Middle Earth – Week 3

Day 15 – Wednesday 8th January – Te Anua to Wanaka

Up around 8:30. KA & S still very sick, G a lot better and I am OK so far. The park is very nice but we are in the old end with the views and some run down facilities. This morning I walked up to the new facilities block and had a great hot shower! Sent everyone else up there as well.

 Plan is to head out today to Wanaka for a few days and maybe go up to the glaciers and possibly Mt Cook.

 Took a detour into Queenstown for Gareth which was not as bad as I expected. We just drove straight into a big carpark we knew on the edge of town.

 Made it to Wanaka along yet another amazing drive with great views back to Queenstown and the airport. The drive wasn’t too bad and we got into Wanaka at a reasonable time and settled in. Karen & Siobhan still very sick so Gareth & I walked into town and had a beer at an Irish Pub (again) then got pizzas from a small, pizza caravan in a output course! Very nice thin crust pizzas that we ate on the way back to the van saving some for Siobhan.

 Wanaka camp site was disappointing with a shortage of facilities and quite run down.  But we did find Tom and his parents camped next to us. We met them at Grumpies park the other week!

 Weather was pretty windy and cold with some rain but not too bad.

Day 16 – Thursday 9th January – Wanaka to Fox Glacier via Haas Pass

Left Wanaka later than I wanted too as I am getting very tired with all the driving especially with all these dodgy passes. Headed out of town to Haast Pass.

 Yet another amazing pass, interesting goig in with the usual river, farmland and forest then we started to climb. Stopped a couple of times on the way to look at views and water falls.

 Haast Pass was a little bit scary especially at the latest major slide. Apparently this happened a couple of weeks ago and when the crews arrived to work on in they found a camper buried at the bottom with two people in it. We passed a temporary memorial to this with a bunch of flowers and this bought hoe how dangerous these passes can be. It was quite a mess through there with work crews directing traffic. Some of the boulders on the side of the road were huge. There were a number of rock slides some recent like the first and lots of older ones. You can see why this road is closed regularly.

 Continued on with varying terrain and amazing views, even one of Mt Cook at one point. Eventually came out the other side at Haast and continued up the coast.

 Stopped at Bruce Bay which was a bit surreal. The beach is grey/black sand but the high tide mark is littered with trees and bits of trees. Some of the trees are huge! I am assuming that they wash down the rivers in the floods and out to see where they congregate off the estuary until a big storm washing them back onto the beach. It is a shame we can’t take wood back into Australia as some of the sculptures these have formed were beautiful. Also the stones were interesting, especially the pure white rounded stones which had an almost soft, soapy feel to them. What was cute was a huge pile of white stones near the car park with various messages written on them by travellers. I also noticed a distinct lack of seashells and seaweed on the beech and have no idea what this signifies.

 On again through varying terrain with glimpses of snow capped mountains to the East and eventually into Fox Glacier.

 Fox Glacier is a pretty but very small community which caters of course to the glacier Tourism. Not much here but accommodation, cafes and tour operators including a lot of helicopters. Booked into the camp site which was very pretty. After dinner Karen & I went for a short rain forest walk which was mind blowing. The growth is incredible with every tree covered in uncountable varieties of ferns and moss. Very dark in places with some massive trees. You could definitely imagine Fangorn forest.

 As Karen and Siobhan are still sick, G & I booked an early morning (7:45) glacier walk, the “Fox Trot”, a short 4hr trip for about $150 each. Then to bed.

 Weather – mostly sunny and clouded over a bit in the evening. Quite warm.

Day 17 – Friday 10th January – Fox Glacier to Franz Josef Glacier

G & I up early and off to Fox Glacier Guiding shop. Luckily the cafe was just opening and we ordered hot chocolates, a muffin for me and a butter chicken pie for Gareth! Just finished these and got called into the briefing area.

 We had a short safety briefing followed by the issue of socks and boots and rain coat and backpack if required and then your crampons. Then onto the bus for the 10min trip out to the glacier carp park. Once there there is a 5-10min tramp into the base of the glacier. At this point the trail is blocked off and is only accessible to escorted tour groups (end some mad scientists – more about these later). Once over the fence we hurried past a recent bad rock fall and to the head of the glacier which was pretty bloody impressive. Here we put on our crampons and moved onto the glacier. Some of the tour guides spend the day on the glacier making sure all is safe and cutting steps and clearing paths for the tours. We first got a look in an ice cave then climbed the first flight of steps. The boots were very comfortable and the crampons surprisingly easy to use. We walked around a bit through various crevices and over the top and the guide was very knowledgeable. We got to a fairly flat and safe spot to wander and take photos and at this point Gareth got out his violin and started to play which surprised some of the members of the tour group! One of the other guides was quite excited about the violin playing! After Gareth finished we headed back. We did see a couple of rock slides whilst we were watching Gareth play which reinforced how dangerous it is out there. Eventually back to the car park where we waited for our bus. We watched another rock slide whilst waiting and were informed that this had started not long before with a couple of car sized boulders coming down. So all in all a great tour.

 Back to the scientists. We saw a bunch of people in high-vis vests as we entered the glacier who didn’t appear to be part of the guiding groups or tours. Some of them headed up onto the glacier and some back down. Later the guide told me they were scientists inventing new and novel ways to kill themselves! Apparently they are placing poles on/in the glacier to measure movement and loss but also apparently they are not experienced ice walkers and wander around in areas the guides would not go! Then on the way back they other group were spread across the river on the rocks and in the water. The guide commented he had seen two water/ice surges the day before were the damn of ice and rock at the glacier base finally gives way under the pressure of the water behind it and surges down the river pushing ice and rocks along with it and wiping out anything in its path! So, mad scientists they are!

 We did not actually go far up the glacier but the guide had been to the top. An 11hr walk with a partner, roped together and hopefully at least one with ice experience. You then overnight in the hut at the top then walk back down in the morning. Also, he tells me that the neve at the top gets up to 50m of snow per year, one of the reasons the glacier moves so fast (about 0.5m per day at the face). It is also one of over 3,000 glaciers in NZ with the Tasman the largest followed by Fox and Franz Josef.

 All in all a very interesting morning.

 Back to the van and then G, KA & I went out for lunch (S stayed in van feeling quite ill). Met another guy wearing a Brumbies hat in town who were from Batemans Bay! We then headed back to the van and North. After another up and down and twisty drive we made it to Franz Joseph, similar but a bit larger than Fox Glacier. Checked out some Heli tours but decided against it due to the cost so settled into our camp site. We cooked and ate in the camp kitchen tonight and met a lovely couple from Plymouth.

 Not sure what is happening tomorrow but will probably head North towards Arthurs Pass and then on down to Christchurch for the last few days.

 Weather – day started off cold and clear but as out tour progressed it warmed up. A beautiful sunny morning but the cloud was beginning to close in as we left the glacier. By the time we got to Franz Joseph if was overcast and we had light drizzle.

Day 18 – Saturday 11th January – Franz Josef to Arthurs Pass

Glad we decided against heli tours as there was quite a bit of cloud one the tops of the mountains this morning. Got packed up and headed North again.

Got as gar as Hokitika for lunch, and fuel and KA & S did the Kiwi experience. Left and continued North. Didn’t stop until Arthur’s Pass were we had a break This time around the weather was glorious with sunshine most of the way. Road was quiet again and the scenery this time around was even more breathtaking with new dustings of snow on the mountain tops. We stopped at Temple Basin Ski area and G & I climbed a fair way up the path to the top. A very rough, rocky & steep track but the views were great. Eventually stopped at a free camp site next to the Lake Pearson for the night. A quiet night except for the gale force winds that rocked the van and almost felt as though it might blow us over.

We had bought a roast chook before heading into the pass so had roast chook, instant mash and vegies for tea.

Weather had beeb good all day and it was nice to see the pass in sunlight but it was very windy during the night.

Day 19 – Sunday 12th January – Arthurs Pass to Christchurch

Up at a reasonable time and decided to brave the gale force winds and head down towards Christchurch. Once we got going the wind was mostly behind us and eventually we were on the other side and sheltered from it.

Made it down safely and stopped at Springfield for a break and something to eat. The drive into Christchurch was uneventful and traffic quiet being a Sunday. Got to the campsite near the airport and settled in. As there wasn’t anything nearby we decided to drive to the beach to get fish ‘n chips. Unfortunately New Brighton is a fairly depressed area and so after a walk we headed off to Lyttelton Port. Unfortunately this turned out to be a much longer drive than expected including a long tunnel.

During the trip we came across the first signs of earthquake damage with building missing under repair or propped up in some way. Littleton Port showed terrible damage having been the epicentre of the worst quake which I believe was around 6-7 on the Richter scale. We discovered that a lot of damaged commercial buildings had been replaced with temporary structures, mainly built from containers and we found a great pub, the Port Hole Pub with some musicians, but more importantly, hand pulled ale! Cassels Ales turned out to be bloody good but we were still hungry so walked down the street for fish ‘n chips.

Drove back to the campsite through the CBD and this was when the earthquake destruction really hit home with so many buildings just gone, many fenced off and either partially falling down or being demolished. I heard many figures bandied about but certainly it os over 1000 buildings in the city already removed.

Back to the campsite and our last night in the van.

Weather was great with sunshine most of the day.

Day 20 – Monday 13th January – Christchurch

Woke up and started packing and cleaning. It was a bit tricky in the van but luckily Karen had packed the night before. So the 3 of us worked around each other and showered in between. Eventually had all the packing done, cleaned the van and pumped out and headed to Tui’s depot just down the road.

Checking in the van was easy. Their service is excellent and they were very concerned about the problems we had, all of which were minor. All in all the van was great, very easy to drive and quite comfortable for 4 although the making of the beds at night could be easier. No extra charges for damage and the fuel tax was $165 as we had done over 3000kms! I spoke with and older guy who looked to be in charge of maintenance and he showed me around a smaller 2-berth Ford which he recommended for the next trip.

They called is a taxi and we headed into town. Once again the devastation was shocking, and reinforced by the fact the taxi driver had trouble reaching our hotel as the were so many road works and closed roads. The “holes” as we chose to call the vacant lots were extensive, in some cases whole blocks missing. It in turn looked like abandoned suburbs of older towns, cheap areas like the Bronx in NY to war zones. Some buildings are gone, some are in the process of being demolished. Others are shuttered and bordered up whilst some are completely fenced off with the fences in the middle of the road. You can also see the damage to the roads with rough surfaces and road works everywhere. It wasn’t completely deserted but it was very quiet.

We checked into the Quest Apartments on Worcester Street right next to the Cathedral. The apartment was great, spacious and airy but a strange layout and design with windows for each bedroom into the living areas with no blinds on them (probably to let some light in as they have no outdoor windows). Also the balconies looked across to the other tower rather than over the town. However the two towers had been built either side of the tram station and there was a glass roof over the station and line so this made the view a bit more interesting and the situation much more interesting. The staff were good but the details in the room were lacking. For instance the phone and phone directory were sitting on the floor not on a side table and there was no soap dish in the shower so they had hung one of the wire ones on the tap which did not really work. Also, for a two room apartment their was one small heated towel rail and nowhere else to hang wet towels. Ok for a night or two, but somewhat lacking for a longer stay. To be honest I would not stay in Christchurch for more than a night or two after our experiences this time around.

After settling into the room KA, S and I went for a walk. G stayed behind to shower and would join us later. By now it was about 1pm so we went looking for food. First stop though was the cathedral which has become the focal point of the devastation and the landmark building for the fight for recovery. It really is horrifying to see the damage although it has been largely tidied up. The fight goes on for the cathedral with many fighting to have it repaired rather than demolished and you can see why as it is a magnificent building. I also think it is important for the mental well being of the local to have this symbol restored.

Kept walking and found the most amazing shopping mall, The Restart Mall. This is a shopping mall mostly made out of shipping containers! Very unusual with and amazing feel to it. As they are quite small some of them are two story with shops in some and cafes in others. Had lunch in one cafe, very nice it was too and god coffee.

Further walking around finding the Cardboard Cathedral, the 185 chairs and various other monuments or interesting uses for vacant blocks. Then back to the mall for more shopping, browsing and coffee. As it was getting towards tea time I asked a closing pizza shop where to go to get dinner and he suggested Victoria Street which was a 15min stroll. Well it was definitely at least 15mins and we were getting very tired. We did find the Pallet Pavilion and a few other temporary structures. Had trouble finding somewhere to eat though with most places still closed and one a bit too flashy for us! Eventually found a burger van in a car park and had some very nice burgers. Walked back to hotel for a well needed rest.

Day 21 – Tuesday 14th January – Christchurch to Sydney

Home today!

Woke reasonably early and packed up and vacated the room. Left bags with reception and went walking again after breakfast at the cafe in the shipping container. Did some shopping then some more exploring and found more vacant lots and dodgy buildings. Karen and I went in search of a post office and eventually found it in a new shopping center which was a bit of a dose of normality in a very abnormal town. Though I soon tired of the place!

There were a few more people around today and more things open. Apparently a lot of places are closed on Mondays. There were also a few buskers around including some Maoris doing hakas and girls with Poi but we missed them.

After a couple of hours of walking and lots of photos and another coffee (the worst so far in NZ) we headed back to the hotel and ordered a taxi. We got to the airport in plenty of time for our 4:40pm flight (around 1:30pm) only to find the flight was delayed by 2.5hrs! So we decided to check-in and go through to the International terminal and settle in and relax. Managed to get through the duty free shop without incidence and found some comfy sofas to settle down in and got out laptops, iPads and headphones and chilled. Food was pretty much restricted to Coffee Club but no one seemed very hungry.

Eventually the flight got called but this time we were a A300 not a 380 so it was a bit more cramped. I am Emirates did not impress me. Service was indifferent and slow. It was hard to get the attendants to acknowledge you whilst they served you, they were a bit aloof. Service was also very slow, the pilot was calling for preparation for descent when they were still clearing up dinner and we got not tea or coffee! Food was OK though.

Into Sydney without incident and through customs and immigration without incident. Got taxi to car and drove home. Very tired when we got in about 11:30pm. And it was warm!

Altogether a pretty damn good holiday!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *