earth all too soon
Ambling back to the campervan and who did I bump into the women from East Kilbride that I had met on North Island at the Waitomo Caves - what a small world. Caught up with their trip adventures and discovered that as we would all be Queenstown at the same time so arranged to meet up again.
I headed off intending to head for Haast, but the furthest I got was one of the Department of Conservation (DoC) campsites on the edge of Lake Paringa, it was a beautiful spot and I got some good photos. One drawback was the hundreds of wee flying beasties who decided to call on me in the van. I spent ages massacring them and the windows were soon covered in little death spots.
These Doc campsites are very basic so no chance to plug in and get the electric heater on - thought I would be cosy enough but had to resort to the gas heater. I am sure that's what gave me the headache and not the bottle of beer and 2 small glasses of red wine, whatever it was I had a weird feeling and a headache - no more gas heaters for me!
Next day I stopped to take the walkway to Monro Beach which is one of the spots where penguins come ashore to breed between June and December. The walk was on a maintained path which went through some dense rainforest and the beach was a delight, small and enclosed with waves crashing against the shore but no penguins and I couldn't wait around until December. The weather and scenery on the drive were good and I had time to enjoy them as the roads were not busy, even the drive through the gorge called the Gates of Haast wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. I opted not to stop at any of the waterfall scenic lookouts as the NZrs do have a tendency to 'talk up' certain of their sights however having caught a glimpse of Trickle 1 and Trickle 2 I may have been wrong - we will never know.
I was heading for the town of Wanaka but it was such a beautiful day that I didn't want to spend it all driving so stopped just after 3 at another one of the Doc campsites, a fantastic spot at the head of Lake Wanaka. By 3.30p I was in my kiwi chair, sun beating down, looking out onto flat calm water oh and a cold beer in hand - sheer bliss.
Woke at the crack of dawn must have been guilt at not having 'volunteered' my camp fee and the risk of the ranger knocking on my door so I was on my way sharpish and after 2 days of frugal camping I treated myself to the luxury of paying for brunch when I reached Wanaka. It is a lovely town, not too big and not too touristy despite its location on Lake Wanaka and proximity to the ski slopes. There were quite a few snowboarding types around. Brunch was very leisurely as at last I found a café with free wifi and took the opportunity of loading my last blog - the video clips took ages to upload so hope they were worth it! Headed then for Queenstown, allegedly the "adventure capital of the world", passing lots of vineyards on the way - yes passing. Eventually found my way to the campsite and then headed into town to meet the EK girls for a coffee. The town was really busy as there were Winter Games on which had attracted a lot of participants and spectators as well as the normal seasonal ski/snowboard crowd - I must admit to feeling a bit old. After dinner the EK girls came round Chez Moi for a few drinks and a good blether and airing of opinions on the creative marketing by the NZ tourist bods. After they left I was a bit wired so headed back into town for a look round and to phone - as for once I was awake after midnight so hoped to catch folks at a reasonable time but nobody was home. At 1am Queenstown was jumping - very untypical for NZ - must be visitors.
So many options for activities and tours in Queenstown but I didn't feel like breaking my neck bungee jumping or overdosing on adrenaline by parascending, maybe I just have no sense of adventure? I opted to go with a 4WD tour which visited some of the Lords of the Rings locations or LOTR as they call it here - that was good fun it was just me and an Aussie couple Bob and Beth, she was keen on LOTR having seen the films and read the books but not as keen as some of the folks that Mark the driver has had - some come dressed in costume and others brought miniatures of the characters and reenacted some of the scenes - well it takes all sorts. We did get to visit some really cool spots that I certainly wouldn't have managed to drive to myself and even if I had I certainly wouldn't have spotted the tree in the beech forest that was the basis for the tree people in the LOTR films. In the afternoon I did manage to sample some of the central Otago Pinot Noirs without driving around various vineyards by getting a wine card in The Wine Experience where you put the card in a slot and select either a taster sample or glass sized sample. It was an expensive sampling method but hassle free. I particularly enjoyed a Wild Earth 2007 and soaked it all up later with my first experience of NZ fish & chips
Next stop Te Anau where I planned to join a trip to go kayaking on Milford sound - now that was a bit more adventurous don't you think? The drive was really easy so I was able to have a leisurely lunch stop - that was at a place called Mossburn - the Red Deer Capital of New Zealand - everywhere here seems to be the capital of something ( as I write this I have just passed through Gore the brown trout fishing capital of the world!) Got to Te Anau just after 2, got on my bike and eventually found the kayaking office so booked onto the tour for next day - instructions only need to bring lunch , camera and change of underwear - intriguing or what? And you'll never believe what I did later - watched NETBALL on TV. The international team The Silver Ferns are big stars and their match had a prime time slot on one of the main channels - don't ever see that happening back home.
When I booked the kayaking trip the weather was fantastic with clear blue skies and warm sun but the forecast later was not good and I woke up during the night with the rain battering down - not a good sign for sea kayaking. The rain was relentless and there was no sign of it letting up when the minibus came to pick me up at 7.45 but unlike the helicopter trips which just got cancelled in bad weather if there was no kayaking we would go on a cruise instead. The girl who was to be our guide advised that the river where we would set out from was very high and although we could get out from there into Milford Sound it would be impossible to get back in due to the force and level of the water - so a cruise it was. The weather was terrible but in a way it made the scenery quite spectacular in a spooky foreboding way - my photos look like black and white. I can appreciate what the fuss is about and agree that Milford Sound is indeed genuinely awesome
There were only 2 of us booked on the kayaking trip - my travelling companion was Scottish - a young medical graduate who had been working in Invercargill for 3 months - he was your all action hero type - done kayaking, mountain climbing, sailing, skiing - he had his moments but was really a pompous opinionated little person who loved the sound of his own voice. Glad in a way that kayaking was off as I am not sure that I could have coped with him for 3.5 hours in a kayak.
Dried out and heated up back at campsite and headed for the library , another free wifi spot so caught up on all your comments - ha ha work must be bad that you all log on to my blog as soon as it is updated! And then contrasting cinematic experiences - at the local cinema, a fabulous film of the Fiordland region - no commentary just spectacular photography and excellent soundtrack and then in my camper van a DVD of John Rambo, plot on a postage stamp, script on another but lots of shouting and gore - and it was still raining outside
Invercargill and a hockey tournament next - yippee!!!!!!
PS : no video clips this time they were taking way too long to upload