Sat. 5th June, 2010
The capital city of wellington was more likeable than auckland, trumping it hands-down in the cbd aspect, with a much more compact centre, less congested, smaller, and with some nice narrow streets, much more pedestrian-friendly. It didn't have the stunning landscape surrounds of aucklands volcano-peppered gulfs, the view from the lookout was much less impressive and it lost points in that category. I spent two full days in the city, three would have been perfect. The weather was bloody awful! It was cold and rainy and I got to experience just a little bit of the "windy city"'s fabled gusts.
During my time there I rode the cable car up to the botanical gardens, which were, as they always are in the southern hemisphere, fantastic, with a fabulous playpark, lovely duckpond, rose- and herb-gardens and commanding views out across the volcanoes around. Visited two museums, one of which was the much celebrated Te Papa. One section here, you can go underground to the foundations of the building and see how the entire structure is built on things like shock-absorbers, made of steel and rubber with a lead core, which flex when the ground shakes, absorbing some of the movement and causing the building to sway further but more regularly, with a smoother motion, which results in less damage to the structure and contents.
A $50, 3 1/4 hour ferry-trip connects Wellington on the southernmost tip of the north island, with Picton, a northerly port on the South Island. Some pretty lumpy conditions in the first hour made me thankful for my strong sea-stomach; a small child staggered out looking green and moaning, then vomited on the deck right beside my feet as I stood outside to get some air... ugh ugh! We cruised down the Marlborough Sounds towards Picton between folded-felty resemblent outcrops and bays which loomed out of the sleety clouds, looking inhabitably steep and barren but with the odd suprising little homestead nestled in a few of the bays. Mussel farms in the water apparently produce some of the biggest and best mussels in the world.
Our first experience of the south island was grey, rainy, misty and wet, the bus windows steamed up and after a sleepless night previous in a small room with a horrendously snoring, fat 50 year-old man, I dozed. Destination Nelson and a wonderful town! I had only a couple of hours to wander before dinner but in those two hours I knew that I loved this town. It is small, with a few cobbled streets, old victorian-style lampposts, great shopping, hippy shops, bead shops, cafes and bars. The hostel I stayed in was GREAT. It was small and homely with a roaring wood fire, in the lounge. My evening was spent playing scrabble, reading my book in an armchair infront of the log burner and eating free chocolate pudding. YES THAT'S RIGHT. The sort of chocolate pudding that makes YOU melt. The one that dada used to make when we were little, where you put the sponge on the bottom then the sauce on top and as it cooks the sponge rises up through the sauce to have sauce on the bottom and sponge on top. Chocolate pudding and chocolate sauce with vanilla ice-cream, FREE. It was quite possibly the best hostel in the whole of New Zealand. There were only two of us in my room of four beds, so we each had two duvets, two pillows and loads of space. Free breakfast before we left in the morning completed the package.
From Nelson we drove into the Nelson Lakes National park where we stopped at Lake Rotoiti. Blue skies with white whispy clouds, snow-iced mountains in the distance, steep pine-forest coated slopes with thick bands of solid cloud resting around them then at the base, this wide, glassy expanse of the glacial lake. It was just magnificent. A few brave souls stripped off and jumped in!! Not me though, I went to do a 45min loop-walk near the lake, where I saw an amazing array of fungi in amongst the damp forest. I saw bracketed, frilly, capped and slimy, golden-brown, china-white, mustard yellow, crimson and even bright purple ones.
I didn't plan to do an activity in the afternoon in aid of saving some money, but at the very last minute I decided that I would do Jet-Boating for $69 after all. Our vessel was like a giant speed boat, large enough for five rows of passengers, six people squished in side-by-side on each bench. It was powered by water jets rather than a motor which meant that the boat could operate in very shallow water, 10cm depth was enough! We bumped over logs and rocks and some pretty steep rapids. Our journey up the Buller river was a 'scenic cruise' with plenty of photo-opportunities as the water wound along a deep gorge. The captain's tendancy towards random shifts of direction made me a little afraid to have my camera out. After turning at the top, the fun really started, we swerved and looped at speeds of up to 100kmph, seemed to be headed for rocks then swerved to miss them at the last minute. We had numerous jet-spins, where the power was suddenly cut, and the boat swung around sharply, a bit of a stomach-jolter and then suspense for a milisecond as we waited for the inevitable shower of water to soak us from behind. Luckily the tour operaters had equipped us all with waterproof trousers and jackets, hats and life jackets. Some people were Still soaked by the end! That evening I slept badly due to my Westport hostel bed having a feather pillow, I mean, feathers in a hostel pillow, really?!
Sunday was beautifully sunny and we managed to do a couple of nice coastal walks, one at the wonderfully named Cape Foulwind, where we were able to gaze upon a seal colony, with hundreds of seals, looking like fat, sleek, glossy slugs basking in the sun and the sleek, agile pups playing in the sheltered water. We also checked out the Punakaiki, or Pancake rocks, where the merging of minerals into mudstone between layers of rock and subsequent dissolution creates an effect looking exactly like stacks of pancakes. Quite a bit of the scenery from these walks could have been in Dorset or somewhere, stacks and arches and caves were a geogaphers dream. That evening was the infamous Mahinapua Hotel, or the 'pu pub' as it is called by the kiwi drivers, where we had a great fun and drunken fancy dress party.
On monday we continued southwards to the small village and glacier of Franz Josef, named for an emporer of his country by the Austrian explorer who was the first european to explore this area. I've never seen a glacier before and was not even entirely sure what would define a block of ice as such. As I have since learnt, the glacier forms in a steep sided narrow valley when snow falls on the snowfields or neve at the top of the mountains (the mountains in this area have snow on their peaks all year round). Over time, this snow is compacted down into ice and moves down the valley bed, drawn downhill and compacted by the force of gravity. At the terminal face of the glacier, melting occurs, creating a meltwater river. Glaciers are constantly moving downwards by plastic flow of the ice and are either expanding or retreating. If melting at the terminal face exceeds snow deposition at the source, they retreat and vice versa!
The day we arrived here I went for a lovely hour long horse trek along the riverbed and through bush near the village, it was relaxing and a great novelty after having not ridden for over ten years. The backdrop of glacier and mountains could not be beaten and I even got a chance to do some trotting and a very unco-ordinated and barely controlled runaway canter. It was good fun!
We had one full day in Franz Josef to give people chance to do some ice-hiking or ice-climbing. It was with great regret but, I think, wisely, that I decided not to risk hiking on my foot. I would dearly have loved to have the chance to chuck on some crampons and start kicking into the ice, but it would have been quite a bit of impact and was obviously not to be this time round. I am incredibly lucky to even have the chance to BE here and to see the glacier from afar. One day I will return and take a trip up onto it. Instead, I got a shuttle bus to the glacier carpark and did a series of walks on paths around the area at the base of the valley. I got to see some fantastic views out over the glacier, the bright-blue meltwater streams and an amazing kettle-pond, or body of water formed when a chunk of ice was left in a depression when the glacier retreat years ago, forming an incredibly calm and flat pool in which reflect a perfect crystal clear image of the mountains above. Stunning.
We stayed one night in the lovely town of wanaka, in a region where steep, barren mountains surrounded deep glacial lakes, then on to Queenstown, with similar landscape. It got very much noticeably colder as we got closer to queenstown. I started noticing frost/ice on the vegetation either side of the road, where it was in shadow. The patches in sunlight were golden-bathed and lovely looking, those shadowed were hard white and cold. Apparently there are parts of queenstown itself which do not get any sun at all during the winter months, imagine living in one of those houses, not nice.
I had had really mixed reports of queenstown, some people loved it (for the backpacker reasons of lots of clubs, heaps of activities, great social scene, etc), other people told me it was very over commercialised and better avoided. So i had an open mind. And I like it! It has the appearance of a small apline town, on the shore of a massive lake, lake Wakatipu and surrounded by snow-capped mountains, of the Remarkables range. The streets are full of adventure-activity agents, bars and affordable food joints, including the legendary Ferg Burger, to one of which I treated myself on my first night here, it was sooooo good! I had tempura tofu burger with coconut and coriander sauce and all the trimmings. It was delish. I only have three days here, and a bit of a money shortage since discovering that what I thought was the pin for my natwest bankcard did not work, and that I have almost certainly maxed out my credit card, and have $40 in the world in my nz account, bad times!
On Saturday, I took a hike with two girls from my dorm, up where the gondola goes, up a big old steep hill for an hour and a quarter and was rewarded with fantastic views over the township and lake Wakatipu with the Crown and Remarkables mountain peaks in the distance before another Ferg Burger (The Codfather), as great as the first.
I have booked my flights home! Only 3.5 more weeks and I will be home by the end of June. I have been very torn about what to do, particularly now that I have booked my tickets I am of course doubting my decision, but I feel that the time is right. My main motivation for returning is that I am absolutely and completely out of money. I really love NZ and would very happily come to live here one day (rather than Oz) but I just can't be bothered going through the whole process of finding a hospitality job again, only to up and leave in a few months time. I can't really do outdoor conservation work or volunteering here until I am sure my foot is completely healed (for which I want to get NHS opinion). I think the best thing to do at this stage is to return home, to try to get a more permenant career-type job to be the foundation of my CV and work for a couple of years before traveling again. Only three more weeks, what a strange feeling. I am determined to get the very most possible out of my final time in this great and beautiful country.