Wednesday, May 8, 2013

South Island: Land of Rain

Waking up at 3:30 Friday (the 19th of April) morning was pretty rough. But travelling to Christchurch via plane before breakfast was pretty rewarding. After a short drive to castle hill, and a pit stop at famous Sheffield Pies, I was set loose on the boulders of Rohan. I've never been an amazing climber, but adrenaline-filled Pierce was rocketing up some of the more difficult problems of his life. For most of the day, we just explored the area and got rained on. Soon enough, we retreated to our cars to find the campsite (which proved very difficult in the dark). Our car (Tony, Pat, Joe, Chester, and me) cooked some of the worst sausages ever, and after my stomach calmed down, I called it an early night and went to bed.

After a long 12 hours of sleep, I finally started moving again. However, the rain had become much worse. We decided to can the second day of climbing, and moved on towards Arthur's Pass. We did a short hike that day, and hung out afterwards in the corner of a restaurant, where we probably overstayed our welcome. We concluded the day at a nearby campsite, where I was introduced to a new campfire game, Mafia. I definitely want to play that again, it's a great game for groups with only a deck of cards. I wanted to try to find a Kiwi (the endangered bird, not the fruit) in the woods, but I lost the will once I got in my sleeping bag.

So far, the rain hadn't let up one bit, and the torrent had no intention of stopping. The next day, we went for a short hike (Bealey Spur) in the mountains before driving to Fox Glacier. During the hike, I got drenched once again, but the views were worth it. We literally walked up a river bed, the suggested path marked by small piles of stones. I made an Inukshuk, because I thought it blended in nicely. Sadly, I couldn't bring my camera out to play, and I don't have many pictures to share. However, later that day on the drive down to Fox, we stopped at the small beach town of Hokitika for some fish and chips, a break in the terrible weather, and another glorious view of the Tasman sea. I took a picture of the car.

The fourth day started out really really late, on account of some late night festivities at a friend of Tony and Pat's house in Fox. I learned all about the job in Canada that they worked on last summer, and all of the drama that came with it (seriously, you could've written a TV show with this stuff). Anyway, during the day, we got to see Fox Glacier, a huge pile of ice that until recently was heading out toward the ocean. Only a few hundred years ago, the glacier was over 100 times its current size. If you travel even further into the past, glaciers like Fox and Franz Josef occupied the vast majority of land in western New Zealand.

Later in the day, we made the 6 hour long journey to Queenstown, driving through some of the most epic scenery I have ever seen. Autumn just appeared out of nowhere, and all of the trees were showing off their flashy new colors. I should mention that during this part of the trip, it was still raining, but we were so used to it that getting wet didn't matter anymore. We made a few stops along the way in order to take in the majestic mountains and the deciduous rainforests (which drenched us every time, but was always worthwhile). I really wish I could properly explain the views I was enjoying. Snow-topped mountains everywhere, low hanging clouds that wandered around aimlessly, the windiest of roads, and the most pristine lakes populated even the most boring landscapes we encountered. And of course, we saw plenty of sheep on the way down. Our major stop was an hour north of Queenstown, the town of Wanaka. It was the most picturesque Autumn-y town ever. A small town, the cars stuck to the periphery while most of the town was dominated by foot-traffic. It doubled as a skier's paradise, and I quickly fell in love with the town. I also fell in love with the girl behind the counter at the ski store. She had a nice face. I'd like to go back there.

After dropping some junk off and getting our first showers of the trip (this is Monday night now), we headed into the heart of Queenstown to Fergburger, the most amazing burger joint this side of the Tropic of Capricorn (by the way, this is the furthest latitudinal extreme I have ever experienced, 46 degrees South!). I had the Big Al, which, of course, was the largest thing on the menu. I finished it just fine, even with the lamb burger sitting in my belly from Wanaka. Afterwards, we had a fun night out on the town, and I got some shut eye.

The next morning, we drove up to Glenorchy to ride horses into Paradise, NZ. Experiencing a World Heritage Site was much different on horseback than on foot, and of course, I have no pictures from the Canon because I was riding a horse, and that's hard enough without a large object around my neck. I'm not much of a rider, but even this was new to me, as I was riding English. I also went for my first trot, which really wears out the thighs after a while. I can't imagine cantering or galloping would be relaxing with my current experience. I'd love to learn, though. By the way, my horse's name was Pete, and he loved to splash me as we traversed rivers throughout the journey.

Back in Glenorchy, we found a cafe with amazingly well-portioned lunches. We ate outside in the first bit of sunshine in 5 days. It was glorious. Later on, we searched for Isengard and other related sets from Lord of the Rings. We found all of 'em, but they weren't overwhelmingly exciting to me. There were much prettier places we had already seen on our trip. What happened next was better. I drove all the way back to Queenstown on the left side of the road- in a standard! It was really cool that I picked it up so quickly. Driving in Queenstown was a little stressful; the stop and go traffic really took a toll on my patience, and the clutch. Later that night, I had Fergburger again (Sweet Bambi) and went out to the bars, as is tradition. I didn't make it as long that night, as I was kinda burning out.

The next day, we rose early once again (after a stop at Fergbaker, and a trading of passengers. Chester went his own way the day before, and we picked up Joe C.) in order to make it to Milford Sound at a reasonable hour. After drifting in and out of sleep for 2 hours, we arrived in Te Anau, a nice lakeside town with plenty of places to eat. I ended up ordering super-fresh fish and chips out of a truck, and it was quite delicious. The lake there was populated with many small yachts, and other assorted maritime vessels (seaplanes!). The souvenir store was also pretty neat. I got a toque for $4.80! And my mom would be happy to know that I'm continuing my pin collection. After the short visit, we made our way to a section of the Keplar Track, one of the most famous tramps in the world. We hiked from Rainbow Ridge to Shallow Bay, which is fancy talk for parking lot to small beach. The river was flowing ferociously, and the forest was really consuming. I actually left the beaten path and wandered around the thick bush looking for Kiwi nests. Hard to spot. I found a few, maybe 7 or 8, only because I knew what I was looking for. After careful inspection of one of the larger "burrows," I spotted my first Kiwi in the wild. It was sleeping, as they're nocturnal animals. I tried to snap a picture, but without a flash, I couldn't get anything but a blurry brown lump (the flash scares them, and then they forget to eat, the dumb little birds. Pro tip, never use a flash on a wild animal, they don't need any more human disruption). The Great Walk really deserves its status, as it was an enjoyable setting to get some exercise.

We didn't get to Milford Sound at a reasonable hour. It was incredibly dark, rainy, and foggy the rest of the way, and it didn't help that the road never went in a straight line for more than 10 meters. The Milford Lodge was really nice though. We ate and relaxed in the main hall while reuniting with some friends from earlier in the trip. Sleep ensued.

Early again, the next morning we got on a boat tour and saw the sound (which is not a sound, but a fjord, carved out by glacial activity) from the best vantage point possible. The rain from the last 6 days had accumulated so much that the high cliffs were dumping water into the fjord at an amazing rate. There were thousands of waterfalls, each more impressive than the last. I caught myself thinking: "Hey, is there a limit on how many waterfalls someone can see in their life? Because I'd like to see a few more. Maybe I should just stare at the ground for a while, just in case." I think my brain broke for a few minutes.

When the boat made it to the open Tasman Sea, I was awarded with the sight of vast nothingness. It was welcoming, the gentle ocean waves like a mother's arms open wide. I did not accept the embrace, for it was not mine to accept. The captain chose for a simpler route, one of retreat, back into the mouth of the sound. That journey would come in due time, and at that moment I understood that I still belonged in the fjord.

That and it would take a ridiculously long time to travel to OZ on a boat with a max speed of 15 knots. All in all, the cruise was a really nice change of pace, and I'm glad I got to see what some people have called "The 8th Natural Wonder of the World." And the seals were really playful too. I got a few pictures of two of them "fighting" with each other. The whole morning was really nice.

The rest of the day turned into a big ball of madness, but I'll build up some suspense first. We decided on hiking up to Lake Marion, which turned out to be a lovely, yet strenuous, 80 minute vertical tramp through the forest. I'm sure the lake was nice at the top (and I know it was because I saw pictures of it from the day before), but all I could see was the thick fog covering my wonderful mountains. The usual. So, adventurous people tend to go swimming in this very cold lake. I was not adventurous. In fact, no one, save Ryan (who we had no idea would be there; the rest of his group were there as well) was swimming. The Joes decided they were gonna jump in, and so Joe C. led the way with a nice dive into the water. But we had run out of karma for two nice dives, and as Joe S. took his turn, not a millisecond into the water, his arm had forgotten where it was supposed to be. Joe had dislocated his shoulder. We were quite shocked, as you could imagine, when he emerged from the water, with his right arm doing something awful. No one was really prepared for an event like this. After the initial adrenaline shock, Joe started hurting. I assumed he was hurting pretty bad, based on his facial expressions. The next few hours were very long, and very unpleasant to recall, so I'm just going to give a short summary. We sent people down to call a helicopter, learned how to reset the arm, failed to reset the arm, waited on the helicopter, got too dark and cold to keep waiting, gave up on the helicopter, started walking down Joe (every step brought incredible pain), I ran ahead to confirm the aid of an EMT, helicopter came an hour into the return trek, police started trek from top, I witnessed a medic start the route from the bottom, everyone met somewhere in the middle and Joe had his arm fixed up, people at the bottom were stressing out from waiting too long (and the lack of communication sucked too), press made up a ridiculously inaccurate news article, everyone finally made it down safely, Joe was taken to a medical center in Te Anau, everyone else went to their accommodation for the night and passed out. I learned something that day. I need some sort of emergency training to help deal with these situations. When I get back home, it's gonna be near the top of my list of things to do before I head back to RIT.

The next morning we picked up Joe at Te Anau's little police station. He had x-rays and he had no lasting damage, but he'll be keeping his arm in a sling for a while. The cops gave us cake, and we continued our journey. To a pie shop called Miles Better Pies. They were better than most, but not too amazing. I had this thing called a Pastie, which consisted of beef stew in a giant croissant roll. That was super filling, and fun to eat. Another notable thing about the day of travel was that we witnessed the tightest rainbow while exiting Milford Sound. You could see both ends touching the ground in one field of view! You didn't even have to move your eyes in the slightest, it was so sick. And it was a double rainbow. I didn't take a picture. That one is for me to remember (and I didn't have a wide-angle lens on the camera at the time).

We made it back to Queenstown in the early afternoon, and hung out at a really cool hostel called Adventure Queenstown. I started to get antsy just sitting around, so I went for a walk around the town, taking a few pictures as the sun began to set. I also went in countless tourist shops to look for things to bring back home, but I couldn't find what I was looking for. I ate at Fergburger again, and proceeded to watch professional darts on TV until the late night. Pat, Tony, and I finally hit the road at midnight, and set up camp just outside the city.

The next morning (Saturday) was bright and dry. An exciting start to an exciting day. After packing everything up, I drove Pat and Tony to a strategic hitchhiking spot (they were heading back to Fox). Then I had the day, and the car, to myself. I drove to the nearest point of interest, Arrowtown. A small gold mining town built by Chinese immigrants, Arrowtown has become a quaint tourist destination for gold-panners, history buffs, and people who like going for nice walks. I walked down the one street, taking in the oldness (it's built like Historic Smithville in New Jersey), and quickly found the bakery. Two pies later, I had found the best pie in NZ (it was Thai Green Chicken Curry). I had a curious black cat approach me during my meal, so I talked to it like a crazy person. After lunch, I watched people pan for gold, read up on some local history, and played with two Springer Spaniels in the river. Since I had the afternoon before my flight, I went for a hike (Tobin's Track) that took me a few miles away onto a mountain ridge. It was here that I really took in the South Island landscape. I enjoyed doing something on my own again, like when I walked around Auckland a few weeks ago.

Driving stick, with the Kiwi radio blasting and the windows down, was exhilarating. I need to do that again before I leave. Sitting in the airport wasn't that interesting, however. But the plane boarded 20 minutes early and the flight was 25 minutes short, so I got back to Auckland way ahead of time. I went out to eat (Thai), the travel day was exhausting and there was no way I was cooking. I went to bed very early that night, and woke up very late Sunday.

My personal recommendation: visit the South Island sometime during your life, but be sure to visit it in the summer. If there's one thing I've learned about travelling, it's to consider weather optimization for the places you go. The South Island is an interesting place, and anyone willing enough to venture out into the wilderness will certainly be rewarded.

And then I had a really boring week at Uni. Super uneventful. I made myself dinner a bunch of nights, kept attending yoga, and did a few things on the weekend which I'll talk about in another post, since this one is kinda getting long. Enjoy some pictures, however back-ended they may be due to me only having great weather on my last day of the South Island.

Time for bed,

Rock looked like a butt

Castle Hill!

Pat, Tony, and Chester


Big-as tree

Sweet-as rock (Anthony Huffman)

Exploring (Tony)

Just hangin' out (Tony)

The only picture on my camera from Arthur's Pass (arguably our worst weather)

The end of Bealey Spur (Tony)

The persistent trampers (Tony)

Just the average view of the pass (Tony)

The epic rental car

Skipping stones at Hokitika


Awesome Sunset

Dance under the falling rock and ice!

Fox Glacier

Stretching the legs at Haast Pass

Every bridge on the South Island is one lane

The average mountain view

A suspension bridge on the Routeburn Track

A tree from Fangorn Forest

Weird blue water was everywhere, I'm guessing some sort of mineral deposit

The forest where I spotted a Kiwi

Indeed it was

Where there's rain, there's rainbows

Tony swapped the handlebar for this thing

Curious Fantail paid me a visit

Horse at Glenorchy

Walking through the swamp of the Keplar Track

Joe, Avocado, Lake, Mountain. All of the time

Paradise on Horseback (Tony)

Isengard! (Tony)

Super unflattering picture of Pete and me (Tony)

Taking a picture of Tony taking a picture of... taking a picture of... (Tony)

...a sign.

The Milford Sound

And its many waterfalls

And me rocking a toque

Two seals playing

And one sleeping

The calming Tasman Sea

The impossible part about this photo was that I didn't have my tripod

There's probably a statement about contrast somewhere in here

This picture came out perfect, I don't even know what I did

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Dropping off the hitchhikers

The stately path along the river, just outside Arrowtown

Main (Only) St.

The cat (little blurry, but I liked his glaring eyes)

He used me for my pie crust

Ah Lum's store in historic Arrowtown

A toilet

The average immigrant's home

The Springer Spaniels!

The Remarkables overlooking the valley (I want to come back and ski that)

The valley and tip of Lake Wakatipu

And to conclude, two of the most colorful photos I have ever taken

I sneezed just looking at this one.

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