First of August and a pretty disappointing start to a new month; it was throwing it down and it proceeded to throw down for the duration of the day. We had to laugh though, Lloyd and I made our black pudding and egg breakfast from the comfort of our camper van but guys from the other three vans that had congregated around us were stood at the back of their vehicles cooking whilst getting drenched. We headed into the city and parked the van on Oriental Parade and walked the remaining five minutes to avoid parking charges, our first stop was the tourist information centre where we made use of the internet and tried to sort out our onward journey to the south island. To get to the south island and back it would cost us £130 each - far more than we had anticipated. The only thing we could do to reduce the price is for one of us hide under the bed whilst we board the vessel, kind of like an illegal immigrant. One of us would go in on the 2nd and book the ferry crossing for one person + the van and just hope the van doesn't get searched.
We spent the rest of the afternoon perusing around the Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand) which cost $350 - million to build and is located on the water front. The museum was opened in 1998 after exhaustive consolation with iwi (tribes), and is aimed at both children and adults combining state of the art technology and bright active exhibitions. The hub of Te Papa was level 2, with an interactive display of volcanoes including a walk in house that simulated a mild earth quake - good fun but quite tame. We visited the great X ray room which was home to huge skeletons of creature such as whales, dolphins and seals and a pickled colossal squid; and also visited a room dedicated to Mauri culture and art, all in all a pretty civilised educational day.
The walk back to the van was dreadful, we may as well have swam across the Lambton Harbour; we got soaked and had to change our clothes before shopping at New World, as we'd depleted our rations and the cupboards were looking pretty bare.
Later in the evening we returned to the Mount Victoria loo out point.
When I woke up the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, I opened the curtains andused my netbook for a couple of hours to reply to a number of emails (offline) before heading into the centre to send my emails and to book the overpriced ferry to the South Island, on the way there we both paid £75 for the privilege of taking our van, however we will access the security levels and on the way back hopefully pay for one passenger whilst one of us hides in the back.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round a few shops and then back to the museum to complete three more levels of Art, Sculpture and New Zealand history. Later in the afternoon we returned back to Mount Victoria for what would be our third and final night in the capital. We were both shattered so just kicked back for a couple of hours listening to the local radio stations, it's quite funny New Zealand radio seems to be a mixture between weird Christian stations to stations not to dissimilar to Radio 1; over here (and in Australia) swearing seems to be far more liberal.
The sunset from Mount Victoria was pretty nice and quite a contrast from yesterday's rain, we just hoped that the weather would be fine for tomorrows three hour ferry crossing.
8.00 got out of my pit and looked out of the window; the sun was shining and it was another beautiful day again. Two identical BMW's pulled up next to us both with New Zealand flags on the front of them. The drivers proceeded to exit the vehicle and open the doors for the passengers, one of the passenger looked like some kind of South East Asian president or ambassador and was dressed in a smart military outfit boasting an array of medals. The group walked up to the view point but the drivers stayed behind so I started to chat to the friendly blokes who told me that the Asian looking bloke was from Singapore, they wouldn't give me his name but I got a sneaky picture of him from the back of the van and hope to identify him when I'm next on line.
Lloyd and I headed to an internet cafe and printed out our e-ticket for the ferry before making our way to the ferry terminal. We queued up with all the other vehicles and at 13.00 made our way onto the large vessel. The security was so relaxed we decided there and then that on our return journey we'd book on line stating that our vehicle was shorter than it is and also book for one passenger. Once we'd parked our 6.6m VW we headed up to the lounge, the ferry was so spacious with little chill out rooms everywhere. I had a wander around, through the bar, then the cafeteria, and then onto the upper deck where I took a few photos of us leaving Wellington (at an incredibly slow pace).
At one point I went outside to the front of the ferry; there was no one else around probably due to it being rather windy. I took a few pictures as we passed through the Marlborough Sounds, I looked up at the captain who was pointing at something in the distance, when I looked in the distance I could see huge snow capped mountains breaking through the clouds.
There was a tanoy announcement for all passengers with vehicles; we made our way back to the van and drove off the ferry into Picton which is a small town sandwiched between the hills and the deep placid waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. The north island was amazing but I was hoping the south island would be somehow better because of the amount of money we forked out to get the van across. After five minutes of driving I knew the crossing was going to be worth every penny, the views around us were breathtaking. We made our way to Blenhiem stopping off at a petrol station for water and a shower before making our way to Seddon where we spent the night.
Woke up next to bowling greenin a little town called Seddon but didn't really stop around for any length of time, we had a bit of breakfast before driving to Kaikoura which means 'food'- crayfish' and was named by a Mauri explorer who stopped there and tried the delicious crayfish on offer.
It was raining again and looked as though it wasn't for stopping however as we approached Kaikoura hugging the coast of the South Pacific Ocean the rain stopped and we jumped out of the van to take in the views around us. Huge snow tipped mountains jutting out of the clouds, we couldn't tell the difference between cloud and mountain. We had our eyes peeled for the New Zealand Furred Seal, and thought we'd be pretty lucky to spot a few; however as we drove round one of the hair pin corners we were confronted by a coast line literally full of the blubbery slugs. As soon as we could pull in we did, I walked down to the seals clutching my camera and started to snap away. We didn't know much about the seals were they friendly or aggressive "let's find out" I said. Lloyd and I had spotted a pretty big one relatively close to us, we crept up to the carnivorous marine mammal getting to about two metres of it before it went crazy, first barking at us and then out of nowhere it actually went for us, we bolted away from it both like girls. Shoes now wet through; we retreated back to the safety of our van and concluded that the seals were pretty aggressive. The seals were highly sexually dimorphic enabling us to differentiate the two sexes and the species has a polygynous mating system, with males fighting among themselves for territory on land, and then mating with those females in their territory.
In Kaikoura we visited the whale watching centre but the prices for viewing the whales at sea seemed a little expensive; I'd already seen wild Southern Right Whales with Mel and swam with whale sharks and the whole thing looked very touristy so we drove to the i centre for some local information. The friendly woman at the i centre recommended a short walk for us trampers; we drove to Point Kean which was home to another seal colony. One of the seals was lay out on a public pathway and wasn't for moving, we approached the seal thinking it would move, instead it showed us its knashers which resulted in us taking an alternative route. We tramped around the coast line to Whalers Bay and then back to the van; we wound the 'fat path laying seal' up one more time before driving back to Kaikoura centre. On our way back to the centre we stopped off at the side of the road for a 'road side bbq', 6 garlic scallops with rice for £4 - how could I resist.
After our brief stop in Kaikoura centre we took the SH70 passing Mt Fyffe, we could have carried on driving along the coast to Waipara but had read that the SH70 detour was the more scenic route to take. We hadn't been on 70 long before we found a great place to spend the night, a flat roadside lay-by which overlooked a river and the Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Range.
The only other vehicle around was a huge Caterpillar excavator which had been left open, I failed to start up the beast so kicked back in the van and watched the sunset which is probably one of my favourite free and legal things to do - I don't think I'll ever get sick of a beautiful sunset.
Later on that evening we ate a curry and planned out what we'd be doing in the next couple of days.
7.00 the huge excavator started up and scared us to death, I dreamt that someone was bull dozing my home. I moved the van to a safer location ate my weetabix and hot milk before moving on towards Christchurch. After a couple of hours of driving we parked up in the botanic gardens of the South Islands largest city to have a spot of lunch. Christchurch has a strong connection with its country as it was founded as an outpost of Anglicanism by its first settlers, was named after an Oxford college, and has some of the feel of a traditional university town, with its neo-Gothic architecture and gentle winding river. After lunch we drove past Cathedral Square large open paved area typically abuzz with lunching office workers, skateboarders and tourists. If we could have parked, we would have had a look around, however it was busy and pretty difficult with our beast of a vehicle so we headed out of the city and further south towards Rakaia.
We parked up next to some public toilets (George Michael style) which were next to a huge fish figurine. Rakaia, a rural community set on the Canterbury Plains is the salmon capital of New Zealand and is home to over a 1000 salmon loving kiwis.
15.00 For some reason we were both shattered so decided to base ourselves in Salmonville. Box of wine, free wifi and public toilets; it was the perfect place to spend the night, the only problem was the noisy road which wasn't too far away from us, however after a couple of glasses of New Zealand's finest, we were soon asleep.
Not the greatest night sleep, but I shouldn't complain the car park was for a maximum of one hour and we managed to spend the night there for free. I made use of the free wifi and was pleased to receive emails from a number of girls. Jeanette, Trish and Lynne (all colleagues from Jonesco) had written to me. It was quite refreshing to hear from people back at work however the only bit of gossip I received, was the fact that Henry had bought a new drinks machine for the canteen; come on guys there must be something more juicy than that, if not make something up!
I jumped out of the van for a mooch around but nothing really interested me so I took a picture of the huge salmon figurine, jumped back in the van and carried on driving south. Driving over the hills the fog started to reduce our visibility slowing us down slightly, however we weren't really in any rush. We passed through the quiet farming town of Ashburton and then onto Temuka which means "fierce oven" in Maori; apparently a large number of earth ovens have been found in the area.
We had a bite to eat before making our way to Oamaru. Oamaru is one of New Zealand's more alluring cities and seemed pretty relaxed. We had read that for a small fee, you could visit a penguin colony, however it was a $40 entrance fee and the whole thing seemed a little zoo like, I wanted to spot wild penguins for free. A young bloke in the information centre told us that you could spot wild penguins further down the coast for free; armed with a more detail map we headed south.
We stopped off at Moeraki boulders which is a natural phenomenon about 40km south of Oamaru. The grey perfectly spherical boulders where located on the tide line of the sandy beach, some with diameters of up to 2m. Their smooth skins hide a honey comb centre, which was revealed by a number of broken specimens. The boulders were once lay in the mudstone cliffs behind the beach, as the cliff eroded, out fell the smooth boulders, and their distinctive surface patterns was formed around a central core of carbonate lime crystals that attracted minerals from their surroundings - a process that that started sixty million years ago, when muddy sediment containing shell and plant fragment accumulated on the sea floor.
After a bit of a play on the boulders we drove to the penguin colony which was located in Moeraki; a small picturesque fishing village. We turned right off the SH1 and took Lighthouse Road which was pretty rough but manageable. We arrived at the lighthouse and followed a steep footpath down to a small bird watching hut. It was 15.30 and we had read that this was the best time to view the flightless aquatic bird; however it just seemed funny and quite unusual that Lloyd and I were the only people around. We walked over to the open air viewing windows and couldn't believe our luck; around ten yellow-eyed penguins had made their way onto the small beach and seemed to be in the middle of grooming themselves. The beach was literally a stone's throw away (and no I didn't try to hit pingu) instead I sat silently and watched as more penguins and seals made their way onto the beach after a hard days fishing. Lloyd and I walked back to the lighthouse and walked over the cliff where we could look down at the nesting area. It seemed that we were in the way of three penguins wanting to cross our pathway and make their way back to their nests; we crouched down and watched as the penguins ducked beneath a fence and brushed past us; we couldn't believe our luck.
We spent a bit of time with the penguins before driving a few km south (on the SH1), 17.00 we pulled in at the first lay-by which just happened to have great views of the beach and Pacific Ocean.
The sun was shining under the curtain and onto my face waking me up; a beautiful day I thought fighting my way out of my two sleeping bags and duvet. However when I drew the curtains back and wiped the condensation from the window the weather looked pretty grim, the sun was trying to break through the clouds but it seemed to be a losing battle (all day).
We headed south to Dunedin which has been titled as the "Edinburgh of the South", pronounced Dun-EEdin, Dunedin takes its name from the Gaelic translation of its Scottish counterpart, with which it also shares street and suburb names as well as dreadful weather.
It brightened up for a while so I decided to walk up Baldwin Street, which is the world's steepest street with theGuinness Book of Records verifying the maximum gradient at 1 in 2.66 and a slope of 19 degrees. There was no one on the residential street except for one bloke who was walking up the street backwards. We didn't fancy tackling it in our turbo diesel van so I jumped out and started walking; I soon caught the bloke up but I couldn't keep my face straight - he was still walking backwards. It took me a couple of minutes to walk up it but I was pleased to see a water fountain at the top. The 60ish old bloke called Dave joined me at the top and we started to chat about this and that, he was quite a funny character but seemed harmless and pretty interesting. Once he finished rolling his cigarette up we both walked down together, we shared stories and he was keen to point out a few 'must see' places on our map. I introduced him to Lloyd and we proceeded with our conversation, Dave was one of those people you didn't say no to so when he told us to follow him we did. He took us to a nearby river and showed us a few brown trout and told us a concise guide to fishing and hunting, I was particular interested in his story about pig hunting. Dave and his pal had a boar cornered by themselves and three dogs however things turned pretty nasty when the wild pig decided to throw one of the dogs in the air, at this point Dave grabbed its ear and slit its throat, however the story had a tragic ending, the poor dog had its front ripped open resulting in Dave taking the knife to the dogs throat. It was one of those silent moments, normally when someone tells you a story, you carry on the conversation with a similar story - not this time. Being an x slaughter man with missing fingers to prove it I believed every word of the story. He told us to stay put as he wanted to retrieve something from his house, we stood next to the river, not daring to move a muscle slightly concerned by what he was going to bring back; a knife, a gun, a body. Dave brought back a number of news paper articles, it turned out that everyone in Dunedin knew Dave as he was a local celebrity and holds the record for the guy who's walked up the steepest street the most times, believe it or not Dave tackles the climb 30 times a day - I couldn't believe it.
After talking to Dave about pigs and fish I was pretty peckish so Lloyd and I visited New World for our weekly shop. The heavens had now truly opened and we got pretty wet as we frantically loaded our shop into the van.
There was nothing to do other than drive so we headed down to Milton and then inland following the SH8. After a brief stop in Lawrence which is Otago's original gold town we moved on towards Queenstown which was around 200km away. We pulled in alongside the Clutha River and made a Tandoori fish curry which was sublime. Anyone reading this will probably be thinking that we don't do an awful lot in the evenings, and they'd be right after Australia raped us of cash, we are now living on a tight budget; we either cut back or get a job - a no brainer really.
We woke up to the sound of the nearby river, I found it more annoying than tranquil and can't understand people who buy CD's with whale noises or waterfalls or rainfall - especially when living in England; I prefer the sound of silence. We headed towards Queenstown stopping off for lunch in Arrowtown. Arrowtown was a pretty place with the feel of an old gold town, however it was now obviously catering for the tourists as opposed to the miners and Chinese labourers that once worked there and still had influence on the small settlement.
After lunch we carried on driving towards Queenstown stopping off at Kawarau Bungy which is AJ Hackett's (the father of commercial bungy jumping) original, most famous and most frequently jumped bungy site; however at a mere 48m I gave it a miss.
As we drove into Queenstown the view became more impressive; snow tipped craggy mountains and the huge S shaped 'deep blue' Lake Wakatipu. Again it was easy to see why Peter Jackson chose some of the area to be included in the Lord of the rings trilogy. Youngsters walked the streets clutching snowboards and the architecture had an alpine chalet feel to it - my kind of place, yeah it was completely geared towards tourism but it wasn't too brash, it seemed like a nice town to kick back in.
James and I mooched around the city drooling over the overpriced snowboarding gear and clothing, we visited the i centre and stocked up on 'stuff to do' brochures before walking back to van to find a place camp. The whole town seemed to be quite strict on 'no camping' so we headed 10km out of Queenstown along the SH6 and found what looked like a huge plot of waste land. As we approached the series of 'off road' tracks we noticed a honesty box, we were supposed to put $15 in an envelope and post it into the box, however there were no envelopes left; we had no alternative but to camp for free. It was one of the best sites yet, views overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the Thomson Mountain Range - amazing.
8.00am the view over the lake was beautiful, the sun had risen but was hidden behind a huge mountain. I got out of the van and walked a few metres to the water's edge and observed how the light from the sun slowly illuminated the western mountains. The sun instantly warmed my body up; it was one of the moments when you're really happy to be alive. The only noise came from the small waves breaking on the shingle beach and a pair of oyster catchers which also seemed to be celebrating the sunrise.
We made our way back to Queenstown and parked up, we visited the posh public toilets which were a delight to use after some of the toilets we've had to park our frozen arses on. This toilet had an electric locking system, you push a button and the door locks, however I was on edge thinking that the door was going to swing open and frighten the life out of anyone passing by; I think I prefer the old mechanical lock.
We caught the Gondola up to Bob Peak and watched as paragliders flung themselves off the edge of the peak and proceeded to spiral down to a football pitch located below. Even though we're pretty skint we couldn't resist a go on the luge, for around £15 we were allowed to fly down a man made track on a kind of sledge with wheels. It was exactly the same set up as Rotoura but not as extreme, however the views were far more impressive and Lloydy still managed to rip a huge hole in his gloves.
After a spot of lunch in our van we spent a bit of time in the wifi cafe and then to a nearby garage to fill up our water enabling us both to have a hot shower.
Later that evening we drove back to the previous night's camp spot and built a fire - the fire seemed to smoulder all night.
Another beautiful morning but a little cloudy to see the tips of the snow peaked mountains that surrounded us. We had breakfast fed the two resident ducks and set off to Fiordland National Park which is home to some of the best scenery and hikes in the country and arguably the world.
We navigated our way to the SH6 which wound its way around Lake Wakatipu the road was amazing we both wished we'd rode it on motorbikes as the 6.6m VW wasn't as much fun. We turned right towards Mossman and followed the signs towards Milford Sounds (SH94). The hills around us seemed to become more and more scattered with snow, and in the distance we could see the Takitmu Mountains that dominated the white horizon.
The last stop before we entered the National Park was the small town of Te Anau; we parked up next to the information centre and had some lunch before quizzing the information lady about weather conditions, equipment needed and sun rises and sunsets etc however the information lady didn't have the info we wanted and sent us to the department of conservation which was located on Lake Front Drive which overlooked Lake Te Anau. Here we were given the information required and also a brochure highlighting all the dangers which included an avalanche brief, apparently the sub alpine section of Milford Road is one of the world's most avalanche prone roads. Since the last death on the road, in 1984, a sophisticated monitoring system has been put in place and explosives are dropped from helicopters to loosen dangerous accumulations of snow while the road is closed.
As we left Te Anau we passed a small checkpoint that was supposed to make sure we were proficient at fitting our snow chains, however there was no one manning the cabin so we carried on along the SH94. The 120km Milford Road has been described as being one of the finest roads in the world and the two hour drive can take a day because of the numerous photo opportunities along the way. We made our way to the great divide car park which stated 'no camping' however we thought we'd risk it, we'd be up at the crack of dawn and hopefully draw the curtains before the park rangers cast their beady eyes on our static vehicle. The following morning we were planning to walk along the 'Routeburn track' a track which is one of New Zealand's finest walks. That evening we cooked ourselves a huge steak then packed our day bags with warm clothes, food and water ready for the following mornings hike.
8.00 woke up in an empty car park and fortunately for us the ranger hadn't passed. We grabbed our bags and started to walk up the Routeburn Track which cut its way through the forest like an alpine ski track. The track was surrounded by mossy trees and when I say mossy I mean the trees where draping in the bryophytes.
We eventually made our way out of the forest where we were able to take in the magnificent views of the surrounding mountain ranges; we also had to take off a few layers before climbing above the bush line to the alpine wetland of Key Summit. Key Summit was so named because it is the 'key' to the origin of the three major river systems of South-Land and Otago; from here the Hollyford River flows to the west Coast, the Eglinton-Waiau Rivers flow to the south coast and the Greenstone-Clutha Rivers flow to the east coast. From the summit we could see the snowy Darran Mountains and the Hollyford Valley. We spent a bit of the time walking around the trails around the summit which meandered around bogs, frozen pools and beech trees dominated by Lichens which looked a little like a kind of moss, Lichens are not one creature, but two; a fungas and an alga, growing together. They can withstand temperature extremes of plus or minus 70 degree Celsius.
We walked another half an hour to a nearby hut (Howden's hut) which was quite a roomy alpine hut with over 20 bunks; nobody was in so we made ourselves at home and had our lunch there. The view from the hut was beautiful as it overlooked a picturesque lake which I took several pictures of before walking back to our van; in total the walk took us around 3 hours and was relatively easy.
After a five minute breather we headed to Milford Sounds, which is the most celebrated of Fiordland's fifteen fiords, its vertical sides towering 1200m above sea and waterfalls plunging from hanging valleys. The road became more and more spectacular to a point where it was like a hazy dream and we expected to see characters from The Lord of the Rings. Just before entering the Homer Tunnel we pulled in at the side of the road to observe a number of Kea's which had gathered there. The large parrot inhabits the mountainous regions of the Southern Island of New Zealand and can't be found anywhere else in the world. The bird, named after the call that it uses in flight, has a hooked bill that crosses at the tip. The kea eats insects, fruit, seeds, and, more recently, carrion. For this reason, keas swarm near sheep slaughterhouses, where they pick up refuse; occasionally they even attack live sheep, burying their beaks in the back to get at the fat round the kidneys. Because of their bad reputation—whatever their merits—the birds have for many years been killed in great numbers by sheep farmers. We were quite wary around the inquisitive birds as they jumped on our van scavenging for food; I wanted to leave the Fiordland's with my kidneys intact.
Back on the road we drove through the Homer tunnel; the eerie icicle laden hole cuts through to the steep Cleddau Valley, then straight down to Milford Sound - a small settlement made up of a few buildings which are hardly in keeping with their magnificent surroundings. The best way to see the ford is by boat, helicopter or plane, all accessible providing you have plenty of spare cash - we didn't.
Lloyd and I walked to another viewpoint and spotted a Weka which is a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand; the sturdy brown bird was about the size of a chicken and looked like a kiwi / hen. The omnivores feed mainly on invertebrates and fruit and once they've laid their eggs, both the female and male Weka help incubate it.The lack of indigenous predatory animals made New Zealand home to a huge variety of birds, including 23 unique species. The native species include songbirds, like the bellbird and tui, but it is the flightless birds that are most associated with New Zealand. The ostrich-like moa, now extinct were the largest of the flightless birds however it is the kiwi that is the best known of the surviving species; however we still haven't spotted one.
Back in the van we had a bite to eat and drove back along the Milford Road and pulled in at Cascade Creek a huge empty camping area with views of the mountains and river - a perfect spot. We stopped the night at Cascade Creek as we were both pretty shattered - food, beer, bed.
8.00 Bit of a grim morning really and we were quite lucky to have seen Milford Sounds the previous day when the weather was fine. Every morning we have to turn the engine on to warm the vehicle up. I don't think I'm sleeping as well as I normally do, not because of the cold but because of all the layers I'm sleeping in. At home or anywhere else for that matter I sleep in my boxer shorts however here I'm sleeping in everything I wore during the day, as well as two sleeping bags and a duvet.
After catching up with my blog we started to make our way back to Queenstown. The weather improved and the drive back was as impressive as the drive in.
15.00 Back in Queenstown we freshened up at the petrol station and booked our return ferry to the North Island before camping at the same lake side spot we'd stopped at, last time we were in Queenstown. However the dirt road to the lakeside was shut forcing us to spend the night in a congested little car park amongst a number of other campervans and a Komatsu excavator, still I can't complain we didn't pay a penny.
Friday the 13th - unlucky for some including us we were woken up by the excavator at the crack of dawn and it was belting it down. We are running low on supplies, Weetabix being one of them so we had an egg breakfast and hit the highway. We passed through Queenstown (again) which has to be the most picturesque of New Zealand's cities before climbing up a steep alpine road which climbed above the ghostly clouds that had settled in the creeks of the surrounding mountains.
We drove through Wanaka which was beautiful but not as atmospheric as Queenstown we passed in-between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, following the number 6 north. The rain was probably some of the worst I've seen and it was like the mountains where going to explode as waterfalls burst from their sides and onto the roads. Even though the visibility had been reduced somewhat, there was still a magical feel in the air. We briefly stopped in the overpriced village of Haaste and filled the van with diesel; we'd parked the van next to the petrol station and decided to have our lunch there, however we were disturbed by an angry woman who insisted we had parked in the wrong orientation. The haggard women rattled hard on our window so I opened the door to ask what the matter was, I knew exactly how to wind the woman up - by being exceptionally pleasant. She was adamant that I'd parked wrong but I couldn't really see the problem, so I told her I'd be happy to move the van (still smiling), but she stormed off hollering at us and asked us to watch her car as she visited the convenient store; I'd had enough of at this point and subsequently drew a huge phallic symbol on our condensed windows and sat back down again.
We followed the coast north, but failed to catch a glimpse of the ocean due to the poor visibility. Eventually we arrived at a little place called Bruce Bay, where the ocean became visible so much so that the waves were splashing onto the debris laden road. I pulled in to take a picture of all the drift wood that had been washed ashore and realised that all the smooth stones along the coast line had messages on them. Lloyd and I both grabbed our marker pens and started to write our own messages, mine being a birthday message for Mel.
Our final destination was Fox Glacier as we wanted to walk on the glacier the following day. After buying a bit of food from the overpriced convenience store we drove 10km out of Fox to a free campsite located next to Gillespies Beach, a former gold - mining settlement with a small cemetery, evening perfect for Friday the 13th.
That evening we wanted to listen to 'More FM' (classic hits after classic hits) as they had been counting down the 'top 500 hundred songs of all time' that week, and Friday the 13th was the final, however we couldn't pick up any radio stations. We spent most the evening cursing the weather like typical Brits.
I woke up at around 7.00 and was desperate for the toilet due to the copious amount of red wine which we drunk the previous evening. I decided to go for a walk alone, a bit of time to relax and a good time to reflect on things. I set off towards Gillespies lagoon following a path which runs parallel to the beach. I could hear the sea but couldn't see it due to the bush on either side of me, the colourful plants seemed to be alive with wildlife and the whole scene was dream like. The air was full of water vapour which you could reach out and touch and as the mist cleared Mt Cook dominated the skyline. Standing 3754 metres Mount Cook, increasingly known by its Maori name, Aoraki, meaning "cloud piecer" is New Zealand's highest mountain.
I passed an old gold dredge before passing through the bush which arched over my head almost forming a tunnel onto the beach; it's not often you have a coastline to yourself but that morning I was pretty lucky. The beach was dominated by drift wood and foam, huge waves crashed onto the shore making an incredible roar as they builtenergy before breaking only a few metres away from me; for me it was a great way to start the day.
After a couple of hours of strolling along the virgin coast line I headed back to the van and joined Lloyd for breakfast. 11.00am, we drove to the fox glacier and parked the van in a public car park and viewing area. The glacier was enormous (13km long, 2,800 high), we could see it from miles away, but we were unsatisfied - we wanted to get really close to it.
Glaciers are usually a moving mass of ice formed in high mountains or in high latitudes where the rate of snowfall is greater than the melting rate of snow. Glaciers can be divided into four well-defined types—alpine, piedmont, ice cap, and continental—according to the topography and climate of the region in which the glacier was formed.
I'm pretty sure that the Fox glacier and the Franz Josef (which we'll be visiting later) are alpine glaciers meaning that as the snow that falls on the walls and floors of valleys in high mountain regions tends to accumulate to a great depth, because the rate of melting, particularly in wintertime, is far lower than the rate at which the snow falls. As a result, the earlier snows, compressed by later falls, are changed into a compact body of ice having a granular structure. When the depth of the glacier reaches approximately 30 m (100 ft) the whole mass begins to creep slowly down the valley. This flow continues as long as a superabundance of snow falls at the top of the glacier. As the glacier flows down the valley to a lower altitude where it is not replenished by snowfall, it melts or wastes away, the melt water forming the source of streams and rivers.
We noticed a path in the distance but it had been cordoned off, there were signs everywhere stating 'danger falling rocks' and 'don't go any further without a guide'. Lloyd and I had enquired about guided walks at the information centre, but they seemed ridiculously expensive, the woman kind of told that if we chose to ignore the signs there was nothing anyone could actually do about it as the glacier was part of the national park.
Lloyd and I walked past the snap happy Chinese tourists and hurdled the fence and followed the path down to the river. We could see a tour group returning from their hike so to evade altercation with the guides we dropped down some rocks and hid below them. All clear, we proceeded to make our way nearer to the mass of ice first crossing a high flowing river and then climbing a make shift path which had obviously been prepared by the guides. We were now walking along side the mass of ice which towered over us, but could see another tour group in front of us. The group of around ten watched in disbelief as we strolled around them, Lloyd still wearing his $3 pumps from Australia. Eventually we had to stop, the only way we could have gone any further was if we had crampons and axes - we had neither, but weren't for turning back until we had actually walked on the glacier. We shuffled our way down loose rock and on to the ice, Lloyd went first and I stood on a nearby rock to take a photo of him. Now it was my turn, it was more difficult than I'd anticipated and was like walking on ... well ice, I shuffled onto the glacier like a baby penguin, making sure to avoid the huge bottomless holes which were on either side of me. Lloyd was just about to take the photo and then "oh, what do you think you're doing" the voice startled me and I nearly slipped, Lloyd shouted pose and we just managed to take the photo before the guide started to interrogate us. I was particular polite to the 25ish year old young gentleman who insisted that we shouldn't be there, I told the moody fellow that we'd come from England to see the glacier, and that we were risk takers - he mumbled something and we mumbled something back before parting. All in all a successful morning, Lloyd and I had seen the glacier ourselves, and to the dismay of 'Fox Glacier Guiding' saved ourselves £100 each.
After lunch we walked around Lake Matheson which, on a clear day reflects the glacier as well as Mt Cook, however the mountains were now dominated by thick clouds and it had started to rain. We drove 30km to Franz Josef which is slightly larger than its Fox neighbour and found a patch of wasteland to camp on. Hopefully the rain will stop by dawn enabling us to walk up to (and perhaps on) the Franz Josef glacier - fingers crossed.