A cruise down the west coast

Trip Start Jan 11, 2005
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Trip End Nov 29, 2005


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Thursday, February 10, 2005

I would like to say that I am missing home, but in reality, I am missing the fact that my family and friends can't join me to see what I am seeing. The west coast of the South Island is absolutely amazing. Just as soon as you think that you have seen the best part of New Zealand, you turn a curve and that becomes the best part. The past week, I have been cruising down the west coast stopping in small towns and enjoying walks through the flora and fauna.

The first big stop I made was in Punakaki. It is a beautiful "town" in the middle of nowhere. It is known for its rock formations called the Pancake Rocks. The formation is incredible on its own but even more incredible at high tide. The limestone has been worn away from the Tasman Sea making huge holes within the rock formations. At high tides, these holes become blowholes and push water into the air. Really quite spectacular. It is basically a concert put on by nature. Not only is this in the area, but there is lush rainforest all around Punakaki leaving the rest of your day just to walk around and pretend that you are Jane of the jungle. Don't worry I didn't meet Tarzan in the jungle but I did manage to find my way out and sit on the beach for a couple of hours. At dusk, I was lucky enough to see dolphins hopping about 10m away from the shoreline. They were doing tricks and just playing around for a couple of hours. It was a free show and even made it worth the sand fly bites.

I moved on to a little place called Hokitika, which is a small town known for jade and greenstone. It was so small that on a Monday night the bar in town closed at 10:00. So much for a night out there during the week. It rained the day I came into town but managed to stop for a beautiful sunset over the beach. At one point, the sun was setting and there was a rainbow in between the colors of it. I spent a lot of time on the beach admiring the driftwood and driftwood statues that were leftovers from a recent beach party. It was a beautiful city but it was time to move on to the glaciers.

I decided to skip over Franz Josef glacier and go on to Fox glacier to do my climb. I woke up early in the morning to get a full day hike in on the glacier with tour guide et al. The first hour and a half of the hike, I was pretty sure that I was going to die. We went straight up a side of the mountain into the rainforest before even getting remotely close to the glacier. The heat of the hike was probably about 100 degrees with a hundred percent humidity. Basically, my hair went from straight to an afro in about 10 minutes. That is how hot it was. As we neared the glacier, the walk got a bit more dangerous. The instructions for one part of the walk was "go up the ladder that is bolted into the rock, keep your left hand on the chain as the walk is as big as a goat path and if you fall you will die. It is a 100m free fall. We have put some bushes in the way so that you can't really see how far down it is. Remember if you take your hand off the chain, you will die." Even at 9:30 in the morning, I could follow those directions!!

We finally made it to the base of the glacier and it was time to put our ice clamps on. As we were putting it on, you could hear rocks and landslides from the glacier moving. Everyone just kind of moved a little faster, hoping to get out of rock-away alley just a bit quicker. Just to let you know how weird they are, you have to remember to put your whole foot down walking. You basically stomp up and down. No heel-to-toe, no tip toes. Full out stomp for the next 8 hours. We started climbing up the glacier as our guide used his ice pick to make stairs for us. Thank goodness that we had a bit of rope banister to help keep our balance as we went up. We were now on the ice and their was a bit of safety briefing that went like this. Don't step anywhere that I don't step. The guide was the main ant and we were just little antlings following him up the glacier. If we listened to him, we might end up surviving the day.

Being the cold one I am, I managed to have only 5 layers of clothes on and my mittens. Just to let you know what everyone else was wearing - it was t-shirts. The more we climbed, the cooler it got. There were caverns, ice caves, deep canyons, waterfalls, and ice pools. To make things even better, there were other groups on the glacier but you felt like you were just by yourself with your group. As we went further up, the terrain got tougher. Jason, our guide, had to pick more steps and we still ended up acting like gymnasts going from step to step. Thank goodness that I am so limber in my old age. We hit the pinnacle of our day about 1/4 of the way up the glacier. It was now time to go down.

Going down is about 10 times worse than climbing up. Not only is it harder on your knees, but you can see how far you are going to fall if you slip. I started to just close my eyes, pray I wouldn't fall and hope that our 90 lb guide could carry my down if I did. I managed to slip only a couple of times and made it down safely. My day of hiking the glacier was done and I was a bit tired, but moreover I was thankful for everything that I got to see and do. It was a good way to say good-bye to the west coast.
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